The water was smooth as glass and from a mile away we could see fish breaking the surface as they played life or death games of cat and mouse. We were well into the third day of the trip, the sun already at its domineering apex, making every inch of shade on the boat a precious commodity. Bodies were huddled together in the tiny cabin, their backs an autumnal display of vivacious reds and peeling skin as the speakers made another pass of an old Marley record. The wind was dead so our sailboat motored South, tracing a path between the second largest reef in the world to our East and the string of offshore islands to our West. Every now and then we slid past another tiny uninhabited isle and the shallow white sands sparkled under the high sun. Sitting on the starboard rails I dangled my feet over the azure waters and let my mind slip away. Out of nowhere the boat made an abrupt 180 and killed the engine. The captain yelled to his two mates in frantic Creole before all three threw themselves off the other side of the boat into the sea, leaving the unmanned vessel lolling aimlessly. Everyone scrambled to see what was happening and called down to the crew but they were in the silent world beneath the surface, their spear guns glinting in the light. I clambered to the roof of the cabin and squinted into the water just in time to see Shane from the crew dragging an enormous monster to the surface by the three spears dug into its flesh.
“Issa biggun, gimme a hand wit dis man”, he was breathing heavy as a group of four guys helped him hoist the leviathan out of the water and onto the deck.
“We keepin dis guy. Ragamuffin crew gonna hab a partay.”
I was feeling a bit melancholic, I had come to Caye Caulker looking for a relaxing island paradise only to find an island wide party that had the music turned up past ten so that it drifted into every nook and cranny making it impossible to ever relax. It didn’t help that every day was cloudy, that the island was overrun with people, and that there were no real beaches, just the sandy spit at the tip of the island that was dominated by another music blasting bar. The friends I had found had just left so I wandered the sandy lane alone watching the sky shift thru a kaleidoscope of orange wondering what my next plan of attack would be. Just then, like a sign from the gods, a huge sign stood in my path, ‘Three day sail! Tuesday morning at 7! Only a few spots left!’. I had heard about the sailing trip from other travelers I passed, every one of them saying its a must if I had the time and money. I wandered inside the little Ragamuffin shack and asked about space.
“We’ve got eighteen people on the list so far but we’ve always got space for one more. Be back here at six in the morning to load, that gives you about nine hours to get yourself ready.”
We set sail under cloudless skies, the tall white sail filling with the warm winds of the inner passage. Everyone crowded for space on the top deck, slathering sunscreen on their white skin and unfolding their limbs to get the most of the tropical sun. I stood under the shade of the massive sail and watched another traveler reel in barracuda after barracuda from the lines trailing in our wake, their menacing teeth gnarled in a confused rage. We puttered
down the coast stopping every so often at some far flung reef or deserted isle where we filed into the sea like drunken penguins to flap about in the clear waters and play follow the leader through the massive coral gardens. At one point the captain hit the brakes and rushed everyone into the water, “Manatee, go, go, go”. Everyone fumbled over each other on the deck as they fought to come out of the trance induced by the gently rolling waves and infinite sun. I threw on my flippers and leaped off the cabin roof with mask in hand, almost landing on someone swimming out from under the boat. In the water the manatee flapped about, impervious to our arrival. She was fluffing the sea grass at the bottom with her big round tennis racket hands and in the quiet of the watery world I could hear her munching heartily on her afternoon snack. The true cow of the sea. Everyone slowly tired of watching her graze and swam back to the boat where the ongoing flipping and diving contest proceeded off the top deck, only ending on the third day when one guy took home gold with a rum assisted running leap into ten foot belly flop onto sunburned belly. As the sun began its horizontal approach we motored into a tiny uninhabited island with a smattering of crooked palm trees.
“Okay tonight you have Rendezvous Caye to yourselves. You can pitch your tent anywhere on the island then swim around or lay on the beach while we prepare your dinner. Please don’t forget you have already paid for all the rum with the cost of your trip and whatever you guys don’t finish we happily will.”
The tents and sleeping bags were piled on the weathered dock next to two enormous water coolers full of rum punch and everyone’s tents slowly went up in disastrous drunken fashion. As the sun descended into an orange orb I waded into the sea amongst walls of conch shells and five foot rays, kicking through the maze of shallow reefs as I circumnavigated the island. Back at the makeshift dinner table the barracudas and lobsters we had caught over the course of the day were brought out in a mango curry sauce and presented with oohs and ahhs. Everyone’s faces glowed red from the relentless sun and rum punch and in short fashion tired bodies disappeared into the dark of the island.
The next two days were more of the same, swimming, snorkeling, sunning, and snoozing. The thought of buying a boat to sail around the world started to sound pretty good. We passed more manatees and giant rays and even hooked a six foot snake that was passing between two islands. The captain pulled him out of the water and when we threw him back in he chased after the boat like he had beef to settle. On the second day the rum punch was unleashed on us even earlier and by lunch time we were let loose into the sea with cups in one hand and spear guns in the other. Miraculously, the only things impaled were barracudas, lobsters, and a heaping pile of lion fish whom the crew pursued relentlessly thanks to their invasive status and tendency to murder the indigenous fish. Poisonous, their bodies were left in a heap on the ocean floor as a warning to other lion fishes that might pass by. Back on the boat we devoured ceviche and stared off at the empty horizon, our frames filled entirely in shimmering blues. The crew was singing along to every reggae track and flipping over our heads from the top deck. In a lull between tracks a girl called out to the dread headed first mate in the water, “I don’t think anyone would mind if we just kept sailing right on down to Columbia.”