I first started SCUBA diving at age 18. I learned in a pool in Toronto and got into open water at my brother’s cottage near Peterborough. Visibility was all of 29 feet and I got to a depth of about 35 feet. That was what the rest of my diving career was like for the next 40 years.
As is my habit, I read voraciously about diving including getting a subscription to “Diving” magazine which lasted many years. (By the way, if you know of anyone who wants vintage Diving magazines I still have them from the 60’s. Collectors [hoarders] R US). One of the things that caught my attention during my vicarious diving experiences was pictures and descriptions of riding on the backs of Manta Rays. I thought that would be one of the greatest thrills in the underwater world. I imagined soaring through the clear blue ocean faster than anyone could swim, being on the back of a living flying carpet, lying flat on one of the great creatures of the sea, watching the twenty foot wings gracefully slide us through the blue realm. I lived that dream so often I could sometimes taste the salt water and feel the warm water flowing over my back.
A lot has changed in the last 46 years. The Western World’s view (and mine) of how we interact with wild creatures has changed dramatically. We now honour the wildlife of the planet and do not use them as our playthings. We do our best to preserve them and create areas in which they can remain wild and healthy and, at the same time, give humans a chance to interact with nature.
On the Kona coast in Hawaii the local divers made an interesting discovery about the behaviour of the Mantas. For several years one of the large hotels shone a light on the ocean every night. This light drew a lot of plankton to that area. Mantas feed on plankton and this part of the ocean drew the Mantas because that was where their lunch hung out. Divers went out at night to watch the Mantas feed. Eventually the hotel was remodeled ant the light was removed. No more Mantas to watch. This had become a commercial enterprise for some of the locals. They were taking tourists out to view the Mantas to make a few bucks. Being an enterprising lot, they joined with some researchers to figure out how to bring the fish back. They set up an area of bright underwater lights in a cove where they had previously spotted Ray activity. As the light were turned on every night it brought back heavy concentrations of plankton and also brought back the Mantas. The area is now one of the few places where Mantas are seen regularly. It has also become the place where tourists can interact with these magnificent creatures.
I went out on a night dive with my son and daughter-in-law and eight other tourists to see the Mantas feed. We were all snorkeling. In the pre-dive briefing we were told:- a) not to touch the rays, it damages their skin, b) not to free dive to swim among them, it disturbs them and you might just get hit with one of their wings, and c) don’t freak if they swim near you. Even though I understood the reason for the rules it was hard to stick with them. When a ray with a 16 foot wing span swims underneath you, within 6 inches, it is very hard not to reach out and touch them. That night we saw well over 29 different rays varying in size from 4 feet to over 20 feet. They were like an underwater ballet. They would glide along the bottom then turn up to feed and at the surface they would be upside down showing their white undersides, then return to their gliding. They would move singly and in groups, they would cross one another’s path and almost brush the swimmers.
It was magnificent!
I shared this event with 3 or 4 other sets of snorkelers and 3 or 4 groups of divers. Being the rebel (independent minded person) that I am, I left the tow line we were on and swam off by myself so I could view the show without being kicked or otherwise distracted. I kept an eye on my son and daughter-in-law and swam with them for a while but this was my experience and I was so fascinated with what was going on underneath me that I lost track of everything else. I followed some of the Mantas out to the edge of the light and watched as they disappeared into the complete blackness. The temptation to dance with them was almost overwhelming. I was in my dream world. I had met the Mantas at last.
When everyone had arrived back at the boat the staff did a headcount, one person was missing. My son groaned, “Dad.” As I was glued to the performance below someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was on of the staff off the boat. “Sir”, she said, “everyone else is at the boat waiting for you to return.” All I could think of is “So soon” I had been out there over an hour and a half but it seemed to me to be only a few minutes. When I am engaged time flies.
So I had lived my dream and embarrassed my son all in one night.
It’s funny how the fulfillment of a dream is not exactly the same as the dream itself. I did not ride a Manta. However, the feeling, the excitement, the awe, the contact with wild things, the “danger”, the sharing of a unique experience, the source of many a long and enchanting tale were all there.
I have been truly blessed.
I have been truly blessed.
My hope is that we all can fulfill our dreams and have as much pleasure as I had completing one of mine.