Free Diving in Pirate’s Cove

Suspended eighty feet underwater, I have a few seconds to take in my surroundings.

My heartbeat—the only sound I can hear—marks the time. My lungs are now less than a third the volume they were twenty seconds ago. Abdominal muscles clenched, I restrain the spasms of my diaphragm, willing myself to ignore the steady toxic accumulation of carbon dioxide in my body. Mere minutes from drowning, I am relaxed.

The crack in which I am suspended is visible from the surface. Minutes earlier, as I floated on the surface deliberately slowing my breathing in anticipation of the dive, I studied the contour of this particularly severe crack in the reef, noting its abyssal blue hue atypical of most sand chutes. There was something striking about this crack… something promising, exhilarating. It’s hard to intentionally lower your heart rate when your adrenaline is firing. At some point, you just have to commit.

And committed I am.

I am suspended underneath the wall. At sixty feet, the surroundings of this deep crack have buckled away. Phantasmagoric sponges speckle the underside. Fluorescent wire coral spiral into the dark oblivion below. Even with over 30m/100ft of visibility, there is no bottom in sight.

This is no sand chute. It’s a veritable box canyon in a sliver no wider than the cracks at Mary’s Place. At what I can only estimate to be approximately 36m/120ft deep, the chute tapers back with the concavity of the wall into a small cave. Looking up at the sunlight shimmering over the silhouetted overhanging reef, my last thought before vacating my position is “Next time, we bring tanks.”

Streamlined, I give a solitary dolphin kick to initiate the ascent. I angle back through the underside of the box canyon. Coral blurs by on three sides of my body. My snorkel is bends back from the resistance of the water, slightly jostling my mask.

An eye. Big, cold, and staring. Silver scales the size of quarters. The sharply upturned mouth. Five feet of fish. Could it be?

Holding my breath fifty feet underwater, I am face-to-face with the first tarpon I’ve seen in the wild on Roatan. The colossal fish hovers in the shadows of the box canyon. It retreats, but only slightly, as I ascend upon it. I pause, ignoring the doldrums of my heartbeat and the protests of my lungs, to stare upon this magnificent creature. And to be stared upon. Here we are, two fishes, eye-to-eye, exchanging a peaceful, passing nod.

Time to go. Just stay conscious. Focus on the support divers. Focus on the surface. Steady, easy, in control. Just stay conscious. Just stay conscious.

My head breaks the surface. Sunlight and air. A refreshing breath. I lay on my back smiling, arms raised, and give a triumphant shout:

“I love my life!”

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