My mother calls it a charley horse –buckled arch, toes weirdly extended, crescendo of pain. I was hovering ten meters over a seemingly endless swath of murky turtlegrass about a mile offshore, and the cramp removal technique I learned in my open water course wasn’t cutting the mustard. My secondhand fins were longer than I was used to – fantastic for speed, where each kick jets you forward like the high gears of a bicycle, but demanding more of my ankles than maybe I was ready for. That, and the fins were significantly overlarge, a fact I was attempting to compensate for with a thick pair of wool socks. My spasming feet suggested this was an inadequate solution.
The reef rose toward me at a slow incline as I swam farther out, until I could see the waves cresting where they broke over the reef just below the surface. Here coral appeared in technicolor, shocking reds and oranges usually obscured by meters of water. Tiny fish darted in and out of the coral labyrinth like fairies – one half purple and half yellow, another like a night sky alight with iridescent stars. Squirrelfish hovered uncertainly with big nervous eyes, and a needlefish threaded though the reef’s cavities, nosing delicately at a spiny black urchin wedged in a crevice. I sucked in my stomach and used my arms to swim forward as the coral – some of it stinging and all of it sharp – passed just inches below me.
And then it was gone – a wall of coral dropped down into a blue abyss. Startled, I looked out into a dim, urban landscape, coral skyscrapers and shadowy overhangs divided by highways of white sand far below; fish wove in and out of coral towers, whose caves and concavities gaped like windows and doorways. I was a suicide jumper, perched on the brink of the reef. The cramps in my feet were gone. I kicked once, and sailed out over the edge.
A huge pair of dark wings opened under me. I sputtered and gasped as a spotted eagle ray, ten feet across, emerged from a coral cave in the wall just below; her wings unfurled in profound slowness, menacing tail trailing silently. Heart thudding against my sternum, I sucked in a few quick breaths and plunged down alongside her.
It was a long swim back, over a blank canvas of sand that seemed to stretch on forever. Finally I dragged myself up onto the beach, salty and sunbaked, sore-ankled and full of wonder.
A diver may not immediately know what a sprat is as it surrounds her in the water, nor any other underwater plant life and fish that come into view...Kate is studying, looking up, asking questions and learning about what she sees. That's a good thing.