We exchange excited grins as the island’s steep stone cliffs grow out of the sea. The sun drops behind the island on our approach into the crescent-shaped bay, but we can see a waterfall spilling from the south side of the cliff heights, straight into the sea! Gorgeous!
The next morning we leap in the sea, then launch the dinghy, and row ashore, eager to feel solid ground. Broad-leafed trees reach out over lush undergrowth and we follow a footpath across the island, arriving at a park station hours later. The ranger is surprised to see us, but invites us in for lunch and explains the work they do to protect the national park’s surrounding marine reserve from illegal fishing. He offers us a ride back to our bay in his patrol boat since it’s along his afternoon route.
We get home as the sun is setting, and row the dinghy over to the waterfall across the bay to indulge in our first lather since the rain shower on deck four days prior. Using the oars, I hold the nose of the dinghy under the falls, while McKenzie delights under the thick, cool flow of fresh water. We switch places so I can rinse, then drift nearby to soap up, massage our scalps, and shave our legs as the clouds above the cliff turn highlighter pink. Already, we’re sure the discomfort to get here was worth it!
As we’re rowing back toward Swell, a man waves us over from one of the scuba diving excursion boats anchored in the bay. We are not about to refuse a hot meal when the captain invites us aboard for dinner, so we load up at the diver’s buffet and top off with ice cream while Captain Christian tells us about the best spots to freedive to see hammerheads, mantas, and turtles. He even downloads detailed weather information from his satellite to help us plan for our next passage. And more, upon learning of our propane problem, his cook loads us up with a bag full of juices, breads, cakes, and cheeses, since they’re headed back to the mainland the next morning.
Back aboard Swell, we’re dazed by the marvelous surprises and generosity the day has bestowed. While writing quietly in our journals, a voice comes over the VHF radio.
Cocos Island Map Photo Gallery
“Calling the only sailboat in the bay, this is the Arkos, do you copy?” McKenzie and I look at each other and then at the radio. I drag my tired body up off the seat cushion.
“This is the Swell, Arkos, we copy you,” I reply.
“Is this Liz? I’ve heard about your voyage. We were wondering if you ladies would like to come check out our submarine?”
We both raise our eyebrows and repeat aloud to each other, “Check out his submarine!?”
“That’s one hell of a pick-up line,” McKenzie laughs.
“You think he’s for real?” I return.
“Come on, get dressed, Liz. I mean you might only get asked that once in your life. I’ll row.” I pull on some clothes, and even though it’s nearly 10 pm, we row toward the well-lit trawler at the other side of the bay.
“Hi. I’m Jesse. And this is Mick and Giles. Welcome aboard,” says a tall, dark-haired guy about our age. He takes our line and helps us out of the dinghy. They show us around and then finally unveil the prized yellow submarine, which is offered to the paying scuba divers aboard as a special side excursion. We’re informed it can descend to 800 feet.
Jesse disappears for a moment, then comes back with two cups full of chocolate ice cream.
“I’m sure it’s been a while since you had this,” he says, passing them our way.
“Well actually ” McKenzie starts in. I quickly pinch her arm and talk over her.
“Yeah, no freezer aboard Swell! Thank you!” We’re in heaven.
After some cleaning and repairs aboard Swell the following day, we head off on a freediving adventure. McKenzie dons her long, sleek freediving fins and slips into the sea. I get the dinghy anchored and soon join her. She’s a mermaid underwater. I follow her graceful lead under ledges, around rocks, and through the busy underwater scene. Sharks! We see smaller black- and white-tips down near the reef, a group of silver-tips being cleaned by tiny shrimps, and then an unidentified eight-footer who scares a squeal out of my snorkel when we nearly bump into each other.
As we move out over deeper water, a school of eight to ten hammerheads glide past. McKenzie’s fearlessness keeps me from shooting back toward the dinghy for safety. Soon we’re both kicking toward them, totally in awe. Next a hulking bigeye tuna powers through the sea below us, along with a flashing school of jacks, and then, out of the depths, we spot a giant manta! The enormous ray glides by, performing an act of underwater flight so graceful that I become acutely aware of my awkward limbs. Its wings curl slowly upward, exposing their white undersides before descending again in what appears like slow motion. I dive down to watch as she soars out of sight with one wing flowing up and the other down in a yin-yang-like image that stamps itself into my mind. I want to be more like a manta strong, but graceful and poised soaring effortlessly through life.
On our way back toward Swell, we stop by the Arkos to say hello. Jesse and Giles soon return, towing the submarine back from a dive. When the sub guests have departed, Mick, the head pilot, leans over the rail and calls, “Hey girls, if we go right now, we can do a quick dive in the sub before the sun sets. What do you think?”
“Me uh us what? Submarine now? Yea!” we stammer.
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