It's barely cocktail hour when we leave Aquanauts dive shop's marina at the True Blue Bay Resort in
Grenada. There, I'd politely declined the offer of a drink at the bar. "Sorry," I'd shrugged, "but I'm going diving." My destination: the shallow quarter-wreck.
It's the end of a four-dive day that began with a 120-foot-deep dip in the pool on the deck of a breathtaking behemoth, the Bianca C Grenada's must-do advanced dive. It makes the quarter-wreck dive sound rather like riding the Teacups after hurling through Space Mountain.
We cruise around the darkening island. The countless peaks of Grenada's lush mountainscape cut into the twilight sky as the scent of nutmeg and bayleaf -- the signature odors of this spice-laden island at the bottom of the Caribbean -- brushes over my pores. Lenny, our skipper, cuts the motor just off Grande Anse Bay, the broad sweeping beach disappearing into the dusk. Instead of rushing us into our gear, though, our guide, Paul, joins us on the bow.
"We have plenty of time," he says. "Let's enjoy the sunset." And we do. Tonight's show is worthy of the Fourth of July, with exploding reds and oranges streak the darkening sky.
The mood on the boat has changes as the anticipation of the dive taps us each on the shoulder. What began as a routine ride out to a dive site has morphed into silly bonding signaled not by the telling of forgettable lobster jokes, but rather by the fact that we all laugh at them. We are giddy about the promise of the adventure ahead.
Once everyone's kitted-up, I barely pause on the swim step before plunging into the darkness. The plan is to drop to the shallow reef at 45 feet and to explore it until we come to quarter-wreck really just some steel debris that fell off a barge and now has some nice growth. Unlike the fleeting, precious moments aboard the Bianca-C, this dive will be languorous and is likely to end when we get cold rather than when we find ourselves low on air.
We all go one speed slow -- inspecting every surface. In no time we begin spotting the critters of the night: There are crabs galore, from hidden hermits to the mighty king. I watch a decorator crab work fluffs of sponge and flotsam into its carapace to disguise itself. A cryptic teardrop crab's fire-engine red body red like I've never seen by day glows in the bath of my light. It can't hide so it takes refuge in its corkscrew anemone home. There's a freeflow of lobsters, too -- from the seldom-seen shovel-nosed to the common sort that end up in a pot.
I work my way down the reef, watching a pistol shrimp make the sound of a shot firing as a free-swimming golden eel passes within my arm's reach. The eel beats a path to the nearest crop of rocks and sticks its head in, leaving its body exposed.
Though our gang has started off in a cluster, we're now fanned out across the reef. Throughout this treasure hunt in the dark, we've all become anonymous to one another; it's a rather strange sensation how self-sufficient and independent I feel.
I've stayed on the reef so long that I'm startled when I practically bump into a jutting sheet of corroded steel. Quarter-wreck is really just that: a quarter of the material that once belonged to a vessel. It's an ample fort for the creatures of the night, though. Bug-eyes glow in the light, giving away the location of lobsters, morays and crabs. The corroded surface below me quivers as a football-size conch shell shifts forward and back. Suddenly it occurs to me to look around to see who's nearby.
Looking straight up, I gasp at the view. A massive silvery orb hangs overhead, its edges blurred through my liquid filter. It's an object that accompanies me every night of my life, and yet here I am, seeing the moon as though for the first time. Had I flipped over and noticed the moon from the beginning, I'd have reclined on the sandy bottom and breathed my tank dry just soaking in the night sky.
We finally emerge into the warm summer air. The boat is bobbing silently at its mooring, and it's easy to see that everyone else is aboard. But we just float, relishing our place out in Grande Anse Bay while the lights of hotel row sparkle in the darkness.
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