The Great Manta Race

Tanks on boat

I hoisted my scuba gear onto the dive boat. After a crowded dive earlier, this one promised to be less crowded: just a German diver and me, plus divemaster Netto and driver Giovanni.

As we cruised toward the dive site, I attached my regulator to the air tank while discussing Berlin flight schedules with my fellow diver. The engines wound down at the site. I watched Netto preparing to attach the boat to the buoy, when he turned my direction and started gesturing wildly. He ran to the back of the boat and barked, “No time for gear! Snorkels and cameras, and jump in the water!” We did as we were told- splash!

Frantically paddling behind Netto, I had no idea what we were looking for. We made our way into the shallows near shore and bobbed in the waves, eyes scanning and cameras ready. Whatever was about to swim by, I mused, had better be pretty cool.

Nothing swam by.

Netto seemed confused. He shouted back to Giovanni on the boat in the local language, Papiamentu. After an urgent-sounding exchange, Netto rocketed back toward the boat (he can swim surprisingly fast for a big dude). As our trio neared the vessel, he said, “No time to climb in. Hang on.”

The boat lurched forward, and I found myself being dragged behind a dive boat, clutching a thick rope. What are we looking for, I shouted to Netto. “Manta ray,” he replied. He had spotted the large, black and white creature swimming along in shallow water, but by the time we swam over, it had passed. Now we were racing ahead of it, hoping to get into place in time for a sighting.

As the boat dragged us through the salty water, Netto’s hand slipped slowly down the rope, which pushed the German’s hand down the rope, which pushed my hand toward the end of the rope. There was no danger- I could simply let go- but I wanted to see this ray!

In Thailand, diving the Koh Bon Ridge, Karen and I had enjoyed a spectacular show as four huge manta rays circled around us (as we described in this video). Karen was above it snorkeling, while I watched from below.

Back in Bonaire, just as my fingers were about to slide off the rope, the boat stopped and we were off like a shot, swimming again toward the shore. We had barely gotten into position when we were rewarded with a manta ray fly-by.

Seeing manta rays, stingrays, turtles and the like always fills me with wonder, watching them effortlessly cut through the water as we gangly humans flail about trying to get a look.

Watchful eye

Leaping ahead once more (aboard the boat this time), we came to rest at the Kalli’s Reef site and got into our scuba gear. Underwater, hovering in the shallows, we waited for the manta ray for about five minutes before giving up and continuing with our scheduled dive. That one glimpse would be all for today.

It was worth the race.

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