Snorkelling by Finbar

One day, a very long time ago now, about last Friday…
Stop! Stop! Stop! Sorry, that’s from Winnie the Pooh
About a couple of years ago, Mum, Lochlann, and I went down to Battery Rocks in Penzance with Dylan, a friend of ours, and his mum. The tide happened to be a spring low[1] and you could see all the boulders that were usually covered by the sea.

Mounts Bay, Cornwall

The water was even below the lower barnacle line. Dylan suggested wading out over the shallows to a line of rocks, so we rolled up our trousers and began. We soon came back to take off our trousers and wade in our pants! At first we waded only to our knees, then we got more adventurous and went in all the way. We got to the rocks and then swam back through the shallows.
All around us there was a type of seaweed growing in clumps. It looked like very long, flattened strings of light brown spaghetti each clomp growing from the same root, and when you wrapped them around yourself, they actually felt slightly warm. Later I found out that they were called Thongweed, and that the spaghetti is actually their reproductive system, which is shed in autumn.
Once we had got back to the shore, we met several other friends and went up to my house for some snorkeling gear. I found a sort of armless and legless rash-vest, made out of wetsuit material (which I assumed had belonged to my brother, Oliver) and a mask and snorkel that I had never before used in the sea. When we got back, our friends showed us how to spit into your mask to stop it from steaming up (it works!)  Then we entered a new world - beyond my imagining.
It was my first proper time snorkeling in the sea, and I loved it. It was like a different world. I saw the reddy-brown Bladder Wrack seaweed, with their gas filled bobbles to lift them up from the rocks, the clumps of Thongweed, the bright green Sea-lettuce and purple Coral-weed, and, best of all, the Snakelock anemones, their tentacles a beautiful green, tipped with purple. It was amazing that all of this incredible world could have been there all along, hidden just a few meters away, under the slate-grey surface of the sea.
After that I went snorkeling every day I could in the summer. We saw wrasse two-feet long, we found pipefish under rocks at spring lows, and with them were green sea urchins and suckerfish guarding their eggs. Spider crabs were frequent discoveries, and spiny starfish, each arm six inches or more long, could sometimes be found in great profusion on top of, and in, the large fronds of ??seaweed??.

On one very special occasion while swimming along quite close to the rocks, I looked up, and hanging in the water two feet away from my face, was a sphere composed of six lines of pulsing, multicoloured light, each line meeting the others at the poles, the whole thing no bigger than the first two joints of my index finger. These lines of multicolored light enclosed a transparent sphere of jelly that trailed a pair of tentacles. The whole thing was almost invisible, so invisible that on pointing it out to my friend I had to point to it with both hands to indicate its exact position in the water. They were Comb Jelly, also called Sea Gooseberry.
Later that summer, on our travels in Europe we happened to be going through Greece. En route we stopped off at a campsite where we stayed for a couple of days. While there we went snorkeling several times a day. On the first day we swam out rather far when I saw an old tyre lying on the bottom, and an empty beer bottle on its side. I dived. It was very deep, so deep that I had to breathe out a bit through my nose to equalize my mask.
Then I saw it, just at the base of the old bottle, two beautiful eyes with sideways pupils on top of a mound of flesh. As I came closer, the octopus retreated down lower into the sand, watching me with those beautiful eyes. It was as if the top and bottom of each pupil was pulled almost together, but not quite, similar to a figure of eight on its side.
The eyes of octopi have, I think (though I could be wrong) evolved independently of vertebrate’s eyes.

Later I saw a small cuttlefish, about 5 inches long. It was a sandy white and was moving surprisingly fast considering that its only form of propulsion was the thin membrane that ran the length of its flattened body. When I came close, it descended to just above the seabed and then amazed me by sending black stripes rippling down its back. Then it shot away in reverse using its jet propulsion and shooting out a tiny white cloud of what I can only assume to be ink.
One day, while my brother Lochlann and I were out snorkeling with our friends Teague and Annis at Battery Rocks, we were surprised to see, just a meter away, an enormous jellyfish with a bell at least 3 feet across.
It was a misty semi-transparent white going into a blue that seemed to originate deep inside its bell. A band of bright electric blue ran round the edge of its bell. It looked eerily calm as it propelled its mindless way through the water. I swam in front of it and touched its great bell with my gloved hand, it was terrifyingly solid and heavy.
We found out later that they were called barrel jellyfish and that although they are the largest found in England they apparently do not sting, though I have never got around to finding out for myself.
After that we often saw them swimming around aimlessly, Teague nearly dived into one off the rocks one day but managed to stop in time.
They seemed to have been concentrated all along the southwest cost of England as I also saw them in the Helford River, and my aunt told me she had seen them in Falmouth while gig rowing.

Another day when only Teague and I were snorkeling, we had decided to get in off the small beach on the east side of Battery Rocks. We swam out over the seaweed and then over the sand, it was very clear. Just off from the beach there were about five yellow buoys for yachts to pickup while waiting for the wet-dock’s gates to open. Today there were two boats there. As we reached them Teague said he was rather tired and so we were about to go back, but decided just to swim under the nearest boat first. So that is what we did. Just as I was getting my breath back on the other side of the boat I looked up and there on the horizon, a dolphin jumped.
I stared, then excitement seemed to loosen my joints and make its presence felt in my stomach[2].
Olphiiin!!!, olphin, olphin, olphin”
I had my snorkel in my mouth and Teague couldn’t understand me, I pulled it out impatiently.
“Dolphins? Really, where?”
“Over there”
I pointed.
“Are you sure?” he said sceptically.
That was when we saw the second one jump.
“Haharr” we laughed with delight.
“Come on”
“What swim towards them?”
Yes!! What else do you think we should do?”
Our eyes shone with excitement. We began to swim towards where the dolphins were diving. They weren’t that far away now. Suddenly they disappeared, then reappeared in another patch of water in a different direction. We swam furiously, any thought of tired ankles forgotten. The dolphins changed place again, then again, then they were coming towards us.
Suddenly a dolphin dived out of the water barely two meters ahead us. It was thrilling and wonderful and terrifying, all at the same time. For a single instant as it re-entered the water our eyes met. Then they were gone off towards the St Michael’s Mount.

[1] Spring lows have nothing to do with spring and summer, they occur at approximately two-week intervals, coinciding with the full moon and new moon, and of course the highest high tides and the lowest low tides.
[2] This is not poetic license, it is actually how it felt

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