Saint Mary's island

When the Surf Falls Flat — A Boat Trip

What to do when the surf falls flat? Well, praying to King Neptune might help but until the swell returns taking a boat trip to Captain Kidd Island for a little diving and snorkeling sounds like a good idea.

What to do when the surf falls flat? This question has undoubtedly troubled the mind of many a surfer. Lots of days have been spent looking out into a flat choppy ocean with nothing to do but walk the beach and chase sand crabs. Here in India we are fortunate to have a variety of water activities to occupy us when the surf falls flat. One of our favorite pastimes is to launch our small fiberglass boat with its 40 hp Yamaha OBM and head out to the offshore islands for some underwater sightseeing. (Editors note: As of May ’07 we have a new boat. A sturdy and fast 19 ft. fiber glass boat with steering wheel and system built-in).

This trip begins the day before by filling up the tanks with kerosene and preparing a hardy picnic lunch. There are plenty of fish were we are headed but being vegetarian the only fish we will catch will be for our saltwater aquarium back at the ashram.

Everyone is up at 4 AM and packing the lunch basket. Piling the fins, goggles and other gear into the boat we then push the boat and trailer to the local boat launch about 400 meters upriver from the ashram.

For those of you who didn’t know, our ashram is situated on the banks of the Shyambhavi River approximately 1000 meters from where the river meets the Arabian Sea. Sounds exotic doesn’t it? It is.

It’s important to be at the launch by first light to beat the rush of fishermen who show up everyday docking and unloading their boats. We are the first ones there and in a short time we are in the water and cruising out the river mouth into the perfectly glassy ocean. We are sometimes greeted at the river mouth by two or more bottle-nosed dolphins. These creatures are beautiful and graceful — diving and surfacing as they move effortlessly through the water. Sometimes there will be a dozen or more in a school and when in a playful mood they really put on a show. Our hope is to see one or more of the dolphins jump high out of the water and land again with a big splash. When this happens you really feel that you have seen something wonderful.

Do we feed the dolphins and try to bring them close to our boat? No we don’t. If we do that then the danger arises that the dolphins will then start to come close to the boats of local fishermen and the result could be disastrous for the dolphins! They get plenty to eat everyday anyway and really don’t need our intervention. We are happy just to see them do their thing in their natural environment.

Our one and a half hour ride, some 34 kilometers up the coast and 5 kilometers out to sea, will take us by the Kapu lighthouse and then to our secrete hideaway — a place we call Captain Kidd Island.

The famous pirate Captain Kidd hid out on this island back in 1696. History says that the explorer Vasco de Gama first discovered the island back in 1497 but I think that is a stretch of the imagination since the people of India already knew the island was there for thousands of years. So why should Vasco de Gama get the credit? Vasco de Gama named the island St. Mary’s Island but we have since renamed it Captain Kidd Island. What the original name of the island is we have yet to find out.

The island is laden with coconut trees and supports some other tropical vegetation. It looks like it fell from the sky out of the pages of a pirate’s fairytale. The island was originally formed by volcanic eruptions a couple of zillion years ago and has some of the strangest lava configurations you will ever see.

At some point in time the lava pushed straight up from the Earth’s core to form perfectly shaped pentagon pillars. These clusters of pillars from the bird’s eye view look like giant honey cones. From the ocean it looks like we are approaching an island strewn with the remains of an ancient civilization — some sort of playground of the Gods. Very enchanting, very enchanting indeed!

As we approach the island a big black and white manta ray takes flight from the water across the bow of our boat and a skip-jack races ahead as if to guide us to the island. A quick counter clockwise circumambulation of the island reveals two stretches of white sand beaches on the leeward side and several calm coves with high cliffs and small beaches on the windward side. The island isn’t all that big — about 500 meters long and 100 meters wide. Not big enough to get lost on but big enough to occupy our crew for most of the day.

The main reason we have come to Captain Kidd Island is to do some skin diving and check out the underwater life — but before getting started we have to take a closer look at all this strange looking lava. Strange isn’t the right word — it’s beautiful and no matter how many times I see it I find myself marveling how wonderful nature is.

That done it’s into the water. Because we are only a few kilometers off the mainland of India the surrounding water at the island is sometimes a little murky. It’s not a world class dive spot by any means but it is close to home and its fun seeing all those little colored fish anyway. Today a huge sailfish went speedily swimming by and we happened upon a small group of sea turtles that didn’t like the fact that we had invaded their space. We didn’t blame them in the least — taking into account the fact that humans have all but made their species extinct.

There are lots of little things to observe at Captain Kidd Island like the floating rocks. Chant a few mantras over a rock that you find laying on the beach, throw it back in the water and like magic — it floats!

This day the big fun was the high jump from the top of a pentagon lava pillar cliff. A plunge into the deep blue from 35 feet up was a rush — something like wiping out on a big wave.

After a few dozen plunges we searched around the island and picked up a few coconuts that were lying on the ground. The coconut trees are certainly owned by someone but since nobody was there to ask we simply took it as the bounty of nature.

After a good lunch with coconut for dessert and having been baking in the sun for the past six hours we decide to start for home. By afternoon on this day there was a southwest wind and choppy sea ahead of us. We took spray in the face off the bow of the boat for one and a half hours until we finally reached the calm of the Shyambhavi River. Home at last!

We realized two things from this last trip to Captain Kidd Island. First, we had a great time and will certainly be making that trip again soon. Second, we definitely need a to get a bigger boat so we can get through the heavy seas during the monsoon season to check out the break at Captain Kidd Island. It definitely looks like it has some real potential when the surf’s up!

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