While all scuba diving trips to the Caribbean are a gas, the truly unforgettable ones are characterized by encounters with the non-existent.
For example, about 15 years ago Baby and I were doing a night shore dive off the coast of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles when we encountered a purple (as memory serves) eel with pectoral fins. Never having seen or heard of an eel with pectoral fins the equivalent of a snake with two front legs we were astounded.
Permit me to digress for a moment. Nondivers are probably unaware most everything that swims around during daylight hits the metaphorical hay when the sun goes down. Simultaneously, the night shift comes on duty and is populated by an entirely different cast of equally wondrous sea creatures.
The ability to observe this amazing night life is not limited to scuba divers. You snorkelers out there owe it to yourselves to get familiar with a site during the daytime and then stop by the local dive shop, rent underwater lights, and return to the site after dusk. You'll flip out.
Digression accomplished. Back to Bonaire's purple eel with pectoral fins.
At the time we encountered the creature we had been diving the Caribbean for a decade. (You nit pickers needn't query whether we had been underwater for 10 years straight. You know exactly what I mean.)
Not only had we seen a great deal, including a wide variety of eels (none of them purple), we had supplemented our knowledge of the diverse underwater flora and fauna by endlessly perusing our extensive library of relevant, colorfully illustrated books.
Therefore, tremendously excited by our discovery, we couldn't wait for the following morning to ask a local dive master precisely what it was we saw.
Much to our surprise, he claimed we didn't see anything. "There ain't no such animal," he declared in no uncertain terms.
Subsequently, and by virtue of considerable research, we discovered our non-existent creature was a conger eel, an animal ordinarily at home in the ice cold waters of northern seas. What he was doing in the 78 degree bath water of Bonaire only he could say, and he wasn't talking.
Well guess what, we just returned from another dive vacation during which I again encountered something that doesn't exist: a lobster with two claws. I'm fully prepared to have some expert tell me in no uncertain terms "There ain't no such animal."
Yeah, I know Maine lobsters have two massive (and delicious) claws. The problem is, I was in the Caribbean. Caribbean spiny lobsters don't have the sort of claws I saw.
And yeah, I can tell the difference between an underwater crab and a lobster. This was spotted during a daylight dive and its carapace (exoskeleton) was clearly that of a lobster, not a crab.
We were on Carriacou (translation: island of reefs), a flyspeck of an island in the Grenadines, near Granada.
Diver alert: Long-time divers should know diving Carriacou now is like diving Little Cayman a quarter century ago.
Though Carriacou lacks the sort of wall diving that made Little Cayman a treasure, its abundant underwater life the full spectrum dwarfs anything Little Cayman (and any of the other formerly premiere Caribbean dive spots) has to offer. In recent experience only South Caicos, in the Turks and Caicos island chain, offers such splendid Caribbean diving.
Despite all our adventures and thanks to the efforts of Jean-Phillipe of Lumba Dive, in addition to the non-existent lobster I saw close to a dozen different fish never before encountered. Typical of Carriacou, the physical existence of one of these finned phenomenons remains as spurious as that of the impossible lobster.
The fish, a Quillfin Blenny, can be found in fish books but according to the experts, it is rare and never gets larger than five inches. On one dive we saw three, all of which exceeded the maximum size limit.
I have a working theory regarding the size of these normally wee beasties. Those of us who lived through the Cold War have seen the inflationary effects of atmospheric nuclear testing on tarantulas, grasshoppers, rabbits and ants: each grew to massive proportions, developed an appetite for human flesh, and attacked highly populated areas. Might the same grotesque physical repercussions have occurred in Poseidon's lair?
This I cannot answer. What I can say with the utmost confidence is that the world remains full of wonders requiring only adventurers with appetites to reveal its manifold impossibilities.
R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.