Mariner’s Cave the Hard Way
1 November 2017
Mark and Anson stepped into the dinghy while we slowly forereached Anthea parallel to the sheer rocky coast. We had set out this morning (five weeks ago) to find Mariner’s Cave. Our guidebooks described it as a must-see, beautiful underwater cave that opens up into an air-filled cavern. The water was too deep to anchor in, at 200 feet plus, so we had to use the dinghy to locate the cave’s entrance. While Mark and Anson were finding Mariner’s cave, Kim and I made sandwiches and sailed the boat.
When Mark and Anson returned for lunch, to our delighted surprise, they pointed out Charmaine, Stuart and Aaron, a young doctor friend who was crewing with them to New Zealand, putting along in their small wooden dinghy, powered by a tiny electric engine. We hurriedly finished lunch and rushed to the entrance of Mariner’s Cave, where they had just tied their dinghy to dead coral. Quickly putting on mask, fins and snorkel we dove into the water, the relative coldness (75 degrees f) giving us a shock. We could see two entrances: a large tunnel barely three feet under the water, and a deeper one, 35 feet below. Both were wide enough for two people to swim through together. I followed Charmaine, who had already swum through a couple of times. I swam through the 12 foot long passage with my face up, seeing the jagged rock forming the oval portal. Surfacing up inside the cave, the first thing I noticed, after taking a deep breath, were the pressure surges from the waves coming in. The popping in my ears was similar to when landing in an airplane. The next thought that flashed through my mind was “gorgeous:” the cave was a mist-filled dome made up of jagged stalactites and sharp limestone walls. Blue light filtered through the under-water entrances, illuminating beams of water in an otherwise dark cave. Thankfully I had our underwater flashlight, which showed me the waves hitting the far wall, each one creating a boom that echoed around the cave. Questions flashed through my mind. How did we escape from getting carbon dioxide poisoning? With the cave fully sealed, and not enough light for photosynthesis, how was there was enough oxygen for hundreds of tourists to come every year? And what caused all the mist? The swells didn’t seem strong enough, and I could see no other source that might cause the damp blanket. And what created the cave and its entrances? Are there more undiscovered caves as beautiful as this, with entrances just too deep to see?
I turned back towards the entrance and saw Anson diving down through the deep passage, over the heads of two oblivious scuba divers. I was interested in seeing the passage, so I prepared myself for a dive. I descended down, with Anson and Aaron spotting me from above. After coming down to the depth of the entrance, I turned around (not feeling confident enough to swim through the passage). I started to swim up, my lungs beginning to burn. I swam faster and unknowingly curved towards the wall of the cave. Fifteen feet below the surface I hit an outcropping with a resounding “thunk.” My mask got ripped off and I could feel broken pieces of limestone digging themselves into my scalp. I quickly continued swimming up, seeing a white blob swimming towards me. I surfaced, feeling an intense burning on top of my head. I could see my blood looking iridescent green in the eerie light. Anson (the white blob I had seen) surfaced a few seconds later, having swum towards me, in case the impact knocked me out. After making sure I could do it, I followed Anson and dove through the upper tunnel out into the open water. I made my way to the dinghy. Seeing that I had injured myself, Aaron, Stuart, Charmaine, and Kim all dove through the tunnel out of the cave. I clambered onto the dinghy and immediately felt nauseous and almost threw up. Blood was running down my forehead. Luckily Stuart and Aaron are both doctors and Charmaine is also a medical practitioner.
Back on board Anthea, Anson and Aaron picked pieces of limestone out of my scalp and irrigated my cuts with pressurized water. So far I hadn’t had any symptoms of a concussion. A cut on my forehead was steri-stripped together, while my scalp wounds didn’t require closure.
After stabilizing my injuries, we sailed Anthea to A’a Island, where we dropped off Stuart, Charmaine, Aaron, Kim and Anson for some gorgeous snorkeling. Mark and I anchored Anthea next to Vlakvark (Stuart and Charmaine’s boat), barely half a mile away. Mark called Grandma and found out that she had passed away just hours earlier. Kim and Anson came back an hour later, and Mark told them the sorrowful news.
Luckily, my head injury was not a concussion. It was just a bad knock, which meant I had constant headaches and no screen time for the next four days. It’s been healed up for over a month now, and all that I have to show for it is a scar on my forehead.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my last injury: I fractured my wrist coming down the forward hatch three weeks ago. The cast won’t come off until New Zealand, which means missing the best kiteboarding since La Ventana. I have been able to get into the water through triple bagging my arm and putting it up on a raft. This enables me to snorkel and swim around Anthea in calm conditions. I seem to be unfortunate with injuries, but thankfully none of them have been too serious. On the flip side, I’ve gotten out of a lot of work, including galley duty.