During cruise around Antigua on Stella Maris, we anchored off a tiny piece of land called Maiden island just off the north east corner of the mainland. It’s an idyllic looking strip of beach with mangroves behind, typical piece of natural caribbean. Since we’d anchored only about 400 metres from shore, and despite feeling a little nervous, I decided to swim from the boat to the beach and then go and explore.
It was a bit of an effort due to going against the wind and current and also I overestimated the distance I could swim easily. Just because I can tread water and drift around for half an hour - the water is so salty here it takes little energy to keep yourself afloat - it doesn’t mean I can swim flat out for 400m against the current.
By the time I was near the shore I was really looking forward to stepping onto clear white sand and walking up onto the beach. But there wasn’t any. All I could see beneath me was stuff… stuff that was unfamiliar, and uncomfortable underfoot, and was bound to have creatures living in it that I really didn’t want to step on.
So I continued to swim along the beach, in depths of a foot or so, searching for clear sand. Something about it didn’t feel quite right but I’d come all this way, I was tired, and really wanted to get to shore without treading on anything nasty.
Finally I found what I was looking for and started to swim to shore. Suddenly I saw something large, and sort of diamond-shaped, lift off the sand a foot or two ahead, and then swim past me in the opposite direction. It all happened very quickly. The word Stingray popped into my head, and although I wasn’t sure that it was, it was much bigger, and greyer, than anything I was expecting to see.
A few seconds later I was on my feet and walking onto the beach, and it was only then my brain started to process what had happened. Fortunately I found it funny, although I think it was more disbelief and nervous laughter than finding it genuinely hilarious. After all, I needed to swim back to the boat again. Either that, or just wait on the beach until Peter (owner/skipper of Stella Maris) wondered where I was and came looking for me. But as his memory seems to be little unreliable at times he may have forgotten that I was staying on the boat altogether.
Fortunately he decided to come out to explore himself so I managed to get some clothes, reefs and my camera to have a proper look around. On the way back over on the dinghy we saw a turtle too.
Back on the boat I got hold of a book to see if I could identify the fish I’d come close to earlier. Indeed it was a Stingray, a Southern stingray to be precise. Generally seen by day lying immobile on the sand or slightly buried in it. Apparently it never attacks humans, but if provoked or frightened it may sting with the long poison-loaded spine at the base of the tail. Hmmm… so what happens if you inadvertently swim towards one? Does that qualify as provoking and would it be frightened?
I have to admit it did leave me feeling a little unsettled about getting in the water again, especially where there are no other boats anchored or I cannot see anyone else swimming. However, these are the caribbean islands. People come here to swim, snorkel and dive. If it was really that dangerous you’d be hearing terrible stories all the time. Horror stories tend to be told more often than good ones, unfortunately.
So I guess I’ve learnt to be more conscious of ocean life, perhaps take a snorkel, and not swim where the water is so shallow I could end up mounting a stingray. I’m not sure how they mate but I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be appreciated.