Editorial March 1, 1998 Issue

Snorkeling As A Way Of Life

There are many reasons to love cruising. For most of us, it’s more than a hobby. “Pastime” doesn’t do it justice either. Designer, boatbuilder and author Tom Colvin wrote a book titled, Cruising as a Way of Life. And while most cruising sailors do not live aboard or circumnavigate, Colvin’s title rings true. The cruising life is a mindset, an attitude about how one’s life ought to be lived, of personal values and the world around us. Music, literature and art help delineate and sustain it.

For me, there always have been two other reasons I value cruising as a way of life. Children and (odd as this may sound) snorkeling. Children because parents have a moral responsibility to educate and enlighten their children. Snorkeling because I just enjoy the hell out of it.

My father, who for most of his career was a professor of forestry, was an avid swimmer. At the University of Michigan Father played water polo three times a week with a lunch bunch called the Flounders. They were rough, this flabby flotilla of businessmen, professors and ex-jocks. What they loved most was getting an opponent in a head lock and holding him under until he pinched—the equivalent of crying “Uncle!” On days of my school vacation, Father had me swim with the Flounders. If I were no match in strength for those middle-aged ex-middle linemen, at least I learned to be quick, to dive to the bottom of the pool to escape. And I became a good swimmer. By my senior year in high school, I was voted captain of the University High School team.

That same year I took a scuba course and got certified. But the lakes around Ann Arbor were dark with muddy bottoms and dimmed the vision I had of swimming on coral reefs with schools of tropical fish. Instead of saving to buy my own tanks and gear, I bought a car and made, with a couple of friends, that all-American rite of passage—the cross-country ride to California. We hadn’t enough money for motels so drove around the clock until we saw at the end of the street the glimmer of the moon on the Pacific (which turned out to be fires of the Watts riots, but that is another story).

My first adult snorkeling experience in tropical waters came some years later during a vacation in Cancun, which in the early 70s had only a few hotels and wasn’t so horribly Americanized. So it was a sentimental decision that prompted me last December to take my 9-year-old son Steve snorkeling in Mexico.

Steve loves fish and fishing. For years he has spent hours studying books about fish and other sea life. The house is full of aquariums. Often he has begged me to take him snorkeling. “You bet,” I always answer, “but first you’ve got to become a strong swimmer.” So every winter he has taken classes at the local YMCA. Last September we bought him a face mask, fins and snorkel and had him practice in area pools. At last came the long-awaited trip to the Yucatan.

We flew to Cancun, then drove south to Playa del Carmen where we rented a villa for the week. South of town we found a number of beaches where the barrier reef is close enough to shore that we could swim out to it.

On his first visit to the reef, Steve saw a manta ray hidden in the white sand 5 or 6 feet beneath him, then taking flight with its graceful, undulating stroke. Steve saw brain and elkhorn coral, trigger fish, parrot fish, angels and wrasses that he immediately identified from his books.

He broke to the surface, pulled back his mask and gasped, “Dad! I feel so free!”

Some day, when I can get my own boat back to the tropics, I hope to indulge our mutual love for snorkeling every day for days on end, as I did years ago with my now grown-up daughter, planning our itinerary not on restaurants and bars but on good snorkeling spots. For me, snorkeling is an important part of cruising, and both are a way of life.

—Dan Spurr

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