Savoring summer nights on the water
The humid summer air was so thick and hot you could almost spread it like butter on toast. The stillness of the air amplified the night sounds making the lone mosquito in our sailboat’s cabin sound like a P-51 Mustang over a target. Our 12-volt fans did little to raise the comfort level in our cabin, so I popped the hatch and headed outside to the slightly cooler surroundings on deck. Big mistake. Now the mosquitoes sounded like a B-29 Bomber group. I usually don’t swim at night anymore, at least not since “Jaws” came out in 1975, but even with thoughts of a 20 foot shark finding our secluded 5-foot deep hidden cove, I jumped in. The 90-degree water felt great and refreshing. Hearing the splash, Nancy stuck her head out and called asked if I was OK. I was fine, and asked if she wanted to join me. At first she said no, but then the bomber squadron of mosquitoes started to attack. That was the fastest she has ever climbed down the ladder. When she asked about critters in the water, I told her they had already eaten.
We watched the water light up with our movements — bioluminescence. Scientists have been researching this “cold light” for hundreds of years. Dinoflagellates, a species of single-cell plankton, glow when disturbed. Tides, storms, boat wakess, marine life and swimmers cause large numbers of this type of plankton to produce light simultaneously. Those of us who travel the seas call this phenomenon “milky sea,” when areas of the ocean glow so brightly, it can interfere with nighttime navigation.
I was off the Oregon coast back in the ’70s with our 36-foot trimaran when I saw several square miles of illuminated water. With the light from below, sailing quietly along, like a ghost ship, we felt as if we were in the Twilight Zone. Other species of light-producing life are fireflies, glowworms and several types of fungus that grow on decaying logs in the forests.
I put on my mask and snorkel and dove under the boat. Every bodily movement of my swimming created more light. Underwater, it looked as if Nancy was floating through the galaxy, brushing stars out of the way. Finding bioluminescence is easy. Just head to darkened docks or a pier at night and watch the water. We climbed aboard and felt refreshed, the citronella candles keeping the mosquitoes away.
As we looked to the northeast through the trees, we heard plenty of noise. Lights were traversing the other side of the island where we noticed a big shrimp boat anchored earlier in the day. The shrimpers on this coast usually fish at night.
There are 2,000 species of shrimp worldwide, but only five here in the Gulf of Mexico: pink, white, brown, royal red and rock shrimp. Though jumbo shrimp are commonly referred to as prawns, the prawn is more closely related to the lobster family and is an entirely different species.
The sounds of outboard motors faded into the night. The silence then matched the clear night sky, giving us a perfect view of the Milky Way. Orion’s belt was low in the western sky. The belt is comprised of three stars with Arabic names: Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Alnilam, the belt’s central white star, means “string of pearls.”
We closed our eyes and listened to the waves lapping the hull, music to sleep by. A gentle offshore breeze signaled convective air over the gulf.
The next day would be reserved for more exploring, breakfast at Cabbage Key and a sail south to Captiva Island and Sanibel.
Fair winds, calm seas. ¦
— Capt. Dennis Kirk has been traveling the P eace River since 1979 and is part owner of the N av-A-Gator, a ri verfront restaurant and marina in Lak e Suzy, just off Kings Highway. For more information, call 627-3474.