Tobago Cays

The Tobago Cays is famous for its hordes of sea turtles nibbling on shallow beds of sea grass. I’d heard that these sea turtles – varieties being Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead – are largely unafraid in the Cays. Wow. This is unusual. Not that they’re around; turtles are ubiquitous around the Caribbean. We see them in every anchorage. They’re part of the landscape – and I’m convinced they’re nosy with it. They always pop up to have a look at you.

Still, none of them want to stick around. As soon as you jump in the water to say a closer hello, they’re off. Indeed, sea turtles give the best f*** you side-eye I’ve ever seen. Then they glide off, probably pissing in your direction as they go. Oh yes. In their millions of years of evolutionary history, sea turtles have definitely had the time to perfect their walk-out.

I’ve been excited about visiting the Tobago Cays. Tucked behind an enormous reef, Horseshoe Reef and amongst four uninhabited cays, the Tobago Cays is a fifty-square-kilometre lagoon. It’s been a marine park since 1997. There’s even an area buoyed off, so you can watch the turtles without worrying about passing vessels. Cue excited and yes, dorky dance! 

We made our way from nearby Union Island and anchored in soft lagoon sand. Delph and I went over to the buoyed area in my kayak. We paddled over and attached to the buoyed rope. I got Delph to practice tying her bowline – a most useful knot. Maybe the only knot a yachtie really needs to know. Oh, and the one that ties up fenders – that’s handy too.

The bowline is an easy knot – despite what some yachties say. They’ve made it some initiation ceremony only people with excellent hand-eye co-ordination can pass. We don’t bother with that weird rabbit’s hole analogy. We tie the bowline the way scuba divers, Bruce and Jen in Pembrokeshire taught us years ago. Loop one end, put a loop through it and tie off with the other end. Delph did a good job too. Then we put on our snorkelling stuff and slipped in to the water. 

First thing we saw? A squad of Caribbean reef squid. Purple-brown, the colour of ink. Each one about the size of a foot, swimming backwards in an animal’s version of jet propulsion. And they were in formation like underwater birds. Big, silver, twinkly eyes.  

We started swimming towards the beach. It got shallow enough for Delph to practise diving down to the bottom. She’s getting really good at it, and the red starfish on the bottom gave her a good marker to head to. Then the first turtle came into view. We swam up, wondering what it would do. Some people say you can actually pet turtles at the Tobago Cays. Would they be this tame?

In a word, no. Not for us. But they didn’t swim straight away either. We hovered and watched the turtle nibbling on the grass. This was a loggerhead; blunt-headed, the size of four large dinner plates and with a beautifully patterned shell. Flippers long and slender. It eventually went up for air and glided slowly away – almost apologetically. I shook my head. Where was the side-eye? I think I missed it.

We’d been in the water for about fifteen minutes. I looked over at Delph. She pointed back towards the kayak and started to swim. I followed her. Straight away there was another turtle. And another. Hold on, I thought. The turtle underneath us was missing a back flipper… and a crescent-shaped bite out of its shell. A large crescent-shaped bite. The work of a tiger shark.

Delph pushed her snorkel aside and exclaimed, ‘A disabled turtle!’

I nodded. Gulped too. The turtle had been lucky to have survived. Meanwhile, Delph hummed happily all the way back. And my camera battery died, so I didn’t get a single shot. I’ll have to show Quest’s turtles instead. Possible girlfriend material?

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