21 January, 2017
Yeah, Baby! Off the dock by 10h00 on Friday, the 20th day of the New Year. The seas were dead calm for our three hour trip to Vieques. We ran out to the deep water and wet a couple of lines, but no joy. Besides the gorgeous beaches, one of the prime “must do’s” on Vieques is visiting the “Bio Bay”. It’s a bay on the south coast of the island that is filled with bioluminescent organisms, visible only at night. No motorized vessels are permitted in the bay, so the alternatives are to anchor a couple of miles away, then dinghy over in the dark, or take one of the guided tours by rented kayak. The weather was so settled, with the swell out of the North that the Admiral said “why don’t we just go over and anchor behind the reef at the opening of the bay?” I wasn’t so sure, as the few reviews that we had read on “Active Captain” (our crowd-sourced Bible), recounted stories of miserable, rolly nights in this spot. It was early in the afternoon, so “What the heck, let’s check it out.” Working our way behind the reef wasn’t as daunting as the charts suggested. We found a patch of sand in 15’ of water, and fired the anchor down dead center. As I was swimming the anchor to make sure that it had set well, a sailboat coasted in next to us and dropped their hook nearly on top of ours. Hmmm……. I didn’t say anything, but wasn’t real pleased. As I’m getting back on the boat, the Captain of the other boat asks me if I’m okay with where he’s anchored. I reply that he looks like he knows what he’s doing, so if he’s okay, I’m okay. Fifteen minutes later, he has his crew scrambling to fend off, as he’s 4’ from our starboard rail. Now attuned to the error in his ways, he gets his anchor up and moves. Muchas Gracias. Guess I should say Danke Schoen-German flag. We dropped the kayaks, had dinner, and paddled in just after dark. The show was incredible. Every dip of our paddles left a trail of white light in the water, and luminescent wakes followed our boats as we glided along in the moonless night. Blowing on a cupped hand full of water elicited a shower of blue-white sparkles. We could only imagine what the bay must look like in a rain shower, each drop firing up a burst of light. What a trip!
So let’s talk some biology. Dinoflagellates? They’re single celled organisms (actually plankton). These little critters are able to transform chemical energy into light, utilizing an enzyme called Luciferase and oxygen. There are several theories as to why these little guys produce light, but, whatever. When the pressure of their surroundings changes, they let out a burst of light which lasts about a tenth of a second. One shot, then they’re done until they are able to synthesize some more Luceriferon the next day through photosynthesis. Dinoflagellates are present in the ocean, but not in the concentration that is found in this “Biobay”. (In a saltwater flush toilet on a boat, you often get a light show when you take a pee in the dark. But then, I digress). So, why are there so many of these flashy little critters in bays like this? First, there’s the narrow entrance. Then, there’s the wide, shallow bay behind that entrance which allows for warming, and increased evaporation which results in high salinity. The very salty water gets heavy, and sinks to the bottom of the bay. As new ocean water enters the bay, moved by the prevailing winds on the ocean, the heavy, salty water on the bottom is forced out. Since the dinoflagellates live on the surface, their concentration increases. Add into the mix the Black and Red Mangroves that line the edge of the bay. Their leaves fall into the water, and as they decompose, provide vitamin B-12, and other essential nutrients for our little lightmeisters. Voila! A natural tourist attraction.
We backtracked a couple of miles back to the bay outside Esperanza to take in Vieques’ second-largest town the next day. May or may not have been worth a stop, but we can say that we did it. We went to shore, and strolled along the malecon (shore, pier, boardwalk), passing by a couple of beachbar-type restaurants. Then, we dinghied along several miles of shoreline outside of town to the west, then around the point to the east, anchoring in Sun Bay, where we walked the beach for a mile or so. Around sunset, the live music started (it was Saturday night). We were forewarned, but it was loud. Not just loud, but LOUD! I like my music, but I can tell you that at 02h27 when it stopped, I was extremely relieved. Sunday morning was a sleep-in day (imagine that), so we didn’t get off the hook until around 09h00, headed east, with Isla de Chivas as our destination.