Friday, 10 February 2012
The famous cave lay just off the Big Majors Spot, where we dropped anchor for the day, accompanied by our friends John, Kathryn and her daughter Meredith, who sailed back from George Town back into the banks a day earlier. Thunderball Grotto is a major tourist attraction and we have already heard and read a great deal about how cool it is, but nothing could prepare us for what we experienced once we got in the water and made our way towards it.
The cave lives inside a large, but unassuming rock, settled in the middle of the Staniel Cay channel in just a few feet of water. Like most land in the Bahamas the grotto rock is grey and rough, like a giant pumice stone, and the few plants that grow on top of it look just as ragged as the rock itself. We pulled up to this curiosity in a dinghy, secured it to a mooring ball set up for visiting vessels and got geared up. A young family was there when we arrived, already exploring the cave and we noticed that a boy was excitedly making rounds in and out of the cave through different openings just below the waterline. I couldn't wait to get in to see for myself just what the fuss was all about. I quickly strapped my flippers on, pulled the mask over my face and jumped over the side. Immediately I was confronted by a spectacle of fish and coral in concentration we have yet to see on all our dives. Curious Butterflyfish stood in first line of attack, floating restlessly at the mouth of the cave, approaching and swimming off again. They're used to people bringing food so they've grown bold and confident, closing in on each visitor, pecking around for crumbs, their little mouths kissing your skin and mask.
Making my way pass the bouncy yellow troops I flowed through a large opening and inside the rock. Only the very top of the arched entrance was out of the water so I ducked under to avoid the grater sharp ceiling overhead. Under the surface schools of Bigeyes and Yellowtail Snappers made cautious advances, Blowfish and Groupers retreated back into crevices of crumbled rock, while Flounders and Stingray shifted in the sand below.
When I surfaced again, it was in the cool shade of the cavernous core of the rock. It opened up like a domed cathedral scooped out of the interior of the rock. Smooth, water eroded walls reached up towards spectacular chandeliers of stalactites and tree roots that hung from the ceiling. The vault that encapsulated me looked like a colossal egg with its yolk eaten away and its surface cracked here and there, letting water in from the bottom and light from overhead. Patches of blue sky and dripping roots crept in through the holes in the dome creating a living, moving fresco I admired, afloat on my back, lifted by feelings of pure happiness and fascination. Around me only the echoing sound of water sloshing against rock.
The rest of our group trickled in, taking in the sights. We swam about the cave exploring the different holes leading in and out of it. One of them opened into a deeper end of the ocean where a coral bank was scaling the side of the rock like scaffolding, offering its support and refuge to the abundant sea life of Thunderball Grotto. With time more and more snorkeling enthusiasts flooded the area and we decided to escape the crowds and move onto the next Big Majors' attraction: swimming pigs.