Portuguese Man-of-War

I just came back from my family’s annual trek to South Padre Island for some ocean time.  We live in West Texas and we always enjoy our travels to the beach in late spring and the mountains of New Mexico in late summer.  I love swimming in the warm gulf waters of South Padre.  I am always up early for a morning swim, the first person in the water as far as I can see on either side down the long stretches of beach.  I like to swim out and play in the waves that are over my head.  I love being tossed around and feeling the powerful waves cascade over me.  After an hour or so I am ready for a good breakfast.  My wife reminds me that early hours are shark feeding time, but I can’t help it, the allure of an ocean swim is too much for me to turn down.  Later in the morning I go swimming with the rest of the family, and then we also like an evening swim.  Needles to say I have no trouble sleeping at night because I am beat.  But the next morning I am ready to go again.  It is a wonderful three day visit that I look forward to each year.

            The ocean’s diversity of life is nothing short of amazing.  When I travel to Cozumel to scuba dive I enjoy the many colored fishes among the reefs.  At Cozumel the water is clear and you can see for hundreds of feet.  Such is not the case in the waters off the Texas coast.  The water is anything but clear.  You cannot see where you are stepping or what is around you.  This obviously makes most people very uncomfortable entering the water much less swimming out over their head.  I occasionally step on a crab, or I feel the seaweed rub against me, but these are no big deal.  However, what I do not like are jellyfish.  Fortunately, I do not see many at South Padre.  If jellyfish are in the water in abundance, as has been the case at other Texas beaches, it can make think twice about getting into the water.  Their sting does not feel good.  Another animal whose sting I do not like is the Portuguese Man-of-War.  They are colorful with a bluish purple hue, and they are odd looking. 

            The warm waters of the Gulf attract Jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-Wars.  I see these washed up on the shore, not in large numbers but several dozen over a quarter mile stretch of the beach.  I continue to swim but there have been times when so many jellyfish are in the water that I have not been able to swim. I have been bit a number of times by these sea creatures and it does not feel good.

When European explorers first encountered the warm waters of the Caribbean they noticed a lot of strange sea life they had never seen before.  One was a purple creature that sort of floated in the water because it had clear air filled sacs that looked like the masts of the ships they sailed in.  Warships of Portugal were called Portuguese Man-of-Wars, hence the term the mariners used to name this strange ocean life they encountered during the 16th century.  Other historians believe the sea creatures were named after the helmets of Portuguese conquistaqdors. 

            Portuguese Man-of Wars are found in warm oceans waters all over the globe.  Their tentacles can stretch over 100 feet, and give a very strong venom, almost as potent as the venom of a cobra.  They float on the ocean carried by the wind, sometimes in groups of hundreds.

            Sea creatures are just a few of the interesting animals encountered around the world by players of Treasure Trove, a board game where players travel the world in search of treasure. 




That's me scuba diving

           The older I get the less I like acronyms.  However, SCUBA (Self Contained  Underwater Breathing Apparatus) is one I do like.  Has a nice ring to it.  As I grew up I heard about scuba divers.  Lloyd Bridges had a TV show in the late 1950’s called Sea Hunt.  I was a bit young at the time but I think I recall my older brothers watching it.  I watched some of the TV adventure Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the 1960’s but it was a movie that really intrigued me about scuba diving: Thunderball in 1964.  The name is Bond, James Bond, in his dashing red underwater outfit as he fought the dastardly villains in the black wet suits. 

            All my life I have liked swimming in pools, lakes, oceans and rivers.  As a matter of fact my daughter and swam a kilometer across the lake near our town this morning.  Nice temperature however the water was a little choppy due to wind.  It was also murky.  I could not even see my outstretched hand.  I have always enjoyed my water excursions.  As for scuba diving; well, that was something others did.  For many years of my life I didn’t give it much thought, that is until I was 35 years of age.  And then I abruptly decided I wanted to do it. 

            I live in West Texas so it’s not like there is an abundance of places for me to dive but I decided to venture into a dive shop back in 1989.  An older gentleman named Walter greeted me and was very gracious in answering my questions.  I enrolled and after four weeks of classes, study, a written test and several trips to the pool I received my certificate.  He encouraged me to join a team of divers he was taking to Cozumel, Mexico.  I had never heard of it but he told me it was about the cheapest ocean scuba travel destination from where we live.  “Good diving for the money spent,” he said.  A few months later I journeyed with the group.         

photo by: Rick Scull

      The water of the Caribbean was absolutely beautiful.  It was blue and it was clear.  I have swum in the Texas gulf water but it was always greenish brown.  At Cozumel I could see for several hundred feet underwater.  I found that amazing.  The water also had a very comfortable temperature.

           Our plane arrived at midday and I was anxious to dive.  Soon after check-in we began with an afternoon dive.  That evening we did a shore dive.  I love exploring the dark waters with my flashlight searching for sea creatures.  I was in excellent physical shape and was impressed with Walter who held his own for being in his late fifties.  I also enjoyed rooming with Walter.  He was a good conversationalist. He loved the company of others and he loved to eat.  Scuba diving always seems to create an appetite.  Eating when you are hungry is always a pleasure.

            The following few days we would do boat dives.  The boat would leave about 8 o’clock and about 45 minutes later we would be in the water.  The first dive was always one of 80-90 foot depth for 25-30 minutes.  These were always my favorites.  We would descend down to the coral reefs on the edge of their drop off to the deep dark depths of the ocean.  On one side of the reef was sand that headed for the shoreline. The coral reef was about 40 feet wide, and then a wall on the other side of the reef as it dropped to the vast ocean deep.  Occasionally the current would be strong so we would drop on the side of the reef towards the deep and just watch the colors on the wall of the reef unfold before us.  One needs to keep an eye on their depth and their time limit but otherwise I found it immensely relaxing.  The boat above would follow along, that way when you ascend your not too far from the boat.  I just let the dive master lead the group.  I enjoy being along for the ride while someone else is in charge.  I love the fell of the weightless buoyancy, as well as hearing myself breath.  I try to relax, pretend I am a fish, one with nature.  I also like to pretend I am astronaut floating in weightlessness.  It has literally been some of the happiest moments of my life.  The sea life nestled among the reefs with an abundance of fishes produces a plethora of colors that has always been nothing less than inspiring to me.    

            We would slowly safely ascend to the surface and then travel to our next dive location.  After about an hour we were ready for our second dive.  It was usually at about 50 feet for 45 minutes.  I would hover about 10 feet above the formations enjoying the wildlife.  It was always fun to look for moray eels hiding in the coral.  The large grouper fish eyeballing us were just as curious of us as we were of them.  My experience is that most divers want to encounter the larger marine life, but not me.  I like the groups of smaller fish. 

photo by:

 Yellow, blue, black, stripped, silver, pink; you name it.  The colors of the fishes were abundant as they darted among the coral formations.  It felt like I was in a giant aquarium.  Scuba diving has always been a vivid life enriching experience for me.  Needless to say, I commune with the Creator much when I am in such an environment.  I would nap and rest in the afternoon before doing a night dive.  If we went out on a boat dive at night I always wanted to be the first in the water.  I have a fear of the dark ocean at night so it was always an adrenaline rush to be the first off the boat.  I especially liked turning the flashlight off and just floating in darkness while catching glimpses of the other divers lights. 

            I continued to go with Walter almost annually for about ten years to Cozumel.  I did not have the finances to venture to other more expensive travel destinations, but that was fine.  I was content with what was in front of me.  I also did some lake dives with him back in Texas but I found them to be cold and dark.  Not very inviting after Cozumel.  Unfortunately, Walter died prematurely of health complications in his mid 60’s.  My time with him was shorter than I would have liked.  I have always missed him and have not traveled to Cozumel near as often.  It has now been some time since I have been there.

            Some folks go to Cozumel and Cancun to party, but for me I was always a mission:  to scuba dive.  I would sometimes party the last night on the island but otherwise I was either snorkeling or diving.  For me it was a delightful addiction.  When not in the water I enjoyed sleeping or reading.  It was actually nice to be away from the everyday need to be around people at length as required by my job.  It is always refreshing to have some reflective time alone.  But not for Walter.  He was with people ever minute.  I asked him one time why he liked being with others constantly.

            “Keith,” he politely responded, “I was an accountant before I had a dive shop.  I was in a small windowless room for 35 years with one desk, just me.  I told myself when I retire I would enjoy people, and that’s what I intend to do.”

            Here’s to you Mr. Walter.  I sure appreciate the joy of scuba you helped nurture in me and the gift of gab you shared with me.  I miss you very much.  You were indeed a mentor and friend.  I will treasure our memories together.  I also treasure the beauty of the undersea that God has graciously allowed me to experience.

            My scuba experiences have not only been delightful but I have held a fascination for underwater treasure hunters.  One of the six player tokens for the board game TreasureTrove is a scuba diver. 

Scuba game piece

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