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Matt Blaine on 16/3/2009
Glad that you made it back Marcus. Matt

St. Vincent and Grenadines by Marcus Coltro

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After several years of collecting shells with Tony McCleery, having great adventures and fun, he told me of his decision to sell his sailboat. He invited me to join him for one last time in Grenada to sail from there to St. Vincent. It would be a 13-day journey on Marina Em, stopping at several interesting islands on the way.
I flew from Sao Paulo via Miami to visit my brother for a couple of days. Got to the Miami airport very early to check my luggage to Grenada, but American Airlines gave me some bad news at the check-in:
- Where is your visa to Grenada?
- What visa?!?!?
-Well, you can't travel there if you don't have a visa, didn't they tell you that in Brazil?

It seems that American Airlines in Brazil forgot to tell me this "small" detail when I boarded the flight to Miami! So, I returned to my brother's home in Miami Beach and checked the Internet to find out where to get this @!%#@$ visa. They have a representative in Miami (not a full consulate), wanted US$100 to issue a visa, and needed several days to issue it!

I had to change plans, so I called American Airlines to make flight arrangements to go to San Juan instead, and from there to St. Vincent using Liat Air. Of course, they wanted to charge me a reissuing fee. I then politely asked to talk to the manager and said that I would pay that fee when hell froze over. After all, it was their fault for not telling me that I needed a visa when I left Brazil. They relented and waived the fee, and I had my flight rescheduled to a couple of days later.

I called Tony, who this time had a working cell phone on the boat, and explained that we had to change the itinerary. He was very disappointed since he had planned the whole trip for me. He had to sail from Grenada to St. Vincent to meet me. It was a long journey, in turbulent water, but he got there in time.

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Meanwhile, I had to find something to occupy my unexpected free time before my flight. I remembered that my friend Randy Allamand had invited me to visit him in Sebring, central Florida, so I called him and drove there the next day (three long hours on a very boring looong road...). He had several interesting shells which he kindly traded with me.

On Tuesday morning, I left for San Juan and then another flight to St. Vincent. I then had to take a ferry to meet Tony on Bequia Island (a one-hour trip) but no more were scheduled that day. I spent the night in St. Vincent in a nice small hotel called Crystal Heights, owned by Mrs. Virginia Phillips. She was very nice and even got me a beer and a tuna sandwich when I arrived!

I caught the ferry early in the morning, arriving on Bequia at 8:45AM. Tony was waiting for me on the dock; from there we went to sign me on the crew list at customs and buy some supplies for the boat such as bread, canned corn, pasta sauce, alcohol for the shells (he was running out of beer too...).

At the boat, I quickly went into the water for a short dive. I found nice shells such as Cyphoma gibbosum, Astraea tecta, Coralliophila abbreviate and caribbea, Vasum capitellum and some Conus jaspideus. In the afternoon, we revised the schedule for our trip - it was turned upside down because of my flight problem. We then talked about a variety of things, including his decision to sell the boat. He had considered it for quite a while due to personal reasons - and his decision was precipitated by an ugly occurrence a few months ago. While in Venezuela he was boarded by pirates early one night! They tied his hands and blindfolded him - with a gun held at his throat. They stole all his computers, cameras and lots of other small things on the boat. Luckily, they did not hurt him badly as it appeared they did not want to attract attention from other boats anchored nearby.
Also, they were too dumb to recognize that weird looking machine in Tony's office: his microscope with a very expensive digital camera attached to it!
The anchorage in Admiralty Bay was nice, not totally calm but I had prepared by taking Dramamine ahead of time.... We left for Quatre Island the next morning; on the way we dredged some small bivalves, Conus and turrids.

Tony had found several Conus cedonulli in Quatre a few years ago - that species was my target for this trip. Everyone I talked to about this cone told me I would have to dive deep and at night, 20 meters or more (65 feet) in order to find them. Tony told me he could not dive with me all the time as he had lots of things to do on the boat - and he was aware of my long diving times on previous trips.... Since I am not used to diving at such depth, I wanted to check out the place during daylight before any night dive. I found a few Strombus costatus, which I did not take (too heavy...) and a few other common things.

At night, I prepared for my solo dive - Tony had made a good safety device which I really liked: he attached a thin rope to a bucket so that it could easily be pulled while diving. I went down as far as the rope permitted - then I followed it back to the boat, zigzagging while looking for shells. I did not find much at 20 meters, just a few Pyramidella dolabrata (an expensive way to collect them!)

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The next morning, I dived again and found a few more Vasum among other shells under rocks. We then sailed to Mustique, a small private island where royalty and famous people such as Mick Jagger, Princess Margareth, David Bowie, Shania Twain, Kate Moss go on vacation. We got there late afternoon so there was no time to explore the place before a night dive. All ready and checked (proven wrong later...) I went down the back ladder and tried to submerge. Something was wrong as I could not go down - did I lose some weights from my weight belt? I forced my way down and when I got to 20 meters (65 feet) I checked my air gauge again: my tank was empty! I would have two, at most three more breaths before running out of air, so I started swimming up as fast as I could while expelling all air from my lungs to keep them from exploding - the only problem was that I only had one more breath and all the air was gone by the time I was at 10 or 15 meters! Those few seconds without air seemed much longer than that... At least, I managed to use what I learned 20 years ago in diving classes, and did not let my weight belt go or hold air in my lungs while making an emergency ascent. When I got back to the boat, we figured the tank had a defective valve which let all the air escape during the day. OK, there is a fine dividing line between courage and stupidity to do solo night dives - I guess I crossed the line that night. Even worse was the fact that I did not find any Conus down there!

The next morning, after making sure I was not having any side effects from that bad experience, I went diving below the boat to the reef at 17 meters. I found a few shells and realized that I could find more shells in the shallow water next to the reef. I went back for have our usual lunch (tuna, mayonnaise, onions and ground cheese on sliced bread), took a short nap and went back to the water.
I did find some more shells such as Cypraea cinerea, Lima lima, Conus jaspideus, Astraea tecta, Trivia pediculus and others.

I did not forget my previous night's "problem" but I had to go down at night again. This time I double-checked all my gear and went down smoothly. No Conus - only more Pyramidella. What was going on? I was at the right place and at the right depth!

On the next day we moved back to Admiralty Bay in Bequia and dredged on the way. Tony anchored close to the dropoff so I could go there at night from the boat. In the afternoon I went down to check the area and found a few Marginellas on grass at 24 meters, everything seemed fine for my night dive.
The only problem diving at such depth is the fact I don't have much time to look for shells.
Everything must be done quickly to cover the largest area possible. So one more time I did not succeed in finding any Conus cedonulli.

I was going to leave in a couple days so we moved to St. Vincent. Again, the place looked nice and promising. A little deeper than the other places, but the water was warm and clear. On the afternoon dive, I finally found one Conus cedonulli! It was quite deep, 32 meters (104 feet). So I thought, here is a place to find some Conus at night! I wish... at night I did not even find a dead one.

So I had had it! I was going to do shallower dives where at least I would get some shells. I moved to a rocky area with Tony, only 5 meters deep. Guess what? We found several Conus cedonulli!! Too bad I only had one more day to spend there.

Tony left me at the marina on the last morning and I had to say goodbye for the very last time... I spent great times with him, not only because of the shell factor but for all the experience and knowledge he provided me on all those trips. Thanks Tony!

English checking by John Wolff


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