Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sundogs, Mineral Dust and Rainstorms on Cooper Island

There's this atmospheric phenomenon called a "sun dog". I'd never seen one before coming down to the Caribbean, but apparently this is the name given to the glorious halo that appears around the sun in certain conditions. When I first saw one here on Tortola, I had no idea what it was. It was so beautiful, so unusual it almost looked apocalyptic. Other worldly even. "Wow. That's crazy," I said to Scott as I pointed up to the glowing circle around the sun, then lowered my voice, "It looks kind of ominous". It goes without saying that I am the more dramatic of our pair.

"It's a sort of weather phenomenon" he said matter of factly, "I think it means it's going to rain or something. I can't remember". He shrugged and went back to his business.

I've learned a couple things since then, namely:

1) The sun dog does precede rain.
2) The sun dog does not lie.


We are something of a spectacle down here. We turn heads. People whisper. They stare. They smile. They laugh. Some take pictures. Almost everyone who crosses our path when we're rolling five deep makes a comment (always pleasant and kind). I mean, we have two babies and a toddler on a boat. It's not a very common thing to see, so we get it. Anyone with infant twins will tell you that their "parent of multiples" rank grants them a sort of mini-celebrity status when out and about. Put those twins into a hilarious (and super functional) little dinghy seat and head to the beach? The cameras come out. Wear one on front, one on back while the other parent wears the toddler? People stop to give us props. Take them to an offshore snorkel spot in the dinghy and then get caught, totally unprepared, in a torrential downpour? People notice.


Cooper Island was just what the doctor ordered last week. We'd been anchored outside of Road Town for a few days and while the proximity to town is advantageous and useful, it's not the most picturesque and swimming is a big no no unless you want water borne pathogen to enter your system.

We wanted to get back to nature, back to the turquoise water and back to the beach. Cooper Island (siiiiiggggh) proved the perfect place.

Beach excursions, shell collecting, paddle boarding, and swimming off the back of the boat are our standard activities for us in a nice anchorage. Snorkeling is tricky these days, as none of our girls are ready for that yet, and we must go one at a time while the other watches the kids in the dinghy, which is a lot easier said than done (remember when we saw that shark!?) But Cooper is known for having some fantastic underwater life at the point off the cut, and Scott wanted me to enjoy a different kind of outing on Mother's Day. Truth be told, I haven't snorkeled once this season - so I was excited.


Earlier in the day I'd spotted and photographed the sun dog. "Rain's finally coming!" I said to Scott excitedly. It hadn't rained for weeks here and our boat needed a good rinsing in the form of a tropical downpour. It's been so dry that the mineral dust that blows across the Atlantic from the Saharan Desert hung in the sky, creating a yellow-tinged haze every evening, clinging to everything damp. The air was thick with the stuff which was evident by the fine layer of it all over our boat. As fascinating - and photogenic - as this weather phenomenon is, we were due for some rain.

The yellow haze brought to us all the way from the Saharan Desert!
"We better get going if you want to snorkel before it starts pouring" Scott warned. The dark grey clouds were now gathering on the horizon. We packed up our clan, turning the heads of all the charter boaters around us as we passed by, and made our way to the snorkel spot. "We might need to bail," Scott said looking at the ominous sky as I tied our dinghy to the day float, "I think it's going to rain really soon." The other dinghies of snorkelers were packing up and leaving but we decided to risk it. I'd only need ten or fifteen minutes anyway since that's about how long you can entertain little ones in a stationary dinghy. I took our waterproof camera to capture some video and hopped in the water, promising to come back immediately if and when the rain started.

But that's the thing about Caribbean rain. Rarely is it gradual with a pitter patter that slowly leads to a crescendo. When it hits, the skies open up and heavy, substantial drops batter down relentlessly. It's torrential. No sooner had I snorkeled to the reef and gotten a little video of a blue tang for Isla (she watched her first movie a couple weeks ago, Finding Nemo, and is a big fan Dory) when I surfaced and felt the strange sensation of rain on my back (strange because to get wet while in the water feels...odd). I popped my head up, gasped at the sheer white out of rain around me, heard our babies crying and hauled it back to the dinghy.

Breathless from my speed swim, I found Isla crouched underneath Scott's legs using his wide brimmed hat for cover. As I lobbed into the dingy Scott was struggling to keep the wailing twins calm, as this sudden and very extreme rain storm scared the crap out of them. I fumbled for a sarong from our backpack and covered their heads, smiling and talking to them in a happy, calm voice to soothe them. The sarong was useless. Instantly it was soaked. We were safe, of course. It was only rain, after all. But we must have looked like quite the freak show sitting there under a handkerchief of a sarong during a white-out downpour with two screaming babies and a cowering toddler. It was not our finest parental hour, trumped only by the time we picnicked, hobo-style, outside of the government building here in Road Town while we waited for our passport extensions.


The rain didn't last more than seven or eight minutes, but we were all soaking wet by the time it passed and the sun hadn't made it's return which meant we were all chattering cold. The dinghy ride back with our water-logged, crying children was the parental equivalent of the "walk of shame" but by the time we got to our boat, the sun was shining, the babies were happy and Isla was asking to go back to the beach to collect treasures.

So we made a u-turn and back to the beach we went. It was only water, after all.

But we'll heed those sun dogs a little closer next time.
Mother's day was wonderful. I am blessed and honored to be the one for these three! 
Our little island girl


Monika @family{m}adventures said...

So when are you going to get that Mothers' Day snorkel? I hope you do soon and share some pictures. :-)

SeekingEscape said...

Brittany, I think that's a halo you pictured. Sun dogs are the spots on each side of the sun.

Nice post as usual.

Unknown said...

Hi there,
We love Cooper Island too! It's one of our go to's. We love their painkillers during happy hour!


wayne said...

What a cool mothers day outing. I'm sure y'all were a sight. I so enjoy your stories and now I'm at 12 months and counting the days till I'm on my adventures. Stay cool and happy sailing.

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