Ever since my stress-free encounter with Gelbert Smith, I’ve come to trust most salty sea dogs at the helm. Even Brendal, owner of the namesake dive center, who much like Gelbert exists to take coastal callers off the beaten path and challenge their comfort zones.
Brendal’s mission: to make sure I wade with stingrays in the wild, a first for me.
Skimming the surface of the Sea of Abaco, we leave Green Turtle Cay at our backs, shortly thereafter arriving at a deserted dock to which we quickly tie the tender. Sprawled out before us lay Manjack Cay, an unspoiled stretch of sand lined with towering Casuarinas trees – a tropical transplant not native to these parts. Watching a grin spread slowly across Brendal’s face, I quickly come to realize the grassy-grounds are a favourite resting spot for Brendal and his big-barbed friends, who having noted our arrival are now patiently skimming the sandy floor.
Carefully disembarking and shuffling my feet along the polka-dotted surface, I find what I feel is a secure spot to stand close to the water’s edge. With ease of escape top of mind, I watch as Brendal flings freshly-cut conch in my direction. Landing less than an arm’s length away from my purposely tucked toes, the cartilaginous creatures begin to crowd and hoover the sea floor, an experience I catch on camera and watch with complete wonder.
Leaving as carefully as I came, I realize I’m ready to venture even deeper, further away from my comfort zone, and swim with the slippery-skinned sea creatures along the sea floor.