“I’d like to be
Under the sea
In an octopus’ garden
In the shade…”
It seems you can’t swing a cat in the Mediterranean this summer without hitting a movie star. Meet my new neighbor, the Oscar-winning Octopus Teacher. Actually, I’m the new neighbor; the octopus lives here. And this isn’t really the Octopus Teacher (that famous cephalopod lived in South Africa). But here in the Mediterranean, during the summer, everybody is whoever they want to be. No questions asked.
I am who I want to be, and in the summer where I want to be is under the sea. My tropical island blood has finally acclimated to the ambient water temperature at latitude 40° north. In about six weeks, the Mediterranean Sea begins getting cold again. Today is my first dive of the year. “Dive” is an exaggeration. I float in the shallows with a mask and snorkel, and camera. It is otherworldly. There are shrimp and crabs and anemones. The variety of life that lives among the rocks and Poseidon grass in the Mediterranean is astounding. To see these shallows come to life it is only necessary to move slowly and pass over the sea bottom like the shadow of a cloud.
Life underwater is always a surprise. Today I am swimming along part of the Menorca shoreline supported by an antique seawall. Giant blocks were laid here in 1793 to build the Llatzeret, a sanatorium to quarantine patients during the Bubonic Plague. It seems ironic with a history of so much death above at Llatzeret that these rocks in the water below the fortress would support such a thriving community of sea life. It is here I meet my octopus friend.
I am enchanted. From the depth of her cave, she holds her ground by siphoning bursts of water at me and never breaking eye contact. (A note on gender reference: It takes more skill than I have to determine the sex of an octopus but, for personal reasons, I’ll reference this amazing creature as female.) She is confident and beautiful. Her body pulsates and changes color with emotion as we meet eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is a creature that will not suffer fools gladly. In a Live Science article titled, “Animal Sex: How Octopuses Do It,” writer Joseph Castro says females are the dominant gender. If a male displeases her, she may show her disappointment by eating him alive. He writes, “Mating for males is a dangerous game due to the female’s penchant for cannibalism.”
I’m not here to mate. I’m just as curious as she is.
Much of the circumnavigation of Flying Fish has been along the equator in warm water rich in sea life. The Mediterranean Sea has been less inviting. There were freezing temperatures (literally) in Turkey this past winter. In my boat cabin without heat, I would sleep under quilts and blankets, and a zipped-up down jacket to stay warm. For much of the year, swimming was out of the question. I remember dropping an essential ratchet wrench overboard at a mooring one February morning. The water was only three meters deep. I looked at that wrench under the boat every day for a month, but I could not bear the thought of diving into 57-degree water to retrieve it.
Now it is mid-July. I can swim again. The pleasure of the summer sun warms my skin. The water caresses me as I float with the tide. Below the surface of the water, a new world awaits.
“We would be so happy, you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden with you…”
–Octopus’s Garden / The Beatles 1969
Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.
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You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish. Click the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes.
To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.
Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021
Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives –Fr. John Baker