Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Joining him is journalist Chris Jones.
By Chris Jones
Sven and Vincent, one of our dive masters, came back to the boat raving: They had just spent twenty minutes in the water with a manta ray. “That was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean,” Sven said. I wanted to puke.
I’d been snorkelling above them off Toau’s western shore during our mission to French Polynesia. There hadn’t been much to see, and I’d gone back to the boat. Then I’d missed the manta. I’ve wanted to swim with a manta since I started diving more than 25 years ago. To come that close… I tried to be happy for my friends, but if I’m being honest, it was pretty hard to take.
Vincent knew I was upset, and he saw a teaching moment in front of him. A few years ago, he had gone diving with a friend day after day, and one day the friend had reached his limit. He decided not to go out. Vincent did, and he spent the afternoon diving with three humpback whales. “After that, I decide never to miss a dive in French Polynesia,” he said. “Lesson learned.”
We prepared to dive in the same spot that afternoon. Mélo, our other dive master, told me not to get my hopes up. Just because there was a manta there in the morning didn’t mean there would be one there in the afternoon. The wild doesn’t work like a zoo.
We dropped down to the bottom and began swimming along the dropoff. Mélo was to my left. She stopped and turned her head and then began flapping her arms like wings. She was making the sign for a manta. My first thought was, That is one sick joke. Then I saw our own manta coming into view, flying over the edge of the deep blue and, later, just a few inches over my head. She was seven feet across. She covered me in shadow. Sven was right: It was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean.
Vincent was also right: Lesson learned.