Swimming with the Sting Rays & Other Water Follies

This week we went camping along the Chesapeake Bay at Breezy Point. We had 3 empty campsites on either side of us and a whole stretch of beach to ourselves. It was bliss, except for the extreme heat! I spent the morning and evening hours searching for sharks’ teeth on the sand and at the edge of the water. I found a good number, about 100. Two of them were bigger than an inch, but most of the rest were very small.

Along the shoreline was a series of rock jetties. We had the entire area inside two jetties to ourselves. Each evening we swam as the sun was setting. After avoiding the sun all day (movies and the public library) we were eager to plunge into the cool water, which was murky and brackish, but just the right amount of saltiness. We kept our eyes open for jellyfish, and were glad that there weren’t too many visible. We also kept an eager watch for osprey, and were lucky enough to watch one plunge into the water and catch a fish, then carry it to her nest, high over our heads. Osprey are so much more appealing than seagulls!

One evening I had just gotten in the water alone when the water rippled near me and a stingray surfaced. He scooted himself along the surface in front of me, the way they do, almost like a flying fish. His sting ray was straight up behind him, like a length of barbed wire. I wasn’t sure if I had surprised him, or if he was trying to warn me. My heart was beating very fast. The sting ray circled me, going between me and the shore, which seemed terrifying!

A few moments later my husband joined me in the water. We each felt a bump at about knee level, as another (or the same) sting ray came along. A few moments later another sting ray actually swam beneath my husband’s feet, making him jump. We decided it was time to get out of their way while they finished eating their supper!

I sat on the shore and watched the water. I love how you catch sight of a ray and by that time it’s gone. I love the flurry they make, as if they’re tussling with a fish, or with their sister who’s trying to steal their dinner. I make up stories in my head about what’s happening, although I don’t really know.

When I was in Belize we went snorkeling four times in two days. One time I was alone for a moment, swimming slowly back toward the boat, when I saw an enormous leopard-spotted sting ray far below me and swimming away. I kept my head below the surface and swam after him. He seemed to notice me and circled back. He was as big as me, easily 5 or 6 feet around, and one of the most graceful sights I have ever seen. We went in a big slow circle around each other. I could clearly see his eyes, and the openings in his velvet coat. He rippled like a wave, like a dancer, like a spirit. Circling that sting ray was one of the most thrilling moments of my life and has given me a tremendous fondness for the animals. Our guide cautioned me afterward, but I never regretted what I did.

What fun it was to swim with the sting rays again! Too bad the water was too murky to follow them better.

Oh, and do you know how our water fun ended this week? We took the inflatable sailboat out and the wind died down. As we pulled the boat back to shore, Doug got stung by a jellyfish! The red marks wrapped nearly the whole way around his middle! Breaking camp quickly and in the heat was really quite awful. Thank goodness for Benadryl, and soft-serve ice cream on the way home!


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