It was back in March, just before returning to what was going to turn into coronavirus lockdown, when Stuart and I were on holiday in Hawai'i. It had been an amazing holiday so far but while we still had a couple of days left, we were hoping to experience something rather special. Something we had been told would be unforgettable. A night swim - with the flying monsters of the ocean. Manta rays.
Back in our boat, the rain and darkness that night was only the half of it. The ocean was rough. Choppy. And getting rougher.
An hour into our bumpy, little voyage the little boat suddenly stopped. The engines had cut out; we just bobbing up and down in the swell. Where we here? Wherever 'here' is. We had lost our phone signal ages ago.
Our pilot and ship's mate then appeared briefly before launching themselves overboard into the darkness. We dashed to the side of the boat struggling to make them out in the pitch-black waters. Where did they go? Were they swimming away? We waited what seemed like ages, unsure of what to do.
Suddenly a dazzling incandescent blue light lit up what seemed like the entire ocean in front of the boat. Our crew had prepared a floating pontoon for us with huge battery-powered ultra violet lights pointing straight down into the depths. It was an incredible spectacle. Like a dazzling blue alien space ship floating in the water in front of us.
We soon plucked up courage, partly just to get a closer look, and jumped into the cold water. We swam over to the pontoon and as instructed lay flat on the surface of the choppy water face down so our feet were not dangling down towards the ocean floor. And a good job we did too. The blue light had attracted thousands of krill who were swarming just below the surface in the bright, blue light. And manta rays love krill.
Before we knew it, we saw huge shapes moving in the darkness beneath us. And they were enormous.
Manta rays are filter feeders and eat large quantities of zooplankton, including krill, which they gather with their open mouths as they swim. As they came into view, we were simply stunned. Their huge wing-like fins flapped gracefully as these monsters flew beneath us; they then barrelled round and round vertically - coming increasingly closer and closer to us with each fly-by. We squealed with delight as more and more came. Finally, within inches of us, we saw their eyes, their gills, their scales – with their huge mouths open in a majestic feeding frenzy. We genuinely thought they were going to swallow us whole. However, we were just too excited to be scared.
After about half an hour or so our crew signalled we had to leave. The waves were just getting too choppy. So we swam back to the little boat, and climbed back on board. The lights went out, the pontoon was disassembled, and we were told to strap ourselves in. Good job too; it was a roller coaster of a speed-dash back to the shore through the waves before the storm, that had been threatening to break, did.
Back on shore, we could not stop smiling. Did that really just happen? It did. Flying sea monsters dancing in front of us in a magically blue light. An unforgettable night, swimming with manta rays. A once in a lifetime adventure.
If you ever get a chance to do it. Do.