Four manatee

I feel at home on the water although my experience is limited: it’s a dangerous combination: a sea dog without the sea legs. But not today, fortunately. The weather was hot; with a lulling, lilting breeze off the sea rippling the surface of the gulf we were kayaking in. The rhythmic roll and pull of the paddle; the water slapping the hull; a small wake behind: the hours disappeared without a breath.

We made our way around low mangrove islands; their tendril roots hanging down like wizard’s boney fingers; spider crabs infesting them, scrambling up the roots to overhead branches, scrabbling, running, hanging; eyes on stalks peeking at you as we passed below their woodland home.  Urbanisations of oysters shells on the water line; popping and cracking with the movement of the tides and the flushing of the bath-warm water through them, like a forest fire catching, the distant sound of flames. A heron; stark white; black mascaraed eyes, standing in a shadowed break in the stream; the perfect spot, above the shallows. He eyes us briefly but his gaze is elsewhere, in the green waters below him, the plants fanning lazily, hermit crabs unfurling; and then; a recoiled neck, a spearing dart and a fish in his beak shaking. He shakes too, his neck quivers, gulping the fish down. Then the cycle starts again.  In the shallows outside the tunnel, grey mullet in shoals scitter randomly; needlefish spearing through the water with purpose; above ospreys pipe and watch what we watch but with different intent.

As we head for home a curving green arc in the water and a snout; a blow and a small plume of water.   Urgent calls; at first, it looks like a seal, but no; the broad, boxy snout is the give away: a sea cow, a manatee – at first, a pair we think, as two heads rise together entwined. We lightly turn our boats to follow them, and realise there are four, hoovering the sea grasses and rich silts under the shallow bay; arching their backs to dive; returning to the surface to idly chew and breathe. Their movements in slow-mo, considered, unhurried: their focus, feeding.  Not meaning to scare we keep our distance; but after brief curiosity, the manatees ignore us and at one point pass below our boat; cormorants hoping for stray fish follow them brushing our hull.