When I was just a boy, we lived in Freeport, Grand Bahama for 3 years. While there, I quickly fell in love with the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and the wonderful local coral reefs. It seems we would spend hours snorkeling and exploring the various small reefs found just yards off the beach. I would investigate the small coral heads thoroughly, making sure to see every colorful reef fish, every interesting crustacean, each individual coral cluster. After snorkeling, the soft, white coral sands were a great place to dry off and warm up in the sun. At 11 years old, I was completely unable to sit still and soak up the rays, but I was more than qualified to scour the beach for shells and other treasures given up by the waves. My young spirit delighted in trying to identify everything I had seen, so I would spend hours researching picture guide books to memorize each and every fish, mollusk, and sea creature of every kind. I began a collection of shells and bleached corals that I’d found on the beach, and I became a local expert in identifying the difference between the various grunts, snappers, and parrotfish.
One of my very favorite reefs was just off a local beach a few miles east of Lucaya. Back then, it was just another undeveloped beach with lots of white sand not too far from our neighborhood. I remember swimming out to this huge reef and spending hours slowly looking into every nook and cranny. To me, it was the size of a house! In high tide, you could swim carefully over the top of the corals. In low tide, the gentle waves would break over the surface. It was a magical place, full of life and adventure and treasure. It was something I would never forget.
Over 30 years would pass before I made my way back to my childhood island paradise. My wife, hearing all my unbelievable stories of how fantastic Grand Bahama was, would accompany me for my trip down memory lane. So we booked a room in a resort called Viva Fortuna for some diving and relaxation. I wasn’t disappointed. The resort was a perfect blend of relaxing quiet and activity fun. We did some diving, some sightseeing, drove past my elementary school (Mary Star of the Sea) and had a blast. But, the best part was meeting an old friend by complete surprise.
My wife and I were snorkeling off the beach, and saw the dark outline of a reef a few yards offshore. I quickly swam out to investigate like I had done so many years ago. Imagine my surprise when I came across the coral reef I had spent so many hours visiting! Wow. Apparently, the beach we went to so often was Fortuna Beach (later confirmed with a phone call to Mom.) I was instantly transported back into that childhood wonder of examining, investigating, and exploring. My friend had changed over the years. Not quite as brilliant, but probably more majestic. It still sported a plethora of colorful small reef fish, including a number of bold little Sergeant Majors. The schools of grunts and small snappers also called it home.
These days, I visit my old friend every year or two. It’s like checking in on an old neighbor. I got concerned when there was a blanket of seaweed starting to choke the coral. I chased off the young delinquents standing on the coral like it was their own personal perch. I’ve bored my wife and friends silly with the simple stories of days gone by that shaped a friendship that I didn’t know had become so important to me. And after every time I visit, I leave with a giant smile and a warm feeling inside my soul.