Bottles and bones

It’s been such a mixed bag of weather here in Bermuda over the last week. Hurricane Dorian has devastated the Bahamas, and we are counting our blessings to just have the edge weather systems that have to come with wind force so huge and so far away. It could have easily been us if it had changed direction, and still could yet. Some days have been eerily calm, then the oceans got a bit churned up, periods of tank rain, and wind gusts today. We are watching tropical storm Gabrielle now as well, which is a long way away yet, but it always pays to be vigilant. Bermuda is literally between the two but with hundreds of miles of ocean in between.

So I wanted to chat about snorkeling, and the two main reasons why I love it so much. Something happens when I put on my mask, snorkel and flippers, secure my little trowel to my wrist, and slide into the water. Not only am I weightless, but I feel at one with nature. I’m really not a good swimmer, but it’s impossible not to float here in the beautiful crystal clear bluer than blue water. It’s so incredibly salty and visibility is usually terrific with the white coral sand underneath. I have difficulty staying down when I dive, in fact sometimes I have to secure myself to a rock or something heavy not to pop back up again. I’m finding that fish swim around me, and if we go to particular bays enough, they actually come over to find out what we’re up to. They wait until a rock is turned over, then dive in to check if there’s anything new to eat. The fish are amazing, incredible colours, so much variety, and I still marvel when I see something new. My lovely husband loves pointing out the not so appreciated ones, and just on Monday a Moray eel was not far from me. Er no thanks. Anything snake like can stay away! I once saw an orange and green parrot fish so huge I was sure I’d fit in its mouth. He wasn’t bothered by me at all. Actually that’s possibly the most amazing thing I’ve seen so far. Imagine a fish a metre in length swimming right beside you while eating algae off the rocks. Last week a turtle quietly swam past me, came back for a look, then went on it’s way again. He was fairly big, about a forty-five centimetre shell perhaps. But you know how those fishing stories get exaggerated.

It hasn’t been without injuries. I know I touched on that before but the list goes: jelly fish mucus reaction (which is still bothering me now weeks later), sliced fingers and feet on rocks and glass, a bee sting when one floating on the water collected with me, toe bitten by a parrot fish (not my toe!), a thump in the back from a Sargent major fish who didn’t want me near their family, a wack on the knee when washed by a wave into a huge brain coral (I had the pattern embedded for quite a while), definitely stung when poking a sea anemone with my finger, sunburnt badly on my back when sunscreen failed, and dehydration and vomiting when swallowing salt water by accident. That last one wasn’t so good. The rest have been fairly superficial and most things have healed up quite fast with no long lasting results. However I’ve employed antibiotic cream on the little jelly fish sore that just won’t go away. I get numb hands if I stay in too long and that’s the time injuries are really easy to get.

There’s a couple of intruders in amongst the bottles which some of you may recognize from my salt and pepper collection. I think there’s around 50 bottles now.

The other reason I go snorkeling, is probably inherited from my Dad, who loved finding and collecting old glass bottles. Now New Zealand isn’t really old, not in a European settlers kind of way, it’s only getting near two hundred years. Bermuda was found in the sixteen hundreds, and has hundreds of wrecks around it’s cheese grater coral reef. So it’s fair to say there’s got to be some real beauties out there. I think to really seriously collect them, I would need to learn to dive properly. But I’m quite happy puddling about in bays, not too far from the shore, having a scratch around with my trowel. I’m always careful not to disturb coral, habitats, and anything that could be growing. That ensures that everyone gets to enjoy the marvel of it. We are getting quite a few bottles though, and one of my friends in New Zealand asked what we plan on doing with them. I actually don’t know. We can’t stay in Bermuda forever as we are not Bermudian, and not rich enough to buy our way in. Even with end over end contracts, we can only stay a maximum of ten years, then it’s three weeks and off island. That does make planning tricky. My lovely husband has alleviated some of my crisis by suggesting, gaining permission, and with my help, installing a lovely bottle shelf. You might notice that some of the bottles are not cleaned up, that’s because we’re not keeping those ones, and will, put them back. Literally. Then someone else can have the joy of finding them. Some are really special though. We have found parts of torpedo bottles, marble soda bottles, clay pipes and the bottom of onion bottles. Ink wells are my favorite and I have two stoneware ones, but the glass one’s evade me so far. Then there’s the newer ones like old coke cola green bottles, Pepsi soda, blue Vick’s vaporub, and my favorite the brown Virol bone marrow jar (yuk!). That’s now a nice candle holder as it’s depth and shape keeps out the wind. Turns out it could be worth about forty dollars! The nineteen forties influence is obvious as the navy base was here around then, so we find perfume, navy issue alcohol bottles of all kinds, and various lotions, potions and elixir bottles which were favorites during those times. These aren’t so old but they’re getting up there. I try to find bottles that were corked, and we have many french blob top wine bottles, and other blob tops of different styles shapes colours and sizes, some with a space for the wire or string to keep the cork in. Occasionally the cork is still inside, which is quite exciting. The way a bottle is made is important too. If it’s moulded, how many parts, does it have a mark on the bottom, was it hand blown then finished off by machine, or was it completely hand blown from scratch? I have a nice little book that’s my bottle bible and we’re always pouring through it comparing what we’ve found.

So the question in our house is usually ‘bottles or fish’ and then we plan our excursion accordly. Last week bottles won out. We went snorkeling in a little bay and found some beauties, black glass blob tops, and parts of a couple of clay pipes that are so fragile it’s amazing they have survived that long. I thought I also found a bone, and didn’t think much of it. People often discard bones they’ve barbecued into the water or they’ve found their way in there via animals or from trash, but it did look familiar. Now when I was very young I had the living daylights scared out of me when I had to collect a human skeleton in a bag for our class. It was an honour to take the lid off the box for my hard work, but I hadn’t twigged yet about what it really was, and nearly passed out when a skull was staring up at me. Enjoying my snorkeling so much, I chose to quickly discard that thought. A few minutes later my lovely husband held up a few bones in his hand, obviously very excited from an archeological point of view and stated ‘they’re human’. Ah no, with loot in hand, I was out of there! It turns out there’s an old graveyard that was flooded when yellow fever was prevalent to ensure people didn’t mess with it. Over the years erosion buy the sea had washed bones into the nearby bay, yes, the bay we were in. Not ideal for this kiwi chick. Being oblivious is far more preferable thank you, and it turns out I swim quite well after all!

More soon – Sally



  1. Great blog Sally. I tried a bit of snorkelling in Australia and it was great fun. Love the collection. X


  2. Did a bit of snorkeling when I first came to Dunedin. Wasn’t very confident in the sea but got just as much satisfaction lying with my face in a rock pool watching anenomes and little fish etc. Of course there was the hassle of struggling in and out of a wet suit to avoid hypothermia. Not something you have to worry about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You might think that, but when the weather gets a bit colder a summer weight wet suit might come in handy to be able to stay in longer. Struggling into a wetsuit might take all the energy I have though. I love the scene you created of you floating in the rock pools watching the fish 🐠


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