Paddle adventure to bioluminescence glory

Tourists in high spirits after their paddle around the Bon Accord lagoon.  -
Tourists in high spirits after their paddle around the Bon Accord lagoon. -

Duane Kenny is a Tobago adventure guide. Travel with him around Tobago from Pigeon Point to Charlotteville; learn to stand up paddle off Pigeon Point; windsurf with his brother Brett at Radical Sports. In this adventure, Duane takes a small group to see the “lights in the lagoon” one moonless night.

Take a night when moon is on the wane and endless rain has been falling on the mangroves.

Take four or five persons – the recommended minimum for a tour – who may not know each other too well: an artist, a practical do-it-fix-it man, a writer, a person helping humans with horses, and a non-swimmer and put them together with an experienced guide.

We arrive at the Pigeon Point base of the Radical Sports Ltd Tobago, where our tour guide for the evening is Duane Kenny. His briefing is casual but direct. We will all wear life jackets. We will all paddle; on no account should anyone just let the paddle go in the water. We are paired off in two-man kayaks. Our fifth person paddles his own kayak. Each person is equipped with a torch which hooks to the life jacket for use in emergency. The tour guide goes on a stand up paddleboard and carries the light which will lead. We should stay together.

The intrepid tourists on the steps of Radical Sports Limited Tobago before their bioluminescence tour. -

Ms Human Horse: OMG, I thought that we’d all be together on a big boat. My husband doesn’t swim.

Duane: We’ve had non-swimmers. You don’t need to go in the water!

Ms Artist: But we will get wet?

Ms Writer: Can we just go in swimsuits? (Ditches shorts and sandals)

Mr No Swim: So no drinks aboard a restful luxury cruiser? (He looks fit enough to paddle one of Odysseus’s Greek ships!)

Ms Horse: And I had this fabulous body suit that I could have worn. (Instead of the necklaces and bracelets and harem pants!)

Mr Fix-it: How far is it? (By the end of the evening, he figured out we had paddled about three miles, one circuit of the Savannah)

Each of us was given a paddle and shown how to lift and carry the kayaks down to the water.

Tropical night had fallen like a blanket as we headed to No Man’s Land. There was more than a little chop and the wind was in our faces. Each paddle was a pole with a fin on each end. I focused on dipping one and then the other fin in the water, aiming at rhythmic alternation.

Ms Artist, the driver sitting behind: Dig deep, and pull. Keep it even and steady. (Along the way, she would call out, right or left or right right!)

BON ACCORD LAGOON: No Man’s Land sand spit at the bottom was the start of a night time adventure. Duane Kenny’s bioluminescent tour took adventure seekers clockwise around the lagoon from this point. - RJJ Aerial Photography

As we pressed against the pull of tide and wind, I wondered what my brother-in-law, kayak instructor and chef de mission on TT’s international rowing teams, would advise. The voice in my own head was saying, "Too far to turn back now; by the time you reach, you think you will be able to come back?"

We arrived at the spit called No Man’s Land, fringing the Bon Accord Lagoon. We got out of the kayaks and dragged them across the sand. A party boat was blasting soca; bright lights and loud voices. Would they see us? Duane made sure they did.

He guided us close to the mangrove. He pushed his paddle to turn an arc and incandescence lit a broad splash. Running our hands through the water-produced flurries of white light, glowing a few seconds in absolute silence. Prodding deeper under the mangrove, there were more shimmers. Fish scudding through the water were outlined in the light, decorated with dinoflagellates as these bioluminescent plankton are called.

We came to a spot where Duane pointed out the mother of all mangroves, a dark giant against the sky. Overhead the stars twinkled coldly. There’s Cassiopeia in that M-shape. And directly above, Orion. But, it’s not necessary to know the names of constellations. Just look up in awe of the glittering sky, silent and stunning as the lights in the water.

A couple of us got out of our kayaks to wear the shimmering stuff on our bare arms and legs. We scooped it up in our t-shirts and wished we could keep the sparkling dots on our sleeves. We floated and gazed at the stars. The silence was penetrating; and the darkness of the night pleasantly intimate.

Duane was looking for fish and sea cucumbers under the water and under the mangroves. He had already pointed out the fish-eating bats, shapes swooping low over the water.

Some of us floated and flapped in the lagoon with the dinoflagellates. Then we heaved our bottoms into the kayak seats. We realised that all that paddling and drifting had taken us around the inner circumference of the lagoon. We were back where we started, at the sand spit of No Man’s Land. It felt like a miracle, not to have to paddle all the way we had already travelled. Darkness can be disorienting, and we felt suspended between the Milky Way above and the plankton trails below, enchanted into a new dimension.

Aim for the intermittent blinking light to the right of Pigeon Point, Duane directed. The wind had died and the surface was calm. My feet found the grooves in the kayak, and my arms were rotating in a new rhythm.

We hauled the kayaks back upon the sand at Pigeon Point. Some of us were cold as we stripped off the life jackets. But every person felt the satisfaction of completing the adventure. Dinoflagellates and plankton may exist in marine waters everywhere, but bio-bays (the places where this phenomenon may be seen regularly) are relatively rare.

Mr No Swim: If I had been told what it involved, I would not have come. I am glad I did.

Ms Horses: I may not have come either. And I would certainly have dressed more appropriately.

Mr Fix-it: Yes man, now I can tell my son that I did it.

Ms Artist: People have to know that this is precious. Keep it secret.

(To find out about the adventures that await at the tip of Pigeon Point, go to the Facebook pages, Radical Sports Limited Tobago and Stand Up Paddle Tobago).


"Paddle adventure to bioluminescence glory"

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