Celi Voyage - Marquesas

We hoisted the anchor and departed the Dry Tortugas. No longer protected by the shadow of the islands, Captain Timmel pointed the bow straight into the easterly wind and rising waves, the Marquesas thirty nautical miles beyond. As we drew closer, the thin green line that emerged from the horizon grew to be a wide rim of mangroves rising from the open ocean. Like the reefs of the Tortugas, the Marquesas atoll provided shelter from the surging Atlantic. The western position we choose to anchor, we later learned, was very close to the wreck of the Atosha - the Spanish ship which treasure hunter Mel Fisher had famously discovered.

The Marquesas quickly became one of my favorite places in Florida. Having grown up exploring the bays near Clearwater and Tampa, mangroves are a familiar habitat to me. But to travel among mangroves rising up through the clear water of the open ocean is an experience offered nowhere else in the United States. Combined with the white sand and grass flats the shimmered across the wide expanse inside the atoll, the Marquesas mangroves reminded me of places in the Bahamas or Belize.

While Christopher and John toured the flats in their Geenoe, I set out on the YOLO Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) that friends at the Santa Rosa Beach company had loaned me in preparation for the 2012 Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition (YOLO boards will help us navigate backwaters and Everglades). Drifting over the shallows of the Marquesas on a paddle board was one of the coolest things I’ve done. Bonefish, sea turtles, rays and sharks didn’t react unless I was right above them and by standing I could easily see down though the surface of water, often just a few inches deep. I saw several large bonefish withing easy casting range, but I had regrettably left my fly rod back in the boat. I wore my camera in a waterproof wast pack and carried another camera in an underwater housing beneath the elastic cords on the front of my board.

One of my interests making was split-level photographs of mangrove roots. I enjoyed trying although the water was still bit cloudy from the heavy waves and currents outside the atoll. I paddled several miles exploring the interior rim and found this lone mangrove, above, along the leeward fringe of the atoll. I submerged by body in the water and legs in silty bottom, positioning the camera right at the surface, the outside of my hand holding it often touching the water. I found a composition I liked and then waited for fast moving clouds to frame the scene. For me, it's not easy to separate my perception of a photograph from my experience making it. I was feeling the isolation, integrity and purity of the Marquesas manifest in the little mangrove and hope that some of those qualities are embodied in the image.

To the east side of the Marquesas atoll lies Boca Grande Pass, a place identified in Celi's journal.