November 9, 2011

Stalking the Turtle

There are nine boats in the anchorage now. Over the course of yesterday boat after boat pulled in. If they had kept sailing they would have been hard pressed to reach Australia before the time customs closes on Friday. It sounds like WGD is going to just squeak in under the deadline tomorrow.

We've decided we actually need to leave here and are planning for a Monday arrival. Connect 4 will leave tonight (they're a bit slower than us) and we'll leave tomorrow am. So last night we had our final evening here as a group. All the boats brought something for a potluck on shore and we caught up with old friends (Sudden Stops pulled in) and met a few people we'd only heard on the radio up until now. Mainly though our little core group of three boats soaked in our last moments together.
Around 10pm four of us headed off on turtle patrol--growing silent each time we sighted a shadow in the water or a lump on the beach. At one point we took up station on the sandbar between two islands--giving us a clear few of two spans of beach. A while later we walked further, past fresh nests and meandering turtle tracks. Turtle paths look most like tractor tracts. The flipper marks appear as tire treads and the body (which for all intents is dragged through the sand) leaves a hollow trail in between.

Even though the sand is bright white in the moonlight it's hard to tell the difference between rocks and turtles. At one point the four of us stood silently, watching a dark shape for movement, taking a stealthy step now and again, until it was clear we had snuck up on a rock.
Then when we were ready to turn back Cheryl spotted what we thought was another rock. She snuck up slowly, taking step after step, trying to decide if she was looking at a rock-shaped turtle, or a turtle shaped rock. A few metres from the shape she saw movement and began to back toward us--signalling 'turtle!' with subtle arm movements.
The four of us (Cheryl, Steve, Eric from Discovery and me) found a spot up on the top of the beach and began to watch.
"I think it moved!"
"No, that was a shadow."
Are you sure it's a turtle?"
Time passed and we imagined movement and then decided nothing had changed.
Then we all saw her move her head.
"Should someone go back to the fire and get Evan and the kids?"
Cheryl started the trek back and Steve, Eric and I huddled together and waited for more movement. Nothing happened.
"Are we sure she's alive? It would be terrible to bring the kids to see a dead turtle."
Finally she moved her back fins and seemed to shuffle forward. Then she stopped. We'd heard they find the effort of getting up the beach exhausting and tended to nap a bit as they progressed, but our turtle seemed to be narcoleptic. Evan and the kids arrived and joined out huddle and we watched. One by one the kids fell asleep. Now and again the turtle would move a fin or look around, but as it passed midnight and grew cooler we decided to leave her in peace and call it a night.
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