Feb 15, 2009

ARGONAUTICA: IN SEARCH OF LIVING FOSSILS

Rock Islands, Micronesia – A small vessel switchbacks across the inner reef. "Want me to swim?" I gesture, as much as shout. The captain waves me off: maybe it's a point of pride, how close can he draw to the remote Lee Marvin Beach, where my kayak expedition's camped? He's awful good. I wade to mid-thigh, lunch held aloft, then clamber aboard.

Sam's Tours kindly detoured its chase boat, so I could join the nautilus dive. These deep-dwelling predators can equalize pressure in their chambered shells: the very ability that inspired submarine technology. So an outfitter baits a cage – nummy raw chickens attract the most cephalopods – at 600 to 1,000 feet overnight, then two ships winch it and its prehistoric occupants to 30ish.

My friend Robin tipped me off. I met her on the plane from Honolulu, as she wrangled a hijabed mother's suitcase. "I'll see you around," I said, as we parted, several bleary flights later in Koror. "Maybe we can hang out."

She laughed. But then she didn't know Palau yet. Three days later our dive boats moored alongside each other. We might have made plans then, except a dolphin pod circused up and bam, she dove in after 'em. After a stint in Iraq, who could blame her? The blue offers so much distraction and dissolution...

Then we crossed paths at Bottom Time, Sam's bar. And the great nautilus scheme hatched.

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