Mike Mongo reveals the worlds of marine, shoreline, and in-land eco-biology

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

8-foot Hammerhead at Eastern Dry Rocks, Key West, FL

The most amazing thing about this short footage is not that I swim within five feet of this 8-foot hammerhead shark; it's that this was recorded at the reef, about seven miles SW of Key West, and was the first of its kind that had been seen there by myself or any member of the crew on the boat: 29 years cumulative experience in this area!

Now, I know most people might think swimming in the water with a shark of this size is a crazy (much less swimming down twenty feet to swim at its side), but for me it was bliss.

So what happened was this: Out at the reef here off of Key West, a great hammerhead showed up. As a local, I was just there catching a lift with one of the public charter boats for a quick snorkel on a perfect Saturday morning. As it is, I picked the right day, I guess.

There were about 80 people in the water and 20 on the big catamaran when this big shark made its appearance. Then I calmly called up to the captain, "There's an eight foot hammerhead right here!" Sticking my head back in the water, I heard someone yell, "Shark!!!" I was later told that the numbers reversed in an instant.

By luck, the hammerhead swam right next to the port side of the boat and everyone could see the shark in contrast to me from the boat, and it dwarfed me.

To me, sharks are majestic. Just look at how it moves! My heart was racing, I tell you, not pounding, racing. It was honestly better than sex. It was that good.

I had to consciously think to relax. What I was experiencing—the excitement!—is what gets sharks interested! (As a species, they have developed a sensitivity to racing hearts and increased electrical activity.) My first thought was disbelief. My second thought was that I was as happy as a little kid and that even while snorkeling I had a goofy grin that just would not quit. It was that good.

Aside from my buddy Pete, whose last day town it was and was why we went out when we did, the person I have to thank the most is the boat's captain, Wesley. As captain of the snorkel charter boat I was on that day, he saw the whole thing taking place, and he kept everyone's cool and watched over everything else. His actions insured that the experience I had was world-class. When I got back on his boat, he was so excited for me - "I wanted to jump right in with you but I knew it would scare it away!" - that I knew that I owed his a share of gratitude. As I said, from the deck of the big boat, the size of the shark could clearly be seen in contrast beneath and besides my meager 6 1/2 feet. The shark was big enough to wrap my arms around. But it was Wesley's professionalism that made the day.

Now, the shark was heading away from the boat, and the current was heading that way, as well. Soon I realized I was heading out to deeper water (30ft and deepening). It was now or never. That's when I dove down to swim besides the hammerhead.

As I did, I looked at the video camera, studied the display counter and prayed, "Be recording this. Please be recording this."

And thankfully it was.

The hammerhead definitely knew I was there. It glanced at me catching my eye once and gave me the once-over, but it was non-threatening. I never once felt threatened. Next to it, I felt natural.

In fact, the only time I felt any trepidation was heading back to the boat. Swimming backwards against the current with the large shark now out of sight, that's when I got a slight chill. Just out of alertness while swimming backwards, I did keep my eyes open on my way back on-board, where an adventurer's welcome awaited.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Mike Mongo on Danger Charters

This weekend, I worked at Danger as a fill-in mate during the long 4th of July holiday weekend.

To tell, the truth, I needed the break. For what it's worth, the two full days of sun, sea, water, and work was good for my soul. More to the point, it was good for my spirit.

While I love working on computers and websites and all things tech-related, there is a downside. And that is, I get little real physical work-out putting out fires on laptops and desktops, or building networks and websites. In fact, consistently I feel as if I have been put through the wringer when I wake up in the mornings: No physical relationship to my work and the physical aspect of my being falls apart.

Working on Danger is non-stop physical activity for crew, particularly mates. Raising sails, lifting anchors, swimming, kayaking, carrying trays, serving drinks, running the length of the ship all day, it is a wonderful experience. By the end of the day, what I feel is complete physical reward and satisfaction.

For me, the mental side of being a mate is draining. There is as much attention paid to the guests as a good school teacher pays to a class of students. Only it's a class that lasts four-to-six hours at time, and twice a day. (Plus, for some with alcohol!)

But where the experience is unlike a school or classroom, is that this is vacation. The guests who come out on Danger appreciate the degree of learning, research, and experience that the Danger crew brings to the experience yet the idea is to present entertain rather than educate. Any education which transpires—and believe me, much does!—is an added bonus. In fact, it is commonly understood among all members of the Danger crew that a "great trip" is one where genuine transformation occurs for one of the trip's guests. This too happens more often than on any other excursion on the Island. This of course is why I was successful at Danger in the first place.

Nonetheless, working this weekend was a vacation for me. Imagine! A vacation of labor. That is exactly what it was. I met some wonderful people, and I saw (and did) some of my favorite things: Sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, and—most of all—educating.

Still, for me, the perfect job is teaching in a setting that fosters both physical and mental growth.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Update: Computer Drive for Students of Brampton Primary, Trelawney Parish, Jamaica

Our "weekend" computer drive is entering its third week. Today, we got yet another desktop PC. Yesterday, a laptop arrived in the mail....from Wisconsin! [See below]

When we began this, I had no expectations. As I stated previously, seeing as there are so many computers either laying around—or worse, being thrown away—any number of which I see day-to-day while on rounds making repairs on them for clients and friends island-wide, as well as how wonderful the people are with whom I work here on the island, my hopes were high.

Here's where we stand: As of this morning, eight computers, four printers, fifteen monitors, two scanners, and a box of random accessories. That's four desktop PCs, two desktop Macs, and two laptop PCs. ollege students/summer residents/computer geniuses Daniel and Ben have begun piecing them into cleaned and functioning independent workstations.

What now? Well, now that we have really got this ball rolling, it is my belief we can get seven more computers. In fact, if the three others which have been promised materialize, then we are just four short of goal!

That would be the total to fifteen workstations for ninety students. Clearly, this this is exactly the right number to get things rolling for students who have yet to use a computer much less use Google! Fifteen will entire classes to make use of them together and at one time.

So I post this to let everyone know what a fantastic success we have had so far, and to remind everyone who thought of recycling their old computer that we are having the drive one more weekend, and to spark anyone else who may know of anyone else who has an unused computer that could be put to good use. And one of the most important "R's" of recycling is re-use!

We are accepting computers, software, and peripherals again all week-long at Conch Town Cafe [map link] at 801 Thomas Street, across from Blue Heaven Restaurant. As a matter of fact, pictured here is Conch Town Cafe and Lincoln Thomas (whose wife is a teacher at Brampton Primary, and who had the inspiration for the drive in the first place).

Or , if you would prefer—and can resist having an excuse to stop-by and pick-up one of Conch Town Cafe's Jamaican curries or some maybe some conch salad—I will come to you, and that unused or discarded computer can be picked up.

To me, this is such a great effort. When I see all this gear that may have been wasted or lost to a landfill instead being made good important use of, I get really charged! All the people who are helping to make this happen, you're the best!

Lastly, while all the contributions are wonderful and appreciated, this laptop holds a special place in my heart. Watch the video and you'll see why:

Very Large Land Crab