“Remember… out here, slow is fast - take it easy.”
The wise words of Coby, my local diving guide, echo in my ears. Keeping my arms pinned behind me, I kick my fins slowly to hover steadily alongside him.
The order to ‘take it easy’ had not been difficult to follow during my stay at COMO Parrot Cay, a 1,000-acre private island in the idyllic Turks and Caicos. But I’d been reliably informed that to truly appreciate this Caribbean paradise, you need to head out onto the waves.
To do so, I’ve opted for a half-day private boat charter aboard the resort’s own motorboat, in the company of local diving guide Coby, and with the veteran Captain Neil at the helm.
As my breathing slows, my eyes can focus on the wonders below. I’d been told that the marine life here was at ease with human visitors, as they lived in an area protected from fishing. I wasn't disappointed.
First through my goggles are flashes of electric blue as a parrotfish passes just two feet away, ambivalent to my clumsy presence above. Beyond that, nestling closer to the reef, I can see the glittering yellow of a fin, trumped only by the bright orange of a coney. I drift above them, happily mesmerised.
The more I examine, the more I see the reef in which they hide is a marvel in its own right. Below me lies a stunning variety of coral formations beckoning me closer.
Starting at 10.00am from the island’s private dock, we cut out at speed into the shallow coastal waters under a crystal clear sky. Captain Neil’s reassuring presence is essential; only locals who have navigated these waters their entire lives can keep track of the ever-shifting sandbars in this remote archipelago.
Before joining the COMO team Captain Neil had worked these waters for years as a free-diver, holding his breath for minutes at a time as he searched for lobsters, plucking them from the seabed by hand. Until tourism came to the Turks and Caicos Islands, for generations the sea was the only engine of the local economy.
Heading south-west towards the neighbouring Fort St George Cay, we gain an insight into an economic activity even older than lobster fishing.
Anchoring close to shore, Captain Neil points below the water to three dark oblongs on the seabed, each about nine feet long.
“Cannons, from the early 18th century we think. Today we call it ‘Parrot Cay’, but it wasn’t always that way…”
In the early 1700s, these islands were a haven for pirates. Two of the most legendary figures of this Golden Age of Caribbean piracy were Anne Bonny and Mary Read, infamous female pirates in what was very much a man’s world. They were rumoured to have made their base on the island then known as ‘Pirate Cay’.
Bonny, Read and their fellow brigands caused so much chaos to commercial shipping that the British Crown stepped in to restore order. Bonny and Read were ultimately captured and sentenced to death in 1720, only to be spared at the 11th hour as both were with child.
As Captain Neil shares the story of these once troubled waters, we cruise gently towards a sandbar now home to one of the area’s most celebrated ocean establishments - Noah’s Ark. As we swim up to the bar from which Caribbean beats gently drift, it’s hard to square these old stories of high-crime and chaos with the idyllic paradise around me. The closest I can get is to raise a delicious rum cocktail to Bonny & Read, I’m sure they would have approved.
It’s been a morning filled with breathtaking views, incredible wildlife and fascinating history, but before we return to base there’s one more treat in store: Iguana Island.
This conservation sanctuary was established in 2017 to bring the indigenous Rock Iguana back from the brink of extinction. Working with the Turks and Caicos National Trust, local conservationists have managed to reverse the fortunes of these loveable lizards, and there are now reported to be as many as 5,000 on an island of just over 100 acres.
Moments after stepping onto the island and paying a small entry fee to support the work, we’re greeted by the welcome party - a highly curious, geeny-brown adult male, about one foot in length.
“He’s marking his territory,” explains local conservationist Aliyah in a low voice, as she guides us through the newly built boardwalks designed to minimise human impact. The little iguana holds my gaze until we’re safely across his patch.
“Mating season is approaching,” Aliyah explains, “so the pressure’s on!”
Leaving the aspiring lovers to their work, we board the boat for the final time. Taking a seat on the cushioned day-bed on the boat’s bow, it’s time to sit back, breathe deep and enjoy the ride.
From the boat’s custom cooler, Coby passes out a fresh fruit platter and a frosty bottle of the delicious, locally brewed lager - ‘I Soon Reach’.
“It’s one of our favourite sayings,” Coby explains with a smile. “It means I could be right around the corner, or an entire island away. And that’s the magic - you’ll just have to sit back, relax and know that you’ll see me when you see me.”
As I settle into the cushions to watch the world drift by, I think that’s an idea I could really get behind.
See you soon at COMO Parrot Cay.