I am floating face-down in two-to four-foot swells. Nasty bits of Pacific chop are breaking over my back. My fins are of little help against the cut’s rushing current, so I kick harder — as hard as I can — trying not to choke on the salt spray running down my snorkel and into my throat.
The manta ray’s wingspan is easily 10 feet. Its body is tuxedo black, gliding effortlessly through the deep blue into a storm of white plankton as thick as December snow. I try to keep pace above the ray as it passes over a coral mound the size of a Mini Cooper. Its shadow is ominous, like that of a spaceship overtaking the moon.
A second manta ray enters my peripheral vision from the right, just as big, just as shockingly big. It banks like an aircraft carrier into the current, its mouth stretched open and ready to feed.
There’s an awful lot of plankton between that second ray and me.
It’s not stopping. Or slowing.
Do these things attack? I wonder, briefly assessing the damage I might do with a purple plastic snorkel.
The rays swim on and after a few minutes, I can no longer keep up. I lift my head and look for my ride: a 21-foot Protector with bright-orange tubes and a hardtop that make typical white tenders look like bathtub toys. I toss my gear over the side and slop my dripping-wet feet onto the nonslip sole.
There are no drink holders. No speaker system. No frills. And why, exactly, would I trade safety for frills when I’m chasing 10-foot manta rays through four-foot swells?
“That’s pretty much the owner’s attitude as well,” says engineer Ben Cameron-Saul, who regularly pitches in with deckhand duties aboard the 111-foot Alloy motoryacht VvS1. “The Protector is ideal for the kind of charter program we’re running. For people who like to fish and dive, it really doesn’t get any better.”
My adrenaline is still pumping when the Protector deposits me safely on the afterdeck of VvS1, where, I am pleased to report, there are frills galore. This yacht is a custom one-off developed specifically to bring luxury service and style to off-the-beaten-course destinations like this one: Fiji. VvS1’s exterior paint is an intimidating shark gray, and it occasionally leaves tribal chiefs asking whether she is a military vessel. She has battlewagon-quality bait tanks and freezers built into her cockpit, plus top-of-the-line Shimano gear to support true big-game fishing. Her range is a staggering 4,000 miles at 10 knots, with a fuel burn of no more than 26 gallons per hour. “We’re clean and green,” Capt. Andy Grocott tells me. “We did an eight-day charter earlier this year, and the drinks cost the client more than the fuel.”