What you need for snorkeling in Tobago's reefs, and how to look after it
You need little more than a mask, a snorkel tube and a set of fins (flippers) to go snorkeling. You can buy or rent these locally and many hotels, apartments and villas have equipment that you can borrow. However, your ability and enjoyment of snorkelling is highly dependent upon the condition and the fit of the equipment and an uncomfortable, badly fitting, mask or fins can ruin the experience. The only way to guarantee a comfortable efficient fit, and your own enjoyment, is to accept an initial cost hit buying your own equipment. Although fins, in particular, are bulky, they are flat and easily fit in the top or bottom of a suitcase, so are less problematic to pack than you might think.
You can buy snorkelling equipment locally in Tobago, but the choice is limited. Having said that, very few of us live close to a major dive/snorkelling store and it’s not something you can do by mail order. When choosing equipment, you should bear the following points in mind:
The mask is the single most important part of kit because nothing will spoil your enjoyment more than a badly-fitting, leaking mask, or one that is scratched and blurred. You should try on a number of masks and find one that fits your face comfortably, with the skirt forming a perfect seal. Masks with silicone skirts are more expensive, but give the best, most comfortable fit. Make sure the mask has got a tempered glass safety lens, not a cheap plastic mask. If you wear prescription eyeglasses, you may also want to get a prescription mask. Gentlemen (or ladies) with heavy beards or moustaches, or strong ‘designer stubble’, might find it difficult impossible to get an effective seal. You might need to smother your facial hair with Vaseline to create a watertight seal.
The fins should fit your feet as comfortably as a pair of shoes. The ‘closed heel’ (also known as ‘shoe’ type) fin is probably best for snorkelling. Do not settle for fins that are too small or too big because this will only hinder your swimming and will be uncomfortable or even painful. The fins should be a snug fit and allow you to wiggle your toes. If they’re too slack, they will come off too easily. If you buy your fins in a colder climate than Tobago, remember that your feet are likely to swell a little in the higher temperatures of the tropics. If you plan to wear booties, you must try the fins on while wearing them.
The optimum length of a snorkel is 30cm. A number of different designs and varieties are available, but the basic function of a snorkel is to enable you to breathe easily at the surface without raising your head from the water. We would recommend a ‘purge’ snorkel because these make it easy to clear water from the tube.
A ‘must have’ is a protective case for your mask and a mesh drawstring bag in which you can carry all your snorkelling gear.
Some people like to wear a snorkelling vest, which act as a flotation device. These should be mandatory for children.
One final ‘must have’ accessory is a waterproof fish identification card. You’ll soon find that you get frustrated seeing lots of lovely fish but not knowing what they are. Fish ID cards are laminated cards with colour pictures of all the major species of fish that you are likely to encounter on both sides of the card. Good fish ID cards can be attached to an adjustable wrist lanyard so that they are constantly to hand while you are snorkelling. The only source of cards that we are aware of on Tobago (please advise us if you know otherwise) is Extra Divers, who are located at the Surfside Hotel at the junction of Pigeon Point Road and Milford Road in Crown Point.
Whether you have taken your own equipment or borrowed or rented it, care of your mask, snorkel and fins is vital. The first priority is to thoroughly soak the equipment in fresh water after every use. If you don’t, the salt crystals in the sea water will dry and harden causing any metal parts to rust and straps and fabrics to stiffen and crack. Sand and salt crystals act as an abrasive and will quickly ruin clear visibility of your mask. Masks should always be kept in their protective case when not in use to prevent the face from becoming scratched. Fins should be stored flat and never standing upright on their tips. If you have snorkelled before you will know that lens fogging can be a frequent problem. There are a variety of products that promise to keep a snorkel mask clean, but saliva is just as effective. Before entering the water rub some of your own saliva on the inside of the lens and rinse it with sea water. If you do this before the mask gets wet you should have a fog-free lens for at least half hour or more.