Friday April 12, 2013
Even though Buena Vista Cay had been previously described to us as ‘not to miss’, we decided the empty coral heads and lack of challenging walking trails were not enough to keep us there and we hauled anchor once more. Slowly making our way down to Ragged Island and the only settlement of Duncan Town, we thought we’d stop at one more cay on our way since we were in no real rush. Our biggest goal in mind now was not which island held the prettiest beach or a good pit for bonfires, but one that would shelter us from the terrible swells that would constantly rock our boats back and forth all day and all night. One of the days we had been on the radio hailing each other while traveling, we were overheard by another cruising boat a little further south that mentioned they were at Double Breasted Cay along with a few other boats and the swells were not bad there. This boat was now headed toward Hog Cay which is right next to Ragged Island, and we were invited to a beach get together should we decide to continue on the extra 15 miles south. Since we chose to visit the Jumentos and Raggeds mostly for their seclusion, a harbor full of other boats did not sound tempting so we planned to anchor that night at Racoon Cay which is the island just north of Double Breasted. It had a large cove that hooked around and we were sure the swells could not wrap around it and reach us. (I know this sounds like a geography lesson, but these islands are literally within 3-4 miles of each other and I feel the odd need to list them all)
Stephanie had listened to the weather on their SSB that morning, and according to weather guru Chris Parker, winds were supposed to be 17-20 knots out of the east. Coasting under the protection of Buena Vista Cay still (see, there I go again) we did see those light winds, but once out of the shelter, they settled into the 20-25 knots that we had been experiencing all week. This was fine as we were used to it and I still liked the speed that would carry us to our next destination as soon as possible. I should quickly mention here that one of the reasons we also decided on Racoon Cay was that the harbor was easily accessible from the banks, and since we hadn’t broken our ‘no engine’ streak yet, we didn’t want to mess with all the necessary tacking to get into the impossibly hidden harbor for Double Breasted. Or at least, that’s how it looks on a map when you know it will require at least 18 turns and sail trims to get into it. On our way to our intended anchorage for the night the winds not only picked up to the 25-30 range, but began shifting so that we were pointing further and further into it. Not only did this make it harder to sail, but it also looked as if our spot we had picked out at Racoon was not looking as protected as we thought it would. With a quick talk on the radio on the radio to Rode Trip we decided that even though it would be tricky to get to, Double Breasted probably would be the best place for us.
Matt and I had already been having issues at this point while sailing where our self tailing winch that was no longer self tailing had gotten the line wrapped in it to the point we had to tighten the line to another source, take apart the winch, free the line, and put it all back together. I was getting to the point that I was happy with our no engine streak, we proved that we could get through multiple days of sailing under sail power alone, but I was ready for it to end if necessary. Stubborn Matt on the other hand was ready to make those 18 tacks if necessary since, as he claimed, ‘What does it matter if it takes an extra hour?, We don’t have any place we need to be.’. Mmmm hmmm. So while we were on tack #4 avoiding a 3 ft sandbar just to our boat north and I accidentally let the line for the traveler slip out of my hand where it flew through the cleat and up on the deck causing the boom to now be permanently stuck on the port side until the line could be retrieved and fed through again (something I tried to do, but was quickly yelled at to get back in the cockpit even though I was on the high side), we decided to stop fighting fate or nature or whatever was causing our bad luck, and turn the engine on after 100 miles and three anchorages without it. The streak was now over.
I was even happier not to be messing with sails once the wind began gusting into the mid 30’s. Even though the mood was a little tense I couldn’t help but look at Matt and say, “I thought that 17-20 knot winds would be a lot less gusty than this. That Chris Parkers’ full of shit man.”. (Do you get the movie quote?) Luckily I was able to wrangle a big smile out of him too. The bay ended up being empty of other boats which was a nice relief to us, and we anchored Serendipity in ten feet of some of the most beautiful water we’ve ever seen. Even though it had been a slightly stressful twelve mile trip, it was still early in the afternoon and we were not ready to spend the rest of the day sitting on the settee and watching tv. Matt and Brian were excited to have new coral heads to check out for fish and Stephanie and I were eager to check out a new beach. The boys set off in one dinghy while us girls took the other, me with an ice cold Sands in my hand since, hey, it had been a stressful morning. Greeting us right on the shore of the beach where we landed the dinghy was a fire pit, but a much better set up than the one we had just used at Buena Vista. This one came complete with wooden benches and logs to sit on, along with a table made of milk crates and decorated with plastic owls. A little out of the norm, but entertaining nonetheless. We hiked a trail while barefooted which was not a good idea, so soon we quarantined ourselves to the sandy beach.
Along the shore were dozens and dozens of conch shells. Nothing new, there were literally hundreds littering the beaches of the last few cays we’d been to, but something about these ones made Stephanie very excited. These ones were not left overs from fishers after a clean with holes in the top of the shell where they had cut the conch away from it. These shells were untouched, as if the conchs were using them as hermit crabs do, willingly leaving a perfectly good one behind to move into a bigger or better one. Soon she was stacking them up in her arms, excitedly claiming that she could make horns from them or save them as gifts for family (sorry if I’ve ruined an early surprise for anyone). It got to the point where they were toppling out of her arms and I thought I might need to have an intervention for her. I’m not sure how it would go, but I think it would start something like “Stephanie, I really care about you…but I think you have a problem”. Scooping up just a couple myself, I mean, I do want a horn too, we piled 10 of them back in the dingy to head back to the ‘Dip, where we intercepted the guys on the way back from their fishing adventure. While we had been safely strolling beaches, albeit Stephanie’s new addiction, the guys regalded us with a tale of how they had a shark encounter while fishing and Brian flew out of the water and onto some rocks while Matt heaved himself back into the dinghy. It hadn’t stopped their fishing adventure though, they just moved to a new spot, and were still able to bring back a good number of fish for cleaning.
Since Brian decided he had too many fish and the lionfish which was on his spear would probably not make it’s way to the dinner table, he flung it back into the water to let it be eaten by other fish once it’s poison’s had worn off. It hadn’t even been able to float away for five seconds when we saw a dark shadow rush past and snatch it up. It had been moving so fast that although we hadn’t been able to get a good look we assumed it could be nothing other than a shark. Sure enough, as if it knew where it’s last meal just came from, it sped back towards Serendipity and began circling the side we were all standing on. Now we could make out that it definitely was a shark, probably just over two meters long. This being our first encounter, we were all excited to watch it zip around at lightning speeds and dart from one side of the boat to the other. Soon it had a buddy join in and we thought we’d turn it into some kind of dinner theater. With all the fresh fish on the boat that need to be cleaned, we brought out the cutting board and fillet knife, ready to throw the scraps overboard and watch the sharks go at them.
Each time some guts or a head flew into the water the two sharks would race toward the surface and snatch it up before it even had a second to submerge. After the first two fish, we had the bright idea of tying the remaining body of one of our catches to a string and dangling it just off the side of the boat so we could get them to come in even closer and get a really good view of them. Even though the waters in this cove are crystal clear, there is constantly a 10-15 knot breeze blowing through causing ripples on the surface and obscuring anything below. With the string tied around the backbone of the fish and Stephanie and I stationed on each side with our cameras, Matt slowly brought the fish down to the surface of the water. I don’t know why we thought it would be any different than when we threw the scraps 10 feet out from the boat and the sharks still managed to be there within a half second, because this fish had barely touched the water before one of the sharks whizzed by, cutting the string with it’s razor sharp teeth and speeding off with the fish. We all sat there dumbfounded for a second with our mouths agape and thinking ‘Did that just really happen?’. Then we all broke out into a nervous laughter and made jokes about how we were definitely not going to dangle our toes in the water now.
The close up of the shark was enough for us to get a much better look at it and determine that we thought it was a black tipped shark. There actually are a few kinds of sharks in the Caribbean that don’t pay much attention to humans and shouldn’t cause worry, such as nurse sharks and lemon sharks, but black tips are not one of them. They are known to be aggressive and unpredictable. Now that water that had been looking so tantalizing earlier, calling my name to go for some refreshing dips, was now not looking so friendly. The most beautiful bay we’d come across yet in the Bahamas, and now I couldn’t even go for a swim in it. It was somewhat of a happy trade off though, to get to experiencing a couple of sharks up close and personal. They had no intent to leave us alone anytime soon, and so we kept doing whatever we could do to bring them close to the boat, throwing over scraps of lunch meat, leftover lobster and contemplating Gorgie (aka: shark bait). I don’t know what their thoughts were on us, but one of the sharks actually did begin to show aggression a few times when it would swim cautiously toward our dinghy that was tied to the stern, and then smack it’s tail against the hypalon side before rushing away. It was then that we decided to call it a night. Brian and Stephanie carefully got back in their dinghy and she was even allowed to choose one of her conch shells to take back to Rode Trip with her. The rest were tossed over board, possibly in the direction that the sharks were still sitting. You know, … just to see what they would do.
To help your further your geographic education.
sharks eating our fish scraps from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.