Long Island to Mayaguana
Our time to leave the beautiful islands of the Bahamas is near. There are over 700 islands and cays in the Bahamas and we have only visited a handful of them. This is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been and to see it from a sailboat has been an incredible experience.
Heading South we anchored next in Calabash Bay off Long Island. Shawn, Stephen and Natasha went spear fishing while Jaxson and I went to the beach. The sand on this beach was like walking on powder. Jaxson and I were the only ones on the beach and it was just so peaceful watching the waves roll in one after another and Jaxson romp around in the sand and surf. The spear fishing expedition netted us our first spiny lobster and a small Peacock Flounder. Steve has become quite the spear fisherman and all of us are enjoying his spoils from the sea. With our bellies full and our thoughts on more lobster we pulled up anchor and headed to Conception Island. The only residents on Conception island are the long tail tropic birds, the sea turtles, and an abundance of conch and fish. We spent a few days here playing on the beach and swimming in the inner mangrove creeks with the sea turtles. Contrary to the laid back sea turtles in “Finding Nemo” these turtles were super fast swimmers. Floating in the mangrove creeks with the turtles we noticed conch, each one seemed bigger than the previous one. We found a dozen perfect sized ones and were looking forward to cracked conch and salad until we realized we were not allowed to take any from this protected island, so back in the ocean they went right next to the very large spiny lobster that I’m pretty sure had a smirk on his face.
San Salvador was the next destination the winds blew us. This island is officially designated as Columbus’ first landfall in the New World on October 12, 1492. I know Jaxson is only 5 but I thought this was a perfect time to read and teach him about Christopher Columbus and his travels on the very island Columbus and his crew were! Can’t beat that for hands on learning. All around San Salvador are lots of coral heads and than a steep drop off into ocean depths of 500 feet or more, this makes for excellent SCUBA spots and sport fishing. On our way sailing to San Salvador we caught a small barracuda and released him only to catch a larger one right after. We have heard that barracuda taste delicious but some of them carry a poison called ciguatera that causes very unsavory side effects after eating so we threw him back too.
We all went on a few SCUBA dives to take advantage of the great spots nearby. Natasha and I went first to a mooring ball just off our boat. Once we were down we saw the sand ledge and then the wall drop off with lots of coral and fish. We even had a black tip reef shark join us in exploring. Luckily he was only interested in swimming and not eating. When Shawn and I went together the next day the first thing we saw after getting in the water was a great hammerhead. I found this a bet unnerving and very cool all at the same time. He only stayed around a short time and then went on his way. It’s one thing to see these creatures on TV or read about them magazines, it’s all together different being a few feet away from them in their environment without thick aquarium glass between you and them.
San Salvador has made good use of two areas that were one occupied by the US Navy and Airforce. The old Navy base is now a private research center that hosts several universities and their students on field studies. They also allow visitors and this is how we came to meet Tom, his wife Erin and their young daughter, May. They had been at the institute for 8 years and still had 2 years left on their contract. Erin took us to see the endangered iguanas and then to the facilities library. We stayed for a few hours reading books on the local birds, flowers and landscape until were given a ride back to Cockburn Town by one of the employees going home for lunch. The center is about 13 miles from where our boat is anchored so it would have been a very long walk, but here in the Bahamas most people that have a car will “carry you”, as they say, to your destination. Jaxson thought this was great fun and had a fun time walking down the street with his thumb out. I can not imagine in the US walking down the street thumbing a ride, but here in the Bahamas it’s a very nice mode of transportation and a great way to meet the locals. Speaking of locals, one day hanging out on the beach we met Valerie, Sandra and little Junior. They were cooling themselves in the tide pools on the edge of the ocean when we went to talk. Jaxson and Junior immediately hit if off and continued to run and jump on the sand and in the water. Sandra works as a guidance counselor at the local school and Valerie works in her garden. We sat for a long while just passing the time and talking about each other’s lives and travels. I have said before in earlier posts but I just can’t express how friendly and accepting the people of the Bahamas are. It’s very refreshing in this day and age.
With lots of diving and snorkeling done we decided to take a day and spend at the Club Med here in San Salvador. The resort is built on a former Air Force Base just across the street form the island’s airport. When the resort is not full to capacity they offer day or evening passes where guests can come and eat, drink, and swim and fully enjoy all the facilities for a day. We arrived around 10:30 am and stayed until 6:30. Jaxson enjoyed swimming in the pool and learning how to balance on a small surf board with Ricardo, a Brazilian that was there with his family on vacation. Shawn took Jaxson and I out on a Hobie Cat sailing boat and we sailed in the bay among others sailing and kite surfing. We all ate and drank and lounged around enjoying the resort and the picturesque day.
After recovering from our stay at Club Med we bid adieu to San Salvador to head to Mayaguana, the most eastern island in the Bahamas. When we started our sail the winds were favorable but as the day wore on they died on us so an overnight stop at the Plana Cays were in order. A quick romp on the beach in the morning and off again we sailed. This time we decided to take a detour to Hogsty Reef. Hogsty Reef is a horse shoe shaped reef full of coral heads, rocks, small sandy cays and lots of ship wrecks. Two ship wrecks are visible above the water from several miles away. One even looks like a ship just slowly making its way though the reef until you get closer and can see it is grounded and very rusty as the sea is claiming it’s victim. We only stayed overnight and part of the next morning as it as pretty rough and not conducive to more than one dive or snorkel.
Now finally, we were back on our original track to visit the island of Mayaguana. We arrived in our anchorage late in the evening of March 3rd. This was the first time the crew had anchored in the dark. Steve, Natasha, and Shawn brought us safely into our anchorage and had no problem securing the anchor. I was below in the cabin getting Jaxson down to sleep for the night. The next morning while Stephen and Natasha stayed on the boat to work out the logistics of an upcoming visit from Michelle, Natasha’s sister, Shawn, Jax and I went onto explore the island and beach. Mayaguana has 3 very small settlements and we are in Betsy Bay near one of them. This island doesn’t get a lot of cruiser traffic so it’s harder to go ashore near the towns where there are no docks. We dinghyed to the beach close to the town picking our way through the rocks and coral to find a place to go ashore. Once on the island we walked to where we saw houses and lights to find the town. At the first house we came to, Shelia came out to meet us and help with any directions we might need. She pointed us the way to the only little store at Betsy’s Bay, The L and L Store, run by Mr. and Mrs. Bain. Two bags of groceries and a couple of cold drinks later we were taking a tour of the farm in the back of the store. As we walked through the gardens Mrs. Bain explained how her husband had grafted the sour orange trees to the sweet to grow the more favorable of the oranges here. They grow lots of banana, orange, papaya, spices, and vegetables. Unfortunately for us, nothing was ripe or in season but it was interesting to see the farm and gardens. After our tour we said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Bain as it was time to be heading back to our dinghy and boat for dinner and a good nights sleep.