Sunday, July 22, 2007

Samana Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10 knots

We finally dove with a Bahamian this morning. I woke up to Karl yelling through the hatch to get up, that I was finally going to get my Bahamian fishing lesson. Sea Hunter, the big fishing trawler we’re anchored next to, gave us two spare spears yesterday, one new one, one bent, and we finally have spear-fishing apparatus. It’s exciting, but also a bit nerve-wracking. I don’t know if I can actually become an accomplished spear fisher-woman.

Diving with Gregory, our new Bahamian fisherman friend, this morning was a blast. The coral gardens here are extraordinary--I thought the ones in San Salvador were beautiful, but these are exquisite: a full mile of reef built on rock in all colors, with countless fish swimming through channels and brilliantly lit and colored caverns. Karl spent all morning out there, diving on the reef. I’m always trying to convince him to go spend time with the coral, and he rarely does, so I’m thrilled that he spent from dawn until about ten snorkeling and trying to spear-hunt.

Some things Gregory does in the water are unbelievable. I was taught, when snorkeling as a child, never to touch coral, not only because it can hurt you but also because a single touch, allegedly, kills the microorganism. That must be an exaggeration. Gregory dives down, not even that deep, and grabs hold of the stuff, swinging himself around into tiny little between-coral crevices to get a good angle on the fish hiding in the shadows. He perches on it with his fins to get a breather, and chases fish over insane shallows that I’ve always been too afraid to go anywhere near. Today I found myself swimming in a scant foot of water, elegant fan corals grazing my belly as I swam over their tendrils waving in the swell.

Although I’ve been relentlessly practicing my diving and can now go almost effortlessly to the bottom of the reef, I don’t think that will be my main obstacle as a spear-woman. Gregory was diving with a sea kayak tied to his waist. Eventually I followed suit and tied our dinghy painter around my waist, too, which made swimming much easier but diving much harder, if only psychologically. Gregory rarely goes below five feet, though. In fact, he tended towards the shallows. The hard part, I think, will be chasing the fish, especially the big, fast, silver ones that zip around in schools. That, and having any kind of aim while diving and swimming while dragging a dinghy behind myself, banging into coral all the way.

I’m not worried. All it requires is lots and lots of practice, lots of time spent in the water with fish and spear. Gregory today got five fast silver fish and one giant grouper (a hiding fish), and gave them all to us! I tried to hand some off to him, but he said they have more than enough. Considering the way he fishes, I can only imagine. I took a couple of shots, but none of them really came off.

So now we have fish enough for three days, easily. Especially because Sea Hunter is bestowing on us massive quantities of good ice. Sea Hunter is a pretty crazy boat. We were given the grand tour when we went over the other day. It’s an 83’ steel trawler, the kind used by those crazy folk on “Deadliest Catch.” But it’s owned and outfitted by a 78-year-old orange plantation owner, who takes his entire family out with him to the Bahamas every summer. When we visited, there were 22 people and three dogs aboard, including seven crew, and not counting us the four Bahamian fishermen (Gregory being one) they’d given a ride over from Acklins so they could catch conch and go barking on the island. Collecting this specific bark is one of the income sources around here--the Bahamas is one of the only places it grows, and it’s necessary for the Italian liqueur called Campari. They pay seven dollars a pound for it. Karl and I are thinking of going bark-collecting.

Peter is a pretty amazing guy, though. At 78, he scuba dives every day. They have a 28-foot dive-boat tender, and go on three or four dives a day, based on how many times they zip in and out of the harbor. He’s obviously a multimillionaire (the boat alone is worth at least a million dollars), but he’s so generous that he lets Bahamians hitch rides with him, and gives poor sail-boaters hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. The spears he gave us alone are worth thirty dollars a piece, not to mention the $200 fuel-filter assembly his captain Zyndall helped Karl install this afternoon. The Bahamian crew gets to keep and sell all the grouper and conch they collect (they have about ten giant house-size deep freezes on their decks), in addition to their generous salaries. The American crew gets to live an unbelievably Edenic existence, more in line with what you would expect of the guests than crew, diving and fishing and eating with the family, having what more or less amounts to a paid vacation. As Micah, one of the crew said, “every day’s the crew’s day off.”

They’re having a position as maid open up, and Karl and I are thinking of applying. I’m not sure exactly how it would work with our boat, but it’s worth a shot. Even their dive leader only has his basic PADI certificate, what I have. I can think of few better jobs than being in charge of diving on that boat. I would pay to do it. I keep hinting that I’d like to get taken on a dive, but I think the equipment’s at a premium, even though they have ten sets. They’ll be leaving tomorrow, but messing around Acklins and Crooked Islands all summer, so we’ll probably see them again.

They do seem like an answer to prayer. Possible employment, a fix to our engine problems, and self-sufficiency, by giving us the spears we need to feed ourselves. They’ve probably doubled our remaining budget, just in food sources alone. What does it mean, though? Should we keep going? I don’t think so. I’m trying to let my heart rest in answer to that question. We can stay here, diving this reef, all summer if we want to. Boats have survived direct hits from hurricanes in this anchorage, and we have all the fish we need 100 yards from our boat. And now we have the means to get them.


wrenn said...

Hi Melissa, I have been reading your delightful and well written log all morning. I happened on to it while searching for Samana Cay. I will continue and read the rest, but first I wanted to ask you what anchorage you are referrring to with your comment, "We can stay here, diving this reef, all summer if we want to. Boats have survived direct hits from hurricanes in this anchorage, and we have all the fish we need 100 yards from our boat." We are hoping to go to Samana and are unaware that it has an anchorage to speak of. Would you mind locating it in reference to the island? We have a 34' Ericson with a 6' keel. Would that get into the anchorage?
Back to your very interesting blog. More later after I read more.
Walter Renn, Capt.,
Dancing Star

Melissa said...

Dear Capt. Walter,

The anchorage I'm referring to is the one called the "Propeller Cay Anchorage" in the Gentleman's Guide to Passages South. You can find it via GPS by using the waypoints I have listed at the top of my blog entry. The entrance, though, I must warn you, is very, very hairy. We got towed in by someone who knew the area, and I'm not sure if I would have done it without them. Coming out we followed exactly our track on the GPS, and even then I tried not to lose my breakfast as I watched the jagged teeth of the coral go by not 100 feet away.

Still, I think it's doable, even with a six-foot draft. Just be very, very careful. Anchor outside (in the "Colombus" anchorage) until high tide, and then go in, following the directions from the Gentleman's Guide precisely.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes...