We sailed into the Bahamas, which consists of about 700 islands and 2,400 cays, or coral reefs. But then there are islands that are developed and inhabited and are still called “cays” (pronounced ‘keys’), and then there are towns that are located on islands that are also called “cays”… so it gets terribly confusing at first.
We’re learning the Bahamas consists of a lot more than Nassau, Freeport and Paradise Island, our knowledge of the Bahamas before becoming pirates. Way back when we did do two sailing classes in the Bahamas, one in Bimini and the other here, in the Abacos.
It’s very different from the Eastern Caribbean islands we’ve traveled through as it has the third highest per capital GDP in the Western Hemisphere, for one. There is also very little soil, so the Abacos do not have the vast amounts of tropical fruits that the Eastern Caribbean has, though we managed to find a hydroponic farmer’s market that sold papaya and amazing heirloom tomatoes and green veg. I’ve read we’re just coming into local fruit season so perhaps we’ll start to see the fruit stands that are so common in the Eastern Caribbean start to pop up here as well. It’s certainly not in the supermarkets. Today I learned that the sapodilla fruit is in season. Overall, it’s the sea that really mesmerizes us here!
We first stopped at uninhabited Great Sale Cay (Sale is for sale for only 9.9 M$) after sailing overnight, having left Florida in the afternoon and arriving the next afternoon. It’s very shallow in the Bahamas and we draft almost 7 feet, so we needed daylight to help us navigate and feel safe on arrival. But this shallow, sandy bottom makes for some amazing and inviting water. Colors range from pure clear, to a variety turquoise of shades, and various hues of emerald green. It was great to be able to swim off the boat once again. Even though the lion of the ocean is visibly present here. We soon left Great Sale Cay for Green Turtle Cay where we checked into the country and started to explore.
These waters have plenty of sharks. It’s nearly 20 months now that we’ve been sailing the seas from Trinidad to Newport and just now we got to see shark fins break through the surface. The first time we saw shark swimming the wild was about 6 years ago on one of our sailing classes to Bimini, Bahamas. The waters there are filled with bull shark, that you can watch gliding in the shallow waters from the dock with a bird’s eye view. When we first arrived here on this trip, I paddle boarded right by a huge hammerhead off of Green Turtle Cay. I knew what a shark fin breaking the surface looked like because just a few days before we saw two, for the first time, but from a distance. This little fella was just a few feet away, long, dark grey-black, and skinny. My board is 10.8 feet and he was not quite that long, but by only a few feet. I always wondered what my reaction would be if/when I saw a shark while boarding. Perhaps being on the board gave me a false sense of security but I paddled straight for it as it cruised in about 4 feet of water along the coast at this lovely beach. When I hit shore our friends asked if I had taken a picture since they had seen it from afar. Now THAT was definitely not my first reaction. I do imagine that my reaction if swimming in the water with that big boy would have been different. Of course the professional advice is to “remain calm” and not swim away. Ha! I was reassured by an employee who also watched ‘Hank’ (the hammer head) go by at the Tranquil Turtle when I landed, a great little establishment we frequented, who said that the hammer head that I had just encountered was the first shark sighting of that size he’s seen in 10 years. He added that during his 25 years in the Abacos he’s only heard of shark biting humans when someone was spear fishing or teasing one. That was helpful info and we’ve seriously reconsidered the spear fishing and shark teasing we had planned.
The hammer head was not our first sighting on Green Turtle. Our first sighting was when we were walking along the coast to have sundowners at a bar called Sundownders, obvious reason for this locale’s name being it has a great sunset viewing deck with a sax player. I announced, “look dolphins” and then the fin resurfaced and our friend Mark added, “that’s not a dolphin” as we all watched in awe as the second fin surfaced and the two creatures cruised the waters, splashed and played a bit. Since there were two fins, could have been mom and baby, playing in the lagoon. The fins clearly move through the water differently than a dolphin’s and were much smaller than I had ever imagined. Steven Spielberg can take the blame for that! My impression is that shark fins sort of look like boomerangs cutting through the water. I guess as long as it’s not a great white, that’s true.
Our first day of exploring Green Turtle Cay we met Canadian, landlubbers who have been coming to the island for many years and explained it hasn’t changed all that much which is pretty amazing. They said the road construction was probably the biggest change, it used to be all dirt where now it’s a combo of cement, some asphalt and still plenty of dirt. While here, we read up on the history of the Abacos after visiting the sculpture garden filled with busts of the earliest settlers. The Abacos were settled in the 1770s by British loyalists. They were so loyal to the crown that when the Bahamas got their independence in 1973, the Abacos did not want to cede and preferred to remain under Crown rule. In sum, I think the Brits just told them to suck it up, but can’t find my source so don’t quote me on that.
Sharks or no sharks, the slow pace, warm, clean waters and island vibes were very welcomed after nearly 7 months in the States.