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2011 - Bahamas
Paradise Next Door
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Paradise Next Door
Bahamas Cruise
2011
Rays in Bimini Chanel
~ Rays in Bimini Chanel ~
Bimini Flats
In Search of the Queen
Our earlier costal cruise in search of a dinghy dock inspired us to spend the next day snorkeling North Bimini's shallow sand flats on the eastern side of the channel. We loaded our gear into Dinky Duck, and joined the morning flow of migrant mariners.

The pace of life on the Bahamian islands is leisurely; however on the water, the commuters in this country of scattered cays prefer to throw a lively wake. Don was more than happy to open the throttle and join the throng.

As we surfed past the buoys, a fever of massive mantas (yes – I had to look up the term for a group of rays) soared below. I coaxed Don to slow the dink down long enough to plop my camera in the drink and captured these subaqueous kites in flight.

We progressed into the bay, threw out the grappling hook, donned our gear, and dove into their watery domain.

Sea Cucumber
~ Sea Cucumber ~
Hunting for Queen Conch
The seafloor was strewn with starfish, sea cucumbers, fire sponges, and long-spined sea biscuits, but we were on a quest for that sweet tasting saltwater monarch – queen conch. These large mollusks are prized for both their delicious meat and distinctive shell. They'd been hunted to near extinction in the U.S., so harvesting was illegal stateside. But this island nation was able to protect the population, and the pink princesses remained abundant throughout their shallow banks.

Don, the consummate fisherman was craving the opportunity to catch some of these sea-creatures. With incredible cunning, he stealthily stalked the weedy nethers, bravely gave chase to the mossy camouflaged quarry, and with his bare hands promptly bagged an enormous beauty! His prowess would be impressive if one didn't know that his prey was nothing more than a ponderous snail dragging 5 pounds of shell around on one foot.

 Diana's Snorkel Selfie
~ Diana's Snorkel Selfie ~

The season for lobster was nearing its end, and having seen snapshots of some colossal crustaceans caught by cohorts in these waters, Don fervently searched every coral-encrusted cranny to no avail. I'd read that sea cucumbers were edible and wanting to add to our local cuisine, gave one a poke. But its unappetizingly gelatinous recoil was enough to stop any further thought of slicing one up in a salad.

Removing Conch from its Shell
Granted, catching a conch was no great conquest, however coaxing it out of its carapace was considerably more challenging. It was quintessential to fully abdicate the queen from her fortress; else you're left with a very smelly souvenir. Employing the traditional method meant punching a hole into the attachment point of the shell, then manipulating the majestic mollusk loose. But I wanted to make a Triton's trumpet to ward off tumultuous seas, so perforating the pink pipe would just not do.
Neptune with the Conch Horn
~ Neptune with the Conch Horn ~

We'd heard tales of tying the tenant's toes to a tree until the weight of the shell becomes too taxing, but I was not about to hang the scallywag from the yardarm lest his discarded armor dented my deck. Freezing the sea snail whole was another option, if one's freezer wasn't already stuffed to the gills. The best approach left was boiling the unshucked bugger out of his barrier. That way I would have a critter I could fritter, and a squeaky clean shell.

But after splurging the proper portion of propane to the process, the whelk was just not willing to walk. Don took to the gruesome task of digging the dead muscle out with a dagger. Eventually, persistence paid off and we were in the pink. While I pounded the conch into edible submission, Don ground down the tip of the shell.

Blowing a Conch Horn
At last, the time had come to test the trumpet. I carefully pursed my lips, placed them on the mouthpiece, puffed up my cheeks and gave a robust blow. First there was a gurgle, then a 'Walking Dead' – esk sloshy squeak, then out popped an obstinate morsel of meat! Not quite the outcome I was expecting, but hopefully the last lingering piece had been dislodged. The next blow produced a sound somewhat like an elephant fart, but that was just because I needed to practice my conch horn skills. The third attempt resonated clear and strong.

It's true that obtaining sustenance from the sea was tough; moving amongst monsters, chasing down giant sea snails, burrowing for bugs, encountering echinoderms, and then there's the brutal butchering afterwards – it's a quite perilous endeavor. But there is something very primal, and extremely rewarding about harvesting your own food; being involved with the whole process from the wild to the table.

We'd sailed into a self sustaining existence, and completely charmed by these seductive seas found it effortless to dive into what we considered an exquisitely enchanting native life.