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Paradise Next Door
Bahamas Cruise
2011
Don Giving Me the Stars
~ Don Giving Me the Stars ~
Hoffman Cay Blue Hole, Berry Islands
Cosmic WatersHoffman Cay Blue Hole
While having breakfast, Don read in the cruising guide that there was a Blue Hole and some ruins on Hoffman's Cay, just 3 miles to the south. Unlike the one we'd snorkeled off of Great Harbour Cay, this blue hole was inland, surrounded by high cliffs and shallow caves.

With the day's plan set, the crew was soon dressed, packed, and the dinghy was launched. One of the best decisions we made had been to splurge on a new tender, because I wouldn't have had the confidence to take the old leaky Dinky Duck on these far flung excursions. But with snorkel and beach gear, spears, snacks, and all the conventional safety accoutrements, this new dinghy's narrower beam made the ride a bit cramped.

However with the Mercury at full throttle, skimming across the limpid, still water of the shallow bank was a breeze. The sandy bottom was barren, save for a profusion of bright red, orange, and yellow giant starfish. We felt like earthbound astronauts, rocketing across a star-scattered, liquid sky!

The island features we sought were toward the southern end. Though a moderately sized, verdant isle, Hoffman's Cay was at that moment, desolate – void of any human habitation. Several, secluded, sandy lagoons lined the edge, all inviting exploration, but we were having too much fun flying, so they would have to wait until we retraced our wake.

Don beached the dinghy on shore, and for the first time in a long while, we stuffed our feet into actual closed-toe shoes – uugghh! Based on the cruising guide's narrative, we had come prepared for a hike to the spine of the headland that would make us believe we'd volunteered for a course in jungle warfare. But the trail was fairly easy, and really didn't take a whole lot of effort to follow. The worst of it was from our phalanges screaming for freedom from their booted bondage.

Hoffman's Cay Blue Hole
~ Hoffman's Cay Blue Hole ~

In short time, we reached the brim of the cliff 25' above this great, sheer-sided, yawning abyss with walls that dropped straight down into oblivion. There was some visibility along the edges that verified the water was crystalline, but a fine layer of cool, fresh rainwater floating on top of the warmer saltwater, fed via a labyrinth of ocean channels, obscured the unfathomable bottom.

The main path eventually took us to a rather steep precipice that led down to the perimeter of the chasm. Estimating the climb to be a bit more exertion than our distressed dogs wanted to tackle, we almost turned back. But I ventured down and once I caught a glimpse of an enticing crevice under the overhang, was able to convince Don that it was worth the effort, and not that difficult after all.

There were decayed stalactites and stalagmites, holes and pockets and hooks, nooks, crannies, and recesses that went deeper and deeper. Maybe it was the enchanting journey over the star-studded seascape, but the feeling of the whole area was spiritual and otherworldly. Alas, the little digital camera was never able to faithfully capture the essence of the cave; the depths flattened, the scale diminished, the colors blanched. I'd have to print this place upon the canvas of my memory.

Hoffman's Cay Ruins
~ Hoffman's Cay Ruins ~
Hoffman Cay Ruins
Along the way, Don noticed some unnaturally placed rock walls within the underbrush, and then we saw a chimney sticking out on the top of a nearby hill. We attempted to hack our way through the thicket to get to the ruins, but the foliage was impenetrable, causing us to backtrack. Determined, I searched for another route and eventually saw an obscure row of stones on the ground that appeared to be somewhat of a path. Not far in we came upon the meager hut, now nearly gone save for the four walls and chimney. I was unable to find any particular information regarding the history of this remnant. It may have been the exile of British loyalist, the refuge of escaped Seminoles, the prison of indentured slaves, or the hideout of wreckers or pirates. For now, termites had laid claim to the property; their four foot high mound filled the hearth.
Diving with a Sandbar Shark
We hiked back to the dinghy and began a more leisurely tour of the coves and lagoons along the shore. In classic, sharky fashion, I spotted a brownish-gray dorsal fin riding back and forth along the mouth of a wide inlet, a clear indicator to the brave one that we should snorkel the area. What was it with this man and his total lack of fear regarding fish?

We identified it to be of the Sandbar genus, and though small and generally not a danger to humans, I didn't like the fact that we were essentially cornering this capable killer in the cove. While I remained safely on board and on watch, Don decided to dive in anyway. But then he quickly retreated back into the tender, claiming that the bottom proved to be of little interest. I'd noticed however, that the approaching shark found Don to be of great interest.

Giant Starfish
We motored on toward the underwater sky where I blissfully snorkeled among the stars, until I caught a glimpse of another shark-shaped silhouette and decided to remove myself from their space altogether. Venturing closer to where Re Metau was anchored, we dove on the patch reefs all along the periphery of the Market Fish Cays. A beautiful little microcosms of widely diverse, yet less predatory life covered these small atolls. At one point, a pair of large, French Angelfish came to swim with me, swaying, fluttering and dancing all around in perfect synchronicity. Moonscapes, craters, stars, and angels; this truly was a cosmic domain.
French Angelfish
~ French Angelfish ~
Extracting a Conch
During this subaqueous exploration, I was the successful conch huntress; bringing a large, heavy beauty to Don. In response to my impressive prize, he speared a flounder, albeit sandwich sized. No edible fish was safe around him! We both began to tire and though it was still early, we'd become a bit pruny so we wrapped up our day in the water and returned to our home on the water. Don quickly filleted the flounder, then got to work at extricating the conch which drove me right back out onto the deck.

By now Don had become quite dexterous at this and before long, he called me back down into the galley. He'd managed to coax the alien-looking mollusk out, still alive and in one piece, and had it laying there on my cutting board. The poor thing was staring at me in googly eyed horror, wondering what on earth was going on I'm sure. Then WHAP – with one rapid cleave Don sent him to his maker and I vowed to return to vegetarianism.

Conch Out of the Shell
~ Conch Out of the Shell ~

The petite flounder got the fishing juices flowing, so Don took the entrails for bait, and went trolling from the tender while I opted to stay behind. Alone time onboard was a rare pleasure for me, and I planned to enjoy a good, long, meditative moment of self-indulgence. With miles of unobstructed, uninhabited space, solitude was a significant state of being. We tested the VHF radios to ensure we could remain in touch, and off the fisherman went.

Visitors
As soon as Don departed, I went below to prepare for my lazy afternoon of solitary bliss. I grabbed my Nook, turned up my tunes, poured my aperitif, and striped off my skivvies. While excruciating over the dilemma as to whether to spend my time gently swaying in the hammock or lounging in the shade of the cockpit, I heard the roar of an engine and thought it far too soon for the captain to return. Popping up out of the companionway I discovered two large yachts had decided to join us, anchoring so close I was blinded by the glint of their stainless steel anchors sitting on the sea floor. So much for alone time!
Sandbar Shark in the Shallows
~ Sandbar Shark in the Shallows ~

In this vast, empty space of ocean and sparsely scattered keys, these plastic monstrosities elected to invade our little puddle of tranquility. Power boaters would never admit it, but they often recognized that sailors were experts in locating secure anchorage, and with their noisy generators and smelly engines, they'd thoughtlessly encroach on our peaceful heavens. I tried driving them off with loud music. I tried dancing around on deck like a looney, nudie neighbor. But their hook and their minds were set. I called Don on the radio to warn him that we had company. I'd always thought humans were herding animals and here was the proof.

Fishing for Shark
Don eventually came back with a large blue trigger fish, a sizable grunt, and a squirrel fish. After dinner, I retired down below to continue reading by lamplight. The sun had gone down and Don, using the remains of his latest catch was casting (as best he could with a trolling reel) off the stern of Re Metau. The skin of the trigger was tough as leather, and worked wonderfully on the 9/0 fish hooks.

Sitting there in the dark, with only the glow of the lantern, over and over I'd hear click........ click....... click...... click... click... click..wiiiiiiiinnnnneeeeeeeeeee and then SNAP! Then Don would giggle like a miscreant. It sounded just like Jaws toying with Captain Quint on the Orca. The sharks Don was baiting were snapping through 100 lb. wire leaders! These definitely were NOT the congenial creatures we'd seen earlier. I wondered if any of our anchorage invaders were up for a midnight skinny dip. Eventually I got the nerve to go up on deck to witness the one, thrashing beast that Don was able to bring alongside before it chewed through the cable. Don fell back, turned to me with a big grin and said "We're gonna need a bigger boat!"

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2011 - Bahamas
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