March 17, 2019

Sailing Bahamas' Long Island and Out Islands

After leaving the busy cruiser haven of Georgetown, Exuma we went in search of solitude to idyllic Conception Island, a 6-square mile undeveloped and uninhabited Bahamian "out" island, those that are largely unsettled and unexplored by the casual cruiser or tourist.

Conception was recommended by several cruising friends as a must-stop destination and it didn't disappoint! Christopher Columbus is said to have landed on the island in 1492, which is now a marine park and sanctuary for frigate sea birds, and there is no fishing, lobstering or conching. The island is surrounded by a several mile long coral reef to the north, east and south and is a prime diving destination. We arrived to Conception Island on March 2 and anchored among a dozen other boats, which slowly departed over the next couple of days until only four boats remained. 

We spent one afternoon hiking the rocky cliffs along the back half of the island, with a few small rock climbs. 

Another afternoon we dove the reef along the north shore of the island, and were awed by the massive arms of staghorn coral that were dozens of feet wide and high.

We saw few people, but plenty of sharks, turtles, and rays - and some of the clearest turquoise blue water we've ever seen! There is also a small mangrove-lined creek on the back side of the island that is great for dinghy exploration on a high tide. 

After three nights, on March 5, we set sail for Long Island, an 80-mile Long Island, known for its farming communities, bone fishing and historic churches.

Along the 6-hour, 35 nm sail we reeled in a gorgeous big-eyed tuna, but unfortunately, we had no cell reception and a poor quality fish identification chart, and quickly returned it to the ocean! The sea gods must have felt sorry for us, because a few hours later, as we were rounding the northern tip of Long Island the reel whirred again! 

The tuna fish we couldn't identify and so quickly returned to the sea
Nick fought the fish for more than 15 minutes, which often took out as much line as he was reeling in, and we knew we were in over our heads when several times the fish swam up alongside the boat! 

It took both of us to gaff and pull the fish over the side of the boat, and after a successful identification, found we had landed a 60 inch and 50 pound wahoo, or ono, fish. 

While we were still underway, Nick steaked the fish, and within 45 minutes we had the steaks in the fridge and the carcass overboard. With only a small fridge and freezer aboard, we kept only a few pounds of fish for ourselves, and then after anchoring happily delivered gallon size bags of fish to several other boats we recognized and knew in the anchorage at Long Island. 
A few of the gallon-sized bags of fish we delivered to cruising friends in the anchorage

Freshly caught and steaked wahoo fish
We immediately froze several large steaks and ate it the first night as sashimi (raw); the remainder we made into ceviche, had grilled, baked in a panko coconut crust, and preserved in olive oil (conservata style). After three days we were ready to go back to a fishless diet! :)

We spent several days anchored in Thompson Bay near the small settlement of Salt Pond. The area has a great morning cruisers net, the well stocked Hillside grocery store, and several great beach bars and restaurants. 

Treated to an ice cream sandwich while getting diesel at the fuel dock.
Since the island is so large we opted to rent a car from Seaside Auto Rental for 24 hours to explore. Bahamians drive on the left, and our rental car came with a good reminder to keep on that side of the road. And thankfully the main road, the Queen's Highway, runs from tip to tip, so it's very easy to navigate the island.

At the northern tip of the island is a monument to Christopher Columbus, where he first stepped ashore in the New World in 1492. The monument overlooks a cliff and gorgeous lagoon beach. 

Nick re-enacting Columbus stepping ashore into the New World

On our drive south we passed the Tropic of Cancer and are now officially in the tropics, and we were happy to find a sign on land marking the latitude. 

We also made a stop at Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort and enjoyed a frozen drink while we walked it's gorgeous beaches. 

After a full half day of sightseeing, we ended our day at Tiny's beach bar, a popular hangout spot for locals and cruisers. 

The next morning we headed south, past small settlements with the loveliest little white churches, many with brightly colored shutters, and other colorful local government buildings. 

Our main destination for the day was Dean's Blue Hole, the worlds deepest salt water blue hole, which dips 663 feet to the ocean floor! The spot hosts an annual free diving competition where the record is an insane 407 feet (the diver held his breath for 4 1/2 minutes)! 

We snorkeled the perimeter of Dean's hole, and besides a colorful variety of fish, the visibility was clear enough to also see the edge of the sinkhole and the deep, dark waters below. 

Underwater photo of Dean's Blue Hole (from
Nick was even brave enough to make the climb to the rocky cliff along the edge of the hole and jump in - twice! 

That night, we went ashore for a Friday night happy hour with other cruisers at Sou' Side Bar & Grill. Thank goodness for other cruisers; as we headed back to the boat that evening, Nick tugged on the outboard engine pull starter and the cord came right out into his hands! It was too dark to take the outboard apart and recoil the line, so we got our first dinghy tow back to the boat by the crew of S/V Grace. Nick fixed it the next day and even gave it a tune up while he had it apart! 

On Sunday, March 11, we had a great 22 nm sail north to Calabash Bay, Long Island - we hit 8 knots of boat speed on a gust (6 knots is our average speed)! - where we staged ourselves for a night to head further south and east.

Up next, after almost three months in the Bahamas, we set sail for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Caribbean!

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