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April 23, 2003
First Impressions of the Bahamas

Conception Island is, as the guidebooks say, heaven on earth. It's almost beyond a beauty I could even imagine (though I'm willing to admit that after our fourth day straight of ten hours motoring with no wind, anything just might look like paradise). Forget Culebrita. Forget Los Testigos. Forget the Tobago Cays. This island tops my list. And I think I can safely say that we've seen more than our fair share of islands at this point.

We approached Conception Island from the southeast at just after 3:00pm with the sun sufficiently high over our shoulders, and were surprised to find the main anchorage of West Bay, empty. We'd expected to at least find our friends Don and Liz on Enterprise here, but they weren't in sight. Nonetheless, we followed our waypoints into a turquoise blue pool and dropped our hook. We swam the anchor out of habit, though surely we didn't need to. You could look right over the bow into 15 feet of crystalline water and see it clear as day - as if we had arrived by hovercraft rather than sailboat. As a matter of fact, you could see sand dollars and other tiny shells on the bottom. It was a dizzying effect to be able to focus on the bottom of the sea floor and land in the distance at the same time. The draw of the water has never been so strong. The lack of wind and relentless sun had us both wilting with heat. Whether or not we wanted to survey our anchor, we would have been overboard anyway to cool off.

The one good thing about motoring, there were no lines to be coiled, no boat to put back together when we arrived. We'd had so little wind, we actually ended up taking down the main sail altogether an hour ago, so it was already neatly flaked and bound on the boom. After a refreshing splash, we flopped out of the sea and back into the cockpit, and shook the haze from our heated heads. While we were both so dazzled by the world around us, we were also totally beat from five days of hour after hour of sailing… or motoring, to be more precise. We made mild attempts to get weather on the SSB, catching up with Don on Enterprise while at it, and I took the dinghy off to try to get some pictures of the island. As always- I came up short in expressing what I saw and felt around us, with merely a two dimensional representation of something that you need to see, hear, smell, and touch to really get the idea of how the beauty here is all woven together.

Back on Force Five, the sun was starting to sink closer towards the horizon and two other boats had joined us at anchor. Curt had started to fire up the barbecue for the fish we'd caught the day before yesterday. I was on the bow, being mesmerized by two Triggerfish munching on Wahoo scraps on the sea floor. Dark brown jelly fish the size and shape of thimbles were bobbling by in the current. They must be the buggers that prevented Enterprise from their annual respite here. Don, we'd learned from our SSB rendezvous this afternoon, had been afraid they'd foul his watermaker, refrigeration, and other boat systems so he had to bypass this, his favorite island. After a mere few hours at anchor here yesterday, they'd moved on to Cat Island for the night.

Curt had just served dinner: grilled Wahoo with butter and garlic over orange rice. We were tossing the charred fish skin overboard, much to the frenzied delight of the birds hanging around. When something lurched towards one of them from the water behind our stern, and Curt declared it was a shark… of course I didn't believe him. I think he even thought he was making a joke until we had a clear sight of it. There was no mistaking the distinctive tail and dorsal fin writhing side to side. A seven-foot shark was circling our boat.

Poor Curt. Once again, the enchantment of sea life had taken my attention away, and I'd digressed to the antics of an eight year old. His lovely dinner was forgotten as I leapt to the deck to try to get a better view of our sinister dinner guest. If we aren't having a dolphin visit our rail over breakfast (as in Vieques), then we're having sharks stop by for leftovers at supper. The seagulls were doing aerial acrobatics, the shark was circling slowly, and some sort of fish from the tuna family was playing pass interference between the two. Need you ask if I bothered to grab our fishing pole to make a play for our next meal? Of course I did… but to no avail. It was a busy sunset off our little boat.

These are the times when I love cruising. New places, new people - or as tonight - new wildlife to see firsthand. It isn't often this way… there are days and weeks of bland, day after day "sameness" that are enough to make you feel stir crazy in a near state of solitary confinement. But these moments are the good stuff. I felt alive, I felt like I was the first one to have ever seen or experienced such a thing. I wanted to share the experience with everyone - but save Curt who was there already, there is no one to share it with. It isn't exactly like you can pick up a phone and tell your best friend.

The contrast of this, versus life on land, brought to mind the other day when another boater gave us an issue of People Magazine, which I pored over with my mouth practically watering for some sense of that familiar version of normalcy. From our deck, I sat in my cut off jean shorts and ball cap while I perused the pages of glamorous celebrities in their beautiful clothes and the advertisements for such mundane things as refrigerators, or movies, or cars. As I looked around me at water and even more water, I longed so much to be a part of that life again. Flash back to tonight, I watched the shark circle our boat, and listened to the waves curling onto the shore, and watched the sun sink towards the horizon - I wondered how I could have both. It's the story of my life… I've never wanted to give up one good thing to experience something more. Somehow, I always want it all.

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