An Island Unto Ourselves

Earlier in the day, we had set out on Symbiosis from the cruisers’ mecca of GeorgeTown destined for Mayaguana in the far southern Bahamas. It was to be our jumping off point for the Dominican Republic, yet another stop along the “Thorny Path” against the trades. Instead, we were now anchored off uninhabited Conception Island staring at a deserted white sand beach that stretched to the edges of our peripheral vision.

It was a sudden change of plans. We were counting on a weather window initially forecast to last a few days that should have allowed us to get much farther east and south. After we set off, however, a last peek at the latest GRIB files before losing internet offshore was less than encouraging. It certainly looked as if we would have stiffer opposing wind sooner than we’d been led to expect. Through hard experience, we have come to loathe motoring directly into short-period waves. Better to tuck in somewhere and wait for the next opportunity to make some progress.

But where? Rum Cay was not that far, but far enough that it would have us dropping the hook among the coral heads after dark—not something that Noi, visiting crewmate Doug Reynolds, or I wanted to chance. Then how about Conception? It was actually north of the easterly and southerly path we wanted to go, but in the odd calculus of a passage opposing the prevailing easterlies, this was not actually such a bad thing. I had eyed the island on charts many times, but ultimately we had decided to give this protected wildlife sanctuary a pass in the interest of time.IMG_2780
Alas, here we were. As we had sailed toward West Bay, threading our way into a recommended anchorage, we noticed a large schooner on the southern tip of the small island that was obviously not underway. Given the freshening winds, it seemed an odd place to anchor; however, within a few hours, a quick glance across the low-lying island revealed no masts on the opposite side. The conclusion: we were the only boat on the entire island!A

Cruising offers many unique experiences. By unique, I mean the sort of things that simply can’t happen if you’re not willing and able to venture out in your own small vessel. We have had many such experiences since leaving Magothy Marina in October, everything from whale sightings to dodging waterspouts at sea! At Conception, we found ourselves at one of these special moments in time and place. Johnny Depp, Larry Ellison, and Alexander Selkirk have (or had) their own private islands, but that’s not what we mere mortals—three Maryland transplants from northern Thailand (Noi), northern California (Doug), and northern Indiana (I)—had any right to expect. We vowed to make the most of it.

The next day, we launched the dinghy and went ashore, gliding over the sandy bottom inches away from a large eagle ray as we putted along with our tiny 2.5-hp outboard. We pulled the dink hard up on the beach, making sure it was above the high-tide mark and then secured it to a mangrove branch. We then set off, barefoot, for the south end of this island, said to be one of Columbus’s first landfalls in the New World.

Walking the long beach and over the craggy limestone on the eastern side confirmed our suspicions. We were indeed alone. We snapped a few photos. Noi combed the beach, excavating a few interesting shells to add to her collection. None of us said much, content to have our own private moment.

After a few days, we pulled anchor, followed our tracks back out and headed east for Rum Cay, another brief stop on our itinerary. On the short run, our trolling reel let out a sharp zing and after a very hard fight, a sailfish broke the surface. We finally had a catch worthy of Ernest Hemingway! Unfortunately, the sailfish (unlike the related swordfish) is more of a trophy than a meal. So, we decided not to land it, cutting the line instead.

Rum Cay, another place where Columbus’s ships landed, was devastated by Hurricane Joaquin last year, and although we did not go ashore, it was clear that the sparsely populated settlement there was in the process of some major rebuilding. That same hurricane sank El Faro with all hands aboard. Her cargo—including deodorant, body wash, tennis shoes, and syringes—continue to eerily wash up on beaches throughout the Bahamas.IMG_2795
After a night at Rum, we ventured out for the next day’s run to Abraham’s Bay on the south side of Mayaguana. Finally, we arrived at our originally intended destination. The detour had added about a week to our plan, but when you’re cruising, a week is just not that important. And the few days all alone at Conception, an island we very nearly sailed right by, now rank among the highlights of our voyage.

About the Author: On their Tayana 37 Cutter Symbiosis, Scott Neuman and his wife Noi left their home dock on the Magothy River in October 2015 for a long journey.