Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Emerald Bay to Conception Island

About 25 miles from Emerald Bay and about 30 miles from our destination at Conception Island I saw two white birds flying about ½ mile dead ahead off our bow. It was a little unusual to see such small birds this far from land, but I really didn’t think too much of it. Of course, I had heard the tale that when you see birds in the ocean that means that fish aren’t far away. In the Chesapeake that usually meant a lot of birds diving on the water. But only two birds? Who seem to be just flying from one point to another rather than fishing? I wasn’t so sure. Then I spotted five more white birds which seemed to be just sitting on the water in almost a straight line about a mile off our port bow. I thought for a minute about altering course, just in case they were watching a school of fish, but decided that was kind of silly. Five little white birds after mahi-mahi? I didn’t think so. Instead, I called Ann’s attention to this little oddity. I said, “Hey, Ann, take a look at these birds off our port …” Then it happened. Whirrr! Yes, fish on!
Black Fin tuna. MMmm Mmmm good!

Ann and I have worked out a set of procedures for what to do when we catch a fish. Since, however, we had not even had a single bite this year, I was concerned that we might be a bit rusty. The procedure is simple: I turn off the synchronizers, put the engines at idle, put the transmission in neutral, then rush to the stern, reel in the non-fish line and get to the rod and reel with the line.  Ann, meanwhile, takes over the helm, and responds when I tell her to move “forward” or shift to “neutral.” Even though it had been a year since we had practiced, it all took place flawlessly.

Initially, he took out quite a bit of line, but I wasn’t concerned. I still had him and, after a few minutes, found that I could reel a little line periodically. He didn’t seem to be fighting as hard as a mahi and wasn’t jumping at all – which mahi usually do – so I began to think that might be a tuna and that maybe I should bring him a bit faster, so I could get the line back out of course and catch a mahi. I remembered, though, that last year I brought in a mahi faster than I should have and once he got within maybe a hundred feet of the boat, he found enough energy for one final flurry of activity – and got away. I didn’t want to repeat that mistake. Anyway, when I brought the fish to within about 50 feet from the boat I could see “color.” Now I don’t know how many of you fish or watch fishing shows, but as the fish gets closer to the boat and closer to the surface you can see color – even though you cannot make out the shape of the fish. Because the light rays are refracted by the water you can’t tell if it is a ten foot long mahi or a one-footer long barracuda. When I saw color this time, I could not tell how big or what kind he was. But it looked like it could be a four foot mahi. Well, it wasn’t; in the event, it turned out to be a tuna – a good sized tuna to be sure, but a tuna nonetheless. He will give us several decent-sized tuna steaks. Of course, it wasn’t a mahi. But at least it was something and I will not be skunked this year.
Some of the sharks waiting for the offal from ONE tuna.
We waited until we were anchored that evening to clean him. And, while I won’t get overly graphic, I am sure it comes as no surprise that we do cut off the head at some point. Well, I cut it off and threw it overboard. Before it hit the bottom there was a five-foot nurse shark scooping it up. As I threw away more of the offal, more sharks came. Now this was only the leftover parts from a single tuna – but at one point we had five sharks ready to take anything else we threw overboard. This to me is amazing. Okay, maybe the first shark just happened to be close enough to see, smell or hear the head hit the water. But the others arrived in the space of less than a minute or two. How close could they have been? I have just read a little bit about sharks’ senses – but what I saw still doesn’t compute. Needless to say, we didn’t go swimming that night.

We didn’t have the tuna for dinner that night; we had already decided on lobster instead (we eat well on Traveling Soul). Instead we had it the following day. Now last year when I caught a tuna, Ann admitted she really didn’t know what to do with it, so she found a Thai recipe that had peanut butter. Now, I like peanut butter, but not with fish. Anyhow this year she had a new and different recipe. OMG!!! It was fantastic. I had a bite or two and was telling her how good it was. She told me that I should try it with the dipping sauce. I did. Man oh man, it was doubly fantastic. I still want to catch a mahi, but another tuna wouldn’t be too bad either.

Conception Island is part of the National Land and Sea Park system administered by the Bahamas National Trust. The entire area is protected; visitors are welcome but should take nothing and leave only footprints. The park here was established in 1964 and has not seen human habitation since the very early 1900s. It is on the migratory path of several bird species. In fact, when we woke up one morning, we could actually hear birds calling to one another from the interior of the island. This is unusual in that we very seldom see, let alone hear, birds on most of the cays and islands. Finally, A few people believe that Conception was the original landing point of Columbus. Others believe it was one of the first three landing sites. Personally, I am pretty sure it wasn’t the original landfall, but it could have been one of the other islands where he went ashore – it just depends on how you read the evidence.  

The first day we were there, we took a long walk on the nearby beach. It was good enough, but not the best beach we have seen in the Bahamas. It had very nice sand, was about 50 feet wide for most of its length, and was about two miles long. I guess the biggest problem was that it was pretty steep. Moreover, once you got into the water, there was a drop off that put you chest deep or more when you were least expecting it. Plus, there were very, very few shells. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have become a beach snob.

One of the magnificent birds we saw at Conception. 
He doesn't have the "Zorro Mask" of an osprey and doesn't
have the white tail feathers of an eagle. 
What kind of bird is he?
Later that afternoon (we had to wait for high tide) we went to the creek that ran through the island. It looks like a very shallow river with mangroves on either side, and it almost bisects the island. It is in these creeks and mangroves that the young of many species of fish, birds, turtles and others spend their early months away from predators. As you ride through the mangrove creeks, you have to wind from side to side steering clear of the many sandbars in the area, but if you continue to the end you will be rewarded with sightings of a number of sea creatures. We saw probably 20-30 sea turtles of various sizes, a couple of birds (one of them was of a species about which we are still arguing), and what I think are some baby flying fish.

The weather reports showed about 3-4 days of good weather as we prepared to leave. Although Chris Parker (one of our weather sources) though there might be a little higher wind and waves than the other two on whom I rely, we were pretty sure it was going to be pretty good weather. Boy, were they wrong.  Windfinder (a website we use) specifically predicted waves between 1.3 and 1.7 feet high. The waves we saw were 3-5 and were getting even bigger. We believe one of three things happened: (1) There were “dark waves.” Some of you may recall my “dark wave theory” that attributes the difference between weather predictions and reality – specifically with regard to wave height – to dark waves. Dark waves are an analog to the notion of “dark matter” which is the physicists’ fudge factor between their predictions and reality. (2) A low, a high, or a medium front moved into the area surreptitiously, wreaked its damage and left without anyone knowing anything about it. (3) Chris Parker is a better meteorologist that I gave him credit.

The Columbus Monument at the northern tip of Long Island.

At any rate, about an hour into our trip, we decided to take a detour and finish our journey the following day. That may have been a mistake. Since we decided to hide on the northern tip of Long Island, we had to turn almost due south, which put the waves almost directly on our beam. And did we pay for that! Okay, maybe not the worst hour-and-a-half we spent on Traveling Soul, but pretty close to it. I’d say it was easily in the bottom 10 and maybe the top 5. In short, it was not a pleasant ride. We did get some shots of the Columbus Monument on Long Island and finally got some respite when we reached Calabash Bay.

The next day, the weather was perfect. Go figure.

How perfect was it? It was so perfect that YES, I caught another fish – a MAHI-MAHI. It wasn’t the biggest I have ever caught; in fact, it was fairly small. I am guessing it was 2 ½ feet or so and maybe fifteen pounds. Ann had the helm and I had just laid down for a power nap when Whirr! Again! We went through our procedures, I sat down with the rod and up in the air he went. It wasn’t a big jump and he wasn’t a huge fish.  But this time I was sure he was a mahi. I reeled him in expertly and voila, mahi for dinner.

Two years ago, the first time I caught a one of these magnificent fish, I tried to filet him. I had my book, I had watched a video and I had my friend Russ. Unfortunately, what we did to that fish can be better described as butchering than filleting. This time, though, I didn’t do too badly if I say so myself. So, even though he is a bit small, he will give us at least two-and-a-half meals. (The half meal is a couple of fish tacos, which we had a couple of days after I caught him.) Ann doesn’t want me to catch anymore fish and since I cannot do it without her, I guess that will be the end of my fishing adventures.

That evening we spent the night at Lee Stocking Island. There is nothing special about Lee Stocking, other than the fact that it is one of the most beautiful, and quintessential Bahamian locations in the islands. It is one of those spots where you can look around 360 degrees and see nothing but myriad shades of blue interspersed by picturesque islands, many of which are at least partially rimmed by sandy beaches. In 1967 John Perry bought the island for $70,000. He turned it into a first class marine research center, which he hoped would be self-sustaining through medicines and technologies which its scientists would discover. Alas, it was not to be. As we reported in 2016 (or so) the center was closed in 2011. In classic Bahamian style everything was left in place: filing cabinets, paperback books, kitchen equipment, beds, computer screens, everything.

On that happy note, let me turn it over to Ann.

Mike fileting his last mahi.
Ann’s Notes:  

I have to say our dinghy ride in Conception was wonderful, I have never seen so many turtles in one area. The last time I did see a lot of turtles was in Little Harbor in the Abacos, and that was three or four years ago.

The weather has been a real mix, a few days of beautiful, light wind days, than no breeze at all (those are the ones I dislike, A LOT) I would rather have bounce and wind than dead calm.

I have been distracted by events happening at home and have not been as supportive as I should be. Thus Michael’s comment about not being able to fish. I do react when the fish struggles when caught and that takes the fun out for Michael. However, I do like fresh fish and I am getting better at cooking tuna the way it should be cooked. I will work on being more positive and supportive, we only have a few more weeks left in the Bahamas and I know he wants to fish  some more.

An update on Spot, she is on the mend, still not completely well but in the loving care of Dave and Joan. I know in my heart she will be her usual spunky feline self soon.

We are slowly heading north and back to the States.

Traveling Soul…OUT

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