Following in Columbus’s Footsteps

As soon as we set anchor on the west side of Conception Island, Capt. Drew of Z-Raye zoomed up in the dinghy shouting ” Watch out for the welcoming committee!” In response to a quizzical look, he added “two big sharks circling the anchorage.” Sure enough, by the time Capt. Mike had donned swim trunks and a snorkel mask in preparation to dive the anchor, a five foot long shadow appeared next to Sanitas. He kept us company for our entire stay on the island and I named him Oscar (the grouch). This was the theme for our stay on Conception; a balance of outstanding natural beauty, contrasted by the reality of the sharks, rays, and barracuda who really belong here.

Lunch under sail from Georgetown to Conception Island.

Conception Island is a national park made up of pristine beaches, fun hikes, and the best snorkeling we’d experienced so far in the Bahamas. It’s also one of the islands that Christopher Columbus visited after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I’m not exactly sure what his crew did here, because as far as I can tell, there isn’t any fresh water or animals to hunt for food. But Capt. Mike is probably right.By the time Columbus reached these islands, his crew was probably very grateful for the opportunity to get off the boat onto dry land and to catch their breath for a bit.

The soft, white sand beach surrounding our anchorage was one of the most perfect I’ve seen on our travels. And from the beach, there are a few fun hiking trails to the ocean side of the island and up to the cliffs. But the island is so protected and so covered with hearty gnarled vegetation, that it’s difficult to make much progress in the interior without returning covered with scrapes, scratches, and bug bites!

Hiking on Conception

Top of the cliff

The best way to experience the interior of Conception is by dinghy hiking – taking the dinghies to a creek entrance on the south side of the island and very slowly exploring the creek and its tributaries for sea life and birds. At times, the creeks get so shallow that the best way to make forward progress is to row. And at other times, the mangroves are so close on either side that you can reach out and touch them, and can see the huge schools of fish that hide in the mangrove roots for protection from predators.

We saw dozens and dozens of green turtles in the creeks. They’d duck under water quickly as we approached, and after we passed and looked back upstream, all we could see were dozens of little white turtle heads watching us. We cooled off by swimming in a small blue hole, and returned to the anchorage. Once again, we confirmed that our dinghy / motor combination isn’t sufficient for this cruising lifestyle. All of our friends zoom back and forth between the anchorage and the sights, and we just putt along slowly in Bug, usually ending up drenched by waves in the process.

Conception Island also provided the best snorkeling so far in The Bahamas. Just north of the island, we anchored the dinghies in small patches of sand and explored colorful live coral and fish of all types. I didn’t think I was afraid of barracuda, but they glare at you! They come up close with their beady little eyes and their crooked teeth and they swim right at you and glare! I’m still not exactly frightened, but also not exactly comfortable swimming with them! I’ve added an underwater camera to my shopping list for next year, because I’m so sad not to have photos of this gorgeous reef with its purple fan coral and yellow stag horn coral.

As we climbed into the dinghies and prepared for the ride back to the anchorage, we had one of the most special experiences of the trip. Looking north, we watched a mother whale and her calf rise from the ocean in full breach, and crash back down, sending a huge plume of white water into the air! We loitered for a while, watching the calf play as she surfaced over and over again, but when we started up the outboard motors, the good mama decided to hide her little one, and we didn’t see them again. We toasted to mamma whale with watermelon margaritas at sundown on Sanitas that evening.

Conditions on our sail from Conception Island to Cat Island were perfect for our first attempt at using our asymmetrical spinnaker. Winds were light, from our stern at about 120 degrees. There was a bit of a learning curve as we got the light wind sail out of the bag for the first time and figured out how to rig it to the third furling drum all the way forward on the bow sprit, but it worked! Even sailing with only this one sail up, we made about 5.5 knots toward Cat Island.

Using the spinnaker

Unfurling

Full sail

Next time, we will be smoother in raising the spinnaker, and we will experiment with using it in combination with our primary sails. What a wonderful day of sailing, and a wonderful stay on Conception!

3 thoughts on “Following in Columbus’s Footsteps

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