Eight ring-billed gulls circled and screeched while we packed the boats two hours later and headed out to sea again. Flat green islands hovered offshore, and an endless canvas of shallows, colored aquamarine by shifting arcs of sand, reached to the horizon. Trade winds blew from the northeast, but the water on the bank, protected by the islands, was perfectly flat. After a lifetime of sailing and captaining boats — and avoiding shallow water at all costs — I watched in awe as the Sea Pearls plowed through knee-deep water at seven miles an hour.
The boats are surprisingly similar to the dugout canoes used by the first inhabitants of the Exumas, the Lucayan Taino, more than 1,000 years ago. The earliest history of the tribe was recorded by the first — and most infamous — Western sailor in the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus, who is said to have landed in the New World on San Salvador Island, 100 miles east of the Exumas.
The perfect beach
We glimpsed the dark blue depths of Exuma Sound as we sailed around the northern tip of Great Guana Cay. We had planned a short day on the water and passed a half dozen beaches — too big, too small, too breezy, not quite dreamy enough — until we found the perfect one, framed by palmettos, casuarina evergreens and, on the opposite side of the island, a Bahamian lobster-filled inlet.
The scene 500 yards away on the shores of Exuma Sound was the inverse of the west. School-bus-size waves smashed into a razor-sharp lattice of limestone sea cliffs. (Sailors call it “ironbound” because it is so impossible to land on.) We didn’t need the Hawaiian sling for the first lobster — we caught it sauntering down the beach 10 feet from the water. The next two monsters — each, more than two feet long — required 40 minutes of skin diving.
As I hunted lobsters, I thought of a local fisherman near here who told me about wrestling a 40-pound grouper away from a 25-foot bull shark. (“It looked like a 747 coming out of the deep,” he’d said.) Thankfully, the only predator I encountered was a four-foot tuna looking for dinner and a 300-pound sea turtle that nearly knocked me over as I headed back to the beach.
The campsite got bacchanalian that night, with improvised tropical cocktails and four pounds of grilled, butter-drenched lobster tails passed around the fire ring — set to the beat of the Bahamian star K.B.’s hit single “All De Meat” on the radio. I fell asleep exhausted and full, watching the moon move through the casuarinas and listening to the dull thud of waves crashing into the eastern shore.