(Excerpt from Nick Finneran’s Staniel Cay, Authorhouse, 2004, available at www.nickfinneran.com)
Around ten o’clock the next morning, we weighed anchor with the outgoing tide, and sailed south, close-hauled, along the Bimini Island chain. We dropped anchor twice that day and donned our swim goggles. First at Turtle Rocks, and then at a shipwreck called the Sapona. This ship had sunk in the great 1929 hurricane, which had devastated South Florida. The Sapona was built by Henry Ford and served as a private club in the 1920’s. It was later used for target practice by the Navy during the Second World War. Everywhere we looked there were different colored parrotfish, angelfish, groupers, Spanish and French grunts, snappers and damselfish. We saw sea fans and corals, barrel sponges and tube sponges. After short swims at these two locations, we continued south.
Ten miles later, we turned slightly left, and closed in on the rocks at Gun Cay light. We then turned east onto course one three five degrees, blasted through Gun Cay Cut, and sailed very triumphantly onto the Great Bahama Bank. We now officially considered ourselves to be pirates of the Caribbean.
We anchored for the night off the eastern side of Gun Cay in shallow water, near a patch of sea grass, with a view north to Bimini and a view south to the Cat Cays. I went for one last late afternoon swim, checked that the anchor was set and brought back two conchs from the bottom. We broke their shell tops with my boatswain’s knife, chopped up the conch, rinsed it, mixed in some onions, tomatoes, and salt, and had a dinner that I will never forget. The conch salad recipe was something that we had learned from the old Bahamians in Coconut Grove, and this recipe never let us down. During our years in the Caribbean, we probably ate six tons of conch salad. Dinner was never more than a short dive to the grassy bottom of whatever anchorage we happened to be living in at the time. Sometimes, if we didn’t have tomatoes, we mixed our conch with lemon and onions. And sometimes we used Tabasco. Our block ice was hardly melted, so we had cold beer too! It was then we realized that we had one hell of an icebox on our sailboat – a rare thing for a sailboat in the 1940s. We prepared to watch a brilliant sun set over Gun Cay, well-fed, with beers in hand, and we were not disappointed.
Across the short expanse of water between Jack and the island, the shallow water turned from sparkling blue to deep velvet as the sun moved lower in the sky. When the sun neared setting, its rays reflected off the tops of the wavelets that pushed towards the island. Everywhere aboard Jack, on deck and below, was an amber hue as the sun became fiery yellow. Gun Cay became a dark black shape across the water. And the yellow lights of what we guessed was a small fishing village or fishing lodge glittered at the island’s edgewater. We looked through the binoculars at the yellow lights on Gun Cay, but couldn’t see much. We imagined that our friends on the island, whether they were Bahamian lobstermen or perhaps Mr. Hemmingway himself, with a driftwood fire crackling on the beach, had a red snapper sizzling in the fry pan, and were looking out at us as well. A bit further south, on Cat Cay, we knew that there was a small resort, owned by a New Yorker. But we couldn’t see it. After dinner, I wrote a letter to my parents, and another to Mr. McCarthy.
With the wind dying and swinging around to the southwest, the night became flat calm, and for the first time in days, we slept without a single clang, clatter, rattle or thump. It was a silent night in the Bahamas, and Jack was quiet like a mouse.