After taking our best shot at reaching Rum Cay under sail from Conception, we had only progressed about three miles in two hours. Although we had all day to get there, it was just too frustrating so we gave up and motored into the wind. As we neared the island I noticed on the chart that we were running along a ridge where the water went from very very deep to relatively shallow and mentioned to Jon that maybe he should check the trolling line. The last time we caught a fish there was no other indicator, I just grabbed the line and realized there was something on it. So Jon checked, and sure enough, we’d hooked another fish of many colors and names, the dolphin-fish/mahi-mahi/dorado. This one was much bigger than the first, and male. Jon brought him into the boat as we neared the coral head-strewn shoreline and the sky grew dark with clouds. We managed to anchor safely without hitting any coral heads or tripping and falling onto the dead fish in the cockpit. As we were setting the anchor we were being unofficially hailed over the radio and told in no uncertain terms that we should make tracks to shore to participate in Rum Cay Day. We could hear loud music drifting out over the water as soon as we turned off the engine.
It seemed that the few other boats in the anchorage were already at the party, so our plans to share our big fish with the neighbors didn’t seem likely to pan out. And though I considered it a potentially worthwhile challenge, there was no way we could eat all of that fish ourselves without a way to keep it cold. So Jon put the fish in the dinghy and rowed to shore in search of someone willing to cook some of it for us and keep the rest for themselves. He found just such a person and place, so two days later we were served a very lovely fish dinner at Kaye’s Bar and Restaurant.
After taking care of the fish, Jon came back to get me and we joined the party. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the boats in the harbor were largely crewed by young people. Though we were exhausted from spending all day in the sun, I kept being handed free drinks so we stayed out until the party began to move down the street. We left after watching the cops put the kibosh on about five too many people trying to ride in and all over a suburban to the next bar. We were told that Rum Cay Day has stretched into a three-day-long weekend celebration, but the party seemed to mellow down substantially after that first night.
Throughout our stay we listened to the weather each morning and heard only bad news. Our sailboat tour of the Bahamas had so far been characterized by cold front after cold front, providing a lot of north and west winds which were not so desirable for most of the available anchorages. However, now that we were in the out islands, ready to use the cold fronts to leave the Bahamas, it looked like it might be weeks before we would get another front and instead we would have nothing but east and southeasterly trade winds. That wouldn’t have been such bad news if we were camped out in a nice protected anchorage, but instead we were rather exposed on the south side of the island with nothing but a few stretches of reef to break up the swell. Rolling around day after day we started to feel pretty defeated and began to wonder whether we would (or should) venture farther than the Bahamas this year. In addition to our dwindling enthusiasm, we were running low on water and food with little to no options for replenishing our stores.
Still, we were enjoying the company of other young cruisers and Jon had fun spending the better part of a day snorkeling with a few of the guys, despite coming back empty-handed. But the next day he found our first full-sized conch. The extraction process did not go smoothly and the little sucker wouldn’t come out. The shell was starting to show some signs of the struggle and Jon was getting frustrated. In his determination to get the snail out, his hand slipped and he sliced open a finger on the outer ridge of the shell. There was blood everywhere. As Jon laid on the floor of the cabin, paralyzed by the sight of his own blood, I pulled out our first aid supplies and tried to get him to hold still. Just then one of the guys from another boat stopped by, and it was highly entertaining for me to have someone else there to witness the long process of putting a bandage on Jon’s finger. The cut really wasn’t that bad, but it did bleed a lot. Later, after a lot more bashing, pounding, ripping, and scraping, we had thoroughly destroyed a perfectly good conch shell and subjected the creature inside to a long and terrible death. After slicing off the slimy bits and cutting the conch into chunks, we produced a whopping quarter cup of meat which we soaked in lime juice and added to a salsa of tomatoes, peppers, and onions for ceviche. We both had at the back of our minds that the whole conch debacle was really bad karma, and not something we wanted to repeat anytime soon.
That night Jon went to shore to see what was going on and took some of our ceviche to share. I had had enough excitement for the day and was looking forward to relaxing with a book on the boat. I had just gone to bed when I heard somber voices outside the boat and someone who was not Jon clearly said sympathetically, “Sorry, man.” This was not good. Jon called my name as he lowered himself into the cabin and announced that he had lost the dinghy. Yep, you read that correctly.
He explained that when he went to shore he pulled the dinghy up on the beach but somehow forgot to set the anchor in the sand. When he came back in the dark several hours later, the dinghy was gone. He went back on the dock to call to Contagious, and Eric very kindly drove Jon around in their dinghy for an hour searching for our little boat. It was too rough to go very far in the dinghy and pretty difficult to see much in the dark anyway, so they called it quits. There was nothing more we could do, we would just have to go to sleep and see if it washed up somewhere on the island in the morning. It seemed much more likely that little Bobbie (yep, she finally had a name, one that I spent the length of one Jon nap painting on her stern, along with some little pink hearts) was out in the middle of the Atlantic somewhere, never to be seen by us again. I kept telling myself that things could be worse, which certainly they could, but it was still a restless night spent worrying about how we would manage without a dinghy, where we could get a new one, and waking up hoping it was all just a bad dream.
We were up at dawn to move the boat closer to shore so that Jon could swim to the beach on the surfboard. He then enjoyed a long jog down the beach, searching for any signs of the dinghy, though feeling it was probably a pointless task and she was long gone. Just as he was about to give up the search, he thought he saw a little boat floating just offshore further up the beach. Sure enough there she was, but as he got closer he saw that she was just about cracked in half and full of water. On the bright side, the oars were still onboard along with the handy-dandy little anchor and Jon’s flip-flops!
Jon pulled the boat up onto beach and set back down the road looking like a proper shipwreck survivor: soaking wet, covered in sand, bleeding from his reopened conch wound and carrying everything he’d found on the beach other than the actual dinghy. A very nice stranger in a jeep, Alfonso, asked Jon if perhaps he might like a ride. Jon explained what he had been doing and Alfonso said he had a trailer and could help get the dinghy back to the dock. With considerably more effort and teamwork the boat was eventually loaded on the trailer and delivered to the dock and Jon swam back to Baby Blue.
Eric offered Jon a ride back to the dock with all of his tools so he could spend the rest of the morning patching the dinghy back together as best as he could with what we had on board. Jon’s birthday happened to be the next day, so I spent the morning making a cake, which actually went relatively well considering my kitchen was continually tilting 30 degrees one way and then the other. Jon used up all of the fiberglass resin we had, and by the afternoon we had one leaky but floating dinghy and one lopsided birthday cake.
On Jon’s birthday, with a little help we polished off the entire cake, performed our limited repertoire of songs on ukulele and guitar for a very small crowd at Kaye’s, and had a long talk about where we were headed. In the end, we decided that instead of suffering through the next week of predicted strong trade winds at Rum Cay, we would backtrack to Long Island where we could fill up with water, buy more fiberglass resin, and hopefully enjoy ourselves while the boat stayed level. If the weather provided an opportunity we would set out again toward the Turks and Caicos or even the Dominican Republic. If the right conditions didn’t come in the next couple of weeks we would accept our fate and take our time heading north, back through the Bahamas at a leisurely pace on our way to spend the summer in the US.
We felt a little down as we left Rum Cay the next day, wondering whether we would make it even that far east again. Though on the other hand deciding not to force our way south and giving into a bit of fatalism where the weather was concerned also felt like a huge relief. So with mixed feelings, for the first time we gave up miles made good and turned back in the direction we’d come.