“Be packed and ready to leave tomorrow morning.” If I had to choose the eight words NOT to hear half-way through week-long Bahamas vacation, these eight would be at or near the top of the list. But the resort manager was quiet serious, and definitely made the right call. Out of nowhere, a hurricane had formed and was forecast to strengthen and mow right through the out-islands where we were enjoying a well-deserved break from our grueling vacation schedule. Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound quite right…
We had arrived with high hopes three days before. The forecast for the week was for perfect, late autumn, northern Caribbean conditions. We were also excited because the Minister of Leisure and his buddy were going to join us on the island in a couple days. For the first couple days the reality exceeded expectations; a leisurely breakfast, a cruise in the skiff to some exotic snorkel spot, a picnic lunch on a remote beach gazing out at the incredible turquoise water, some afternoon exploring, followed by sunset from the deck of our cottage, and a delicious seafood dinner at the Yacht Club.
Our friends arrived on schedule Monday morning, and after a great breakfast we packed up the big skiff and set out for a drift snorkel a couple miles to the north. With each incoming tide, a huge volume of water flows from the deep Atlantic up onto the Bahama Banks, a several-hundred-mile sandbar that rises to an average of less than 10 feet from the surface. This in turn creates strong currents that bring clear ocean water in through “cuts” between the numerous small islands running along the east side of the Banks. And this makes for some challenging but amazing snorkel adventures.
We motor the skiff right up to the opening of a cut, then kill the motor and jump over the side. Tied to the boat as it drifts quickly westward, we fly over the shallow reef at speeds approaching 4-5 knots. The sensation is like watching one of those IMAX flying movies. After covering a mile or so in 15-20 minutes, we’ve drifted from the reef onto the sandbar, and climb back into the boat to search for the next snorkel spot. The kitchen at the Yacht Club provides fully stocked picnic coolers, so the biggest decision come lunchtime is which of the literally scores of secluded beaches to choose from. We select the little inlet at Twin Cay, wheel the skiff up to the beach, and drop anchor in two feet of crystal turquoise water.
After lunch, we continue heading north through the Exumas to arrive at Compass Cay. There are any number of things to do on Compass Cay, one of the biggest islands in this stretch, and we choose the expedition to Rachel’s Bubble Bath. We park the skiff at a little inlet, then walk/slog our way upstream about a quarter mile until we reach the eastern edge of the island. The waves from open water crash against the cliff, and pour over a low wall into a large pool, creating a natural bubble bath.
On our way back to the Yacht Club we swing by Big Major Spot, home to the famous swimming pigs (really). On hearing our engine the piggies trot out of the brush, across the beach, and into the water. It’s a little surreal, one of those things you have to see in real life, but pigs really can swim, and they’re actually quite adept at it. They swim out to the boat but turn up their noses (snouts?) at our offering of Pringles. Normally we would have asked the kitchen for some scraps, but our visit was unplanned, so the pigs probably got less than they bargained for. Hopefully they enjoyed their swim.
Back at our cottage we relax and watch the sunset, rinse off the day’s salt water, and head to the Yacht Club for dinner. The seafood is truly fresh; a couple of local fishermen provide almost all of the supplies to the restaurant, and we feast on baked grouper and Caribbean lobster. We visit with guests at the neighboring tables (one couple from Germany actually discovered the resort because they heard about the swimming pigs!), and maybe squeeze in a couple games of pool, then head to bed, hoping that tomorrow would be exactly the same as today.
And then hurricane Sandy happened. Remember, on Saturday and Sunday the forecast was for beautiful weather. Monday there was talk of a tropical depression forming in the Caribbean Sea. By Tuesday morning the depression had become a hurricane, and by Wednesday morning we were boarding a tiny plane, as the hurricane was due to strike our island Thursday evening. Somehow scientists put all their faith in computer models that tell what the global temperature and sea levels will be 40 years from now, but models written by the same scientists can’t predict that a giant hurricane will form even four days in advance. But I digress.
The wind was already building as the plane took off. With a 30 knot tailwind we made Ft. Lauderdale in record time, then spent the morning changing our travel arrangements. Our original plan was to fly back to DC on Sunday, but here we were in south Florida on Wednesday. In the “better to be lucky than smart” category, the big Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show was starting the very next morning, and the Yacht Club gave us tickets to the show, so we spent a relaxing afternoon at the W hotel (thank you Todd!) and then had a very nice dinner up the street.
Thursday we went to the boat show, and were successful enough at pretending to be rich and famous that we scored an invite to come aboard a couple of the big (100 foot +) sailboats on display. By this time hurricane Sandy was not far off the coast, and south Florida was getting lashed with bands of wind and rain. The sheer dollar value of all the boats parked in the waterway was mind-boggling, and I’m sure the crews of these giant playthings weren’t stressed at all as the hurricane churned slowly by less than 150 miles away.
And then it was over, our fantastic and fun vacation cut short by a late-season hurricane. It was interesting to arrive home three days early from a vacation; friends and family still thought we were out of town, we had no plans or social engagements, and that gave us time to prepare for our third brush with hurricane Sandy, due to strike just north of us in a few days.
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