Conception Island

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 14 Feb 2011 00:37
As we sit in Elizabeth Harbour Georgetown fanned by 20-25 knot winds for the next few days with the wind generator working hard for a change we are reflecting on a few idyllic days spent at Conception Island which sits 20 miles northeast of the northern tip of Long island.  The west anchorage is favourite in the prevailing northeast breezes. Gazing towards the golden yellow beach from onboard it could be many peoples idea of paradise, the sea an amazing array of beautiful shades of blue which compliment the surrounding shore. The sound of birds singing their hearts out from the undergrowth and the sight of large rays effortlessly gliding past the anchored boats.
Back to reality with a bump we had arrived at Conception with a blocked loo exit pipe which had succumbed to a build up of lime scale. This happens with boat toilets on a regular basis and whilst there are a number of 'cures' around, such as vinegar, Muriatic acid (perilous) and various other concoctions the only reliable way of knowing the pipe is back to full bore 'as new' condition is to give it a dam good thrashing - Basil Faulty style, so that the lime scale is dislodged throughout the whole length. We've done this a few times in our cruising life but we felt a little uncomfortable clearing this foul pipe in such a beautiful location. However, needs must and this was carried out on the rear deck. Just as the Skipper was being as discreet as possible in his pipe thrashing a largish Lemon Shark casually swam past the stern to investigate what was falling into the water. Well it didn't stay long and we cant blame it really.
Clearing the pipe was akin to having a troublesome tooth extracted. A messy process but necessary, with a feeling of utter relief at the end. We then had problems getting the pipe back into position as it runs under the heads floor and up to a diverter valve but after a few grunts and groans the 'plumber', helped by his 'plumber's mate', achieved the required result and we had a working system once more. We could now turn our attention to enjoying this wonderful island.
There were about ten other yachts with us enjoying Conception and the weather was exceptional whilst there. We walked ashore and over to the ocean side where extensive reefs guard the shoreline. There was an amazing contrast between the windward side and leeward side of the island. The colours of the sea were in shades of green with a wilder feel. There is a mile long walk available along the coast which we didn't have time to explore but hope to return again before leaving the Bahamas. For now a walk along the beach and a meet up with other visitors would suffice.
The next day we donned wetsuits and headed off to explore some of the underwater scenery further north in the anchorage. It was good exercise for our arms and legs but the scenery was not up to the standard of the coral gardens in the Exuma National Park which were thriving in fish and lobster. More interesting snorkelling was to be had around the rocky promontory at the end of the beach which was full of fish and whilst not beautiful to look at was better than the reef we had just swum over. The fun of climbing back into the dinghy like two old seals brought the usual belly laughs as we struggled to get over the wide inflatable tubes standing precariously on the home made boarding ladder. At which point the 'Admiral' noticed a stream of bubbles coming from one of the seams on the dinghy. It had been going soft recently - yet another addition to the jobs list.
Back at the boat Phil decided to check the condition of the hulls, but where was that shark? Not far away actually. It seemed to have a regular route round the bay which took in close passes of the anchored yachts. Once it had glided off on it's tour of inspection Phil went in with a mask and snorkel.  At the forward end of the boat in about 15 feet of water was a large ray close to the seabed, a beautiful specimen with attendant cleaning fish effortlessly gliding through the water totally unconcerned about being watched. Then in the hazy distance the shark returned, swimming about 3 feet off the bottom. About 10 feet long snout to tail it was a fantastic sight as we had only seen it from above water where the finer features are lost to the refraction of the light at the surface. Phil headed for the back steps just in case it became curious. It didn't, maintaining it's depth and swimming into the distance until it was just a hazy outline and then it was gone.
The next day we walked the beach looking to take some nice pictures. The breeze was gentle and the day simply idyllic. It was the stuff of dreams as we walked barefoot along the waters edge with the boat anchored 100 yards out. Once onboard a swim was desirable to cool down so the 'Admiral' took to the water with Phil walking the deck above her on shark watch duties. Not convinced that Lemon Sharks are virtually harmless Skip was employed scanning for any dark shadows in the water. A circuit of the boat involves a swim of 120 feet, or about two minutes relaxed swimming time except on this occasion the relaxed look was replaced by an anxious one and the distance was covered in half that time. Arriving back at the transom steps and exiting the water coincided with our 'citrus' friend's arrival back at Ajaya escorted by it's attendant Remora fish which station themselves above and below the shark's body taking care of any little cleaning jobs that need doing on a day to day basis. For this service they get to share any food that escapes the large jaws and mean teeth located just ahead of them. Once it was out of the area Phil was in the water for another look and after just a couple of minutes it was back, swimming exactly the same route past the boat, arriving from the forward end on the starboard side, only this time instead of remaining close to the bottom it began to rise towards the swim steps as Skip made a rapid exit from the water not wishing to be a victim of mistaken identity. The creature glided by just under the dinghy and off into the distance with the Skipper feeling just a little whimpish from his quick retreat from the scene.
We left Conception the following morning with heavy hearts. It's a difficult place to get to with the prevailing winds and certainly a difficult place to leave because of its beauty and isolation when compared with other Bahamian islands. Hopefully we'll get to return again and see if 'ol' lemon face' is still around.