To Conception Island

Ambler Isle
V and S
Sat 12 Mar 2011 13:11
White Tailed Tropicbird
23 50 95N
75 07 50W
March 7, 2011
Awake at 6:00am, we lifted anchor and moved north to exit Conch Cay Cut to Exuma Sound and Conception Island about 40 miles away.  There was almost no wind, but as we neared the cut, a swell began to rock the boat.  We set down the lamps and removed a couple of drawers that like to dance during rolling seas.  Should we? Shouldn't we?  It was borderline.  Then S/V Dreams at Sea called on the VHF with a sea state report. They were through the cut and it was good.  MV My Sharona was a mile ahead of us.   We continued on, still unsure.  The incoming tide seemed to suck the swells in with it.  After about 30 minutes we were through the cut and into open water.  The swells were about 4' but spaced 10 seconds apart.  Heading straight into the swell, the boat settled into a gently motion.  There were no wind waves.  It was very comfortable.  Valt set out the fishing lines.  The power boat turned north heading to Staniel Cay.   The sail boat in front of us was heading to Conception Island also, and unfurled its sails.  Minutes later they called us to say they'd changed course and were heading east to Rum Cay. The wind was favorable.  There were no other boats within our line of vision.   We planned to spend 2 days at Conception Island, then go south to Long Island.  Weather permitting we would continue to Salt Pond and top off the diesel tanks.  We'd only gone some 200 miles since we left Georgetown, but used many generator hours over the past 14 weeks and would buy about 350 gallons of diesel.  Exuma Docking Service in Georgetown no longer sold fuel.  As the swells increased a bit, Captain Valt altered the course a few degrees.  While we were still comfortable, he was planning ahead if the swells changed direction.  A few birds worked the sea surface.  I could almost taste the mahi.  From ten miles away we began to see land on the horizon.  It was the northern tip of Long Island.  But before we saw land, we saw the cloud formations over it.  Clouds always form above land masses.   Flocks of seabirds.  No mahi.  The swells seemed to increase, but we were ok.  The surface had barely a ripple. Dreams at Sea called to report catching 2 mahi.  We considered changing course to try over there, but rationalized that fish can be anywhere.  Spotting a 66' "hill" on the sea floor, we detoured to pass over it.  On we drove, and were soon rounding Cape Santa Maria, marked with a stone monument as a landing spot of Christopher Columbus.  The sea here is usually rough and confused as the waters from the Exuma Sound match wits with the Atlantic Ocean.  But today, the Cape was calm.  The only disturbance was the persistent swells and Amber Isle was able to ride up the swell, then down with ease.  The very tip of Conception Island came into view.  Another of Columbus' discoveries, the name he bestowed still sticks.  The sea began to take on that "liquid mercury" appearance.  It was so good to be moving again.  A small water spout formed over Long Island.  I tried to photograph it, but the camera did not see what the eye did. Two sailors reported whale sightings. We finally stopped to take in the fishing lines.  It was hard to believe we were in 50' of water:  we could see the coral on the bottom "clear as day."  When we finally tiptoed through the coral into the anchorage, we were stunned by the impossibly clear water.  We watched the anchor take hold of the sea floor.  Soon the resident barracuda and two nurse sharks came to welcome us to the harbour and see what was for dinner.  Disappointed, they swam to the next boat. 
When dark finally fell, it was pitch black.  No town lights, very few anchor lights.  The only sound was the surf hitting the ocean side of the island.   We awoke that next morning and watched the White-tailed Tropic Birds frolic high in the air.  Seagull like in appearance, they have an 18' tail.  Their peculiar "Key, Key. Key" call was the tip off.  They circle, call, group together, do some fighter- plane maneuvers for an hour, never landing once during the display.    My first sighting of these rare birds I call it "flock bonding".  I guess it probably is really a mating ritual.  They fly so high that it sometimes requires binoculars to spot them.  The last time we were here at Conception Island, Jack and Judy Shader and we stumbled upon the Tropicbird's nesting grounds.  They dive-bombed us and scolded us even after we'd turned to leave.