After a few years' absence, we were able to make it back to Cat Cay for a family vacation this Summer. Just like our last trip, we spend the week leading up to the departure stocking up with supplies to minimize our on-island purchases (even though there are sundries on the island, they can be a little pricey), weather-watching and double checking everything possible on the boats before that (hopefully) early morning crossing. The weather wasn't shaping up perfectly, but definitely better than our last trip in 2011 so we were hopeful that it wouldn't be too bad.
For those that may not know, Cat Cay is a private membership island south of Bimini. All the homes are private residences which can be put into a rental pool for visitors. But not just any visitors can rent these homes. In order to be allowed to rent a residence, you must be a member of the club ($$$ annually) or be sponsored by a member. I know it sounds a little "Hoity-Toity" but it sure does make for an incredibly peaceful location for a family vacation with no concerns for your (or their) safety with the kids (sorry, teenagers) having practically free reign on the island without a concern.
As usual, our well laid plans are "laid" to waste when the genny on Carlos' boat wouldn't start that morning. It seemed like a battery issue and after assessing the situation, we decided the genny wasn't absolutely necessary and decided to depart as planned (even if a little later). We got underway around 8:00am and passed Bug Light by 8:30am. The winds had picked up somewhat, but nowhere near the 20-25mph we dealt with last time that had us making way through 5-7' seas. This time we were only dealing with a milder 3-5' seas. Definitely not my worst crossing, but I couldn't help but feel for my wife who has only had two crossings to Bimini and both of them, rough. She was starting to feel like a bad-luck-schleprock when it came to our trips to Bimini since my two worst crossings have been the two that she was on. Regardless, we make decent time and pass Gun Cay lighthouse around 10:45am and make the final turn into Cat Cay Marina immediately after.
After clearing customs on the island, we unload the boats and head over to Casa Playa on the West side of the island. True to it's name, it's a beautiful single level beachcomber style home on the west shore of the island with a stone staircase leading down to the beach. It definitely made for beautiful views every morning and evening. Once settled in, we proceeded to break open the rum (ok, maybe we broke the rum open a little earlier...) and get into that vacation mind set. From that day on, the weather only improved. It was unbelievable. There were actually days we had 0mph winds! You had to swing yourself in a hammock or ride a gold cart just to feel a breeze. The next few days are a blur of great food, great drinks, great weather and great friends. The weather was so clear that we actually had a couple of nights when you could see the glow of the city lights from South Florida coming over the horizon. It was truly an amazing sight that makes you realize (and appreciate) that you're actually sitting on a rock in the middle of nowhere. It's amazing how distant you can be even if you're not that far away.
The house had a couple of sit-in kayaks that the kids were using to paddle up and down the beach. On Wednesday, I decided to take one off the beach to go for a quick dive and see if I couldn't catch some dinner. My daughter decided to join me so we grabbed my gear and the stern anchor from my boat and off we went. I don't think she knew what she was in for as we paddled maybe a little less than a mile offshore before I saw any type of bottom I was interested in. Nevertheless, she hung in there with me and we had a pretty good time while I was able to land a few hogfish for some fresh catch-of-the-day.
By Friday (Day 4), Carlos is thinking that I'm bored because I haven't been able to spearfish much since we got to the island, no matter how much I may argue to the contrary. Don't get me wrong, I do love diving and spearfishing but no matter what my wife may tell you, I am capable of having a good time without doing my favorite hobby (I'm just capable of having a better time while doing it). Regardless, Carlos and I had walked down to my boat on the dock to grab some more ice and were on our way back when we notice a couple of guys carrying some spearfishing gear walking along with us. These two were strangers to us, but that wasn't going to stop Carlos. The conversation that ensued between Carlos and the divers went almost exactly like this:
Carlos: Hey, you guys dive?
Two guys: Yes, we do.
Carlos: He dives (pointing at me), can he dive with you?
From that point, they proceeded to ask me some questions and were kind enough to invite me to hitch along with them the next morning, They told me to meet them on the dock at 8:30 the next morning. Needless to say, I was excited and grateful to Carlos for taking that leap of faith in spite of my protests.
The next morning we get underway around 9:00a, and as all fishermen do, the stories of dives past dominate the conversation as we make way to our first spot. These two gentlemen were incredibly hospitable and it seemed as though the day was shaping up to be a fun one. Our first stop was at a spot just past a small island called "La Draga", which translates to "The Dredge". It's a very literal name since there is actually dredging going on there much of the time. Where or what the results are for, I'm not sure... We stop at the island which is surrounded by incredibly shallow water, looking for some easy quarry in the way of some hogfish. We drifted around the island with the current. Soon after we started drifting, I saw the first victim in the way of a large white margate. I was able to make quick work of pursuing and dispatching him. The question came up as to it's table-fare worthiness, but I explained that this fish had meat much like that of a mangrove snapper, although they typically have to get larger than mangroves to get good size filets. Nonetheless, it was in the cooler.
As we drifted around the North end of the island, I came across some nice ledges, even if very shallow and I was hopeful that we would come across something boatworthy soon but the shallow ledges yielded nothing. A little while longer and I came across what I like to call "Mutton-bottom". Mostly broken bottom with a few ledges and lots of sea fans. I'm no expert but this is the type of bottom that I seem to find Mutton snappers on. Luckily for me, I was proven right (in my own mind) in relatively short order as I soon spotted something just at the edge of the viz. It was the tail of a nice fish swimming away from me, but it wasn't until one of those tail wags revealed that tell-tale spot on it's tail... It was a nice mutton. I immediatley pursue the fish and thanks to it's own curiosity and the long reach of my 9' Riffe pole spear, it wasn't long before I was tossing him over the side of the boat. I was feeling pretty good, two fish spotted and two fish in the box. We landed a couple of hogfish before moving on.
One of the other divers (Jorge) had mentioned wanting to go to a spot he called "La Gloria" or "The Glory". As he described it, it was a great bottom with great relief in about 55-70' of water right on the edge of a drop off into the abyss. I wasn't sure I was up to diving those depths, but I was feeling pretty good so we headed off to "La Gloria". As I drop over the side of the boat into the water, the sight was terribly impressive. At least 80-100' of viz and fish darting into and out of the relief about 60' below us reminding me of a giant "Whack-a-mole" game. We hadn't been in the water more than a minute or so before I spot 2-3 very nice Mutton making way across the reef. At these depths, I was loaded for bear with my Riffe pole spear attached to my 100' vinyl float line so I immediately grunt to get Jorge's attention, breathe up and drop in on the closest Mutton of the group. As usual (at least in my experience), the larger the Mutton, the more curious it is, so I as approached, the fish turned to the right to get a look at this awkard creature that was coming up behind it.
Between my quick breathe up and my excitement, my dive time was not going to be long so I wanted to make the shot count. As the fish turns to it's right, I follow it with my loaded pole spear but decide to wait (a decision I would regret terribly) for the fish to turn to it's other side, which it does... What happens next is a mystery for the ages (not really, it just makes me feel better to say that). The fish turns, I follow with my pole spear and let it fly. The pole spear nicks the Mutton high on the tail and it tears off into the depths with barely a scratch to show for it's encounter with me. The best (or worst) part is that I would get to relive this over and over again, because this was one of those times that I didn'tforget to start recording with my GoPro. I spent the rest of our time there hoping they would return out of curiosity, but unfortunately, the rest of the dive on this spot was even less productive for me. Even so, it was an incredible spot and at least I got to take the shot (even if I did choke).
After a quick stop to pick up some conch at a seagrass bed, we were headed back to Cat Cay with even more fish tales being told on the way home (especially "The ones that got away" stories after missing that Mutton). We dock the boat, unload the cooler and make way to the cleaning station to clean our catch. Along the way, as we pass the marina's watering hole, and where some of their friends were enjoying the afternoon with some cocktails. They stop for a minute to greet their friends, so I sat on the golf cart for a minute. Suddenly they call me over where I'm greeted by a fairly unexpected statement... "I can't believe you're Ana's brother and you didn't mention it."
After my brief comical explanation of the fact that I don't typically open up conversations with a family tree, we came to realize that almost everyone I had spent the day with as well as those at this bar have known members of my extended family for years. Not only that, but one the guys I just spent the entire day with had actually performed multiple eye surgeries on my mother. Who would have thought that I would run into about 10 people in one location on a remote island in the Bahamas that I am only fortunate enough to be visiting as a guest!?!? If that ain't a small world, I don't know what is. After a good laugh about it, we head over to the cleaning station to finish up the day's business. Luckily, we caught enough fish for both households to enjoy a fresh seafood dinner on our last night on the island.
I had mentioned in the beginning of this blog that my wife had started to feel like she had bad "sea mojo" because of our rough crossings, but that's really only been on the crossings from Miami. Our last trip to this island was plagued by bad weather for much of the week, but our crossing home (thanks to Carlos' radar that helped us steer clear of some very nasty weather) was very smooth sailing and as it turns out, this trip home was more of the same (sans-bad weather). I guess my wife only has 1 way bad-mojo. We departed Saturday morning with clear skies and only some swells on horizon. We ended up making it home in very good time and even got to enjoy the rest of the weekend in Miami where talk immediately turned to this trip for next Summer.