John is on shark patrol. He walks slowly around the perimeter of the boat, donning the all important polarized glasses, scouring the endless clear blue for that long black slithering mass. The good thing is that we can see them for miles.
I am perched on the back ladder, armed with only a bottle of liquid soap, wearing nothing but a nervous grin. “Coast is clear?” “Yep, go for it”. This is not some swim-with-the-sharks adventure game. This is our daily shower routine. Rinse in ocean, soap up, immerse in ocean again, then jump out for a quick fresh water rinse.
We haven’t Googled anything in days. The phone reads boldly: “NO SERVICE”. Haven’t seen a building or heard the motor of a car. We are castaways by choice on the island on Conception in the outer Bahamas. It is apparently protected as a nature sanctuary and there is nothing here but white sand beaches, some bushes and the rugged rocks where the tropic birds nest. Oh, and the sharks. We used to swim and snorkel with wild abandon but the day before we left the relative civilization of Cat Island, we heard that a girl on an organized snorkeling trip in Nassau had her arm bitten off by a reef shark... Gives one a small cause for concern.
When we are not swimming in the shallows – ever alert for our black finned friends, we are walking expanses of sand - day or night.
Back on the boat, the fridge has gone on the brink and we are testing what can be stuffed in the little freezer and what will last without growing mold here in 85% humidity and 33 degrees C.
Generator is pumping away on deck, charging up the batteries so we can desalinate some drinking water and run lights and TV at night. This is life off the grid. Disconnected but with all the modern amenities we need.
Occasionally another boat will arrive over the horizon to drop anchor here and sit with us in relative isolation and breathtaking beauty. And after a day they are off. Maybe they miss Twitter or the grocery store. Maybe they are on a tight schedule, heading back to the states for hurricane season. Perhaps they know something we don’t about the weather headed our way. We are oblivious. Haven’t seen a weather App for a week. We are reading the conditions the old fashioned way – look and see.
Today looks windy, a bit hazy. Think I’ll make a curry and we’ll take a long walk later. Bit of ‘house cleaning’ before exploring. Tides are our time. The beach is best to walk at low tide. Snorkeling best at slack tide. A dip in the rock pool on the north beach is wonderful at high tide when the ocean crashes violently through a crack in the rocks into the serene warm pond.
Yesterday we discovered the massive steel ruins of a ship that have literally grown into the rock around them. My mind exploded with wonder. How old is this ship?! What really happened? Were there survivors? If so how long did they live? What did they eat? Did they make shelter? It dawns on me that they were truly castaways and this is not Hollywood. This is a genuine story of adventure and tragedy. One that no one will ever know. It’s possible we might discover something if we Googled ‘Conception island ship wreck’. But you’d need Internet for that. Oh well, white tropic birds with their long tails flutter above, the turquoise of the ocean reflecting off their bellies. Who needs Internet?!
There are reefs surrounding the island, populated by the colour-by-numbers parrot fish and every other imaginable shape, colour and size of reef eater. I’ve been trying out my new gas-mask style snorkel gear with moderate success. No water or steam gets in but it seems to jam my jaw upward. It’s a first world problem. I can still see the beauty around me.
I will happily sacrifice fresh milk (we’ve got the lovely powdered substitute), laundry (not wearing many clothes anyway), and the constant saltiness for this paradise. My skin is crispy, leathery, a disturbing terra cotta hue. My hair used to have highlights. It’s gone from styled to wild pretty quickly. The little greys poke out through the black roots while the rest is dry, wiry, wispy and toxic orange. Sun kissed rapidly turned to sun baked and now I’m basically fitting my role as castaway.
JW is mopping what we believe is migrated Sahara dust off the solar panels while I’ve tied up my orange mop and I’m sautéing onions in prep for my curry. I’m thinking it’s nearly time for a swim but then, through the galley window I spot him in the distance. The black slithering mass in the endless expanse of blue, winding his way toward us…