Family and Invasive Species

My parents arrived in Nassau with a few days overlap before Paul returned to the bitter cold spell passing through Washington State. Dad was particularly excited about visiting, having already wished people ‘happy holidays from the Bahamas’ a month earlier, while still in Southern Oregon.

Once provisioned we departed East from Nassau just as the winds let up for the first time in a few days for a nice, calm run across the bank towards the Exumas. We pushed a little further south than our last excursion, directly to a spot off Pipe Cay. We spent a couple days exploring the area – the waters between Pipe and the other nearby Cays is shallow and was a good spot for Mom’s first attempt at snorkeling, though there isn’t a great deal to see in that particular spot.

After pouring over the maps we found what looked like a better protected anchorage further south off Bitter Guana Cay, but we’d be relying heavily on the navigation charts to work our way past an outer shallow shoal to the slightly deeper spot closer to the island. We approached the cut from the north then turned south towards the visible cliffs on Bitter Guana, hugging the shore within about 100 feet, which is a little nerve-wracking in a large boat in 25 knot winds, though they were fortunately easterly, pushing us off-shore, albeit towards the shoal.

All went as planned and we scooted in with just a couple feet below the keel to drop anchor in what turned out to be one of the most lovely spots we’ve stayed yet.

The next few days I felt like we might have been in the Galapagos. The island is home to rare Iguanas that surrounded our afternoon beach encampment and the snorkeling along the rocks brought the folks closer to fish, coral and other sea-life. I crossed the island to the east side and marveled at the heavier seas crashing on the harsh limestone shores.

It was here that we first encountered the invasive Lion-fish, several of which were hovering around the coral heads near shore. Having recently purchased some Hawaiian slings, a legal type of spear-fishing pole, Luke cleared one fish which was hanging out near a very full fish trap that we left untouched. Had we done the research earlier, we would have taken it back for Lion-fish tacos (more on that later).

After enjoying Bitter Guana and the food and grocery stores at nearby Staniel, we moved further south to the bay at Black Point off Great Guana Cay. We indulged in some Pizza at Dushaun’s and the next morning went looking for the bread maker we’d read about. On the way in I helped retrieve a local man’s bicycle which had rolled off the pier into the sea as children gathered around a man cutting slices of coconut for a Saturday morning treat.

At Lorraine’s Cafe we asked a local woman about the bread and she pointed to the small, white house behind Lorraine’s and instructed us to knock. A voice beckoned us into the small, homey kitchen of an elderly Bahamian woman pulling fresh bread from the oven. Several loaves were lined up on the counter, of which we purchased two at $7 each, one supposedly coconut and one cinnamon, though in the incredible French toast they produced the next few days we tasted both coconut and cinnamon in both loaves.

We anchored next between Little Farmer’s Cay and Little Galliot Cay and set about hunting for Lion Fish, with the intention of indulging in fish tacos while basking in the good deed of clearing reefs of this invasive fish. Apparently a single fish can reduce the reef population by 70% or more, as it has no natural predators in these waters.

Luke was successful our first evening and came up with a large, red striped specimen which he set about carefully cleaning, avoiding the toxic spines that protect the fish from nearly every conceivable angle. After removing one very nice looking, white fillet, the fish slipped off the back deck, so our dream of fish tacos was relegated to a tasting.

I marinated the fish in lime, cumin, garlic powder, salt and a dash of chili powder for 15 minutes, then pan fried the fish for 2-3 minutes per side until opaque. It was excellent and we were hungry for more!

The next day we tried again, first in the same location then scouring the local area but came up empty handed. Disappointing since our first encounter up north we had seen at least 4 among their rocks and reefs, but equally comforting that the area is not entirely overrun.

At one point I noticed a tender hovering near the back deck and emerged to meet a couple from the sailboat Foxy Lady. The husband in this duo had apparently been a captain-representative of George Baker, the original builder of Wanderbird. What a surprise it must have been for them to see her profile across these azure waters, thousands of miles from their last sighting: a boat show in Rhode Island many months earlier. And to see her now fulfilling her mission of exploring distant shores after having been intricately involved in her build so many years ago. We chatted a bit and they headed off to tag sea turtles for the University of Florida on a nearby island. What a wonderful way to spend the day!

We’re now two weeks into my parent’s 3-week visit. The tidal current shuffled us around and last night we moved a hundred feet to deeper water before the very likely event that we’d end up sitting keel-in-the-sand. We’re now contemplating Georgetown or Long Island before making our way back to Nassau next week.

I’d sure like some lion-fish tacos.

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