Let’s talk about the Whale Cay Channel. If you want to move between the northern and southern Abacos by water and your boat draws a draught of over four feet, you must use the Whale Cay Channel.
This channel takes you from the tranquil Sea of Abaco, out around Whale Cay via the Atlantic Ocean. After 2.5 miles on a southeast heading you tuck back into the sheltered Sea of Abaco where you can enjoy the Southern Abaco islands.
This stretch gains a notorious reputation because of it’s hazardous conditions in the wrong weather. The unprotected waters to the north are a few thousand feet deep, and the Whale channel is comparatively shallow at only 12 feet. If the wind has been blowing out of the north, the waves build in momentum and size before breaking when they hit the channel, causing dangerous conditions.
We draw 5ft, so in order for us to continue our journey we must make the passage through the channel and out into the Atlantic. The weather is good, but not perfect when we set sail. The bow rises as we meet large waves, up we climb to the crest of the wave before the bow comes crashing down into the trough. As we turn to make our way along the length of Whale Cay the waves begin to hit us on the beam, causing us to roll from side to side with each one. I promptly establish it’s this movement that triggers my sea sickness. A superyacht appears behind us, ploughing through the waves as though they don’t exist. Although there’s plenty of room around us, it whizzes closely past. The channel’s waves combined with the wake from the superyachts huge propellers throws us violently over from one side to the other. In the cockpit we hold on for dear life, inside the cabin a door flies open and something that wasn’t fasten securely enough crashes down onto the floor. After three quarters of an hour in the unprotected waters we tuck ourselves back into the calmer waters of the Sea of Abaco, by Great Guana island. We’ve made it!
At Bakers Bay near the northern end of the island there’s a plush marina charging over $3 per foot, per night for a slip. We’ve heard this is where the superyachts, the celebrities and the billionaires come to stay. The long beach is lined with large detached homes and the northern tip of the island boasts a luxury golf course.
We don’t fancy spending over $130 to tie ourselves to a wooden pillar at the marina for the night so we anchor up in the bay outside, for free. The light winds are coming from the south so we bob around a bit as we have no southerly protection. The next day we move and hide from the wind behind Spoil Cay, a tiny uninhabited island just across from Bakers. The islands centre is covered with trees and the perimeters primarily laced with white sandy beaches, the north of which is decorated with driftwood. It only takes around 30 minutes to stroll around the whole island. On one corner of the island the sand bed drops away quickly, here Ben catches a small fish and sees a huge barracuda. I later use the caught fish as bait to try and catch a bigger fish for dinner. I lower the line off the back of the boat, hoping that the fish head will tempt in a juicy feast for us, maybe even the barracuda. I leave it there for an hour or so before I hear the line being pulled from the reel. I rush up to reel it in, I’m too slow, and the responsible fish too large. It’s eaten the fish head including the hook and swum off. When I pull up the line it’s been cut by the fishes razor sharp teeth. Maybe it’s for the best it got away!
Spoil Cay hasn’t given us much protection from the waves as the wind didn’t clock around in the way we expected. We move over to a harbour area at Great Guana which offers better protection. We plan to anchor but it’s a tight spot with many mooring buoys and docks. We decide it’s best if we pick up a mooring buoy for $20 for the night. The harbour is home to a dive centre, some shops, bars etc and it has a nice chilled out vibe. A short walk to the other side of the island we find Nippers bar, many people have recommended it to us and I can see why. It’s set above a long white sand beach overlooking the coral reefs. It has the perfect beach bar feel with painted wooden tables and chairs, and two swimming pools. When we get there during the day it’s quiet and chilled, but it’s also known to be a lot of fun in the evenings with Caribbean music, dancing and the ever so strong Nippers Juice drink.
We head down to the beach on a couple of occasions and go snorkelling with our pole spear to catch dinner. It’s here that I spear my first fish! A yellowtail snapper. Now Ben wants a go….we bury my catch in the sand on the beach and get back in the water. There’s plenty of fish around, but many are quite small, we’re yet to catch a good sized one. As we swim around we both keep our eyes peeled, he aims for a couple but they’re too quick. At the edge of the coral it drops off to the deeper water, here we see larger fish including barracuda but the deeper water is intimidating for us. We venture a few metres away from the coral, but that’s enough for us. We turn back and swim along the top of the coral, making our way along the edge looking towards the deeper water. I spot a huge fish coming into sight and start to point it out to Ben. As I do so, I look to where I am pointing and see the huge fish is accompanied by a huge shark. Now I can’t tell you what kind, but what I do know is that it’s nose was pointed and its body a strong, solid, grey, rounded 6ft mass. It swam slowly in the deeper water, taking in its surroundings. I wasn’t terrified but it was enough to make me swim to Ben’s side and hide behind the spear he was holding.
Had the shark smelt the blood from my earlier catch? How long had he been swimming nearby? Do we look tasty to him?
We start to head towards the shore, initially I turn my back on the shark to swim away but promptly decide I’d prefer to be able to see where he is. I flip onto my back and continue to swim whilst looking back underwater in the direction I’d come from. He’s out of my sight already. I kick with my legs and use my arms a little. I don’t want to look too panicked and vulnerable to the shark but I can’t help constantly looking around in all directions. Not being able to see him makes me anxious. This swim seems to be going on forever, I’m sure it wasn’t this far back to the beach. After the longest 5 minutes of my life we both wash up onto the beach exhausted and relieved.
We catch our breath, take off our flippers and make our way back to the other side of the island with my earlier catch. After a freshwater wash-down at the dock we jump in the dinghy back to our boat on the mooring. Ben stays in the dinghy and guts my fish throwing the scraps overboard. As I pass down a plate to him to put the fillets on I see a large shadowy shape beneath him in the water. Another shark! Hanging around for the scraps. This one was different to the earlier one, not the same intimidating shape. It seems less streamlined, wider headed and not so stocky, but still clearly a shark, and nearly as large in length. It hangs around for twenty minutes before gliding off to find its next nibble.
After all that drama it’s time to cook my catch:
One frying pan
One yellowtail snapper
One knob of butter
A squeeze of lemon juice
It may only be a small fish, but it’s damn tasty!