Thursday, December 21, 2006

Swimming With Sharks

We cruised down to the Exumas on Friday afternoon, and of course, just when I couldn’t imagine a place being any more gorgeous than where we were – we arrived at a place even more so – dropping anchor at Big Majors beach, on a small, unpopulated island near Fowl Cay, Sampson Cay and Staniel Cay. I looked out my galley window at a white sand beach and the bluest ocean I had ever seen, the sun smiling its shining face upon us. Two un-human looking mounds on the otherwise unpopulated beach caught my attention. I thought they were piles of sand – but one mound was dark brown and the other had a pinkish tinge. I stared hard wondering if it was driftwood or what those mounds could possibly be. Then they moved! And low and behold, it was two fat pigs – working on their tans! Local folklore says that the pigs were put on the island so that if a big storm ever wiped everything out, the locals from the other islands could come over and eat the pigs; another story being that pigs are put there every year, fattened up by the visitors coming by to feed them and then slaughtered and eaten on Easter. Whatever the truth, I won’t ever know – but there were two big, fat sows on the beach and about six all together on the island and all day long people pulled up in dingies and skiffs to feed and pet the pigs. Used to being fed, the pigs spend their day lounging in the sand and whenever a boat pulls up, they just trot right into the water and swim right up to the boat to be fed and petted!!! Now, those are some lucky pigs…

That afternoon I helped with the wash down of the yacht as our 1st mate had jumped on the Boston Whaler with the owners’ son about 50 miles back and they were fishing their way to us. The sky was smudged like a painter’s palette with pink, turquoise and gold as the sun began to set – a Boston Whaler off in the distance cutting across the skies reflection on the water, like a razor blade through a painting. The mate radioed in, and when we answered his call, he just yelled “WAHHHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, over the din of a roaring engine and VHF crackle. And Wahoo it was as they pulled up aside us with four giant fish in a cooler of ice on the back of the fishing boat. Within moments of tying up to us, our mate had whipped out a huge knife (I was waiting for the ubiquitous, “that’s not a knife. THIS is a knife”, Crocodile Dundee style. But it never came) and began filleting the Wahoo, handing me eight large fillets and tossing the bones, heads, skin and guts overboard. Apparently, Aussies don’t have the same affinity for eating fish eyeballs and cooking the heads as the South Africans and local islanders do. Those fish heads would start a war on some of the other yachts I’ve been on…

I carried the fillets to the galley in big, plastic bags. I’d never seen Wahoo before. It had a firm, white flesh, slightly transparent – I’d heard it was tasty so I was eager to cook with it. I cut out the blood line, trimmed it up and began portioning; wrapping the steaks in plastic wrap and sticking them in Ziplocs for the freezer – of course, leaving some aside for the next days lunch... I ended up freezing over 10 lbs. of Wahoo!

It was our mates 30th birthday and the owners were taking all of the crew out to celebrate! We had dinner reservations at a beautiful restaurant on a private resort on Fowl Cay. As time was cutting short to get ready for our reservation, I made a bee-line for my cabin and changed into my swimsuit. I had been wet and sweaty all day from the wash down, and now I smelled like fish. I ran down the corridor of the crew mess, out the door to the transom and dove off into the cool, clear Bahamian waters – feeling instantly refreshed. The fact that I was diving into freshly chummed waters not quite registering enough to give me pause. I pulled myself up onto the Whaler, rinsed off, and ran back inside to finish getting dressed.

We have underwater lights on the yacht which glow for another 80 feet off of the back end and as I was standing on the transom waiting to climb onto the tender to head to dinner, I looked out at the water just as a 7 FOOT SHARK swam out from underneath us! I hollered out, “SHARK! SHARK!”. We all watched in awe as this giant, beautiful creature swam off into the darkness. That vague notion that I’d had about diving into freshly chummed waters suddenly became very poignant. I don’t think I’ll be so quick to do that in the future!

Don’t think for a second that our 1st Mates birthday celebrating ended with our evening out… It extended into a weekend long event! After a beautiful dinner of steak and lobsters, margaritas and plenty of wine, we zoomed off in the tender heading for Clube Thunderball on Staniel Cay to hear a rake & scrape band. Rake & Scrape is the Bahamian answer to the reggae of the Caribbean. With a faster tempo and a definitively Latino flair, it’s like Salsa or Marengue, only island style… Oh, and the reason for the name of the music being called “rake & scrape”? It’s played with a washboard, saw and drums of course!

We pulled up to the doc at Thunderball and walked up the hill to a small, open-air, building sitting atop the island. Music blared out of the screen windows, but when we walked inside the band was sitting at the bar having drinks and the music was coming from a stereo. We ordered drinks – Anejo rum and ginger-ale being the beverage of choice for the evening. An hour or so later the band came on, played two or three songs then went back to the bar to drink. That’s island life for you, three songs and it’s time to call it a night…

In the wee hours of the morning we headed back to the yacht. It’s great going out and having fun with the owners – but the challenge is that we have to work the next day while the owners get to sleep in and relax!

For lunch the next day I made a spicy, gingered cole slaw with cabbage, carrots, peppers, scallions, and cilantro and sesame seeds. For the vinaigrette, I put into a blender a few shallots, lemongrass (the soft inner part, finely minced), ginger (peeled and minced), lime juice, rice wine vinegar, curry paste and a bit of coconut milk and blended it up.

After cutting the fish into big cubes for kabobs I marinated it in fresh orange juice and orange zest, a small amount of lime, Chinese 5-Spice, soy, ginger, scallions, lemongrass and sesame oil. I skewered the Wahoo and threw the skewers onto a very hot grill and pulled them off while the inside was still just a little pink so they would stay nice and juicy.

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