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Plane Crash with a Side of Sharks

It was a lovely day on the morning of March 17, 2016. The crew aboard s/v Bosco woke up to a warm, partly cloudy sky and very little wind. Almost no wind actually. Thats good, for they have had a string of hard blowing wind for so long, any reprieve is welcome.

With no real destination in mind, they pulled out their maps. “What shall we do today?”, asked Jake. His wife, Jill, responded the same way she does every time he asks this question. “Lets go snorkeling”, animatedly while sipping her coffee. Jake wrinkles his forehead in thought for a moment, then traces his maps with intent, searching for something. “There is a large concentration of coral here”, as he hands the maps to his wife. She looks for only a moment as a smile slowly spreads across her face. “Yes this will do perfectly.” Jake took the maps in hand, scouting the path. “Looks like Norman’s Cay is only 5 miles north from here, we should be able to get there in under an hour.”

And that was how we planned our day. Simple.

First…breakfast. Food is kind of lean. Or rather, fresh food. Almost non-existent. There is a plethora of canned and dry goods. Jake enjoyed oatmeal a la canned pears, while I indulged in a can of soup. Okay so it wasn’t the greatest meal in the world, but it would keep our grumbling tummies at bay for a few hours.

We were raring to go by 830AM. The short distance that we would cover lent to an easy decision to motor. The spot we marked as our desired anchorage would be just inside of Norman’s Cut, a narrow channel leading out to the Exuma Sound. This works two-fold for us;

  1. Lots of coral nearby to snorkel
  2. Great staging for crossing to Eleuthera

We arrived to the channel a little after 9AM this morning. And it was packed. There were perhaps a dozen boats in an area better suited for half that number. The main issue is the channel, itself, is too deep to anchor and the surrounding waters are too shallow. The safe area is so thin so there’s not much wiggle room. And with so many boats, that doesn’t leave much room for us, or for error.

Somehow we managed to squeeze ourselves in a spot, right off the channel. We dropped anchor in 13-feet of water. The anchor dragged a little bit, which isn’t uncommon, but it put us back further than we wanted to be (i.e. too close to neighbor boat). It wasn’t TERRIBLE, but it made both of us feel uncomfortable. Jake definitely didn’t like this. We let out less slack than we normally would feel comfortable with. Maybe some boats will leave, or maybe we would leave? We can figure it out later. For now, my only mission was to get in that beautiful blue water and see what there is to see.

After a subsequent glance at our maps, we saw that we are only a few hundred feet from a plane wreck. Well that’s convenient! A perfect snorkeling opportunity. In fact, we could see from here. Only part of it was exposed. Must be a low tide coming.

I wasted no time once we felt settled. It was difficult putting on my now very overused (and still wet) swim gear. I swear I’ve worn this same stuff every single day for the last two weeks. Only for swimming, but still! It took less than 5 minutes to get ready, since the dinghy was already in the water and all our gear was still out on the boat drying from yesterday. And since we weren’t going very far, we didn’t bother to close or lock up Bosco (which we normally do anytime we leave the boat).

There were no other people around when we pulled up to the marker, which indicated the crash site. Not that the marker was necessary, as part of it was exposed. But I’m sure at high tide this is not the case. I jumped in the water (which was a bit chilly). As I ducked my head underneath, I saw a swarm (not a school – it was more intense than a school) of sergeant major fish heading right for me. I’ve never seen such a thing before. Normally fish are scared of everything. It was so weird. I was a little nervous at first, but got over it immediately. They are obviously used to human interaction and I realized they probably expected me to feed them. Jake and I don’t normally like to interfere with a natural habitat, especially by feeding animals, so it didn’t occur to us to have food for them. But I’m guessing that many visitors do it, and these fish are trained.

Their behavior was comical. They weren’t afraid to swim right up into our faces or hands. They would nibble all over us (it tickled like crazy). Once they realized we had no food, they turned to swim away. But they wouldn’t swim away. After only a few seconds, they’d turn back and go right for us again with vigor. This is what I imagine went through their heads:

“Ooh look a human – they’ll have food! Must have food! Oh shucks no food…” a few seconds later… “Oooh look a human. They have food! Need food!!! Dang no food.” and so on…

Reminds me of Dory from Finding Nemo.

Once I mulled over the crazy fish behavior, I noticed a huge piece of twisted metal in the distance. It was HUGE. Way bigger than the plane we saw at Halls Pond. And much of it was still in tact. Both propellers and wings and the bulk of the body, which looked like a rib cage of the plane, were all still there. The fuselage was gone. And there were smaller pieces of it scattered behind the main wreck area.

A bit of interesting history; Norman’s Cay was a den of iniquity for drug cartel back in the late 70’s early 80’s. Ever heard of Medellín? If you watch Entourage or you’ve seen Blow (with Johnny Depp), you’d know what I’m talking about. Well this was the base of operations for the cartel’s drug trafficking operations. And with it, a very large runway was constructed for the fleet of aircraft used. The Curtiss C-46 Commando is the plane that crashed in the 80’s and is still here for us to witness today! Kind of crazy and way cool to see it.

We swam around every nook and cranny of this thing. We could even swim through the inside a bit, careful to avoid touching anything. But to see something so normal in the everyday, above-ground world in this underwater setting is strange. I love how nature is slowly engulfing this manmade object, eventually breaking it down, and transforming it into a living entity of coral and fish habitat. Nature is a powerful and amazing thing.

The first half hour flew by in a flurry of fish, coral and metal. And we had it all to ourselves. Jake went back to the dinghy after one full pass. I had to do a second lap, to really absorb everything that I could. This was just too cool.

As I finished my second go around, the crowds began to line up. Our queue to leave. The dinghy ride to Bosco took less than 30 seconds! And we were both so charged by this awesomeness, we wanted more. But after conversing with our charts, we learned that there really wasn’t much coral in our direct vicinity to explore. We would have to dinghy a few miles to the next spot, and we were VERY low on gas.

OH that reminds me. I forgot to mention that we have FINALLY run through all of the gas for the dinghy outboard. I never talk about this because, well, we just haven’t used much of it before we got out here. We topped off in Long Island but really didn’t need to. Since then, however, we’ve been going super long distances in the dinghy and had only about a gallon left.

That made our decision to move obvious. I still had snorkeling to do and this anchorage felt too crowded for comfort. But of course, as soon as we pulled anchor, three nearby boats did the same thing. So now the anchorage would be cleared out (for awhile at least). It didn’t take long for other boats to realize this and head in, so I think we made the right choice to move on.

We opted to move around to the west side of Norman’s, specifically in an area called Skipjack Point. In a straight line, its only a mile away, but we have to go all the way around to skirt the corals and shallows. So it was more like 3 miles. It was a super quick jaunt into the anchorage, which was huge compared to the last. This place could easily fit 50 boats or more. And with only 3 other boats in sight, we had plenty of room to spread out. It felt like a much better choice.

Not 5 minutes after dropping anchor we were already back in the dinghy to scout for more coral reef. The coral areas are marked all over, many of them we could see on our way over. The water was bright blue and with sun high in the sky, spotting coral was cake. Basically just look for dark patches.

The first dark spots we came to were just okay, nothing special. The coral wasn’t great, but there were loads of fish. And with each consecutive stop, the coral grew less impressive. Side Note: I’m shocked shocked that so many people rave about this area when snorkeling seems sub-par compared to Conception or southern Exumas.

Jake gave up after awhile. He didn’t care nearly as much as I did. But he was glad to ferry me around from place to place. After going out as far as we dared, we turned back to head towards the beach. There was a huge pile of rocks and a rocky shore, which could have some good coral potential. However it was nothing but bare rock and sea grass. Bummer. So we headed back to Bosco.

On the trip back, we stopped at a few tiny dark patches. Each had just a small bit of coral or a few fish. Mostly it was just rocks. The third time we spotted something, we almost skipped it completely. But I decided the better of it and jumped in to scope it out.

We dropped our little mushroom anchor in the sand a few yards from the dark patch. I had to swim a little bit until I could actually see anything. At first glance, I saw some rocks, sea grass and 4 decent-sized silver snapper swimming about. That was until I got a bit closer. Then I realized that what I thought were rocks were moving and had fins. Thats not right. They weren’t swimming but definitely moving. Finally I drew close enough to see that they were in fact sharks, laying on the sand. Two of them. Then I saw some smaller animal moving on top of one of them.

I could only assume they were nurse sharks, but I wasn’t POSITIVE. And as I’m making this realization (within just a few seconds in my mind), I noticed something large move in my periphery. And it was coming straight towards me. This was bviously a shark, at least 7 feet long. It dawned on me the precariousness of the situation and I kind of freaked out. I swam as fast as ever to get back up into the dinghy. Jake was very confused by my sudden reappearance. Once I explained about the sharks, his eyes widened.

We could see the large one swimming from above the water. It didn’t seem to care about us nor did it get very close. It began swimming in a very large perimeter. I told Jake my suspicion that they were nurse sharks, but wasnt positive and that he should jump in to verify. He flat out refused. I jumped back in a couple of times to check them out. Maybe if I get a better look? I didn’t want to get TOO close so as to scare them OR provoke them. But I was curious

On my third pass I got close enough to recognize that there were not one but two babies and two adults. All of them were just laying there, though the babies moved around more than the big ones. So I guess its a family of 5 sharks (maybe 6 since the one swimming had a baby with it). How cute is that?!

Before we left, I pretty much forced Jake to jump in. He was only down for a minute or two, but still. How many times in our life will we get to see something like this? Probably not much. That made the day though. We didn’t linger long, and made way back to Bosco boat for the remainder of the afternoon. How crazy to think that if we passed up this gray spot in the water we would have missed this totally awesome experience?

The rest of our day passed quickly. We read and lounged. Jake made us a mexican rice bowl for lunch, which was very tasty. For dinner I made a tuna noodle casserole. During our lounging, we didn’t realize that many and more boats were coming to the anchorage. Probably about 20. Not until we decided to sit out on the deck after sundown did we realize. Thankfully they were far enough away from us so we didn’t have to worry about the anchor and the conditions were very calm.

It was a perfect night with stars shining bright. I took out my phone, which has a star-guide app that is super cool. It pinpoints all of the stars and constellations in every direction from your spot. We recognized many of their names; Beatlejuice, Orion, Beallatrix, Sirius, Lupus. Lots of Harry Potter character names. I wonder of J.K. Rowling has a fascination with astronomy?

I tried to take pictures, but its difficult with a boat thats always moving. It was so much fun. I’m telling you, the little things are what make cruising special. After awhile, we went to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day; 50 miles to Eleuthera. Should take around 10-11 hours. Its crazy to think that we could drive this same distance in under an hour.

4 comments on “Plane Crash with a Side of Sharks

  1. All I can say is, WOW! Stunning imagery. Are you a professional photographer? Your nature shots are gorgeous.

    • Thanks Natali. I (Jill) am indeed a photographer and designer, but the beauty of these islands makes it easy!

  2. As one who dabbled in photography before digital I compliment you on the pictures, Good work.

    • Thank you so very much – We are just so glad we were able to capture these memories to enjoy for a lifetime! 🙂

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