San Salvador

I woke up for my watch at 4:00 A.M. to find us in the lee of San Salvador with an eight knot wind on the beam and the boat slowly progressing at one to two knots. I was sitting at the helm in the dark, studying the glow from the lights of Cockburn Town while listening to music on my I-pod and thinking of things that land-deprived-sailors often think about, big greasy bacon cheese burgers, ice floating in drinks, cold beers, beautiful island babes that you hope to meet, and many other unproductive things. As the sun started to rise, I kept the boat pointed through the hazy twilight to our destination. I woke the captain and we scanned the low lying island with the binoculars looking for anything described in the cruising guide, while Tracy, my watch mate, attempted to sing Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheese Burger in Paradise” in the most annoying tone possible.

Two hours later at the end of my watch, the sun had risen but the clouds where still blocking the strong rays, making the surroundings gray. The boat was near our intended anchorage so we brought the engine to life, pulled down the sails, and dropped the anchor in a patch of sand. We ate whatever food we had that was still on board, mostly Haitian mangoes, bananas, plantains, and miniature watermelons, and my mom’s famous fresh baked banana bread, all chased down with the first cup of hot coffee I’d had since we started our nine day sail because of the hassle of boiling water at sea. Once we filled our empty stomachs, we launched the dingy so the parents could go ashore to find the immigration office, a restaurant, and a slip in the marina, while leaving the crew to do the most nasty job on the boat, pump out SAM.

SAM is our nickname for our slimy, slick, black, stinky bilge monster that likes to swallow things such as tools, sunglasses, cups, small children, and many other items you’ll never see again once consumed. SAM stands for “sick and mucky” and if you’ve ever smelled it you would understand why it’s not a fun job. We spent the whole time my parents were ashore, manually pumping and rinsing the bilge getting SAM back into a bearable state, which made their return to the less-odiferous boat with  good news only that much better. They found the grocery store, a slip in the harbor that we could tie up to that afternoon, and had ordered cheese burgers for all of us at two o’clock at the marina restaurant. We successfully brought the boat into the tiny harbor and slip without any damage, then cleaned her throughout while the parents zoomed off in a van with a government official to fill out immigration paper work. They got back just in time for our lunch appointment at the marina restaurant. We gorged ourselves on bread, soup, and a salad bar, and then we got our hamburgers and fries and washed it all down with ice cold beverages. By the time we left the restaurant, the staff almost had to roll us out the door. After some serious digesting back at the boat, Alexis, Sara, and I went for a bike ride to see the small community and grocery store while Tracy and my parents went to check the Internet.

There were two grocery stores on the island that were minimally stocked, and the only time they had fresh food was on Wednesday when the delivery barge arrived. But if you didn’t get there within a few hours, you’d miss out on the booty. After we pedaled back to the boat with precious junk food in hand, we unloaded our plunder and went to the Driftwood Bar to have a couple drinks and check email over ice cold drinks. Sara, Tracy and I met many of the captains that ran the million-dollar fishing yachts docked in the marina. It didn’t take long for us to get invited to go marlin fishing the next morning. But when we woke up, both my sisters and I discovered that we had forgotten to reset our watches and woke up an hour late. So being stuck on the boat, we all decided to put the time to good use and worked to get her ready for the next passage, and because the weather was becoming tropical and very unpredictable, we figured we’d be staying a couple of days. Around noon that day a character named Ken raced up in a hotel golf cart, slammed on the brakes while turning the wheel hard to the left, and sent the golf cart sliding sideways to a halt in the gravel parking lot. My dad and I introduced ourselves to this new friendly visitor and found out that he owned a twenty-eight foot offshore fishing boat across the marina. We invited him on our boat, gave him the grand tour and quickly became fast friends. Before he got back in the golf cart and zoomed off, he invited the whole family to go explore and dive on the windward side of the island.

In the morning, we all walked over to Ken’s boat with our snorkeling gear and met his local deckhand, Abbey. After we got every thing stowed below, we released the dock lines and Captain Ken motored us out of the marina into open water on the lee side of the island. He pushed down the throttles, quickly bringing the boat to a twenty knot plane, and took us to the east side of the island in a matter of minutes. Once we got out of the lee of the island, the seas picked up and Alexis and Tracy started to not feel so hot. But we quickly made our way through the barrier reefs and outer islands that protect the main island, and Ken navigated us through the bay dogging razor sharp submerged coral heads that could have easily sunk his boat. Once safely inside the barrier reef, Ken located the first of two coral reefs that he favored because of their abundant life and diversity. Abbey dropped the Danforth anchor over the bow and as it quickly sank to the sandy bottom, he let out enough rode to keep us fifty feet from the thriving reef. Everyone geared up and dove off the boat into blue water that was a little murky because of the consistent high winds. We all took our own path around the reef, seeing many fish and different types of coral that I had never seen. My favorite fish was small, but the vibrant colors made it unique. It was black with bright neon electric blue stripes running down the length of the fish making it look like it had accidentally swallowed a light bulb. After everyone had done a couple passes around the first reef, we all started the long trek toward the barrier reef off the bow of the boat. The leeward side of it was pretty dead, but it became better and better as we made it around the windward side. With Ken protecting us with his Hawaiian sling ready just in case a hungry shark cruised up from the depths, we circled the outer reef. Ken started looking for lobster and conch for dinner, while the rest of us floundered around enjoying ourselves. We all eventually made it back on the boat a couple of conchs richer and ready for a cold soda where Ken told us of the next game plan, which involved going over to one of the small barrier islands to explore and snorkel over the islands sand banks to find a few more conchs.

Abbey was the first to swim ashore and while he was waiting for us, he disappeared into a small coconut grove. He reappeared once we reached the beach with his huge arms filled with fresh coconuts, which he proceeded to smash against the edge of a razor sharp limestone rock with his gigantic hands. Once filled with fresh coconuts, Ken, Abbey, Alexis, and I dove the sand bars while Sara, Tracy, and my parents explored the island. We found enough conch for a tasty conch salad and swam back ashore to gather everyone to head back to the boat.

Motoring back through the bay was a little more intense because the tide was lower and the setting sun was glaring off the water which made it hard to see the coral heads, but once we were back in deep water, it was a downwind run the whole way.

After about thirty minutes, we arrived back at the marina where we all collaborated in a feast of Ken’s conch salad, Daniel Horak’s (a new friend, fisherman and pilot) Haitian rum, and my mom’s fresh sushi. By the end of dinner, we were all stuffed, but we forced ourselves to the bar regardless to hear all the day’s fishing tales.

The next couple of days we all did the mundane sailor stuff; we did our laundry, took a dingy ride to the nearby Club Med, visited the local pubs, and my favorite, having a bonfire on the beach and playing music with occasional visitors stopping by to see what the “natives” were up to. I also got invited to go offshore fishing with two young guys from Florida that had a high performance fishing boat that their dad had recently bought them. The young captain’s name was Jason. He was a tall blonde haired guy who seemed very calm, yet there seemed to be something inherently crazy about this nineteen year old. His deck hand and best friend, Matt was a short eighteen-year-old with a passive attitude, good taste in music, and a brown lopsided white man “fro”.

The first time I met these two, Sara and I were sitting around one of our beach fires strumming away on the guitars. Now this “beach” we decided to have a fire on was some sand, but mostly small boulders that made it very hard to navigate in the dark, especially when a lot of beer is involved in the equation. So here they came, after an evening at the Driftwood Bar, stumbling through the nearby bushes and scaring the life out of us. After quietly making their introductions, they found a place to stand and attempted to conquer the bucket of ice cold beer they had brought with them. By the time the fire died, they were having a hard time standing on the shifting boulders so Sara and I called it a night, put out the fire, shuffled them back to the paved road and hit the sack.

The following day they invited me to go fishing with them but after this first impression, I was a little hesitant to get on a boat with them. About 1:00 in the afternoon I was pleasantly surprised when I walked over to their boat; it was a 28 foot Contender 1 with double 375 hp V8 Yamaha outboards and all pimped out with a stereo, radar, neon blue running lights and all the latest fishing gear, including out-riggers, rods and reels, and lures. When I got there they were ready to go so I untied the dock lines, jumped aboard, and off we went. It only took about thirty seconds to get out of the marina, crank up the stereo, and get on an eighteen-knot plane. After about a minute Jason looked over and asked if I wanted to see how fast she would go and I said sure. Before I knew it we were racing in the lee of the island at forty knots, and I felt like I was holding on to the side of an airplane in mid-flight. After we blasted around to the windward side of the island Jason brought down the throttles to an eight knot cruising speed, then ran to the back of the boat to help Matt get the lines on the out-riggers and into the water. Once everything was rigged Matt shoved a Sugar Ray CD into the stereo, and we trolled over an underwater ridge in search of fish. Twenty minutes later something hit the port line, and they let me reel in a small barracuda. After an hour of fishing we only had one other hit so they decided to pack it up and blast back to the marina.

Half way back, a thunderstorm popped up about half a mile in front of us and instead of taking an extra ten minutes to go around it, Jason decided to just go all out straight through it. By the time we popped out of the other side, my flimsy little windbreaker was soaked through, and though I was in the Bahamas in May, I felt like I had been caught in a Texas winter rainstorm.

After we docked and cleaned up the Contender, I walked back to the boat where Ken was waiting to take me and my sisters on a tour around the island in Abbey’s truck. Over all, the island’s terrain was pretty much the same except for the coastline, which changed drastically from the leeward beaches to the windward cliffs. Ken also drove us to a beach home he was thinking of purchasing, and later that day, he took us out to eat at a different restaurant where I got another burger fix just in case we were to sail off in the next couple of days. This was a smart move because the next day my dad said he wanted to be ready to leave in two days.

So we borrowed Ken’s hotel golf cart and loaded all of our jerry cans on it and puttered over to the nearby grocery store. We filled the cans from five gallon bottles, and on the way back, we discovered that Ken had “unknowingly” lent us an empty golf cart. We had Alexis steer while Paps and I pushed, but after the downhill turned to flat, we gave up the ghost, and I went to get gas. In the meantime, dad got a tow to the nearest gas station, filled up the five gallon tank for forty dollars, and then told Ken that he wasn’t giving it back until he had burned up at least half the tank.

The next day, the day before our departure, Ken asked if we would stay one more day so I could go marlin fishing with him and Abby. We all agreed that it would be a good experience, so the following morning I jumped aboard and off we went. During the first two hours we had no bites, and we had to struggle with keeping our lures unfouled of cumbersome Sargasso weed. We moved around a lot, fishing over two different ridges, and over the second one we seemed to have more luck. Once the weeds lessened and the wind calmed the mood of these two hunters seemed to get very serious. Out of nowhere, the farthest out-rigger unclipped, the line screamed off the reel and there was an explosion of water where a hundred and twenty pound marlin came flying out. The way Ken described marlin fishing to me in the pub was “complete boredom interrupted by pure hysteria,” and I now understand what he meant. When it was clear that the marlin was hooked, all the other lines were reeled in, and the yelling and profanities lessened, Ken stuck me in the chair and let me battle the fish. The stamina of the marlin was amazing, and after about twenty minuets Abbey took over and fought the fish for another thirty minutes. When we got the fish up to the side, Ken grabbed the bill, removed the hook and released it back into the deep blue sea. We flew the marlin flag, letting everyone back at the marina know that we had successfully landed one, and motored back to the docks.

After helping dock Ken’s boat and clean up, I made it back to Kai Ohana to find that everyone had prepared the boat to leave as soon as I returned. Apparently while I was gone, the wind had shifted from off the ocean to over the islands central lagoons, and the no-see-ums and mosquitoes had nearly driven my family crazy, which motivated them to move the boat and anchor off-shore to get a good-nights sleep before we continued on our way north.

Want more on San Salvador?
Check out the San Salvador Photos.
And watch the Bahamas Video.

2 Responses to “San Salvador”

  1. Papa says:

    Geat Article- enjoyed it -especially the fishing part

  2. Pam Rass says:

    Preston, what an impressive article. It was so realistic, I could feel the noseeum’s! The photos are gorgeous. I wish you many juicy bacon cheeseburgers in your travels.

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