We anchor in the afternoon off Lynyard Cay. With the first sandy beach of our trip beckoning, I am quick to get into the water. Uncharacteristically, I huff and puff after a short swim to the bow, where I hold myself against the anchor snubber to breathe in the splendor. I settle my breathing and swim to shore.
To the west, nimbus clouds of many distinctions block the waning sun. A green-black ribbon of land splits the sky from the sea. To the north, a spit of green juts westward, a stand of trees testifying to the prevailing westerly winds. Beyond that, clusters of shadowy islands litter the horizon. I know from our approach, the island is inhabited. As we passed an isolated compound made up of two over-sized houses, we joked it was Mic Jagger’s estate.
To the south, a nearby headland dotted with habitation caps the sea. Buildings shimmer brilliant white against a green lushness I am unaccustomed to seeing.
At the terminus of the sand, I join Mark who has appeared under the shade of a large mangrove fruited with a collection of jetsam marked with dates and cheery messages from sailors. Nearby, a ceramic toilet, throne-like, is situated as if a castaway should preside over the display and the anchorage. It is an oddly harsh symbol of man’s nature in the otherwise densely natural landscape. As I stand reading the messages on the floats, a pea-sized hermit crab transits my toes. I lift my foot to show the delicate creature to Mark, then walk back to the water’s edge.
A bagel shaped, nubby, black sea creature washes up at my feet. I squat to inspect, flipping the animal over to scrutinize a greenish center. I call to Mark, looking toward the hanging garden of buoys. He is no where to be seen but Emily is swimming toward the beach. She and a starfish arrive simultaneously.
I pick up the stone-like starfish.
“Look what came ashore!” I joke. We walk ankle deep in the sea toward each other taking long neanderthal strides. Leaning forward we lurch through water we churn with sand into a milky white. Holding the star’s underside toward Emily its stiff points curl magically toward me. Mark suddenly reappears as Emily strokes the creatures underbelly prompting sticky tentacles to protrude and blindly arc around their tiny reach. The star’s arms are pointed back at me. Its center is deeply puckered.
Mark laughs and says, “Look out, his stomach may come out his mouth.”
As if in cahoots with Mark, the star widens the orifice.
“Eeeuew!” Quickly I lay it in a Sasquatch-sized foot print Mark has left in the wet sand.
“I walked to the Atlantic.” Mark boasts.
“How far was it?” I ask, thinking I have no intention of making the trek in my tender bare feet.
“Allll the way across the island” she says with a wide gesture. “… about 200 yards. Come on.” he says more to Emily, then looks at me. “Let’s go look.”
“I don’t have shoes.” I state the obvious and add, “My feet are so tender.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s mostly sand.” he says assuringly as we start up the narrow path past the motley monument to cruising.
The sound of the Atlantic, feral and turbulent, bellows from just beyond our view as we tramp up the sandy trail. Waves crashing on an exposed coral shelf boom, then the sea seethes as water strains in retreat. The brush thins to reveal raw sugar colored sand trapped above the reef by the wrath of the ocean.
Craggy gray coral spires are cached with pools of tepid seawater, evidence of a retreating tide. The raw majesty is blemished with tangled tendrils of gaily colored fishing net knitted into the sharp rocks. Bright blue tangles, yellow knots and red bights of polypropylene punctuate the seascape. Scanning the scene, I realize I expected the litter. I easily accept it, impotent to change the fact that it exists. Casting my eyes toward a wave washing up to my bare feet, I step back as a wave deposits an orange and white toothbrush. It looks newer than the one I have at home. My flesh, my bones will be dust before all evidence of this discarded tool is gone from the earth. Another wave buries it a bit in the sand, then skitters seaward.
Ashamed, I walk away.
Reefs. This place is full of them, or more precisely the Abacos, is a reef. Inexplicably, mounds of coral have protruded from the shallow sea creating islands as wild as one can imagine. Manjack is one of them. Almost as miraculously as the coral taking hold and forming a spit of land, this insubstantial protrusion from the water will soon be a place of human habitation. It will take Herculean efforts for man to comfortably live here, but it is imminent if not already a fact.
As wild as this spot is, we are not alone on the island. Three other catamarans bob in the anchorage and two small craft hang near the beach. One of the boats, Sloop du Jour, is familiar. A day ago we saw them anchored on the Fowl Cay Reef dense with Blue Tangs, Damsels, Sargent Majors and Parrot Fish. Literally, “anchored on.” They had dropped their heavy anchor and chain rode along the delicate reef so, for a few moments, they could snorkel in the splendor that took eons to develop. Surely they later ravished the coral dragging up the tackle with their windlass.
I eye them warily then don my goggles, jump off the stern, swim toward the bow, then veer toward the white stretch of beach. I aim for a smart yellow building, perhaps a small cottage. The sea bottom is a motley lawn of swaying grass pocked with bald white sandy spots dotted with spiny urchins. A body length in front of my reach, a turtle languidly flies towards the shore. I pick up speed to try to match the turtles’ pace. He seems unaware of my progress for quite a long distance, until I awkwardly thump my foot on the surface of the water. Without slowing, he cranes his neck until our eyes meet, then vanishes ahead with no apparent increased effort.
Turning to swim back to the boat to boast of my encounter I’m surprised when I surface. It’s raining hard and the boat is cloaked in a lacy skirt of spattering water, barely visible. The thought of loosing sight of my craft makes my heart suddenly race. I circle toward the stern, in my excitement unable to swim a straight course, and board pushing the dinghy aside. Lowered from the davits it is ready for a trip to shore. My shipmates are gathered in the shelter of the cockpit. From the swim step I tell of my encounter and take an impromptu fresh water shower.
“I saw the coolest thing! I swam with a turtle.” I let the cool downpour rinse salt from my hair and body. The boat begins a swing away from the beach to point toward a cut in the land where the sea is surging and breaking against exposed coral. Two of the boats have departed. Sloop du Jour and the runabouts remain. Toweling off, I join the others in the cockpit to watch the rain filling the dink.
The island, like most of the mounds raising from the Sea of Abacos, is a low crescent. It is easy to discern the end we lay closest to is very narrow. A few yards of coral separates the Sea of Abacos from the deeper Atlantic. The belly of the island is a dense tangle of green; wild, super-sized versions of common houseplants woven through mangroves, delicately edged with sea oats and a thin strip of sand laying before the water. Later, Mark reports the jungle is impenetrable yet a path has been cleared and a house on the Atlantic side is under construction.
Once the rain stops — pauses — we bail the dink then make way through the shallow water to a sandy curve on the beach. We run up as far as possible without going aground, then each grab handholds to lug the craft completely out of the water. For good measure we loop the painter around a broken tree stump as the rain begins to spit again. An orderly line of sea birds stand along the sandy crest pointing into the wind. A carcass of a dinner-sized fish lays close to the dinghy, its stench percolating through the rain. As I walk past, one bird tears away a long string of flesh while another stands nearby waiting for a chance to dine. The other birds point beaks toward the Atlantic; a gradient of excited turquoise blue water blending into a navy blue, dotted with frothy wind whipped white caps. The terns are unconcerned with our transit and stand inanimate like feathered weather vanes pointing windward to the skittering waves. I turn back for a last comforting look at our boat before cresting the low berm. One of the small crafts near the beach is leaving and the occupants of the other are gathering for departure.
As if by instinct, we scatter to survey the wild unsheltered side of the Cay. Solitude has been rare. Without explanations or excuses we turn away from each other and commune privately with nature’s glory. Sunset pink conch shells litter the coral head. Tiny sand tunnels bubble as waves wash over them. A sand dollar slides washes up stopping at my feet. Far off Dianna holds up a huge star fish then drops it back into the shallow water. Bruce stoops over to watch it drift away. Ed walks along well behind me. I wade around the point towards the narrow slit of land. I can see most of our mast as my shipmates disappear behind the jut of land. Ed joins me and we walk to the narrow, picking up conch, examining the creatures and dropping them back to their watery home. As we reach the strand the wind whips. We take a moment to pick a plastic bottle from the sharp coral and head back at a quickened pace. The sea has begin to buck in response to the wind. Waves begin to break against the coral. Suddenly it looks beautifully threatening. Without discussion we turn to retrace our steps. Emily passes us, headed to were we have just left. As we reach the berm, Dianna and Bruce are casually waiting. We ask them about Mark. He is no where to be seen, so to relieve any concern, we joke he could walk anywhere being so tall. Emily is out of sight too. So we wade and turn our faces into the wind and watch the sea’s increasing turmoil. I ask Ed if we should go after Emily.
“Maybe…” He lifts his hand to her small figure wading toward us. It is windy and raining when she joins us.
“Do you think Mark is okay?” I ask, my hair whipping across my face.
“Oh, yes. Sure. He can take care of himself. He’s so tall…” She points down the boat-side of the beach to Mark emerging from the jungle. I notice the fish has been reduced to skin and fins. In the placid lee, the salty surface water springs upward to groove with the rain. The birds stand on the berm ignoring it all.
Without discussion we shove the dinghy into the water and motor to meet Mark who has waded to the middle of the cove, the water scarcely at his hips. Evidence of our presence seems washed from the sand by the peppering rain. I find this comforting.