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Shelling in the Bahamas by Marcus

Egg Island, Entrance of Lagoon
When I thought about the Bahamas it always came to mind as a small place with only a short distance separating any of the islands. Indeed, by plane the distances are very short, but I found out this was not true when you are traveling by boat. Our friend Tony McCleery had once again kindly invited Alfredo and me to stay a few days with him for a shelling trip through Bahamas. He asked where I wanted to go, so Jose and I planned to do some dredging along Andros coast.

We arrived in Nassau (New Providence Island) and from there we planned to go to Andros. Tony quickly changed our itinerary, however, due to the fact we wouldn't find any secure ports along Andros, which is a very large island. This lack of secure ports and the strong winds that were blowing that week made islands such as Eleuthera and the Exumas a better choice for our adventure.

On the first day we went to Rose Island, where we snorkeled a bit and found a few shells, including some gorgeous Cypraea cinerea and other small species. I always need a few days to adjust to the boat's rolling to get what Tony calls "sea legs," and had to take Dramamine from time to time. I had to stay healthy and in good shape for collecting and I also had the cooking task again. It seems I either improved my abilities as time goes by or people get used to my food, since they actually liked everything I fixed by the end of the trip! Ok, I know when you work hard all day long without eating properly anything tastes great at dinner....

After Rose Island we went to Booby Rocks, and straight to our first dredging attempt in deep waters. After a few tries without success our dredge got stuck and after trying hard to pull it the line broke and we lost it. We went to Egg Island, where we snorkeled inside its salt-water lagoon, where the water was very cold - I mean VEEERY cold. It is a very shallow lagoon, up to 1.8 meters, muddy bottom, and has unique fauna. We found many juvenile Strombus gigas, Battilaria minima, Bulla striata ocidentalis, Turris and a number of minute shells. Tony did some hand dredging and found a few small Gibberulas (among lots of Battilaria). Alfredo and I tried to find Cerion, but at that point we did not have the knowledge we would acquire later on how and where to find these small interesting shells. On this place we only found a couple of dead specimens.

The next day we went to Pimlico Island for our first diving. The water was not as cold and the depth was about 10 meters. I found some common shells, species of: Fissurella, Trivia, Columbella, etc. And the biggest barracuda I have ever seen! I was turning small rocks and looked up to see five of these two meter long silvery fish. It seemed they didn't notice me and slowly swan away. I kept looking for shells.

After a few minutes I started my way back to the boat and noticed one of the largest of the barracudas swimming at my side. I watched as it swam away, and then turned back in my direction. It then started circling me and kept getting closer and closer. I know barracudas do not attack without reason, but they are very curious and can bite anything that shines under water. I checked my gear to see if anything was bright enough to attract it. I covered my watch, but I couldn't do anything about my regulator, which is metallic and very bright. With sharks a sudden move can make them move away so I tried the same, it didn't work. The fish simply swam a short distance away and then rushed in my direction! So I slowly went to the bottom and tried to keep calm until it lost interest and finally went away. When I got to the boat, Alfredo told me he had the same experience a few minutes earlier.

That afternoon we moved to Current Island, and Alfredo and I went on shore to try to collect Cerion. Current Island had obviously been hit by one of the many hurricanes in the past few years. The place had some smashed huts and an abandoned fishing boat with engine and all. Lots of the vegetation was burned, but we found some nice Cerion and Praticolela attached to pine trees. Among the ruins, Alfredo found several tools, stainless steel nails, and a tool bag that looked new. He brought his treasure trove to our dinghy. What he didn't see was the scorpion inside the tool bag! He was pulling items out of the bag when suddenly he jumped and sent the scorpion flying over my head and into the water.

Our next day was going to be quite difficult. Our way to the Exumas was in shallow water most of the time and it took us about 4 hours to cross. We arrived at Allans' Cay and anchored close to several other boats inside a small bay. We took our dinghy and went to a small beach full of large lizards. These lizards are protected by law and are very curious when tourists are on the beach. We climbed some rocks and looked for Cerion. This time we didn't find any Cerion on trees, but instead they were under leaves and even buried in sand! I am not sure if this is a strategy this population uses to escape from the lizards and other predators, but it certainly made our search much more difficult.

The next morning we went to the Atlantic side to try to dredge, which proved impossible due to high waves. This sea state made any attempt to work with a dredge off the aft end of the boat extremely hazardous. Even in calm seas we get bruises all the time!

So we headed back to the calm side of Highborne Cay, where Tony and I dredged in shallow water while Alfredo snorkeled along the coast. After a few minutes I took the dinghy and picked up Alfredo so we could try our hand at collecting Cerion again. It is amazing how many different species we found living in close proximity. Highborne is very close to Allans' Cay, but we found not only a different species, but it was living in a different habitat! These were on palm trees and not under leaves.

The next morning we decided to buy some supplies at Highborne, as there are not many places in the Exumas to buy food and it seemed a good opportunity. Tony looked at the charts and we would have to cross some sand banks in shallow water. It would be tight, but we decided there was enough room for our boat. There wasn't. We got stuck in sand on a very shallow place for a few minutes (which seemed hours...) until Tony was able to free the boat. He said the problem is the type of bottom, if it were rocks we would have been in big trouble.

We finally got to the market, bought some food, and then we headed off to the South in very windy weather. The weather quickly got worse, and worse. We saw a number of thunderstorms only a few kilometers away, when a big storm finally hit us. One of the boat's wind gauges was showing 50 knots of wind, and that was the maximum on the scale! It was at least 56 knots or more (100 kilometers) of wind and leaned the boat on its side. It was quite scary, but no harm was done.

After the storms we tried again to dredge near Great Guana Cay, as one of the main reasons we went to Bahamas was for the dredging opportunity. The Bahamas seemed to have plenty of deep areas for dredging very close to the shore. What I didn't know was that the bottom was very steep, going from 50 meters to 600 meters very quickly. In other places, such as Antigua, the depth also changed quickly, but we found many spots around 200 meters where dredging was easily accomplished. Again, not much was taken, but at least this time I was able to get a dredge almost full of sediment and a few interesting shells.

We moved closer to Great Guana and dived at 15 meters. We found some nice shells and I got some sand for Tony to see if there were any Marginella. Alfredo got two large lobsters for our dinner, fairing better than me. That afternoon we took the dinghy and went to a small beach to again try to find some Cerion. The place was full of junk from storms, big chunks of old boats and tons of plastic bottles. We found the Cerion, a very small species under dead leaves and some on dry coral. We also found gazillions of mosquitoes. In order to collect the Cerion we had to crawl under dry bushes and got scratches all over our legs and kept kicking away large cockroach-like bugs from our feet.

We spent the night on Big Galliot Cay, and in the morning we went for more Cerion on the island. This time it was much easier to find them on bushes and small trees.

Our next stop was George Town, were we would take our flight to Miami and Brazil in a couple more days. I had to arrange for the taxi to take us to the airport in two days. Since our flight was at 8:15AM we decided we should be at the airport 6:15AM. Thus the taxi should pick us 5:30AM. After I had it booked we went off to explore other small islands near George Town.

Our first stop was not an island, but a rock: North Rock, a big chunk of coral fossil with shallow vegetation. It seemed to be a good place for Cerion and we found several dead ones when we landed. And that was all we found. It seems the rock was washed over by a storm that killed the Cerion.

We tried dredging again in deep water. The dredge went smoothly to the bottom at 300 meters, and after a few minutes we tried to pull it up. It was stuck. Tony moved the boat around and we finally got it back to the surface. It made me a bit nervous, so we moved the boat some meters away to make sure we wouldn't get stuck again on whatever was there. The main problem with losing the dredge was not really buying a new one, but the complications of having a new dredge delivered to Tony. There is also the issue of the cable which is quite expensive, US$1 a meter. But we lowered the dredge again, and again it was stuck. This time it was even worse. The winch pulled the boat (60 feet sail boat) backwards and the boat was at full power. I was slowly able to retrieve the winch, pulling meter by meter, with the winch getting very hot until the oil temperature alarm finally went off. Luckily the dredge was released and this was our last try of the trip for the sake of my nerves.

We collected a few more species of Cerion on other small islands and went back to George Town for the last night. We had to pack all of our shells and dive gear so we could depart early the next day. We got up at 4:45AM and at 5:20AM we arrived on our meeting point for the taxi. He was not there. We waited 10, 15, 20 minutes, and then I got desperate and went to the hotel where I booked the taxi. The manager called the taxi and he said he waited for us and finally gave up. So the manager asked me what time I should be at the airport and I replied 6:00AM. He then figured what had happened. We arrived in the Bahamas just as they switched over to daylight savings time and did not adjust our clocks! So we rushed to the airport and arrived a few minutes before our departure time. Luckily we made our flight and were safely back in Brazil the next morning.

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