We both felt it. Even though we were sound asleep, we recognized the jerk of boat against chain. Not good. We stumbled to the cockpit and surveyed the anchorage. People were up and moving on every boat in the bay, even though the sun was thirty minutes from rising.
We'd all gone to sleep with the gentle rocking of the predicted 9 knots of wind. What we woke up to was 15 knot winds, gusting to 25 and 5 foot waves. The comforting boat motion that had lulled us to sleep felt like riding a galloping horse. Now we were riding a bucking bronco, the swell throwing us and yanking at our anchor with every wave.
This was our first night at Conception Island and we were questioning our decision to sail to this out island of the Bahamas. It is remote, uninhabited and provides little protection from the winds. It is also a Bahamian marine park and home to nesting seabirds, turtles and numerous places to dive and snorkel. We were intrigued, so gave it a go when a period of calm weather was predicted.
Getting to Conception Island was tricky. Located 25 miles south of Cat Island and 25 miles east of Long Island, it's off the beaten path for most cruisers. The two anchorages on the island provide limited protection from the wind and almost no protection from the ocean swell. We watched the weather and consulted our weather guru, Chris Parker. Finally we found the weather window that we were looking for. Generally settled conditions for four days with winds kicking up to 9kts on day two. Or so we thought!
I put on my life jacket before going forward to manage the winless and got thoroughly drenched in short order. We motored into the surf until we were able to take pressure off the anchor rode and weigh anchor. I have since learned that in sailing lingo, we had to "claw off the lee shore". Thankfully our anchor was dug in and kept us from crashing onto shore.
We stayed another two days, anchored on the east side of the island, then returning to the west side as conditions improved. As it turned out, January isn’t a time for seabirds to nest, but the snorkeling on the west side was good and there was a short hike on the northern coast of the island that provided fabulous views.
The highlight of the trip for us was exploring the mangrove lagoon on the southwest corner of the island. We waited for slack high tide, then dinghied two miles from the west anchorage to the entrance. Immediately we saw two stingrays glide past us. We explored for awhile, then turned off our engine and floated. We were entertained by the dark silhouettes of turtles darting all around us. Truly magical!1