Bahamas: Cat Island Mothership
Destiny II is a beautiful boat, there just isn't any other way to describe her. Turned into the wind at anchor with her 60' mast rising off a spacious deck, she gleams in the sun. At 43' long with a 23' beam, she elegantly rides the sea. Below deck, she is as pretty as topside. The Destiny II features a well-designed galley and a dining area with wrap around portholes and windows. Each hull features three comfortable, airy berths and one head per side. Comfortable and stable under sail, she is as perfect a platform for adventure fly fishing as can be imagined.
Our trip started on Cat Island, a little visited, green gem of an island in the Bahamas. Hilly and lush, Cat contains little known creeks and flats, all of which host bonefish in size and numbers. The problem is knowledge and access: there just isn't much of either on Cat, so the opportunity to fish from off sailboat via a stable dinghy makes great sense. So far as I know, this is the only such operation in Bahamas, and perhaps in the Caribbean as well. For folks who like adventure, meals on deck, rarely fished flats, and stars so bright they cast shadows, this is it!
Captain Dave Calvert is well known in the sailing world, holding many cross-ocean sailing speed records and also owning Calvert Sails. A personable guy with years of experience in the tropics, he provided an immediate sense of knowledge and competence. Our first day we set sail for an uninhabited island some 4 hours sailing time from Cat. We were surprised at how smooth the Destiny II is on the move. This catamaran is much more stable than a mono-hull sailboat, with none of the rocking and pitching common to those craft. We stood on deck and watched a smudge on the horizon become an island.
Committed to secrecy, we approached the island from the west, trolling flies as we crossed the reef. A seven pound Mutton snapper and a twenty pound barracuda found the flies to their liking, as did a crevalle jack of ten pounds or so (or as we called it, "cioppino"... catch of the day) The island was low, and a chart showed it was essentially an atoll, the entire sunken center being a massive flat...
To enter the creek from the ocean is an adventure in itself. We loaded the dinghy with Dave at the helm, and looked at an amazing sight. On an outgoing tide, massive amounts of water pour off the flat, creating standing waves that make dinghy progress slow. The drama of entering the creek is substantial, something few ever experience. The moment you clear the mouth, the magic really begins. Turtles of all sizes (green and hawksbill) populate the creek, hundreds of them, and mature queen conch are everywhere. A 40 pound barracuda slides by, a yellowtail snapper flee under mangroves as you approach. You get out of the dinghy, walk to the shallows, and swallow hard. Everywhere there is bonefish habitat, and every mud flat is cratered with bonefish rubs. As the tide changes, lemon sharks appear, the harbinger of bonefish. Then the fish themselves appear, first large singles and doubles, followed by waves of bonefish in schools. Some tail, some cruise, but the fish are there and so is the opportunity. We make the most of it, and reels scream.
As the tide falls, we fish awhile and then return to the sailboat. Slack tide is spent snorkeling the coral heads along the beach. We begin the near the mouth of the creek and let the current take us south towards the Destiny II. Angelfish, snappers, Nassau grouper, barracuda, blacktip sharks, jacks, and schools of baitfish ride the tide along with us. An hour later, we are at Destiny's side, and a few moments later, we are on deck, Kalik in hand, discussing what we saw. The sun is sinking....... time for showers, and a fine dinner turned out by one of our group. A few beers and a couple of bottles of wine later, we go forward to the darkness of the bow, and watch meteors rip the sky. We fall into our berths, gently rocked into a deep sleep.
Most people awaken at first light, about 6:30 a.m. Dave has put coffee on, and there are muffins and fruit for breakfast. The tide turns at 8:00 am, so we move quickly, wanting another shot at the incoming fish before we set sail for Cat Island. This time the fish come a bit later, probably because of the coming full moon. A bit harder to see because of a few passing clouds and deeper water, we nevertheless have hook-ups, including one beautiful fish that pushes eleven pounds. We leave reluctantly. One could easily spend an entire week here. But there are other flats and creeks to fish, and if we make Cat Island by 4 p.m., there is the possibility of an evening fish...
Dawn comes early, another stunning bluebird day. Breakfast is quick and anticipation high. We can see the mouth of the creek from the anchorage. The creek we fish this day is large, some four miles long, and very wide. We are told to expect to see bonefish on the incoming tide, and as we enter the creek in the dinghy, life is everywhere. Turtles, ospreys, jacks, starfish all occupy the creek. Those who can run do so. Beside us, hawksbill turtles race us for the upper creek. The creek bottom shows signs of bonefish, some of the rubs several feet across. We are dropped mid-way up the creek and Dave instructed us to wait for the incoming fish. Dave departs for Destiny II, as the sun shines at our backs. The wind is also behind us.... and we wait... and watch. Half an hour later, lemon sharks appear, a good sign. Then, in the distance, we see it... a wave of fish, hundreds actually, and they are tailing. Light sparkles from their raised tails. Anxious to rush the fish, we take the counsel offered - we are veterans, after all! - and do not. They come to us. The first fish hooked and landed is a hot, powerful bonefish that is a solid eight pounds. It is unusual to see large fish in schools in most places, but on Cat Island, it happens on a regular basis. Two of us are hooked up now, the third in our group approaches a smaller group on the lee side of the creek. Too late, we all see the dorsal fin of the shark slice through the school. A brief struggle, some mud, and a bonefish gives it up to his symbiotic mate of the flats.
The fish are moving now as the tide increases. Don remains behind to catch later arriving fish. Shawn and I move to the bank and walk quickly up the creek to get ahead of the first large school, which we estimate at 200-400 fish. And so it goes for the next two hours. Don continues to see fish arrive, more singles and doubles and an occasional small school. We continue to fish the initial wave. Fish from 4-9 pounds come to hand. By 1 p.m., with the sun high now, the fish have moved up into mangroves. Fish can be hooked here, but there is no potential of landing them. They are also more vulnerable to sharks, so we decide the morning fish is over.
As Dave arrives in the dinghy, we marvel at what we have seen and caught. We were alone. The silence was absolute. There were no signs of others having been there. Wordlessly, we cross the mouth of the creek on calm seas and head to Destiny II.
Lunch on deck consists of sandwiches and fruit. We all agree, Kalik seems to go well with the turkey. There is time now to relax. We swim, throw on snorkeling masks, clean our lines, talk flies. The sun climbs over Cat Island.
At 3 p.m., we reload the dinghy and head to a small creek, about three miles north of the morning creek (these creeks remain unnamed by the author and Angling Destinations to protect their fragile nature, one of the reasons GPS units are banned on this trip). It is a small creek, only 100' or so wide and less than two miles long, but the bottom is absolutely hammered with rubs. We are stationed on two flats and again, told to wait. This time Dave stays to watch. At the turn of the tide, it is silent. But within 30 minutes, the first fish appear, and they are brutes. Singles and doubles, some fish reach double digits. Wary and spooky, they know something is up in this tiny place, they just don't know what. Within an hour, the first wave of school fish appear... a dozen, then 50, then over 100 at a time. The wind is calm, the water glassy, so leaders are extended to 15' and I go to 9 lb. tippet. The first fish to grab my crab pattern explodes on the creek, and we are treated to the bedlam of hundreds of bonefish tearing around a confined area. That fish is a solid ten pounds, a thick, shovel-nosed bonefish that has never seen a fly before. Shawn hooks up, then Don. I hook two fish and lose them both to mangroves. The sun sinks, the light fades. A tail here and there, but hard to see now, and we have to exit the creek in the daylight. We load up and head back to the boat, as the colors of the sunset paint the sky.
And this is the way it was for the next four days. Each evening was a new anchorage, every day a new creek or flat. We fished tiny creeks and massive ocean flats. We transited green, hilly Cat Island and marveled at how unspoiled it was. Aside from locals, we never saw another angler. We caught fish trolling between locations sometimes wishing the anchorages were farther apart. The sailing was sublime, and members of our group who had never set foot on a sailboat before now understand the allure. We had great evening meals, substantial quantities of beer and wine, and sunrises that magazine covers are made for. We saw hundreds of bonefish, an occasional permit, uncounted numbers of turtles and even a pair of baby tarpon. It was, and is, paradise.
But is this paradise for everyone? Perhaps not... hopefully not. The berths on Destiny II are quite nice, but on deck quarters are close. This is the nature of a sailboat. We found the very gentle rocking of the catamaran seductive, but some undoubtedly prefer the stability of land. There are folks who want to fish from dawn to dusk every day, whether the fish are there on or not. That's OK, but on our trip, we fished the best tides and everyone felt the quality of the day is not measured by the number of hours you spent chasing fish, but by the places you go and the uneducated fish you see. This trip is not for those whose success is determined by the mere numbers of fish he catches (although we all caught many fish), but by the quality of the overall experience. It could have rained... but didn't. It could have been cloudy... but it was not. This is fishing and if you board the Destiny II, you should keep this in mind. In addition, not everyone is comfortable with open water sailing, and some folks prefer multiple options for dinner entrees. But for the adventuresome angler, for the person who has done the traditional trip, does not need a guide tying on tippet or pointing out fish, knows the drill, and seeks solitude and unfished flats, this is the trip of a lifetime. I'll be back.
Written by Rich McIntyre