Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shark Bait, Compass Cay [Exumas]

If the pigs are the tourist attraction, the sharks are the hidden gem.

I used to hate swimming in pools without goggles because I always heard about freak stories where alligators or sharks would be in someone's pool because of flooding or pranks or some other terrible incident.

To fuel the fire, my brother used to swim around and grab my ankles, jerking me under for just a second to reinforce my fright.

Beyond that, going to the Bahamas over the years made me acutely aware of sharks. When the boys were in the water spearfishing, those up on the boat were welcome to sunbathe, snack, or chat so long as they kept an eye out for sharks.

On many an occasion someone shouted out "shark" and we would steer the boat to whoever was in the water and scoop up the spears and flippers so they could clamber on board. This usually happened just as someone got lucky and caught a fish, so the shark had pretty good incentive to charge whoever was holding the prize.

This, however, was nothing like it. Childhood me had to unlearn every fear and embrace the unnatural feeling of lowering myself into the very water that was getting splashed around by a dozen sharks.

I found myself keeping my knees tucked in or my toes out of the water as I paddled about for the first few minutes, still a bit skeptical despite watching an eight year old get towed through the water as he grabbed on to the fins of the passing sharks.

I settled in comfortably though as I realized they were far friendlier than any wild animal I'd ever been two feet from.

Two or three kept finding their way to the shallow water on the dock, patiently waiting for people to stroke their soft, sandpaper backs.

 There always seemed to be at least one hanging out on the dock!

The rest coasted about lazily or rested on the sand comfortably. Every few minutes someone would toss in a chunk of fish or a bite of apple and the sharks would swarm with interest, foot long fish darting around eagerly looking for scraps.

We spent well over an hour splashing about in the water, swimming alongside our new friends, and sitting in the shallow water over the dock.

A few others shared the space around the dock with us, but it felt like a private experience, one you might pay a few grand for in an unkind aquarium, but instead soaked up in nature.

While there was a "landing fee" ($10 a person), you pay for access to the private island and nothing more. Getting in with the sharks is free, as is wandering through their little shop or down the docks between the rows of sprawling yachts.

We eagerly hoped to return, but inclement weather and incompetent marina staff at Staniel Cay stopped us from ever making the trek back.

Without a doubt, though, I would return just to swim with the sharks again. It was one of the most tranquil and unique experiences I'd ever been lucky enough to have, and getting to hover in the water face to face with these guys was incredible.

Soon enough a tour group came and ruined the fun.

A guide urged everyone into the water at once and started tossing in chunks of that barracuda we'd seen before.

So with a wave goodbye we jetted off into the storm. One thing is for sure, I will be back.


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