December 16, 2016 Leave a comment
First we floated above a sand desert with sparse vegetation and sparser inhabitants. Suddenly the terrain turned to prairie and signs of life picked up. Then bam! I found myself above the most beautiful garden I had ever seen – bursting with color, waving hypnotically, casting a spell with natives ranging from purple infinitesimal to six-feet-wide gliding monstrosities.
It was not a dream. It seemed like a dream, but I was wide awake and quite wide-eyed behind my snorkel mask at a dive site known as Thrift Harbour at the eastern extremes of Grand Bahama Island.
Grand Bahama Island: You know it as home to Freeport and Lucaya, but this place couldn’t be further removed. Only thing in common? This incredible palette of gem-like blues and greens painting the pure, clear water.
Dive master Phillip from Deep Water Cay resort guided me on this snorkeling adventure that ended at one of the Bahamas’ famed blue holes. But guiding seemed superfluous to this drift dive where the current did all the guiding. Phillip merely pointed out the eagle rays, barracudas, cubera snappers, and other amazing sea life that inhabited this experience, which felt so much like swimming in one of the aquariums at Atlantis. But better, because these creatures were free.
Resorting to Deep Water Cay
Deep Water Cay occupies its own 2.5-mile island at the East End of GBI, just a conch shell’s throw from McLean’s Town. Conch is especially iconic here, home of October’s annual Conch Cracking Festival.
Bonefish is the other icon. Fishermen in these parts claim to have the best fishing and biggest bonefish of anywhere in the Bahamas. Heck, after a few Kaliks (the local beer), make that “best in the world.”
Kaliks go down smoothly at DWC’s beachfront tiki bar after a day on the water, whether it has been spent flats casting for bonefish, deep-sea fishing for mahi, scuba diving the shallow offshore reef, snorkeling and lunch at a deserted island, kayaking or paddleboarding among the mangroves, or simply lazing by the infinity pool that drops off the edge into a mirage of too-beautiful-to-believe water.
For most, the highlight of the day is fighting a 20-inch bonefish. For me, during my four-day stay, it was dinner. Executive Chef Alex has worked his way from native Bahamas to Nassau and Italy. He uses local catches – often provided by the guests – in inventive ways that meld Bahamian to new American styles. My first night in, a guest shared his mahi catch, which Chef Alex prepared simply roasted with herbs and potatoes. It changed my whole opinion about the fish I previously had turned up my nose at.
All in a Day’s Play
At Deep Water Cay, the day starts with buffet hot breakfast followed by an almost mass exodus to the sea. Box lunches open in the boat or at “Lunch Beach” or another isolated beach on one of several uninhabited islands that punctuate in quick succession GBI’s East End like a Morse code.
The tiki bar awaits the tall tales and sea-driven thirst upon return. Deluxe munchies and happy hour cocktails happen around the infinity pool while guests watch slides of their day’s adventure, repair to the dining room for something enormously wonderful, then play billiards and other games in the posh lodge decorated with mounted fish and historic images from the lodge’s bygones picturing illustrious guests such as Curt Gowdy.
Legendary fishermen founded DWC as their playground in 1958 – Palm Beach guide Gil Drake Sr., and Field & Stream editor A.J. McClane. Modern-day celebs have included Tom Brokaw and Liam Neeson.
A 2011 renovation brought the historic property into the 21st century plushly. It reopened with a new look and determination to attract families, couples, scuba divers and snorkelers, kayakers and paddleboarders, as well as the fish-frenzied.
Accommodations range from cheerful guest rooms in the historic cottages to luxury three-bedroom rental homes with views of the reef-barricaded sea. Basically, anything you desire here is yours, except for televisions in the accommodations and other such bothersome conveniences.
Massage? Sure in your room or seaside. Conch salad for lunch? Absolutely, fresh from the resort’s conch pen. A shuttle to McLean’s Town for native dinner? What time would you like to leave? Charter a flight directly from South Florida to the cay? DWC has its own landing strip and customs office and will make arrangements.
Heck, our bonefishing guide was even willing to hook a bonefish for us to reel in so we could have our picture on the slideshow that night. Instead I hooked into three that never made it to the boat and a mammoth eagle ray that thankfully finally broke the line before it did my back.
I cared not. Gazing at the horizon — where the water softened to the same shade as the hazy sky so you couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended — catching bonefish seemed a waste of relaxation.