December 30th, 2013
Shroud Cay is one of the many uninhabited islands in the archipelago of the Exumas, some 3 miles long and 1.5 mile wide. The low flat rocks and sand dunes of the island are covered with thick impassable mangroves, a population of short and very resilient trees and shrubs adapted to saltwater and the relentless tides of the sea.
A web of tidal channels cross the island from east to west, like salt rivers which empty their riverbeds in the sea and fill them again every few hours, switching direction.
At some places the channels are deep and narrow, carving their way through rock and vegetation.
Further they spill their waters over vast sand dunes, completely exposed at low tide and shallow at high tide.
The only way to explore the place from one end to the other is by kayak. A dinghy would not go through the shallows and even our brave kayak, Agent Orange, had some difficulties at times.
We start at low tide, at the west end of one of the channels, Maya, Ivo, and me. All is completely silent and still. The roots of the mangrove trees, like dark fingers of dragons or giant chicken feet, are exposed.
The vast sand dunes in the middle of the island are now dry, only faint streams of blue water allow us to continue across.
The water is completely transparent and clear like in an aquarium; crabs, yellowtails, small nurse sharks and sting rays swim around us.
We get to the other side of the island.
The sea to the east of the Exumas gets deep, there are not many anchorages, and with prevailing east winds and big waves coming all the way from Africa, it is a lot more dangerous and difficult to sail, so cruisers usually keep on the west side, protected by the east winds and waves by the islands, where the water is shallow and calm.
Our tidal river has brought us to a vast white-sand beach, completely deserted, where the only footprints are the ones left by our feet.
December 31st, 2013
Here is what might have happened on this beach on December 31st, 2013:
A guy named John Collins, or John Dillinger, or John Johnson, proposed to his girlfriend Susanna, on New Year’s Eve.
John, born in a small town in Georgia, or in a small town in Pennsylvania, or in a small town in New Jersey, is about 30-35 years-old, college graduate, passionate about American Football and fast cars. He has a handsome little job as an executive assistant in a small corporation in east Florida where he lives in a nice second-floor apartment, since two years now. As a next logical step of his comfortable life development, John has decided the time has come to settle down. First marriage, immediately after that mortgage, and then, maybe after a few years, a kid. Plus, Susanna is a nice girl, 26, blond, good-looking, and fun. She would make a good wife and with the income from her receptionist job, they will do pretty good.
So John takes out his Master Card and organizes everything to the minute detail eight months in advance. He charters a luxury yacht for four days. A beautiful 48-foot Jefferson with two 210 hp engines, three double staterooms, outdoor speakers, and a nice little deck where Susanna can sunbath in her bikini. He has thought of everything: an affordable ring with a small diamond, a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, chocolates, strawberries, he even buys a beach umbrella and a small cooler. He is ready to propose.
Susanna looks excited to go to the Bahamas on a luxury yacht with John for New Year. She posts photos in Facebook of the boat and the sea so that all her 682 friends can be jealous.
John is sure she will say “Yes”. She cannot possibly say “No” with all these preparations and expenses from his part.
John finds the perfect place: a beautiful secluded beach on the east side of an uninhabited island in the Exumas. There is no way they will be disturbed by anyone here; all cruisers go on the west side. He is planning a very romantic afternoon on the beach. He will set everything beforehand: the umbrella, the cooler with ice, the beach towel, maybe he should bring chairs? No, no chairs, a beach towel so that they can lay on it, chat, and make love after she says “Yes” and after the champagne and the strawberries. Like in the movies.
December 31st, 2013, they get to the beach a bit later than he has planned as she was busy texting with a friend, and then couldn’t find her sunglasses.
They sit on the towel (John brought one of the boat’s white towels as he forgot to get a beach towel, the only think he forgot) , but the umbrella keeps falling because of the wind. They chat and kiss. She gets irritated when he starts talking something about all the plastic garbage that the sea has brought to the beach and how there is no one to clean it, even though this place is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. She hates garbage and she loves the environment, but this is not the time to talk about it.
Then he pulls out the little red box with the ring and the ice-cold champagne from the cooler and she is really surprised. She thought the champagne was for New Year?
“Susanna, will you marry me?”
Her face becomes all red, like the strawberries. It’s all perfect: the beach, the ring, the champagne.
“Oh, John…wow” is all she can say with her shrill voice. She tries on the ring, wonders how much it costs, they kiss, drink a bit of the champagne, she tries the strawberries and then the chocolates, but they are not her favorites.
“These are your favorites, that’s why I bought them.” says John.
“No, my favorites are the chocolate truffles, not these.” says Susanna.
“No, I remember you like these.” says John.
“Maybe is your ex who likes them, not me. You still think about her, don’t you… You think I don’t know she called you yesterday.” says Susanna.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” says John.
“You know what, here is your stupid ring and you can bring the rest of your stupid chocolates to your ex, I’m off.” says Susanna.
January 1st, 2014
We celebrate New Year alone on the boat with a nice dinner and a movie, nothing special. We forgot to buy a bottle of champagne and so we have no reason to stay up until midnight. There are no other boats in the anchorage, and it is just like any other night.
The next day, January 1st, 2014, Ivo and I take the kayak for another trip through the mangroves and channels, this time in high tide.
Everything is different. The roots of the shrubs, the sand banks are submerged. We don’t have to walk across any shallows.
As we get to the beach on the east side we discover a white towel, a beach umbrella lying open and crooked on the sand, and a small cooler with strawberries, chocolates (two of them half-eaten), and a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, half empty. Everything looks abandoned; there are no people dead or alive and no boats nearby.
We have no idea what has happened here not too long ago; we can only imagine. There are so many possible scenarios. One thing is sure, they left suddenly, in a hurry.
We wait for a while; we explore the hills, the shallow pools with hot water formed by the tides, the beach. There is a bunch of plastic debris on the sand: a broken bucket, shoes, bottles. It is incredible how much garbage accumulates washed by the sea on such beautiful deserted places, spoiling them.
As the afternoon advances it is time to go back to the kids and the boat.
We are now faced with a dilemma: leave the umbrella, cooler and towel on the beach, or take them.
The people might come back to look for their stuff. But why did they abandon them like that, the umbrella open in the wind, the champagne half full getting warm, the strawberries about to go bad, the chocolates uneaten?
It looks like they left suddenly, affected by something, never to return. In that case, this stuff will simply become part of the rest of the garbage on the beach.
We decide to act responsibly and do the right thing.
We eat the strawberries and the chocolates, we drink the champagne, and we take the umbrella, the towel and the cooler with us.
There, we did have champagne for New Year after all, and an adventure!
If the owners return later looking for their stuff only to find the green parts of the strawberries scattered about and two pair of footprints in the sand, too bad! They should not have abandoned their stuff on a public beach like that and I am sure next time they won’t.
On our way back, champagne in our system, we are pretty excited and happy, as well as a bit guilty.
The beach umbrella immediately proves to be very useful. With the wind about 10 knots coming behind us we use the umbrella as a sail and we get back to the boat at an incredible speed, sailing with the kayak through the mangroves, using the paddles only to steer.