Like many other cruisers, we were going to skip the tiny island of Samana on our way north. The charts depict it as an island surrounded by reefs and shipwrecks, and multiple cruiser’s websites basically say, “Don’t go there.” However, we were fortunate enough to run into super-experienced cruisers Bob and Linda of MV Veda L., who had figured Samana out and gave us the figurative key. Which was fortuitous: the Burnetts were up for an adventure! It turns out, if you can get into Abraham’s Bay, you can visit Samana. It helps to have balls. In lieu of that, two giant engines that can go into a powerful reverse are a suitable substitute.
We didn’t have to employ our balls, though. Once we got just outside the island, Mel hovered the boat outside of the southeast entrance to the reef around Propeller Cay while Greg took the dinghy sonar through the channel. The channel is indeed deep there, like the charts say, and the dramatic “turn to starboard, then immediately turn to port” advice found on the Explorer Chart wasn’t really necessary for our 5 foot draft. The tricky part is at the very end of the entrance, as at the eastern tip of Propeller Cay is a shallow reef, and on the other side of the channel, about 50-60 feet away, are rocks. So you literally have to go through a long tunnel and then be squeezed out into the bay. And this, my dears, is how explorers are born!
Once we anchored close to Propeller Cay to minimize the swell, which still wasn’t great, we saw miles of beautiful, abalone-striped water by a truly wild-looking island. We felt like Columbus, who supposedly landed here after weeks at sea before all other landfalls, according to a controversial theory in the 1986 National Geographic, which Bob and Linda kindly lent us. Columbus theoretically anchored outside the reef. Whether or not Samana was his first landfall or not, here you come to understand more about Columbus. He may not have been great at appreciating the size of things (like the Earth), but he was great at self-promotion and PR. There is no way Samana was the land of spices.
We went for a hike along the beach, and Mel came to realize that “beachcombing”, as romantic as it sounds, is essentially the island equivalent of dumpster diving. In her infinite wisdom, stupid Mel grabbed a fluorescent light to position it for a stupid picture when the stupid glass broke and cut open Mel’s stupid thumb. Stupid. If Mel was going to injure herself, she was going to do it in the middle of nowhere. Frontier medicine time!
Mel prescribed herself a double shot of whiskey and 10 minutes of flushing the wound. (Watermakers are useful in the frontier.) She was amazed at how well the whiskey worked for the pain and wondered if it was unique to whiskey or if other hard liquor would do. Long story short, the whiskey wasn’t strong enough to allow Mel to teach Greg to stitch her up. Instead, she went for the superglue/Steristrip option. Tape and glue are the most useful things on the boat!
Now that she is gimped up, Mel would like to announce that Thursday should have its name changed to Thumbday, in honor of that incredibly useful appendage.
The next day, we went on a tour of the island arranged for us by Bob & Linda and hosted by local barkers Randall and Sharon. They are called barkers as they harvest cascarilla bark, which is used to flavor Campari and may have anti-inflammatory properties. They beat the bark off of the trees, dry it, and then bag and sell it for around $6.50 a pound. There’s only about 30 people that come to the island from Acklins to do this for months at a time; they live in shacks and tents while there. These guys really know the island. It takes a certain kind of gracious to entertain four strangers who pull up in their boat in front of your house and start taking pictures. Possessed of this generosity, Randall and Sharon pointed out the plants along the path and told us which ones were good for tea and which ones would burn holes in your skin if you touched them. Good stuff to know!
They also told us about having to cram 9 people into a small shack during Hurricane Matthew, keeping the roof on only by pulling down on it with all of their weight. Then, after a hot 1.5 hour hike over wobbly shards of limestone, they showed us Sampson Cave. They hid out in there during Hurricane Joachim, which turned around and hit them twice. After the hurricane, the contents of disjarred containers off of ships washed ashore, and suddenly they had more detergent, shampoo, and yogurt than they ever wanted. Apparently yogurt can keep for a long time without refrigeration if you bury it in the sand. “It was the strangest sight,” said Sharon, “The seabed was covered in bacon.”
We spent an extra day in Samana and left some beautiful beaches unexplored. While sitting in the vast, almost empty bay, Mel realized that Columbus’s mistake was that he didn’t leave any evidence of his presence on the island to prove that he was there. But we did. Wild Samana now has a piece of Mel’s thumb.