A Grand Day Out

Bouncing over the waves on the open sea near Grand Turk Island, the bow of the small powerboat caught one wave flush and dumped it on my head.  This may not seem like the opening salvo of a happily memorable excursion, but it was.

In Diving the Grand Turk I mentioned we did our dives in the morning, the afternoons were free.  In There Be Whales we spent one of those afternoons hanging out with Humpbacks, a Mother and her calf.  The goal this day was a small island east of Grand Turk called Gibb’s Cay.

While it’s fun to just cruise around in a boat on a nice day when the skies are blue and the water is bluer, Gibb’s Cay had something extra to offer.

A nice beach? Yes, it had one of those. But we already had a nice beach back at the resort,  no need to go out of our way for another one.

A nice snack on said beach? Yes, we enjoyed that too – more about that soon. But that’s not what gave the Cay its watery cadence.

What put the Ooh into the Cay were the stingrays.  Pancakes with tails.  Wet blankets, swimming around, undulating through the water.   Stingrays frequented the shallow waters off the beach, where they’d trained the tourists to feed them.

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This is why we bounced over the waves, hanging onto hats in the breeze, wiping away splashes of saltwater from sunglasses and stinging eyes; then after pounding into another wave doing it again. We did it for a chance to snorkel with stingrays.

But before we got to the Cay, we stopped out in the middle of the ocean, seemingly at random.  The water here was a lighter shade of blue than the deep navy blue we’d been transiting; it was closer to turquoise.  Still, we were a good half mile from the nearest land.  The Captain suggested this would be a good place for free diving.

Um, no.  This isn’t what I signed up for.  Didn’t even know it was on the agenda.  But the Captain had his own reasons.  It was one of his crew that was to walk the plank, for us swimming was optional.

This was not retribution for mutiny, what the Captain wanted was conch (pronounced “conk”) for our snack. And in this spot, 20 feet down on the ocean floor, conch there be. So overboard the crewman went, free diving, scouring the ocean floor, and more often than not coming up with a big queen conch shell in hand.

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Queen Conch

Did I mention our captain was named Captain Meat?

Nicknames were common for the islanders.   I’m not certain of how the Captain came up with his, I’d assume it was from a history of fishing and gathering conch.  Whatever the case, Captain Meat had had enough success to have his own boat and Captain’s license, and enough interest in the young people of the island to teach them the ways of the ocean.  Our free diver had been with him for several months, but his second crew was a newbie.  At this point, the newbie was learning to drive a boat.

Once crewman #1 picked up four or five conches we headed over to Gibb’s Cay to meet up with the stingrays.  However, when we got there another group was there  – we had to wait for them to leave.  Meanwhile, we learned how to get the meat out of a conch shell.

The tools of the trade? A rock hammer and a butter knife.

They use the hammer to whack a hole in the shell, on the backside from the opening, towards the top.

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There they slide the knife in, severing the foot from its foothold. Then the innards slid out easily.

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Captain Meat, pulling out the innards

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The section in the middle was what we were interested in.  The rest was food for stingrays.

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I understand the rest is eatable, but is a tough chew and needs a pounding to soften. In our case, the Captain took two or three of the “steaks” and diced them up, adding them to a marinade to make a ceviche.   While the acids in the ceviche were “cooking” the meat, it was our turn to hang out with the stingrays.

I almost forgot to mention a conch part not seen in these pictures.  It’s called the pistol, and looks like a strand of transparent long spaghetti.  Captain Meat tells us it’s well known in the Caribbean as an aphrodisiac.  You eat it raw, when you’re getting the meat from the conch.  The Captain slurped down a couple, so I had to try one too.

It’s a bit slimy, with an al dente texture and a slightly salty taste.  Not bad, actually.  The other tourists in our group (my wife and a couple ladies from New York) were squeamish about the idea and didn’t try it.

On to the stingrays.  I started off simply wading in, to get a picture from above.  The sand was stirred up, it was tough to get a clear shot. Setting the camera aside, I grabbed a mask and snorkel and got closer.

It was still murky.   In part from others wading around, and in part from a challenge the captain gave to the newbie: pick up a stingray.

I’m not 100% sure this is a real thing.  I’ve heard tales that suggest it is, and Captain Meat said he’s done it.   But it could be a snipe hunt.

In any case, the newbie was game, and he spent much of our time at the beach trying to pick up a stingray.

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The newbie, looking for a stingray to hoist

He never did succeed.

And while the stingrays would come near enough that I could touch them, I never got close enough for anything more than fingertips on wings edge. Perhaps they were spooked, from this kid trying to pick them up.

Stingrays, by the way, have soft skin.

After a half hour or so of snorkeling, it was time to try the ceviche.  And its chaser.

Every Caribbean dive resort I’ve been to has always had the same welcome drink – a rum punch.  They vary in quality and size.  This time around,  the quality was good and the size was potent.  Even one had us feeling a buzz.

When the captain broke out the ceviche, he also broke out a gallon jug, full of the resort’s rum punch.

Just for we four tourists.  For the math challenged, that’s a quart of potent punch each.

Do my eyes have a glazed look?   I had to protect my wife from overdoing it, she’s petite. 😉

The ceviche was excellent.  Lime forward, it looked to have onions and bell peppers as ingredients, and likely a more potent pepper to provide spiciness.  Conch, if you haven’t tasted it (I hadn’t), tastes somewhat like squid.

We snacked on ceviche, slurped on rum punch, and hung out on the beach on a beautiful 80-degree day.  At one point we climbed a hill that formed the high point of the island and took in the view of the other side.

But all good things must end, and after 3-4 hours it was time to head back.  The wind was behind us this time so splashing waves were not such a pain – or maybe we just weren’t feeling any pain. And back at the resort, we finished the jug.

So by day’s end, we were feeling the glow.  The glow of a beautiful day, out on the water, out on the beach.  The glow from hanging out with stingrays and trying a delicious new food.   The glow from sharing drinks and conversation with new friends.

And the glow of the sun going down, giving a warm goodbye to A Grand Day Out.

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33 thoughts on “A Grand Day Out

    1. I suspect most people would pass on the pistol (and who knows how they came up with that name!) I hesitate to think what it really was – perhaps something like an intestine?

      Of course, guess what most sausages are stuffed into?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect the acids in the ceviche, the fact it was diced, and possibly the cut made this one less chewy and much more flavorful. I tasted a dish of it made with curry as well, it was also good. But I’ve seen recipes that make a point of pounding on it first to tenderize it.

      Who knows when I’ll run into it again.

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  1. Hi Dave, I like how you say the stingrays “trained the tourists to feed them.” The photo with Captain Meat and the queen conch shell helps to show the size of the shell and the innards. Since reading your recent posts about Turks and Caicos, we are beginning research for a potential adventure destination. Your photos are beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Turks and Caicos has some nice beaches and reefs, and if you stay on the main island (Providenciales) there’s more hotels and night life. I’ll be interested in hearing where you end up, T & C or elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Boy you did get a local experience, didn’t you? I don’t think I would have been brave enough to eat the conch, but then again, I’m not big on shellfish. The chance to snorkel with stingray would have been great, as well as the rest of your trip. Thanks for sharing this, it was fun to read.
    And good for you for stepping to the plate with the rum punch….I’m sure your wife appreciated your sacrifice!

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    1. I like some shellfish better than real fish – scallops come to mind. But I’ll pass on oysters and mussels. As eating adventures go, it wasn’t as “brave” as some. For example, you won’t find me trying a balut egg, or deep fried cow’s gums.

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  3. Pistol of the conch, rum punch…….this essay ended far too politely and I can only hope the reality isn’t something closer to you did something overly reckless like skinny-dipping with the stingrays which would not be good for you or anyone in close proximity (well, I suppose it’d be fine for anyone else provided they’d partaken of the pistol). Glow, indeed. Harumph! On a more serious note, do you know that once I nearly swam into a large stingray while snorkeling too close to dusk for comfort and just about shot myself out of the water in a great terror as I was completely unprepared having been swimming mainly amongst docile, sleepy coronetfish who seem to specialize in acting as though they have no place they need to be, ever? It was a remarkably rewarding encounter.

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    1. 🙂 I gather the stingray was on the bottom, half buried in sand, waiting for you to swim close before he popped up and taught you levitation? It’s a magician’s trick, using the coronet fish as a distraction from the real action…

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    1. It was tasty, actually. A bit like squid. I have to admit though, both the ceviche and the curry variant I tried were strong flavors on their own; I’m not sure how well I’d like it straight.
      I’d mostly heard of “Stingray City” in Grand Cayman for swimming with the rays. That’s probably a better version – a little deeper, not so much affected by stirred up sand.

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  4. Sounds like a great time, and the ceviche sounds delicious, but the prep is like sausage-making & politics, I think I’d leave the disemboweling or disembodying thing for the back room, and just wait for the stew and rum punch to be ready. I fed stingrays once when I was a kid, at SeaWorld or some such place in Florida, and love the way they glide around

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Key West is nicknamed the Conch Republic. Why’s another tale, but conch is served there frequently. I also found it tough, but had never seen the entire animal. Thanks Dave.

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  6. I had the opportunity to feed a ray at San Diego’s Sea World. You pinch a small fish between your second and third fingers (or are they the third and fourth? Anyway the two next to your pinkie.) and submerge your hand, palm up, and below the ray’s mouth. You can feel its mouth nibbling on your hand. You could say it takes a bit of fortitude to keep your hand in place while the munching is going on.

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