A private island off the Bahamas, a conch cracking contest. Boston-based writer Meaghan Agnew discovers a new kind of island party at Deep Water Cay.
DEEP WATER CAY, Bahamas – Entrances don't get much more dramatic than the private plane varietal. My Deep Water Cay crush ignites before I even set foot to sand, as our chartered 10-seater out of Fort Lauderdale cruises parallel to the Grand Bahama coast for a smooth-sailing 45 minutes before circling in for a landing on the private island's 4,200-foot dirt runway.
When I spot the customs and immigrations office, my crush deepens: It's housed inside a deep-pink cottage that calms the sweaty rabble with air conditioning, plush seats, and a 30-second wait. In the time in normally takes me to pissily deboard a commercial airliner, I'm stamped and skipping towards the resort's welcome center.
A tiny, one-and-a-quarter square mile galapago accessible only by small plane or water taxi, Deep Water Cay is one of those resorts you'll count yourself lucky to visit once in a lifetime. How to tally its charms? Let's start with what it lacks. For starters, there are no room keys — that's the sort of security a private island affords you. Nor are there TVs in any of the rooms, a serious addition by subtraction. (Get outside already.)
Another welcome absence: a scene. This is not an island resort in the Bachelors in Paradise sense. There is no swim-up-bar, no water slide, no barrel-chested white hat bellowing about his beer capacity. (There's Atlantis, and then there is the Bahamas.)
Instead, Deep Water Cay is a tropical Arcadia, a low-capacity getaway made up of about two dozen low-slung cottages and unobtrusive, if luxurious, private homes. Bonefishing is the major draw, bringing in all variety of serious (like serious serious) anglers, but diving, snorkeling, kayaking, tennis, biking, and sailing are all on the menu. Choosing to do nothing puts you either at the narrow swimming beach or the infinity pool, Blue Hole cocktail in hand (that's coconut rum, pineapple juice, and Blue Caracao for those still trying to find their beach). A leisurely bike ride to the far end of the island will afford you meditative solitude and some fine seaglassing opportunities.
There may not be a large-scale party posse on the island, but socializing is woven into its fine-sand fabric. Cocktail hour begins at the dockside Tiki Bar around 4 p.m. when the fishermen start docking, then moves to the Blue Hole bar at 6:30 p.m., just in time for an oil-paint-worthy sunset. (Unfortunately, many guests stay indoors owing to the noseeums, those miniscule feeding insects that draw blood at dusk.) Dinner, served family-style in the plushy, homey dining room, usually comes down to two enviable choices: conched crack or pork tenderloin? The after-dinner crowd finally winds it down with cards and a little pool before meandering back home to sleep it off and do it all over again.
Want to shake things up one day and grab grub at the Seagull, a locals' restaurant, bar, and disco (!) on nearby Sweetings Cay? No worries: A captain will whisk you over on a moment's notice.
Seriously, you don't know from customer service until you've visited DWC. Just one example: When some dolt (me) loses her hat off a boat (twice), the captain will gallantly turn around to rescue the sodden topper.
But the staff is not there to fade into the floral wallpaper. Luddell shows me how to master the Bimini ring game. Phillip introduces me to the best conch salad this side of the equator at Cardy's, a tiny outdoor stand in McLean's Town. General managers Rose and Buzz Cox clue me in on how to safely transport sand dollars back home (stick them between slices of bread). Princeton, Rose and Buzz's crazy-haired and crazy-affectionate chihuahua mix, ably filled my canine void. And then there's Shervin, the resident Renaissance Man. Shervin is a boat captain, a fishing guide, a food and beverage manager, a local government official, and, oh yeah, the immensely talented singer and keyboard player performing during happy hour.
And Shervin, hero that he is, equips me with an unanticipated skill set: conch-cracking. He is a local legend in that regard, the 23-year champion of the nearby McLean's Town Annual Conch Cracking Festival, one of the reasons I was invited this particular October weekend. I'm doing a master's program in food studies focusing on seafood and shellfish.
Armed with a strategy I'm not at liberty to share (axes and knives are involved), I enter the Visiting Female Competition the next day.
Reader, I won. Reader, I might have set a new record. I am officially in Shervin's forever debt. Did I mention this man also taught me how to cast a fly?
A few quibbles to be had. There is, surprisingly, no turndown service. The massage room is bare-boned and not entirely soundproof (though an outdoor treatment pavilion is in the works). And I suppose this is a complaint for Mother Nature, but that four-foot-long nurse shark cruising the waters just north of the swimming beach? Her I could do without.
But these are noseeum-sized quibbles indeed. When my next cold hard cash train pulls in, I'll be back in a hot minute. Besides, I have a conch-cracking trophy to defend.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Deep Water Cay (+1-888-420-6202) is a private island off the east end of Grand Bahama. Base rates for one-bedroom cottages are $315 per person per night, based on double occupancy, and $454 for single occupancy. Private homes (two bedroom, two bath, oceanfront) start at $1,450 per night. Blue Water Adventure Packages for 3 nights/2 days using a cottage are $2,369 per person based on double occupancy and $3,480 for single occupancy and include daily activities like flats fishing, reef fishing, diving, drift snorkeling, or beach excursions, and all meals.
HOW TO GET THERE
FLY: There are three options. Arrive at Grand Bahama International Airport (FPO) in Freeport, then the resort will arrange a car to McLean's Town and a private water taxi to Deep Water Cay. If you want arrive by private charter as the author did, the resort can arrange it with their Ft. Lauderdale concierge. It costs $3600 for eight people. Contact them at +1-954-359-9100. If you fly private, the island has a landing strip.
SAIL: The recommended arrival by boat is through Northwest Providence Channel. The cay can accommodate yachts up to 65 feet. Find more details on the hotel website.