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Memories of Conch and the Exumas By Linda Evans


ne yoga class I took late this winter was so beautiful and powerful, it jolted an experience that lay dormant deep in my memory bank to a point where I felt literally swept away from the cold, windy day that blew outside the studio windows. Our teacher, Emma, had us sit comfortably and encouraged us to make a mudra. In a yoga practice we often use mudras—gestures that we make with our hands, bodies or eyes, to depict certain levels of consciousness and enhance our practice. A

delight, indeed they looked just like a live conch would look as it crawls through the water, its tentacles sticking out from the heavy shell it carries as its home. And this is when my mind left the yoga studio and wandered back to an amazing anchorage my husband Billy and I found as we spent several months during the winter of 2010 cruising the Bahamas on our Catalina 380, Bonnie Christine. We were several islands north of busy Staniel Cay, in the Exumas. Strong northerly winds prevented us

Georgetown on Great Exuma Island, Bahamas. Photo by Linda Evans

mudra can be as simple as a handshake or just joining the thumb and index finger together. On this morning, Emma instructed us to wrap our right hand around our left thumb, then rest our left fingers on top of our right hand so that our left middle finger lay on top of the right thumb. As we all explored the positioning of our hands, she went on to explain to us what this mudra symbolized. Our hands were in what is called “shankh mudra,” which translates from Sanskrit to mean “shell mudra.” She went on to tell us that at the beginning of many Hindu rituals, a conch shell was blown and that we should envision our hands to be a conch shell. I looked at my hands and, to my 70 May 2011


from heading to our next destination in Eleuthera. Searching for protection, we dropped our anchor between a rather large island and a barren black reef that stuck out of the water like a beached whale. We were in about 15 feet of crystal-clear water, and although the current in the narrow cut was strong, we could see our anchor well set in the white sand below us. We knew we were in a good spot to ride out some bad weather for the next few days. We were not located near any town or restaurant, so we had to find things to do to bide the time. We started with our never-ending list of boat chores. Billy spent time doing maintenance on the generator and engine, and I cleaned and organized lockers,

sorting through our dwindling provisions. The chores bored us easily and we soon found other things to do. From time to time, we would take a dinghy ride and go exploring the anchorage and nearby beaches. One evening we were fortunate enough to hear a call over the VHF for a cruiser’s potluck get-together on Thompson Island. I made up a nice bowl of olive tapenade and grabbed some crackers, and we joined other cruisers in a singalong by a fire on the beach. Another evening we invited friends aboard and swapped adventures about groundings and losing our dinghies. It was a scene very similar to the one in Jaws, when Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw compared scars as they told tales of run-ins they’d had with sharks. Although the wind blew strongly from the north for several days, we kept ourselves busy. Back in Georgetown, I had learned how to weave baskets from palm leaves, and I was making some as gifts to bring home to my family. I did yoga on the deck, and worked with my watercolors. The water is so clear in the Exumas I even spent time watching the colorful parrotfish, triggerfish and starfish swimming in the shadow of our boat. One day I felt the urge to move my legs and decided to go explore the reef that lay to our east. I put on some water shoes to protect my feet and swam over. And here, to my amazement, I came across a whole army of live baby conchs. The water was thick with them. In the Bahamas, the conch have been so over-fished that it is necessary for fishermen to dive to great depths to catch, or rather harvest, any of legal size. These days, one rarely, if ever, finds live conch while walking in shallow water. True, in some remote areas I have found one or two that were smaller than my fist. I like to pick them up and observe how they shrink up inside the bright pink shell, then put them back in the water and watch them slowly scurry away. But I had never seen so many live conchs in one area. We were still in the area of Exuma See MEMORIES continued on page 68