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Catch of the Cay

By Cristina Wilson | Photography by Courtesy of Deep Water Cay

Posted: Wednesday, Jul. 02, 2014

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The minute your private ferry pulls up to the dock at Deep Water Cay, you know you’ve arrived at a very special place. A few solitary lounge chairs, palm trees, and small cottages dotted along the shore set the tone for the ultimate peace and quiet—it’s a subtle blend of luxury and simple pleasures that creates a Hemingway-like approach to sand and sea.

It won’t take more than a day to fall into the routine at the Bahamas’ oldest bonefishing lodge just off Grand Bahamas’ East End, and once you’ve settled in, it seems that each day is the quintessential “perfect day.” It’s no wonder that repeat visitors flock to its shores year after year, that property owners include some of the country’s financial elite, or that celebrity guests like Liam Neeson and Tom Brokaw steal away to this hidden gem.

After a hearty breakfast in the lodge, gear up for the day ahead with a signature Patagonia Deep Water Cay shirt or a buff. Fishing here is a way of life, and state-of-the-art equipment is up to the task. Each private boat guide helps spot the elusive bonefish in the shallow, crystal-clear waters, and if you’re lucky enough to snag a permit or bonefish for the first time on the fly, a commemorative pin—and heartfelt round of applause—at family-style dinner is a well earned reward.

For the less fishing inclined, or simply for variety, snorkeling along Thrift Harbor is one of the most unforgettable and relaxing excursions to choose from when planning the itinerary. After boating out to the tip of the island, your private group and your guide drift at leisure just over a mile through what feels like a curated aquarium; you might have to pinch yourself to remember that this is a natural habitat. Vivid corals are home to breathtaking species of fish, and you don’t have to press your luck to see eagle rays, turtles, barracudas and even a (harmless!) shark or two. As you approach the end of the journey, bobbing along the current, you reach an infamous blue hole, an upwelling from the deepest ocean where the largest creatures peek out now and then. Even if you’re not brave enough to make your way down to the opening, the view from the surface is one you won’t forget.

Whether you’ve boated out for kayaking, snorkeling, diving, or fishing, there’s nothing like ocean and sun to work up a ravenous hunger, and lunch provides one of Deep Water Cay’s most idyllic experiences when you picnic on a desert island. It seems unreal when your boat docks on a small strip of land, where a single table awaits among the sand, rocks, and gulls. While the chef at the main lodge is an expert at flavorful preparation and new twists on classic favorites (black eyed peas and beet puree paired with fresher-than-fresh grouper, perhaps?) there’s nothing at that moment that could taste better than the Bonefish Special: salty egg salad and bacon on fluffy, freshly baked Bahamian bread, and of course, a local beer or two.

After a few more hours at sea, and just before a striking Caribbean sunset, cruise back to the docks and stop at the tiki bar for a Dark and Stormy or a Blue Hole (coconut rum, coconut water, and pineapple juice) before a shower or quick nap.

The vibe and the staff at Deep Water Cay encourage full relaxation, but if you need to work off a slice of pie or two, there’s a fitness center at the ready, and a jog or bike down and back the 2.2 mile island is a perfect way to see every corner of this paradise. When you’re ready for a dip, pick any spot on the island. There’s a swimming beach perfect for lounging with a book, but every corner offers turquoise waters and white sand, beckoning for a sunset swim. And after a long day kayaking or paddleboarding—or both—on the canal, work out the kinks with an in-room massage. Renovation plans are in the works for an ultra-luxe spa slated for 2015, but with the waves lapping outside of every room, every suite sets the stage for tranquility.

The infinity pool deck and Blue Hole bar beckons at cocktail hour, when everyone gathers to regale the fishing stories of the day. There’s no room for tall tales, though; cocktail hour entertainment is a slideshow display of the day’s photos and catches.

As you’re called into dinner, check the board outside the dining room for your two entrée options. There’s a literal approach to “catch of the day” here, where your fishing buddies or fellow visitors have provided what’s on the plate. You haven’t tasted Mahi until you’ve tried the 50-pound catch from that morning, seared to perfection and served among a feast of house-made rolls or pop-overs, soup like conch chowder or spicy sweet potato, and capped off with sweet, rich Key Lime Pie or carrot cake and creamy coconut ice cream.

Back at your property, whether in one of the West End cottages or a single room in a larger villa-style retreat, there’s no need to plug into the real world. Step onto your back porch for a nightcap from your stocked refrigerator, and let the ocean waves rock you to sleep.

Throughout Deep Water Cay, there’s an authentic minimalism that thankfully wasn’t erased with its recent renovation and overhaul. The lodge’s original beams and family-style tables keep the club atmosphere jovial. And though the interior décor and infinity pool add a fresh, coastal aesthetic, the property’s legendary catches are still documented on the walls, always a tribute to the fishing culture of the last six decades.

Once you’ve visited Deep Water Cay, you’re part of a new family—your Bahamas family. The property’s owners are the first to remind their guests to be thankful for the bountiful and beautiful island and its people, who act as ever-gracious hosts. It’s no wonder, from the made-from-scratch meals to the no-key cottages, that for many, it’s a home away from home.

Getting Here

With direct flights to Freeport from Charlotte, and just a 45-minute ride via Deep Water Cay driver to the dock, the total time from CLT takeoff to toes-in-sand is about 3 hours. And for those who prefer a charter from Ft. Lauderdale or who have a private jet at their disposal, Deep Water Cay is one of the only islands of its size to have its own landing strip and customs house. There’s no more direct access than that.

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