Warning: there are some graphic footage and photos in this blog. If you get queasy easily, feel free to read a text-only version of this occurrence here.
Part Two: As I mentioned in my last blog, what occurred that day in Eleuthera was one of the main reasons Phillip and I ended our cruising season in 2019 early. While that decision proved wildly advantageous in the following months—particularly when the unpredictable COVID pandemic began to spread—we did not know it at the time. All we knew then was: Captain Annie was not in great shape to set off on an offshore passage anytime soon. I was in need of x-rays, wound care, antibiotics, and months of icing and elevating. What we know now is: I’m incredibly lucky to still be here, albeit with a new wicked scar that, along with the others, form the chorus that is my story. Here’s what happened.
December 1, 2019
Phillip and I had just returned from our failed attempt to sail from Spanish Wells, Bahamas on (what was supposed to be) our longest offshore passage yet on the I65 route down to the BVIs. After we were towed back in, we met another couple, Mike and Melody, who had just sailed into Spanish Wells after a pretty rough Gulf Stream crossing, and had set up a fun joint date to ferry over to Eleuthera on a calm day and explore several attractions Phillip had found in the guide books: 1) the Glass Window; 2) the Queen’s Bath; 3) the Preacher’s Cave; and 4) the Sapphire Blue Hole.
The Glass Window did not in any way disappoint. It’s amazing to think one tiny little cleft in the rocks traversed by a small bridge is all that stands between the mighty deep blue Atlantic and the shallow, emerald-green Caribbean Sea.
Mike, Melody, Phillip, and I had become practically giddy when a big wave came toppling over the rocks soaking us up to our hips on the road. In our euphoric state, we made our way to our next stop, the Queen’s Bath. The Bath had been promoted as a tranquil spot high up on the cliff where you can wade in the pools of water that form in the quarry and are warmed by the sun. Hence the name: the Queen’s Bath. Unfortunately, the pools were not as warm as we had expected (a little chilly to be honest), but the view out into the Atlantic was stunning. Mike and Melody picked their way down a little closer to the water while Phillip and I were taking pictures further up.
Mike hollered at us from a pool with a fantastic view so Phillip and I ventured over. We sat there for a bit watching the water in the ocean ebb and flow, hoping to see a good splash. We were probably a good 20 feet up and away from the water below. Mind you, this was a PERFECTLY CALM DAY. Very little wind and waves.
As we watched the Atlantic breathe a swell, a wave crashed against the rocks and sprayed up soaking us all. Immediately after it subsided we all looked quickly to one another. At first I didn’t see Phillip which scared me, but he soon popped up, saying he had jumped down to hold on tight as the wave came through. Looking back, I cannot tell you precisely why none of us, not a one, had a worry or fear at that moment. No hairs were rising on the back of our necks. No red flags were waving. Nothing told us, at that point: Beware. And, this rings true for Phillip who is a very cognizant and cautious person, considering his military background, as well as Mike, who has considerable military experience as well, including that as a field medic. It just did not seem dangerous. That’s all I can say. And, it was only a brief 5-10 seconds after that first considerably minor wave came through that the ocean took a deep breath and sent a massive rogue wave through that changed everything. While I was the closest to the water, I wasn’t but about 2-3 feet from Mike and Melody who were sitting and standing on the other side of the same pool. I was holding on, incredibly tightly, when the water rose up and began to rush past us. At first it was thrilling. Such an intoxicating, exciting feeling.
Then it took me.
It was just far too powerful.
I felt an immediate plunge of guilt as I felt my hands rip off the rocks and my body struck in several places. I can’t tell you where I felt an impact (other than all over) until, after a few tumbles, my head finally struck. That one I remember. I heard a little crack at the moment and thought it was my neck popping. I would find out later it was something else. But, when my face struck, for whatever reason, instinct told me to grab that rock and never let go. I reached out and got a firm grip just as the massive amount of water that had moments ago submerged us now began to rush out. Imagine holding onto the edge of an Olympic size swimming pool at the top of a hotel and the bottom of the pool drops out. Hundreds of gallons rushed past me with astonishing suction.
I held on.
When the water receded and we all scrambled to make eye contact, I will never forget Mike’s expression. He was the first to see my injuries. His eyes immediately bulged. The whites around his pupils are burned into my memory. His jaw went slack and he stumbled at first trying to lunge toward me, his hand outstretched, to examine my wounds. It must have looked bad, but thankfully when he stroked a wet hand over my forehead, it revealed only surface wounds there and he breathed a sigh of relief, as did I because I was able to move everything just fine. Phillip looked mortified. And angry. I was definitely angry. Mad at myself for letting the water take me, for letting myself get injured, for (as stupid as this sounds) potentially ruining what was supposed to be a great day for everyone.
I immediately downplayed any need for treatment. “It’s just scratches,” I told them. “I’m fine,” I chuckled with a smile. And, in that moment, I did feel fine. I’m sure it was the enormous amounts of adrenaline pumping through me, the coursing of which had mercifully guided my hands to the rock I gripped with all I had that both pummeled and saved me. I’m sure it was the adrenaline and shock, as well, that had made it not hurt that bad. Especially considering what I found out later had occurred in those tumultuous ten seconds.
I suffered hairline fractures to my forehead and nose, deep, scar-rending scratches all over my body and face, and an impact to my right thigh that caused a hematoma I believe I will live with in some form for the rest of my life. I cannot believe I didn’t break my femur with that hit.
Even though the pictures you will soon see on this blog and the next are alarming, know that I am lucky. Extremely lucky. With the wisdom and insight of hindsight, I know now it could have been far, far worse. There could have easily been NO wounds to see, no body to find at all. While the four of us had no idea at the time, we have since learned the Glass Window and Queen’s Bath in Eleuthera are actually notorious for sweeping people across the rocks, breaking bones, gnashing skin, even snatching people entirely in their grasp, never to be seen again. Here are some videos (don’t watch if you’re squeamish).
Go to 1:18: https://youtu.be/eE-j-An2M1E
Go to 10:10: https://youtu.be/v9IauO2V8E8
Article about a 19-year old who was swept off the bridge and never found … sad.
Here is a video by another travel vlogger (go to 5:48) showing them in a calm pool at the Queen’s Bath when a VERY small wave comes over their shoulders, but there is a good shot right after the wave of the flesh-eating rocks that I was raked across. Yeesh.
The Wynns even did a video featuring the Glass Window and Queen’s Bath and they mention (while standing on the ledge) wishing it were “a raging sea, a storm,” so they could really capture the intensity of it (go to 9:02). I’m telling you, you just can’t fathom how fast and powerful the water can become once a swelling wave slams into the rocky cliff. It can shoot up 100 feet in an instant, as if gravity does not exist.
I’m sharing all of these so those of you out there who are planning some day to visit these very visit-worthy, stunning places, please PLEASE give the incredible power of the ocean its due. Stay back from the ledge. Do not go if the seas are rough. Go see them. Absolutely. Just, go with caution.
Okay, enough of that. Suffice it to say, we went on a CALM day, and we never expected the wave we got, its immense power, or our unfortunate exposure to such danger. So, rewind back to post-Annie rock-roll. Like I said, I did not believe I was hurt that bad. No broken bones (that I knew of at the time), no persistent, dangerous bleeds. Just scratches … or so I thought. I convinced everyone I was fine and that we should just carry on with our day. “Take a pic,” I said. And they did. And, I’m smiling.
While you can definitely see the abrasions on my forehead, some on my chins and thighs as well, “Everything is fine,” I told them. Nothing to see (or treat) here. (I do hope you are realizing what a dumb move that was, but I’ve been known to make a few of those in my past.)
We carried on, ambling around a nearby beach to pick up shells. I tied a sarong around my waist to cover my injuries as we headed to a little eatery for lunch. I even took a selfie in the car making a funny face at the camera, seriously thinking it was just going to be some minor wounds to deal with.
I cleaned up my face and other scrapes a bit in the bathroom at the restaurant and pulled my hat down low to hide my marred forehead (something I would do every day for the coming weeks). But, as we sat at the table and ate, weird things started happening to my body. I could feel under the table as my right thigh (which had hit the hardest) started to swell and firm up considerably. I didn’t mention anything at lunch (because I’m brilliant remember, and stubborn … a quality Phillip has had to battle before). But, as we made our way to the next stop, the Preacher’s Cave, my heart began to race as we walked up the path. I got hot all over and sweaty. I honestly thought I was about to pass out. I sat down and finally showed Phillip my leg. It was the size of a watermelon.
That’s when we all changed course. Nothing was fine. There was definitely something to see here. And treat. I had a leg the size of a blimp and pain that was finally starting to seep in where all of my joints had hit. My head began to throb. It was time to take action and seek treatment, which was an experience in and of itself. Stay tuned next time for the final chapter of this saga. The evolution of my leg wound will bewilder you.