We have fallen in love with New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay. The town was original settled by Loyalists (many from North Carolina) who fled here after the Revolutionary War. The people were friendly, colorful clapboard houses lined the streets wide enough for one lane of golf carts. The pace was slow.

We made the required stop at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar to sample her famous Goombay Smash. This is definitely one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. While we were there we took time to look at all the business cards people had left there over the years. Surprisingly we found several from the Charlotte area. Lastly, we provisioned at the grocery store and that night we went back to Pineapples to hear the latest on the shooting victim. According to the locals, she was going to be ok.

The next day we decided to go over to Manjack Cay to do some snorkeling. I had read somewhere that the Stingrays there were pretty tame and would sometimes come close to shore. I really wanted the kids to see them up close.

Manjack itself is pretty deserted. There are some great hiking trails there and really beautiful beaches. I packed us a picnic lunch and we found a picnic table on shore. Not too long after we got there, Brendal’s Dive Center boat pulled in. We had met Brendal the night before at Pineapples. He is a very funny, nice guy and famous in the Bahamas for his diving operations. The kids ran down the beach to check out his boat. A few minutes later they are calling us to come over. As we get closer in the water we see three Southern Stingrays. They are coming right up to everyone. During his dive excursions Brendal stops here, cooks lunch for his tour group and feeds the rays. Brendal would put a small piece of fish between his toes and the rays would swim over his foot and eat the fish. It was amazing.

There were about 12 people on his tour and they were nice and included us in their group. Soon, Dan, I and the kids were sticking fish between our toes. The rays were very gentle when they took the fish. You just felt this slight roughness, almost like a cat’s tongue on your toes as they took the fish. They also liked to be petted. Even if you didn’t have food they would swim close enough so you could run your hand along their velvety wings. It was an awesome experience.

The biggest ray Brendal had named Sandy. She was about 4 feet across. You could tell she had a special bond with Brendal. She would swim up to him and lift as much of her body out of the water as possible and let him scratch her underside. At one point she was even wrapping herself around his leg (as much as a ray can do that). Brendal said he had been feeding her for 18 years. She was beautiful. Because there were so few people there and only about 8 of us actually feeding the rays you really had an opportunity to spend a lot of time touching and feeding them.

Brendal grilled a fish he’d caught and while his tour group went up to eat, we stayed in the water to play with the rays. Brendal invited us to have some of the fresh Conch Salad he had made. I really felt bad at first as these people were paying for this tour and we had attached ourselves to them. He assured us it was fine, that they had plenty, so we joined in the delicious Conch Salad while the kids played with the rays. Tessa would run down the beach and the rays would follow her. The kids were having the time of their lives.

After we finished our Conch Salad, Tristan came up to our table and said there was a shark in the water. We all ran back to the beach. Sure enough, two sharks were now circling clearly in the crystal clear water. The sharks were hungry and very aggressive. Brendal cut up a fish and threw it to them. The sharks came very close to shore; in fact in another Mother of the Year moment they came within 3 feet of the kids. The rays were very protective though and made sure the sharks didn’t get too close.

The water is so crystal clear, almost like a swimming pool, that we were able to get great pictures. It was just such an amazing day for us. To be this close to these beautiful animals, in their natural habitat and actually touch them was such a gift. We owe Brendal a debt of gratitude for allowing us to join his group. He’s a really great guy and if you are ever anywhere in the Abacos please call him for a dive tour.