National Geographic Sea Lion finished a calm crossing from Mayaguana Island, heading slightly north toward Acklins Island. Our captain had the ship anchored by 6:00 a.m. as the sun was beginning to show first light. Our clear and calm conditions were beginning to change. As some of us made our way up on deck, we observed clouds beginning to form in the northern part of the sky. We were anchored off the northern tip of Acklins Island in the protected waters of Atwood Harbor. Acklins Island is one of only two islands in the Bahamas where cascarilla bark grows. This bitter herb is the key ingredient used to make Campari liquor.

As our Zodiacs pulled up to a rocky landing, a wonderful group of locals greeted us. Acklins Island is not on the main tourist route of the Bahamas. For locals, the arrival of a small ship with guests was something to celebrate! Our host, Anita Collie Verdecia, a local ethnobotanist and herbalist, began a presentation on bush medicine. She stood behind a large table covered by a variety of plants that she uses as medicine. She shared stories about bush medicine and how she had gained her knowledge. She then introduced Mrs. Patricia Hanna Cleare, who spoke about Acklins’ slave trade and the slave plantations on the island. Our final speaker brought all of his distilling equipment and explained how he extracts both essential oils and a hydrosol from cascarilla bark.

We then had a chance to wander through the displays and ask questions about life on this extremely remote Bahamian island. Once everyone finished talking with our local hosts, we were invited to board National Geographic Sea Lion’s Zodiacs for a tour through a nearby mangrove river system. The “river” is a series of saltwater channels where mangroves grow in the dense forest. The tide was falling, so our ride was a careful meander through a mangrove forest with channels of saltwater that were rich in life! Rays, turtles, and schools of fish were everywhere…a wonderful way to finish our morning at the northern end of Acklins Island.

After lunch, we returned to the same saltwater channels for kayaking and swimming! As the afternoon light began moving west, we enjoyed a relaxing paddle and swim in the protected waters of Atwood Harbor.

Once back onboard and refreshed, we met in the forward lounge for cocktails and recap. Then, we were offered a lovely invitation to the sundeck for dinner. The last light of day was fading as we sat down to our tables and enjoyed another lovely meal provided by the galley of National Geographic Sea Lion.