True Grits: Navigating The Current Cut

By Al Jacobs

Why is it that food never tastes quite as awesome as it does at the end of a dramatic boating day?

Aerial photo of the Current Cut Eleuthera Bahamas The Current Cut is a deepwater, narrow divide through the north end of Eleuthera. (Photo: Michael E. Harris)

Well, This is a story about eating. And boating. And I'm going to start with the boating part, because every boater worth his or her salt knows that a good day on the water only becomes a great day when it's finished off with a delicious meal. Am I right? Here goes my tale.

Current is the name of the Bahamian settlement, and Current Cut is the turbulent channel in front of it — its famous namesake, actually — where the tide ebbs and floods like a freight train in and out of the Bight of Eleuthera. This can be a treacherous place for those who arrive or leave by boat. At the height of the flow, the current can rush as fast as 10 knots in a channel barely 100 yards wide. As you pass through, there's no room for error as the water churns. Talk about a tough place for keelboats. But not for us. We're on Grace, a 34-foot Gemini catamaran with a shallow draft, and she'd float in a heavy dew if we asked her to.

Map of Current Island in Eleuthera, Bahamas

I admit it: hearing from locals about scary Current Cut had made me extra nervous. But I didn't say much about that to Teresa, my wife, because she'd heard the same news. Besides, she was our helmsman and navigator, while I handled the sails, anchor, and everything mechanical. If she piled it up on the rocks, I liked to remind her, it would be her fault. This drew the usual rolling of eyes from her, who takes a lot of guff from me. But she sends it back with the best of them. We both knew Current Cut was the only decent way to get out of the extensive shallows in the northern Bight of Eleuthera without going back almost 100 miles. It was time to reach down and grab some guts.

We planned out all the contingencies, studied the chart, tides, and depths, and talked it through a million ways from Sunday before deciding to go ahead. The only thing that lightened the mood a bit was our conversation about how we'd reward ourselves when the darned thing was behind us. Because our personal navy travels on its stomach, all of our reward ideas tend to food fantasies. Whether it would be filet of a lunker lionfish or whatever catch that passing Bahamian fishermen felt like selling, the occupants of Grace, like salty sailors everywhere, always kept a weather eye out for the next opportunity to eat something good.

Photo of Grace anchored by Alabaster Bay Eleuthera Bahamas Grace at anchor before transiting the narrow cut. Current Cut has a 6-knot current
at max flow. Passage requires a sharp turn to port in order to stay in deeper water
and avoid shallow sandbars to the west, and rocks to the east.

The next afternoon, all systems were go as we drew near to the Cut. The southern approach was littered with sandbars straight in, but the recommended channel that approaches from the side was navigable and marked with — I took a second look, and then a third look. Yes, Lord above, those were local PVC pipes I was seeing. Following the PVC guides past exposed bars and rocky outcrops, we picked our way through the unlikely channel, eyeing the torrent of turbulent water ahead. There was no going back on this one. We took a deep breath, stuck Grace's prow into the flood, red-lined the throttle — as red-lined as a Gemini can do, anyway — and got lined up. The tidal race roller-coastered us up and down, Teresa kept Grace in the slot, and in a whoosh of speed we were spit out like an olive pit into Dickson Bay, south of Spanish Wells. What a totally huge adrenaline rush, culminating in the moment at the other end of Current Cut when Teresa and I whooped and screamed in happiness. It was during this natural high that I had a heavenly vision.

"Hey, how about some langouste?" I called to Teresa.

"With grits! And a cold beer!" called my Georgia wife. I smiled. That woman knows me. Already, our minds had made that almost instantaneous transition that all experienced boaters know so well, when we go from white-knuckle fear to thinking about — yup, what's for dinner!

Really, Isn't It All About Food?

An hour later, Grace was anchored, and I'd zoomed ashore to the settlement of Current, found a fisherman with local lobster, and had two medium-sized langouste tails shucked out of their coverings. You're probably imagining a big chunk of succulent lobster meat dripping with butter that you'll scarf down in three minutes flat, right? Well, this Southern boy tries to do even mundane jobs with style, and now that the Lord had delivered us through Current Cut and cleansed our iniquitous souls, we were going to have langouste — with grits!

Photo of cheesy shrimp and grits Cheesy shrimp and grits save the day.

I fired up Grace's two-burner stove and started cooking with the pure happiness that comes at the end of another great hair-raising day on the water. Humming a tune, I melted a stick of butter, sautéed as much chopped garlic as we could stand — a lot! — then added a beer, a few dashes of Tabasco, and some Lea & Perrins. In a separate pot I cooked the coarse grits in seasoned stock for 30 minutes while Teresa swooned over the galley aromas. The grits are done when they look like mashed potatoes and can't run out of the stirring spoon. Near serving time, I added to the reduced sauce the bite-sized pieces of lobster I'd chunked up, careful not to overcook the meat, then spooned the mixture over a tasty bowl of grits. I added chopped green onions for color, sprinkled it with a good, sharp grated cheese, and let it melt. That's it. We use fish if we don't have lobster or shrimp for another poor man's Low Country staple: fish and cheese grits. I like to play around with the ingredients for variety.

Grace tugged on her big hook buried in sand. We were in a lee around the corner from Current Cut, while overhead in the pink-tinted evening sky, mares' tails and mackerel skies forecast heavy weather within the next 24 hours. But for that moment, there was time to savor the small victory over the adversity that can be the constant companion of the boater. As Teresa and I relaxed and enjoyed a glass of good Nicaraguan rum, I couldn't help but remember back to those early days of my life when I worked on a shrimp boat, a time when life was also lived day by day and nothing was a given. The linkage was grits, certainly, but more than that, it was the triggered memories of friends gone by and the feeling of great adventure. Our food is our heritage, providing touch points with family and friends, past and present.

Good Food, Common Ground

These days, Teresa and I are back home in Georgia, and a big photo book, sitting on the coffee table in our living room, is filled with great memories of our time aboard Grace. Whenever I flip through the album, I'm struck by how many pictures show us beaming in the cockpit toasting a sunset or in some spectacular out-of-the-way hole in the wall savoring the local fare. Boating is a solitary business, but often the most enduring memories we take from our days on the water are of good friends — and connecting with them over food. So at the end of the day, while swinging on the hook somewhere that only your boat could have taken you, gaze out at that pink sky, rub your tummy, and think about how lucky you are. 

Al Jacobs, a retired lieutenant colonel and U.S. Army ranger, is a history teacher. He and his wife, Teresa, live in Homerville, Georgia.

— Published: October/November 2015


The Reward? Grits On Grace!

One of the popular menu items you're starting to see in East Coast restaurants these days is shrimp and grits. This Georgia poor boy always enjoys seeing just what Yankee chefs have done to a humble dish that started as basic fare on Low country shrimp boats. A bag of grits was about the cheapest food that could be bought, and there were always a few shrimp. Lots of beer and a bottle of Tabasco rounded out the larder. In the old days, even if we couldn't find enough shrimp for the crew to feed their families or for me to pay my college tuition, at least none of us would starve. On board Grace, grits is a staple of our fare. It's compact, lightweight, and easy to fix. We pack plenty, divide it up, store it in vacuum-packed plastic bags to make sure it stays dry, and mix it with whatever we buy or catch along the way.

Photo of bowls of grits

An Hawaiian friend once responded to my offer of grits with a counteroffer of poi. This country boy doesn't eat anything purple, but my friend made her point that grits is a foreign food to most people because they've only experienced the white, treacle-like soup that someone topped with maple syrup, then dared to call grits. Good grits are yellow, extra-coarse, and fixed with those staples of Southern cooking, salt and butter. They're meant to be used as a cooking base and mixed with whatever you have — scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, cheese, spinach, fish. And if you didn't know that grits are the coarse grains sieved from cornmeal, you do now. An entire industry has grown up in the South selling grit gloves for picking grits from grit bushes to folks from somewhere else who don't know any better. Get your grits from a health-food store or an online vendor that grinds grits and meal from local ingredients, and make sure it's coarse and the best you can find.

 

 

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