It felt good to cruise out of Nassau’s East Channel, raise the sails and turn the bow South to ride the wind toward the unspoiled Exumas. With the all the noise, agitation and manufactured tourist experiences behind us we were anxious for the simpler life, but sailing upwind in fairly choppy seas is no picnic. We felt like we were paying our dues for all those relaxed downwind runs we had been making since Freeport!
Of course, we had to cross back over Yellow Bank; but we chose a course less populated by coral heads so it was a lot easier this time! Shortly after coming through the coral, the wind started to die out so we fired up Patsy and Sammy and headed for a more southerly location a short distance away – Highbourne Cay.
Things on boats, like boats themselves, often get names. We’ve named our port engine “Patsy” and our starboard engine “Sammy”. No stories here and the names don’t really have anything to do with each other; we just wanted names that started with “P” and “S” and liked these ones. Our dinghy, by the way, is “Pepe”
Highbourne is a private resort island with only a few (expensive) things to do there. We stayed a couple of nights on the hook here ‘til the winds were good for a run into the Exumas Land and Sea Park.
At first I wasn’t excited about stopping at the islands within the boundaries of the Park. It is HUGE, encompassing several islands and runs a significant length of the Exumas chain; but it’s a nature preserve and, therefore, a “no take” zone for marine life … including fish, conch and lobster.
So, I wasn’t excited. It sounded pretty, which is nice, but you can’t eat pretty.
But Barbara downloaded a book written by the former Park Ranger and we read about the unspoiled beauty the park has safeguarded with this policy. We’ve been here for a week now and I can tell you I’m not at all disappointed. This place is a jewel!
If Unique is What You Seek
The islands and cays (small islands – pronounced “keys”) that make up the Bahamas have many things in common – soft sand, pristine water, mangroves and coral heads to name a few. Shroud Cay, however, is unique among the islands we’ve seen. At the north end of Exumas Land and Sea Park, Shroud is a protected environment kept pristine and untouched. There is no fishing here. There is also no trash here. No tiki bars, no hotels, no roped off swimming areas. It’s an incredible place to spend a little time.
Shroud Cay is really a collection of even smaller islands. Its unique structure has resulted in creeks that wind through its interior, lined with mangroves and palms and populated by rays, sea turtles and all kinds of brilliantly colored fish.
As the tide came in, Barbara and I slowly motored our dinghy up the northernmost creek to the beach on the Atlantic side of the island with the intention of drifting back with the current. The variation in bottom composition – rock, sand, grass, coral – made the water appear a myriad of different shades – teal, green, turquoise, brown, deep blue and a color Barbara described as “Tiffany blue” … of course!
As we rounded the blind turn at the mouth of the creek we were both struck by how beautiful it is there. It was like we had suddenly entered a post card. Another dinghy had arrived ahead of us, so we waded over to our own private pink beach, had a snack and caught some (sun) rays.
There was no need to fire up the engine to get back, since the incoming tide current carried us the winding 2-miles back in a peaceful drift – I just steered with the paddles. This may have been our favorite part of our visit to the Park.
After a couple of nights at Shroud Cay, we headed to Warderick Wells, where the Park’s HQ is located. The north anchorage there is breathtaking … once you get past the high anxiety of negotiating it’s rocky entry, scattered coral and extensive sand shoals right up against the narrow mooring channel!
We tied up in nearby Emerald Rock Mooring Field, which is much more open and still a short dinghy ride from the Park HQ and Saturday’s weekly happy hour!
Grabbing a mooring here wound up being more challenging than we thought it would be. It was windy and raining when we arrived and, to complicate things, the mooring’s thimble (hook up point) was too thick for our bridle hook. A well-trained deck hand, Barbara rigged two “old school” mooring lines and got the job done in tough conditions as I tried to keep the bow near the mooring ball in the wind and current. Once we finally got tied up, we waited out the rain and headed into Park HQ to pay our anchor and mooring fees.
Anchoring is free just about everywhere, since the areas off shore aren’t actually owned like parcels of land are, but the park charges for both mooring balls and anchoring. Anchoring is cheaper, of course, since you’re relying on your own gear to secure you to the sea floor.
The Park HQ has some pretty cool perks for boaters who tie up here – beach chairs and kayaks for use; a DVD rental library and a small gift shop. We took a few minutes to check the place out, rented a DVD then headed back to La Vie Dansante for dinner and a movie aboard!
The next day was pretty windy and a little chilly, so we opted to hike one of Warderick Wells’ trails to the top of “Boo Boo Hill”, a local landmark which is said to be haunted by souls lost in a long ago shipwreck and where cruisers and voyagers who pass through here leave improvised signs to document their visit. We heard about this custom from our friends Tim and Candy and put together our own sign from an old teak step that had cracked. Taking the sign and a couple of hefty screws to affix it sturdily to a post, we made the rocky trek up Boo Boo Hill and back down just in time to return to the boat and freshen up for happy hour!
Happy hour at Warderick Wells is a pot-luck affair, so Barbara toasted some of her homemade bread into a plateful of crostinis and we headed in to join the rest of the anchorage on the beach next to Park HQ.
The gathering was short-lived, however. Rain clouds closed in on the beach just as we were finishing our first round and visiting with some new friends from New Braunfels, so we joined everyone else rushing to our beached dinghys and heading back to La Vie Dansante.
The parade of cold fronts coming through left us with just a few opportunities to explore the beaches of Warderick Wells, and even fewer opportunities to get out on our Eclipses, so we charted a course to our next stop heading south along the Exuma Island Chain – O’Brien Cay, home of a snorkeling spot so perfect it’s called “The Aquarium”.
Interestingly, Johnny Depp owns Little Halls Pond Cay, the next small island over, and has posted a hand-painted sign announcing we’re all unwelcome. We left him alone.
After spending our first night at anchor aboard the boat, we found the next morning perfect for a beach and snorkeling day. In fact, we found “Barbara and TD Cove”, beached the dinghy and enjoyed lunch and catching rays with a few hermit crabs and a couple of curious lizards.
Now toasty from the sun, it was the perfect time to don our gear and slip below the waves into the crystal clear water of The Aquarium. Words don’t do it justice, but this video comes pretty close:
About the only impractical modification we made to La Vie Dansante before heading out was to put a couple of underwater lights on her – one under each “sugar scoop” at the stern. We pretty much did this for aesthetics, but having them on at night has attracted all kinds of sea life! We’ve had nighttime visits from remoras, jacks, sharks and all kinds of smaller fishes. Barbara calls them our “fish party lights”. Yesterday we also had a day visit from a huge spotted ray, who hung out for a while circling our boat.
Barbara had done a great job positioning us close to the O’Brien’s Cay shoreline for maximum comfort (dampened sea state and maximum wind protection), but when the winds shifted to the directly opposite position, we found ourselves in the precarious situation of being on a “lee shore” – with the wind blowing us toward land – in this case, rocks. If the anchor drug or a link in the chain failed, we’d have little time to fire up the engines and respond before crashing into the rocks. The wind picked up mightily, and we decided to make a break for it, firing up Patsy and Sammy, raising the anchor and motoring the short distance to the Cambridge Cay Mooring Field – the only place for miles that offered decent protection from a stiff north wind that was forecast to come in a couple of days, but had obviously arrived early.
Like the mooring field at Warderick Wells, this one had a happy hour too, and we arrived just in time! It was a well-attended event despite the chilly temps (chilly here is like 72), clouds and the threat of rain; and it gave us an opportunity to meet some of the “neighbors” tied up to the other balls. Everybody had more sailing experience than us!
That night, I left the screen off one of the ports and a black witch moth got into our stateroom. I grabbed it by the wings and let it out the top hatch. In some cultures (rural Texas), these moths are a sign of impending financial windfall; in others (South America) they are a symbol of death and misfortune. I’m not sure how the same critter gets such a different rep across borders; but by following this blog you’ll get to see which culture knows the moth the best!
A couple of successive cold fronts, with their lower temperatures and high winds, have put a damper on our investigation of other areas of the Park so we’re headed out today, crossing the green dotted line on the chart (the Park boundary) to continue our journey south through the rest of the Exumas.
… and you can bet I’ll have a line over!