Thursday, May 8, 2008

Down the Exumas

Two weeks in Nassau was enough. Mark and I were pretty excited to head back to the Exumas and start part two of our voyage through the islands of the Bahamas. We kind of started where we left off with my parents, anchoring at Shroud Cay, one island down from Norman’s Cay, after crossing the Exuma Banks. The island appeared very quiet and peaceful after the hustle and bustle of the capital, and we were all smiles. The dogs loved the remote beaches and calm waters. This was our introduction to the Exuma Land and Sea Park. All of us went onshore to check out a well. The water looked a bit too dark to try it, though…

The Exuma Land and Sea Park is the highlight of the Exumas. We picked up a mooring in the North Anchorage of Warderick Wells and were ready for more exploration. The trails were off limit for the dogs, but there was a huge, shallow sand bank right next to our boat, where Darwin and Kali could splash, play and do their business. They were also allowed on the beaches (on leash). Mark and I got there just in time for the Saturday happy hour, where we met some new people and caught up with Cindy and Gray who we hadn’t seen in a “long” time. We walked a trail up Boo Boo Hill and checked out the blowholes. The view from the top was pretty nice. Since it was low tide, no water spouted out the blowholes, but we could hear the ocean rumble underneath and could feel the wind being pushed out of them.

For the first time, we actually did some real snorkelling. It was worth waiting for… The dinghy got tied onto a little mooring, while we slipped into the cool water with our gear. Soon enough, we were part of the underwater world of big fish, huge lobsters (everything is protected in the park!), live coral, and tropical fish. Lobsters were chasing each other and different dinner forms swam by many times, while we just watched in peace and sighted. When the current got a bit too strong and our bodies too cold, we took a little break in the sunshine. We finished the snorkelling adventure in a cut with other nice sea life. It was awesome to fly through the water with the ebbing tide. Getting back to shore was another story… We had to use all our strength, breath, and body parts to work our way through the unbelievably strong current. Next time, we’ll tow the dinghy!

I figured out a fun way to float in the current with our orange ring buoy, while Mark continued our hurricane insurance process. Being faced into the current and not the wind, made it pretty hot at night. The surroundings were beautiful and reminded us a little bit of Double Breasted Cays in the Abacos, where white sand banks appeared in the turquoise waters at low tide.

After three nights, we moved to the peaceful and pretty South Anchorage with Cindy’s Island. The water was clear and refreshing, with teasing fish under our boat. We spent some time on the empty beach and hiked a couple of trails with our friends. Then it was time to move on again, this time to the southern edge of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

We'd hoped to finally anchor again at Cambridge Cay, but the crowdedness, funky current, and big depth, made us pick up a mooring once more. This area has a lot of great sights, but we hoped to do them all within 24 hours to save some money on all these nightly fees. The Park needed some volunteers to manage the mooring field and we would have loved to do this if it weren’t for our need to keep moving south. Hurricane season is already peeking around the corner and we want to get all the way to the Dominican Republic by July 1.

At low tide, that afternoon, we picked up Gray and motored in our little dinghy to start exploring. We visited two interesting caves, in which we managed to squeeze the dinghy. This way we didn’t have to snorkel in and stayed dry! One of the caves had a skylight and a little shelf on which we could walk. There was even a tiny beach in the corner. We then crossed a big amount of sea to arrive at Compass Cay. A short walk led us to Rachel’s bath, a nice pool of lukewarm seawater next to the rocks. At high tide, waves crash over the rocks, feeding the pool and producing bubbles. Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience that. Instead, we pounded the long way back, into the waves, taking water over our bodies and into the dinghy, about every three seconds.

The next morning, Mark and I zipped to “the Aquarium” for some great snorkelling. From the moment we entered the water, we got surrounded by colourful fish. Some of them almost touched our masks. A few coral heads were very pretty, attracting the most beautiful of fish. This place was definitely our favourite snorkelling spot so far. There was also a submerged plane wreck nearby, but it was a bit too rough out to venture in the middle of that bay.

Our next stop was Staniel Cay, a sleepy village with a popular marina. The reason to stop here is Thunderball Grotto. At low tide, you can snorkel in the cave, where sunlight beams through the ceiling, making the colourful fish underneath you even brighter. Some of the entrances to the cave are underwater, what makes for an interesting experience. The swimming pigs are another attraction. Mark and I took the dinghy to the beach of Big Major, around the corner. Our first attempt to see these curious animals was unsuccessful, but the following morning, we managed to get the interest of one pink pig. He walked all the way to our dinghy for some cabbage, but refused to swim. We will call them the “wading pigs” from now. If it were to be high tide, they might still swim. Who knows? On shore, the Staniel Cay Yacht Club provides free wireless internet. Another reason to check out this well organized marina is the presence of many sharks and rays near the docks.

After a brief stop in Black Point and Lee Stocking Island, we finally arrived in Georgetown, the focus point of Bahamian cruising. Since “the season” is coming to an end, most of the boats already left, making Georgetown a quite pleasant place to be. None of the anchorages were too crowded and we counted less than a hundred boats. A big difference with the 400+ boats during the winter. For us, Georgetown was another one of these chore and provisioning stops. We stocked up on water (free!!), diesel, gas, and groceries. The fuel prices keep going up and diesel is now already $5.70 a gallon!

Mark found a problem with the outboard engine of the dinghy. After some thinking, considering, weighing the pros and cons, talking to an expert, and lots of stressing, we decided to temporarily fix the problem with a “band-aid” and deal with it all in Puerto Rico, instead of losing a lot of precious time, and money, now. Hopefully we get there without the motor falling apart. This was also the place where we needed to figure out our insurance for hurricane season in less than three weeks. On Thursday, May 8th, after more than a week in Georgetown, everything seemed to be figured out. One more day here to decompress and then … time for the next leg!

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