April 10, 2018
We slowly made our way south towards George Town in ten to thirty mile increments.
In addition to seeing baby sharks and juvenile turtles in the mangrove creeks of Shroud Cay, we had spotted a loggerhead turtle as we were leaving Highborne Cay a number of days earlier. Despite having seen thousands of green and hawksbill turtles during our time in Borneo, we were amazed at how fat the heads on the loggerheads are (makes sense considering the name… duh!).
Overall, however, we repeatedly found ourselves very surprised at how little marine life in general we actually seemed to be seeing in the Bahamas.
After spending a few days at Shroud Cay exploring the creeks, chilling on the beaches, and taking in the panoramas offered at island peaks rarely exceeding thirty to fifty feet, we decided to move on.
For the first time, we attempted to sail off our anchor point.
Experienced sailors will chuckle, as this is really not that big of an accomplishment.
Experienced sailors will also recognize there are certain factors (wind for instance), conditions (high wind for instance), considerations (i.e. not putting too much strain on your anchor windlass), tricks (like how to make sure your sail does not fill with wind before the anchor has been freed), maneuvering and environmental awareness (maybe there is a boat just downwind of your location that will need to be avoided) as well as a great deal of forethought and discussion that all contribute to the end result: either making sailing off of anchor really salty looking or an absolute fiasco.
The technique is obviously a process requiring more than one attempt to fully appreciate and digest.
Fortunately, the wind was light and there were no obstacles immediately downwind of us. We certainly gained a bit of insight into how to do things differently next time which made it a successful learning experience.
Though I wouldn’t describe it as a salty looking endeavor, we like to think it at least looked competent from a distance.
We were also hell-bent on sailing into our anchorage at the end of the day. However, after four hours of sailing south plus one additional hour of sailing while we looked for a spot protected enough to anchor at, places with less-than-confidence-inspiring names such as Danger Cay, Lightning Rocks, and Narrow Water Cay all fell short. In the end, we had to acquiesce the need to fire up our engine for two hours and press directly into the wind to make Warderick Wells Cay for a spot to drop the hook.
Warderick Wells Cay houses the main office for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.
Obviously, there are very limited resources available to patrol the park (hence the jet skis in the creeks at Shroud Cay). So, while we weren’t surprised to see park rangers at Warderick Wells, we were quite surprised when a park speedboat pulled up alongside our anchored boat the morning after we arrived asking if we had paid the anchorage fee.
This was news to us.
You’re definitely going to get charged to stay at a marina. You’re definitely going to pay to tie up to someone’s mooring ball. Restricting anchoring (whether it be for traffic considerations, security concerns, safety issues, or a number of other things) is not uncommon or unreasonable. But having to pay to anchor is definitely not the norm.
In fact, inside the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is the first (and so far the only) place we encountered this practice.
At fifty cents a foot ($23.00 for us) per day, we chalked this up to supporting much needed conservation efforts and just hoped the money was well spent.
The island itself has a number of paths, stretching through very arid desert-like sections, connecting beaches on both the eastern sound and western bank side. We packed sandwiches and a one liter Hydroflask full of Bahamian Rum mixed with lemonade, and traversed across paths of sand bearing names like Pirate’s Lair and Camel’s Plight.
And, though not superstitious, we succumbed to the cliche of the superstitious mariner, feeling obligated to leave a tribute on Boo Boo Hill upon which, in addition to a breathtaking panoramic view, there is a monument created from bits of carved and painted driftwood left by cruisers. Legend has it that a number of unfortunate souls who ran aground on the reef still haunt the area and can be heard singing on full moon nights. Leaving an offering atop Boo Boo Hill, to appease King Neptune in hopes of good wind and smooth seas, didn’t sound like a sure bet…but what the fuck? It can’t hurt, can it?
Not wanting to cough up another $23 for anchoring inside the park, we decided to go to Fowl Cay, a tiny island with a U-shaped bay fourteen nautical miles to the south, just barely outside the park boundary by about one thousand feet.
Though we didn’t sail off our anchor, we sailed without engine for about three quarters of the day.
Every time we think we’re getting a better grasp of sailing technique, things seem to go to shit. And then when we get really frustrated, things seem to suddenly start improving… go figure.
While other days we had difficulty maintaining four knots of speed in fifteen knots of wind, to our amazement, today Exit was managing to make six knots despite the fact that the wind indicator only read 6.4 knots on the display screen! Hmmm… go figure.
Three days anchored at Fowl Cay gave us a chance to take the dinghy about a half a mile away to snorkel inside two amazing caves at a pair of small rocky islands called Rocky Dundas. They were only single chambers, but quite large, complete with stalactite and stalagmite structures, as well a hole in the ceiling where the roof partially fell through.
We had hoped to scuba dive the area, as we had heard the space between the two caves had some very healthy coral and marine life. Exit already had one air tank aboard when we purchased her, and we had acquired three more used tanks from Bahama Divers in Nassau.
Though the area had some of the healthiest coral and congregations of marine life we have seen in the Bahamas, it was only about fifteen foot maximum depth, and really didn’t warrant donning the gear to explore. And while we have had some absolutely incredible dives in less than ten feet of water, this would not have been one of them. Oh well… the scuba gear stays stowed for now.
After three days, we hoisted the anchor again and set off for Staniel Cay. In Nassau, we had been told by a guy who just arrived at the marina we were getting ready to leave that Staniel Cay was not to be missed. Good provisioning opportunities, well equipped marinas with trustworthy fuel and plenty of entertainment were all to be had, according to the guy.
In retrospect, the fact that he was towed into the marina possibly should have been factored into his credibility level.
But, hey… sometimes you never know for sure until you see for yourself.