Monday, January 10, 2011

12/16-21/10 Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park - Part 2

Warderick Wells Cay- Park HQ

Photos will be posted at a later date.

Judy—On 12/17/10 we decided to head for Warderick Wells Cay to hunker down through another cold front that was forecasted.  “Barry Cuda” was still resting under us, so we waved goodbye, hoisted the sails and sailed off the mooring.  What a lovely day!  The sun was shining, we had an ENE breeze and off we went.  “Otto” (the autopilot) was employed and I did Sudokus while sitting by the wheel.  It took us 3 or 4 hours to get to the approach for Warderick Wells Cay.  “Otto” was at the helm most of the way.  We eventually turned on the iron jib to charge the batteries. 
On the Exuma Banks’ side (west) of the Cays, it is extremely important to watch the chart and the water and to stay pretty far offshore because of the moving sand “bores” (bars) which stream out from shore like long, fat, misshapen fingers, sometimes 2 to 3 miles long. They are formed by the currents and the tides that come through the cuts or spaces between the islands (cays).  The cuts are dangerous as the current flows quite fast (for those of you who are sailors think “Hell Gate” here. Unlike Hell Gate, some are quite narrow, with shallows on either side; poorly charted and with ever shifting sands.  Other analogous cuts are Shinnecock inlet on the south shore of Long Island, and the channels between the Elizabeth Islands like Woods Hole and Quick Hole).
The northern end of Warderick Wells Cay has a lovely harbour protected by a ring of small islands (cays).  It has a channel on the eastern edge that curves around into the center of the protected area.  The channel is deep enough (6 to 15 feet at mean low water) but the rest of the area is 3 feet to nearly dry at low water.  It is beautiful to see the deeper blue water with yellow in the middle.
Our mooring was near our friends on Legacy.  We managed to lose the end of our boat hook while picking up the mooring and Steph decided he would dive in and save it, until he saw “Bruce”, the resident shark, swim by. We dinked into the park office and met Darcy, the “voice of Exuma Park.”  She is a wonderful, friendly, very helpful person and manages the welcome center/museum, gift shop and the radio communications in the Park.  We got all registered and joined the Bahamas National Trust which gave us two free nights on moorings in the Park.  We received all sorts of information about the Park, the hiking and snorkeling on Warderick Wells and had a fun time looking at all the cool items in the gift shop.  Darcy introduced us to the “Bananacuits” these cute, fear free, little birds with yellow on them.  (They actually became pests on the boat, as they would come in, fly around the salon and into the aft cabin, where Mary reacted just like a cat should…but we wouldn’t let her catch any of them.  They also pecked food and fruit that was out, and left little birdie poops wherever they felt like.)
While back in Nassau we picked up a package of Christmas lights and a small tree.  Now was the time to light up the boat.  I hoisted the 24’ string of multi-colored lights to the top of the main mast with 12’ descending from the cap to the spreader on either side.  The anchor light served as the star (or shammos) atop our tree of lights.
We rented a DVD for the evening’s entertainment and signed up for a 24 hour period of internet via satellite.  The internet was quite slow at times and there were no Skype or any social networking sites allowed.  We were able to do email and upload some blog postings.
The next day we went in to the office again and picked up a map of the trails and went for a hike up Boo Boo Hill.  Being a national park, there are all sorts of signs giving descriptions of the plants and natural wonders, and there certainly were lots on this trail.  It was a very interesting hike.  When we got to the top of Boo Boo Hill, we made a driftwood plaque with Bentaña’s name, the date and our names and left it with the others there.  Boo Boo Hill is so named for the sounds the ghosts of shipwrecked victims make that can be heard on the hill at specific times.  Skeptics ascribe it to the water rushing through the blow holes. Steph went to see the blow holes, but it was low tide so they weren’t blowing.  We wandered back to the office, picked up another DVD (Something with Sean Penn and a sailboat, taking place on Smuttynose Island at the Isle of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth NH) and headed back to the boat.
On Saturday, a front came through and the wind was quite strong.  We had rain and were glad we were on a strong mooring, because we were pretty close to a rocky shore.  A beach party had been planned for 5 or 5:30 that afternoon, but no one went, so it was rescheduled for Sunday afternoon.
The rescheduled party took place after sunset on the 19th. About ten cruisers were there, joined by three resident Bahama Defense Force officers.  This island also serves as an outpost for the BDF, with members assigned here for two week shifts every year.  We were also joined by a Hutia, a small endangered rodent. Here in the park it has no predators, and may not be harmed elsewhere, so it has become a pest here, but cute… In all it was a cool and windy evening with crudités and libations enjoyed by all.  I enjoyed the Nassau Royale, a cordial made from rum. An example of activities was, “Whose flashlight can shine the furthest.” Getting our dinghys back off the beach in fresh surf in the dark (with a few drinks under our belts) was another chilling and thrilling event.  And so we returned to Bentaña for another tranquil night’s sleep.
We stayed through Tuesday morning, 12/21, as the winds continued through Monday afternoon the 20th.
The 21st was Mom’s birthday, so Darcy let us use the office phone to call and sing Happy Birthday.  The 21st is also the winter solstice, and this year it was accompanied by a full moon in a total eclipse.  Can you imagine the treat to be in a place with no light pollution, no haze, and pleasant weather in which to lie out and watch the show?  It was also benefited by having my fine Steiner binoculars at hand.  Nothing says man in the moon like good German optics. The unexpected earthshine made the part of the disk in the “Dark” actually visible but reddish and dim. I took some pictures, but you can see ones worth looking at somewhere else on the net.  After bidding “adieu” to our newfound friend, Darcy, we hopped in the dingy, headed back to the boat and released the mooring to head for Staniel Cay.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

12/16-21/10 Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park - Part 1

Judy –12/16/10 After a few days in Allen Cays, we departed for Shroud Cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  We soon picked up a hitchhiker.  A small seabird, possibly a tern, landed on the solar panel and hung out for a while, turning it into a literal poop deck. As we got out onto the Exuma Banks west of Allen Cay, we decided to swing the compass for the autopilot.  After a fashion we got it done.  The instruction book is a little different than the model of the controller we have, so it took lots of button pushing to get to the correct place.  We then had a wonderful mostly hands free sail/motor-sail to Shroud Cay, our first stop in the ECLSP. A Bahamas National Park, Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park is the first land and sea park in the world and covers 176 square miles. It is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide, covering into the ocean (Exuma Sound) and Exuma Banks and includes numerous small and larger cays, some public and some privately owned.  There are hiking trails, snorkeling areas with coral reefs and pristine beaches.

Looks like the internet is having trouble uploading the photos...I will fix it next time.  Judy

Shroud Cay 

Judy--As we approached Shroud Cay on 12/16/10, the first stop in the park, we were amazed to see that we were the ONLY boat in the mooring field and one other boat was anchored north of the mooring field and left soon after we arrived.  We picked up a mooring and dinked to shore to put our payment in the strongbox….it was quite a climb to get to the box and when I got there, I found out that the fee indicated in the cruising guide and Explorer Charts were both wrong and I didn’t have enough money with me.  I took a payment envelope and figured we would pay at the HQ the next day.
We had heard about Shroud Cay from Captain Daniel on Liberty Clipper and he said that it was his favorite place in the whole Exumas.  He told us about the steams going through mangrove swamps to a beautiful secluded beach on the ocean side of the island, so we hopped in the dingy with the chart, the hand-held GPS, and a pole and motored to the northern end of the island to explore.
Steph--If you look at the photo of the chart, you can see that this cay, like many others, is actually a ring of islands. The middle, as at Allan Cay, is a sort of lagoon with protected anchorage.  Here at Shroud Cay the interior is inter-tidal and hosts a forest of stilt rooted mangrove trees.  Through the growth is a network of channels, mostly too shallow for motors but navigable by kayak or poled boat.  As we entered the first narrow pass, we both broke out in those frequent grins indicating “Wow, I can’t believe it, it keeps getting better. “ The water was probably six feet deep, but when it is this transparent it’s very hard to judge.  The channel was about 25 feet wide and the shrubs at waterside rose about four feet allowing views behind and up to the ridges of the island.  In protected areas the mangrove grew higher although wind pruning keeps most vegetation short and compact.
We motored at the recommended idle speed for about half an hour, winding this way and that, passing side channels too shallow for our motor.  Following the chart, kept in a waterproof envelope, we rounded a turn which opened up to a view of the ocean on the other side of the island.  Here was the “hidden” beach we had been promised.  GRIN GRIN Man it was lovely. BTW the weather could not have been more cooperative. We frolicked in the surf which cast up on the beach from several directions creating fascinating ripples in the sand.  The wind too carved the sand into marvelous sights, as the rays of the setting sun cast long shadows.  Unknown sand dwellers carved hollow s in the strand which collapsed as we walked over them.
With a need to return to the mother-ship before dark, we returned to our beached ride.  There we met the first humans we saw all day, a couple from Florida. The low traffic count helps keep the beaches looking pristine, but as we’ve seen elsewhere, flotsam winds up on beaches everywhere.  Some caring soul had gathered up lost flip flops, tossed juice containers and tangles of fishnet line and left them on a rock for us to deliver to the Park Office.  The park accepts no personal trash, but welcomes picked up litter. We got back to Bentaña as the sky turned its usual spectacular dusky colors and headed for a nap. The water was about 15 feet deep and we could clearly see the bottom.  As I looked under the boat upon arrival, I saw a barracuda lurking in the shade cast by our hull.

Our little hitchhiker
Our dink ride through the mangroves

Attempting to pay the mooring fee


Who lives here?

Exuma Sound (ocean)

Exuma Banks end

"Barry" the 'cuda

Boxing Day ===Steph===Time Out of Joint

Well today is the day after Christmas, celebrated in British tradition as the day of exchanging gifts, presumably in boxes.  It’s actually after midnight , 1247 hours, 27-12-10 to use the continental time and date format.  We have had a holiday from blogging for a couple of weeks, storing up more adventures and tall tales from the islands on the other side of the stream. Judy and I are taking shifts at anchor watch again as the cold fronts which have been bringing snow and blizzard conditions on shore bring high winds and cooler air here.  It’s still mostly short pants, with wind breaker and wind pants during the blows.  For me it’s sweat pants, long sleeves, fleece, socks, wind breaker and wind pants. J  The high winds are a challenge for boats at anchor.
Phil Goldberg, a long time friend and avid follower of these writings has commented about the chronology of our postings.  He points out that it may be hard to sift out the who and when of the jottings.  This is a work in progress, and any feedback is welcome.  We are now able to share some pictures of the scenes and events we write about, and would love to share some video clips if speed and bandwidth were only available.  Unfortunately it’s not.  Phil took our suggestion to get Skype, and we shared some face time before we left Nassau while still on the “Atlantis Wi-Fi.” We could see and hear Phil sitting in his office cum studio fiddling with the keyboard. Our next Wi-Fi opportunity didn’t support Skype or social networks for lack of capacity.
In an e-mail we received two days ago, Phil suggested that we identify the date and writer of each entry.  Here’s the skinny on that. Judy and I take turns writing, as the spirit moves us. Mostly we cover an event to each other’s satisfaction, with editorial comment, asides and insertions by the other set in italics. As previously noted our journal is always behind the times. We actually don’t have a calendar, and ever since my watchband broke, I stopped carrying a watch.  Of course at that time I had a cell phone and my watch was redundant.  Now my cell phone is at home and the only way I know what day it is is by reading my pillbox.  The point being (and Phil hit the nail on the head,) we are living on Island Time and do not have a firm grip on dates.  I rely somewhat on the yellow dates on the bottom of my photos to tell me where I was and when. The GPS track also logs our movements with the exactitude of satellite time. 
To further amuse, amaze, and confuse you, BLOG/CENTRAL lists our postings by the dates they were sent on-line.  They are also found in reverse chronological order, i.e., most recent is on top, with older dates below, unlike a book which begins in the beginning and ends at the back near the index. Recently we posted a few weeks worth of stories, covering a few weeks of our trip and written over the course of a few weeks.  When the Wi-Fi window opened, we submitted the work in batches, attempting to maintain the established sequence.  The mechanics of submitting text and smallified photos is time consuming under these 20th century conditions, none the less we posted about a half a dozen events in a couple of days.  BLOG/CENTRAL gives the appearance that those events all happened at that time.  Not so..  Therefore, please bear with us as we attempt to battle the clock, the calendar, mental lapses, Island Time, and BLOG/CENTRAL.  As they used to say in the days when everyone had a started web-page      SITE UNDER CONSTRUCTION.”