June 2000: More Exumas
We spent much of June 2000 in the Exumas and central Bahamas. We wound up spending more time in George Town than we had expected, waiting for a package delivery by FedEx in Nassau, which appears never to have heard the slogan "absolutely positively have to be there overnight,". We ordered it on Wed. June 8, hoping for Fri. or Mon. delivery. Monday the 13th turned out to be a Bahamian holiday -- Whit Monday -- so no delivery that day. And none Tuesday, so we called FedEx in Nassau (expending multiple $10 Batelco phone cards while on "hold") only to learn that the address hadn't specified "Exumas", so they were holding it. Promised to get it on that afternoon's flight. No package Wed. Called FedEx again, had to yell at them to get another promise to put it on that evening's plane. We arranged for a taxi to pick it up and bring it from the airport and meet us at the Two Turtles bar, but the plane, due at 5:30 PM, hadn't arrived by 8:30 when the taxi driver went home. The next morning, he returned to the airport and learned that the package had not been on that flight, nor was it on the morning flight. We decided we'd waited long enough, and would get FedEx to send it to us in the Abacos, and left to sail to Cat Island.
After a beautiful close reach across Exuma Sound, we made landfall at Hawksnest Point and went to the marina there, which is run by a family from Wrightsville Beach NC. The Research Vessel "The Shadow" docked alongside us turned out to be from the VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences) Bahamas station on Lee Stocking Island. All 3 marine biologists aboard were colleagues of Iris Anderson, wife of Grif, who sailed Akka to the VIs with us in December.
We motorsailed the next day to New Bight on Cat Island and anchored just offshore to hike to Mt. Alvernia. This is where Father Jerome (of the 2 churches in Clarencetown), lived out the last days of his life (1939-54). He built a tiny hermitage/monastery with a chapel (one one-person pew), cloister (4 arches) and one study & one bedroom on the highest point in the Bahamas (206'). The views are lovely and the Hermitage is charming. The settlement of New Bight is only a few homes, a Batelco tower, police station, and 3 friendly sisters who run a restaurant, but who said there would be no dinner served that night. And a pay phone, which ate another $10 phone card while we tried to find out where our package had gone when it finally got to George Town. The answer: BahamasAir had it, and didn't know what to do with it.
We anticipated a long sail of 57 miles to Staniel Cay the next day, so retired early and rose early under the full moon to depart at 5:30 a.m. We began motoring in light air, but at dawn the wind increased, and soon we were flying along under main and spinnaker, then main and genoa as the wind increased further. We made the crossing of Exuma Sound in just 8 hours, averaging over 7 knots!
Staniel Cay is the site of Thunderball Cay and Cave, where the old James Bond movie was filmed. The cave features wonderful snorkeling, with fish abounding, and swimming through an opening in the coral to an interior pool, lit by sunlight from holes in the cave ceiling above. We brought some stale crackers in baggies and were besieged by fish that eat from your hand (they nip!). Great fun.
The next day, we headed across the Bahamas Banks toward the Exuma Cays National Park in Warderick Wells. A morning snorkel at Big Major Spot made for a late departure, so we decided to go only half-way, to Chicken Cay. This little island featured a bay at the north end, suitable, according to our cruising guides, for anchoring overnight, with great snorkeling nearby. The trip was only about 6 NM, and we motored the whole way, charging our batteries. When we arrived, the tide was flooding in from Exuma Sound, so we powered up against it then turned into the small bay on Chicken Cay. As we turned, the water immediately shoaled and the current pushed us into the bay too quickly. As Andi shouted from the bow about a coral head, we grounded on another - hard! There was no way in, and appeared to be no way to turn. Bouncing sickeningly on the coral, we backed and turned out, succeeding in exiting quickly. Shaken, we tried to decide out next move as we returned to the banks. It was late afternoon so we had to find an anchorage soon. We decided to stay right there, in the lee of Chicken Cay on the edge of a large shallow sandbank. We set 2 anchors for safety then put on both deep and shallow water alarms as well as the GPS alarm. A mercifully uneventful night, but we awoke to rain showers. Soon, the rain turned into a squall and the wind, which is ALWAYS from the east-southeast, came all the way around to West-northwest and gusting 20-25. We were now on a lee shore and at least one anchor was dragging. With waves crashing over the bow, Rob managed to get both anchors up while Andi fought at the helm to keep the boat into the wind and away from the rocky shore of Chicken Cay. It took almost an hour, but we did it, then motored back onto the banks and northward to Warderick Wells. What a morning! (A later dive revealed some scratches on the keel, but no serious damage.)
The motor to Warderick Wells was thankfully uneventful. The wind gradually subsided, the rain tapered off to occasional showers that actually felt pretty good, and the seas calmed. By the time we reached Warderick Wells around 4 p.m., we were back on an even keel. And what should we see as we entered the anchorage but "The Shadow" -- whose crew greeted us like old friends! Warderick Wells is a big bay between several cays, but is very shallow except for a deep curving channel through it where the moorings are, all in a row. After the previous night and morning ordeal, a secure mooring in light wind felt wonderful.
The next day was our 35th wedding anniversary, and we celebrated it with hiking and snorkeling around the park. The best snorkel we had was the one recommended by the Shadow crew. On a reef in about 15 feet of water, we saw, in addition to gazillions of fish of many varieties, a huge grouper that we could get within 3-4 feet of - he had to weigh 60 lbs. Also, we saw two lobsters over 2 feet long, out from their usual hiding places under rocks and ledges, just walking around! When the lobsters did go into a cave, we could look in at them, and they were stroking their bellies with their aft-most legs. Our VIMS friends explained later that they were females, releasing spermatophors (sp?) to fertilize egg sacks. Really an amazing sight.
Well let's hope that we don't have any more excitement like our Chicken Cay adventure. We're off next to see Eleuthera.