Exuma Land & Sea Park

Monday May 5, 2014

Exuma Land & Sea Park

Keeping as true to my Exuma wish list as possible, since we’ve now already skipped the sunken sculptures at Musha Cay, when Matt asked what our next stop was, I told him ‘Warderick Wells!’.  This is one spot I’m actually very sad we missed out on last year, and as soon as we pulled into the anchorage and then brought the dinghy out by the park headquarters, Matt was as well.  This place is b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!  As well it should be, too.  That’s because Warderick Wells is part of the Exuma Land & Sea Park, a 22 mile stretch of sea and cays that are protected under the Bahamas National Trust where they like to promote the saying ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints’.  Meaning you take no fish, plants, flowers, ect, and do not leave any trash behind.  It’s a great concept and the island has definitely benefited from it.

Warderick Wells hosts two big claims to fame among the cays that make up the Land & Sea park.  Not only does it contain the park headquarters (ok, that’s not actually one of them), but it has a stunning horseshoe anchorage filled with mooring balls to preserve the seabed below, and just a few hundred meters away from this is Boo Boo Hill.  The lore of Boo Boo Hill is that many years ago, a schooner sank off the shores of Warderick Wells on a stormy night and that every soul on board perished.  They still like to haunt the area though, and legend has it that if you climb the crest of the hill at the bloom of a full moon, you can hear the voices of the lost souls singing hymns.  We weren’t up for night hiking, and I don’t think we were even anywhere near a full moon, but a hike up the hill sounded fun enough.

anchorage at Warderick Wells

The term hike should be used very lightly though, and after a few minute uphill climb in which I never even had the chance to become short of breath, we were at the top.  The views up there were spectacular, but that wasn’t the only thing we had come to behold.  For you see, there’s been a tradition going on here between cruisers for quite a few years now.  Keeping with the theme of the natural reserve, cruisers have been leaving their mark at the top of this hill in the form of driftwood with their boat name painted or burned into it.  We didn’t have anything to leave as a memento, nor were we planning to, but the stunning views we were afforded at the top was well worth the trip in.  Through the mass of driftwood we tried to search out friends that we knew left pieces behind, but the crowd of 2014 was exceedingly strong and we would have had to do a lot of digging to unearth anything older.

Boo Boo Hill, Warderick Wells

Jessica on top of Boo Boo Hill

looking down Boo Boo Hill

 There was one sight we spotted at the top of Boo Boo Hill that we weren’t expecting too see but extremely happy we did.  Sitting on a mooring ball was s/v Laho, belonging to our friends Kim and Jereme that we hadn’t seen or talked to after spending a night out in the Bahama Banks, something we still hope they don’t hold against us.  (‘Oh, this uncontrollably rolly anchorage out in the middle of nowhere?  We’ll be fiiiiine.’)  Getting back in the dinghy we planned on doing a ride-by stalking to see if anyone was aboard, whilst trying to pretend that we were just checking out the mooring field.  Coming up on Laho we saw that in was in fact their boat, but it didn’t appear as if anyone was home.  There were however a group of dinghies gathered in the center of the anchorage where low tide had provided a couple of lavish sandbars that would be the perfect spot to enjoy a sundowner, and we cut the dinghy over to see if they were among the crowd.

The crowd however, completely dispersed as we came up on it, and we think we saw Kim, Jereme, and Oliver riding off in a direction back toward their boat.  Not wanting to actually stalk them by immediately turning ourselves back around, we landed the dinghy at the sandbar and walked around for a few minutes before trying Laho a second time, where we were eagerly invited aboard and offered cold beers while the four of us filled each other in on lost time.  With both boats being stuck for at least one more day due to a front coming through, I made sure that Kim didn’t mind me stopping back over once more so that I could return her favorite hair clip that I borrowed during our casino night and forgot to give back in the excitement of Jereme falling out of our dinghy on the way back to the boats.  That was just a cover story though.  What I was really after was Photoshop lessons so my photos can begin to look anywhere near as amazing as hers.*

Matt on sand bar

Warderick Wells at low tide

 The promised storm did come howling through in the middle of the night, waking us up at 2 am while 35-40 knot winds straightened out all our anchor chain and left Matt in the cabin to sleep in case any quick action needed to be taken.  None did, and 30 minutes later everything calmed back down to the peaceful 15-20 knots we’re used to.  What the storm did leave in it’s wake though were larger than normal seas on the Banks side of the island, the one we were exposed to.  We have not been doing well so far this year in trying to hide ourselves from west winds, and the result has been us rocking back and forth, familiar to those dreaded swells we experienced back in Grand Cayman.  This now being our second day of experiencing them, I could not handle it anymore.  Calling up Kim on the VHF, I begged her to let me take refuge on Laho for a few hours. I think the phrase ‘I’m going to burn this boat down’ was starting to make it’s way back into my vocabulary.

Knowing that I couldn’t show up empty handed again, I made a quick batch of Johnny Bread after following a recipe on my friend Brittany’s blog.  For being a first time attempt I think it came out pretty good, albeit a little more burned than I would have liked, but coupled with a side of strawberry jam I figured it was a very presentable gift for my gracious host, who in turn, handed me a cold Bud Light upon my arrival.  You gotta love how these trades work on the high seas.  Plus all the valuable lessons and tools I picked up from Kim to use on my CS6, well, let’s just say I think I ended up in the black for the day.  (Or week)

storms over Warderick Wells

storms over Warderick Wells

Georgie watching fish

Today we got off the boat to do a little more exploration of the island in the form of snorkeling and hiking.  There are a few patches of coral marked off in the anchorage we’re in at Emerald Bay, and taking the dinghy over we dropped hook in sandy patches next to the reefs and devoured every colorful fish and piece of brain coral we could take in.  I’ll be honest, it didn’t compare to the diving we did in the Ragged Islands last year, but it was our first chance to see anything underwater this year and we were soaking it all in.  Once we had finished on the three pieced of coral in the bay we took to diving Emerald Rock itself and found much more life there.  Matt spent tons of time in the water sneaking into every little crevice he could find, but the 5 ft barracuda that kept eyeing me, even though I knew it wouldn’t do anything, sent be back to the dinghy to soak up some sun and get warm instead.

After lunch we took to the shore and let Georgie join us.  We’ve decided that even though she loathes dinghy rides, we want to get her off the boat when possible so she can add a few new sights and smells to her world.  As soon as she was dropped off on the beach she began rolling around in the sand and chasing Matt as he ran near the waters edge.  In short, she was acting kind of like…a dog.  We were even able to get her to walk on her leash and we hiked up one of the trails to some ruins, and as long as one of us was in the front leading the way, she was completely content to follow.  It wasn’t until we were back on the beach that we remembered all the signs posted asking you not to bring your pets on the trails and to keep them on the beaches.  Ohhh, right.  She is a ‘pet’.  I forgot.  Cats walking on leashes tend to do that to you.

beach at Warderick Wells

Davis Plantation Trail marker

Matt walking Georgie

Jessica at Warderick Wells

We could have spent all afternoon resting on that beach, and Matt had even picked out a little cove where he would love to anchor Serendipity for a month straight if we had the time, but true to the Bahamian nature we’ve been experiencing so far this year, the sun was quickly overtaken by approaching clouds and sending us running back to the boat to close all the hatches before something really nasty blew in.  With two and a half days here though, I think we still managed to get the full experience in. Verdict of Warderick Wells:  Exquisitely beautiful and well worth the stop.

5.4.14 (14)

 *Now that we’re back in Miami we are hunting down deals for me to buy a new DSLR body so I can stop shooting with my Cyber Shot.  I am so over the moon about the prospect of being able to shoot great photos again.  Thank you mom for the gift, you’re the best!!

 

 

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Staniel, Baby, One More Time

Friday May 2, 2014

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This year’s trip to the Bahamas was supposed to be all about seeing places that we never visited before since we rushed through so much of it last year. Why spend what little time here seeing things we already have before? This rule has already been broken twice when we stopped in Nassau, although that really is the only middle ground between the Berry’s and the Exumas, and when we stopped in Georgetown, but that was to see friends and therefore totally excusable. This last stop though, well it is another double of last year, but we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Staniel Cay and Big Majors have two major things going for them as far as sightseeing, and although we did see/experience both of them last year, there was no way I could pass them up again being as close as we were. Staniel Cay is home to the famous Thunderball Grotto, even featured in two James Bond films, as an underwater cave filled with fish and a grand opening in the center allowing you to view the cavernous walls as well as some erosion near the ceiling that allows in a bit of light.  Right next door on Big Majors is Pig Beach where, true to it’s name, is filled with a dozen or so very large pigs that will actually swim out to your dinghy looking for food scraps.  Can I really be expected to pass that up?

Making the decision to skip Mush/Rudder Cay and David Copperfield’s sunken sculptures due to tide/current conflicts, we left Adderley Cut with the the east winds and incoming current working together against us, but at least not against each other.  This left a calm progress out the cut at 3 knots.  The slow speed I could handle versus rushing out into whitecaps.  The Exuma Sound was full of large rolling waves though since winds have been steady and out of the east for a few days now.  Raising the main we tried to keep a relatively low speed so that when we reached Dotham Cut we could ride the tide in, something that wouldn’t be happening until after four in the afternoon.  On the ride north though, we saw an electric blue light in the water that at first had us completely puzzled until we realized it was a mahi swimming just a few hundred feet off the boat!  Having had our fishing line out all morning already we changed course to try and tempt it onto our line, but the only thing that prevailed from this side trip was that we helped to waste a little extra time.  It wasn’t enough to get us to the changing tide though, and we still ended up heaving to for two hours until we found it safe to pass through Dotham Cut.  Under sail alone.  Matt is really starting to prep me for our Atlantic crossing by making sure we don’t have to rely on our engine for those times we won’t be able to use it.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club

streets of Staniel Cay, Exumas

boat carrying palm trees

We had the luck of arriving to Staniel just after the mail boat which meant fresh produce for us at the stores.  Not having purchased anything since Ft. Lauderdale, our heads were full of the thoughts of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, about the only things we haven’t been able to keep a six week supply of on the boat.  I used to include things like apples on that list, but it seems like even when they are bountiful and in front of me I can’t force myself to eat them over whatever junk food we have around.  Now it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even snack between meals.  With fresh fruit out of the picture, the only snack foods we seem to be left with are the now staling granola bars that we purchased all the way back in Cayman, and personally, I’d just rather go without than be forced to eat them.

After picking up a few staples for cooking though and even securing myself a can of ginger beer which will later be turned into a dark & stormy, we were back to the boat and ready to put our things away in order to rush over to the beach and visit the pigs.  Last year we had tried to lure them to us with lettuce which we had read plenty accounts of other people feeding them, only to find that things have changed and you better show up with carrots or oranges, lest you be ignored by them.  Carrots happened to be something we had managed to retain a few of, and sure enough, these pigs were ready to accept them.  I hadn’t thought far enough ahead though to break the carrots into smaller pieces before leaving the boat, and wanting to spread the for as long as between as many pigs as possible, I was rapidly trying to do this once we had landed the dinghy on the beach.  The pigs however, were incredibly impatient and when they noticed I had food in my hands that was not being passed immediately to their open mouth, they got a little nippy and let me know of their displeasure by nibbling at the bottom of my shirt.

If you haven’t ever seen the size of these pigs you might be thinking to yourself, “Awww, how cute!”.  But these are not cute little pigs.  Although they did actually seem pretty well trained to tourist and I don’t think they planned on causing me any harm, I think they could have if they wanted to.  I’ve never started snapping carrots as fast as those moments I thought they might eat my shirt off if I didn’t give them something else to eat right away.  Being sly of hand and quick of foot though, I did manage to get myself away with a few small pieces still in my bag, to divide up between feeding to the new piglets that weren’t here last year, and letting Matt get some feeding in as well.  As soon as the food was gone we watched these massive pre-cooked pieces of bacon wander around the beach and in the water for a little bit before they lost interest in us and made their way back into the thick of the island.

Jessica with pigs at Big Majors

pig from Big Major's Cay

Jessica with piglet at Big Majors

family of pigs at Big Majors

piglet checking out dinghy

Matt feeding pig

Most of our other free time anchored here in Big Majors has been spent soaking up the amazing beauty surrounding us.  If I haven’t already mentioned how appreciative we are this time around of how stunning these anchorages are, or how clear and beautiful the waters are in the Bahamas, we definitely are.  Yesterday I forced Matt into those waters just after we got back from visiting with the pigs so he could do a little more cleaning of the bottom of the boat.  He whined that it was getting too close to shark-thirty and he might be better putting it off for one more day, but I tried to put his fears at rest by telling him that there was still three hours before sunset and the sharks wouldn’t possibly be out yet.  Which is why I had a little bit of a surprise when I was down below changing into my suit so I could join him for a refreshing dip in the water when I heard him yelling from the stern, “Jessica!!  Get out here now!!”  I rushed out, barley being able to cover myself, to see what all the excitement was about.  He pointed to a dark spot just a few feet from the boat and exclaimed “Shark!!”.  Yup, I had forced my husband into shark infested waters.  It turned out to only be a 5-6 ft nurse shark that was happy to ignore us both (I quickly got in the water to see it better with my snorkel gear), but for Matt, having a dark looming shadow pass just feet below you while you’re not expecting it can give you quite a scare.

Today we made our way over to the Thunderball Grotto to get our first real snorkeling in this year, and I could not have been more excited.  Slack tide wasn’t until 5:30 in the evening, and with Matt’s shark scare yesterday, he was not too fond of going that late.  We bumped up our time a little bit and, since we knew the lay of the land, weren’t too worried about any current that might be running through it.  We dropped anchor in the dinghy just outside the entrance next to about five other dinghies or small boats.  I had come prepared with a ziploc full of corn to feed the fish, and both of us rushed our way into the cavernous entrance of the grotto.  Weaving through other tourist, we found a spot that had the most fish gathering in it and quickly went through all the corn as I tried to reach out and brush any fish that came by for a snack.  The currents were a little stronger than we had experienced last year which didn’t allow as much time floating in one spot to watch all the underwater life below you before bumping into the cave walls.

We’d heard it last year, and even in the span of 13 months have unfortunately found it to be true, but the fish in this area seem to be disappearing quite quickly.  Upon talking to a cruiser just as we were about to make our way into the grotto for the first time last year, he mentioned that ten years ago there were four times as many fish as there were now.  Having been one of our very first snorkel spots in the Bahamas, we didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised at the amount of fish we had been able to see at that time.  Even one year later though, it was very apparent to us that there weren’t as many fish as last year.  It’s been a subject that’s been coming up in the news a lot lately, and we seem to be experiencing it first hand, but it looks as if our oceans are starting to empty of life.  Which although as sad as it is, just gives me one more reason to appreciate that Matt and I are out exploring the world right now.  Who knows what we’d be left with if we waited 30 more years.

fish at Thunderball Grotto

cave at Thunderball Grotto

Matt inside Thunderball Grotto

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