A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
With gingerbread in the oven and Marin working on holiday decorations, we sailed south to Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. The north mooring field is located in a narrow J-shaped channel surrounded by shallow water. Very shallow water. We'd seen it on the charts and in photos and it looked a bit intimidating. To add to our discomfort, while underway to Warderick Wells, we heard park staff being dispatched to help a boat that had run aground in the mooring field. He said something like, "The same thing happened between 3 and 4 that happened earlier this week. Can you go over and help?" And to the unlucky boater, "You have to stay in the dark blue water. Stay in the dark blue water." Hmmmmm. As we entered the field, we clearly saw the dark blue water, but we also saw the moorings that we needed to pass on the way to ours (mooring balls 1-15, all but two already occupied). Because of the influence of wind and current, some of the moored boats were lying partly in the dark blue water and the space between them and the light blue (shallow) water seemed a bit tight. Fortunately there was more room than first appeared. We made it to mooring 16 without incident, although at times it felt like we could almost reach out and shake hands with the occupants of the boats as we passed by.
We had a wonderful few days at Warderick Wells socializing, snorkeling, swimming, baking, cooking, going for walks, and celebrating. Most afternoons around 4:30, cruisers gathered on the beach with snacks, drinks, and music. We enjoyed meeting new people as well as catching up with those we'd met previously. The Christmas Eve gathering was especially festive, with a potluck, colored lights, Christmas music, and Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving by dinghy! Park staff always joined the gatherings and often brought barbecue! It was interesting to talk to them and hear about life in the Bahamas. The park is staffed with Bahamas National Trust Employees and members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, who help with enforcement. At one of the evening gatherings, we spent some time talking with one of the Defense Force officers and learned that the fishing boat we encountered in the Berry Islands (the one that was coming right at us and didn't answer our calls on the VHF) was most likely a poacher from the Dominican Republic.
Our mooring was swimming distance to the Coral Garden, a snorkeling spot with many fish and healthy corals. We often saw one or two sea turtles swimming near the boat. We also saw spotted eagle rays, stingrays, and nurse sharks. The highest point on Warderick Wells is called Boo Boo Hill, supposedly named for the wailing of ghosts of past shipwrecked sailors that can be heard during the full moon. The views from there are incredible. Another reason to climb to the top of Boo Boo Hill is to please Neptune by adding one's boat's name to the driftwood pile at the top. It is quite a collection!
We stayed at Warderick Wells for two more nights and two more days. After dropping the mooring on the morning of the 27th, we made our way back through the mooring field, saying goodbye and exchanging well wishes with friends on other boats. Next stop: Little Hall's Pond Cay, aka Johnny Depp's Island.
After a couple of days at Normans Cay, we headed south to Shroud Cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. The park was established by the Bahamas National Trust in 1958 and is a no take zone and marine protected area. Except for private inholdings (much like the Adirondack Park), the park is pristine and undeveloped.
We stopped at a beautiful anchorage near the north end of Shroud Cay, just across from the entrance to the mangrove-lined creek that crosses the island to Exuma Sound. Once the anchor was set Brian, Eoin, and Isla dove the anchor and found it deeply buried in the sand. Confident the boat would stay put while we were gone, we launched the dinghy to check out the creek that led to the ocean side. Even though the tide wasn’t optimal, we made it across without touching the bottom. After winding through mangroves in clear water, we rounded the last turn and beheld perhaps the most beautiful view we’d ever seen. The tide was quickly falling and we didn’t have much time, so headed back after a brief visit. Fortunately, we only had to get out and push the dinghy once!
The next day after school we packed snacks, books, masks and snorkels, and towels. With the rising tide this time, we headed back to the mangrove creek and across the island. Unlike the day before, there was no one at the beach and we had it to ourselves all afternoon. We had snacks on the beach, swam and floated, walked up to the top of the island to take in the views, and played in the sand. It was an idyllic afternoon. We returned to Counting Stars to watch the sunset and make dinner.
It wasn’t all sun, sand, and surf while we were at Shroud Cay – there was also baking, schoolwork, and boatwork. Brian finished the solar panel installation that he’d started back in Deltaville. He installed and wired three large solar panels (the boat already had four small ones), but ran out of time to run the wires through the boat and connect them to the battery system before we left. The last step was to figure out the best path for the wires to go halfway the length of the boat from the panels to the battery charger. This involves taking cabinets out of the walls, removing pieces of the ceiling, sometimes drilling multiple tiny holes to find the way through a fiberglass wall, and taking lots of things out of storage spaces to access wire runs behind and beneath them. It is quite a process! But by the time we left Shroud Cay for our next stop, the wires were run and ready to be connected. Maybe next time another project like that comes around we'll actually take some photos of the boat all taken apart! Usually we just want to get it put back together as quickly as possible!
With a north-northeast wind forecast, we needed to move to an anchorage that was more sheltered from that direction. At first we tried Long Cay because it was recommended as a good place to shelter from north winds. Unfortunately, when we got there and anchored we just felt too exposed. So we raised the anchor and moved a short distance to Lobster Cay, a small island that is oriented east-west, and tucked ourselves in close to shore. When Eoin, Isla, and Brian got in the water to dive the anchor, they were surprised to see two large barracuda. Barracuda are not dangerous to humans, but they are also clearly not afraid of us, which can be a bit disconcerting.
After making sure we were securely anchored, we lowered the dinghy to explore a bit. On the north side of the island we found a nice beach to play in the sand and snorkel. We were surprised at how many fish we saw in the shallow water just off the beach! We stayed at Lobster Cay for two nights, then the wind shifted back to the prevailing easterlies, so off we went again, this time to the north end of Normans Cay. For two nights we had the anchorage to ourselves while we snorkeled and explored the beaches.
We left Soldier Cay on Wednesday morning, planning on a short trip over to Hoffman Cay for one more night before heading south to New Providence. As we motored toward open water, we saw eight sailboats already out there, heading south. The wind was perfect for sailing, so we raised the sails once we cleared the cay. It turned out that at least three of the boats out that morning were ones we'd met in Great Harbour Cay and we chatted briefly on the VHF with one of them. Since the direction (on the nose) and strength (light) of the winds on the next day would not be favorable for sailing, and this day was just about perfect for it, we decided to keep on going to New Providence instead of stopping at Hoffman Cay. We were crossing deep ocean water in the Northeast Providence Channel, so we put the hand lines out hoping for mahi and tuna and settled in for the 45 nm day sail. Unfortunately, no fish came our way, but the freezer was still full of king mackerel, so it was probably for the best.
We arrived at Palm Cay Marina in the late afternoon, and almost as soon as we were docked, we all headed to the pool to cool off and enjoy the sunset. The marina has a beach bar, where Big H made us delicious cocktails all weekend, and a restaurant that has a wood-fired pizza oven. Pizza is only available on the weekends, and we made sure to take advantage of it. The crust was delicious - it was just as good as Pizzeria Toro in Durham!
During our five days at Palm Cay, we swam, ran errands, held boat school, had pizza and cocktails, did work work, and boat work. On Saturday we rented a car for the day to explore the island and do some holiday shopping. Kendall was looking for Bahamas-made crafts s0 we stopped at the Craft Cottage in Nassau. We all enjoyed seeing the locally-created and beautiful items and wished we had more room on the boat to bring some with us! Nadine (the owner) was warm and helpful and treated us like we'd been friends for years. The girls have been collecting shells and have expressed interest in making jewelry with them. We mentioned this to Nadine and she directed us to a small jewelry-making supply store where we found exactly what we needed. After a stop at a mall for more gifts, we were all starving, so we had lunch on the waterfront in Nassau. Up next was the grocery store to make sure we were stocked up before heading down to the less-populated Exumas. We are leaving this morning and planning for landfall at Ship Channel Cay in the northern Exumas.
We followed our track (a good idea when you didn't find the bottom on your way in) out of Great Harbour Cay Marina, turned north around Little and Great Stirrup Cays, then southeast toward Market Fish and Soldier Cays. The wind was perfect for sailing north, but after we turned the corner it was pretty much on our nose, which meant that today the sails came down and the engines came on. It also meant (at least on this particular day) that the combination of the wind and waves coming straight at us made us wish we had given the kids Dramamine before we left the harbor. They cope in different ways: Marin usually sleeps in the cockpit, while Isla and Eoin like to eat Saltines and come up to the helm for fresh air and to watch the horizon. Sometimes it can get quite crowded up there!
Fortunately, it wasn't a long trip, and we had our anchor down at Soldier Cay just after 3PM. Soldier Cay is a small uninhabited island at the edge of the Great Bahama Bank. It is very narrow, and the crashing waves of the Atlantic shore are less than 50 yards away from the beach on the bank side. We immediately launched the dinghy and went to shore to explore. Between the beach and the ocean side it is rocky with many small pools. The kids thought this was a perfect place to build sand villages and got busy with their buckets and shovels. Later, we put our shoes on (reluctantly) to walk across the sharp rocks to see more of the island. Then it was back to the boat where we enjoyed a particularly dramatic sunset before having dinner and 'bedtime story'. Kendall has been reading aloud after dinner some nights and we just finished The Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George (she also wrote My Side of the Mountain). We all highly recommend the book. The next book is going to be The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer. We'd love to hear your suggestions for nonfiction and/or environmental-themed fiction.
The next morning before school, we went to shore to play and 'get our energy out.' At the same time, dinghies were launched from the other two boats in the anchorage (our buddy boat, Alkemi, and Panamax, with a French Canadian family aboard) and we had 7 adults and 8 kids on the beach, playing and talking and comparing experiences. Just before we headed back to the boats to start school, one of the crew from Panamax flew his drone over the island and took the aerial photos included in this post. After school was out, we went to the beach for the sunset, then headed back for dinner, reading, and preparations to move to a new anchorage at Hoffman Cay for one more night before heading to New Providence Island to wait out some weather and get some groceries.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars
Satellite tracking: See where we are and where we have been on this DeLorme InReach map