Monday, May 5, 2008

In the Exumas

Three younger members of the Allen's Cay iguana herd relaxing on the beach.

The wrecked drug smuggling airplane at Norman's Cay.

Some of the scattered coral heads in the harbor at Warderick Wells Cay.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Greetings from the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. We arrived here Saturday afternoon in time for the weekly beach party. You know, cruisers are a very different sort. Interesting, but different, really different. But, I am jumping ahead…

We were anchored in the harbor at Ship Channel Cay at my last writing. Since we bumped the bottom on the way in, we decided it would be best to go out in the dinghy and do some sounding, a little exploring, to find the best path back out. We really worked at this making two different trips at low tide. Well, in spite of knowing for sure where the deep water was, we bumped the bottom on the way out. Unfortunately, this time on rocks not sand! What a horrible sound, lead on rock! We finally bounced off the rocks, powered through the sand, and made it out into deep water. We were on our way although missing some bottom paint but with no real damage.

After that little adventure we needed a rest. Fortunately, our next anchorage was not far away. We were on ‘Island Time’ so we didn’t sail too far (6 nm). We went into the anchorage at Allen’s Cay. There are iguanas on the cay, lots of iguanas, lots of big iguanas. They really are quite homely. Some are very large, some are smaller, but I thought they were all creepy. You have seen them. They are the dinosaurs in the old grade B black and white movies. The man and woman from the motor boat anchored ahead of us took their beach chairs and umbrella over to the beach to sit and read while twenty or so iguanas stood in a circle around them and watched expecting to be fed. I don’t think I could concentrate with a herd of iguanas watching me! They were really weird.

We stayed at Allen’s Cay for two nights and then moved to Norman’s Cay, first anchoring on the banks side for a night then moving to the better protected south end of the cay for the next two nights. Norman’s Cay was once the home of drug king Carlos Ledher. Ruined buildings line the south end of the island; some with bullet holes. Apparently, this cocaine smuggling business operated for about fifteen years ending sometime in the eighties. One of his pilots made use of some of the cargo, was overloaded, or just missed the landing strip (choose your story) , and wrecked his C-46 nearby. It is partially submerged on the south side of the cay. It makes for a nice snorkeling spot. There are so many fish that it is obvious that some island adventure company must bring people out to photograph the airplane, see the fish, and feed them. The Sergeant Majors were like the blue gills on Watauga Lake; very friendly. With the drug operation gone things are more normal, and the north end of the island has roads and houses. The 3000 ft airstrip is still in use, and we saw several planes come and go. There is a nice beach club on the banks side of the island serving good food and cold beer. We enjoyed an evening of both! While we were anchored at the south end of the cay, the wind blew pretty hard as a weak cold front came through.

We left Norman’s Cay and headed into the Exuma Land and Sea Park. You aren’t allowed to fish, shell, or harvest anything within the park boundaries. Most of the cays are uninhabited although there are some privately held cays within the park boundaries. This area is very different from the Abacos. There are fewer towns, the islands are hilly, and the water unbelievably blue and clear. We sailed about 7 miles to the west side of Shroud Cay. Shroud is uninhabited and has several winding creeks leading from the west to the east side. We took two dinghy trips into the creeks and through the mangrove swamp that fills the interior of the cay. The red mangroves have tenacious roots. They look like long legs bending at the knee growing outward then down into the water. There is a natural fresh water well on the top of a limestone hill near the anchorage, and Bill made three dinghy trips carrying water back to fill our tanks. (No Julia, there weren’t any floating bits, but then again, the water was an almost bourbon brown.) We saw our first tropic birds here. These arelarge white gull-like birds with two very long tail feathers that trail behind them in flight.

Our next long (?) day was a 5 mile sail to a beach on the west side of Hawksbill Cay. This uninhabited island has beautiful beaches on both sides with a nice trail from one side to the other. On our hike back from the east side beach to the west side beach and Irish Eyes I saw a snake! There are only three kinds of snakes in the Exumas, two are boa constrictors and one is a brown racer. I found a brown racer. Those who know me know that I really don’t like snakes! Hawksbill Cay has some ruins from a 1785 Loyalist plantation. We walked up another trail to see those ruins. I wasn’t impressed, and I didn’t like the prickly tropical flora that was along the trail, so I let Bill explore while I went back to the beach.

Saturday we actually did sail a fair distance, 15 miles, to the park headquarters here in Warderick Wells. The park has provided 22 mooring balls in a protected harbor in front of their headquarters office. The deep water is a J shaped channel with dry sand flats (at low tide) in the middle and along all the edges. At low tide the sand is dry about 2 feet behind Irish Eyes. You could step off onto dry land. If Bill had chosen this spot to anchor I would have said he was crazy! With the boat moored, we went off to an evening appetizers-and-drinks party on the beach.

Sunday we piddled around most of the morning (maybe that had something to do with the rum punch a crew of Frenchmen brought to the previous night’s beach party) and didn’t get off the boat until noon. We took a hike across the island through a mangrove swamp and up Boo Boo Hill. Boo Boo Hill is named for the sounds that the ship wrecked ghosts make on full moon nights. On the top of the hill is a driftwood stack made by boaters who leave a piece of wood with their name and date as an offering to the fair weather gods. Warderick Wells Cay is all limestone and sand. Part of the trail is climbing over sharp pointed limestone rocks. My $1.99 flip-flops did great; they did not die and neither did I. The sun was intense, shining both down on us and back up from the rocks. A two hour noontime hike was plenty for me! While I was grilling supper, I watched as a shark and a school of horse eyed jacks swam circles around the boat. We also have our own resident four foot barracuda keeping us company in the shade under the boat.

Today we were a little smarter. We left Irish Eyes at 9am before it got quite so warm and sunny. We hiked through tropical forest across the island and back and along several beaches. I was fine until one of the informative signs explained that in that one section of the woods, boa constrictors could sometimes be seen stretched out along the branches of trees sunning themselves. I walked fast, very fast through that spot! This afternoon we snorkeled along the small reefs on the sound side of the island. We saw lots of large fish and several lobsters, but we can’t fish for anything because it is a park. Today I am recuperating from my last two busy days by drinking some of Captain Bill’s Rum Punch. We are on beer rations as we are almost out! [Four cans are left, much as I had earlier predicted. Bill]

Our plan is to begin a slow trip north. We will head back up the Exumas, over to Nassau, on to the Berry Islands, then to Bimini and back to Florida. But, you know what Bill always says, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan”. We have a plan; next we will see how it goes.

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