Unlike the iguanas these birds will eat out of your hand without biting.
Waredrick Wells Cay is named after the natural wells that are on the cay. Some are as deep as 40 feet. Some like this one are filled with water. All go straight down into the solid rock.
Bill and I picked these sand dollars up in just a couple of minutes raking our fingers or toes through the sand in the shallow water off Staniel Cay.
Surrounded by fish, I am swimming into the Thunderball Grotto. The cave passes completely through a small island. There is air and light in the top and water with fish and coral in the bottom.
When I last wrote we had just gotten to the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park Headquarters at Warderick Wells Cay. We spent 3 nights there on a mooring near Emerald Rock on the west side of the cay. Bill put a patch over a hole in the dinghy, and we had to wait 24 hours for the glue to set before inflating the dinghy again. That meant a lazy day of reading, knitting, puttering about on Irish Eyes, and making bread. I have just about perfected the “Boat Bread” recipe. Bill doesn’t complain. It is really quite good.
The next day, Wednesday March 24, after lunch we inflated the dinghy and went exploring. We dropped by the park office to pay for our mooring and buy a book on the local flora. We walked across the cay to the ocean side. The trail takes you to Booboo Hill (not really much of a hill to us East Tennesseans but a hill never the less). It was topped with a stack of driftwood graffiti left by boaters to memorialize their being there. Just north on the ridge were two blow holes. These were holes in the rock where the water blows up into the air like a geyser. It was extremely windy and the surf was strong but the tide wasn’t yet high enough to have a good blow. The wind was 25 knots from the east, so we didn’t stay long before we were tired of being blown away and were getting wet from the salt water spray that filled the air.
At the park office building the staff had put out several sugar feeders for the Bananaquits. These are small black and yellow birds that feed on nectar or sugar. I put a teaspoon of sugar in my palm and had as many as six birds eating out of my hand at once. These little guys dip their long beaks in the sugar and either lick it off or share with another bird by rubbing their beaks together. We saw them on the nearby hibiscus flowers dipping their beaks down to get the nectar like a hummingbird. Bill thinks I should try and train the hummingbirds in our yard to eat out of my hand when we get home. I can’t imagine!
We still had our map of the park’s hiking trails from last year. We decided on Thursday to walk some of the ones we hadn’t already walked. The map was very deceiving. The trails start on one beach and go to the next beach. What the map doesn’t show is you have to walk over lots of very sharp pointy jagged rocks before you get to the next beach. I hate the sharp pointy rocks! I also saw a snake, only a small harmless brown snake, but a snake is a snake is a snake to me. Bill left me on the last beach we reached and went back overland for the dinghy then returned to retrieve me saving me from the return trip. In the shallow water on our way back to the boat we saw several live conchs. Since the park is a no take zone we left them alone. Besides I have already found two large perfect conch shells that were empty.
During the night the wind shifted to the south making our mooring at Emerald Rock rocky. We decided to move south to an anchorage with better protection even though south was dead into the wind and waves. Motoring into a 20 kt wind is not my favorite way to spend the morning. Before we left we had the good sense to bring the dinghy on deck. It was a smart move because we had no islands upwind of us, and the waves were surprisingly large. The chart showed moorings off the marina dock at Sampson Cay, but they are gone allowing us to anchor in about 7 to 8 feet of water tucked deeply inside in the very pretty harbor. Several nurse sharks attracted to the fish cleaning station on the marina dock cruised below our boat casting their shadows across the bottom. The spot was perfectly protected from the rough water outside, so we had a restful calm night.
Over the VHF radio the staff at Sampson Cay announced that they were having a beach BBQ party from noon to 7pm on Saturday. We needed to get some diesel, and I needed a pair of flip flops. We went ashore to check out the party and get fuel and shoes. For Christmas I got a very nice pair of mesh and leather water shoes. They looked like the perfect shoe for hopping out of the dinghy into the water and walking the beach protecting my feet from the sharp rocks. Wrong! The water drained out of the shoes but left all the sand behind. The sand then rubbed my feet raw. I would rather have flip flops. Unfortunately, what would be a $1.99 pair from Target were $30 in the Bahamas! I now have a pretty pink pair of expensive flip flops. Getting diesel was another adventure. There seemed to be a dispute brewing among the several large motor vessels waiting for space at the fuel dock – too little space and too many boats. Bill talked to the dock guy and decided not to move our boat over to the dock but rather bring our three jugs in the dinghy and fill our fuel tank in two dinghy trips. Unfortunately, before Bill could get back for the second 15 gallons a motor boat came in to get 1300+ gallons. We had to wait until he was through. The captain on that boat, which I won’t name, was a prime example of the unlikeable American, all mouth and money, issuing commands to anyone and everyone within earshot while refusing to do the simple things he was asked to do. I waited on a chair in the shade of the porch outside the store while Bill was filling the diesel jugs and learned quite a bit. The reason for the beach party was to allow the restaurant to be closed all day for a large group. The NY Yacht Club was bringing in 12 boats for the night and had requested a private dinner for 39. The staff at Sampson Cay had ordered and prepared tons of food and drink. Remember everything has to be brought over from Nassau by air or by boat. It turned out only 3 boats showed up! Two boats were already in the marina that morning and the third finally came at 8pm. Granted the last one could have had 39 people on board; it was that large, but I never saw them. All this reminded me of Watauga Lake Sail Club events and trying to get a head count beforehand! Sampson Cay Marina has houses for rent too. This would be a lovely place for a real get away vacation. We walked all over the cay, spent some time at the beach party and had another restful night.
We left Sampson Cay on Sunday morning and sailed south for Staniel Cay. While the wind was still from the south, this time we were able to sail in two tacks, first to the southwest, then to the southeast. I guess I should explain what sailing on the wind in 20 knots was like. The boat was heeled over (leaned) about 40 degrees, one side was nearly underwater, and the waves were coming over the bow and washing down the deck with only the canvas dodger to keep them out of the cockpit. Going below to the head (bathroom) was a real exercise. Toilets were designed to be level, not leaning 40 degrees forward! Every time the bow went underwater, I was pitched off the seat and out the door. Think of a sailing movie where the boat is really moving along. Ever wonder why the scenes never include the toilet? Anyway it was only about 8 miles or two hours, so it was manageable.
Staniel Cay has several beaches and the famous Thunderball Grotto, a sky lit underwater cave where the James Bond movie, Thunderball, and Disney’s Splash were filmed. The day we arrived was not a bright sunny day because a cold front was passing to the north of us, so we put off snorkeling and walked around the settlement instead. We went out to the airport, just a landing strip and a gazebo for a terminal, and walked down several of the lanes in the village. While we have been told that the winter had been unusually windy and cool and that the Abacos were both windier and cooler than the Exumas, spring here has been near perfect for us - highs of about 80 and lows of maybe 70. Now, if the wind would settle down a bit.
Yesterday we had lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, my first conch burger of the trip, and went walking on the nearby beach. Bill and I found a dozen or more sand dollars just in a minute or two by digging in the shallows with our fingers or toes. I left them behind, remembering that I am only taking great things, and I already have sand dollars at home. At slack low tide we went to the Thunderball Grotto. It was beautiful. We swam in through its main entrance ushered by a school of Sergeant Major fish. The interior was lit by sunlight streaming in through holes in the limestone roof. The floor of the cave was covered with different varieties of coral and loads of fish. Both of us swam completely through the cave and out another entrance on the other side of the island. It was spectacular. I was just floating along with the current and the fish, watching the sea fans when Bill asked if I was heading to Cuba. Swimming the other way back through the cave was a little hard as the tide had changed and the current was against us. After a short dinghy ride we were back in Irish Eyes’ cockpit in time for an evening G&T as the sun set behind Big Majors Spot. Not a bad day at all.
This morning Bill discovered that we had a leak in our propane system. This was a priority and something that had to be fixed NOW. He worked on it all morning, and he thinks it is fixed. I hope. We planned to go to Club Thunderball for their Tuesday evening “All You Can Eat Pizza and Pasta Supper with a Movie”, but alas, “Da mail boat didn’t come today”, so we went over there for a couple of drinks instead and enjoyed supper on our own boat. Such is island life; one disappointment after another.
Tomorrow may be Bitter Guana Cay, a protected iguana habitat, then the Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay to do laundry and buy some fresh vegetables, or then maybe we will just go around to Big Majors Spot and see the swimming pigs. So many things to do, so little time. Miss you all and wish you could be here too!