Home Again, Home Again, Lickety Split
30 May 2012 | Exumas & Berry Islands
It's been several months since our last posting from the Turks and Caicos in the spring of 2012. From there, we moved quickly through the Exumas, stopping in Georgetown just long enough to clear in to the Bahamas and spend a couple of days resting on the beach savouring that glorious Bahamian water. Northward bound again, we checked out Little Farmer's and Norman's Cays, which we had missed on our first trip. Norman's was cool: once owned by a big drug dealer, it has a colourful history complete with bullet holes in crumbling walls of ruins, a rather decrepit airstrip (still in use), and a sunken airplane. The eastern side is very protected, ringed with cays offering great snorkelling and fishing, and it was fun to poke around in there with the dinghy. We anchored off the western shore in a dead calm, in water so flat that it was indistinguishable from the mist. It was fascinating to watch approaching boats slowly materialise as though they floated in air rather than water.
Our last and best Bahamian stop was at the Berry Islands: a perfect conclusion to our second cruise. During a stretch of benign weather, this cluster of cays at the tip of the Great Bahama Bank must be the most gorgeous cruising grounds in the Bahamas. It's a good day's sail over deep water passages to either Grand Bahama Island (Freeport), the Abacos, Andros, New Providence (Nassau), or across the shallow Banks from Bimini. Their only drawback is that their waters are shallow with very little shelter, and when a bad blow is approaching, it's a challenge to find either shelter or a marina. Famous (and very rich) people have homes on private islands in the Berries, and we stayed away from places like Chub Cay where the big budget boats congregate.
The first night we tucked in behind private Frozen Cay. I highly doubt that anything was frozen there, except, perhaps, the margaritas and daquiries. The next day we wandered to a small anchorage behind Devil's Cay (a curious name for a place of such beauty), delighting in waters as clear and glowing a turquoise as I imagine heaven could be. With only one other sailboat in sight, down behind Little Harbour Cay, it was easy to imagine that we each had our own private islands too. The white sand sea floor was dotted with starfish and what looked exactly like the occasional pingpong ball just 5 feet below our keel. (See picture album). They had to be eggs of some sort, but turtles bury their eggs in the sand, not just lying there underwater where they could easily be eaten, buffeted by the tide, or smashed by a careless anchor.
Casting off in the dinghy, it was difficult to choose which little cay with sugar sand beach we should explore first. We headed out the narrow inlet between Devil's and Little Harbour Cays, thinking we might do some snorkelling on the ocean side, but were defeated by the crashing surf that pounded through the channel. (We don't do rough water snorkelling in strong currents.) Back into the circle of perfect little cays that ringed Altona, we randomly chose Little Gaulding to explore. Fantastic rock formations, porous and jagged, framed dazzling white beaches that you'd think are only real in dreams or travel posters. To complete the idyll, we landed near a single perfect conch shell washed up on the sand. What a find: it was even cleaned out and just waiting for me! On White Cay, we walked the path to the ocean side, finding tiny birds' eggs right on the path. The parents valiantly tried to lure us away with the broken wing trick, making me laugh aloud they were so cute.
After a couple of lazy days in paradise, we reluctantly heeded the bad weather warnings and sailed north and west around Great Stirrup and Little Stirrup Cays where the cruise boats ferry their passengers to play on the beaches. When we see the beaches crammed with blue plastic chairs, and hordes of people lined up for water sports, we know how lucky we are to be enjoying our kind of cruising, although I do admit the food would be far superior to what I serve up in my little galley. Then it was south and east again, down to the only deep water approach to the shelter of Bullock's Harbour and Great Harbour Cay Marina. Deep water is a relative term on the Great Bahama Bank, because the depths max out at around 2.5 metres.
We loved Great Harbour Marina, and met up again with Captain Ron and Andrea aboard S.V. Endurance, our distant neighbours when anchored down by Devil's. In the Berries, it seems, even bad weather brings opportunities. Ron and Andrea introduced us to the people and places that bring them back to the Berries every holiday: beaches 5 Miles long, colourful local characters, expatriate Americans, dinghy rides through the mangrove creeks, hikes along the ocean side, and Petanque (similar to bocce ball), played with great dedication at 5:00 at the beach bar every day. It was the very best of the cruising life: breathtaking landscapes, meeting wonderful new friends, tagged manatees up close and personal as they drank from the marina hose, and the Berry Island Festival (with Junkanoo, of course) thrown in for good measure. Enough with the words: the picture album says it better.
After the Berries, the plan was to sail straight up to Jacksonville and leave Altona on the hard at Green Cove Springs for hurricane season. We had a great passage until thunderstorms drove us in at Cape Canaveral. After several days of motoring up the ICW, we put Altona to bed in 10 days of meltingly hard labour with temperatures close to 100F. Welcome back to life ashore.