Super Duper Snorkeling
20 February 2008 | Cambridge Cay
With Pat and Sean onboard, we departed Staniel Cay on Tuesday morning for a couple of days at Cambridge Cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. It was an exciting couple of days too.
On the up side of exciting, we enjoyed some of the best snorkeling ever. The rocky islet next to where we anchored had a fine little reef that we explored on our first evening. We saw several of what we think are lionfish - those interlopers to these waters that look really interesting but are not welcome here. We have learned that they move in and gobble up all the juveniles of whatever other species is around and then move on.
Perhaps the highlight of that spot though, was the rays - one about two feet across and another that had to be five feet across. We were back in the dinghy by that time so we donned masks again and hung our heads overboard to have a good look. They are amazing creatures - they stayed so still while we gazed at them - just wafting a wing now and then. We proceeded on a sunset tour (with Captain Sean at the tiller) around the anchorage, taking a stroll along one beach and leaving a series of standing stones for the amusement of those who would follow.
Dinner consisted of BBQ'd pork chops, roasted yams and broccoli salad, washed down with wine and ginger beer. The night was calm - it was strange to see boats pointing every which way depending on whether they were lying with the current or with the wisps of wind. The mooring balls were full and there were another 10 or so boats at anchor. Jim and Pat experienced that phenomenon when the moon shines down through the clear water to illuminate the sand and it doesn't even look like the water is there at all - Sean and I were both put out that they didn't wake us up to see it!
On Wednesday morning, we breakfasted on Eggs Madcap and headed off to another beach for a walk to the Sound side of the Cay. It was a short trip across, and then a great walk along the beach - splashing in the waves, discovering a shady lounging spot complete with hammock and swing (no camera - drat!) and climbing a cliff to a fabulous viewpoint. It was from that viewpoint that we tracked a dark cloud headed our way so we scrambled back to the boat just in case that cloud brought wind. It passed south of us, so after a snack, we headed off again - this time to see the remains of a submerged plane just off the north end of Pasture Cay and the "Aquarium" north of O'Brien's Cay.
We didn't venture far from the dinghy at the plane because of the current, but managed to circle around the wreck and have a good look at it, and at the small barracuda lounging near it. We got to the area just before slack low tide, and current was not a problem at the Aquarium. The coral and sponges were lovely; the fish were plentiful and friendly. Another boater mentioned that the sergeant majors love orange peels, so we ate the oranges and fed them the peels - sure enough, they all came swarming around, but it seemed to be the yellow tailed snappers who gobbled those peels. Sean got right into the swing of snorkeling. This water is so buoyant that one really has to work at sinking and with flippers on, we all had good kicking strength. (Staniel Cay Yacht Club rents flippers for $5.00 per day.) Jim has discovered that he loves to dive down to get up close and personal with the fishes, and Pat got some fine shots on the underwater camera - we hope! As for me - I am absolutely content to float around on the surface and marvel at what lies under me as I try to identify the different species. We keep a couple of small waterproof books in the dinghy for immediate checking.
And so now we get to the "less upside" of exciting. We tried to tell Pat and Sean that we just wanted them to have the "full boating experience" but I don't think they bought it. Navigating our way into and out of this anchorage was challenging - at just past low tide each way. We took the route from Conch Channel Waypoint up around Bell Island and that all went very well - even past that little jutting out part - until we got to the north entrance into the anchorage. Unfortunately a moment's inattention on my part and also on the part of those on bow watch combined with a strong current and our slow and careful speed resulted in us going aground on what the chart accurately describes as a shallow rocky bar. It was astounding how quickly it happened - 12 feet to 5 feet - stuck.
We know our Navionics chartplotter is not accurate here, and I had the Explorer chart in my hand until I put it down to have a look at the sandbar looming up ahead. Oops!
The encouraging thing is that Bob - from Barefoot'n was at our side within minutes, and within just a few more minutes he had rallied about 8 other dinghies. All you cruisers know what happened next - we had double that number of opinions!! It would have been simple enough to just sit and wait for the tide to rise, but the incoming tide was pushing us further into the shallows, so the folks from Lady Galadriel took our anchor out and set it in sand, many dinghies pushed our bow around and with assistance from all these wonderful people we bumped and ground our way back into safe water and proceeded into the anchorage. Our crew members were most interested in the proceedings!
On our way back out on Wednesday, visibility was poor because of the cloudy sky but all went well through that narrow bit, and past the little point off Bell Island, until it came time to make the turn out to Conch Channel Waypoint between the sandbars. This time everyone was watching carefully, and we still misjudged the distance - primarily because of cloudy skies that didn't allow us to read the water. Once more, two dinghies raced to our rescue and within minutes had us on our way again.
One confidence-saving bit of information was that another boater said he was where we were at that north entrance just an hour before on Tuesday, and we passed a boat aground off Bell Island on our way back out. Without those sightings, I'm afraid I would have been about to give up on my turn at piloting after going aground twice in two days. It is still pretty hard on the ego.
What will we do next time? For the navigating part: go at nearly high tide- it allows more room for error; take very seriously the importance of sunlight in illuminating the way (the colours showed the channel just like a highway one day and not at all the next), enter some intermediate waypoints in the chartplotter. For the rest of it: See and do all the same things. Cambridge Cay is absolutely worth a visit!