28/01/2011/9:52 am, Warderick Wells, Exuma Land and Sea Park
It is 7 o'clock ion Friday evening. We are sitting in Madcap's cozy cabin with beeswax candles burning on the table, Murray McLauchlan on the stereo, and a pan of vegetables and sausage roasting in the oven. Jim is reading; I am writing. We could almost be in Nova Scotia! Oops - no. Not with what we've been doing in our daylight hours.
The Exuma Land and Sea Park has varied opportunities for volunteering, and we hadn't taken part in the program before. We were a little worried that it wasn't happening any more after chatting with friends, but when we asked, Darcy said it all depends on whether there is a staff member available to assign tasks and supervise ... and the mooring balls needed cleaning. "Would you like to do that?" "Sure!"
We signed the paper absolving the park of any liability if we hurt ourselves, and promised to show up on Thursday. Unfortunately, Darcy didn't mention that the volunteer day starts at 9 am, so when we showed up at 10, she looked over her glasses at us and then looked at the clock and said, "You were supposed to be here at 9!" Oops! Talk about feeling like truant children. We begged both ignorance and forgiveness and said we'd work extra hard.
With brushes in hand, we headed out to prove ourselves worthy of the task, and set to work cleaning the yuck and guck and growth off the balls. It was a two person job - one to hold onto the line and help pull it up so the underside is exposed, and one to scrub. It was a good day for it - many boats left in the morning so the balls were empty and available, and the sky was overcast so we didn't burn up in the sun. We took turns at it, and over the course of the day cleaned over 30 balls. By 4 o'clock, our hands were tinged with greenish orange, our shoulders felt they'd had a workout and we had bits of greenery all over our shirts. But we were proud!
Pasta tossed with pesto and cheese, salad (made with the last piece of romaine lettuce and the last half of a green pepper in the fridge) and a nice glass of red wine in the cockpit restored us to health.
The water was dead calm and although we could see lighting in the distance, we thought the possible squalls had passed us by entirely until around 10:30. At that time the skies opened up, the wind picked up and we rocked and rolled for the next few hours. At least the salt got all washed off the boat!
Over dinner on Thursday evening, we had both remarked that it seemed a shame to be leaving the next day without ever going snorkelling or hiking in this perfect place for both. We had planned to take advantage of the NW wind to go over to Eleuthera, but it didn't really take much convincing for us to change our minds on Friday morning. The N to NE winds forecast for Saturday should be fairly light so even if we didn't get a good sail, we wouldn't be heading into big seas.
I got the last few posts up on the website, we packed a backpack with water, granola bars, camera and sunscreen, hopped in the dinghy and headed for Beryl's Beach at the south end of the Emerald Rock Bay. After pulling the dinghy high up on the sand and anchoring it securely, we trekked up over the rugged iron rock and down again from one beach to another: Loyalist Beach, and Cockle Beach and Alive Beach and then Bush Basher Beach from where we crossed up and over the cay to the ocean side, coming down into the little grove called Pirate's Lair.
I always love this spot, where pirates came ashore after hiding their ships in the beautiful and secure little bay between Hog Cay and Warderick Wells Cay. Looking at the grove with its natural well of sweet water supplied by the freshwater lens under ground, and where non native plants grow from seeds dropped from the bedrolls of these storied seafarers, it is so easy to imagine the raucous gatherings that must have been held here.
Just a few steps further and we broke out into the sunshine and powdery sand of Capture Beach where we sat to eat a snack and watch a boat come through the narrow passage to the mooring field. Not a skull and crossbones in sight, although I did find this pirate lolling about in a swing improvised from fishing net and sturdy line!
We walked north along the ocean side of the cay, marvelling at the dozens of shades of green and azure and teal and turquoise of the water, and the rugged terrain underfoot. After spotting the old stone wall, still standing from Loyalist Days, we followed it back across to Beryl's Beach and home again.
The boat was rocking and rolling in the swells from the NW wind, so we downed a quick lunch and set off again - this time in bathing suits and snorkelling gear. The air was chilly but the water warmer, and the water was calmer over by Radar Rock. Jim saw a couple of beautiful spotted Eagle Rays, and there was the usual collection of gorgeous coloured fish and interesting coral. We spotted parrot fish and trigger fish, shy little lavender ones that seemed to be rubbing their noses against the sand, wrasses and snappers, and a huge nassau grouper sitting absolutely still under a coral overhang. One of these days we are going to have to get wet suits, because we were content for about half an hour before we had to crawl out and wrap ourselves in towels.
So here we are back to where I started this post - at the end of a totally happy couple of days. Tomorrow we leave. Off to Rock Sound, Eleuthera ... I think ....
26/01/2011/9:39 am, Warderick Wells
We had planned to do some snorkelling and more exploring on Tuesday morning before heading down to Norman's Cay, but the weather forecast made us think we'd do better to get going early and go all the way to Warderick Wells. There were supposed to be SE winds on Tuesday, winds clocking through the N and chances of squalls on Wednesday night.
So, with plans to come back here again, we pulled the anchor that was well and truly buried, and headed out again. We thought maybe we could have two great days of sailing in a row but that was tempting fate! It worked at first - we sailed well under main and Yankee until we got to the Lighting Bore waypoint but then we had to point closer into the wind. The winds that we thought were to be E 17, stayed pretty much between 20 and 25. As we had to turn more and more eastward, we pulled in the Yankee and put out the staysail. Then we turned on the engine and motor sailed, bucking and banging in the rollers and whitecaps. Eventually we had no foresails out at all - just the main to help steady us as we slogged on. After such a lovely start, it turned into a long rough crawl eastward.
To make things even less comfortable, our GPS started cutting out. We saw a US military ship sitting off the edge of the Park boundary and wondered if it might be scrambling the signal. We've had that happen in Maine and New York. We have also had spotty signals going into Halifax harbour in Nova Scotia, but never here. However, as the miles passed and the problem continued, we decided that couldn't be the problem. We got out the Garmin hand held, and Jim turned on the back up GPS at the Nav station down in the cabin. Fortunately the auto pilot kept working most of the time because it was really hard to hold the boat on course manually in the head on swells.
We never could set a course straight toward Warderick Wells so we jigged a bit this way and jogged a bit that way and finally fought our way out of the wind and waves into the protected mooring field at Emerald Rock. Then it was like Old Home Week!
Connie (Oz) had called the park office to reserve us a mooring. Nancy and Jim (Solitaire) were in their dinghy holding the pennant from the mooring ball. Vic (Whisper) called to welcome us as we came in. Peaches (Star of the Sea) called to invite us to Happy Hour, and by 5:30 we were sitting with Ken and Connie (Oz), Jan and Karl (White Pepper), and Chris and Peaches in Star of the Sea's spacious cockpit - all of us talking excitedly about the sailing, the weather, the plans for the season.
The Old Home Week feeling continued on Wednesday morning. We chatted on VHF with Stu (Georgia E) but didn't get to see him because he left for Cambridge before we dinghied over to check in at the Park office. Once the checking in was done and I had a quick look through the shelves of book to trade, and the stacks of rental DVD's, we motored up along the line of boats in the north mooring field until we came to Passages. We climbed on board to have a chat with Karin and Ed, and left an hour or so later to make our way back. But first, of course, we had to stop for a chat at Star of the Sea, and then at Oz, and then we spied Penny and Hal in the cockpit of Volantis, so we stopped there for a while. Next was Whisper and of course we needed to tie up there for a good chinwag and handful of Purity Crackers straight from Newfoundland! By the time we got home, it was 4 hours later and we had just enough time for Jim to do some trouble shooting (unsuccessful so far) on the GPS and me to have a swim before cleaning ourselves up and going over to join Nancy and Jim (Solitaire) for Happy Hour. Their cockpit was full of rousing conversation with Micky and Beth and Rusty and Joy (Slow Dancin') and Linda and Ken (Escapade). Wow! What a sociable kind of a day!!
To top it off, the wind stayed calm, and the possible squalls went somewhere else. We could see lightning flashes in the sky to the North and East but nothing right over us at all. The sky is absolutely full of stars and we have the gentlest of rocking. For this particular day, life is good. Very, very good.
24/01/2011/9:37 am, Ship Channel Cay
Oh what a day! The wind was pretty much straight out of the East when we got up in the morning. The dinghy was already loaded. The sky was clear. We listened to Chris Parker, poured steaming coffee into thermal mugs and hoisted the anchor.
For the first hour, as we headed from our secluded little anchorage on the west side of Meeks Patch to Current Rock we motor sailed, but after making the slight turn to Fleeming Channel, the main and the Yankee did the work. We were on a gentle broad reach for the hour it took to Fleeming, and flew through the channel at 9.7 knots! (This is an astonishing speed for us!) After altering course for Ship Channel Cay, we fairly flew along on a beam reach under 20-22 kn wind all the rest of the way. We were heeled over enough to have our feet braced; the waves parted on Madcap's splendid clipper bow and we had the side panels up to protect us from wild splashes of spray. This is the angle of sail and the velocity of wind that our good ship Madcap truly loves.
I always find myself a little frightened when we first get into that position of sailing fast - with lots of wind and lots of sail - as we heel over and then rise up again. Jim and I talked about going through a similar range of feelings. It takes a few minutes until I stop clenching my teeth and relax my hold on the wheel or whatever I'm clinging to. And then it changes - I remember to trust in my boat and I start to watch what happens instead of thinking about what might happen! And that is the difference. My body relaxes, I start to feel the thrill of movement, I notice how wind and waves and boat all work together. Sometimes it is gusty and we go over and up and over and up, but this was a special sail - steady wind, steady angle, steady speed.
We blew into Ship Channel Cay around 2 o'clock, about 2 hours earlier than we had figured. The water was plenty deep right up to the shoreline and we dropped the anchor just about where the little anchor is on the chart, ate a late lunch and toasted our fabulous day. Then we were into the dinghy and off to explore. We saw many coral heads scattered around, inviting us to have a look, but it was coolish and we stayed in the dinghy. The ruins of a stone house stood on the hill overlooking the anchorage, with stone steps leading down to the water's edge. Rusty slashes of colour showed where there must have once been a dock, but now we could see no way up. Around at the bottom of the cay, a cluster of houses are a base for the same Powerboat Adventure folks who take tourists to Allens Cay to see the iguanas. A dog was barking on the dock and we decided not to go ashore there. A very protected little anchorage in that area would be a good shelter for shallow draft boats - but not for us. North from the boat, we found a tiny beach but no interesting shells. A sunny day here with time to snorkle would be terrific. Here's hoping for tomorrow morning!
Back on board, I was sitting in the cockpit reading when I heard the noise of chain rattling. I looked up with great surprise to see a Catamaran anchoring just a boat length or so away. (I must have been really concentrating on the book because I had not seen it coming at all.) Jim and I were both amazed and annoyed that in this big bay with a mile of space on either side, this boat chose to sit practically on top of us. It would have been a perfectly acceptable distance in Marsh Harbour or Georgetown, but here?? I considered it downright rude, but Jim preferred to say it was "inappropriate anchoring etiquette". (Smile here!) In the end, it didn't affect us terribly much - it was just irritating. It was dusk and we went about eating dinner and listening to CBC's "As it Happens" in the cockpit, and then went to bed. Fortunately the wind didn't shift over night so we didn't swing into each other.
Except for the "crowd" at the end, it was just the kind of day we dream of - a fabulous sail and a safe anchorage at the end of the day.