07/02/2008/8:13 am, Hawksbill Cay
We made a short trip on to Shroud Cay on Monday. That put us in the park and out of hunter/gatherer mode for a few days. We tied up to a mooring ($15.00 for 39 feet and under) and just gazed around at the scenery while we ate lunch. I wish I could find the words to describe the colours - both the vivid and the subtle. This is not lush scenery - with endless palm trees and mountains. The cays and islands are mostly scrub; they are low lying; we see brilliant aqua and turquoise coloured water sandwiched between robins egg blue skies and white sand or grey coral and limestone beaches. All the land here is coral or limestone. That's it; the lines are mostly horizontal. Scrub trees grow in pockets of soil that has somehow been able to build up on the rock - small palms, broadleaved trees (that I haven't identified yet - maybe tamarind?), casuarinas.
I've been reading "Wind From the Carolinas" by Robert Wilder, and I constantly wonder what those early Loyalists must have thought when they arrived here. These were folks from the Carolinas - cotton plantation owners who received grants from England to move here. They expected to recreate what they had before and I cannot imagine what they were thinking. This is not plantation land. We walked a path to the eastern shore of Hawksbill Cay on Wednesday to the gorgeous water of the Eastern shore and the rugged slope of land edging it. Did their hearts sink when they saw where they were to live? Were they filled with determination to create the same lifestyle they had enjoyed in such a different climate? Were they excited about embarking on a new way of living? Did they see the beauty? Was there room for beauty when they were trying to find a place to earn a livelihood from the land? Did they consider any possibility other than recreating what they had before?
We climbed a rocky slope on Hawksbill to wander among the ruins of the Russell estate - circa 1785. We gazed at half walls and corners here and there - all grown over with bushes and trees. They tried to create something - the land took it back. It appears that this family left in the early 1800's, although I read later that descendents went on to do some sort of farming on the cay until the 1900's. What were they thinking? I don't know whether to admire them for trying such a difficult thing or shake my head in amazement at their foolishness.
On Shroud Cay, a couple of days ago, the Madcap and Sapphire crews took a fascinating dinghy ride through the northernmost creek that meandered across to the Eastern shore. The tide was low and we threaded our way from one side to the other to keep from stranding ourselves on the sand. Mangroves lined the edges - those low trees with exposed roots that bend down into the sand. Once we turned the last corner we were greeted by the glorious vista of blue green water lapping on white sand beaches. We spotted a couple of inukshuks marking the rough trail up to Camp Driftwood and - of course- we climbed it. Apparently it was a campsite back in the 1960's and was also used by the DEA officers to spy on the drug running operation at Norman's Cay in the late 1970's. Nowadays, it's just a simple little knoll with a view that takes your breath away. People leave bits of driftwood, shells, floats, and what have you - gifts of the sea.
On our return eastward through the creek, the tide was rising and we were able to float along without turning on our noisy motors. It was so much fun to drift with a paddle to steer now and then. We spotted a small shark ghosting along the edge. He was not at all interested in us - but Jim pulled his dangling feet up anyway! Out on the Banks again, a large ray drifted by, and we caught sight now and then of flying fish sparkling in the sunlight.
We tried a couple of sites for snorkeling but it wasn't up to what we've been used to until we found one small area of coral heads that was home to a lobster. Wouldn't you know - we found one where we couldn't capture him? He was a huge one and would have made dinner for all four of us.
We trekked across Hawksbill to the Exuma Sound side - meeting up with the crews of First Edition, Ketch'n Dreams and Mystique along the way - and played a bit in the lovely waves that came roaring in from the Atlantic.
As I write this on Wednesday night, we are at anchor off Hawksbill Cay; there are millions of stars overhead; the wind that has been blowing at 15 knots or more the last few days has dropped and we rock gently on the swell. Our generator was on for a while and has our batteries topped up enough - all is still.
We move on Thursday to Warderick Wells - home of the Park Headquarters - to spend a few days.
04/02/2008/8:03 am, Norman's Cay
We had a fine time exploring Norman's Cay - in and out of the water. We dinghied around the southern corner of the cay, marveling at the breathtaking display of colours and cays. A lone palm tree topped one little cay and I later learned that it is locally referred to as Gilligan's Island. We could identify a dozen colours of green and blue - continually shifting as the sun moved over them, and edged by white sand and grey coral. We stopped to get the lay of the land from Kelly on Kwitcherbitchin, and went ashore in search of McDuff's. It was a most remarkable little journey: beach the dinghy, walk up to the sandy road that leads kitty corner across the southern end of the cay, come to an opening in the casaurina trees and find a wide flat landing strip - still in use, then walk across it to where we hear voices, up the steps and into a beautiful bar and restaurant.
McDuff's with cheery Stefan behind the bar, Sally (Gypsy Palace) making sure everyone had what they needed, and a group of local folks discussing American politics as they perched on barstools was a real find. A plug-in to the internet was available to patrons so I made the last few postings before joining the others for hamburger platters. They were good - just like the book said they would be. Jim even spotted some McCain's French Fry boxes out by the back door! The bar is beautifully designed with natural wood all round, the main part screened and with a big porch on one side. Large wicker chairs with comfy cushions, low tables on colourful rugs, lots of candles in sand and shell filled glass vases, magazines for leafing through... all beckoned the visitor to spend awhile. There were attractive wood and tile tables and chairs for serious eating and the long L shaped bar looked to be a perfect place to perch for an hour of socializing.
The bathroom was amusing - when I asked directions, I was told, "under the green umbrella" and sure enough there it was. A fully functioning flush toilet, big sink with cold running water - all spotlessly clean - just around a corner and a step up off the sand. It had three walls of palm fronds and the fourth wall was open to the trees; I judged it wise to announce myself whenever I went there just in case...
On Sunday, we went off to do some snorkeling - and again it was the same story - beautiful sightseeing but no dinner! Mike almost got one and Jim managed to bring back one tiny little scale off a fast one. I spent my time floating around over the coral heads, marveling at the colours and at the fish that nosed around them. A large ray coasted by - just barely fluttering its "wings". We swam over and around the plane that crashed in the harbour back in the busy drug running days - the story I heard at the bar was that there were problems with the landing gear and the pilot chose a shallow spot to set down. The plane was a write off but the crew walked away - no mention of whatever was on that plane. It was a bit eerie swimming around it - and was an experience I didn't think I could ever have as a snorkeller - not a diver. A pair of flippers and a mask and snorkel open up a whole new world.
In the evening, we dinghied to the beach close to our anchorage, enjoyed a stroll and, still in bare feet, made our way along a path to McDuff's for the Super Bowl party. We weren't awfully interested in the game (we did feel a bit sorry that the Patriots lost) but we figured it would be fun to be part of the crowd - and it was. The beers were cold, the wine was served in lovely tall globes, the cracked conch had real flavour and was chewy but not rubbery. People mixed and mingled around the bar with its TV up in a corner and on the porch where another TV had been installed and chairs arranged around it just like in someone's living room. We chatted with folks we had met there the day before, Lynne and George (Ketch'n Dreams) Lynn and Peter (First Edition) arrived, and we were delighted to see Karin and Mario (Victoria) last seen in St Michaels - Maryland! The resident dogs, Salt and Pepper, moved from group to group for a pat now and then but mostly settled for curling up in their corners.
When we grew weary, the four of us said our goodnights and wandered back down the beach under the stars. We were laughing at our awkwardness because of the soft sand, when we spotted sparks under Mike's feet! It must have been something to do with friction of sand we guess - or maybe he's just a real hotfoot!
02/02/2008/4:02 pm, Norman's Cay
We sailed away to Highborne Cay on Friday, enjoying a very pleasant sail over there. When we stopped, we could still see the masts from where we started out! We're not in the "making tracks" mood here.
At Highborne, boats anchor just along the western shore. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed on the island - unless one is a paying visitor to the marina. Seems a shame to us - this beautiful beach was just ahead of us with not a soul on it and no houses overlooking it. However, we didn't push our luck by going for a walk. Instead, we dinghied to a couple of spots and snorkeled - Jim with his spear in hand. No luck on the hunter/gatherer front, but beautiful fish to look down on and fronds wafting back and forth in the current. I think my favourites are the Queen Trigger fish. Look them up to see what they look like - they're really lovely, and they have the most endearing habit of tipping sideways to focus an eye on the swimmer above them. Most of the fish take no notice - other than scurrying away if one makes a sudden movement, but those triggerfish are curious ladies. It's almost as if they are tilting their heads to get a better look - and I suppose they are; they are flatfish with an eye on each side of their bodies. They are supposed to be fair food fish but I have no idea how steely hearted - or hungry - one would have to be to ever kill one.
By sunset, there were 10 boats anchored there, several familiar ones - Celebrian (and note to Jason: Rob says Hi!) First Edition, and Ketchen Dreams among them. Kathy and Mike (Sapphire) came over for drinks and lively conversation and we laughed the night away - Kathy and I marveling at the number of stars over our heads, and the fact that we are really here.
As I was out checking the lines late one recent evening, my sarong fluttering around my calves and my shirt billowing in the breeze - millions of stars above me, and my home under my barefeet, the thought passed through my mind that if one had asked me at forty something what I would be doing ten years later, never in a million years would I have pictured myself doing this. But here I am - traveling about as co-captain on a sailboat, feeling confident and vital and interesting. How about that?!
Jim and I took a run into the marina, on Saturday morning. We picked up a jerry can of fuel - pricey at $5.10 per US gallon - the most expensive yet. I bought some milk and a package of frozen chicken at the little store (just in case this dearth of fishing continues). I took a pass on the bag of tortilla chips for $6.95 and the small bottle of balsamic vinegar for $7.95. Yikes! Either we find these at better prices elsewhere or they have become luxury foods to enjoy on trips back home. I suspect we'll find slightly better prices elsewhere. This was a pretty little marina, but the only boats there were large power yachts.
After a perfectly lovely 3-hour leisurely sail on a broad reach (wind aft of the beam - like in the stern quarter - or three quarters of the way back along the side of the boat - do all my boating and non-boating friends know where that wind was coming from?) we turned into the anchorage at the southern end of Norman's Cay. This cay was famous in the 1970's as centre of Carlos Lehder's drug smuggling operation. We'll spend a day or two exploring this area - walking the beautiful beach that sailors are allowed to set foot on, perhaps enjoying a hamburger at McDuff's, which is reported to serve the best hamburgers in the Bahamas, and making another try at catching dinner! We yearn for crawfish.