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Madcap Sailing
In and Out of the Water
12/02/2008/9:45 am, Warderick Wells

We've spent our time both in the beautiful water and on the rugged land in these last few days. We've gazed at fish and sea creatures and coral, and birds and lizards and trees.

I had one of those peak moments this week - the kind that we can remember forever in living colour and say "Ahh, that was just perfect!" We joined up with Sandi and Steve and Mike (Kathy would rather be ON the water than IN it) and went snorkeling up past the North Anchorage - on Kathleen's Reef near Turnabout Beach. The snorkeling there was short lived because the current was just too strong to be comfortable - we misjudged the slack tide - so we swam back to the gorgeous little beach and just sat in the water or floated around and chatted. The beach was tiny and crescent shaped, ringed with layers of limestone/coral rock with a few palmettos ringing the top. The sand was white and soft, and the colour of the water was that brilliant, transparent aqua that we see so much of here. It looked just like pools try to look. Inside the curve of rock, there was no current. The water was so salty that it was easy to float around in it without effort. The sun was hot enough to make the water feel delightful. The conversation - as always in this group - was interesting and lively.

I think what added up to "perfect moment" was the fact that all my senses were engaged, both body and brain were working, and I was in a place of exquisite beauty.

(I used the pronoun "I" in this bit because peak moments are personal, and we each have our own. This one was my particular one, although I expect we'd all say we had an enjoyable time!)

We dinghied next across the bay to another reef, and snorkeled slowly along the coral heads there. Jim and I missed seeing a largish shark - maybe that's a good thing. We spotted a nurse shark (harmless) before we went in and we figure the feeding must have been good there. Three of the group saw the big one cruise by them and according to Mike, they all popped their heads out of the water and said, "Did you see that?" and kept their eyes scanning around from then on. Fortunately he was not paying any attention to them.

In the afternoon, we all went hiking the trails from the Headquarters across to the Sound side, along the beach and up to Boo Boo Hill and the blow holes. Boo Boo Hill has gathered a reputation as a spot where cruisers place signs made of driftwood with their boat names carved or painted on. We had fun spotting those left by friends. It is also a spot that some say is haunted by spirits of boaters lost on the reefs, although the singing may well be an imaginative hearing of the wind through the blow holes. These are holes in the rock where the wind rushes up from below as the waves crash in. Jim and I will try to go back there when the wind is up to experience a more dramatic demonstration.

We paused to watch several good sized rays float just off the bottom as we passed over a small bridge. They are so graceful. We've seen a turtle nestling just under a ledge, and the usual astounding array of colourful fish darting about.

Among the birds we've seen are the Bahamian mockingbird - a little browner than the ones we've seen elsewhere, and beautiful little bananaquits. We spotted a brownish, sparrow type bird with bright yellow patches on its tail - I need to look that one up. Curly tailed lizards and ones with long blue tails scurry out of the way as we pass, or come looking for food when we are picnicking! There are lots of signs describing the plant life and how it is adapted to this dry salty environment. It is a very fine thing to have this park with its emphasis on letting nature take its course.

We reached our dinghies just as some heavy raindrops were starting to fall and made a rush back to close the hatches. We usually close them before we leave - but not that time, wouldn't you know? We were lucky because it was a flash shower and was over before we got back to Madcap.

Monday the water was a little rough so we kept our dinghying to the southern end of the Cay - beaching it on Rendezvous Beach and hiking up to the point overlooking the Emerald Rock anchorage, and then along several trails to end up over on the Exuma Sound side of the cay. There, we were able to really feel the difference a hill makes. While we were quite comfortable in the lee of the cay, the wind was howling on the opposite side and we could feel the salt spray while we were 300 meters away from the shoreline. It was awesome, and we were sure grateful to be snugly tucked away - also grateful that there is such good weather forecasting. We knew this front was coming a full 5 days ahead so we could easily plan to be in a safe spot for it.

Our mooring in close to shore at Emerald Rock was better protected in this particular wind direction (N) than the anchorage up by the Park Headquarters, and was certainly better than the moorings farther out. We chatted a couple of times with Princess and we were noticing wind speeds 5 - 8 knots lower than they were. That hill blocked off most of it.

The wind grew stronger and shifted eastward overnight, and while we could hear it howling and we moved around some, we weren't uncomfortable. Still no rain to speak of so our water tank didn't get replenished.

It looks like we are here for another day or two so we'll do some more exploration on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
Beth - Weather: 80's F, high 20's C, humid, sunny, winds: SE 10-15kn building to SW25-30 Sunday night
11/02/2008/9:36 am, Warderick Wells

We arrived in Warderick Wells on Thursday after a motor sail down from Hawksbill. We'd love to have just sailed, but once again energy consumption (and wind direction, although we could have tacked out further and then back in again) dictated the procedure.

We had heard many reports about the beauty of this cay, and it truly is a wonderful place to spend a few days. The North Mooring field near the park Headquarters is like none I've seen before. It is a crescent of sand with moorings on both sides. We are south of that - in the Emerald Rock area and we like it just fine there too. It's a longer dinghy ride to the office, but there are beaches and trails nearby and the protection is good.

We hopped in the family car - aka dinghy - and went over to Princess for happy hour. It's our great luck that Sandi and Steve are here too, and along with Mike and Kathy (Sapphire) we feasted on the usual astounding array of snackies that turned into dinner. Steve conjured up some of his famous "Dark n' Stormies" and made converts of more of us to this rum/lime/ginger beer concoction.

On Friday morning we embarked on a jaunt by dinghy to the southern part of the cay and then hiked overland to the South Anchorage and the Pirates Lair. It's a great little hideaway and didn't take too much imagination to picture the great ships tucked away out of sight in the anchorage and the pirates with their mats and bottles gathered around in this clearing under the trees. The remains of the old well are still there, and though the tallest of trees are gone now, the clearing in this dip of land still has all the feeling of a lair.

We continued on up the rocky coastline - stepping gingerly on sharp coral to the next trail head and back along Beryl's trail to the western beach again - with a short stop for a cooling dip along the way. The men went for another hike to retrieve the dinghies, while Kathy, Sandi and I waited and chitchatted on the beach. The water was too shallow for the dinghies to come in that far so after a reasonable interval we waded out to deeper water to wait. We laughed at the picture we cut - three women with backpacks standing thigh deep in the water for about 20 minutes. We didn't attract any interest from the anchorage though because no one came over our way to see if we needed a ride.

Saturday morning was catchup time on the internet. A connection costs $10. for 24 hours, although the tower must get turned off at night because we've had no connection after 8pm. The sun was high and the water warm when we headed out to snorkel in the afternoon. We spotted several huge lobsters again and some Nassau groupers that would have fed us all. The fish are much larger here in the park - I guess its clear evidence that somebody is doing some successful fishing in other areas.

I took a hike up to the ruins of the old Davis plantation, and waded back along the coral edge to the beach, just in time to put together a snack to take to the cruisers gathering on the beach. It was BYOB and a plate of snacks - the Park provided the ice and a bonfire. Jim and I both had fun reconnecting with cruisers we've met before and some new people. There were lots of comments on the bits of produce many of us still have in our fridges - a couple of carrots, a half a cabbage, maybe an apple. It has been a while since any of us have stocked up, and will be another few days before we have the opportunity. In hindsight, I wish I had bought more in Spanish Wells.

The mooring balls have been steadily filling up as the front moves in. We had no trouble securing one when we called on Wednesday. We're on E21 and for boats under 40ft, the price is $15.00 per night. It is possible to anchor outside the mooring field in this bay.

It's HOT these days 29 degrees - and the humidity is high - We have to use our water somewhat sparingly since it will be another few days till we can get more. So what we have is used for drinking, personal cleaning, and the once a day dishwashing. I run a rag across the floors to get rid of some of the salt stickiness once in a while, but real showers and boat cleaning will have to wait. I do have one large jug of purchased water stored away for emergencies. Jim says we are on our last jerry can of gas for the generator and dinghy too. These are the things that will dictate our next stops.

In the meantime, we have lots of trails left to walk and coral heads to snorkel over. The stars have been absolutely amazing and it is easy to sit for hours under them, soaking in the absolute stillness and vastness of the sky and sea. Such restfulness is good for the soul.

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More Little Moves: Shroud and Hawksbill Cays
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.

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