Northern and Central Exumas
11 February 2019 | Little Bay - Great Guana Cay
The week of January 21 did prove to be too windy to make the crossing and to take advantage of the beautiful Exuma Park so we stayed put in Rock Sound Eleuthera until Saturday the 26th. On Friday we went in for sunset at the Wild Orchid restaurant on the beach and learned that there was to be the first "Fish Fry" of the season on the beach near there. So we had a good time with other cruisers on the beach after dark at the Fish Fry put on by the locals,which featured a big plate of food, fish, chicken or pork, and beers/drinks and music for a great price. Prior to that during the week we finished up the legal brief Donna was working diligently on and I took the opportunity to do some boat/engine maintenance. So that Saturday, the 26th we headed out of Rock Sound Eleuthera with about eight others for various points in the Exumas. Our destination was the center of the Park at Warderick Wells Cay and had arranged to be on the list for a mooring ball via email on the previous day. The trip across was mostly uneventful, much of it motor sailing as the wind was nearly dead astern. Towards the end it picked up to near 20 knots so jib alone worked well until we made the entrance at Warderick Cut. We knew we might encounter a rough entrance since the tide had already turned to ebb and was opposing the building winds, so we made ready for a wet ride. It turned out to be not bad, but steep standing waves were building. Several other boats made the entrance an hour or two later and had much wilder conditions to contend with, but all made it in OK. The wind filled in and held at 25-30 with squally conditions for most of the afternoon, which was not expected. We were able to grab the mooring pennant in the narrow horseshoe shaped mooring field there at Warderick Wells, but just prior the boat attempting to grab the adjacent mooring was not so lucky and was quickly swept aground on the sand bar maybe one boat length away. Fortunately this was quickly remedied with the help of a park boat with powerful engines and we were all happy to be secure for the high winds during the rest of the day. The usual Saturday sunset beach get-together had to be postponed until the next day due to the squalls and rough conditions for dinghy travel in the anchorage.
The next days at Warderick Wells in the Exuma Park were great. We did all the hiking trails around the island including dinghy trips to the various beaches taking many pictures along the way. The get-together on the beach on Sunday afternoon was a fun event and another chance to meet other cruisers. We spent five days here and is really the highlight of our trip so far. Thursday (Jan 31) we left the beautiful crescent shaped mooring field and headed north to Shroud Cay at the northern most end of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. Here we were anchored with a half dozen other boats and went for a long dinghy ride to the north as the tide came up in order to catch a trip up a shallow winding waterway through mangroves to the east coast of the cay. There we arrived at the pristine beach near the remnants of Camp Driftwood up on a close by hill. The place has an interesting history and was once occupied by a lone sailor back in the 60's. There are plenty of descriptive web references, here's one: http://turftosurf.com/what-happened-to-camp-driftwood-shroud-cay-bahama/ Though we'd been here on our last trip in Jan 2017, we enjoyed it once again. And the site has been thoroughly cleaned up and brought back to nature, with the exception of a park placard that explains the history at the top of the steep hill. The surrounding beaches are beautiful and the boat ride through the mangroves was fun. The next day was very breezy and squalls came in overnight with lots of rain through the following midday (Sat, Feb 2). By the next morning, the dinghy had six inches of water in it, the most rain we've had since leaving Florida, and maybe for the whole trip so far. More rain came in overnight but cleared by sunrise.
After three days here we headed out early for points south and the southern end of the park. The two entrances to Cambridge Cay have tricky winding routes through sand bars and coral heads so is best done with good sunlight and a bow lookout. We entered via the northern route this time, going west and north around Bell Island then south and east of Cambridge Cay to the Park mooring field there and were settled by 1300 (Sun Feb 3). This is another incredibly beautiful and protected anchorage and is "administered" by volunteer host boats that stay in the area for weeks to a month at a time to welcome cruisers with park information, get them situated as needed, monitor status of the moorings and collect fees. It has about 12 very solid moorings, three of which are reserved for the larger power yachts that can make their way through the entrance passage. When we arrived they were less than half occupied. It makes sense to take a mooring in here since the currents run through at a pretty good clip so that boats generally lie to the current rather than the wind, making it awkward to be lying on top of ones anchor rode half the time. And besides that, there is a fee for anchoring in the park anyway, so might just as well spend the money on the well maintained mooring ball. So we also stayed here for three days and nights of relatively calm weather. It was perfect for snorkeling at a site called "aquarium" that lives up to its name being dense with fish and corals. It's a great hike across to the east and to the beach by bell rock and along the rugged high coast to the north from there for great distant views. The next day conditions were just right for a dinghy trip south to "Rocky Dundas", a pair of high islets with amazing caverns entered by snorkel at low tide. There are great fish and corals here too, but the cave entrances face east to the deep Exuma Sound so a day with minimal swells is needed to be able to do this without injury. We were lucky to be able to do this again, as we did on our last trip, and it is just so unique inside with sunlight coming in from holes in the ceiling. After the cavern exploration, we dinghied off to a snorkeling area off of a beach on the south side of Cambridge Cay just off the cut. This area had a wide field of elkhorn corals much of it no longer alive, but still actively growing other creatures and plentiful with fish. Some areas still had quite a bit of new elkhorn growth that reaches to just below the water's surface at low tide and creates pockets and valleys where hundreds of fish, some in big schools, find shelter. Our third day at Cambridge Cay was spent on two hikes ashore. First to the sound end where we followed a level sandy trail through a jungle of mostly short palm trees--a type of palm that seems like a miniature version of what we are familiar with in that they never seem to get bigger than about 6 or 8 ft in height. It may be a type of palmetto, but has a smooth longer trunk like its larger relatives. The end of that trail arrives at the beach where we were snorkeling the previous day. In the afternoon we went for another short hike starting from a shallow bay at the northwest end, crossing to a beach on the north side by the entrance cut and around a salt pond just inshore of the beach. That evening the folks from the host boat for this area of the park (m/v Privateer) organized a get together at a sand spit of an island at sunset. This place had many broken up flat rocks that people had stacked into cairns and other creations that made it unique. It was a fun event and always nice to visit with other boaters who are here for the same reason, to enjoy the beauty of nature in this unparalleled spot.
On Wednesday (Feb 6) we dropped the mooring early so as to exit via the south route at high tide then sailed with genoa alone the short distance to the Staniel Cay area. We anchored off Big Majors with about fifty other boats, a very popular spot. We stayed there for two nights and made the long dinghy trip to the settlement at Staniel Cay several times. There we walked the small town a bit and picked up some groceries from one of the very small stores there. We also couldn't resist a fine dining experience at the Yacht Club there, which lived up to expectations. That involved a long dinghy ride back to the boat on a very dark choppy night, but well worth it. On Thursday the 7th we caught up with new friends we had met in Great Harbour Cay sailing here from Norfolk, so was fun to share stories again. The next day we rolled out the jib for a short sail south to Black Point and anchored just off of the dock for the Laundrmat there. This is the best and most scenic laundry in the Bahamas (or maybe anywhere) and we could not miss the chance to take care of that chore and enjoy a few more restaurants there in town. There we met a couple that were from the Wilmington area and both had recently retired from careers in chemistry, so similar to our experience--to meet them for the first time in this remote outpost was a real coincidence. From there we moved a few miles down the coast of Great Guana Cay to a favorite protected spot of "Little Bay". We've sat out high wind events here on the last trip and wanted to be set for a few days of high winds once again. About twelve others had the same idea and even in the high winds, one can get to windward to a great beach and walks across the narrow island to the pounding surf on the east side. Things should simmer down by tomorrow or so and we'll be on our way south once again.