Our time in Highbourne Cay has come to an end and it is time to continue our journey south. While we don’t know precisely where we will ultimately stop and turn back to the North to the US of A, today we plan on heading SSE about 30 miles to Warderick Wells. And stay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea park for awhile to hike, snorkel and take in the sights.
Start: Highbourne Cay Marina, 0730
End: Warderick Wells Cay, Emerald Rock Mooring field, 1320
Total Distance: 32.25 nm
Average Speed: 5.5 kts
The forecast is winds from the East at 10-15 with gusts up to 20. And as per usual, the forecasters got all of it exactly wrong. Which was OK on this particular day. The winds stayed from the Northeast and were at 15, no 10s. And gusting higher. The waves in the sound were only a foot or two, the sun was up in the sky; it is a great day for a sail. Our destination is the Exuma Land and Sea park; at 176 square mile area set aside as a marine protected area. It is 22 miles long and four miles on either side other Keys. The deal is that you can’t take anything out of the park and must take out everything that you brought with you. No fishing allowed in the park, so a lot of fish in the reefs. There looks to be plenty to do, so we will spend some time heading south and hiding out from the weather.
We slip out of our slip early and with ALMOST no problems. I was a bit quick on the throttle backing out of the maze in which they had placed us and didn’t notice that Jan had yet to throw off the line to the dock–it had gotten stuck. No panic and no problem–line got off and we headed out into the glorious blue water and threw up the sails. And for one day and one day only, all went well and we got everything up without any issues. Engines up. We are sailing. Like really sailing, clipping at 7 to 8 knots. It was a gorgeous day. The plan is to go a very short distance as the crow flies (maybe 15 miles), but 30ish miles when we have to account for the various shoals, rocks and other things that make a sailboat go boom against the bottom. The wind would favor us up until we made the last turn and then we would be into the wind and the waves.
The first two thirds of the trip is great. But then we have to make our turn towards the morning field. The waves are bouncing us pretty hard as we start to make the turn so we decide to tack back and maybe get a better angle. Which didn’t work so well. Waves were definitely less, but we were way off our line. So we brought in the sails and tried to motor closer. Which was terrible. So we threw out the genoa and tried to motor sail. Which was horrible. So we brought everything back in, pointed straight towards the morning field and bounced.slowly.into.the.winds.and.waves. We got some work to do on sail planning.
We arrive in the mooring field with no issues–Jan and AJ stick the landing. There are six boats in the morning field and we can see that at least four of them have KIDS ON BOARD! Holy cats, we have hit the mother lode.
We go check in at the office, pay our fee for two nights, find out that there is no cellular coverage other than at the fire box by the office, get the maps for the trails and snorkeling sites and then head back to the boat. Quick lunch and we hop in the dinghy. There are about five kids on shore and we are going to go check it out–AJ is going to get some quality kid time.
Or AJ is going to find out what the word ‘irony’ means by a practical demonstration. For instance, let’s pretend you have been on a small boat with only your parents. For nine months. You have seen very few kids along the way, but are promised ‘kids soon,’ and ‘kids in the Bahamas.’ And then you get to the Bahamas. And here is an island full of children. And we get onto the island and it turns out they all speak French. Because their parents are from Quebec. Apparently Canada empties out in the winter (because who wouldn’t want to leave in the winter) and everyone heads south. In packs. And this particular pack speaks French.
AJ looked like someone took away his birthday, but damned if the young stud didn’t take it well, or at least make it look good. We hopped in the dinghy, motored over to a random beach and went on a hike up to BooBoo hill. Booboo hill is one of the highest points on the island and legend has it, is haunted by the souls of a lost ship. What it is covered with are the hand panted signs of boat names from visitors at Warderick Wells. That is the ONLY thing you can leave at the park, and it brings (one assumes) good luck to your journey. We left our sign and headed back to the boat for some dinner.
Day 2 at the park. And we get an early rise so that we can snorkel in the main channel at slack tide. By the time we get breakfast done, find all our snorkeling gear, clean up and get ready to go, we have missed slack tide; it is going out and at a non-trivial clip. But we have a rope that we attach to our dinghy to grab onto (instead of floating out into the big, bad, Atlantic) and we spend an hour or so bobbing over coral looking at fishies. Then we moved to Emerald rock and a mooring ball to snorkel over another coral head–this time without any current.
Part of the goodness of this trip is what we learn about ourselves and about each other. For example, we have learned that AJ is calm under pressure. Or oblivious to danger. When we got to our second snorkeling spot on Friday, AJ hopped in the water, Jan close behind. Jan was on the other side of the boat when AJ calmly said ‘hey mom, come look at this.’ She paddled over next to AJ, looked down and then she shot straight up out of the water and lunged into the boat. Then calmly but firmly told AJ to “GETOUTOFTHEWATERRIGHTNOW!!!” and AJ shot out of the water and into the boat. I put on my mask, stuck my head over the side and there was a shark. I did try to get my go pro out and take a picture of the shark, but the picture was ruined by the amount of feces floating in the water from at least one of our crew messing in their shorty suit. AJ assures us that is was a Nurse Shark, the vegetarian of the shark family. But he calls EVERY shark we have seen a Nurse Shark, even when we see two different kinds of sharks that are OBVIOUSLY not the SAME! Which means one is a meataterian.
Nurse shark or not, we move to the next coral head. No sharks. Pretty fishies. It is fantastic.
Break for lunch then in the afternoon we head on our dinghy back to the front of the island. We meet a Mike and Kristina and their family who are also on a PDQ36. They have FOUR children plus parents, and that makes six people on their boat; consequently I’m nominating them for ‘saints of the year’ award. Of course, they could have started off with six kids, in which case, I rescind my nomination. We found the place where we could get one lonely little bar of internet, got our weather forecast, and then headed back to the coral heads for more snorkeling.
We hit low slack tide perfectly. We were three feet closer to the fish and we weren’t drifting. There were quite a few boat full of people out paddling around and one dude got very excited and motioned his buddies over. We figured why not and headed over to join the scrum as well. I had my camera out and was recording something and caught a moment of what he was yelling about on camera. Two sharks swimming along the bottom.
I have attached a picture of the sharks which is really all I got. I blacked out a bit and when I came to, Jan and AJ had dragged me to the boat. Apparently I had done a manatee1, I rolled over, emitted a high keening sound, crapped myself and floated away on the current. Sharks, seeing this display, were so disgusted, they passed on by our group. And really there was low chance of us becoming shark food. First, they were relatively small. And second, they would have first gone after the jack wagon who was swimming towards the sharks with a go-pro selfie stick in hand, going for the closeup.
After that excitement, we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow we continue the adventure in the park, heading just down the water to Cambridge Cay.
1When we were in Great Harbour Cay, we saw two Manatees in the marina, the meeting of whom we recounted in our blog. What we did not talk about was the bathroom habits of the Manatee.
While we were following the manatee down the dock, we watched as one of them turned over on to its back and went to the bathroom. On itself. In a big way. Which drew groans from all of us on the dock. And which started a conversation about why the manatee rolled over before dropping his (it was a ‘he’ according to the workers in the marina) load into the water. Jan and AJ contended (perhaps correctly) that he was rubbing against a piling and either the timing of his bowel movement or the pleasure from that back rub caused the discharge of waste into the bay. My hypothesis was that this is part of the manatee self preservation. Think about it from the perspective of a shark. You are swimming along, apex predator, hungry for something big to eat and here comes a manatee. Big. Slow. Probably not bright. Food to tide you over for a week. As you go in for the kill, you watch the manatee roll over and poop on itself. Do you really want to eat that? Sushi with a side of feces? I think not. A brilliant strategy.