Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shroud, Warderick Wells, & Staniel Cays, Exumas, Bahamas

Monday, January 17 – Sunday, January 23, 2011

Please help us welcome our very first boat visitor of 2011! Geoie is one of our friends from our Rowdy racing crew in Texas, who also joined us for the Galveston-Veracruz race in 2008 and our Texas-Florida crossing in 2009. This was his first trip to the Bahamas, and we wanted to show him some of the out islands and all their rugged beauty.

We made the trip from Norman’s Cay to Nassau on Sunday and got a slip at the Nassau Harbour Club. We found ourselves docked right next to Alice and Steve on Ocean Star, another Kemah couple we’d met on Norman’s Cay who also know our friends Deana and Troy from Storyville. Geoie flew into Nassau on Monday, and we gave him the grand tour via the city’s bus system. We saw parts of Nassau that most tourists don’t get to see, and finally hopped off in downtown Nassau near the straw market. What a difference a week makes! Having been down here with LA and Susan the previous week when the market was filled with cruise passengers, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was this time. There weren’t any cruise ships in port on Monday afternoon, and many of the shops and stalls were closed. We walked around a bit looking for an Indian restaurant that had been recommended by a marina neighbor (it turned out to be closed as well), and finally ended up at Senior Frog’s on the waterfront. It was a total tourist trap, but a fun one! We wandered to the bar to a row of thong-clad stools (we’re not talking footwear here), and enjoyed a selection of local bevvies. (Stacy’s mango and Nassau Royal frozen daiquiri was the hands-down favorite!) Soon after, a waitress began pushing a stall around the restaurant offering freshly-made guacamole…how could we refuse?! The party soon began in true Senior Frog’s form, with drinking contests, karaoke, and shooters. A corporate group on a boondoggle kept us all entertained, and we ended up staying through dinner. We were back on Pipe in time to prep the boat for a series of approaching squalls, and were quite happy to be securely tied to the dock when the 30-knot winds came through.

We planned for a busy week of sightseeing and moving around since Geoie was leaving Friday morning. We convinced him to get a flight out of Staniel Cay to allow him to see more of the area, which meant we could hit a few islands on the way south. Tuesday morning we left Nassau to meet up with Genesis on Shroud Cay. We had an easy trip motoring thanks to winds on the nose, and Susan had dinner waiting for us when we reached the anchorage (what a sweetheart!). We dinghied through some beautiful mangroves on Wednesday morning and arrived at a beach facing the Atlantic. The currents raced through a small cut to a sand bank, and swimmers were floating through the chutes. After watching LA ride the chutes, we all hiked up to Camp Driftwood and its gorgeous 360-degree views of the area. You can’t imagine the incredible colors that stretch from the beach to the reef and the ocean beyond; as LA said, “it’s like a blue rainbow”. We jumped in our dinghies and followed the shoreline around the north side of Shroud Cay to the Atlantic-facing beaches. The scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and we wished we had brought along picnic lunches and towels for some serious time on the beach…alas, no time! Instead, we returned to the boats by 1pm for the 3-hour trip to Warderick Wells Cay, but promised ourselves we’d come back to Shroud for more quality time.

Warderick Wells Cay is home to the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, a 176-square-mile marine sanctuary. The park offers mooring balls for a fee, and you can only reserve them a day in advance. Someone from the park comes on the VHF at 9am daily to let you know whether a mooring is available for you. It’s a popular spot, and there’s often a lengthy waiting list. Susan was able to get us on the list, and we were lucky enough to get two moorings side-by-side for Wednesday night. We arrived in the park around 4pm and went ashore to take advantage of what little time we had there. We hiked to Boo Boo Hill, an overlook filled with pieces of driftwood that have been decorated with boat names and left by cruisers over the years. The path continued on to Boo Boo Beach, a small patch of sand with nothing between it and Africa but thousands of miles of ocean. We stuck our toes in the water and barely made it back to the boat before sunset. LA and Susan joined us aboard Pipe for grilled steaks, potatoes, and home-made key lime pie, and 11pm rolled around before we knew what had happened.

Thursday morning Rene dug out the snorkel gear and he, Geoie, and LA tried to snorkel the coral gardens near the park HQ building. They’d been warned that the current was incredibly strong there, and it made hovering pretty much impossible. Susan and Stacy borrowed a two-person kayak from the park, and paddled out to meet up with the guys. We were hanging onto one of the dinghies when the kayak began to heel to starboard; before we could stop it, we were soon rolling into the water! Geoie and Rene helped Susan get into the dinghy, and Rene stabilized the kayak long enough for Stacy to climb aboard. She stayed on for about 30 seconds before the damn thing rolled over again. It turns out that there was a crack in the shell that allowed water to seep inside; with the kayak shell full of water, there was no way to keep it upright. Stacy, Susan, and the kayak moved over to the dinghy with LA, and we tried to tow the kayak back to shore. Simple, right? Not so much… The kayak flipped over a few times and even went stern-up at one point (picture the scene in Titanic when the ship breaks in half and the back of the boat sticks out of the water…only with a pink kayak instead of a cruise ship). We finally made it back to the beach, drained enough water from the kayak to muscle it back on its rack, and got back to the boats for the 18nm trip down to Staniel Cay.

So you know that old saying about “when pigs fly”? Well how about “when pigs swim”?! Brandon and Carryn (Sol Mate) had told us about swimming pigs in the Big Major’s Spot anchorage near Staniel Cay, but we were having a hard time believing we’d actually see it. Consider us believers, because we weren’t anchored for more than a half-hour before we saw a couple in a dinghy approach the beach and two massive spotted pigs come running out to greet them. You’ve GOT to be kidding! We jumped in our dinks, leftover pineapple in hand (we’ve heard the piggy’s like treats), and zoomed to the beach. Another dinghy was already there with a couple and their two kids, but the pigs were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly the pigs came racing down the beach into the water, swimming right up against the other dinghy to the delight (or maybe horror?) of the kids. We became an item of interest when we threw the pineapple into the water, but found ourselves shunned when the pigs turned their noses up at the pineapple. (Granted, it wasn’t very ripe – which was why there was any left from our own breakfast!) LA and Susan soon joined us with baby carrots. Those were more successful than the pineapple, but weren’t received quite as well as the bread from a third dinghy. These pigs are finicky!

LA and Susan joined us for a final dinner with Geoie on Thursday, and we woke up early Friday morning to get him to the airport on Staniel Cay. He had had such a great time so far…if only his vacation could’ve ended as well as it had begun. When Geoie and Rene reached the airport, they were told that the airline couldn’t find his reservation and the flight to Nassau was full. Nooooo! Geoie was able to buy a ticket on the afternoon flight, but it would mean his missing his connection back to Houston. Without any alternatives, Geoie and Rene came back to Pipe – only to learn that there was a westerly blow coming through and that we had to move the boat NOW (we’d passed high tide and were losing water to get through the shallow cut to the new anchorage). With Stacy at the helm, Rene headed to the bow to pull up the anchor…and dropped his walkie-talkie. It floated for a couple of seconds and then went glug, glug, glug down to the bottom. Noooo! Okay…something to ask Mom to bring down when she visits. Reverting to hand signals, we got the anchor up and followed Genesis through a very narrow cut on the north side of Big Major’s. It was nearly two hours past high tide and the current was ripping through the cut. We were doing 8kts as we passed through the 40-foot-wide opening, jagged coral heads seeming dangerously close. On the plus side, we were in the protected anchorage between Big Major’s and Little Major’s in under 15 minutes – much faster than if we’d gone around the south side of Big Major’s and past Staniel Cay. It took us a few minutes to find a good anchoring spot, but we finally found a sandy patch that allowed plenty of swinging room between us and the other boats. Genesis wasn’t so lucky, and re-anchored four times before finding a better spot on the north side of the island. We dinghied in to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch and some internet, with the intention of taking Geoie to the airport after lunch. We’d just ordered our burgers when we heard an unknown voice calling Pipe Muh Bligh over the VHF. Never a good sign. Wouldn’t you know, with opposing current and wind, we were “sailing” on our anchor. We managed to get within a few feet of our neighbor boat and they understandably got nervous. Rene tore off in the dinghy back to Pipe, and Geoie and Stacy rushed to finish lunch and get Geoie to his 2:45pm flight. We made it by 2pm, and couldn’t understand why there were no other customers there – or even a plane – at 3pm. Island time, mon! What they didn’t tell us was that the plane actually made three stops en route to Nassau. Depending on the loads, Staniel Cay could be the first stop…or the last. Apparently the rest of the passengers knew this, because golf carts full of people began arriving around 3pm. The plane finally showed up after 3:30pm, and Geoie was on his way. We feel absolutely awful that he had such a tough time getting home, and hope he can eventually remember the good parts of his visit!

We had a bit too much excitement on Saturday night. The big storm finally came through with high winds and rain, causing everyone in the anchorage to keep a sharp eye on the distance between them and their neighbors. One boat drug around 10pm, first getting its anchor caught on one boat’s chain, and later brushing up against a trawler in the back of the anchorage. Air horns were blaring to alert of dragging, and the “drag-ee” (aka the trawler captain) could be heard on the VHF talking about his injuries following the collision. It’s always a little scary to be involved in a dragging incident, and we were fortunate to be out of the line of fire this time.

After hiding out between Big and Little Major’s for the blow, we’ve returned to our anchorage west of Big Major’s Spot for another night. We’ll likely head north again on Monday or Tuesday – back to Shroud or Warderick Wells – before another blow comes through on Wednesday. We’re hoping to connect with Storyville and Anchor Management this week (they arrived in Nassau last Thursday), and will spend some more time exploring the central Exumas. Til next time!

P.S. Enjoy more pictures here!

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