Thursday, February 3, 2011

Under da Sea…Staniel Cay, Bell Island, & Cambridge Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

Saturday, January 22 – Friday, January 28, 2011

Author’s note (Feb. 2): Happy Groundhog Day! We hear that Phil is under so much snow and ice that he refuses to make an appearance. We’ve seen the reports of record snowfalls and cold temps in the States, and hope everyone is keeping warm and safe. We’re currently in Warderick Wells, headquarters of the Exumas Cays Land & Sea Park, and one of maybe three spots that offers internet access between Nassau and George Town. We’ve had a chance to Skype our families and update the blog. We’re now trying to catch up with e-mails (yep, especially the ones that have been sitting in our in-boxes for over a week)…such is life without internet!

We stayed in Staniel Cay for a few extra days after taking Geoie to the airport, mainly to watch the NFL playoffs at the Yacht Club’s bar. Hey, it’s not often we get to watch cable television – we’re feeling spoiled! We crossed back over to the west side of Big Major’s through the tiny cut in the coral (this time at slack tide), and grabbed an anchorage spot ahead of the pack near shore. We spent Monday morning exploring Staniel’s grocery options, having better luck at the “blue store” (as opposed to the pink one) than at the larger Isles General. Apparently the delivery boat comes on Fridays – a good thing to know for next time. We left Big Major’s at 2pm for the 2-hour trip up to Bell Island, known for its proximity to some fantastic snorkeling sites. Bell is a private island (as are most of the cays in the Exumas park), but there are a number of protected anchorages around the perimeter. Our spot on Bell’s eastern shore worked fine the first night, but rolling waves knocked us about the second night. Chris Parker’s weather-net warned of a front (possibly with 30-50kt squalls) coming through on Wednesday, and we knew we had to find a better anchorage. We decided to go exploring on Tuesday with the idea of checking out anchorages near Compass Cay. Not so fast… the waves began beating us up as soon as we rounded the northern side of Bell Island, and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we got to the southern tip of Cambridge Cay. We managed a quick dinghy run past Little Halls Pond Cay (Johnny Depp’s Bahamian hideaway) and a cruise past the new mooring field off Cambridge; we just couldn’t safely get all the way to Compass, and decided Cambridge Cay would work well enough. Wednesday morning we meandered around the Bell Island shoreline to Cambridge Cay. There was plenty of room between the moored boats and the tiny cays to the west, and we prepared to drop the hook next to LA and Susan on Genesis. Rene barely got up to the anchor pulpit before a couple in a dinghy came racing towards us: “don’t even waste your anchor. You CANNOT anchor here!” Huh?! The park rules say that you can anchor near a mooring field as long as you don’t interfere with someone using the mooring ball. We were nearly 200’ from the field, but this couple – who were acting as volunteer “hosts”, collecting mooring fees and providing park information – apparently decided to change the rules. The “hosts” were even ruder to LA and Susan when they reached Genesis, threatening to call the warden if they didn’t move immediately. The single remaining mooring ball was unprotected and directly in the path of the coming squalls, so we and Genesis back-tracked to a cove on Bell Island’s eastern shore and settled in for the night. As much as we tried to forget about the experience at the mooring field, the “mooring Nazis” really left a bad taste in our mouths. Moorings became available later that day, but we weren’t about to give them the satisfaction!

We took advantage of calmer winds on Thursday and donned our snorkel gear for a trip down to the Rocky Dundas. The Dundas are two massive rocks southwest of Cambridge Cay, one of which has two caves that can be explored in calm weather (preferably at slack low tide). We had an easy dinghy ride from Bell to the Rocky Dundas, but really didn’t like what awaited us there: high water had covered the cave entrances, and waves that would’ve pushed us against the iron shore. Not giving up on our snorkeling adventure, we headed for the southwestern shore of Cambridge Cay. The Exumas park guide said there was good snorkeling in the protected cove, but we decided to investigate the reefs nearer the inlet via a sandy path that crossed the island. After weaving through brush and palm trees, we found ourselves on a secluded beach. A shallow reef began just feet from the beach, and a larger reef filled with stag-horn coral stands lay a few hundred yards northward in the crescent bay. A few small fish greeted us on the shallow reef, but the real treat came once we swam over to the stag-horn coral reef. We saw tons of parrot-fish, wrasse, blue tangs, and even a barracuda, and the coral formations were impressive. After lunch we jumped back in the dinghies and headed north to the Sea Aquarium near Soldier Cay. Amazing! The Sea Aquarium is like being in a giant fish bowl, where sergeant majors and tangs wait just under the surface for you to join (or maybe feed) them. We saw a family of queen angels, grey angels, parrots of various colors, and a multitude of other fish. We stayed until our fingers got numb (even with our wetsuits, it got cold!), and promised ourselves a return visit on the southbound trip.

For now, we’re heading north again on an outside run to Shroud Cay. The last thing we heard from our friends on Storyville and Anchor Management was that both boats were headed for Allan’s Cay at the top of the Exumas chain. Since we haven’t had internet access for nearly a week and the weather hasn’t exactly been great for cruising, we’re guessing that they’re still somewhere in the vicinity. Hopefully we’ll get in VHF range soon!

Pictures for this blog may be viewed at

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