Same cay, completely different experience.

There are some people who return to the Exumas year after year. It’s not surprising given how beautiful it is, but last year part of me wondered if they didn’t get a little tired of revisiting the same cays. Now that we are repeating some of the same spots ourselves, I can see why they do it. We’ve discovered that simply by anchoring in a different area in the same cay it can be like going to an entirely new island.

This really became clear when we finally arrived at Lee Stocking. After two aborted attempts to get south of Staniel Cay (a steady 18 knots+ dead on the nose with accompanying chop had us turning back – no need to beat up ourselves or the boat if it’s not necessary), the third time was a charm on a windless day. Yes, we would have preferred to sail, but at this point we were beggars who weren’t going to be choosers.

Continue reading “Same cay, completely different experience.”

Hiding out in Pipe Cay.

The water in the Exumas is unquestionably gorgeous, and it feels like you could spend months here in a different anchorage each night. But one thing it lacks is an abundance of anchorages with good all-around protection from the wind. As a result, you will generally find yourself sharing one of the decent anchorages with a bunch of other boats. Not a big deal if nobody drags, but as we witnessed in Norman’s Cay, you can’t necessarily count on that. So with those events fresh on on our mind and another front coming in, we decided to head to Pipe Cay.

Pipe Cay was one of our favorite anchorages last year. A quick five mile hop from Staniel Cay, we decided to head over there just before high tide to see if we could sneak into the back on the northwest side of Little Pipe Cay. Last year we had seen one boat anchored there, and it looked skinny but doable on the charts.

It was a cloudy and windy morning and we were keeping an eye on a big squall heading our way as we motored over. Fortunately it dissipated before arriving, but by the time we were entering the Pipe Cay channel I was out of sorts.

Continue reading “Hiding out in Pipe Cay.”

Motoring into 18 knots when the engine dies. Great.

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Rainbow upon leaving Norman’s Cay.

We do seem to be in the midst of a streak of adventure.  Hopefully it’s almost over and I can go back to more boring posts (we swam, we snorkeled, repeat) complete with pretty pictures.

The cold front had finally passed and we decided it was time to get out of Norman’s Cay and move to one of our favorite anchorages last year, Pipe Cay.  We were down to slightly over a half tank of diesel and our reserve tank of water, so it was time to make tracks down to Staniel Cay where we could replenish both.  The plan was to stay in Pipe Cay for a few days, wait out a mild front with westerly winds, move to Staniel, and then backtrack north and spend some time in the Land and Sea Park.  Well you know what they say about plans.

Continue reading “Motoring into 18 knots when the engine dies. Great.”

It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.

After several days of traveling in sportier conditions than we prefer, we were more than happy to wait out the next cold front in Norman’s Cay.  The protection was o.k. and the holding was very good, so we spent a few days relaxing and playing in the water before the front moved in.

The cold front was predicted to arrive in the evening bring steady winds of 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40 for around 24 hours before “dropping” to 25-30 without the 40 knot gusts for another 12-18 hours.  There aren’t many good options for protection from westerly component winds in the Exumas, so as the day progressed the anchorage steadily filled until there were 23 boats that had joined us.

Boats were spaced apart pretty well so we were feeling pretty good until just after sunset when we took one last look out of the cockpit.  Where the hell did he come from?  A sailboat had parked himself a bit too close for comfort off of our starboard bow.  Hmmm.  Well, we had been there for two days and had gone swimming over our anchor earlier so we knew it was well dug in.  The anchorage had a reputation for good holding and the sailboat’s chart plotter was still on so we figured he was paying attention.  We decided to take a calculated risk by not moving.  Nevertheless, given his proximity we were going to keep a close eye on the situation.

Around 11:30 p.m. the winds really started picking up, so I got up to take a look around.  The latecomer was definitely closer and I could see someone on the bow with a flashlight.  O.k., he’s dragging but he knows it.  After nothing changed for a few minutes, Jeff shined a flashlight on his boat to get the boat name and I called him on the radio.

Continue reading “It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.”

Farewell to the Exumas as we begin to head north in earnest.

Any place after Pipe Cay was going to pale in comparison, but we still enjoyed our stop in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. We spent a night anchored at Warderick Wells before moving on to Shroud Cay.  Everyone we spoke to who offered suggestions for Exumas stops said that we MUST see Shroud Cay, so how could we skip it?

We spent two nights in a very lovely anchorage where we were able to snorkle a few coral reefs (we saw lots of fish) and we also took our dinghy up the mangrove creek to the ocean side which was a lot of fun.

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We didn’t have any fish-sighting success while snorkeling in the creek, but we did see a shark swimming in the shallows on the ocean side and a turtle in the creek as we slowly motored along. The Land and Sea Park has so many snorkeling spots that we didn’t get to see, but the pesky calendar won’t slow down.  We’ll definitely come back next season, but for now we needed to take advantage of good weather to cross back to Eleuthera and keep heading north. Continue reading “Farewell to the Exumas as we begin to head north in earnest.”

Pipe Creek. How is is possible that the Exumas keep getting prettier?

A short sail away from Staniel Cay was Pipe Creek, an absolutely stunning spot which is now my favorite place in the Exumas. As far as beauty goes, it is the prettiest place we’ve seen so far, and that’s saying something. 

Pipe Creek runs between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe Cay, and at low tide the vast majority of the water is gone, leaving sand flats everywhere.  The water ranged from dark blue to turquoise, electric blue to clear.  

We spent several days here, simply not wanting to leave.  We watched kiteboarders (who love the shallow spots), a seaplane landed in front of us, and every time the tide went out we took the dinghy and played in the water, floating in the shallow areas, drifting along, and walking around the sand flats.  

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these pictures (which honestly don’t do it justice) do the talking:

Continue reading “Pipe Creek. How is is possible that the Exumas keep getting prettier?”

Staniel Cay

 

Our next stop after Black Point was Staniel Cay, an easy, lazy 11 nautical miles up the Exumas.  With one of the few places to get diesel and water in the area, Staniel Cay was the busiest place we had been since leaving Georgetown and it was initially a little jarring.  I can only imagine how much starker the contrast will be when we return to the United States at the end of the month!  Boats ranging from regular to mega yachts went in and out of the harbor, and the anchorage was busy with dinghies of all types and sizes zooming back and forth.

Despite all of the activity, we really enjoyed Staniel Cay.  The water was crystal clear and had the most beautiful shades of blue that we had seen so far.  The pictures really couldn’t capture it.

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A return to Little Bay – and our first blowhole!

As you can probably tell, we are not dawdling quite as much as we typically do.  Even though it feels like we just got here, it’s actually been a few months and we need to start thinking about the timing for sailing back to Connecticut.  We would love to stay longer, but we also want to spend some time in Connecticut and in the Chesapeake as we go south again.  As Jeff pointed out, it took us so long to get down here that in order to get somewhat back on track, something was going to have to get cut short.

We decided that a maximum of three months in the Bahamas was going to have to suffice this time.  We’ll make up for it next season.  We need to get back to Connecticut by the end of June for doctor appointments, so as a result we’re skipping up the Exumas with an eye towards crossing back to the United States by the end of April.  However, we are definitely taking notes on where we’d like to spend more time when we return at the end of the year!

One repeat visit for us already on this trip was Little Bay on Great Guana Cay.  Looking at the forecast we were going to be getting some westerly winds in the mid-teens for half a day before the wind clocked to the northwest and around.  One thing that the Exumas lacks are an abundance of anchorages with westerly protection.  Little Bay was only 10 nautical miles away from Little Farmers Cay, and while it was open to the west, we could tuck in and get protection once the wind turned to the northwest.  Bonus points for it being a lovely anchorage and a 45 minute walk into Black Point, which is a settlement where we hoped to be able to pick up a few provisions.

We had a nice, lazy, jib-only sail of 12 nautical miles from Little Farmers to Little Bay.  Although the wind was supposed to be light, it started turning west and picking up speed as we approached Little Bay.  By the time we anchored we already had two to three foot swells in the anchorage.  Good times – not.  Tom and Anita from S/V Lone Star pulled in a few hours later and although we had planned to get together that evening we decided to postpone until the next day given the conditions.

As the evening progressed the wind started to shift, but the wave direction didn’t.  This put the waves on our beam with Pegu Club rolling side to side, side to side, around 20-30 degrees at a time.  It was an absolutely sleepless night for both of us.  I wanted to set a swell bridle but we had never done it before and Jeff didn’t want to set it up in the dark.  While in hindsight this was obviously the right decision, it didn’t make the night any easier.  Finally we both fell asleep around 4:00 a.m.  The rolling hadn’t stopped, but we were so tired it didn’t matter.

The next day Tom and Anita came over and cheered us on while we rigged up a swell bridle.  The relief from the swell was immediate, and we won’t hesitate to do that again in the future.  Tom, Anita, and I decided to walk into the settlement while Jeff opted to stay on the boat and rest, feeling especially tired from our sleepless night.  I was on a quest to buy some bread from Mama, who reportedly made the best bread in the Exumas.

Continue reading “A return to Little Bay – and our first blowhole!”

Rudder Cut Cay and Little Farmers Cay.

As we head north we are trying to sail on the shallower Exuma Banks side as much as we can so we can enjoy the beautiful colors of the water.  To get from Leaf Cay to Rudder Cut Cay we were going to need to go around the Pimlico Cays which have low water depths of under 4′ (which is less than our draft).  Additionally, the chart indicated that the sand shifted so it was possible it could be shallower.

After asking about it on a Facebook group we belong to, we were encouraged by our friends on S/V Duchess who had been through the area a few weeks earlier with a draft 2″ deeper than ours.  High tide was in our favor so we decided to go for it, and we were glad we did.  It was a nice route, and once again it boosted our confidence a bit.

Dropping the anchor at Rudder Cut Cay, we found to our delight that we had it all to ourselves.  That hasn’t happened since we left the Abacos.  We were a bit surprised because Rudder Cut Cay offered good protection from a strong front that was going to be passing through, but no one joined us until the day we left.  Works for us!

Rudder Cut Cay is a private island owned by David Copperfield.  While we weren’t allowed to walk on the beach, we were still able to enjoy one of the prettiest anchorages that we have seen on this trip.

Continue reading “Rudder Cut Cay and Little Farmers Cay.”

Iguanas!

Our first stop after leaving Georgetown was Lee Stocking Island.  After motoring out of Georgetown harbor, we enjoyed a lovely downwind sail to Rat Cay Cut.  We motored through the cut (better safe than sorry), but then switched off the engine again and sailed the rest of the way to the anchorage.

As we ghosted between cays and over shallows, I marveled at how much more confidence we’ve gained over the past seven months (wow – can’t believe it’s been that long already!).  It’s a little thing, but I’ve wanted to sail into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond for awhile.  We sailed in once with Little Bristol, but we had the outboard on (in neutral) just in case.  After this sail, I looked at Jeff and said there is absolutely no reason why we can’t sail into the Pond this summer.  We had just sailed between unfamiliar rock islands that are narrower than Block Island’s entrance.  We’ve had the skills for awhile – we just lacked the confidence.  Now we KNOW we can do it.

On our way to Lee Stocking Island:

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Dropping the anchor at Lee Stocking Island, we were joined several hours later by our friends from S/V Lone Star and their guests.  Over the next few days we enjoyed nightly card games on Lone Star, floating on our noodles in the beautiful water, and exploring the abandoned facilities on the island.

Lee Stocking Island was the home of the Caribbean Marine Research Center which was one of six National Undersea Research Centers affiliated with NOAA.  The facility was one of the most productive marine laboratories in the world until it closed due to funding cuts in 2012.  All of the research buildings and residences remain, along with an airstrip, slowly being reclaimed by nature.  It was eerie walking around in what was essentially a tiny abandoned village.

Continue reading “Iguanas!”