Exumas, Here We Come!

Exumas Day, Exumas Day! Today was finally the day! We woke up early that morning…mostly from excitement, but Troy would say it was to get out at high tide. We would be crossing the Yellow Bank, a shallow expanse of water between New Providence and the Exumas that is littered with coral heads. Crossing the bank at high tide meant that we would have the most water beneath our keel to avoid the coral. So, with that in mind, we took the dogs out to do their business just as the sun rose and began preparing to depart our slip at Palm Cay Marina. We untied the lines, said good-bye to wi-fi (and the friendly staff, of course), and we were on our way.
We were scheduled to arrive at Allans Cay in under five hours; the trip was just shy of 30 miles. For our first time crossing an area with known large coral heads, we weren’t taking any chances. More than likely, we’d be fine since our boat has a shallow draft and we were crossing at high tide. In any case, as we approached the bank, Troy made his way to the bow and I took the helm. The plan was for Troy to keep a lookout for coral heads and guide me as I steer through any potential hazards. Before we left for our trip, we picked up a set of two-way radios, and I’m glad we did. Over the wind noise, we wouldn’t have been able to hear each other, unless we wanted to shout like lunatics. We backed down to about 1500 rpms, just enough to give us time to dodge a coral head, if needed. Just like crossing the Gulf Stream, the Yellow Bank was not nearly as scary as I had made it out to be in my head. Troy easily guided me a little to the left or a little to the right to pass coral heads safely. They were not too difficult to spot. Every so often, a dark mass appeared in the jewel-toned blue water. Soon, we were passed any potential hazards and the first cays of the Exumas came into view.

We picked Allans Cay as our first stopping point in the Exumas. This wasn’t the first of the Exuma Cays, but it was one of the first places that many cruisers stop on their journey south…plus there are iguanas! What is known collectively as “Allans Cay” is actually made up of three small, separate cays: Allans Cay, Leaf Cay (aka Iguana Beach), and Southwest Allans Cay. These three cays are arranged closely together in somewhat of a triangle shape, with a channel in between.

As we entered the cays, we did two things, almost simultaneously. First, marveled at the absolutely stunning scenery (endless shades of crystal clear blue water, white sand beaches, palm trees, boats anchored and swinging lazily in the breeze). Second, we had to decide where we were going to drop anchor. Most boats anchor in between Allans Cay and Leaf Cay. Southwest Allans Cay has a little shallow bay, where only two to three shallow draft boats can fit. There were about six to seven boats in the main anchorage, but the little bay was empty. That was our spot! Slowly, very slowly, we inched our way in as shallow as we could manage. The further in we crept, the shallower it became, but that also meant more protection from wind and sea swell. We dropped the hook in about six feet of water, at about mid-tide. Once we shut off the diesel, Troy and I just looked at each with big dopey grins…we were finally here!

Our anchorage was picture perfect: Salty Tails sat in the middle of the shallow crystal-clear bay surrounded by land on three sides. Two sides, opposite to one another were rocky with shrubs and low trees growing on top, the third side was a white sand beach…one that we had all to ourselves! However, we did notice a few iguanas poking around; surely waiting on handouts of fruits and veggies.

We dropped the dinghy soon after we recovered from our Exumas arrival shock. Ginnie, Bella, Troy, and I were off to explore the cays. The water was calm that day, so we were able to go wherever we pleased. Ginnie took her typical spot on the bow of the dinghy, paws stretch over the side and her face as close to the water as she could manage to reach. Bella instead, opted to lay on the floor, her eyes barely open, enjoying the warm sunshine. Troy and I poked around each of the cays, taking note of where we’d like to go ashore in the next few days.

Through the weekend, we spent time soaking up every minute…enjoying our typical taco night, swimming, sunbathing, and exploring by dinghy.

On Saturday, we ventured over to iguana beach (Leaf Cay). We went empty handed, just to observe, not to feed. Part of me hoped that if the iguanas saw our hands were empty, they’d keep their distance. Thankfully, they were pretty slow moving and didn’t seem too interested in us. They did however, let us snap a few close-ups.

The iguanas on Leaf Cay were enormous! And, they were everywhere. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said we saw at least 50 iguanas: either lounging on the sand, sleeping on rocks, or scurrying around the shrubbery. We noticed that what got their attention most were the loads of tour boats that came in. Many giant center console boats packed with tourists would arrive throughout the day, offering handouts to the iguanas. That is probably why they weren’t too concerned with us: we didn’t have the goods! In the next few days, I did hold on to a few apple cores…and tossed them from a distance.

The weather remained calm and placid over the weekend, we enjoyed every moment! This could not have been a better first stop in the Exumas!
Next stop…Normans Cay.

Overnight, Dragging, and Rum

We said goodbye to the friendly faces at Brown’s Marina and began the first leg of our trip to the Berry Islands. We left ahead of Delphinus en route to Mackie Shoal. It was a beautiful day; the winds were light, the sun was bright overhead, and the water was crystal clear. The depths, which averaged 20 feet, appeared much shallower since we could see straight to the bottom. We moved along at 4 knots: definitely not racing speed, but we enjoyed the calm, smooth sail. We arrived at Mackie Shoal just before sunset. Expecting to drop anchor in depths less than 10 feet, we actually found much deeper water and turned out not to be quite the shallow safe spot we anticipated. Since Delphinus had hailed us on the VHF a few hours before to let us know that they would be continuing on through the night to Great Harbor, we decided to do the same. We knew the weather was going to remain calm and winds light; and since our buddy boat was somewhere nearby, we wouldn’t be alone. At our current speed, we’d arrive at Great Harbor just after sunrise. I was nervous, Troy was excited…for our first overnight, the weather was in our favor, so it gave us a good first opportunity. As the sun faded, the moon seemed to take it’s place. We were close to a full moon and the clear skies kept our path well lit.

We ate a quintessential “sailor dinner” that night: rice and beans. And later on, when I was trying to stay up and awake, I made homemade chocolate chip cookies…we “accidently” ate most of those throughout the night. Oh well. Neither of us slept in the cabin, instead we took shifts. One of us took the helm while the other catnapped on one of the lazarettes in the cockpit. The dogs slept just fine, but for us, sleep was difficult to come by, not because the waters were rough or uncomfortable, but because this was our first overnight! We were feeling constant excitement and anticipation. Darius Rucker’s new song, “For the First Time” has really spoken to me lately. In it he asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Ummm…now! Everyday, actually! We reached our anchorage in Great Harbor and dropped anchor around 7:00 in the morning. After sorting a few things, sweeping up cookie crumbs, and waving to Delphinus upon their arrival, we crawled into the v-berth to get some sleep.

We planned to stay in Great Harbor for a few days to allow strong north winds to pass; we had good protection in an anchorage with about six other sailboats. The winds began to howl on day 2. We sat in the cockpit that afternoon and began to notice that very slowly, we were falling back in the group of boats. That could only mean one thing: the anchor was dragging. We hopped in the dinghy (Ginnie pitched a little fit that she wasn’t able to go for a ride) and rode out to check. Troy dove down on the anchor and since the bottom was grassy, it had not dug into the seabed. He picked up (all 55 pounds) and manually set the anchor, digging it passed the grass and into the seabed. After that, we had absolutely no issues, although we still slept with one eye open.

Our last night in Great Harbor was spent aboard Delphinus. Paul and John invited everyone in the anchorage over for drinks. We brought along some snacks and rum to share. The stern of Delphinus was a dinghy parking lot! Thank goodness dinghies are rubber inflatables, otherwise the bumping would have caused some traded paint! Everyone found a place to tie off and climb aboard. As we all trickled in, everyone gathered in the salon. We spent hours eating, drinking, and sharing plans, experiences, and stories. The cabin was such a melting pot: Canadians, Brits, and Americans. French was spoken and we even learned some British slang. As the night wore on, the rum was passed around…we ended up writing a song…but I’ll spare you the details.