Home stretch in the Land and Sea Park…Hawksbill and Shroud Cays

20180604_115930After Warderick Wells, we headed north to Hawksbill Cay. We were anticipating winds out of the west, but nothing too strong…we’d take another mooring and ride it out. “Ride it out”, we said… “It’ll be fun”, we said. WRONG. The afternoon we arrived, it was calm and peaceful, just as it had been our first time. I got a workout in on deck and Troy made Ginnie’s day…with an impromptu dinghy ride. That evening as the sun started to set, we took the dinghy for a spin and explored the waterways nearby. Great night…calm, gentle rocking, comfortable. That was the end of that. The next day, winds increased out of the west; we didn’t experience anything mind-blowing, maybe 10-15 knots. It was just enough to get the waves rolling in. Since we were completely exposed from the West, that day and the next 48 hours were pretty much like hanging out on a roller coaster. You don’t want to know how many f-bombs were dropped. Don’t get me wrong, we were totally safe on our mooring…it was just beyond annoying! One of the nights, I bet we didn’t get more than one hour of sleep. We ROCKED and ROCKED and ROCKED. Each wave rolled through, jostling the boat as we laid on the settees in the salon, staring out of the companionway, hoping it would slow. Instead, we had quite a show: we got a glimpse of the stars through the companionway…then they’d disappear…then a view of the stars again…and they’d disappear, and on and on and on. We continued to ride up and down the waves throughout the night. It is funny…as I began to write this blog, I went looking for pictures to add…but there aren’t any; I guess we weren’t really in the mood to capture those turbulent moments.

The next day was my birthday and we decided to make the best of it. Troy was such a trooper…he was determined to turn our time around. It felt like we were at a theme park, so why not top it off by swinging from the halyard? Troy rigged up our whisker pole and the halyard to serve as a swing. We lowered the life-lines and went for it. We spent a few hours swinging like monkeys and crashing into the water. The waves were still rocking, but it made for a fun entry!

Later that afternoon, I decided it was finally time for a haircut. I hadn’t had a haircut in months and months…with all the swimming, salt water, and wind, my hair tangled so easily, and it was long! I enlisted Troy as my stylist. Last time we had a cell signal, I googled “how to give a haircut” and screenshot the directions. Maybe this wasn’t the best time, with the boat rocking and all, but what the heck? Why not? I think Troy was more nervous than I was; I promised not to get upset, no matter how it turned out. I sat down on the lazarette and Troy sat behind me, scissors in hand. Snip, snip, snip…Troy did great! No bald spots, no zig-zags, just a nice even cut. Three inches chopped off…awesome!

20180806_150421Finally, we headed north eight miles to Shroud Cay, the last island in the Land and Sea Park. We were the only cruising sailboat in the mooring field, but we chose to anchor anyway. We were surrounded by mega yachts, but still felt as if we were in a secluded spot since we were able to get much closer to shore than those deeper-draft vessels. By the time we settled in for our first night, the waves finally relaxed and so did we. Sleep…we needed it, and we got it!

One of the best-known features of Shroud Cay is the mangrove trail through the interior of the island. We didn’t get to explore the cay when we headed south back in March, so we were excited to check it out. The trail must be explored at high tide since places dry out completely. It was cloudy, but no rain in sight so we were nice and cool. It was a rising tide when we headed into the trail.

20180606_145726The setting was beautiful! The trail was about 15-20 feet wide and was so clear and calm that it felt like we were flying on top of a water highway. Even underway, we could see tiny fish swimming through the water among the mangrove roots. The trail opened wide and we were now in a vast open space of shallow water. A little too shallow through, we putted along until we skimmed the bottom. Then, we took turns walking and pushing. I wouldn’t rather get stuck anywhere else! As we pushed along, we were checked out by several baby lemon sharks. Seeming curious about who was in their territory, their fin skimmed the top of the water towards us and at the last moment would turn and head back in the other direction. This happened a half dozen times in the shin deep water.

20180606_13592320180606_14542420180607_132914After a few days of peace and exploring, we departed Shroud Cay and headed straight for New Providence Island. Skipping the rest of the northern Exumas, we made the 42-mile trip north. Extremely overcast and severely lacking wind, we tried our best to sail, but ended up motoring as a last resort.

Luckily, we dodged any rain showers and approached the coral-head filled Yellow Bank as the clouds parted. We were very thankful for the sudden onslaught of sunshine and heat. Visibility increased so that we could spot the coral heads. Just like last time, we were going to spot from the bow. I grabbed our 2-way radios, passed one to Troy and I took the other one with me up on deck. At the helm, Troy opened our track on Navionics and planned to follow along our path from last time. We figured that since we passed with no issue back in March, we should take the same route. I still kept watch out on deck, taking a seat on the bow rail and calling to Troy when we approached coral. The sun was brutal…I scurried back to the cockpit to grab Troy’s giant straw hat to give me some shade. As expected, we cleared the Yellow Bank with no issue.

20180608_155823Soon, the southern end of New Providence came into view.

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.