Cambridge Cay and Warderick Wells

Just 14 miles north of Staniel Cay is the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Waiting for us there are restful nights of sleep because, well…mooring balls. We made the short hop to Cambridge Cay. On our way, I pulled lines out of the lazarette and set them up on deck so we were ready to grab a mooring. We have a few specific lines that we use for moorings, that we’ve equipped with some homemade chafe protection (aka cut up water hose).

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From the southern end of the cay, we carefully approach the mooring field. The entrance narrows with shallows and rocks on either side. We come uncomfortably close to the rocks on our starboard, but that’s where the deepest water is. It’s a funny thing when we’re purposely bringing our boat that close to sharp, jagged rocks, but we made it through with no problem.

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We stayed a few days in the park, and like the last few anchorages, the mooring field was much less crowded than our visit back at the end of March. Then, all mooring balls were in use (about a dozen of them, plus some vessels anchored) and now no more than five other boats were moored.

We spent most of our time in the water snorkeling and exploring the nearby cays. Our dinghy got a workout here. From the mooring field, we traveled to O’brien Cay, Soldier Cay, Halls Pond Cay, and Little Halls Pond (Johnny Depp’s Island). One of our favorite things to do is exploring by dinghy. We love finding hidden coves, sandbars, and snorkel spots.

Along the south side of O’brien Cay, we slowed the dinghy down, found several coral heads along the island, and decided to drift dive, letting the current carry us as we swam. We like to snorkel mid-day, if the weather is right. Because the sun is straight overhead, the visibility is best. The sun illuminates the water and creates spotlights over the coral. The colors are unreal! I know I’ve said it before, but the water is crystal-clear, like a swimming pool. We’re so lucky we get to live in and explore such an amazing place!

We made two trips to “The Aquarium”. This tiny rock island sits between O’Brien Cay and Soldier Cay. Above the waterline, it looks like any other rock…but below is a water wonderland, full of bright coral and endless amounts of sea life.

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We tied up to the dinghy moorings and hopped off the dinghy. We are instantly surrounded by fish. This trip, I brought a few Ritz crackers to crumble up for fish food. These little guys aren’t shy!

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Since we arrived at slack tide, the current is almost nonexistent. We leisurely made our way around the entire perimeter of the island. Occasionally, Troy and I would have to pause to find each other, we often slowed down to get closer looks at all the tropical fish. Out a way from the aquarium, Troy spotted a group of ocean triggerfish and a sea turtle and snorkeled to check them out. I stayed, poking my nose in the nooks and crannies of the coral, seeing what I could find.

Afterwards, we motored over and took a slow stroll around Johnny Depp’s Island, Little Hall’s Pond Cay, just west of O’brien Cay. Unfortunately, we had no star-sightings! We also made another trip to the plane wreck nearby. Out in the open, away from any island, we picked up the dinghy mooring and snorkeled the wreck. I spotted a few barracuda lurking nearby… I kept my eye on them! I think my fingers stayed permanently pruned, but I never get tired of being in the water!

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After three days, we headed 12 miles north to Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We snagged a mooring ball in the Emerald Rock mooring field…Salty Tails was the only boat when we arrived! We expected to have fewer neighbors at this point in the season, it was becoming a common theme.

We checked on our sign at the top of Boo Boo Hill…it still looked great! I was a little nervous because the salty air and relentless wind is so rough on things…it was a little faded, but intact! The hike to and from Boo Boo Hill is a short one, but the heat had really ramped up and Troy and I were both sweating, A LOT!

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The next day, was a little dreary so Troy decided to take care of some dinghy motor maintenance. He installed a new water pump and replaced the lower unit oil. For Troy, these tasks are extremely simple under normal circumstances, like in a garage. BUT, the winds picked up a little out of the west and we were rocking. Imagine lifting an awkwardly shaped 60-pound weight up from the dinghy into the back of the sailboat…both of which are moving up and down with the waves. Sheesh! Thank goodness we didn’t drop it! It was a messy job, and somehow, we both ended up oil-stained, but the dinghy had fresh oil by the time he finished!

20180603_200405We enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets of our trip on our last night at Warderick Wells. The sky shone every color of pink, orange, and blue…breathtaking! In the morning, we’d be heading to Hawksbill Cay.

Exuma Land and Sea Park, Part II

Next up in the Land and Sea Park: Cambridge Cay! Cambridge is the last major cay of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We set sail southbound and since it was a smooth ride, we decided to investigate a little “problem” we had been experiencing while underway. For the last few sails, our bilge pump would cut on and expel some water. We weren’t sure where the water was getting in, but we had our fingers crossed that it would be a simple fix. Something like that could potentially be a major issue, but since the bilge cut on only while underway and only pumped out a small amount of water, Troy had a hunch that it may be one of a few minor problems. We emptied two of the lazarettes in the cockpit, allowing us to see the hoses to our cockpit floor drains. A small stream of water (imagine a water fountain), came through a pinhole in one hose.

Since water only comes that far up the hose when heeled, it only leaked while underway. YES! We had found our problem…and it was by far the easiest fix. Troy repaired the leak: now the water would stay outside! After reorganizing the cockpit, we enjoyed the rest of our sail to Cambridge Cay.

As we entered the protected anchorage, we were hailed on our VHF radio by the mooring attendants…all the mooring balls were taken, except for a mooring ball meant for vessels up to 150 feet. Since the park operates on a first come, first served basis, we would take it until a standard sized ball became available. This was our first experience with mooring attendants. Chuck and Carmen on SV Soul Mates were cruisers who volunteered to oversee the moorings. During the months of March and April, they lived aboard their catamaran at Cambridge Cay. Chuck and Carmen were incredibly hospitable and made Cambridge Cay feel like a close-knit community! They invited us aboard their boat to tell us all about Cambridge Cay and the places to go nearby.

That afternoon, they arranged a group to ride over to Rocky Dundas, a set of caves across the channel. We immediately agreed to go with the group; how nice it was to travel together with several dinghies, a buddy system. We suited up, grabbed our snorkel gear, and crossed the channel to reach the caves. It was a bit rough that afternoon; many guides suggest visiting Rocky Dundas on a calm day at low-tide. The seven or so boats tied off to the two dinghy moorings outside the caves and bounced around like bumper cars. Thankfully rubber boats don’t leave dents! Chuck described the best approach to the caves: swim under the opening and into the tall cave; quickly get your footing and climb out onto the cave floor. On a calm day, this was fairly easy, but because the afternoon turned out to be quite choppy, we had to have our wits and swimming legs on!

We didn’t expect to see such beautiful coral on our swim over to the cave. An abundance of fish and sea fans swayed with the current; the bright sun made the colors of coral pop.

We headed through the cave opening and popped our heads up once inside. We took off our fins, tossed them onto the cave floor and climbed out before getting knocked over by the waves crashing through the opening.

Once inside, it was really a sight. The cave ceiling stretched high above head and the sun’s rays shone through the opening at the top, illuminating the inside of the cave. The cave floor, although rocky, had been worn smooth by the water over time.

The pounding of the waves echoed inside. In furthest corner of the cave, we wrote our names in the sand for good luck, a tradition we all took part in. After returning to the boats, I climbed in while Troy swam and explored the second cave with others from our group.
A standard sized mooring became available after our first night. This turned out to be good timing because Chuck let us know that a large yacht was arriving hoping to take a mooring. We would be doing a bit of shuffling so that everyone could fit! Before we had a chance to move, the yacht’s tender (an impressive Everglades center console) pulled up to our port side. Graciously offering us a bottle of wine, the crew member thanked us for making room for the approaching yacht. We would have, of course, moved anyway, but we didn’t turn down a nice bottle of wine!
Over the next few days at Cambridge Cay, we met some great people! We enjoyed a sunset and drinks at the sandbar with other cruisers and played games aboard a neighboring boat. We took another group trip to “The Aquarium” and snorkeled a sunken plane. Cambridge Cay turned out to be a great staging point for some of the best snorkeling spots we’ve visited in the Bahamas.
The Aquarium is one of the most popular snorkel locations in the Land and Sea Park. Aptly named, the site is a massive shrub covered rock above the waterline, but below is an impressive coral reef teeming with a variety of fish. After our group hopped in the water, we were immediately greeted by a school of fish…clearly hoping for handouts.

We snorkeled around the wall of coral, spotting trigger fish, lobster, snapper, sea urchin, angelfish, parrotfish, just to name a few.

It had been a couple of weeks since we left Nassau so we were beginning to run low on water and gas for the dinghy. We thanked Carmen and Chuck for their hospitality and let them know that we would be leaving in the morning. A few hours later, we got a call on the radio from the neighbor boat (actually another 150+ foot yacht) letting us know they had a gift for us courtesy of Chuck and Carmen… water and gas!

We enjoyed another few days at Cambridge Cay; this was turning out to be one of our best stops yet! Soon though, we moved on to the first settlement since Nassau: Staniel Cay. We needed to do some resupplying and were going to enjoy our first meal out in six months at the yacht club!

Exuma Land and Sea Park, Part I

We were beginning to go stir-crazy at Allans Cay…so thankfully, the bank finally showed enough improvement that we felt comfortable moving on. No mutiny…phew! We had two things going for us that Saturday morning: calm seas AND winds from the east. As soon as we hauled up the dinghy, we were on our way. Just about 20 miles south was Hawksbill Cay, our second stop in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

Our three-hour trip was a blast…nothing like Gilligan’s! 10 to 15 knot winds kept our sails full on a beam reach. We got on a pretty good lean as the wind heeled us over, but not too much to knock over my sun-tea warming on deck. As we approached Hawksbill, I replayed the instructional YouTube video in my head…I was about to pick up my first mooring ball; we wouldn’t be dropping the anchor here. I walked up on deck with the boat hook in hand. Troy slowly guided us up to the mooring ball. All I needed to do was use the boat hook to pick up the pendant attached to the mooring in the water and feed our already-prepared line through, tying it back to the forward cleat on the bow. It seemed pretty easy on YouTube…as long as I didn’t miss stretching down to the water with the boat hook! This was a nail biter, but I got it! I quickly tied us off as Troy shut off the engine. We were one of three other boats in the mooring field: two sailboats, including us, and one mega-yacht. For our sized vessel, mooring in the Land and Sea Park cost $20 per night.

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The water was spectacular. Turquoise blue surrounded us below while puffy white clouds filled the light blue sky above. The island in front of us boasted several white sand beaches and once we explored by dinghy, we discovered a wide, dry at high-tide, beach around the backside.

The area was pristine, picturesque, unspoiled, breathtaking…none of these adjectives really do the island justice! During our second day, we hiked to the top of the island, a rocky trail is visible from the main beach. We were treated with panoramic views and got some great shots of Salty Tails! Later, we rode to the northern end of the island and hiked to ruins once occupied by British Loyalists. As we stood within the ruins, we commented that the views we were enjoying probably looked almost identical to the landscape the Loyalists called home so long ago.

After two nights at Hawksbill, we made our way south 13 miles to Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park and the anticipated pinnacle of our trip. There are three mooring fields here, all of which require reservations by radio with the park headquarters. The North mooring field and Emerald Rock mooring field each have many mooring balls available, but over the nights we stayed, they were nearly full. We arrived around lunchtime and chose to stay at Emerald Rock. Cherry, the park attendant we spoke to over the radio, told us to pick any mooring and report to her which one we took upon check-in. We were glad I didn’t insist on that second cup of coffee while still at Hawksbill that morning because as we approached, about a mile out, we suddenly noticed an armada of boats lining up behind us on their way in. I counted seven boats to our stern…thankfully we were just ahead, so we were able to beat the scramble to find a mooring.

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Warderick Wells has so much to offer. Once we checked in with Terri and purchased wifi at the office (where they also have a book exchange and gift shop), we were ready to check out what the island had to offer! Aside from enjoying the unspoiled beauty, we were able to hike several trails, snorkel nearby coral heads, relax at several beaches, and add our sign atop Boo Boo Hill. There is even a sunken boat hull in the North field (which we didn’t get a chance to see, but we will on our way back North).

Our first night was pretty windy; winds clocked at over 30 knots. We were content knowing that the park mooring balls are well maintained…we trusted our mooring just as much as our Rocna! After a restful night of sleep, we awoke ready to explore. First, our sights were set on the trail to Boo Boo Hill. It’s said that in order to appease King Neptune, cruisers are to leave a token atop Boo Boo Hill…typically this means a wooden plaque decorated with your boat’s name. We wanted some inspiration before painting our own sign, so we decided to check it out first. The enormous mound of signs is pretty impressive; years upon years of offerings lay piled, some bright and colorful and others weathered by the relentless sun and salty sea spray. Ideas were brewing in my head for our sign as we headed over to the blowholes. The Exuma Sound was pretty rough so waves crashed against the rocky wall of the island, making the blowholes extra active! I decided sticking my head over top would give a pretty good idea of the force of air…I had knots for days. The next day, we made our sign using on hand materials…black chalkboard paint, red spray paint, a few screws, and a couple feet of extra rope. As best as we could manage, we snapped a picture of our sign with our three salty tails and headed back to Boo Boo Hill to leave our offering for Neptune.

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Snorkeling the nearby coral heads was next on our must-do list. Several snorkel spots are equipped with dinghy moorings, so once we tied off, we were ready to jump in. It was COLD, but I ignored my goosebumps. There were all kinds of fish and coral on the reefs. The reefs themselves weren’t huge, but they offered plenty to look at. Tropical fish of all shapes and colors called the reef home. We were even able to get nice and cozy with a nurse shark who rested at the bottom. This would make many people nervous, but we know nurse sharks are docile; it didn’t mind that we swam alongside as it got moving again.

After five nights at Warderick Wells, we were ready to say good-bye…well, sort of. We really loved spending time here and will definitely be stopping here on our way back!