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.

South, South, and North Again

The following Monday, we left Allans Cay and headed to Normans Cay. At just under ten miles and two hours, this would be a quick hop south. Even though the trip was speedy, I was still able to count over 50 colorful starfish along the way (Yes, I kept count)!
We chose to anchor on the western shore of Normans Cay, just south of Skipjack Point. We had good depths here, compared to the shallow depth we anchored in at our last stop. We dropped the anchor in about 15 feet. The water was incredibly calm that day. Although we were open and exposed to nearly everything except the east, the water was flat, we could see straight to the bottom. When we set the anchor, we could see it biting into the sand, as if it were just inches underneath us. After lunch, we hopped in the dinghy and rode to the other side of the island (where many cruising boats chose to anchor). On our trip over, we slowed every so often to observe the stingrays, giant needle fish, and coral heads.

Once inside, around the southern tip, we idled through the anchored cruising boats, over to the sunken airplane (said to be from drug-running days). We hadn’t brought our snorkel gear with us, so we were unable to dive the site, but with the water as clear as it was, we managed to get a good look from inside the dinghy. We headed to the island’s “hurricane hole” next. Norman’s Pond is accessible from the eastern side of the island and is for shallow draft boats only. We considered anchoring inside as we planned this leg, but knowing how shallow the entry was, we weren’t going to chance running aground. We were free to explore by dinghy, however. We entered the “pond” between two large rocks and it became shallow almost immediately. At the current tide, the depth could have been no more than a few feet. Once clearing the shoal just inside, the depths increased as we followed a deeper contour into the pond where depths are reported to be well over ten feet. The pond was more than what we considered a “pond”, it was quite large actually. The water was just as blue as the outside, but opaque and two neat caves rose above the water along one side. We drove around in the dinghy…only one sailboat was inside. We decided that it might be a good spot to escape bad weather, if we could enter at a high tide; but for now, we were happy with our anchorage on the west side of the island.
The next day we headed south to Shroud Cay, the first cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. This hop was even shorter at only six miles and under 90 minutes. We arrived fairly early in the day and opted to anchor rather than pick up one of the mooring balls. Since we arrived before midday, many boats had not left from the previous night; we anchored as close to shore as we could, without crowding other boats. We hiked a few trails around Shroud Cay and explored some of the mangrove creeks.

Later that day, we hopped in the dinghy, loaded up the dogs and then tossed the anchor in knee-deep water with drinks in hand so the dogs could play. After Ginnie got her fair share of running around, we headed back for sunset on board. That night was rolly. We didn’t sleep much since the boat didn’t really stop moving. We had protection from only the east and winds had shifted to the southwest, so waves rolled in from that direction.

shroud 2

shroud

We headed back up to Allans Cay that morning to wait for the winds to subside. We learned what it means for Allans Cay to be a “fair weather anchorage”: it was quite different this time than when we were last here. Strong current and swell from the bank rolled through, not always matching the wind. This lead to some interesting moments in the anchorage. Usually, boats point into the wind, so typically all boats point in the same direction. This was not the case now. Because the current moved differently depending on which side of the anchorage one was anchored, boats danced around their anchor, often pointing in different directions. At one point our anchor (which thankfully held secure) was behind us rather than at the bow. The combination of current and swell was uncomfortable. One night, I had to remain holding onto a pot of boiling water so it wouldn’t topple.

Obviously, we took anchor watch shifts. During my shift, I watched Pitch Perfect (singing along quietly so Troy wouldn’t hear me), drank too much coffee, and made mini homemade cherry pies…because, why not? We tried to make the best of the several nights we were there. We hiked around Leaf Cay to a beach on the east side (which was remarkably calm) and climbed rocky hills of Allans Cay to check out the Exuma Bank which was incredibly rough from days of western winds. We decided to stay put until the Bank settled.


Thankfully, it finally did…we were itching to move on!