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.

Staniel Cay and Thunderball Grotto

Our sail north from Black Point to Big Majors was easy breezy…with a following sea on a nice beam reach. As we pulled into Big Majors for the second time, we sailed in further to the anchorage before firing up the engine and pulling in the sails. We weaved our way to the front of the anchorage, just north of pig beach. Compared to our first time here, on our way south, now there were fewer boats, especially sailboats. There were still a handful, but the anchorage was occupied predominately by trawlers and mega yachts.
We made our usual trip in to Staniel Cay by dinghy to fill up on water, gas/diesel, and groceries. We made sure to do laundry as well. If I haven’t mentioned before, the laundromat here is also a bar/liquor store. Rather than making trips back and forth to switch laundry from the washer and dryer, we decided to grab a few drinks and stay put.

At the laundromat, we met another cruiser, traveling with her husband and teenage daughter, heading south with their goal being to reach Grenada for hurricane season. They were on the move, making very few stops along the way since they began their journey late in the season. The couple had been sailing for years, once cruising full time about 20 years ago. They had just recently sold their home near Miami, quit their jobs, and decided to cruiser full time again, now with their daughter. We really love meeting and talking with other cruisers. I am always curious to learn each sailor’s story and what inspired them to head out on their journey. Despite meeting people from so many different places, with widely-varying backgrounds and experiences, we all seem to have core similarities: adventurers with a desire to see and experience new places while living a more simple, slower paced life.
We spotted an especially exciting boat in the Big Major anchorage…La Vagabonde! Riley and Elayna’s channel on YouTube was the first vlog we began watching when we became interested in sailing/cruising. They have been a huge source of inspiration and information for us. While still living our “normal lives” we watched their videos weekly. We can, with conviction, say that the glimpse into the sailing life from their vlogs, truly gave us the “we can do this” push! It was wild to see them anchored just a hundred or so yards away from us! Pretty remarkable!

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We did not get a chance to snorkel Thunderball Grotto as we headed south, so we were excited to check out the spot made famous by the James Bond movie. Between Staniel Cay and Big Majors are a group of rock formations. The most western one is Thunderball Grotto. We had heard that it can become crowded with tour boats during the day, so we were relieved when we arrived to see only one other boat. We tossed the dinghy anchor, grabbed the GoPro, and got our masks and fins on. By the time we were ready to hop in, the other boat had left…we would have the grotto to ourselves!8A597BD0347FBAF9A3292807E31EEC22

The entrance to the cave is not obvious, initially. We couldn’t see where to enter until we swam from the boat, right up alongside the rocks. In the narrow, hallway-like entrance, we were entering on a mid-tide and had to swim underwater to get inside. Right away, the area was teeming with fish…it was like having private escorts swimming alongside us through the entrance.

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We popped our heads up to look around once inside. It was a breathtaking sight! The cave’s ceiling stretched high overhead, forming a dome, enclosing us in shade. There is a round, jagged opening in the top, allowing sunlight to shine down and illuminate a portion of the cave. Snorkeling below it, the water is illuminated like a spotlight.
We saw a variety of fish: from yellowtail snapper to angel fish, swimming among colorful coral.

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After swimming the perimeter, admiring the coral, and diving to check out the fish, we looked for the exit. On the opposite side of the cave is a wide opening to exit. Taking a deep breath, we dove down and swam under the rock ledge. We came up for air outside of the cave. Coral and fish surrounded the exterior of the grotto. The strong current allowed us to drift-dive all the way around, back to the dinghy. With nicely pruned fingers, we climbed back in the dinghy and headed back to the boat for hotdogs on the grill, celebrating Memorial Day.

The next day, while we were in town, we ran into some other cruiser friends who invited us to a potluck on the beach. After stopping to pet the nurse sharks at the yacht club, we headed back to the boat. Later, we got quite a laugh as those same cruisers towed a pallet behind their dinghy…they’d be making a new table for cruiser beach (Pirate Beach). Talk about being resourceful!

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That night, I cooked up a giant pot of yellow rice to share at the cruiser’s potluck. We all gathered and shared lots of yummy food and even brought fireworks to celebrate Memorial Day. Once the bugs made their appearance, we headed back to take Ginnie and Bella for a potty run.
Over the next few days, in between rain showers, we relaxed and snorkeled some of the coral heads around Big Majors. We also bathed the dogs on the beach. It had been a while…they needed it!

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Once we were ready to move on, we made our way north, back the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park!