Exumas – Wind and more wind
Everyone we talk to or hear from out here tell us the same thing – they have never known it to blow so much in the Exumas in March!
Watching the weather forecast on Windfinder.com we saw that there was a serious blow coming in Thursday through Saturday. It would start off from the North East and then swing to the East. We had tried to get our name on the list for a mooring buoy at Warderick Wells, in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, which was well protected and safe from winds from that direction. We did manage to connect with them but they had no availability for the Wednesday. So we added our name to the list for Thursday in the hope that we would get in before the blow started.
We looked at the charts to find a good spot to spend the night. Compass Cay looked like it would work and the Cay itself looked interesting to visit. We worked our way around there to find the main anchorage, which is pretty small, already full. We then anchored in a secondary anchorage, but realized that there simply wasn’t enough swinging room* for our boat. So we lifted the anchor and revisited the charts.
Slightly south of Compass is Pipe Cay. While there weren’t any waypoints into the anchorage there it looked clear enough to navigate, so we headed to the south east side of that Cay. As we approached we saw some channel markers made out of steel beams.
Referring to the cruising guide we found that there used to be a US Navy DECCA base there, now abandoned. We anchored just off the beach south of the abandoned base.
We saw some small reefs that looked like they would be good for snorkeling so we got ready and dinghy’d over. Unfortunately the reefs were pretty immature and no fish of any kind were seen.
After a very calm night on the hook* we tuned into Exuma Park on the VHF at 9:00 to see if enough boats were leaving the mooring field so that we could get a spot! And we did!
We headed north to Warderick Wells, passing WHEELS 1, 2 and 3 just outside the anchorage. Now THAT is a way to had fun with all of your toys!
We entered the mooring field at Warderick and were directed to buoy number 17. There Sian and Hubert each grabbed a boat hook and attempted to grab the mooring ring. After a few tries and one dropped boat hook we managed to grab the line and make it secure. Because we had heavy winds coming in we double tied to the line. If one line should fail, the boat would lie to the second line until we again added a second.
Hubert later snorkeled to the spot where the hook was dropped and retrieved it. This was the second mooring buoy we attempted and the second hook that went into the water!
Once secure, we took Grace ashore to do her business, and check in at the park office, pay for the mooring and Internet. The mooring cost $40 per night (plus 5% if using a credit card), and the Internet $15 per day. We paid for two nights/days but told the lady that we would be watching the weather and may need to stay a third night. The Internet connection turned out to be next to useless!
We then decided we needed some exercise, so we decided to walk to the top of Boo Boo Hill. So named because a ship had wrecked off the island and all aboard were lost. It is said that, on a full moon, you can hear their souls crying from the hill.
The walk up was easy and the views of the anchorage and Cay were great. At the top there is a pile of wood with the names of visiting boats painted, burnt, or carved into them. We had not prepared for this so had not taken anything from Sonas. We will be going back before we leave the islands so will prepare next time.
Instead of turning back and going the way we came, we had a look at the trail map and decided to go back via Boo Boo Beach and the Causeway Trail. A mistake!
Going down to and along the beach was OK, but then returning from there to our starting point was across about a mile of limestone rock, which has been wind worn. It was jagged and sharp. This was made worse by the fact that we all had only water shoes on!
We got back tired and a bit sore!
Then Thursday evening the wind came in as forecast, and in it came! The wind gauge recorded gusts to 38 miles per hour. Even though we were in a protected anchorage it got a little rough and the boat swung about aggressively on the mooring like a race horse looking to be released! We watched the mouth of the cut and could see waves crashing high into the air from Exuma Sound.
We were boat bound all day Friday apart from getting Grace ashore to do her business. When leaving or returning to the boat we always had an extra person on the swim platform to release and receive the dinghy painter*, and the dinghy driver always wore a PFD* and the kill lanyard* around their wrist.
This would have been a great day to sit in front of the television and watch some of the DVDs that we had brought with us. However on one of our rough sea days we had not secured Rusty Wilson properly. And Rusty fell against the TV. The result was a smashed set. We weren’t overly upset as we had not planned on watching much TV, but it would have been handy on nasty days. So we will look to see if we can find a replacement when we get to Georgetown.
Rusty Wilson is our second “boat dog.” We came across him at the Fernandina Shrimp Festival last year. He now travels with us wherever we go, and can often be found on our swim platform when we are in marinas! Originally we just called him Rusty, but then we saw that one of his ears was a Wilson, so we renamed him Rusty Wilson!
During Friday night he winds calmed some and Saturday arrived still blustery but nothing like the winds we had Friday. However we decided to stay another night at Warderick to see out the last of this round of winds.
Sunday we headed north for Highbourne Cay. There is a direct route from the cut at Warderick to the Cut at Highbourne that knocks about 7 nautical miles* off the journey. But it was still blowing and the outside route using Exuma Sound looks extremely rough so we stayed on the bank. We arrived at Highbourne to find a beautiful long sandy beach with plenty of anchoring space (and later we found out why!).
We dinghy’d into Highbourne Marina. Were met by “tall,” who was there to greet visitors and give them the rules for visiting the private cay. One of which was $5 to use the beach right by the marina, $25per person to have the freedom to walk the island! So we hit the tore for milk, bread, potatoes and some fresh salad, then got out of dodge.
We swam, snorkeled, walked the beach and generally had a fine afternoon. Though Hubert did lose his prescription sunglasses somewhere between the boat and shore.
We bunked down early, but were all woken during the night by a rolling boat, and she kept rolling for hours. Seems this part of the anchorage gets wave motion from the Sound, which crosses the reef at the end of the cay, takes a left turn and swipes the anchored boats side on. Now we know why we had plenty of room to anchor off such a nice beach! Lesson learned. We will anchor further off shore on the next visit.
We got ready to leave on Monday morning, but before departing we decided to take one more last look on the beach for Hubert’s glasses. There had been a family ashore the evening before playing beach baseball and swimming, and right where they were playing we found the glasses! We suspect they found them and set them on the beach to be found.
After retrieving the anchor we quickly headed up to Allen’s Cay to show Hubert and Carolyn the iguanas. We anchored off their beach and left the engines running while Sian took them ashore. The assessment from Hubert; “the pigs had more personality!”
We then headed south to Hawksbill where we were spending the night. We anchored off the long beach to the north west which turned out to be a spectacular spot. When we got there we were the only boat there, in front of a golden beach about a half mile long. Shortly after another boat arrived and for some strange reason anchored right on top of us – with a huge anchorage to choose from. I never will understand why people do that.
There was a nice size coral grouping nearby which proved to be a great spot for snorkeling and fish watching. The evening brought light winds, calm water, and a very decent night’s rest.
Could it be that the winds were finally going away?
Next up: heading south to Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown via Black Point Settlement.
*Swinging room: when a boat is on an anchor it will swing about as it is pushed by the wind. Also as the tide turns and the current changes direction, the boat will change the direction it is facing. So it will swing around the anchor pivot point. A boat therefore needs enough room between it and other boats, shallow water, or other solid areas like rocks, to move in.
*Hook: Slang term for the anchor as it “hooks” into the ground.
*Painter: name given to the rope at the front of a (usually small) boat that allows it to be tied up – either to a dock or to a larger boat.
*PFD: Personal Flotation Device. A lifejacket.
*Kill lanyard: A connecting wire that is put around your wrist or otherwise attached to you. The other end is connected to a tab that, when pulled from the engine ignition, kills the engine. So if the operator goes overboard the lanyard is pulled and the engine stops. This prevents the boat from continuing and stranding the operator, but even more importantly it stops the propeller so that there is no danger to the person in the water.
Nautical Mile (NM): 1.15 times the distance of a statute mile.