Tag Archives: Exuma Land and Sea Park

Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay

On November 18, 2016, we left Great Harbour Cay Marina at 1500 and motored to nearby Bullock’s Harbour, about 1.5 miles north of the cut into Great Harbour Cay. Even people who have been in and out of the marina many times do not do it in the dark in a large boat. There are several tight cuts and turns to navigate through.  Since it was our first visit to this marina, we were definitely not leaving in the dark from the marina slip the following morning and that was necessary in order to get to Nassau in the light.

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Since we saw “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” we left the next morning for Nassau. Actually, we checked the weather forecast first and had a fairly pleasant motorsail, averaging 8 kts. Part of the route was over deep water, called The Tongue of the Ocean, and we did have large swells, but they were on the port aft beam, about 12 seconds apart, so they were manageable. We left Bullocks Harbour at 0520, in the dark, and arrived in Nassau at 1435, pulling into a slip at Nassau Harbour Club with several hours of daylight left. Very few boats were there, since the majority of cruisers hadn’t crossed to the Bahamas yet. We walked across the street to the strip mall, stopping at Starbucks and also picking up some fresh fruits and vegetables at the Fresh Market. It’s not the chain from the States, but is an equally nice grocery store and the last well stocked store we would see until the Exuma Market in Georgetown. In the Bahamas, we rarely look at prices, and buy what we need since there really isn’t an option. Except for a few dairy products, almost everything is much more expensive than in the States and of course we don’t always find the brands we prefer. Since we have stocked dry goods for seven months, we usually only have to buy fresh vegetables and fruit and eventually cheese, eggs, yoghurt and other dairy products. I freeze several months worth of yoghurt and eat it frozen for breakfast every day, so I don’t have to buy any for quite awhile.

The next morning we left the marina at 0755 and motorsailed across the shallow bank, arriving  in Shroud Cay, part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, at 1340. Until we exited the Park after Cambridge Cay, we would have no Internet or phone service since there are no cell phone towers in the Park. For most of the rest of the way to Georgetown we would be on the “bank” which is shallow water. Therefore unless the winds were extremely high or from the west, which isn’t protected since we travel on the bank with islands to the east of us, or if there were squalls, we could move from cay to cay without encountering uncomfortably rough conditions. We chose this stop over the more protected Norman’s Cay, a few miles to the north, because we wanted to take the kayaks into the mangroves. Unfortunately there were swells on the beam in the Shroud Cay anchorage/mooring field so it was an uncomfortable stay and Norman’s Cay would have been a better choice for our first stop in the Exuma chain.  We didn’t paddle in the mangroves long because the tide was going out and it gets shallow even for a kayak, so we could end up walking back and dragging our kayaks behind us. However, this is a favorite place to snorkel in the midst of nature and silence so it was worth the rocking and rolling night. 

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The next morning at 0725, we sailed south to the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells, and took a ball for two nights. When we arrived at 1000, we were the only boat on the balls in the North Mooring Field, except for a lonely sailboat that belongs to the park. Over the two days we were there, a few more boats came in but it was not full the way it is later in the season. Of course we had to go up to Boo Boo Hill where cruisers leave handmade driftwood boards with their boat names on them and there is a beautiful view of the Exuma Sound and surrounding Park foliage and water. Even though Hurricane Matthew passed over the Exumas a month earlier, there were still plenty of signs on the hill, including our Seas the Day one that we first put on Boo Boo Hill in 2010 and have added to in subsequent visits in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Mark originally carved into the driftwood and painted the letters, but the past few years had just used Magic Marker and it had washed off. He brought the sign back to the boat and painted the dates. We’ll probably stop at Warderick Wells again this season, so will add “2017” on that occasion. (Usually we stop here on our way south in January or February, so we had already been here in 2016.) We also went snorkeling in the north mooring field and around Emerald Rock. Peter used his GoPro camera to shoot a video and got some nice shots, although the coral is not as bright as it was when we first came here in 2010. After two days we were ready to move on.

Seas the Day, alone in the mooring field

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Peter stopped to look at the skeleton of a 53 ft sperm whale, who died after swallowing a plastic bag.

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Dogs must be kept on a leash in the park and only on the beaches, not the numerous trails. We take Sailor to a beach by Emerald Rock  so he can swim and fetch his ball.

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The Park Headquarters are in the building on the hill, with access by dinghy from a dock or a beach near the sperm whale skeleton.

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Peter walked up the path to Boo Boo Hill.

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Views below are from the top of Boo Boo Hill.

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Video of snorkeling in Warderick Wells in the north mooring field and near Emerald Rock, by Pete Beagle:

We had one more stop in the Land and Sea Park, Cambridge Cay. We left Warderick Wells at 0915 and tied up to a ball in Cambridge Cay at 1130 on 11/23/16. Again, we were the only boat in the mooring field. We only stayed one night, but it was an exciting, and a bit frightening, afternoon. Since it was still very windy, we took the dinghy to The Aquarium, a sheltered area with a coral wall and lots of tropical fish. We all went in the water and then started back to the boat. One of us had to stay in the boat with Sailor or he would have joined us.

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As we passed near the cut to the Exuma Sound by Cambridge Cay, where the waves were high and choppy, our dinghy engine suddenly quit. Mark is proficient at fixing motors, but he could not get it started. We were bouncing around and water was splashing into the dinghy while he attempted to restart the engine but we soon realized we had to get ashore quickly to get out of the waves in the cut. In the Land and Sea Park, except for Warderick Wells where the park rangers stay, almost all of the cays and islands are uninhabited. While we always bring a handheld VHF radio with us in the dinghy, unfortunately this was one of a handful of times over eight years that we forgot it so we were unable to call for help. However, we were fortunate to be near Bell Island, owned by Aga Khan, the leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslim community. His purchase of Bell Island was quite controversial, since it is in the Land and Sea Park, the one area of the Bahamas left that is kept in its natural state as a “no take by land or sea” zone. The Aga has dredged a marina for his megayacht and built a mansion and other buildings on the island.

Because this was the Aga Khan’s island, it was probably the only one where we could hope to find someone who could help us. Mark and Peter rowed through the waves to a small sandy beach on Bell Island, surrounded by mangroves and sharp rocks. We had protection from the large waves on the east side of the hill pictured below. We knew there was civilization on the west side of Bell Island, so Mark took off walking through the mangroves and sharp rocks. Luckily we had all brought hiking shoes. Peter, Sailor and I stayed on the beach and waited. Even Sailor knew something was wrong because he was on a beach but just stayed near us, rather than run back and forth like he usually does.

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Periodically, Peter walked to the top of a hill and said he could see buildings and a few workers on the other side of the island but didn’t see Mark. By now it was late afternoon and we hoped we wouldn’t be sleeping on the beach. We could see our boat in the mooring field, but it was far too rough to attempt rowing there. We had almost given up hope when Mark came around the end of the island in a large open boat with two powerful motors and a Bahamian at the wheel. He was a maintenance worker on the island and kindly towed us back to Seas the Day. We gladly gave him $50 and thanked him profusely for saving us. I doubt that he expected any money, but he certainly earned it! If not for the kindness of this Bahamian, we would have been sleeping on the beach. We were incredibly lucky that the motor died where it did. I believe a guardian angel was watching over us that day.
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After this harrowing experience we decided to leave the park the next morning and move on to more populated Big Majors Cay and Staniel Cay. This meant we couldn’t snorkel in one of our favorite spots at the Rocky Dundas Grotto or visit the Bubble Bath on Compass Cay, but the water was too rough and high tide for the Bubble Bath, when waves crash over the rocks from the Exuma Sound into a small pond on the other side creating numerous bubbles, would be in the late afternoon the next day. Most importantly, we had no way to get to either of these without the dinghy.

We hoped that Mark could find out what was wrong with the dinghy motor, which is only one year old, when we arrived in the anchorage at Big Majors Cay the next day. If not, we wouldn’t be going ashore again until we arrived in Georgetown where we could ride on a water taxi to town and possibly bring the motor to a repair shop. When cruising, a dinghy is our “car” and our only way to go ashore. We do have two kayaks and an iSUP, so we could possibly use them to get off the boat, but with the high winds we had on the entire trip so far, and choppy water conditions, it wouldn’t be the preferable mode of transportation. We are fortunate that Sailor will “go” on the boat, using the trampolines on the forward deck. However, we were looking forward to snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, showing Peter the swimming pigs, and eating lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

Last Month of Bahamas Cruising Season 4

After dropping off our guests at Staniel Cay, we sailed back to Warderick Wells on 4/23/16. The next day we sailed across the Exuma Sound to Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera leaving at 0630 and arriving at 1430. The seas were 2 to 3 feet, just the way we like them. On the 25th, as we pulled up the anchor in Governor’s Harbour we realized it had wrapped around an underwater cable. Mark was able to untangle it using a boat hook and we sailed from Governor’s Harbour to Spanish Wells, thus skipping most of Eleuthera. We’ve always stopped at three or four towns and anchorages, but this time we were anxious to get to our mooring ball in Spanish Wells to begin our one month stay. On May 22, we left Spanish Wells, sailing the short distance to Royal Island where we anchored overnight and left at 0700 on the 23rd of May. For the first time, we did not stop, and sailed straight through to Lake Worth, arriving at 1145 on May 24. From there we motored north on the ICW to Stuart on the 25th, arriving 5 1/2 hours later at our home port of Sunset Bay Marina. Below are some photos of our final month of this cruising season.

Sailor took one last look at Big Majors/Staniel Cay before we left.

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Sailor posed beside the whale skeleton in Warderick Wells at the Land and Sea Park Headquarters.

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We had one last Sundowner get together at Warderick Wells with some new and old friends.

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First Mate Sailor made sure Mark was headed the right direction across the Exuma Sound.

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We arrived at slack tide at Current Cut. If you don’t enter the cut at slack tide, you will either be barely moving against a very strong current, or you’ll fly over the water through the cut. We sailed on to Spanish Wells, but couldn’t get our mooring ball so we anchored outside the harbor. There are only nine balls in the field and luckily someone left the next day.

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One of our favorite restaurants in Spanish Wells, actually on Russell Island which is connected by a small one lane bridge, is the Sandbar. This is the beach next to the restaurant.

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To get around the island we rent a golf cart for a month. We are then able to go to this beautiful beach twice a day. We are almost always the only ones on the beach so Sailor can fetch his ball in the water, his favorite water sport. Of course this means we have to share the golf cart with a wet dog.

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We always stop to visit and feed the goats. 

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The sandy beaches are crystal clear.

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I was out of my favorite drink, Land of Lakes hot chocolate, so I ordered some from Amazon and had it delivered by Eleuthera Couriers. It took less than a week to arrive and was worth every penny!

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After going ashore, we ride our dinghy back to the mooring field.

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One yard has this lovely shell collection on the front lawn.

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Well water is free in Spanish Wells. While you wouldn’t want to drink it since it has a slightly salty taste, it is perfect for rinsing the sand off Sailor before we go back to the boat.

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Our time in Spanish Wells came to an end and we headed across the water back to Florida. This was our view as we left the Royal Island anchorage, where we spent our last night. As you can see, conditions were perfect for a long overnight sail.

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Periodically, Mark took Sailor forward to “go” on the trampolines. His willingness to do this enables us to do an overnight sail. As you can see, we are very careful. Mark is always tethered to jacklines that run across the deck and Sailor is on a leash. We always wearing lifejackets. Plus, the seas were very calm. If they were rough, Mark and Sailor  wouldn’t have attempted this “walk.”

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Sunrise over the ocean after an uneventful night at sea. The conditions were still calm.

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We arrived at Lake Worth, anchored for the night and then started north on the ICW. Luckily we were not doing this on Memorial Day Weekend, or we could not have enjoyed it. Local Florida boaters are known for racing up and down the ICW creating wakes that rock sailboats and on a holiday weekend they are out in full force. 

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When we tied up to the dock at Sunset Bay, we were all happy to be home for the next five months. Below is our first sunset back at our marina. 

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Enjoying the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

After leaving Georgetown on April 8, we motorsailed to Staniel Cay. As always we waited for relatively calm seas since we had to go on the Exuma Sound for part of the day until we entered Galliot Cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank. Our purpose in going to Staniel Cay was to pick up guests Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) on April 14 and take them to Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, 15 miles north of Staniel Cay.

According to a brochure, “Exuma Park, a no take zone by land and sea, was established in 1958 to preserve and maintain the delicate ecological balance of marine life in the Bahamas.” People are not allowed to remove anything from the water, the beaches, or the land. The park begins at Wax Cay Cut in the north and is 22 miles long, ending at Conch Cut. The average width is eight miles and the park is a total of 176 square miles. The sea part goes from 3-5 miles off the land in both directions, on the Exuma Sound to the east and on the Bahamas Bank to the west. There is nothing commercial on any of the cays, including Batelco cell phone towers. Therefore there is no phone or Internet service while in the park. In fact the only structures are on Warderick Wells, where the park office is located, as well as living quarters for the park wardens and staff. Oddly, a few of the Cays (pronounced Keys) in the Park have been sold. Johnny Depp purchased 45 acre Little Halls Pond Cay, next to Cambridge Cay, in 2004 for a mere 3.6 million dollars. I wonder if he doesn’t take anything from his beaches and property. 

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Carolyn and Ed flew in on Watermakers Air and took some amazing photos of the Bahamas as they passed above the islands. One in particular was special because they happened to get a photo of Seas the Day anchored by Thunderball Grotto. We are in the center, closest to the two small cays. Never having been to Staniel Cay, they just happened to get a perfect shot of us as the plane was landing. Our usual anchorage is at Big Majors Spot (where the swimming pigs live), but that morning we had moved closer to the yacht club where we were picking them up. It was also convenient for snorkeling the next day in the nearby grotto. 

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Mark picked Carolyn and Ed up at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and brought them to our nearby anchored boat.

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After our guests arrived we spent a day snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto and waiting for the mail boat to come to Staniel Cay with fresh groceries. Then we moved over to the anchorage by Big Majors Spot. There are numerous beaches so it was easy to go to a deserted one to let Sailor chase his ball and for us to swim in the turquoise water.

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Arriving in Warderick Wells the next day, we tied up to a mooring ball in the preferred north mooring field, which offers excellent protection. This crescent shaped field with various shades of turquoise water is a favorite photo opportunity for anyone visiting the area. When we first came here in 2010, the mooring ball fee for a boat up to 45 feet was $20. This year it cost $30. We paid $80 to become part of the “Support Fleet.” For this donation we got two days of ball fees and for the next year we will be put at the top of the waiting list when we request a mooring ball. The park is the only area of the Bahamas which has restrictions on fishing, shelling, etc. so we were happy to help them with their costs to preserve this treasure.

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Close to the park office there is a skeleton of a whale. 

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As with all of the cays and islands we visit in the Bahamas, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches. In the park, dogs are allowed on the beaches, but they cannot go on the numerous trails. Below are photos of one of our favorite beaches, near the Emerald Rock mooring field. It is well protected from any wind or waves, the sand is like sugar, and it is very shallow.  The rocks in the foreground are actually under water, which shows the clarity of it. Each beach area has paths that go across to the Exuma Sound side of Warderick Wells. 

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At this beach there are tall rock piles and on this day we found a gecko sunning himself on the top of one tower of rocks.

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Shortly after we picked up our mooring ball we had an interesting event develop before our eyes. Four Lagoon catamarans came into the mooring field. At first we noticed they were very close together and coming in too fast. We saw flags from a charter company flying so knew they could be inexperienced cruisers, and it turned out that was an understatement. I guess no one told them they didn’t have brakes. Even Sailor knew they were coming in too quickly and too close to each other. As you can see in the photo below, they had plenty of people on each boat to help pick up a mooring ball. Each boat had 10 or 11 people aboard. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to know how to do it.

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They all tried to pick up their mooring balls next to each other at the same time. Big mistake! There was current at the time, so the little control they had was lost. The first one turned sideways and ran into the front of another Lagoon catamaran that was already on a ball and not with their group. The second one hit the side of the first one. The third one hit the second. Another cruiser yelled at the fourth one to turn around and grab another ball near the opening of the field and wait. While turning around, that boat almost hit the monohull in front of us. We already had our fenders out ready to protect Seas the Day. The charter people seemed to have never picked up a mooring ball before, but eventually they each grabbed a ball. Unfortunately then they put out far too much line placing them dangerously close to each other, especially since the current causes the boats on the mooring balls to swing with each tidal change. The correct way is to pull the ball as close to your boat as possible with lines coming from each hull on a catamaran. Other people in the mooring field rushed up in dinghies to instruct them on the correct way to attach their boats to the balls and also had to tell them to use stronger lines. The people on one boat spoke Italian and the others were speaking French. The charter company was from Canada out of Nassau. 

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Later, they all went ashore in their dinghies. It was interesting to see how many people a small rubber dinghy can hold.

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After they were finally all on balls, the Lagoon (not part of the charter group) that had been hit by the first one moved a few balls away. The picture below shows Seas the Day at the front with with three of the charter boats behind us. The fourth charter in the group went around to the other side of the field. Whether by choice or not, they were the wise ones and the only boat in their group without damage. When they left a few days later, they hadn’t learned any lessons as they all went out at the same time very close together, one of them even passing another in the narrow channel. 

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The wind picked up for the next few days so we decided to stay in Warderick Wells rather than follow our original plan which was to spend a day or two there and then go the few miles back south to Cambridge Cay. We prefer the multiple snorkeling sites and beaches in and near Cambridge Cay, but we were able to snorkel at Warderick Wells.

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Of course, Mark hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill to add “2016” to our Seas the Day sign. This is a popular thing for boaters to do. The signs have to be made on a piece of driftwood. Mark made ours in 2010 and we have added a new year each time we have come for four more years. Our original sign had our previous dog Daisy’s name on it, but when she died in 2013, the next time we came we wrote “RIP” by her name and added “Sailor, 2014.” Mark screwed our sign into a post, which has helped keep it above the pile of other signs for six years and prevented it from blowing away. The original sign had white paint over the letters and numbers which were cut into the board, but for the last few years he has used magic marker which has washed off. Next year he’ll bring white paint.

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Here is a photo of the entire north mooring field taken from Boo Boo Hill on a cloudy day so the water isn’t as beautiful as on a sunny day. The inlet from the Exuma Sound is on the right side of the photo, and this is where we leave the Exumas to go to Eleuthera.

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After the boats near us in the mooring field left, we had this beautiful view to ourselves until the next group of boats arrived.

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On our way back to Staniel Cay to drop our guests off, we stopped at another favorite area located south of the park on Compass Cay called the “Bubble Bath.” The Cay is privately owned, and if you want to visit the beaches and hike on the paths, you must pay $10 a person. However, the Bubble Bath is on the north end of the cay and no one seems to care if you visit it. It is far away from the marina area on the south end. There is little in the Bahamas reference books about the Bubble Bath, and not a word in the several ones we own. We discovered it three years ago when boat buddying with our friends on SV Interlude, Cathie and Tom, who knew about it. Now it’s a “must stop” when we approach Compass Cay. The Exuma Sound shore on the cay is steep and rocky, but there is an opening and a calm pool on the western side. At high tide, waves occasionally reach the opening and crash into the pool, covering it with bubbles. Sailor joined us but wasn’t interested in the bubbles. First we had to walk a short distance from where we anchored until we came to the pool.

In the photo below, Seas the Day is anchored on the west coast of Compass Cay while Carolyn and Ed start inland to the Bubble Bath. In the background is Rocky Dundas, another grotto and an excellent snorkeling site close to Cambridge Cay.

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Mark and Sailor are almost to the Bubble Bath pool. The path we are walking on carries the excess water collecting in the Bubble Bath to the Bahamas Bank side of the cay. 

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In the foreground is the Bubble Bath pool and through the opening you can see the darker water of the Exuma Sound. At high tide the waves splash through the opening into the pool. The pool is shallow enough to stand in while waiting for the bubbles to arrive.

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Carolyn, Sailor and I wait for the waves to reach us.

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Here comes the wave!!

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The water goes from very warm to chilly with the arrival of the bubbles.

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Here comes another wave, but Sailor decided he had enough.

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It was certainly fun having guests aboard.  Hopefully Carolyn and Ed had a relaxing vacation. We tried to make it interesting for them, showing them “the real Bahamas.” Chef Mark made them some wonderful breakfasts. Below they are eating French toast made from Jan’s homemade French bread with bacon and cantaloupe for breakfast in the cockpit. Their coffee was made with freshly ground coffee beans in a French press.  I guess the theme of the breakfast was French! 

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There is probably not a prettier spot in the Bahamas than the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We always try to stop there during our trip south in the winter or north in the Spring. Warderick Wells is also a good place to make the cross over to Eleuthera. The day after our guests flew out of Staniel Cay on April 20, we went back to Warderick Wells. It was Saturday night and the park employees always invite all of the boaters in the mooring field to get together for “Happy Hour.”  Everyone brings treats to share and their own drinks. The park provides something most people appreciate – ice!

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After waiting for a good weather window to cross the Sound to Eleuthera, on April 25 we left Warderick Wells and arrived in Governor’s Harbour in the afternoon. The Exuma Sound is deep water, part of the Atlantic Ocean, so we always wait for calm seas. We stayed at Warderick Wells until the wind had been down for several days, flattening the seas. On the day we crossed, the wind picked up at a good angle for our sails, but the seas were still flat – perfect sailing weather. One way we always know when the seas are smooth is that Sailor stays at the helm. If there is any rocking, Sailor is inside, down the steps and up on a bed, expecting one of us to join him. He is indeed a “fair weather sailor.” This trip he stayed at the helm the whole day.

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On April 26, 2016, we motorsailed up the coast to the northern end of Eleuthera to Spanish Wells. In order to get to Spanish Wells, we first have to enter Current Cut. We always wait until slack tide, since the current is very strong on the incoming and outgoing tidal changes. This is a picture of the cut after we went through.

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We have stopped in Spanish Wells for the last month of our Bahamas cruise every year and this is our fifth trip here. After securing a mooring ball for the month and renting a golf cart for the same time, we settled in to relax and enjoy this wonderful Bahamian town. On May 25, weather permitting, we will leave Spanish Wells, heading back to our hurricane season location in Stuart, Florida at Sunset Bay Marina. Below we are safely attached to mooring ball one, close to the channel and a very short dinghy ride into the town.

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