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.
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.
Mark picked Carolyn and Ed up at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and brought them to our nearby anchored boat.
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.
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.
Close to the park office there is a skeleton of a whale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Later, they all went ashore in their dinghies. It was interesting to see how many people a small rubber dinghy can hold.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the boats near us in the mooring field left, we had this beautiful view to ourselves until the next group of boats arrived.
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.
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.
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.
Carolyn, Sailor and I wait for the waves to reach us.
Here comes the wave!!
The water goes from very warm to chilly with the arrival of the bubbles.
Here comes another wave, but Sailor decided he had enough.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.