Welcome to the Exumas!

Just a quick note to catch you up on where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing, and to let you know that now, we are in the most beautiful part of the Bahamas.  Here’s how we got here…

From Hoffman’s Cay in the Berry Islands, we sailed to Nassau with several of our friends from the rally. Nassau isn’t a very nice place to be, but I enjoyed watching the cruise ships come and go (from afar). It seems there’s one Disney-esque block or two in Nassau just at the foot of the cruise ship dock. (We didn’t visit there.)

A large chunk of Nassau’s harbour is filled with work boats rafted several deep. Most don’t seem seaworthy. It’s like a floating junk yard.
This boat is still used by the marina that owns it.

The rest of Nassau is run down shops and homes on roads choked with cars. We left Nassau on Jan 31st with our friends on sv Seaven and sv Glissade.  Unfortunately, our friends on Sea Dragoness were having some transmission issues and needed to stay behind and attend to those. 

Unlike the rest of the Bahamas, Nassau has some significant crime. It felt okay during the day, but apparently you want to watch where you go in the evenings. While waiting on anchor for their transmission parts, our friend’s dinghy “broke away” during some high winds. It was “found” by some “good people” who gladly returned in for a “finders fee” which was, coincidentally, all of the money Ron had in his wallet at the time! Of course, they were just glad to get it back. While they were dealing with that drama, we were already in the Exumas.  Our first stop was about 30 miles from Nassau, to a place called Leaf Cay.  

We left at first light and we had favorable winds for much of the way.  When we arrived, I headed for the ideal anchoring spot.  I had studied the charts well.  We have three electronic charts aboard, and, for this sail, I was using Navionics charts. Navionics collects depth soundings from hundreds of other boats and adds this information to its chart data. All this crowd-sourced data should make the Navionic charts more detailed and more up to date.  So, it seemed a clever choice for me to make.  I was extremely wrong!

Just as we reached the spot I’d picked out, Spartan slid up on to a sand bank, lolled over to one side, and was quite stuck.  Fortunately, Spartan seems to be good at getting herself off of mud and sand. This one was trickier than most, but within 5 minutes we were free again. 

I learned two important lessons:  1) Don’t use Navionics in the Bahamas.  The Explorer charts turn out to have a very different depiction of the anchorage than Navionics, and despite the lack of crowd-sourced data, it was far more accurate.  2) When you’re approaching an anchorage and someone on another boat is trying to tell you something, don’t hope to hear them as you pass.  Instead, come to a dead stop while you listen to what they are telling you.  The information they are trying to convey may be very time sensitive.  They may be trying to say “you don’t want to go behind me, it gets shallow real quick”.  Granted, they could convey this info more efficiently and emphatically by holding their hands out in the universal STOP! gesture.  But, while sailors are generous with advice when invited, they are very reticent about giving unsolicited advice to another skipper – particularly one they don’t know.

Anyhoo, after getting unstuck, we anchored in a less than an ideal spot. We had only a foot so under the boat at low tide, and several spots within our swing radius had less. Like most anchorages in Exumas, this one is driven by tidal currents. Your boat pulls against the anchor in one direction for six hours, then does a 180. For about an hour in between, all the boats in the anchorage go freestyle and move about in ways no one could anticipate. Boats that were far from one another are suddenly too close for comfort. For the two nights we were there, I was on high alert for grounding and collisions.  Each morning, we’d hope for other boats to leave so we could claim a better spot. But instead, more boats arrived and the anchorage became quite crowded.

We never did go aground again.  During one dark, worrisome hour, I fiddled with our plotter long enough to configure what I now call , my “worry screen”. It displays the boat’s heading, wind speed, lowest depth recorded, and, in giant numbers in the center of the screen, our current depth. This allowed me to worry from pretty much anywhere in the boat. It gave me some comfort, but it also fed my anxiety. I lost a lot of sleep.  

The newly configured “worry screen”, shown here in a worry-free place.
Whether you’re worried about the winds or the depth, it’s all there!

The most noteworthy thing about Leaf Island are the iguanas that Nicholas Cage once owned.   Leaf Cay is festooned with them.  The place is lousy with iguanas.  If you were to trip and fall flat anywhere on Leaf Cay, you’d almost certainly crush an iguana.  If you kneel down on the beach, a dozen iguanas or more will rush out from the bush to come and see if you are offering food.  They are well trained to beg.  Apparently Nick Cage bought the island and then, after learning about the iguanas, sold it back to the Bahamian government for half of what he paid.  He probably felt good about getting some of his money back.  After all, who but a government would want to own an island overrun with iguanas?

This guy must have weighed 40lbs, but apparently, some can be twice as large!

Exumas Land and Sea Park

Looking at the weather, I could see that we were in for a blow on Saturday, so, in an abundance of caution, we booked a mooring ball in the beautiful Warderick Wells, beginning 2 days in advance of the expected weather.  As soon as we arrived, we realized that we had now made it to the Bahamas of billboards and and bathing suit ads. 

Warderick Wells. Stay in the dark blue water. Even a dinghy will ground out in the lighter waters.

The water was that amazing turquoise that doesn’t seem to come across in photographs or looks like someone has highly exaggerated the colours.  But they are as beautiful as you can imagine.  It was a lovely little spot with good protection from the strong north winds that arrived as forecasted.  We stayed for three nights, had dinners and drinks on the beach with others, went for walks, and generally was amazed by the beauty of the place.

We went on several hikes with Lynn and Butch. Climbing hills, kicking rocks, examining flowers. Aimless fun!
Each evening in Warderick Wells, sailors would gather on the beach for a sundowner drink or a potluck dinner.
This was the view.

Next, we moved on to Soldiers Cay, where we snorkeled in a spectacular place called “The Aquarium”, which lived up to its name.  There were thousands of fish of all sizes and colours.  After a night there, we moved to Cambridge Cay which is another lovely spot with mooring balls within the park.  We did a nice walk up and down the hills, snorkeled a small coral patch, roamed about the smaller islands picking up shells and having a look.  We did almost all of these travels through the park with our friends Butch and Lynn from sv Seaven, and I’m very glad we did.  

The aquarium! These little guys are like nosy neighbours. They stare at you and swim inches from you while your head is out of the water. But as soon as you stick your head under the water, they scatter and try to pretend they weren’t snooping.
We also snorkeled near this sunken plane rumored to be owned by Pablo Escobar for moving drugs from Columbia to Miami.
We see a lot of rays sunning themselves in the shallows. They are harmless provided you don’t try to wrestle with them.

Butch and Lynn are cave divers, with oodles of experience under the water, so we learned much from them about the various types of coral, fish and shells we encountered.  Plus they are great people, with a zillion stories about their wide-ranging travels.  We shared some meals together and just had a great time.

There are oodles of conch in the park. I found this beauty – and a thousand like it – while strolling a beach in Cambridge Cay.

Today, we are heading to the marina at Staniel Cay where we will resupply. Then our good friends Michael and Lori will join the crew of Spartan for 6 nights of exploring the Exumas some more.  

4 comments

    • I hope you’re bringing a conch shell back so you can blow it to call us all for sundowners when you are back in Toronto! Love the pics!

      Warderick Wells is quite the anchorage eh? It seems you are following a route that I know from several other friends. Wonderful to see you happy faces although Thom seems dressed more for a Bedouin Camel Train. I assume you’re finding the sun quite strong and he wants to protect his pale porcelain-like skin.

      Miss you guys a bunch…the club just won’t be right til you are back.

      PS: Babu’s back!!!!

      Like

      • Thanks! Glad to hear about Babu, though given the water level forecast, I’m wondering whether he can make a go it. I hope so. Love these names, btw. Keep them coming!

        Like

  1. Hey guys! Beautiful pics and glad you’re having a good time. I had to laugh when I read you felt a little better being able to “worry from anywhere” in your boat, Thom! Take care and yeah, bring home one beautiful conch shell!

    Liked by 1 person

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