Monday, February 17, 2014

Diving and Hiking - - Exumas

Diving and Hiking   - - the Exumas 

Underwater pictures

Fred has really been enjoying the underwater camera that he received as a retirement gift from the Town of Middlebury - - time to post a bunch of underwater pictures.   Although this particular blog post is mostly about the Exumas, there are a few underwater pictures from the Abacos that this camera was used for:
Off Green Turtle Cay,  Hello, lobster!
Fred went lobster-spearing with Scott, a fellow cruiser (a physician in his other life), whom we met at Christmas time in Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos.  Dorothy gave me a pole spear for Christmas, the type that experienced lobster hunting fanatics like Scott use, and on my first learning snorkel trip with Scott, I spotted the lobster pictured above, and waved Scott over to demonstrate his technique.

This particular lobster was sitting unusually out there -- normally they are much more hidden in or under coral, and all you can see is their antennae.  And, they invariably have a back door to their hiding places.  So, I was advised, one has to spear them in a way that pins them in place, so they don't wiggle out the back door, and then you have to reach in and pull them out by hand.  Gloves and wetsuit arm protection are advisable to protect from coral and nasty barbed antennae....

Scott nails it...

Then he separates the tail, leaving the head section for nearby Triggerfish and others to dine on...
The Caribbean spiny lobsters (called crayfish here) don't have claws or other 'front' parts worth saving.
Scott bagged nearly his limit (9 lobster tails, 10 is the limit) that morning
and our lobster tail became our next meal!  Yum!
Staghorn coral and lots of reef fish off Green Turtle Cay

And, a conch (this one we returned to the seabed) 


January 18 - February 5, 2014

Warderick Wells, Exumas, to Lynyard Cay, Abacos

Saturday, January 19 -- Monday, January 20 -- Fully capturing the beauty and interest of the Exumas Land and Sea Park would be a challenge indeed, but we will attempt to share at least a bit of what we enjoyed there.
One of the best features of the Exumas, its terrific Park, established in 1958.

Whale skeleton at Warderick Wells, headquarters of the Exumas Land and Sea Park
Headquarters and staff residence
Exuma Park moorings
We began at Warderick Wells Cay, park headquarters, and we would recommend this to anyone, as you can pick up the park policies and a map of trails and snorkeling spots for each cay in the park there.

We anchored off the west shore for three nights near Emerald Rock, one of the park mooring areas, and used that as a base from which to hike and snorkel.

Emerald Rock
Warderick Wells has some great hiking trails, where you can walk across the island from the (generally leeward) Exuma Banks side (west) to the more exposed  ocean, Exuma Sound side (east). Below is one of the first interesting items we encountered … huge anthills.

Also mangroves of multiple varieties, low palms, and sinkholes. One of the trails we walked on was called Boo Boo Hill, not because if you fall you will get a booboo on your knee (which, with the rock worn jaggedy by the ocean surf and spray, you definitely will …), but because at high tide, water coming into blowholes in the rock make a sighing sound, which could be mistaken for ghosts!

Fred at crest of Warderick Wells Boo Boo Hill trail
The crest of Boo-Boo Hill, where cruisers leave their driftwood mementos, the only place in the park where anything may be left...(we did not feel the need to add to this...)
Tuesday, January 21 -- With strong west winds coming, we needed to move.  Happily, there was a park mooring available for us on the other side of the cay -- between Warderick Wells and Hog Cay, providing the western protection we needed.  Also, like many channel anchorages, the boats swung back and forth with the tidal current, sometimes lying 90 degrees to the wind.  To get there, we sailed west from Emerald Rock around a 3 mile long sand bore (sand bar), through the cut north of Warderick Wells from Exuma Banks to Exuma Sound, and down into small channel between Hog and Warderick Wells Cays.  The channel is barely visible - -at the north end of Hog Cay it is marked by a cairn.  Aviva is on the right, below, with the boats pointed north aligned in the strong current of the flood tide, despite a brisk west wind:
Hog Cay moorings, Warderick Wells
Hog Cay's cairn marks the entrance (not so visible from out there...)

There was great hiking here, too, including Pirates' Lair, sinkholes, and rocky coastline.

Cave/ Sink hole -- some are DEEP!
Thursday, January 23 -- We left our park mooring at Hog Cay and sailed into Exuma Sound, a beautiful, close-hauled sail.  Our next planned destination was Bell Island,  but we heard from Guy on Tina that Wyvern III had found it rolly there and so we altered course toward a park mooring at Cambridge Cay, making connection with these friends. We picked up our mooring, and within half an hour we were off with them dinghying to the Sea Aquarium, a wall of coral reef with concentrated fish viewing!  The fish there come to you in droves as you get in the water; clearly they are fed there, park rules or not.  We saw a nurse shark there, as we had a few other places, and a very large southern ray (pictures later in this post). 
Beautiful anchorage spot (an Exuma Park mooring) at Cambridge Cay...
We went ashore and hiked over to Bell Rock (center).

Bell Rock

The local Cambridge Cay ants,  obviously also inspired by Bell Rock....
curly tailed lizards scurry about

underfoot, layered reef rock, like a topographic map
We snorkeled a plane wreck on the way back to Aviva .... also very interesting:
A 1960's Cessna, reportedly used in smuggling,  apparently missed the runway...
perhaps sampling the goods while flying...whoops...

Then Fred and Dorothy dinghyed off to investigate other anchorages (decided to stay put) and tried to view what we were told was one of Johnny Depp's houses...

Alas, No sign of him or any evidence of pirates of the carribbean type stuff...  However, that evening we got out the DVD player and watched Pirates of the Caribbean in honor of being near (possibly)!

Looking over to Little Halls Pond Cay, a house said to be owned by Johnny Depp?... but no sign of him or other pirate types...

One can't ALWAYS be snorkeling, sailing, hiking, sleeping, eating, planning the next cruise leg, or fixing the boat.  Sometimes ya just gotta completely get lost in a book!
Cruising friend Guy Spencer gave Fred a page turner!  Done in a day...

Our collection of Exumas fish,  coral and snorkeling photos:

Queen Triggerfish

luminescent Blue Chromis

Queen Angel Fish

A Rock Beauty (the yellow and black fish, not the rock...)

Bluehead wrasse

The Sargent Majors at the Sea Aquarium think Dorothy has food (or IS the food...)

From this little guy's tail, looks like he barely escaped a larger fish...youch... 

not sure what this spotted fish was, we haven't found it in the reef fish book...
Blue Tang
Grunts, in graduate school

A Trumpetfish  (the long gray one) and more Blue Chromis

Nassau Grouper season closed.. "we makin' babies..." it says...

(Check out the giant fish lips on these Nassau Groupers...)

An actual Nassau Grouper

 Nassau Grouper, seen from above...
And what the Grouper sees looking up from below...(a Dorothy snorkelfish)

Dinghying out to another snorkeling spot, Malabar Cays

Look closely, there are a few Barracudas  down there...(center).
This was an unusually calm day, and the Exuma Banks water is SO clear...this is 8-10' deep...

Down below, these 5' Barracudas often like to swim near,  and show their teeth, just to unnerve us a bit

giant Starfish
luminescent juvenile yellowtail damselfish - - amidst algae-covered coral

Nudibranch on fan coral

Algae-coated coral - which chokes/kills the coral

the algae coating is said to be a result of global warming


Ocean triggerfish

a pair of huge Gray Spotted Rays (off Sandy Cay, Abacos)

Southern ray

Fan coral


Tube coral

The shoreline:
Typical Bahamas rock shoreline, lace-like, eroded by salt water 

you will want to wear your Crocs walking on this stuff...

Nurse Shark with a Sharksucker (remora) on his back

Shark Suckers hanging out around Aviva's bottom
A pair of Gray Angel Fish

A school of young tunas

A Scrawled Filefish, we think...

Friday, January 24 -- Saturday, January 26 -- With NE winds 14-20 gusting to 22, we sailed from Cambridge Cay, out the Bell Cut into Exuma Sound, because the Banks route took us a longer way north.  Whoo!  It was something out there -- 6' swells!  However, we were only in the Sound the length of Cambridge Cay, Cap'n Dorothy persevered ... then we cut back in at Conch Cut, south of Cambridge Cay, then past Dundas Rock to the Exuma Banks.  From there we had a nice beam down reach to Black Point, our furthest point south in the Exumas.

Black Point's laundromat is reputed to be the best in the Bahamas, and that seemed to be true!  Free internet, too!  BUT -- best put out a stern anchor from your dinghy, to avoid being pushed under the jaggedy rocks at the dinghy dock.  We had been frugal in our dining dollars so treated ourselves to a seafood pizza at DeShannon's, which was very tasty, though I'm not sure exactly what seafood was on it!
Black Point, Exumas
Health care in the Bahamas out islands - a local nurse in the Black Point Clinic

Black Point's excellent "laundermat"   

Our anchorages heading down along the Exumas Cays

Headed back north

We headed back north, stopping at Staniel Cay, where there is a small marina/club and community.  Nearby is the famous Thunderball Grotto, of James Bond movie fame, which is a lovely snorkeling spot:

lots of little fish....

Staniel Cay 

Back in the Exuma Park  - - And more caves at Rocky Dundas, even more cool:

interesting orange lichens-like coral in dark spots, not ever exposed to sunlight...

Rocky Dundas (at low tide)

Compass Cay jacuzzi

At the north tip of Compass Cay, there is a small inlet and rock bar that waves crash through - - at high tide with an easterly swell off the ocean (Exuma Sound),  the result is a big Jacuzzi pool.  Dorothy checks it out:
Compass Cay anchorage
Dinghying up to the bubbly pool -  rock bar ahead

the 'funnel' from Exuma Sound
surge in

Add froth...
And Dorothy gets a Jacuzzi !
Dorothy???   Are you still there???

Hawksbill Cay - hike and boogie boarding

trail to Hawksbill Cay's beautiful east beach
Weathered driftwood

Dorothy is ready!

not huge waves, but good fun...

And here comes Fred ...

Shroud Cay

The last of our Exuma Park stops, Shroud Cay,  a relatively large island with rivers and mangrove interior, rimmed by beaches...
heading up the north river of Shroud Cay

we come to the inlet from Exuma Sound...

and a beautiful secluded beach

Camp Driftwood, the hill where agents spied on drug trafficing to the north on Norman Cay in the 80's

interior of Shroud Cay, flooded mangroves

looking back over the Shroud Cay north river,  Aviva anchored off in the distance (center)

another river head at a beach on the east side of Shroud Cay

Collected ocean plastic debris  -  an unfortunate feature of practically every Bahamian beach

And since we have all this sunny, breezy weather - - -
A day of  airing out the clothes from our lockers

The stops on our way back to the Abacos:

(1)Staniel Cay/Big Majors to  (2) Hawksbill Cay and (3) Shroud Cay,  then to
(4) Roberts /Ship Channel Cay and then two day-passages to (5) Royal Harbor, Eleuthera, and finally to
(6) Lynyard Cay, Abacos - - completing our Exumas whirlwind tour.
Cap'n Dorothy at the helm -- happy and relieved after navigating Little Harbor Cut

'Till next post...