Into the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park at Little Halls Pond Cays

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 28 Apr 2010 17:38
24:19.50N, 76:33.87W
One of the outstanding areas of beauty in the Bahamas lies within the Exuma chain and has been set aside as a protected park where its prohibited to remove any living (or dead) object either under the surface of the crystal clear water, or from the beaches, or anywhere else within the park boundary. The park motto is - "Take only photographs - leave only footprints". The park occupies 176 square miles of land and sea and is patrolled by wardens and volunteers, including cruisers who have spare time to give something back in appreciation of time spent in the beautiful Bahamas. Tasks they are given to do are fixing or servicing engines, checking safety systems, clearing beaches of plastic and accompanying wardens on patrols around the park area,  to name just a few.
Well, we hooked no monster fish on the way to the park from our previous overnight stop. Some monster lumps of weed yes, but no fish, so we reeled in the lines to comply with the park's 'No Take' policy as we neared the boundary line. No doubt a mile or so ahead inside the no-take zone the seas were probably boiling with tasty pelagic fish. Our first stop in the park was at Little Halls Pond Cays, set in a spectacular area where there is not only a very pretty coral garden to explore beneath the water just north of nearby O'Briens Cay but also the submerged wreck of a light aircraft used by drug runners some years ago. This aircraft which is in approx 12 foot of water can actually just be seen on Google earth just under half a mile south east of the anchorage we have used as our current earth position. Testament to the stunning clarity of Bahamas waters!
   The private beach at Little Halls Pond Cays - our anchorage for the night                                        Anchorage  approach 
We donned our wetsuits, not easy in the tropical heat and motored the dinghy over to the area marked on our chart as a "sea aquarium coral garden". As with Thunderball Cave, when we entered the water over the reef we were surrounded by the inquisitive and pretty Sergeant Major fish we'd previously encountered. Well, obviously not exactly the same fish, but the same species. Further below the larger fish could be seen lurking in various rocky holes, protecting their territory from intruders. There were some large Groupers present which would have graced any restaurant table, but of course these specimens were protected by the park rules and were for looking at only. There were also some large colourful parrot fish taking chunks out of the coral growth, the sound clearly audible. As the current started to run it was becoming difficult to stay on station over the reef and we wanted to take a quick look at the submerged aircraft a short distance away, so we heaved our bodies back into the dinghy, arms and legs flailing looking like two elephant seals engaged in a mating ritual.
The short ride over to the mooring buoy over the top of the aircraft revealed that the tide was now running even stronger so Phil jumped in with a line attached to him which in turn was attached to the dinghy. The sunken light aircraft looked like a 2 seater with a single engine and was lying upside down on the sandy seabed. It's pretty intact, as it was entirely built of aluminium but it was hardly a DC10 in size which meant that a quick dive down was all that was needed, just as well as it was all Phil could do to fin and keep up with the current. So the dive was cut short on the grounds of safety and this time just the one 'elephant seal' was hauled back into the inflatable by 'Mrs Seal' who was no doubt pleased to get back to the boat for a welcome cup of tea.
We had anchored over a good soft sandy bottom with excellent holding, however this area was certainly affected by the strong tidal stream. Later we could see a small group of Snappers hovering just behind the boat stemming the current, no doubt waiting for something to whiz past that was worth eating. They stayed there until the tide changed when they just disappeared as fish do. The day's breeze dropped and we experienced one of those very rare occasions - a dead calm warm clear night where the stars were on full display in all their glory. Oh! that all cruising days could be that way, with just 10-15 knot breezes in the daytime for sailing with and those clear still balmy nights!
  2 black headed gulls try to steal our dinghy but can't start the engine !                                          Another Bahamas sunset                   
                                                                                 and .......................early morning on the Bahamas Bank
Our time in the Bahamas is gradually running down and we decided to move on the following day to Warderick Wells Cay where the headquarters of the park is based.