Warderick Wells Cay - Exumas
We had an interesting trip from Little Halls Pond Cays to Warderick, taking the back route round Bell Island and across the bank for a few miles. As the tide was rising we reckoned on getting over any shallow parts on the basis that if we grounded on soft sand then the tide would give us some more water to float off as it continued to flood. We didn't touch bottom, although there was one hairy part (excuse the pun) where the end of a sand bank was close by a rocky ledge that jutted out and the channel through was extremely narrow. With the strong current we felt like the nautical equivalent of a supermarket trolley being blown sideways across a car park.
Our track was perilously close to that rock avoiding the shallow sand bank on the left (lighter colour blue middle left of picture)
Once through this bottleneck the trip was uneventful and after spending one night anchored off Emerald Rock we managed to reserve and take up a buoy (No. 22) in the north mooring field near the park HQ on Warderick Wells.
Taken on balcony of the Exuma Park HQ .........Sperm whale posing behind Phil on the beach
(Nikki is considering entering 'skip' in next years Crufts -in the pastoral group!)
This section of the park is stunning, with 22 mooring buoys set in two deep channels with drying sand banks on each side. There is almost all-round protection from the surrounding cays. Anchoring is not permitted and the buoys are charged at just $15 per night which gives visitors the security to go off and explore the island using the various trails that have been marked out. On a nearby beach we could see the mounted skeleton of a 52 foot Sperm whale washed ashore some years back, and in the mooring field were approx 6 Manta rays gliding up and down with their accompanying Remora fish attached to their underside. They are daily visitors and their dark shapes beneath the waters are easily spotted.
Our first day was spent walking to Boo Boo Hill, the highest point on the island, offering stunning views over the park waters. It's also where cruising visitors leave a memento of their visit, which must be a piece of driftwood identifying the boat and crew, scratched or burnt into the wood and which is left somewhere prominent in the large pile of assorted offerings. In fact, at first glance the site resembles a bonfire pile awaiting the 5th November. We saw lots of familiar names from boats we've either cruised with or just heard on the radio. Legend has it that a ship sank off the island hundreds of years ago with all lives lost, and their ghosts can be heard singing in the wind on moonlit nights, which is supposedly how the hill came to have it's name. Modern day mariners leave their names at the site to placate those spirits.
Boo Boo Hill - cruisers mementos of their visit ................................................... ............and our humble contribution
Not wishing to anger any spirits we left our own mark at Boo Boo hill and walked to Boo Boo beach before taking a circular route over the backbone of the island and back to the park HQ to sign in and pay our dues. Being a sunny day there were countless curly tail lizards basking along the trail. As we sat on a rough bench to eat some mandarins one actually climbed onto Phil's shoe, looking as though it would climb further than was desirable. The going was quite tough at times as the trail is composed of extremely sharp limestone rock, not good to trip over and fall onto! So we took care to watch our step.
Boo Bo Beach........and on top of the sign.......... ......a Curly Tail reception committee - just for us.
We paid up for two nights and rented the DVD "Finding Nemo" to watch that evening which was appropriate for our current sea-going lifestyle. Before settling down to watch Marlin and Doras' attempts to find Nemo we dinghied ashore to a 'Happy Hour' gathering on the beach where we met up with some former Gosport based Royal Navy sailors now living in Canada. When it became darker some members of the resident mammal population on Warderick, the furry Hutia, put in an appearance.
Unfortunately, the Hutia, although endangered within the Bahamas and seemingly cute is in the process of becoming a thorough nuisance on Warderick, their numbers are swelling. The current count stands at 5000 and as they are nocturnal creatures is rising nightly. At approximately 12" long they could be placed in the category of 'large rat going on oversized Guinea Pig'. It has no natural predators on the island and has a voracious appetite for the local vegetation which it seems to be destroying with the same efficiency as a swarm of locusts. The Park authorities are at a loss as to what to do, but if nothing is done soon these creatures, due to their numbers, will probably start to work a day shift to avoid tripping over each other in the dark.
He comes the first Hutia of the evening then he gets a little shy............... .......before heading off into the bushes again
So, as the sun settled down into the west the assembled cruisers, drinks and nibbles in hand, became surrounded by Hutias that emerged from the undergrowth and gathered under the table looking for scraps that the cruisers may have dropped. It offered a good photo opportunity as up till then we had not taken a snap of the stuffed Hutia in a glass cage in the park office. (That's one less) We had hoped to see some live specimens and now we were certainly doing that.
The following day was designated as a dive day, and at low tide we took the dinghy over to the coral garden and explored the scenic undersea world in all its glory. We hovered over a Nassau Grouper which was stationary behind a coral growth, looking up at us through its large eyes. The Parrot fish were there and some beautiful Angel fish - the largest we have seen so far. Nikki managed to identify the front feeler of a Crawfish which was firmly entrenched in its hole and not looking to make a move anytime soon. Once again, the tide had turned and we returned to the dinghy rather than remain finning hard in the water as though on a nautical treadmill. All in all - a good couple of days, but the weather was due to become more unsettled over the Monday/Tuesday period so we decided to stay longer in the security of the park mooring field.
The following day (Monday 26th) we set off to walk to some plantation ruins which are about a mile or so from the park HQ. It was to prove a fruitless exercise and we aborted the expedition when we realised the dark clouds in the distance that we initially thought were moving to the north east were in fact heading towards us. As we came to a crossroads in the rocky trail we turned to head back towards the HQ and Ajaya, knowing that we could not out-walk the approaching weather system but having no further wish to keep going towards the ruins. At this point Phil almost trod on a snake (no picture available) that slithered right out of a hole in the limestone rocks that form the trail. Nikki heard the loud wail of surprise from a short distance behind and immediately effected a thorough interrogation of the startled 'expedition leader' asking about colour (it was brown), size (about 2 foot), girth (couple of inches) and direction of travel (over that way somewhere) needing confirmation that the skipper had not been in mortal danger from a man-eating python before showing any inclination to advance further along the route.
By now the sky was completely overcast and dark grey as we scuttled along the trail as quickly as possible in the rising wind, past Boo Boo beach where we were royally sand-blasted on our bare limbs, then up to Boo Boo Hill (quick check to ensure nobody had removed our Ajaya stick) finally reaching the park HQ where our dinghy was tied. Just as we managed to climb down into the dinghy the heavens opened and the wind rose to gale force. We motored off upwind where the boat was moored battling against a flood tide, increasingly higher waves and stinging rain that reduced visibility to just a few yards. We prayed the engine would keep going. If it failed then our best chance would be to grab hold of one of the moored boats just downwind of us. We were now completely saturated, wearing just T shirt and shorts. The dinghy was swimming in water and we must have looked either a very sorry or a comical sight depending on how you look at these events. We managed to reach Ajaya where we stripped off and wrung out our clothing before going below for some drier ones.
The warm front that had suddenly arrived had been incorrectly predicted, with winds coming from a completely different direction. This caught out quite a few boats that had left George Town that morning with the prediction of north west winds, which would have given them a good sail up Exuma Sound, instead the winds came from the north east, making the Exumas a lee shore. One boat was reported as hitting a reef and another, a single-hander, was guided into the same mooring field we were in by park wardens that went to his aid as his GPS had stopped working and with almost no visibility he was concerned about finding the right cut through from the sound onto the banks. He arrived looking extremely tired and was tied onto a buoy just along from us.
The sky darkening from the north east the front moving through our area
The storm lasted most of the night, and we were glad to be tied securely to a strong mooring buoy. The forecast was for the winds to drop in the morning and remain calm for much of the day before a secondary front passed through the area Wednesday. We decided to make the most of the calm and see what Wednesday brought and make a decision then about moving onwards.