Down the Berry Island chain

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sat 21 Mar 2015 21:40
In position 25:25.75N, 077:49.70W  at anchor at Frazer’s Hog Cay
After a week in Great Harbour Cay we were lucky to catch a benign motoring day to head northwestwards towards the Stirrup Cays. Here many cruise ships call in to offload passengers to the small islands complete with faux ‘desert island’ villages for water sport activities, parasailing and souvenir buying before heading on to Nassau or back to the USA. The locals that provide these amenities are based in Great Harbour Cay or Bullocks Harbour and roar off in the morning in their high speed parasailing boats whilst the glass bottom boat follows at a more sedate pace from it’s berth in the marina.
As we set a course across the top of the Stirrup Cays there were two cruise ships already at anchor with their plethora of small liberty boats taking passengers ashore to one of the two ‘Bahamian’ villages. Cruising yachts are not encouraged – well lets say not to land on the Stirrup Cays when the ships are in but can watch the fun taking place from the inside anchorage whilst being rocked all over the place by the fast boats screaming by. Just across the Northwest Providence Channel lies another island used exclusively by the Disney Ships traversing the waters between the USA and the Bahamas. After the ships have departed and the locals have roared off home, followed by the glass bottom boat, then you can probably talk your way ashore with the caretaker chappie.
Back to our passage down the Berry Islands. It’s a curse that there’s no route southwards from the marina location to the southern Berrys. It’s just too shallow to risk the trip even at high water. There are over ten miles of shifting sandbanks to negotiate. Knowing our luck we’d get stuck in the last mile on a falling tide. Hence our passage all the way round the top of the Stirrup Cays and all the way down the ocean side of Great Harbour Cay which puts fifteen miles on the trip. As it was we almost touched bottom entering the cut at Market Fish Cay with precious little water covering the sand bank there but after a few emergency stops and reverses we were able to work our way through the shallows and into deeper water. Oh!, mustn't forget, our first edible (for us anyway) fish of the season was caught. We were very pleased to welcome a youngish Wahoo onto our lure and rather like Jonah and the Whale when we cut open its stomach there, intact, was a small fish that had recently been consumed by our young ‘Hoo. The unfortunate dead small fish was placed onto the hook with the lure which had just caught the Wahoo and re-set. Bang! Another fish decided to eat our small fish previously eaten by a bigger fish (following this?) but this one was a Barracuda which we didn’t want so that was released back to sea, but it took the small fish with it. Shame. We had enough fish for supper though!
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One Wahoo for dinner – and look what it had recently eaten for breakfast. Greedy Boy!
Despite their location in respect to the USA these islands are not visited by great numbers of cruising boats. They are the preserve of the catamaran and shoal draft yacht or powerboat. A glance at the charts indicate that you have to be careful and not take too many liberties when moving around between anchorages. Anyway, here we were and having given the starfish a close shave or two getting back onto the bank we were in deeper water to anchor at Hoffman's Cay for a night. Not the most beautiful of shorelines but round the corner was another anchorage with a beach and more importantly an access path to a blue hole, one of many in the Bahamas, just a short walk away. From this anchorage we didn’t get to see it but returned a day or so later for a look.
Next stop down the chain (which we could access from the banks) was Little Harbour Cay – surely one of the nicest spots in the Berrys. With small cays dotted around the vicinity this was a great spot for whizzing around in the dinghy exploring the various nooks and crannies where we can’t take the big boat. The weather was just about perfect as it has been since arriving in the Bahamas apart from the odd day or so. Not good for sailing but then no wind is better than too much which is often the case.
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Friends John & Julie came over to guide us in but were distracted by a starfish or something            These are the good days – flat calm water, deserted beaches
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Anchorage at Hoffman's Cay                                                                                                               and exploring the shallows in the dinghy
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The deserted beach (until we arrived) at Little Harbour Cay                                        The ‘Admiral’ in pursuit of local butterflies – not a Red Admiral to be seen (groan)
We decided to go back to Hoffman's Cay in the dinghy which was just a couple of miles northwards across the bank. We were there in just ten minutes or so. Beached the dinghy, buried the anchor in the sand on the high water mark and set off on the path which supposedly led to the blue hole.
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The bay at Hoffman's where we beached the dinghy and walked the path to the Blue Hole
If you have never experienced one of these phenomena then try and visit one. If you can do it alone or just the two of you and not in a large party then even better as there is a feeling of complete serenity and awe as it appears out of the ‘jungle’. When we stumbled on the massive hole with its seemingly bottomless expanse of water it was as still as it’s possible to be. The surface being some twenty to thirty feet below the surrounding land area which is thickly covered in indigenous trees and bushes. There was nobody else anywhere on the island and we had our own blue hole  for a time.
The blue hole visible only from the air or walking a narrow path from the beach. ‘Skip’ can be seen starting his clockwise circumnavigation
Jacques Cousteau has apparently explored this particular hole but then he seems to have been to all the Bahamas holes if you speak with the locals. Most if not all have some link to the ocean via underground caves. This blue hole had a number of fish grazing contentedly on the green growth around the edges. Looking into the depths the surrounding shelf just gave way to nothingness. You could say it was eerie, but that didn’t stop the ‘Skip’ heading back to the dinghy to fetch the diving gear and finding the only access point to the water in the whole hole, so to speak. In he went and proceeded to swim the entire circumference. The ‘Admiral’ duly took the role of cameraperson. Then it was back to the boat for clean up.
The following day we used the dinghy to visit the Devil’s Cay-Hoffman Cay cut area which is a place of outstanding beauty. A tiny island called White Cay, crystal clear water, a walk to the ocean side and a swim back on the beach. Or would we rather be back in an office?
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Stunningly beautiful Devil’s Hoffman’s Cays area
From Little Harbour Cay we moved to Bonds Cay which apparently, so they say, belongs to the Colombian born singer, model, writer, choreographer, Shakira. There were plans to develop a sports resort and arts centre.  Couldn’t see anything like that – maybe she sold it on.  It’s not a terribly interesting island, at least the anchorage isn’t that special at all. We’ll remember it mainly for a day boat full of middle-aged males (lawyers? stockbrokers? stag party perhaps?) who roared past us during ‘Happy Hour’ with a childish display of mooning which the ‘Admiral’ found more amusing than offensive. Skip said “Don’t look Ethel – but it was too late – she’d been moooooned” so the Ray Stevens song goes. Enough said on that subject...
One of the features we’ve become used to in the Berrys more than most other locations has been the number of Barracuda we see swimming around the boat. Unlike some sharks that may take exception to your presence when dining, but otherwise show little interest, the Bari has a fearsome reputation which if we didn’t know otherwise it seems to exploit to the full. This is a fish that stalks it’s prey in the ‘slowly slowly catchee monkey’ tradition which is fascinating to watch but when it’s not stalking it’s afternoon meal it takes great delight in stalking us. The teeth are awesome and it always seems to appear in the periphery of your vision as a large silver shape which can come as a shock. If you happen to have a fish on the end of your spear then Bari will want that fish as you’ve saved it the trouble of expending energy on its own hunting exploits. Suggested practice is to drop the spear and swim back to the boat. It’s certainly curtailed the ‘Admiral’s afternoon bathing habits unless the area can be pronounced a ‘Bari Free Zone’. Who can really blame her? We’re surrounded by denizens of the deep (or rather shallows).
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Our daily visitor – you could set your watch by his arrival time                                                    a passing stingray
Today we are in Frazer’s Hog Cay almost at the southern extremity of the Berry chain. Southwards just a few miles away is Andros, a little to the east and southwards is Nassau on New Providence Island but it’s to the Abaco Islands we will be heading on Sunday night for what we hope will be a leisurely overnight sail up to Little Harbour and then on to Marsh Harbour as we are in serious need of some fresh produce. But, have no fear we still have limes on board so no chance of scurvy just yet.
Finally we really must thank John & Julie for kindly sharing their ‘catches’ with us. If our Wahoo would only have been bigger we could have reciprocated! Another time we hope. We look forward to that! And thanks John for solving an annoying electrical problem and keeping your patience with our bumbling ‘Skip’ in the process.