Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Emerald Bay to Warderwick Wells

Warderick Wells Cay
24 23.0 N 076 37.45 W
(double click photos to enlarge)

Over the past 11 days we have slowly retraced our path back up the Exuma Island chain visiting many cays that we passed by on the way down.
The Caribbean Marine Research
Center docks at Lee Stocking Is.
We departed Emerald Bay Marina on Thursday 3/10/11 after an enjoyable 3 day stay. Much to Kathy's relief, wind and sea conditions leaving the marina channel entrance were much better this day than the day we arrived. Our destination was an island called Lee Stocking (not to be confused with Stocking Island down in George Town). We put out a fishing line but as usual no luck.
One of countless Stingrays
encountered while dinghying.
Lee Stocking  Island is home to the Caribbean Marine Research Center (CMRC). We anchored (23 46.3N, 76 06.3W) shortly past noon on the leeward, west side of the island, just past the CMRC mooring buoys and spent the afternoon exploring part of the island by dinghy and doing some snorkeling in pristine water. On Friday morning we took the dinghy over to the CMRC for the scheduled facility tour along with another cruising couple.

View west from Perry Peak. Tug
& Barge Islands in background
and the Brigantine Cays on horizon.
 The facility was founded as a private marine research and field laboratory known as the Perry Institute in the 1950’s and operated quite successfully under grants and funding from various US government agencies and universities. Their primary research is with Queen Conch, Nassau Grouper, Caribbean Spiny lobsters and coral habitats. NOAA funding ended in 2008 and the center is now struggling to survive with a skeleton staff and very minimal resources. 

Williams Bay anchorage from
Perry Peak. Exuma Sound to left
side, Exuma Banks to right side.
 After the tour we relocated Carina a short distance down the island to Williams Bay (23 45.66N, 76 05.18W) for a change of scenery. Williams Bay is at the junction of Lee Stocking and Williams Cay with better access to the hiking trails which we explored over the following 2 days. From a trail head at Coconut Palm Beach (yes, we did harvest 1 coconut that was perfectly ripe), we climbed to Perry Peak. At 123’ elevation it is supposedly the highest point in the Exuma Island chain. From the top there was a spectacular view of Exumas Sound to the east and the Exuma Banks to the west. 

Plastic litter of all size and shape
floating great distances on the ocean
currents washed up on the beaches.
 The next day we hiked more of the island trails. There was pretty good beach combing on the Exumas Sound ocean-side beaches. Unfortunately the beaches were littered with all kinds of plastic ... bottles, jugs, milk crates, buckets, etc.. in amongst the washed up sea weed. We've witnessed this on other cays as well and it’s appalling to see the amount of plastic debris that washes up on these otherwise pristine shores. 

Off Jimmy's Cay
On Sunday 3/13 we departed Lee Stocking in good light and a rising tide to make our way across the Exuma Banks, via a shallow route though the Pimlico Cays (23 48.5N, 76 13.0W) on our way towards Rudder Cut Cay. Visual piloting rules definitely applied here as we navigated around isolated coral heads and shallow sandbars.  We dropped anchored by mid-afternoon between Rudder Cut Cay & Jimmy’s Cay (23 52.84N, 76 15.05W).

Another successful day of
beach combing 
 Monday we dinghied over to a sunken airplane wreck located off another nearby island in about 10' of water. Afterwards, Kathy had another successful day of collecting Sand Dollars and Urchin shells on the sand bar off Jimmy's Cay.  Mid afternoon we raised anchor and traveled about 1 hour's distance up to Little Farmer’s Cay anchoring (23 57.58N, 76 19.74W) on the west side of the island off the island's airstrip. There are only 60 residents on the small 3/4 mile long island. The one-room post office was locked but we were told by the ladies in the market to go to the house next door. We bought stamps from that lady there and she took our mail to hold until the next mail boat arrives–hopefully it will get to where it needs to be. The grocery store had very little stock as the boat is not expected until tomorrow. Next we went to Ocean Cabin restaurant/ bar - the place on the island for cruisers to access internet, swap books, etc. We took care of some on-line email business and had a delicious lunch of conch stew and johnnycakes.

Carina anchored in Jack's Bay
on Great Guana Cay
 We walked the roads, made a few calls back home from the one phone booth on the island before dinghying back to Carina mid-afternoon. We got underway as soon as we returned from the island and traveled about 5 miles up-island chain to Jack’s Bay (24 02.63N, 76 22.42W) on the north side of White Point on the island of Great Guana Cay. We spent all of the next day, Wednesday exploring the shoreline of Jack’s Bay by kayak & foot.

On Thursday we had a glorious sail all the way to Sampson Cay anchoring just off the Sampson Cay Marina in the same location (24 12.57N, 76 28.48W) that we had also stopped at on our way down the Exuma chain. Mark was able to finally fill the dinghy gas tank as we were on fumes by then. We also purchased some very necessary food supplies at the marina store that also proved quite expensive.

Photos just can't show all the
iridescent hues of  blue water
 From where we anchored, we took the dinghy to explore the Pipe Creek area that afternoon. Pipe Creek is a group of islands that lies between Compass Cay at the north and Sampson Cay  to the south. There are several openings into Exumas Sound making for swift currents, crystal clear water and the most spectacular shades of blue from pale baby blue to deep indigo. The areas of coral are extensive and we could easily see coral through our look bucket in 30’ deep water. We anchored the dinghy off the beach of Thomas Cay in Pipe Creek to explore the beaches on the Exumas Sound side of the island were Kathy hit a treasure trove of sea glass.

On Friday 3/18 we kayaked up into the shallow lagoon and mangroves of Sampson Cay. We made our way through meandering pockets of aqua blue water and lo and behold but didn’t Mark come upon his own treasure trove of conch. He quickly harvested 8 large and legal-sized mollusks. We spent much of the rest of the day in the process of removing the conch from their shells on a beach, returning to Carina for cleaning & skinning and then finally “bruising” the meat (pounding it with a meat mallet). The 8 conch will provide 4 nice meals of cracked conch and was good Karma to offset the 2 bags of groceries that we paid a $100 for the previous day. Our friends Gary & Janie from Dream Catcher that we had been hop-scotching along with arrived at the anchorage this afternoon.
Warderick Wells north mooring field
 On Saturday morning 3/19 we sailed another 15 miles up to Warderick Wells which is also the headquarters for the 176 square mile area known as the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. We picked up a park mooring near Emerald Rock ( 24 22.98N, 76 37.45W) and then dinghied up to the park office in the north mooring field to check in. The park office includes a little gift shop, book exchange and DVD rental.

The north mooring field 
from Whale Beach. 
 Ice is available for sale but no other provisions or services are available. Thankfully the park also offered paid internet ($10/24 hr period) that we were able to pick up a strong signal from on-board Carina. Later that day we did some snorkeling before getting together with Gary and Janie from Dream Catcher for sun downers on Carina. 

The pilgrimage to Boo Boo Hill
Sunday 3/20 we made our “pilgrimage” to Boo Boo Hill to leave our driftwood offering. Boaters have been leaving the names of their boats on driftwood up there for years. Mark had picked up a piece of weathered bamboo a few days earlier during our beach combing specifically intended for our personalized stenciling. The view from the top of the hill was well worth the climb in itself. We added our plaque to the pile and asked for fair weather from the sea gods and good tidings from all who had gone before us and are supposedly still in residence on the island.

Our driftwood plaque will mark
time along with the hundreds
of others atop Boo Boo Hill.
 Warderick Wells is said to be haunted. There was a shipwreck near the area of Boo Boo Hill some time past with a group of missionaries on board. All lives were lost and no bodies ever recovered for a proper burial. It has been reported that on moonlit nights the sound of the missionaries singing hymns can be heard. After the singing ceases some voices can be heard calling out to one another. We did arrive on the night of a full moon and tried to listen for singing to no avail.

We waited for slack tide in the afternoon to snorkel the reef in the cut between the North Mooring field and Narrow Waters Cay. The snorkeling here was some of the best so far with large coral heads and many fish including our 1st resident Barracuda. There was even an abundance of lobster in and amongst the coral. The park is a “no take zone” so the fish, lobster and conch are all safe from becoming someone’s dinner.
Monday evening we had Gary and Janie over for dinner and a movie. Janie had never seen Captain Ron – a rite of passage for cruisers – so we took care of that and she is now an official SWAB. Anyone who has seen the movie can relate to that. We intend to stay at Warderwick until tomorrow 3/23. There looks like a good weather window coming up over the next few days for us to jump across to the island chain of Eluthera.

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