Monday, February 13, 2012

Oh, What Wonderful Water!

People kept telling us how beautiful the water is in the Exumas, and I thought…How can it be any nicer than the blue water in the Abacos? Well, it can, and it is! The water here is almost indescribable. The color ranges from the palest blue to a deep jade with exquisite shade variations depending on the depth of the water. It is so clear you can see to the bottom in 30 feet. On a moonlit night you can still see the sand and grass below the boat. Anchoring is a breeze because you can check that the anchor is dug in from the surface. Snorkeling feels like you are hardly looking through water at all, making all the coral and sea creatures appear clear and bright. Plus, it is probably 5 degrees warmer than in the Abacos, so you don’t squeal every time you dive in. You really can’t get enough of gazing into this deep blue sea.

The islands are more scenic too…literally hundreds ranging in size from a rock to a proper land mass. They are hillier and lined with many secluded beaches or rugged rocky shores. We have really enjoyed arriving at new anchorages and checking out the nearby sights.

When I last left off we were just leaving Eleuthera. We motor sailed across Exuma Sound arriving at the north end of the Exumas to anchor off Highborne Cay. We could see why people rave so much about the water as soon as we came through the cut to the leeward side. We were a little apprehensive about entering our first cut in the Exumas as we had been told to be cautious of the often fast moving current through narrow openings…But, all that left my mind when I saw the stunning, meandering entrance to the Cay. We anchored just off a sandy beach and smiled at each other, feeling very happy to have arrived at our first Exumas anchorage.

Over the next few days we explored the area and did our first snorkeling in the crystal clear water. One excursion brought us to Allens Cay, famous for being the residence of hundreds of iguanas. They range in length from about 6 inches to about 3 feet and live only on this particular island in the Bahamas. Kathi jokingly remarked that it would be a nice place for a picnic as the prehistoric creatures crawled around the beach, with many more rustling about in the bushes.

One afternoon Kathi and I launched her paddle board for a little fun and exercise. It is a great workout (for my much needed core) and we had a blast trying to stay balanced. It really isn’t so hard except that it was a windy day and the water was quite rough, which made balancing trickier. We even attempted to stand together on the board at the same time. After about 20 tries we finally gave up, but laughed and screamed for a good hour!

When we first arrived at Highborne I said to Lynn, “Look, a cruise ship!” He said, “That’s not a cruise ship, it’s a private yacht!” And indeed it was a 200-foot mega yacht anchored off the same beach we had chosen. It’s not often you get to be voyeurs into the life of the very rich, but we did, for three days. We watched in amazement as they shuttled back and forth from the ship to the beach in their half-million dollar Hinkley “runabout”. They would send their staff to set up for an evening bonfire or an afternoon picnic, complete with tents, linen tablecloths and beach games. They behaved like they owned the place with very little thought for their neighbors as they blasted around the anchored boats in their various watercrafts. All weekend they flew people in and out in their private sea plane, sometimes landing right between the sailboats. I really was glad to say goodbye to them when we left. But, I did remark that we didn’t need all that money to enjoy the same sights from our comparatively little boat.

After Highborne we headed to Warderick Wells, the central cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, which is a national land and marine protected area. We chose a rather blustery day and had to motor into wind crashing through about 5-foot waves.

We picked up a mooring for two nights and explored the island. There are lots of trails and we chose the most popular one that crossed through a desert-like area to the top of Boo Boo Hill where we were treated to a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The name of the hill comes from a legend that a ship sunk off the nearby reef. All aboard perished and their bodies were never found. Their ghosts now haunt the island whose calls can be heard at night from the top of the hill. On the way back we stopped at a Blow Hole where the underground wave action causes wind to puff in and out…you can’t help saying “whooo!” when a big gust blasts out at you.

Later that night Makani came over for our usual dinner and games and spotted a Nurse Shark under our boat. He circled there for about an hour. I was wondering why he chose to hang around our vessel when I remembered that I had actually chummed the water. Earlier I had prepared beef stew and washed the drippings from the meat down the drain. I estimate it was no more than a quarter cup of blood that he smelled from who knows how far away…amazing.

Next stop was Sampson Cay just north of Staniel Cay, where we are still anchored. We love it here…definitely our favorite place in the Exumas…so far! But I think it will be hard to beat. We are located amongst many large and small islands with no end of spots to explore in and out of the water. We have dingied up to Pipe Creek to snorkel in lots of lovely reefy areas, or down to Staniel Cay to tour the town and get provisions.

We have been snorkeling almost every day, either hunting or just enjoying the underwater panoramas. Our friends from Havre de Grace, Joe and Carol on Just Ducky, spend the entire season anchored in Pipe Creek just north of where we are. They know all the good spots to snorkel and kindly shared their secrets (about which we have been sworn to secrecy.)

Joe came diving with us three times when the conditions were calm enough to get to the outside. There we found at least 10 lobster and caught 5 so far. Well, to be honest, John and Joe have done the lobster catching. This involves diving 10 to 15 feet and holding your breath for at least 30 seconds while you search under any little cave where the lobsters hang out. If you find one, you then have to dive back down, grab a rock and manage to fire a spear one-handed from your Hawaiian sling before he retreats too far into his hidey hole. Then you wrestle him back up to the boat. I don’t really like this part, but I do like the results! After catching four 2-pounders and up (Joe speared a 6-pounder!), we have been feasting on lobster many nights, finding lots of new ways to prepare the crustacean. Like Bubba on Forest Gump, we have had steamed lobster, lobster with drawn butter, grilled lobster, seasoned lobster, lobster newburg, lobster stew…..

I love to snorkel! Sometimes I feel like I am wandering through an underwater sea garden with pretty little crops of coral and a wide variety of fish swimming about. Just one small coral head will offer a little vignette with a huge diversity of sea life. When I find one I just float on top and gaze at it, like looking into an aquarium. Exciting sightings so far include a Sea Turtle, several large Manta Rays (they have huge heads and Lynn says they look like a 747 as they glide past), Southern Rays, Puffer Fish, Queen Trigger Fish, lots of gorgeous Angel Fish and other little vibrantly colored fish, and a Shark!

Sharks are plentiful around here and gather where there is food (near a dock where fishermen toss the carcasses of cleaned fish or under our boat where I have inadvertently chummed the water). We have fun watching from above the water. But, the other day we were snorkeling and a shark passed me about 20 feet away, probably looking for dinner. It was either a Caribbean Reef Shark or a Nurse Shark, both are non-aggressive. Nevertheless, I would have been alarmed if he was coming towards me, but since he was swimming away Lynn and I took a good look before prudently heading in the other direction.

Another snorkeling adventure was exploring the “Thunderball Grotto” on nearby Staniel Cay. Used in a scene from Thunderball, a 1960’s James Bond movie starring Sean Connery, it is a rock with underwater tunnels leading to a big cave in the center open to the sky. We watched the movie before going and discovered that it is now quite outdated and pretty hokey. But the real thing is very cool inside where tons of fish are used to being fed and will nibble at your fingers looking for a treat. We had about 20 minutes to look around before a boat dropped off about 30 tourists who quickly filled up the area. It made me realize how fortunate we are to experience all we do without being bothered with any crowds, any other people at all for that matter!

The rest of our time has been spent playing cards, reading on the boat, swimming, napping, doing boat chores, meeting and chatting with cruisers and locals, and simply enjoying life. The weather has been fantastic. This has been an unusual winter with very few cold fronts. There has been hardly any rain and the temps are in the high 70s to low 80s. We have had mostly wind out of the east, which is perfect for anchoring in the Exumas. We just had a front over the last few days that brought higher wind (20-25 knots) and for a while it was out of the west, which meant we rocked and rolled in the harbour for about a day. No problem, we just went ashore and played some cribbage for the afternoon! It is calm again and we are not expecting another front for at least a week.

I continue to feel so very lucky to be doing this. And not only that, but I have a wonderful husband to enjoy it with.