Two weeks in North and Central Exumas

Shroud Cay, our planned destination for Christmas, had to wait. Diverted a bit north in the chain, to Elf Cay, just below Highborne Cay. Elf is the southernmost cay in the Angelwings Archipelago, so named because it was un-named on the chart and we needed a proper spot for Christmas.
In keeping with a blend of new and old traditions, we baked babka- two loaves this time and enjoyed a beautiful day in the warmth of Exuma. Santa was good to all and we all got surprised by gifts of framed photographs; ours a quartet of Benj from the Bradburns in perfect boat size. Ours to Benj was a hit (phew!) and I’m hoping we scored extra points for it being handmade.

Our handiwork is admired. I think he likes it!

Our handiwork is admired. I think he likes it!

Now for the hunt. While in Vero we bought a pole spear and the Angelwings tiny cays looked promising. The guys took off and Benj snorkeled, spear in hand. I watched them check out several areas of coral heads and then finally around the edges of the rocky cays near the boat. Happy, excited faces returned and while the surf in our surf and turf dinner didn’t end up being the fresh catch of the day, the “A Lobster was spared on Christmas Day” story was great. One lobster, one shot, one hit, one spear not in deep enough. A stunned lobster moved back into his hole and that was the end of that first attempt. Totally commendable and a jazzed granola kid became our best bet for fresh lobster.

Elf Cay and site of the Lobster Hunter's first challenge.

Elf Cay and site of the Lobster Hunter’s first challenge.

Our next stop was Allen’s and Leaf Cay, 5 miles north, for a visit with the iguanas and lobster hunting. Plenty of iguanas but not a single lobster sighted. A large Parrotfish became a target, but he proved elusive.

Mama gives baby a ride.

Mama gives baby a ride.

For the past couple weeks Russ had been nursing snorkeler’s ear; using drops purchased in Nassau were no help, so he finally called DAN (Divers Alert Network) which we have had for the past year. Probably not a damaged ear drum, just get it looked at- soon. Our best option was the clinic at Staniel Cay, 48 miles south down the chain. Low wind meant no sailing but on the bright side we made water and stuck the jib out for a bit.
By the time we anchored (near Thunderball Grotto) 3 o’clock was coming up; would the clinic be open? As we neared the SCYC dock the Cape Crusader folk waved and we learned that they’d just visited the clinic so we might find the nurse there still. No such luck and no luck at Isles General which looked in dire need of produce from the mailboat. Rays and nurse sharks held our easily amused attention.
Russ was the first customer the next day. A 10 minute efficient ear check and antibiotic drops set us back a mere $35. I jumped on the scale to see if more or less calories were called for. Can you imagine doing this at your local clinic or MD’s office? Sure, just pop in and I’ll be prompt and have the medication you need right here- only $30- oh and sure your wife can take a picture and use the scale too. Life is simpler. We might starve but at least we’ll expire without an ear infection.

A successful clinic visit at Staniel Cay

A successful clinic visit at Staniel Cay

A stop at Staniel is not complete without a visit to see the pigs and a snorkel at the Grotto. We wanted to really show Benj the highlights – even the dump!

Will cost you $2.50/bag if you don't want to trek to the dump.

Will cost you $2.50/bag if you don’t want to trek to the dump.

After lunch at the Yacht Club (a must-do on my list) we hit the Grotto at slack low. Beautiful and easy to enter at low, the grotto opens up with a 20-foot high ceiling and an opening at the top allows the sun to stream in. Tried channeling 007; no luck there.
So now that we’d messed up our sequence we needed to get back on track (back to lobster hunting truth be told). Attempting to work with the wind we planned our stops north and then back down to BlackPoint where Benj would catch his flight to Nassau. A mild front was coming so what better time to hunker down on a mooring in gorgeously protected Wardedrick Wells. Had no trouble getting a mooring assignment; a week or two might be a different story, at least for the north field.

We checked in, bought our 24-hour block of wifi (much improved over last year with a price increase too), traded a few books and donated a DVD. The guys spent the afternoon snorkeling while I used up half the 100MB allowed in just two hours; the blog will do that. At least I wasn’t taunted by lobster and good-eatin’ fish that seem to know the sea park protects them.

In 3" of water, dig your feet in and "shrink".

In 3″ of water, dig your feet in and “shrink”.

Our mission the following day was to find our plaque up on Boo-Boo Hill and Benj would carve “2013” on it. The tide wasn’t low enough and Banshee Creek blocked our way so we hiked the Causeway Trail and eventually- like two hours later found ourselves on Boo-Boo Hill.

Benj and Lori on Causeway Trail bridge.

Benj and Lori on Causeway Trail bridge.

These crabs are far from the beach; how do they get here?

These crabs are far from the beach; how do they get here?

Now, we knew where our plaque should be because the captain said to check the picture we’d taken so we could find it again. Good thing. We looked, and looked and finally, down near a large rock at the bottom of the pile sat our plaque; one end broken off and looking very much like a crumbling piece of driftwood. The date got carved and the pieces placed back on the cairn of wood.

The third morning we moved to a mooring in the Emerald Rock field for a change of scenery, make water and get closer to the trails we planned to hike. The last trail we did was Peggy’s Trail and the camera was left behind on purpose in the hopes of  making a Hutia sighting.  The trail begins at the beach (a typical thing), starting out sandy and scrubby then rocky, with well after well along the path. Nature sounds are typically infrequent so when a rustling sound was heard, I looked toward it. Eureka!  Not one, but two Hutia, the only mammal native to the Bahamas.

The Lobster Hunter was eager to get back to it so we set sail for Norman’s Cay which lies just north of the ECLSP northern boundary. We kept just west of the Park’s bank-side boundary so the fishing lines could try to work their magic. (never had any luck though). The Lobster Hunter and his trusty companion made the rounds and finally found a great spot at Horn Cay, a tiny cay south of Norman’s. Once again: one shot, one hit, one lobster gets away! As did a second. Sea creatures abounded; rays, nurse sharks and grouper visited, all eager to investigate the wounded lobsters. An underwater camera sure would have been a plus.

Next stop- Shroud Cay a six-mile motor in flat, clear blue water. 18 ft looked like 6. Not even a ripple except the ones we made. The bottom was sand with scattered turtle grass, a few soft corals even more widely scattered. A couple of Nurse sharks swam by or maybe we went by them; hard to say. Although Shroud has moorings, the bottom is sandy and the holding good. Most boats were anchored, including a few larger yachts with their PWC toys.

The first order of business was to dinghy through Sanctuary Creek to Driftwood Beach on the Sound side.

Looking out toward Exuma Sound from atop Camp Driftwood

Looking out toward Exuma Sound from atop Camp Driftwood

Beach trash scarecrow at Driftwood Beach

Beach trash scarecrow at Driftwood Beach

Next was another trip to Horn Cay which lies closer to Shroud. No lobstering allowed in the Park, but do the lobsters know the boundary line? We hoped they weren’t that smart, but the tide was too high and the current too strong and the disappointed Lobster Hunters returned much too soon.

Continuing our trek south, we headed to Hawksbill Cay (still in the Sea Park), this time a 6 mile screacher-only sail. We hadn’t used the poor thing since repairing it and this was a perfect time in low winds to get a good look. Didn’t see any areas we’d missed stitching; can only hope it holds until May.

Hawksbill was one of two stops so far that were new to us (Norman’s the other) and I was looking forward to the Russell Ruins hike. We had gotten maps for the four ECLSP locations; Shroud, Hawksbill, Warderick and Cambridge last season at the Park HQ. They show trails, snorkeling spots and mooring ball locations along with tidbits of info about ruins, cautions about snorkeling, etc. We dinghied to the beach with a Park sign posted and followed the trail. Left the map behind in a very daring, uncharacteristic move! Was an easy walk that soon led to the rocky cliffs on the Sound side, and whoa! Not walking along that rocky edge- no way. We head back, looking for the fork in the trail that the map mentions, but we never saw. A bit of lunch improves our thinking ability and as we study the map, Russ realizes we began at the wrong beach. Duh- the Russell Ruins are off the Russell Ruins Beach.

By now though, we’d entered into the Arts & Crafts portion of the trip which would find Benj carving a SeaHeart bean (for his sweetheart) and this afternoon he’d traded his pole spear for jewelry making- so much more gratifying to have something when you are done- IMO. Using beach treasures and silver wire I’d bought before leaving CT he planned to create a necklace pendant.

The correct beach was a one minute ride and what do you know, the sign on the beach pointed the way to the ruins.  A short jump from the beach were the ruins of 10 houses and many outbuildings dating back to 1785- 1830. The Crown gave a grant to the Russell family to settle on Hawksbill and the cay remained occupied by various families until approx 1900. A beehive oven was used for cooking as well as to incinerate conch shells for use in the making of mortar to lines the walls of the “houses”.

Beehive oven at Russell Ruins- Hawksbill Cay

Beehive oven at Russell Ruins- Hawksbill Cay

We didn’t look for or find all 10 houses (mosquitoes) but it was the best ruins we’ve seen in a long time. The families had poultry and pigs and maybe even harvested fruit from the tamarind trees which was used to make beverages.

Meanwhile back on the mother ship Benj had created a lovely pendant- taking my advice, I am happy to say. Earlier we’d brainstormed and decided that he would create coasters for Lily’s family, using the fabric squares I’d bought on Man O’ War in Abaco.  He had one done already, so no problem mon getting the others done in time.

Lovely! Shell with seaglass and the first coaster.

Lovely! Shell with seaglass and the first coaster.

Friday, Jan 4 found us with a 26-mile trip down to Pipe Cay, sailing for a couple of hours until we were less than 36° off the wind and even we can’t sail well that close. We chose a spot in the narrow area between the southern tip of Pipe Cay and the NW side of the much smaller Little Pipe Cay. Much of the Pipe Creek area is shallow with great exploration sand bars exposed at low tide. As we approached, the chart became useless as water depth was easily determined by color. With only room for one boat where we wanted to anchor, we were lucky no one else was right there. Anchored in 12ft, but when we dropped back the depth was 6ft. Ok, we draw 3ft (a bit less thankfully) and the tide was high. Later that night, when the current switched around we found ourselves in 3.1 ft. The bottom all around us was entirely sand- so no worries.

This was the Lobster Hunter’s last stand; would he even see one let alone bring one in?  Alas, the snorkeling out by the rock was great for the visual but not a single crustacean around. That darn non-existent underwater camera would have come in handy – a sea turtle was spotted – twice; the second time he was lounging, just resting his head on his leg which was propped on a rock near a large coral head.

The next morning we dinghy’d as close to the eastern shore of Pipe Cay as water allowed. I’d hoped to show Benj the oodles of young conch on what I call Conch Beach. If we saw 3 live young un’s we saw them all. Guess the time wasn’t right.  Picked up a bunch of orange shells for my growing collection.

Our destination was BlackPoint to: tackle laundry in the Exuma’s best laundromat, scrounge for food, deliver our school boxes,use wifi at Lorraine’s and where Benj would catch a flight to Nassau before heading back to the States. No eggs- darn. But we did buy two limes, a carrot and 2 bottles of half-skim UHT milk. Now it was my turn to beg an egg.

School boxes. Lori talks with Tracey and Max of Sandibeach

School boxes. Lori talks with Tracey and Max of Sandibeach

Sunday night was BBQ buffet at Lorraine’s and that was a no-brainer. The conch fritters whetted our appetites for the dinner choices to come: lamb, chicken, ribs, battered fish, peas & rice, coleslaw, mac & cheese and dessert. Most of the time, the bar is self-serve. If you are just buying a drink simply leave the money and if you’re in for the buffet, then keep track on a piece of paper at the bar and pay at the end. Easy and much more trusting than at home, wouldn’t you say?

Lorraine's has a new sign and new exterior paint- nice!

Lorraine’s has a new sign and new exterior paint- nice!

The guys chow down at Lorraine's Cafe.

The guys chow down at Lorraine’s Cafe.

Da plane, da plane! Monday was the day. We arrived in plenty of time to relax and take some pictures. We’d heard that Ida wasn’t going to be at the Laundromat on Monday- well that’s because she and her daughter were flying to Nassau. A couple others joined us including the ticket agent. The plane landed- was the 9-seater rather than the 14; the pilot gets out and loads the baggage in the compartments by the nose, we say our final good-byes and the passengers stuff themselves in. The scenic flight to Nassau would take about 45 minutes. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Oh, i forgot to mention that the Creative Blog Writing portion of the visit had no takers; maybe next time 🙂

fat the plane

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One thought on “Two weeks in North and Central Exumas

  1. Pingback: March 22-28: HBs, TSs, and BBBBB – Cruising along the East Coast and Bahamas

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