The journey from West Bay, near Nassau, to Highbourne Cay was completely uneventful. No coral heads to really be worried about, as we’d feared, no wind (again), and just a relaxing motor day. The one thing that’s been great is that we’re getting very accustomed to traveling out of sight of land, something we’ve never done on our own prior to now!
When we arrived at Highbourne Cay, we saw the plethora of boats in the anchorage and the lack of a lovely beach nearby, and decided it would be a short stop – while we did want to see the iguanas at nearby Allen’s Cay, we just didn’t get the vibe that this was an anchorage to settle in at. So the next morning we woke up, dinghied in for fuel and (as it turned out, very expensive) provisions, and then hit the road for Norman’s Cay, a mere 12 miles south.
Now, arriving at Norman’s…we looked at each other and felt like, wow, this is what we’ve been waiting for! Beautiful cove, pretty quiet (only a handful of boats), and it felt like the right place to settle in for a few days. But no sooner had we inflated the SUP and kayak that we received our “Chris Parker” weather email, telling us that we were in for some nasty west winds and squalls later in the week. And Norman’s, with its full exposure to the west, was not going to be the right place to be.
We started scouting out possible spots on the charts and the guide books. We’d probably have to skip Shroud Cay, even though we’d really wanted to explore the mangrove-lined “river” that links the Exuma Banks to the Exuma Sound, as we’d heard it was a must see. The next best place seemed to be Warderick Wells, a spot we’d thought of skipping as we heard that if you weren’t into hiking, there wasn’t much of interest. However, it did have mooring balls you could reserve, as well as two mooring fields that would offer protection from the west wind. The story there is that you tune in on your VHF in the morning at 9 and could call in a request. However, Norman’s, at about 20 miles to the north, was too far to hear anything at all during the broadcast, so we decided just to make our way down there and see what was up.
We arrived around 1 and dropped anchor outside of the one non-protected mooring field, and called in to see what mooring we could get. Unfortunately, the two fields that would give us the protection we wanted were filled up, but we could at least get a ball in the Emerald Rock field – completely exposed to the west, but at least we’d feel confident in strong winds on a mooring as opposed to at anchor.
The first thing I said to Brian was, “You know how I suggested we skip this place? That it wouldn’t be that great? Never listen to me again.” The water and surrounding landscape were absolutely stunning, the colors beautiful, the water clear and warm. When we dinghied to the park office to pay our mooring fees, we were blown away by how beautiful it was.
Wednesday Brian got work done on the dinghy and then we went out to explore the cove. We were in search of a beach to lie on, which was surprisingly difficult to find – many of them had lots of rocks right up to the shoreline and we didn’t want to cause any damage to the dink. So we stopped at a swim platform right out in the middle of the mooring field for a bit to chill out and swim.
The winds started picking up on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning the boat was really rocking and rolling. I managed to nap through one of the nastier squalls, but most of the day, we were just rolling our eyes at one another – although we did get the issue with the port aft head resolved and I got it scrubbed up.
Things got REALLY interesting right after sunset – we heard someone blast an air horn so we turned on the VHF, and a few minutes later a French accent comes on saying, “Summer Rolls, Summer Rolls, this is Lady M…we are taking on water…can you help?” This is the boat right next to us, and of course we want to help if they are sinking! However, right as the call came in, a major squall hit and there was no way we could get the dinghy down into the water safely. I explained that yes, we’d help, but it would have to wait until at least the squall passed. Brian sprang into action, getting his 12 volt water pump and flashlight ready. Both of us were scared sh*tless – we want to help a fellow boater, that whole “pay it forward” thing – but at the same time, it could be really dangerous for Brian to try to get the dinghy down and then get over to the other boat. Thankfully, a short while later, they hail us again to tell us they’ve found the leak, they’re not sinking, they’re ok – and we’re relieved we don’t have to make a really tough decision. (Note: this morning we’re talking to the Park Ranger, who as it turned out was listening to this whole dialogue, says it’s a charter boat and doesn’t seem to have much sympathy – and being a charter with crew who isn’t familiar with the boat is probably why the guy wanted Brian to just jump in his dinghy and go help find some random leak in the middle of a raging storm – I feel sympathy, but on the other hand, it’s the type of situation that I don’t think full-time cruisers would put us in)
After a day cooped up on the boat, we decided to spend one more day here at Warderick and explore. Now, we HATE hiking, it’s just not our thing, but we figured we should at least check out the island a bit. The hike to Boo Boo Hill was really interesting, with salt flats and moonscape limestone formations, and Camp Driftwood at the top (we didn’t think ahead to put our boat name on a piece to leave there), and the views were totally worth it. Then we finally got our first great snorkeling in – loads of gorgeous, multicolored fish and beautiful coral formations. In the morning we’d noticed these really BIG, UGLY fish hanging out around the boat, so when we went up to the park office, we asked what they were – turns out they’re Remora, the fish you see hanging off the sides of sharks and on top of rays. They seemed to mistake Summer for a big shark, I guess, and feeding them scraps gave us hours of entertainment. I was a little freaked to jump in the water, but apparently I don’t look like a big shark so they left me alone when I swam 😉
It was a great week or so out in the middle of nowhere, but now it was time for a bit of civilization, Bahamas “Out Island” style – the beer supplies were running low (I was actually pretty impressed that our stores lasted nearly a month!), so we were bound for Staniel Cay, which boasts at least 3 tiny grocery stores, a few bars/restaurants, Thunderball Grotto for snorkeling (made famous by the James Bond movie) and…what I really can’t wait for…SWIMMING PIGS! THAT YOU CAN SWIM WITH!! SQUEE!!!!!!