Saturday, May 19, 2018

Exquisite Exumas


We saw these words on a wall at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, and thought that they captured the essence of the Exumas perfectly. Even though the weather has been terrible, with primarily cloudy, windy, overcast days with plenty of rain and thunderstorms, during the few moments when the sun did peek out, we saw the beauty of the Exumas. Although we have not seen the rest of the Bahamas to make a comparison, we can’t imagine them being more stunning than the Exumas. We feel blessed to have this beautiful playground basically on our doorstep, and can’t believe that we had never before made the short trip over from Florida. Maybe it’s a good thing we hadn’t been here before…we may never have left on our circumnavigation! Out of all the places we have now seen sailing around the world, the Exumas are right up there as one of the most beautiful!

We left Norman’s Cay on Friday, May 4th, having said our farewells to Moby the night before. It was a strong north east wind that blew that day, the perfect direction we needed to head back south, and with 2 reefs in the main, and about 60% jib out, we were fine to handle the often 30+ knot winds that came our way. It took us about 5 or 6 hours to sail back to Black Point, a small settlement along a nice, protected anchorage on Great Guana Cay. There was some not-so-nice weather coming, and we wanted to be secure to hunker down for a few days. And hunker we did! We spent a windy, rainy weekend at Black Point, catching up on all things that needed internet, as we now had access again! When there was a break in the rain, we took the dinghy ashore and explored the small town.

Top:  Ben and Dave walk down the one and only street in Black Point; Middle:  the clinic (it was closed), one of the boats we had seen racing at the Island Family Regatta in George Town, and Gaby and Dave take in the view of Exuma Sound from the top of Great Guana Cay

When Monday morning came around, we decided it was time to move on. The weather was still not great, but it showed no signs of improving, and we couldn’t stay in Black Point forever! Next on our agenda was Staniel Cay, just a few miles further north. As we headed in that direction, the weather seemed to improve a little, and by the time we anchored near “Thunderball Grotto”, the sun made one of its rare appearances! Thunderball Grotto is a spectacular skylit underwater cave that has featured in several movies, one of them being the James Bond movie, Thunderball. We were excited to snorkel there, as we had heard a lot about it from both SandStar and Moby. We were dreading the many tourists and tour boats, but luck shone upon us, and when we arrived, we were the only ones there! Having the Grotto all to ourselves was wonderful, and only a few people arrived during the time we were there. There are numerous way to enter, and we found one, where we dove under the rock through a tunnel, and when you came up the other side, you were in the cave! The fish were glad to see us, obviously used to being fed by the many visitors, but we didn’t bring any food for them. They still hung around in hopes of finding a scrap or two, but soon went about their business as usual.

Gaby enters the grotto through one of the entrances, making a striking image.
  Ben enters through another, narrower one, inside the grotto, you can see the skylight, and the fish swim merrily in and out

Once our snorkeling expedition was done, we moved Cool Runnings around the corner to Big Majors Spot, another big bay, and secure anchorage for the wind direction we were expecting. But the weather has a mind of its own, and during the night, the rain poured down, the thunder rolled and the wind blew…from the west. We found ourselves on a lee shore, facing into the waves that were rolling in from the Exuma Bank. It was a rough night, but our anchor was secure, which was the main thing. The following day was still grey and rainy and for a while, the wind still blew from the west. We considered moving and finding a better anchorage, but anchorages with shelter from the west are few and far between in the Exumas, and since we were only mildly uncomfortable, we stayed, and soon conditions improved. It rained all day, and only late in the afternoon, after being sequestered on the boat all day, did we finally have enough and we launched the dinghy. Although it was raining on and off, we went exploring, through a narrow cut at Fowl’s Cay resort where we watched as the current pulled us and then turned us in the many whirlpools that were created!

The current rips, pulling us in the dinghy.  Even in the grey weather, the landscape is quite beautiful, the water still crystal clear

Big Majors Spot is the place where the famous swimming pigs are located. The kids and I had been so excited to see these swimming pigs…and I’ll go on record as saying we were sorely disappointed! We’d seen plenty of videos that made it look like they were all over the Bahamas, in the most remote locations, no other boats or people around, swimming happily up to the boat. Not so. There are some big, fat pigs on the beach, that is aptly named “Pig Beach”, but they know they are going to be fed by the stream of boats bringing tourists to see them, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a pig to go knee deep in water to take a carrot from you, if you wait long enough, and dangle it long enough. But we were here, and a visit to Pig Beach was sort of mandatory.

Hi Big Piggy

So after our little exploration trip on the dinghy, we took along our “expired” vegetables, and went ashore at Pig Beach. Because of the time of day, and the weather, there was no one else there. A small, brown pig came up to greet us, to see what we had to offer. I had some sweet potato that I had hung on to for too long, that was now more suited to pig food. A much larger pig then ambled up and also enjoyed some sweet potato. And that was probably the extent of our “swimming” pig visit. We watched with fascination the next morning, when the weather was a little better, as boat upon boat arrived with their guests: our favourite name was “swimmingpigtours.com”. We even heard the one guide tell his guests: “You’ve paid a lot of money to see swimming pigs, so make them come to you. You can feed pigs on a farm, but you can only make them swim here. So stay in the boat, make them come to you”…and so on. Poor Pigs…

Pigs on Pig Beach

The weather the next day, Wednesday, May 9th, was looking a little better and Thunderball Grotto was calling our names! We all really wanted to snorkel there one more time, so we left Big Majors Spot, and went back around the corner to Thunderball Grotto. Perhaps because we are late in the season, or because someone was feeling bad about all the bad weather being sent our way, but we had the Grotto to ourselves again! We relished in the solitude of the place, and enjoyed swimming around one last time. 

Dave snorkels through the north underwater entrance to the cave; So many fish!;Iinside the grotto; Family selfie inside Thunderball Grotto!

 We then took the dinghy over to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, the happening place on Staniel Cay. A short walk beyond the boundries of the Yacht Club proved it was really the only place on Staniel Cay! We found a church, a small grocery store, and a few small guest cottages, but that was about it! Moby had vouched for the burgers at the Yacht Club, so as a treat, we decided to have a late lunch there. The food was great (any food I don’t have to cook is AWESOME!).

A view of the Yacht Club and Staniel Cay from the water; The Yacht Club dinghy dock/beach; A walk around the town revealed some lovely old trees and beautiful flowers; The Yacht Club napkin and the Church at Staniel Cay

After our late lunch, we upped anchor and slowly wound our way through the shallow waters between Big Majors and Little Majors, past North Gaulin Cay and Fowl Cay Resort, and finally past Dennis Cay and dropped anchor for the night at Sampson Cay. It was a great day.

The chart of Staniel Cay and surrounding area:  The circle at Fowl Cay Resort shows where we took the dinghy through with the very strong current; the circle at Big Majors Spot is where we anchored for 2 nights:  so with the wind coming from the west (or the left as we are looking at it), you can see there's no protection!  The pigs were on the beach in the corner just above the word "Majors".  The circle around the small islands indicated the position of Thunderball Grotto, and then Staniel Cay Yacht Club and the small settlement of Staniel Cay's position is also circled. 
On this chart you can also see the route described above (Dennis Cay is right at the top and cut off)

Having enjoyed our little sojourn through the shallow, narrow channels the day before, and with the day (Thursday, May 10th), again looking somewhat promising on the weather front, we decided to thread our way through the narrow channels from Sampson Cay up to Compass Cay. It was delightful, and although lookouts on both bows were needed most of the time, to spot for coral heads or shallow water, it was beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We picked a beautiful spot between Pipe Cay and Compass Cay and dropped our anchor in crystal clear, shallow water.

Making our way to Compass Cay.  It's so beautiful when the sun shines!!  Checking the depths en route...when you have a 4ft draft and the depth meter reads 4.1ft, you know you don't have a lot of wiggle room!

We spent the afternoon swimming and snorkeling around the boat, the kids having a blast doing I don’t know what, but enjoying themselves tremendously for hours in the water! Sun-downers were enjoyed on the deck...this is what it was all about!

Dave and Gaby check the anchor; the water is so crystal clear, it blends right into the sky; diving to the sandy bottom; Ahhh...yes please!

The following morning, after watching a nasty storm pass by, Dave flew the drone, and got some amazing footage of the area.
The storm approaches

The water is so clear, the "blemish" you see on the bottom right, is a patch of rock under the water

A few more images captured by the drone

It was now Friday, May 11th, and time to move on again. We edged our way out of channel at Compass Cay and headed to Fowl Cay ready to snorkel on the “Rocky Dundas”, two more grottos we had heard about. We approached the beautiful anchorage at Fowl Cay (different from the Fowl Cay at Staniel Cay!), and anchored a bit off the beach with 2 other boats already there. Fowl Cay is a private island, and we were not allowed to go ashore there. We lowered the dinghy and headed over to the “Rocky Dundas”, where we found dinghy moorings and secured the dinghy. We had heard that these grottos were just as spectacular as the Thunderall Grotto, but maybe we caught them on a bad day. There was a lot of surge, and it was difficut to enter them. Although spectacular in their own way, we still thought Thunderball was much nicer!

One of the Rocky Dundas rocks - you snorkel under the edge until you find the opening; Inside one of the grottos with the skylight from a hole in the top; Looking from the inside out:  this is the gap in one of the grottos you swim through to get out;  We found a huge piece of coral just outside one of the grottos
After a dingy ride around the Rocky Dundas and Fowl Cay, we once again lifted our anchor and headed to Cambridge Cay. We had seen this anchorage when we had entered the cut into the Exuma Bank from the Exuma Sound, on our mission to catch up to Moby, two and a half weeks earlier. It looked beautiful, and I wanted to go there! Once again, we carefully edged our way through the shallow water and picked up one of the Exuma Land and Sea Park mooring buoys. It was our home for the next 2 nights.

The anchorage at Cambridge Cay snapped during a short spell of sunshine!

The next day, Saturday, May 12th, although overcast and grey in the morning, it managed to stay somewhat dry. Dave decided that a trip up the mast was a good idea, since it had not been done since Cape Town, South Africa, and he wanted to check the rig. Up he went and a “quick trip up the mast” turned into a 4 hour exercise. It was a good thing he went, because he discovered that the spinnaker halyard block needed some repairs.

Dave at the top of the mast from the bottom looking up;  Dave does a selfie, 70ft up in the air;  A view of the boat from the top down;  and an aerial view of the Cambridge Cay area taken from the top of the mast

While he was up there, the skies cleared and we saw patches of blue for the first time in a while! We were anxious for him to finish his work, so we could go and explore. We saw on the chart that there was another sunken plane, a mile or so from where we were anchored, and the chart also showed some coral gardens we wanted to explore. Get down from the mast, Dave!!

The chart showing, from the bottom, our anchorage area; the position of the submerged plane and the coral gardens

The plane was a small Cessna sitting upside down on the sandy bottom.  It was quite deep here and there was extremely strong current.  
Some of the very pretty coral we snorkeled on

Sunday morning dawned partly cloudy, and we were on our way again. It was Mother’s Day…who knew?! We certainly didn’t, until we received a quick Whatsapp message from Dave’s sister, Kim! With us now being back in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, cell phone reception, and thus internet access was sketchy to non-existent, so all Happy Mother’s Day wishes had to be done via text messaging, with a hope that they went through! Our destination today was Shroud Cay, about 12 miles north. We arrived and anchored sometime after lunch, and were surprised at the number of boats that were anchored there. When we had been there previously with Moby, there were only one or two other boats besides us there. Now I counted 10 or more! The other difference from when we had last been there with Moby, was the weather. Our first visit was in pouring rain, today, it was partly sunny!! We were excited…we wanted to do the river trip again, but this time in sunshine!

Gaby's footprints are the only ones in the sand!
The Exquisite Exumas I was talking about:  Sandbanks at Shroud Cay

We launched the dinghy and noticed one other difference: when we had done the river trip with Moby, it had been high tide…now the tide was at the low end, and many sandbanks, that we had not previously seen, made themselves visible! It also proved a little more challenging getting up the river, but it was not impossible! We made our way through the mangroves, this time marveling at the beauty of the water colors, and enjoying spotting a few little turtles on the way. As soon as they saw us, they dove and swam away at an impressive speed! Soon we saw the ocean! And the colors were spectacular! We again climbed the little hill to Camp Driftwood, where in days gone by, authorities would perch and watch the drugs coming and going on at next door Norman’s Cay.

Quite a difference to the time we made this trip with Moby in the pouring rain! 
We enter the river on the Exuma Bank side, wind our way up through the mangroves, and eventually come out the other side:  we see the ocean!
The river spills out into the sea, which is much calmer this time around!

We just can't get enough of the beautiful colors!
On the top of the hill at Camp Driftwood
On return to the boat, we noticed one last difference: it was much rockier than it had been when we were there last. Even though it was about 4:30pm, we still had enough light to seek shelter elsewhere, and not wanting to endure an uncomfortable night, we picked up our anchor and headed to Norman’s Cay, about 4 miles away. Before the sun set, we were comfortably at anchor with 3 other boats, enjoying sundowners. I was treated to a Mother’s Day dinner (Dave made bangers and mash, and Gaby laid the table, adding the flowers). It was simple, but once again, because I didn’t have to cook, and it was the thought that counted, it was very delicious and very special!


On Monday morning, we left Norman’s Cay, having explored it pretty extensively already with Moby, and headed about 7 miles north to Highborne Cay. The wind was blowing and the day was overcast. We sailed with our jib only, and on approaching Highborne, we looked at the boats in the anchorage. They were rockin’ and rollin’ and we didn’t want to have any of that! We looked at the charts and noticed another anchorage on the north side of Highborne that looked like it would provide much better shelter. We had to weave our way through some pretty extensive coral reefs, but made it into the sheltered bay and shared it with two other boats. We edged our way as far as we could towards the beach, in order to get the maximum protection. During one low tide, we saw how close we were to the bottom…only inches between our keels and the sandy bottom!

The light blue color means shallow water ahead.  Ben is posted on the bow to keep a lookout.  

Once safely anchored at Highborne...our keels almost touch the bottom at low tide!!
Once again due to weather, we were sequestered at Highborne Cay. All of Monday was spent “indoors” as it rained and the wind blew. Tuesday was a repeat of Monday’s weather, and during a very short spell on Tuesday afternoon, the sun made an appearance and Gaby and I, suffering from a case of cabin fever, went for a swim off the back of the boat. This little expedition was cut short when we were joined by a big stingray, a creepy barracuda and a rather large nurse shark! Even though they would probably all be more afraid of us, we still felt better being in our own environment than in theirs!

Underwater Highborne:  the friendly stingray, tiny fish just under the surface of the water; we found so many sand dollars and some pretty shells
On Wednesday, May 16th, the rain stopped and it was partly cloudy. After lunch, we decided to take the dinghy over to Allen’s Cay, about a mile and a half away, to go and check out some Iguanas. Once again, we didn’t take food for them, but we know that people do feed them. We landed the dinghy on the beach and soon enough, they started appearing. At one point, there were 14 iguanas, big and small, that had made their way onto the beach to check us out! They are prehistoric looking creatures, but some I found quite beautiful, with green heads and shades of pink on their necks or legs.

We explored a little more and then on the way back, stopped at a coral reef and did some snorkeling. I had never really associated the Bahamas with good coral reefs, but we have found quite a few beautiful ones and have enjoyed snorkeling on them.

Top:  At Allen's Cay with the iguanas, more iguanas, the coral we snorkeled on on the way back, and Bottom: exploring the beach at Allen's Cay after our iguana visit

The rain and bad weather had given us a lot of time to think and talk. We had been discussing our next movements because we had reached the top of the Exuma Cays chain, and were at a crossroads. One road led us to the Abacos, the other lead us towards the Berry Islands.

Our original plan had been to sail over to Spanish Wells at the top of Eleuthera, then over to the Abaco group of islands, then back track a little over the Bight of Abaco (on the west side), then over to the Berry Islands, to Bimini, then to the Florida Keys and then home. We then started talking about possibly skipping the Abacos, and sailing to Nassau, then the Berry Islands and the same route home. We thought that maybe we were trying to fit too much into the time we had left. We thought that maybe we just wanted to get home. We thought that maybe we had just had enough of cruising. 

Maybe it was the depressing weather that played negatively on our minds, but in the end, we made the decision to skip the Abacos and leave them for another trip, when we would have more time to devote to them, and to enjoy them properly.   One thing we have learned while cruising is that you can't see everything.  Often we have had to make a decision to skip a destination or two.  Rather than try and "touch" every place, we'd rather spend quality time in one place, while missing another.  It has also taught us to be flexible.  We never quite know where we'll be when, and we often change our minds at the last minute. Living in such close proximity to the Bahamas certainly allows us the opportunity of going back to the Abacos at a later stage, and so the decision was made: skip the Abacos, head straight to the Berry Islands via Nassau and then back to Florida by the end of May.

The Islands of the Bahamas with our 2 route options home:  Route A via the Abacos (in brown), and Route B (in green), the route we ultimately decided on  (image from OnTheWorldMap.com)

On Thursday morning, May 17th, after nudging our way out again across the coral reefs, we hoisted our big blue and yellow spinnaker and had a great sail, 30 odd nautical miles to New Providence Island, Nassau.

Sunset at Highborne Cay.  Gaby's keen eye for photography catches the raindrops on our sail bag...rain has pretty much defined our stay in the Bahamas!
On a fun note, ever wonder what we are eating?!  ( I last went grocery shopping in the Turks and Caicos!).

I still bake break almost every day, sometimes it is Foccacia (pictured here with cheese, salami and a delicious chickpea salad made with tomato, cucumber and feta); We once traded 2 cold beers for this huge lobster tail!; We still fish:  Dave caught this Spanish Mackerel on the way to the Berry Islands, and from the ocean to the table doesn't take long: The Spanish Mackerel is grilled and served with rice and veggies!  We are not starving!!


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Meeting Moby (in the Exuma Land and Sea Park)

April 29th is a very special day. 14 years ago on the 29th of April, Benjamin was born! He has now had 3 birthdays while we’ve been cruising: his 12th in the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off the coast of Key West Florida; his 13th in the Whitsundays, Australia; and now his 14th in Grand Exuma, Bahamas.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin!
We woke up early on that Sunday, the 29th April, 2018, and quietly slipped out of the anchorage in George Town. We didn’t yet have a plan as to where we would end up that day, but we knew we had to make the most of the wind direction, even though it was light, in order to make headway north. We let our birthday boy sleep in, and slowly motor-sailed out into Exuma Sound. Our goal was to get as close as possible to where our friends on Moby were anchored, or if possible, to catch up to them once and for all!

It was a simple birthday…no big presents, actually no presents at all other than a packet of Jellytots (South African candy) that I had stashed away, and home-made cards. The only thing Ben had asked for was a “pudding cake” also known as “Yoav’s birthday cake”! When Yoav (on Shuti) had his 13th birthday in Chagos, we were all treated to a delicious “pudding cake”. It has now become a favorite of both our kids, and when it was Gaby’s birthday in Cape Town, Shuti made her a pudding cake too! (It’s literally just cookies and pudding in layers – very simple, very yummy!). So using the very detailed directions from Lilach (with drawings!), I managed to produce a pudding cake for Benjamin! Thanks to all on Shuti…your pudding cake will live on for many years!

Lilach's most excellent directions on how to make the pudding cake! (thanks, Lilach, and I hope you don't mind me sharing your recipe with the world!!); Ben thanks Gaby for her card, and Ben and Gaby are ready to tuck into the pudding cake!
We were making good progress up the chain of the Exumas, and decided to check the last email we had received from Moby the day before to check on their position. They were in South Warderick Wells. We checked the charts: If we took the cut above Warderick Wells, we would still have to back track a fair distance south (about 4 miles), to get past the shallows and into an anchorage. If we took a cut further south, we could be in the shelter of the islands, and then look for an anchorage anywhere between there and Warderick Wells, if we didn’t make it in time. Just as we were discussing this, we were coming up to a wide opening, and were watching a small cargo ship go through. We decided that this cut was as good as any, and decided to go in.

Gaby at the bow, watching for shallow patches as we enter the pass
We entered at Conch Cut, between Compass Cay on the south, and Cambridge Cay to the north.  This is the southern boundary of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, a national park.  Luckily sunset is around 7:30pm, giving us plenty of daylight to continue north. Our final decision had been to make it in one go, meet up with Moby, spend a few days with them, and then head south again, to explore all that we had missed. At about 6:00pm that evening, after a full 12 hours underway, we entered the anchorage behind Warderick Wells Cay, near Emerald Rock, where we had read that you could anchor. We could see Moby on a mooring buoy on the northern mooring field. Their dinghy was not on the boat. We watched for a while, and soon saw them returning. We thought they might see us, but we watched as they lifted their dinghy up and seemed to settle in for the night. Dave decided he should go over and let them know we were here. I was busy making pizza for Ben’s birthday dinner, so I didn’t go along, but Dave, Ben and Gaby dinghied over to Moby. Apparently they snuck up on them, and then shouted “surprise”!! And a surprise it was! They had not been expecting us, so were thrilled to see us! A plan was made to get together the following morning and work out the travels north from there.

The view from my kitchen window:  Sunset at Warderick Wells while I was making pizza!

The following day, the new convoy of Moby and Cool Runnings headed north to Hawksbill Cay. There are many shallow sand banks that are constantly shifting, so eyeball navigation is absolutely required here. The water is crystal clear, and the shades of turquoise amazing. There was only one other boat anchored off the long beach at Hawksbill Cay, so we managed to find a good spot in nice sand off the beach. 

A map of the Exuma Cays to provide some orientation; Ben at the bow watching the shallows on the way to Hawksbill Cay and Moby races past us!

It didn’t take long before everyone was in the water, the paddleboards were out, and the kids were soon on the beach. The parents followed, and while the kids played we got caught up on all our experiences over the last 4 months since we’d last seen them in Cape Town. 

Enjoying Hawksbill Cay

 The evening ended on board Moby, where Benedicte opened a bottle of champagne, and we toasted to friendship, to the accomplishment of a circumnavigation, to Loic’s 50th birthday (on the 28th), Ben’s 14th birthday (on the 29th), and good times ahead!  Lots to celebrate!

We stayed at Hawksbill Cay the following day, and Loic and Victor made the most of the wind, kiting and windsurfing, while the Hibberds, Benedicte and Anna went exploring. 

Loic enjoying some windsurfing
We found a small cave, and then a path that led us over the island, to the ocean side, where the fury of the wind could really be felt! We were glad we had taken the window and made the trip up north when we did, because the angry sea we were looking at, bore no resemblance to the calm ocean we had been in just a few days prior. But the beauty was still there, and we walked up and down the beach on the ocean side, Anna enjoying catching the foam, and watching it blow away! 

The cave as seen from the water; Gaby and Anna climb in the cave; crystal clear water; Dave securing the dinghy

Contrast of 2 sides of an island:  the sea on the ocean side with white caps and seaweed washed up on the beach, and the tranquility of the leeward, sheltered side, with calm seas and crystal clear, turquoise water as far as the eye can see!; On the walk we saw a landscape of trees that appeared magical, silver in color, probably the dust of the limestone rock on the island; Anna blows the sea foam; we discovered this seaweed on the beach in the shape of a heart; with Benedicte...friends forever!
That evening, the Helies family came over to Cool Runnings, but it was Benedicte who fed the 2 families! We were treated to a dinner of Bretton crepes…a specialty of Brittany, the region in France that Loic and Benedicte are from. Back in St. Pierre, Martinique, we had managed to find just 1kg of the flour that Benedicte needed to make the crepes and had delivered it to her on our reunion a few days earlier! 

Benedicte slaving over a hot stove; Gaby declares the crepes "magnifique"; Gaby and Victor enjoying the dinner; Dave and Loic discuss anchorages in the Exuma Cays; one of Benedicte's magnifique crepes!
The following morning saw us heading just a few miles north to Shroud Cay. We had been looking forward to exploring this Cay, as we had read about a river that runs through the mangroves, and comes out on the ocean side. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not cooperating with us, and the day was heavy with dark clouds. We had hoped to do our little outing before the heavens opened up, but it didn’t work out that way, so in wind and rain we headed through the mangroves! We could only imagine how beautiful the colors would be in sunshine, but the expanse of the mangroves themselves was impressive nonetheless! On our return to the boat, we did a little more exploring, and later that afternoon, after everyone had snuggled up with a good book or movie, and there was a break in the rain, Loic, Benedicte, Dave and I went back to the beach and explored some more. 

Moby dinghies past us on the river...we see the ocean!;  A view of the maize of mangroves and creeks; Ben and Gaby shelter from the pouring rain...and then show themselves; Loic, Gudrun and Anna on Camp Driftwood on the ocean side at the end of our dinghy ride
Cool Runnings' Footprints in the sand:  Bahamas, May 2018

Exploring Shroud Cay:  Ours are the only footprints on the beach; a little beach amongst the jaggerd rocks, and the mangrove roots exposed at low tide  

Next on the agenda was Norman’s Cay, just a few miles further north. We were enjoying these little hops and stops! For many years, Norman’s Cay was under the control of drug lord Carlos Lehder, and boats did not stop here. Apparently armed guards patrolled the beaches, as planes flew drugs in and out of the country. A remnant of these days exists in the form of a sunken drug plane that crashed near the airstrip, and now rests on the sandy floor, in a few meters of water. It was quite a large plane, a DC3 according to my aviation expert Benjamin, and at low tide, part of the plane is exposed. We anchored near the plane, and set off to explore as a dark cloud ominously approached over the horizon. We were all in the water when the heavens opened up, and the raindrops were so large and heavy, that they stung like pellets! It was safer to be underwater, but even here, we could hear the pelting of the heavy rain!

Ben looks through a window, while Gaby snorkels above

The plane itself was cool to snorkel on. You could still clearly see the wings, the propellers, the cockpit, the windows and the tail. Some beautiful coral had made the plane its home, and the fish darted in and out of the wreckage. They are not shy, probably used to being fed by other visitors, and would come so close that you had to “shoo” them away! One of the fish gave Dave a little nip, probably in protest of not being fed! They curiously looked at the GoPro and at your mask, so that you literally would be eyeball to eyeball with the fishies!

One of the propellers; Gaby swims through the front of the plane; windows from the side; and the coral growth
After our excursion, we moved the big boats to a slightly more secure anchorage and then went about exploring the land. It is strange how each island has its own unique landscape. Where Hawksbill Cay had a beautiful beach with soft, white sand, Norman’s had almost no beach at all, just lots of rock, and Shroud Cay was full of mangroves, which were not prevalent on either Hawksbill or Norman’s. With Loic being a pilot, we went and had a look at the runway, with which he was very impressed. We noticed small planes landing and taking off at quite a rapid pace, often with very little time between landings and take-offs.

The runway at Norman's Cay and the view of the landscape
Later that afternoon, we took the dinghy around the island to look at a marina that is being built. It is most impressive, and no cost is being spared to build it. (We wondered if maybe some left over drug money was being used to finance it!! 😉). Although it was a Thursday afternoon, we did not see much activity, and the place seemed like a ghost town, although there did seem to be progress with the construction. 

Marina construction:  The pylons are in place, the limestone is just dug away to make a channel; the barge at the marina entrance


We dinghied past the sunken plane, and to the flats behind it, and marveled at the landscape produced by the water that had now completely receded at low tide.
Top:  The shallows at low tide, a weird landscape of small pools and sand mounds; Bottom: The sunken plane at low tide, and in better weather; Anna inspects the mangrove roots on the shallow flats
That evening, we decided on a potluck dinner. We had both checked the weather, and an opportunity had opened up the following day (Friday), and just for one day, that would allow us to sail back south to the start of the Exuma Cays. If we stayed with Moby any longer, it would be days before we had the direction we needed to get back south, and by which time they would have moved on to Eleuthera and possibly further to prepare for their Atlantic crossing, and we didn’t want to get too far north, as we would be coming back this way regardless. We agreed that this would be our last night together, and that we would leave early the next morning.

The kids tucking into the potluck dinner, and on Moby's trampoline, this is what it's all about!
A dinner of grilled chicken, potatoes, Spanish rice and carrot salad was conjured up and quickly devoured by 5 kids and 4 adults! We lingered over a bottle of Rosé, and then it was time to say goodbye. With promises to meet again somewhere, sometime, we hugged and said our farewells. Our friendship has been cemented in the unique experiences we have shared: 2 families, 3 Ocean crossings, 1 very special bond!  Au revoir, Moby. Merci pour les bons moments!