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Posted By Robin & Jim

Here's a map of our path through some of the many Bahama islands so far - we're now up in the Abacos which are a lot more developed and "crowded" than the Exumas. 

trip route

Hope Town is the first place we explored, with its famous lighthouse, pastel homes, and narrow streets.

hope town lighthouse

This is a view of the harbor through one of the lighthouse windows - note how thick the walls are.

lighthouse view

We were lucky enough to hear DeFever friends Gary and Linda March on the radio heading into a nearby marina, so we toured the town with them and Dan and Carol from our buddy boat.  We lunched in a lovely setting overlooking the ocean and had a terrific day!

dfc lunch gang

We saw another DeFever anchored nearby, and met Chet and Linda Brummett for sunset cocktails on the beach.  We arrived early and Jim (barefoot with shirt un-tucked!) relaxed while I hunted shells.

tahiti beach jim

We cruised up to Man-O-War Cay and explored a more industrious and low-key town known for boat building.  We went snorkeling on the outer reef with Linda and Gary, and the highlight was a little green sea turtle who stayed around longer than usual.  We're both really in our element when we're underwater!

underwater jim

Since this is our first time in the Abacos, we spent one night anchored off Great Guana Cay to visit the famous Nippers and Grabbers beach bars.  Nippers was a bit too much like "Spring Break" for our tastes, Grabbers was a bit nicer - but we had a good time doing something different, for us.

verts shop

The next island up the chain is Green Turtle Cay, with more pastel cottages, a memorial garden dedicated to the Loyalist settlers (the plaque there refers to the American Revolutionaries as "rebels" - it's all about your perspective), and Vert - a lovely gentleman who builds ship models.

All over these islands the Royal Poinciana trees are in full bloom, and they are magnificent!

royal poinciana

Tomorrow we're heading NW for more snorkeling and exploring - our last week here.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

On the suggestion of a few DeFever friends, we decided to pay a  visit to Eleuthera as we make our way northwards.  We caught a nice fast ride through the aptly-named Current Cut and headed up to the town of Spanish Wells.  This area is home to a lot of commercial fishing boats, and claims to be the largest source of conch and lobster in the Bahamas. 

The town is very nice - pretty cottages and flowering landscaping, clean and well-supplied.  There are some good marine services available on the island, as well as a few shops and cafes.  The Anchor Snack Cafe right on the waterfront gets our vote for an extensive menu, good food, reasonable prices, and excellent ice cream (frozen pies as well as treats).  Jim is still talking about it!

Spanish Wells is on an island about a mile from the main part of Eleuthera, and small ferries run constantly between the two, some for people and some little mini-barges with an outboard motor to transport cars and golf carts.  On the islands nearly everyone gets around on gas-powered golf carts - some with more style than others.

fancy golf cart

 As with all the islands, the mail boat is the source of most everything - fuel for the generators (and to power desalinization machines to make fresh water) and supplies of every shape and size.  These mail boats look like small freighters with a big drop-down ramp on the front.  It's amazing to watch the captains maneuver these behemoths into and out of the tightest little places!  When the mail boat arrives the town is abuzz, distributing pallets and truck loads of supplies. 

mail boat

Spanish Wells is close to the trendy community on Harbour Island, so we took the fast ferry over for a little day trip.  The ferry is one of several that provides service between Nassau and bigger towns on some of the out islands.

bo hengy ii

The ferry transits a notorious area of reefs called the Devil's Backbone, and if you want to make the trip in your own boat all the cruising guides strongly recommend the services of a local pilot to guide you through.  $50 is much less than repairs to your running gear or a hole in your boat!  The fast ferry has the right local knowledge and zips across the Backbone at an impressive 25 knots!

We rented a golf cart on Harbour Island and toured the tree-lined streets, with pastel-colored houses and magnificent royal poinciana trees in full bloom.  We stopped for lunch near the waterfront, bought a nice pineapple from a road-side stand, and walked on the famous 3-mile-long pink beach (with a storm in the distance).  It was a lovely trip, capped off with another ice cream treat back in Spanish Wells (Jim insisted, after a long hot day).

pink beach

On Friday (6/11) we headed out past the coral-studded Ridley Head, into the ocean for the 50 mile passage north to the Abacos.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We're headed north so we can see more of the Bahamas, but we wanted to stop back at Warderick Wells - the headquarters of the Exumas Land & Sea Park to donate a little volunteer time to a worthy place.  They needed some splicing to make mooring pennants and they needed wood and epoxy repairs on some of their boats - all things we're pretty good at.  We had a fun day helping out and we left a few useful supplies behind.  While there we wanted to snorkel around the south end of the island to see the very rare stromatolites.  Stromatolites are considered to be some of the oldest fossils - they consist of fine layers of sediment trapped within thin films of organic matter such as algae and diatoms.  They are large block-like structures - and the scattered blocks look a little like the ruins of Atlantis.

stromatalite

I found a very old bone (that looked human) stuck in the sand next to one so we reported it to the Park.  Luckily an archaeologist happened to be doing surveys in the Park, so we took her to see it but I couldn't find it before the current got too strong.  She said that she'd have the underwater archaeology group do a proper search when they come in November, and she took our card to let us know what they find.
Bananaquits are among the little tropical birds found on the island.  The Park lets people put sugar in their hand, and the little birds will come for a party.

bird friends
bananaquits

We ran into DeFever friends Dennis and Nellie, who gave us some great tips for our visit to Eleuthera.  Small world!

From Warderick Wells we jumped back up to Highborne Cay to visit one of the dive spots I got from the CORAL REEF II.  We had a really nice dive on one of the steep drop-offs, and saw eagle rays, big lobsters, spadefish, and the usual pretty reef fish.

eagle ray

From there we headed up to the very northern end of the Exuma Islands since the weather was favorable to anchor where there is little protection.  We stopped at another of CORAL REEF's dive sites north of Ship Channel Cay that turned out to be really outstanding - it was a beautiful reef at 35' with very deep slot canyons that cascaded down to a wall that dropped off into the very deep Exuma Sound (hundreds to thousands of feet).  It was one of the most dramatic formations I've seen - with eagle rays and larger ocean fish cruising by.
We moved farther north to anchor off a huge sand bank cay for the night, and we managed to avoid some ugly storm clouds that passed north of us.  Watching the clouds (from a safe distance thank goodness!) we saw 5 waterspouts form and hit the water. 

water spout

Wednesday 9 June we headed up to Eleuthera to visit Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

After our grand Iguana Adventure, we stopped at Black Point Settlement - one of the rare little towns.  We had heard about the famous coconut bread from Lorraine's, and we heard that we might be able to get haircuts from the lady at the Rockside Laudramat (sic).  The town at the north end of Great Guana Cay is very small, and it doesn't take long to hit the highlights.  We stopped at Lorraine's Cafe and Internet to order some coconut and raisin bread from her lovely mother, and we got a bit of very slow internet time there too. 

lorraines

The coconut bread is wonderful - it makes the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

One of the sights we were told to see is the "Garden of Eden" - Mr. Willie Rolle's yard which is full of various pieces of driftwood.  You knock on his door and he or his wife will come out and give you a tour - showing you the things that he sees in his carefully arranged driftwood.  It seems a bit strange at first, but if you let your inner child loose it's fun to see what you can find in the driftwood.  Willie also showed us some of the local flowers and unusual fruit trees - the sapodilla was our favorite to taste, and the wine tamarind wasn't too tart if it's ripe enough.  A smile, some appreciative words, and a small donation compensate Willie for the generous time he spent on the tour.

willie

Walking around town we could see wooden boats under construction - sailing boats for the famous family races around parts of the Bahamas.  The boats carry an enormous amount of sail area, and they use long boards to move human weight outboard to balance the boat, similar to a Chesapeake Bay log canoe.  The work is traditional, using wooden "knees" found where trees form right angles naturally to create strong structural framing.

boat building

We headed back up to Staniel to start our journey northwards, and met up with some DeFever friends for cocktails on the beach.  It really is a small world.
Northbound, we spent two nights at Cambridge Cay, back in the Exuma Land & Sea Park.  Jim, Dan, and Carol were swarmed with sergeant majors when we jumped in to snorkel "the Aquarium" (a beautiful spot).

sergeant majors and friends

We also did a great drift snorkel on a large reef - there's so much life where the current is strong.  We just hang the bow and stern lines from the dinghy into the water, jump in, and let the current carry us (and our dink) over the reef.  We saw sea turtles, some big nurse sharks, and all the usual pretty reef fish.  On another spot I found a large queen triggerfish that seemed more like a pet - it let me get close and kept hanging around - they're normally quite shy.

triggerfish

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We've really been enjoying all the time spent snorkeling, and one of our favorite spots has been Thunderball Grotto, made famous in the James Bond movie of the same name.  The grotto takes up most of the inside of a fairly small rock island with about a third of it underwater.  You have to wait for slack tide to get into the cave since it's near a cut between the Bank and the ocean with a healthy tidal flow - the timing is critical.

thunderball grotto

There are several holes in the roof so you can float on the surface and see the sky, and the sun can create some dramatic lighting effects.

thunderball light shaft
The cave is full of fish and brightly colored sponges, and it's fun to imagine Sean Connery and a film crew making "movie magic".
thunderball sponge

All through the Exumas the snorkeling has been great, though the patches we can get to without too much current are getting smaller as we move down the chain.  You never know what you'll find - sometimes the smallest patch of coral or rock can have an amazing collection of sea life - this rock had corals, two small nurse sharks (one didn't like being photographed), small jacknife fish with impossibly tall dorsal fins, banded coral shrimp, and a large number of lionfish. 

dan's patch reef

Lionfish are magnificent fish but they belong in the Pacific, not the Caribbean where they have no predators.  They're carniverous and they multiply very rapidly so they are taking over every little patch - it's a huge problem impacting the reefs and small fish populations so we're saddened to see so many lionfish everywhere we go.

In general the fish have been plentiful and beautiful - queen angels with their neon blue crown, gray angels with their surprise patch of yellow inside their pectoral fins, and french angels with each scale edged in bright yellow.  These are "teen angels" (one gray, one french) - getting bigger but they still haven't lost their baby stripes yet.
teen angels
We're at the half-way point in our trip and we just turned north on Monday.  We'll meander back up through the Exuma chain hitting some places we missed on the way south, then over to the west end of Eleuthera and then to the Abaco islands for a few weeks.  We're so lucky to be able to do this, and we don't take any of it for granted.

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We anchored just south of Staniel at Bitter Guana Cay - a small island inhabited only by iguanas and birds.  We went ashore to explore a cave and hike around, and we met a couple camping there - they are from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium studying the protected iguanas. 

chuck and sylvia

Dr. Charles Knapp is the iguana expert and his lovely wife Sylvia (a Ph.D. candidate working on a rainforest study) were so kind to us, sharing lots of information about their work, the negative impacts of tourists feeding the iguanas, the rarity of this particular species, etc.  They let us watch as they "processed" an iguana for study, showing us how they insert a tiny RFID chip, take a small blood sample, weigh and measure them, paint a number on their sides with White-Out, and release them. 

iguana exam

They even let us release one of the bigger ones!

iguana 50

Over the next few days we saw them and talked with them, and almost had to come to their rescue when a local tourist boat captain accosted them, threatened them, and tried to take some of their equipment.  They have all the proper permits for their work - Chuck has been coming to this island for over 12 years to study this population, but the tour operator was apparently upset only about the numbers painted on the sides of the iguanas.  It spoiled his tourist's pictures!  He was quick to refer to his operation as "eco tourism", but he continued to feed the iguanas despite signs to the contrary, and Chuck and Sylvia's polite requests.

A few days later Shedd Aquarium's research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II anchored nearby with a group of volunteers for another session of iguana-catching and we were invited to join the fun.  The iguanas are smart and they head for the thick brush or into the rocky cliffs, and we lost many more than we caught but it was a very fun adventure.  I think the ones with numbers told the un-numbered ones what was going on so they were wise to our tricks!  We got a lovely tour of the Aquarium's research ship, and we reciprocated with a tour of our "little ship" for the two captains.  What absolutely wonderful people - the researchers, the volunteers, and the captains and cook!!!  This has been the highlight of our trip.
Between us we caught three and a half iguanas (the half was an assist).  All this was done wearing big floppy sun hats, long sleeves (it's an all-day affair), long pants, boots, and heavy leather work gloves to keep from getting scratched or bitten.  We both bled a little in the name of science, but that was from the vegetation and not from the speedy iguanas.

hunter jim

We can't give enough thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Shedd Aquarium for such kind treatment, friendship, and fun.

sylvia iguana

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We've had internet access for the past few days because we're anchored near Staniel Cay - the site of a little settlement with a big antenna to reach the outside world.  We typically prefer more remote places but this is one of the rare spots with not one but three stores, and we needed to replenish lettuce and tomatoes.  The stores are tiny and it's best to shop right after the weekly mail boat arrives from Nassau.  There's the Pink Store...

pink store

The Blue Store...

blue store

And the General Isles Store.  We got some tomatoes in the General and Pink Stores, the only two packages of lettuce in the Pink Store, and a lovely coconut sweet loaf in the Blue Store.  We're officially re-provisioned!

The Big Major's Spot anchorage near Staniel has a famous little beach where some feral pigs come out of the brush and will swim out to you looking for a handout when you approach in your dinghy.  We were cautioned to stay in water deeper than they can stand in or they will try to climb in!

swimming pig and LS

We brought some lettuce scraps and cheese rinds which seemed to make Miss Piggy happy...

swimming pig

Staniel is also home to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club - an un-fancy little restaurant/bar with some docks for boats and big yachts.  People decorate the ceiling with various yacht club burgees, so we sat and had burgers under the DeFever club's flag.

scyc and us

Although there are small airstrips on several of the larger islands, Staniel has regular air service to Ft. Lauderdale via Watermaker Air - a 9-ish seat Cessna Caravan that carries people and cargo to the island once or twice a day, or less often in the off-season.  This is the air terminal at Staniel, and it's about 100' from where the plane lands.

staniel airport

We've done our usual exploring with the dinghies looking for snorkeling spots, but haven't found as many here - the few are in areas with heavy current flow or strong surge, so we're missing our usual long immersion time.  It's still very pretty and interesting to explore little coral patches, tiny islands, and isolated beaches for picnic lunches.

ghost crab

Tomorrow we'll snorkel Thunderball Cave made famous in two James Bond movies, then we'll head south to a more remote anchorage.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

This is the path we've taken through the Exuma part of the Bahamas so far...

exuma course
Once the winds eased we moved down the island chain to anchor between Compass and Pipe Cays.  We dinghied up to the north end of Compass to experience "Rachel's Bubble Bath" - a natural basin where waves crash over the rocks at high tide.  It's fun to wade and swim in the basin while the waves crash over your head, and we giggled like little kids.  At low tide we dinghied over to snorkel the limestone caves on Rocky Dundas - which were very neat!  All these limestone islands are pock-marked with holes of all shapes and sizes, as well as lots of caves. 
This is the first place since Norman's Cay that there's a little "restaurant" - you can have a burger with or without cheese or a fresh fish sandwich of some sort. 

Jim at Compass

It seems that wherever there's a marina (few and far between, so far) there is a fish cleaning station that attracts a herd of nurse sharks who become pretty tame.  They're fat and happy, and they congregate when they hear a dinghy or boat come in because that could mean another free meal!

compass nurse sharks

You can pet them and swim with them.  I'm not a fan of feeding wild life - it makes things behave in an unnatural manner, but I do like to pet them when I can.
There are many cuts between the rock islands between the Exuma Sound (ocean) and the shallow banks, and if the cuts are small the current can be quite brisk except at slack tide.  Many of the best snorkeling spots are in places where there's a lot of water movement, but that means we have to wait for slack to snorkel them.  Regardless, we've been rewarded with great sights including a school of 26 reef squid, grouper, tiny blennies, parrotfish, angelfish, chromis, wrasses, and rays.

stingray face

With our buddy boat friends Carol and Dan we spent a good half-day exploring the islands, rocks, and ledges in Pipe Creek.  There's some interesting development on Overyonder Cay (great name!), and an elaborate set of elegant houses, airstrip, and a private dock on Little Pipe Cay that belongs to some mega-rich person as a vacation home.  It's clearly set up for entertaining a large number of people in grand style.  Other islands are either uninhabited, or there's an occasional little house with a few solar panels and a generator.  Remember - each island needs to provide all its own electricity and water, and supplies and fuel comes in either by boat or small plane.

We need to do the same thing on our boat - our morning routine is to run the generator for 2 hours to charge batteries and (every other day or so) make water.  We are still living quite nicely with our on-board stores of food, and I'm proud to say that I kept my romaine lettuce supply going for almost 4 weeks using the green produce storage bags.  Everything else is frozen or shelf-stable, and we have enough for many months!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The core of the Exuma Land & Sea Park at Warderick Wells Cay has three mooring fields to mimimize damage to the sea grasses and corals from anchoring.  We were in the north field near the Park office, which is a natural deep channel in the shape of a "J" with a huge sandbar (awash at low tide) in the middle.

north mooring field

We snorkeled on a few gorgeous spots around Warderick Wells, making friends with a 3.5' barracuda who followed me like a puppy all around the reef.  He was very cute, relaxed, and curious.

pet barracuda

Much of the Bahamas are vast sandy plains which is the reason for the incredible water colors we see.  Reefs are typically very small patches, but they are fairly healthy with good fish populations, big gorgoinians and yellor or purple sea fans.

queen angel
We had to stay put for a few days to wait for strong winds to pass, so we did some hiking around the island when it was too rough to snorkel.  The trails can be challenging on the jagged limestone or near the beach on soft sand, with lots of ups and downs. 

 warderick hiking

We also participated in an old cruiser's tradition by making a sign out of driftwood with our boat's name on it, and placing it on top of Boo Boo Hill.  Jim did the carving with his dremel tool and I painted the carved letters - a team effort.

Jim and sign

We installed our sign (lower left) among the hundreds of others stacked haphazardly around the hill top - it's the only place you can leave something behind in the Park.  You can even see ADVENTURES on her mooring in the center background.

boo boo hill


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We're settled in at Warderick Wells Cay, the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  We'll stay almost a week because there's so much to see and do here, and because we'll have a few days of strong winds. 

hawksbill jim
After leaving Norman's Cay we anchored off Shroud Cay for a few days, exploring the mangrove creeks by dinghy and kayak.  One creek leads across the island to a windswept beach on the ocean side, and from there we took a short hike up to an overlook where we could see Norman's to the north and our boats at anchor to the southwest.  Shroud is home to a number of nesting long-tailed tropic birds this time of the year, and the sky was full of these dramatic fliers.  The water is such a bright turquoise color that it reflects off the bottom of the white birds.
tropic bird

The snorkeling has been quite good everywhere.  We just hop in our dinghies and go exploring - looking for black areas in the water that indicate coral patches, and heading to likely spots after studying the chart.  If a spot looks interesting, we just flop into the water and snorkel around until we've exhausted the terrain or we get cold.  The patches and reefs are full of grouper, snappers, and tons of little reef fish and juveniles.  Where the patches meet the sand we often see stingrays. 

stingray

We moved a few miles down to Hawksbill Cay and anchored off a beautiful little beach.  We hiked up to the limestone cairn at the top of the hill, and had a nice view of our dinghy on the beach, and the land and seascape.  It really is as remote as it looks here.

Hawksbill Cay

On Saturday we moved down to Warderick Wells where we are now.  We snorkeled until we were prunes to take advantage of the settled weather while it lasted, and we were rewarded with elkhorn coral, gorgonians, yellow and purple seafans, big lobsters just strolling out in the open, and tons of fish.  We even saw a group of six reef squid doing their strange "dance", as curious about us as we were about them.

lobster

Some of the smaller sea life are my favorites - the pretty little flamingo tongue snails...

flamingo tongue

...and the juvenile queen angelfish.

juvenile queen angel