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Robin & Jim
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Posted By Robin & Jim

We heard about another good area for diving on the ocean side just to the north of Warderick Wells, near Danger Cay.  (What a great name!)  There is a hidden mooring for a nice 45' reef site, and we set out in the dinghy to make a dive. 

We arrived at the site and found a 30' center console boat already on the mooring, with a few people free diving and shooting underwater video.  They confessed that they had been chumming the sharks earlier, even though it's not permitted in the Park.  Frankly, we hate it when people do things to change the natural behavior of wild animals - it's just arrogant.  Fortunately the feeding had stopped a while before we arrived, and the dozen or so sharks were active but not agitated.  We watched them from the dinghy while we prepped our gear and could see them cruising, not darting around so we felt it was safe to make the dive.  We've been in the water with sharks many times in the past and we have some feel for their normal behavoir.

jim and sharks

Afterwards we were told by the Park staff that dive boats have fed sharks in that area so often that they will come when they hear a boat regardless.  They were mostly gray reef sharks, though there was one lemon shark and one small bull. 

shark plus 3

None were any problem to us, though sometimes they were curious.

shark 2

shark 3

There were also two huge jewfish - they look like black grouper except that they were about 5' long.  We had a swirling school of horse-eye jacks, as well as some bigger amberjacks... hence the name of the site: Amberjack Reef. 

It was a gorgeous site with fantastic visibility and huge coral heads.  There were big lobsters, longnose butterfly fish, hamlets, and a healthy population of reef fish as well as a few lionfish.

A dive like this really makes us long for the big fancy underwater photo and video gear that we used to have when we taught diving, but unfortunately it's all film-based and/or outdated.  Now I just have a little point-and-shoot in a housing with a wide angle adapter (no strobe), and Jim has a Go-Pro Hero video with a color correcting lens for underwater work.  At least we had some cameras - I feel naked diving or snorkeling without some kind of camera. 

The other boat left and we had the site to ourselves for a nice long time.  I kept an eye on Jim when he headed up to the dinghy to climb out - you can see the sharks still hanging around, but none were interested in him (he's at the bow).

silhouette

We would have loved to make more dives in this area, but the need for our engine repair and changing weather meant we had to keep moving on.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park is located on Warderick Wells Cay.  It's a good place to find some protection from frisky weather, and there is a lot to do there with numerous hiking trails, great snorkeling spots, and good dive sites. 

Mary and I spent some time snorkeling near Emerald Rock and we saw several lionfish in addition to the usual residents of the reef.

lionfish

In the Indo-Pacific it's a real treat to see lionfish - they're very beautiful and dramatic, though their spines are poisonous.  Somehow they have become established in the Caribbean where they have no natural enemies.  Since they are carnivores they tend to decimate the small fish population of any reef, and efforts to eradicate them at this point are pretty spotty.

This time of the year the brown noddy terns arrive and nest in the rocks.  There were a good number of noddies nesting on Emerald Rock, flying right over us as we snorkeled.  They never seemed to be bothered by us, and a few followed our progress around the rock.

brown noddy terns

One of my favorite unusual things at Warderick Wells are the stromatolites.  These are living fossils in the water, and to quote from the Park brochure: Fossil stromatolites were the dominant reef-building structure for about 3 billion years which is 75% of the Earth's history.  They were thought to be extinct, but several clusters have been found - in Australia, and in a few isolated places in the Bahamas.  They look like building blocks with straight vertical sides - they are made of cyanobacteria (plants) that trap sediment.  I find them very interesting, and I love the patterns of the sand ripples around them.  These are in an area with very heavy current, and can only be easily appreciated snorkeling at slack tide.  We enjoyed showing them to Mary and our DeFever friends Jill and Glen - something a little different.

stromatolites

We've gotten to know the Exuma Park staff a little bit, and the Warden Henry is a really nice guy.  We asked if there was anything that we could fix for them or help them out with, and they found some projects for us.  One of the Warden's patrol boats had bad cracks in the fiberglass on both back corners from trying to tow a 50+' boat off a rock.  Henry promised not to tow anything big if we could fix the cracks.  I worked on the fiberglass repair and filling some holes in the deck while Jim did some electrical and electronics work, and helped me a bit.  We put in a few long days but the result came out pretty nicely after some paint and non-skid on the entire deck.  We had fun.

henry and robin

While waiting for coats of paint to dry we made a nice long dive back on Jeep Reef at slack tide.

jeep reef


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We reached the farthest point south for this cruise at Black Point Settlement - a very small town just south of Staniel Cay.  The people are friendly and nice, and it is the best place to get coconut bread (we think).  We dinghied to shore and walked up to Lorraine's Cafe for a bit of Internet and a cold soda, and to order some bread from Lorraine's mom - coconut and a loaf of cinnamon raisin.  I've tried to make my own coconut bread but it's not even close.  It's tempting to try and stock the freezer with this wonderful bread, but that's one of the things about cruising - sometimes you get to enjoy a real treat, but it's fleeting. 

dinner on the boat deck

With two other DeFevers in the anchorage, we decided to host dinner on the boat deck.  We had enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay, and it was nice to dine al fresco and watch the sun set.

It had been a long time since we had any mail, so we had it forwarded to our watermaker company in Ft. Lauderdale (you can't make this stuff up).  For a small fee they will put it on their twice-daily Cessna Caravan flight to Staniel Cay - Watermaker Air.  We cruised from Black Point to Staniel and dropped anchor briefly to jump in the dinghy and pick up our package. When restarting the starboard engine to leave, we heard a rattling noise near the transmission.  After Jim consulted the manual and called American Diesel we concluded that it's likely a failed drive damper.  We'll run on just one engine until we can get parts and make the repair, so we continued up to Cambridge Cay to visit our friends Bill & Mary and to explore.

rachels bubble bath

One of the first spots we visited was Rachel's Bubble Bath - a natural pool on the north end of nearby Compass Cay.  Ocean waves crash over the notch in the limestone and they effervesce in the pool.  It's just a blast, especially when the waves are big at high tide.  We enjoyed good conditions to snorkel the sea caves at Rocky Dundas at low tide.  The caves are scoured by the waves and lit by sunlight coming through holes in the roof, but the formations are neat and the sea life just outside is lush. On a windy day we hiked to Honeymoon Beach...

hiking to honeymoon beach

...and were treated to this view.  There are hundreds of pretty little beaches in the Exumas, but this one was particularly lovely.

honeymoon beach

We hiked to the overlook on Cambridge Cay, drift-snorkeled Conch Cut, snorkeled and dove at the Sea Aquarium site, and took a long dinghy ride to snorkel Jeep Reef near Johnny Depp's private island.  We walked in the sandy shallows and swam in the warm water. 

cambridge underwater

We love the Exumas.

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The colors of the water never cease to amaze us - they almost look fake with such vivid shades of turquoise, cobalt where the water is deep, and almost white where the water is shallow over the sandy bottom.  No matter how much I try, photographs just can't seem to capture what our eyes enjoy.  The water is so very clear, and it's common to look over the side when we're anchored or on a mooring ball and see every grain of sand and every blade of grass quite clearly.  Occasionally a nurse shark or a stingray will make a lazy cruise through the anchorage, and sometimes little tiny fish will school behind the boat.

beachscape

We spent some time anchored off Big Majors near Staniel Cay, and near the famous pig beach where a small group of feral pigs will run out on the beach and swim out to your dinghy looking for a handout.  The piggies are pretty big and if you drift into shallow water they will try to climb into your boat with their sharp hooves!

hungry piggies

Another highlight of this area is Thunderball Cave made famous in the James Bond movie.  The cave is half under water in a small island, and there are good-sized holes in the roof of the cave to let sunlight in.  The entrance is accessible for snorkeling at low slack tide, and is a really fun place to explore.  I love the shafts of sunlight that pierce the water and light up the fish and sponge life in the water.

thunderball cave

We happened to be around for Cinco de Mayo, and the staniel Cay Yacht Club was having a special Mexican dinner.  We went ashore with friends from two other DeFevers - Susan & Slade on SOJOURNER and Carol & Bob on CASSANDRA JADE, and enjoyed a cook's night off and the yummy margaritas.

cinco de mayo

There's a fish cleaning station on the seawall at the Yacht Club, and there's a resident population of big, fat nurse sharks that hang around the marina.  You can jump in the water and swim with them - they are not interested in humans unless you happen to have fish scraps.

staniel sharks

We started having some problems with our davit (the small crane we use to lift our 550 lb. dinghy), so our friend Bob came over to help Jim make the repair.  We could have managed with just the two of us, but it sure was nice to have another handy guy to make things easier.  We have really enjoyed traveling with various other boats for short periods of time - lots of dinner parties and people to hike, picnic, and snorkel with. 

beach picnic

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We arrived back in the Exumas and headed to the Park Headquarters at Warderick Wells Cay since there are some hiking trails we still want to explore.  Although the weather was nice when we arrived, we knew the forecast called for a few days of high winds out of the east and the protection here is good for that.

warderick wells

We had fun exploring the island a bit more on foot, and we continue to marvel at how much the landscape looks moon-like, with large stretches of pockmarked limestone, turned black by the sun.  There are palm trees as well as buttonwoods, poisonwood, and other hardwood trees, but they are gnarled and twisted by the tradewinds.  Natural pockets in the limestone like this one can hold rain water and catch dirt, making a place for trees and plants to establish themselves in an otherwise inhospitable place.

limestone
In addition to the craggy limestone there are a number of beautiful little beaches, an extension of the vast sandy plains of the Exuma Bank.  The clear blue water and light sand bottom makes it easy to spot rays and sharks cruising by.

We were able to do some snorkeling before the winds picked up.  We've seen lots of big lobsters, curious barracuda, countless small tropical fish, parrotfish, queen triggerfish, and even some of the unwelcome lionfish - an invasive species.  We primarily look for patch reefs with coral heads, but sometimes the most interesting finds are in the less pretty areas - you just have to take the time to look.  I was lucky to spot this peacock flounder - they can camouflage themselves very well when they want to, but this one kept his circle markings vivid blue so it was easier to see him.

peacock flounder
Flounders are strange fish - they are born looking like regular fish, but as they mature one eye migrates to the other side of their head and they develop into a pancake with a face.
The water temperature has dropped 5 degrees so the cooler water has made snorkeling sessions a bit shorter.  We were swimming back to the dinghy when Jim spotted three reef squid.  They are shy but curious creatures, and they stayed near us for a long time.  They can change their body's color and pattern, and sometimes they adopt interesting gestures with their tentacles - I wish I understood what their behavior means!  They really seem more like aliens than fish.
squid
The stormy weather moved in and we had several days of pouring rain and wind.  It was a good time to catch up on some chores, movies, and a good book.  Yesterday we had a break in the rain and went over to a friend's boat to play dominoes. 
Even when the weather is bad here, the water still has a lovely turquoise color and it's pretty against the stormy gray sky.
stormy weather