Monday, February 24, 2014

Northern Creek of Shroud Cay

Entrance to northern creek in Shroud Cay

Shallow Part near the Entrance

Interior of Shroud Cay is all sand and mangroves

Creek opens out in Exuma Sound

 Ocean beach adjacent to the creek

Picture does not do justice to drama of frontal clouds

Friends Daniel and Lucy seen on Allen's Cay

Shroud Cay, a part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park of the Bahamas, is a magical place. It is not inhabited and is preserved as a nature reserve. Most of the interior is tidal mangrove swamps interlaced with shallow creeks. One of these creeks, the northern most one, transects the cay from banks to ocean (actually Exuma Sound). It does not have a name that I know of.

White Pepper with buddy boat Gizmo I took on the challenge of crossing the cay at low tide. We had to “portage” the dingy for a bit, but the creek became deeper in the interior. Reference to the “African Queen” were inevitable although only short mangrove lined the creek, not jungle. There was abundant fish in the creek as they are under the protection of the Park.

With persistence and grit we did eventually gain the opening of the creek to the ocean. We were rewarded with possibly the most spectacular scene in the entire park. I was certainly impressed as the jungle scene gave way to an expansive white beach of the softest sand imaginable. The isolation and solitude was like something out of the Creation. After exploring the beach we climbed the dunes and were rewarded with a remarkable panorama of the island's interior. Mostly dry at low tide, it was rapidly filling up on the flood. I missed the picture because the camera's battery died. On this day the drama was increased beyond the usual by the passing of a weak cold front while we were on the beach. Dramatic clouds roiled overhead. The temperature dropped 10 degrees. An absolutely still emerald green sea began to ruffle in the new wind. The creek went from a gentle meander to a rushing stream as the tide rose and pushed water in from the sea.

The trip up the creek took at least 45 minutes motoring most of the way. The trip downstream was a sleigh ride of 10 minutes. We were spit out out onto the shallow banks (2 foot maximum depth) surrounding the cay. On the trip back to the boats I thought that this was one of those “bucket list” moments even though none of us had been prepared in advance for the experience. The northern creek on Should Cay is truly one of natures wonders.

Allen's Cay Revisited

White Pepper revisited Allen's Cay in the northern Exuma chain, Bahamas, in February 2014 after a hiatus of 6 years. What impressed us were the similarities between the two visits. Sensitive readers may want to review that post from January 2008. I did and was amazed at how casual I was then about a delay of several hours. Also I downplayed how awful that first night at anchor was.

The most impressive similarity was the nights of terror. Allen's Cay was our first landfall in the Bahamas without crew. We were alone in 2008 and very na├»ve. The anchorage we chose then was too close to the rocks and in too much current. The wind was strong. The anchorage was crowded as always, and I was on short scope. I spent all night awake on anchor watch in a frightful night largely made of my own device. This time in 2014 the terror was all Mother Nature. We knew a front was coming and indeed that is why we chose Allen's Cay. Allen's has excellent protection from the W and SW. This front was predicted to have especially strong W and SW winds ahead of the front. The prefrontal trough often brings squalls along with the W wind. Again there was a crowd of about 18 boats. This time I chose the anchorage more carefully—in deep water with more current but more room. I set the Rocna anchor with all 100 feet of chain and 20 feet of rope. About 2 am a squall blew in at 40 or 45 knots from the W. The Rocna pulled out. I felt the White Pepper drag about 50 feet before resetting and holding firm. Add another one to the legend of the Rocna anchor! I started the motor and used half throttle to face the wind and blinding rain until it ended as suddenly as it stated 20 minutes earlier. About 5 am another squall blew in and sent the White Pepper skittering to the end her tether where she held firm. I was able to get to sleep about 7 am.

All in all, the night was the diciest we have ever spent in the Bahamas. Almost every boat in the anchorage drug. Three ended up on the beach and several were planted in the sandbar that bisects the anchorage. My neighbor went by me so fast I thought he would be swept out the cut into the sea. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and I did not hear of any serious damage.

Other similarities of the two visits are the importunate iguanas. These Iguanas are unique to Allen's Cay and to the Bahamas. They are also spoiled rotten by the tourists. If not fed, they will try to bite.

The austere landscape and amazing emerald tinted crystal clear water are enduring and enchanting.  One thing that we did find was a conch hatchery.  See the picture below. There is concern recently of overfishing and exporting of conch.  There is a real possibility that the conch fishery will collapse in the Bahamas as it has in Florida.  At least in Allen's Cay there seem to be plenty of conch.

What is different is the vast experience Jan and I bring to the 2014 visit. What was exotic and intimidating in 2008 is now familiar (squalls excepted). However, this year we are buddy boating with Lucy and Daniel on Gizmo I, a Hunter 37 from Montreal. They are new to cruising. Days that seem merely pleasant or delightful to us are amazing to them. Allen's Cay is their culmination of a 10 year dream and a 1000 mile voyage. It has been wonderful to see the Bahamas again through fresh eyes.

After all the excitement we stayed several more days waiting for a secondary front that did not show up until we had left for Shroud Cay.

 Jan usually drive the dingy.  West wall in background.

 Shameless Iguana begs for food.

 Conch hatchery.  All these shells are alive.

 Live Tulip shell found in 4 feet of water.

Amazing water colors

Monday, February 10, 2014

Little Harbor, Berry Islands--The Cabbage Island Anchorage

From Great Harbor to Little Harbor in the Berry Islands is an easy 22 n.mi. day sail. The entrance is deep and wide open. There is a selection of anchorages. The recommended anchorage is to the south behind Frozen Cay. Frozen Cay used to be called High Cay only a few years ago (including on my old Map Tech charts). This day White Pepper chose the anchorage behind Cabbage Cay because we wanted to be closer to the settlement at Little Harbor (more about that later) and because the weather was quite settled.

This latter fact was quite important as the anchor never bit. The ground looked like sand but acted like rock. None of the three boats in our anchorage ever got a set. However, the wind was so light that we lay to the chain for two days. The anchorage was a bit rolly. It was nothing too uncomfortable. I could see that in any kind of weather things would get really out of hand. The take away lession here is that I can not recommend the Cabbage Cay anchorage.

Little Harbor proper has a recommendation as a hurricane hole if one can tuck in close to the settlement. However, the depth is so shallow that one would have to wait for the storm surge to get in. If White Pepper ever comes this way again, she will opt for the remote Frozen Cay anchorage.

Eventually we did get into the “settlement” and to the famous Flo's Conch Restaurant. We were fortunate to meet Flo's daughter. She told us that her mother had passed three years ago. Her brother and his wife ran the restaurant. These were only two people left on the cay that had supported several families and 50 people in years past. She and her sister worked as personal assistants (nurses' aides) in the USA. We walked around the place. It was a compound of about an acre with cistern, generator, chickens, and geese. There was no road and no path to anywhere. There were enormous piles of conch shells along the shore that represented maybe 50 plus years of harvest. I found it remarkably isolated even by the standards of the Bahamian out islands. Soon enough no one will live here.

On a more cheerful note the conch lunch and Kalik beer were delightful, if overpriced. But one has to consider the effort required to hold back the bush in the price of the food.

 Carved Conch Shell

 Deserted Beach

Flo's Back Yard
Flo's Famous Conch Restaurant

Little Harbor 

Don't Try This at Home, Folks--Great Harbor, Berry Islands

Sunrise Great Harbor, Buddy Boat Gizmo in Foreground

The major problem with entering the Bahamas at Port Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island is that you need a weather window to leave. It is 55 nautical miles to the nearest Berry Island, and that is due SE into the teeth of the prevailing winds. White Pepper had a good window to leave in front of a stationary cold front. Winds were predicted to be light from the south or southwest and seas calm. We cleared the jetties at dawn at 7 am. Indeed the morning started out exactly as predicted. We made good speed with gentle breezes abeam or just forward of the beam. Trimming the sails precisely for a close reach on starboard and motoring we were making good progress. In the afternoon the winds stayed light but gradually veered to the ESE which made a head wind. The motor got so hot I had to back off to avoid starting a fire on the boat. Eventually, the wind came around enough to reset the genoa on a port board. However, by this time our window for a daylight arrival had expired. We arrived at the Great Harbor waypoint at 7:30 pm about an hour after dark.

Conventional wisdom, endlessly repeated, is to never enter a strange port at night. Countering this ancient and sound advice was a powerful desire not to spend the night at sea. Also in our favor was a bright moonlight, calm seas, and almost no wind or current as it was slack water. The opening is about 300 yards wide which is quite large by local standards. Great Harbor is an old and historic harbor for ships transiting the Gulf Stream and Bahamas. It is tucked up between Great Stirrup Cay and the northern tip of Great Harbor Cay. It gets poor reviews from the cruising guides, but who cares about surge and current when the alternative is the deep blue sea of the Northwest Providence Channel at night.

The Garmin chart plotter was spot on guiding White Pepper through the opening and to a safe anchorage in 10 feet of water. The land was dimly visible in the moonlight. There were, of course, no aids to navigation. Later, after celebratory rum, I thought that isn't this the way we enter all anchorages nowadays—with eyes glued to the chart plotter? Aren't all landings just instrument rated landing even in visual rated conditions?

Just because we got away with it I do not recommend entering Great Harbor at night. I would , however, take the same window again if it comes up. But next time I will leave Port Lucaya at 4 am.

Finally, what's a good sailblog worth without a cute kitty picture?