Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cambridge Cay

In this remarkable picture taken by Jan the water actually seems to be moving.  White Pepper is anchored in the background.  Bell Rock is the large hill on the left. Please click on the pic for best results.

I have wanted to spend time at Cambridge Cay for years after reading about the place in a sailing magazine long ago. Time and circumstance had prevented White Pepper's visit despite passing it by several times. Cambridge Cay is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. It is maintained in a pristine condition. No fishing, shelling or spear fishing is allowed and no one lives on Cambridge Cay. There are mooring balls available and the protection is 360 degree.

What I did not count on was having to spend so much time at Cambridge due to the weather.

White Pepper arrived Sunday morning after a short trip on the outside (in Exuma Sound) from Norman's Cay. There were mooring balls available which was excellent since a westerly blow was forecast ahead of a strong cold front. In addition to its natural beauty Cambridge Cay is one of the best places to wait out a westerly in the central Exuma Islands, esp. if a mooring ball is available.

Before the storm Jan and I had time to explore the cay and hike. The beaches are wonderful. We had happy hour on the beach with fellow sailors. We were able to visit the famous Sea Aquarium behind O’Brien Cay. It is a snorkeling spot. There is calm deep water behind a small island that wards off the surge. When we dove in there were swarms of aquarium quality fish and abundant live coral. The place really deserves it reputation. High waves and problems with the dingy motor prevented us from visiting other prime snorkeling spots such as the Rocky Dundas or the Coral Garden. Hopefully, we can visit these spots on a future visit.

Just across the channel from the Sea Aquarium was Johnny Depp's island. On it were still the tents that he had erected to house his guests for his wedding last week. On the way to the Sea Aquarium were passed Bell Island which is owned by the Aga Khan. How Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan managed to acquire land inside of this national park is very controversial even today.

Since there is no fishing allowed here we were able to see numerous fish, sharks, rays, and turtles. The rays jump and make loud splashes. The seascape in so many shades of blue is indescribable. We have several memorable happy hours on the boat and on the beaches.

Finally on Wednesday afternoon the cold front hit with a vengeance. This was the tail end of a system that froze Atlanta setting cold records all across the South. It blew hard from the west , then northwest and north. After the rain the temperatures dropped, and White Pepper was quite chilly. We had to break out the long pants and sweat shirts once again. After the front passed White Pepper remained pinned down with strong winds from the northeast and east caused by “a compression zone” of the high pressure behind the front. We spent four days on the boat without getting off. While this is unusual, it has been an unusually windy and chilly winter in the Bahamas this season. Still I was very glad that we were on a sturdy mooring rather than an anchor. We read, napped, and did minor chores. Hopefully, I was able to fix the dingy motor by tightening the limit screw on the throttle.

All bad weather passes eventually and White Pepper left by way of the south entrance. This is a testing shallow ,narrow and intricate passage that can only be safely down at high tide. We made it out onto the Banks heading for Black Point. Black Point is a wonderful Bahamian community with good wi-fi, good food and a great laundry. Readers will remember several posts about Black Point.

As happy as Jan and I are to be at Black Point I do regret not being able to fully explore Cambridge Cay due to the bad weather. Maybe we will be able to stop in the Spring in calm weather and properly do all of the wonderful snorkeling that is available there.

Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay

The voyage from Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay is only about 120 nautical miles. It does require planning and patience as is typical when moving to the South and East in the Bahamas.

However, arriving at Cambridge Cay is of some personal significance to White Pepper. Cambridge Cay had long been on the bucket list even before cruising. I had read accounts of how wonderful the place was in magazines. On previous trips past Cambridge Cay there was either a schedule or motor problems to prevent a stop.

This year we left Great Harbour Cay Marina in the face of a force 4 (15 knots) easterly breeze. This was on the nose, and why we did it is still a question to Jan and the cat. It was awful. However, I was amazed and shocked at how well the re powered White Pepper handled the conditions. She motored straight into a 2 to 4 foot chop at 6 plus knots. The crew was beat up badly. Aphrodite, cat, was miserable, but the boat showed no strain whatsoever.

I chose to bypass the anchorage at Devil/Hoffman's Cay. It was crowded, and from a previous post (2010) readers will remember how rolly the place was in a strong breeze. White Pepper pushed on another three nautical miles to Little Harbor in the Berry Islands. Again alert readers will remember how White Pepper in 2013 could not get the anchor to hold here at the Cabbage Cay anchorage. This year we chose the Frozen Cay anchorage in 6 feet of water over good sand. The anchor held well, and we had a quiet night after the roll calmed down about midnight.

Then it was off to Nassau in light winds motoring all the way. Using this “light and variable” day to cross the 32 miles of the New Providence Channel was the real reason why White Pepper chose to suffer so much the previous day.

Every year we swear not to go the Nassau, and every year we end up there. We always use the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. It has decent amenities for $1.50/ foot. However, main reason we use this marina is that it is close to good provisioning. The less one moves about Nassau the safer you are. And Nassau is distinctly dangerous. We replenished gasoline, diesel, propane, cash, rum and did laundry. Jan made several runs to the fabulous Fresh Market supermarket just across the street. We watched in awe as 25 knot westerly gales passed overhead.

Finally mild weather came and White Pepper left for the Exuma chain. White Pepper's new boat speed is so high with the motor that we were able to use the coral free route between the Yellow Banks and White Banks and still arrive at Norman's Cay by 4 pm. This was a trip of 45 nautical miles. The wind was still out of the Northwest, and Norman's Channel anchorage near the wreckage a plane was perfect. Reader's will remember how White Pepper spent 3 miserable days riding out a frontal passage here in 2010. This time we spent a perfectly pleasant night at anchor with mild Northwesterly wind.

The next morning the northerly flow persisted. This has been one of the longest stretch of westerly and northerly winds I can ever remember when cruising in the Bahamas. These winds are great for traveling in the usual directions of South and East, but present problems finding safe anchorages. There are many spots to anchor in the Exumas, Most of these are only protected from the NE, E, and SE which are the prevailing winds here. Nassau Harbor is safe, of course; so is Norman's Cay. The next safe anchorage with 360 degree protection is Exuma Park at Waderwick Wells, but it is always full. White Pepper exited Norman's Cay Cut onto the Exuma Sound. We used to Exuma Chain to provide a lee and had a great day of sailing and motoring on Exuma Sound. About noon we arrived at Cambridge Cay. It is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There is 360 degree protection here. There are moorings in 10 to 20 feet of crystal clear water over sand. The predicted frontal passage with strong Northwesterly wind never arrived, and White Pepper spent another quiet night at anchor.

The setting is exquisite. I have heard and read about this anchorage for years. I hope it lives up to its reputation and I will let reader's know in the next post.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Great Harbour Cay Marina

Great Harbour Cay Beach on East Side

White Pepper has spent 3 weeks in the Great Harbour Cay Marina near the village of Bullock's Harbor on Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas.  The locals prefer the British spelling of harbor with a u.

This is longer than we had planned to stay.  We did want to spend at least a week here letting the Bahamian winter pass overhead.  We did not count on how much winter there would be to endure. 3 and 4 cold fronts lined up each week without let up.  We barely felt these  since Great Harbour Cay Marina is a virtual hurricane hole.When one weather window did show up, Jan came down with a vicious respiratory virus that sent her to the bunk for several days. It all might sound horrible, but this is fine place to spend some time.

Great Harbour Cay Marina has been greatly upgraded under the steady hand of Hans, the harbor master.  The service is first class--friendly and 'bend over backwards' accommodating. For example Hans drives us back and forth to the market on Wednesdays when the mail boat arrives and the fresh fruits and vegetables are available.  The price is very reasonable by the week--$1/ft--hardly more than a mooring ball elsewhere.Oh, and the bathrooms are new and sparkling.  They are cleaned twice a day. There is free wi-fi.

There is a family of manatees here.  They were blown over during a hurricane and have thrived.
Locals named this manatee George

We walk to the beautiful beach (see above).  We dingy out to the fishing grounds. One of our cruisers organized a trash clean up that was the subject of a previous post. Hans has a little activity lined up every day.  One Monday Jan went to an art class and made jewelry.  Tuesday some local residents instructed the cruisers in how to play the French game of patanque. Barbecue is Friday. Pot luck is on Mondays. Trivia Pursuit at the bar is Thursday.  However, it is all very low key and lots of fun.

A special one time treat was a lecture by the Audubon Society.  They were on the cay researching the rare pipping plover.  Apparently the pipping plover which had been thought to be an endangered Atlantic seaboard bird spends the winters in the Bahamas.  This was  recent discovery.  Jan and I saw about a dozen on the beach the next day.

While we were here the Frigoboat system failed.  This is the wonderful freezer/fridge machine that has worked so flawlessly for 7 years. I have ignored it until it wouldn't cool anymore. Almost miraculously (for the Bahamas) there is an excellent refrigeration man on this island of 450 souls.  His name is Gobby. He came down to the boat and got things fixed up with a minimum of fuss or expense.  I could not have had better service in Fort Lauderdale.

Finally, the weather seems to be clearing. White Pepper will head for the Exumas maybe Sunday.  There seems to be an extended period of good weather coming so we plan to try to get to George Town, Great Exuma, as fast as possible to wait out the rest of the winter.  When the fronts weaken and slow down then more adventuresome cruising is possible.