The El Nino Tour!

 

I read a blog post recently of a boat that had t-shirts made up a number of years ago with their boat name and the slogan “The El Nino Tour”. I’m thinking of having some made up for the crew of Grace V as El Nino seems to be in charge this year and we have no choice but to tailor our plans to the whims of the weather. This trip is truly one of “where the wind takes us”.

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We planned to leave Great Harbour Cay and spend a few days exploring the other islands that make up ‘The Berry Islands’ before making our way to New Providence and onto the Exumas, but weather dictated that we make tracks south to find new and safe harbours – quickly.

We required two days to travel from the Berry’s to New Providence Island, and elected to anchor out at the west end of the island instead of the popular east end where Nassau is found. We’d heard enough stories of crime in the Nassau area (both in marinas and at anchor) to make us want to give the place a wide berth. We’ve met many people who have traveled to and stayed in Nassau this season and had a great time and were perfectly safe. They all stayed in marinas, as far as we know, but since we are way over budget on THAT line item we didn’t feel we could afford the expensive marinas of Nassau, so we made sure we weren’t even tempted by heading to the other side of the island!

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The storm in the distance – doesn’t look like it’s gonna get us here in West Bay.

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The sky was so striking with colours of blue, green and pink.  If I could paint, I would paint this scene.

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Not our boat, but a beautiful sunset.

We anchored for 2 nights in the West Bay, surrounded by houses that cost 8 million and up! There is not much to do at this end of the island although there is a national park and it was a great place to take Poppy for her twice-daily shore leave. There is also an interesting house on Lyford Cay that is owned by Canadian Millionaire Nygard. It looks like a Mayan village and is lit up at night with green coloured lights. We weren’t close enough to get good photos though. If you want to know more about the property check out this interesting article from Vanity Fair.

The only thing now that stood between us and the hallowed cruising grounds of the Exumas were the White and Yellow banks! All the cruising guides suggest you not to cross the Yellow banks before 11:30 am, that is, wait until the sun is high enough in the sky so you can see the coral heads clearly. When you are looking right into the sun and it’s low in the sky you cant see anything in the water until you are directly over top of it and then it’s too late! We arrived at the Yellow banks about noon and had no difficulty seeing the corals heads dotted around. Because we came from West Bay instead of Nassau, we only crossed a small piece of this bank, those that came from Nassau would have had a longer run over this tricky ground.

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This isn’t a picture of the White or Yellow banks, but it is a good illustration of what a coral head looks like.  This could be 6 or more feet below the surface, but you don’t take that chance, dodge around it!

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Passed the Yellow Bank!

We could see 15 boats dotting the horizon all around us, some looked to be headed in the same direction as us and other appeared to be pointed further south. Our intention was to visit Allens Cay and see the iguanas that live there for a day or two before moving on. However, once we got there, the was no room for us, there were some spots for boats with a shallower draft, but not for us. We’d known this was a possibility (given the number of boats we saw travelling) and had planned a backup. We went to Highbourne Cay instead (2 miles further south) hoping that we could dinghy back to Allens to see the famed iguanas the next day in our dinghy.  We spent two nights at Highbourne, but to get back to Allens meant we had to cross one of the cuts that joins the Exuma Banks with Exuma Sound – the wind blowing though this cut was fierce and the waves made a dinghy trip wet and uncomfortable.  Bye bye iguanas – maybe another time.

We stopped for one night at Hawksbill Cay and explored the ruins of the former settlement on the now deserted island.

With the west winds coming we made the jump to the southern end of the Exuma Land and Sea Park to hide behind Bell Island.  We are still learning about how to interpret our charts and decide which anchorages are safe in which kind of winds so we arrived at Bell two days before the expected weather to make sure we liked the anchorage and ensure we could get a good spot.  On arrival, we saw that there was TONS of room in this anchorage.  We dropped our anchor with lots of room around us and settled in to enjoy the Exuma Park while we waited for the bad weather.  That first night we discovered why there was so much room here… there was a significant swell that made its way into the anchorage and rocked our boat leeft and right ALL NIGHT LONG, for THREE NIGHTS STRAIGHT.  I can not explain how uncomfortable this is, there are no words to describe what it’s like.

Luckily the days were pretty nice and we got to do some exploring.

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A beach all to ourselves.  It’s not actually that had to find here.

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I LOVED this shell and wanted it sooo badly.  However the Exuma Land and Sea Park is a “No Take Zone”.  No fishing, hunting or shelling is allowed in the park.  Their motto is “Take only pictures and leave only footprints.”  I left the shell on the beach where I found it.

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Tim went snorkling at the “Aquarium” – which has dinghy mooring balls to tie up to while you check out the reef here.  They don’t want you anchoring in this fragile area of the park.

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He’s looking for fish, but they keep chasing behind him, he has to turn around fast to catch them.

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These are the guys that were following Tim around – I think they might be Sargent Majors.

 

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Beach day!

We ended up staying in the park for 10 days.  More to come!

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