June in the Exumas - Pipe to Shroud Cays
My apologies in advance - this will be the first of three back-to-back postings, as we're going to be under way and out of internet range in the morning...
We left you in Little Pipe Cay, contemplating dinner. It was lovely :**))
Our brief time in Little Pipe Cay was marked by rain on June 1, so we stayed
aboard and enjoyed our books. One of the things which Lydia had wondered
aloud to me, well before we left on our adventure, now more than 3 years
ago, was, "What will we do with all this time?" My response was, "Read a
book!" I'd been a voracious reader some decades ago, but had to give that
up with work and kids and all the other little things which get in the way
of simply relaxing.
Since we've gotten aboard, and well and truly out in the wilderness,
however, I've had the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of just sitting back
and enjoying a good yarn. Lydia's and my tastes are pretty much different,
just like our logs. Her preference is for "good" writing - which, in many
cases, for me, translates to endless paragraphs of flowery prose and
descriptive narrative. Those, for me, since they don't advance the story
(I'm a bit of a snob in that regard, as, if half the volume of the book is
taken up with such stuff, it takes me twice as long to enjoy the story),
aren't my cup of tea.
Having said that parenthetical last, and having just said that I had lots of
time to read aren't mutually exclusive. There are legions of writers I'm
discovering, all of who seem to have entire libraries of work, none (at
least until recently) I've read. So, with that volume to tackle, I still
jealously guard my time :**)) and read stuff which is relatively faster paced
than her preference. At that, book swaps get a lot of our attention, and our
(granted, larger than most, but not at all what's possible in a landside
residence) bookshelves groan under the double-parked load, even if it is a
constant stream of traffic, coming and going.
So, I started and finished one, and picked up another. We'd expected more
wind from the forecasts, but, unfortunately, for us, it died nearly
completely. Worse as we moved on, our internet died, as well. Since we
couldn't sail anywhere, and could use some gasoline, we made the decision to
return to the Big Majors/Staniel Cay area.
Many other attractions than an available fuel supply pulled us there. One
was that we'd had a good internet connection there. Another was the amazing
experience of Thunderball Grotto. We also never got to explore the area
around Staniel Cay, including a reportedly great walk.
Unfortunately, despite our "shopping for internet" - wandering around while
we watched the signal strength meter on our system - we found only marginal
success on our previously effective station, and nothing else. However, we
did marvel at the plethora of huge motor yachts anchored there, with only a
couple of sailboats. Some of them had 3 or more routers (all encrypted, of
course, and, as windily noted in one of my prior logs, even if I COULD hack
them, I wouldn't) to distribute their satellite systems' feed on the boat.
Among the things I did on the very-unusual paid-for service, prompted in
part by sharing some of that cost with our cruising buddies, who could use
our router to get THEIR internet, was to do some long-neglected catching up
with several forums in which I'd usually not been seen all that much, due to
time and bandwidth constraints.
One of them had a thread which migrated from one I'd started, into satellite
phones and internet service. One poster was vehement that this was more
simply done, and less expensive, than my at-sea alternative, winlink, the
Ham-based email system, and recommended a specific system.
Curious, since I now had a broadband connection, I went looking. Yes, you
could buy the basic gear relatively cheaply. But, holy cow! The ongoing
expenses started at a piddling 100MB (used very quickly in only a few hours
by our combined upload and download traffic, well under a day) of bandwidth,
and 30 minutes of telephone time - for only $499 a month. If anything
resembling actual broadband and telephone broadband access was subscribed,
it was nearly $6,000 a month! YIKES!
I also used that time to do more of the research needed for various stuff
I'd order, to bring back from our time on shore in a few weeks. Endless
video internet calls were enjoyed, and, three days later, we were off that
In the meantime, when I went in to get my fuel, as we approached the dinghy
dock, we saw a HUGE ray - probably at least 5 feet across - cruising at the
end of the dock. Once we got to the dinghy dock, there was a feeding frenzy
of nurse sharks, some at least 8' long, enjoying the castoffs from
fishermen who were cleaning their catch on the cleaning board near the
entrance to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. As it turned out, the fuel dock was
closed. Before I got to know that, however, I'd wandered from where I
dropped Lydia at the dinghy dock around to the front, where the pumps were.
A large sportfishing boat was cleaning their catch on the dock, and one
called to me, "Do you want some dolphin?" (MahiMahi) No fool, I said,
"Sure!" and he tossed me a massive steak and two very sizeable smaller
filets! I'm glad to report that I caught all three in my hands, as a single
unit. "THANKS!" They said they'd caught them about 10 miles offshore...
Putting them on the seat, I hurried back to the dinghy dock to try to find a
plastic bag. Fortunately, there was someone cleaning conch, and he'd just
emptied a bag of ice into his cooler and gladly gave me the bag. Thus
protected, I put the Mahi under the seat to protect from the sun, and set
about going ashore to meet Lydia. A best-in-the-Bahamas burger, accompanied
by the same applause on the french fries, both of which were not only the
best we'd put in our mouths, ever, they were also prepared exactly as we'd
requested (not everyone likes their fries nearly burned!).
Topping it all off was that we were seated at the very busy bar, where Carl
Rolle put on a veritable floor show keeping up with the many drink orders,
many of which were the ground-ice, piled high in a cup, variety of sneaky
alcoholic beverages. Just watching him work was worth a separate tip, to
me! Before we left the area, having sated our internet immediate chores, we
came in, once again, to gorge ourselves on their signature dish.
But, not before a return engagement to Thunderball Grotto. At high tide,
it's an altogether different experience, as you have to dive a bit to enter.
Seeing all the fish and coral from half-again as much distance improves the
perspective. Not having a lot of other divers (the typical visitor to the
Grotto is a strictly surface diver, including some who wear life preservers)
there provided more entertainment, as the fish were much more inquisitive,
rather than simply swarming. Given their expectations of handouts led me to
be able to merely wiggle my fingers in order to have lots of curious fish
approach. Soon, however, the tide was running at a clip which made
avoiding running into the rocks at the various entry points a bit more
energetic than I cared for, and I dove back out to our dinghy.
From there we went exploring up the creek on the east side of Big Majors.
Sure enough, the wreck from which we salvaged so much teak last year was
still there on the rocks. Further down, again, toward Staniel, we
encountered a beach area which had a very clearly marked entrance to a path.
As advertised by word-of-mouth, it led to a walk which could have carried us
throughout the entire island.
Indeed, we met two couples we'd first seen in the beach area who had a golf
cart, and had taken the western side of the path around the massive pond and
up to where we met them at the peak of Staniel Cay. The day was entirely
still, and extremely hot, so we didn't do the entire loop, but, instead,
retraced our steps from about the midpoint of the island.
The view from the top is impressive, with the ocean side boasting nearly
sheer cliffs. It wasn't quite sheer enough to do an Acapulco-style high
dive (and, for that matter, I don't know whether the water was deep enough
to support it, either, being obviously very rocky under the waves), but it
certainly was an impressive drop from the couple of viewpoints at which we
stopped. Sweating copiously, we dunked ourselves in the bathwater-warm
lagoon at the beach area in an attempt to cool off. Not so much luck, but a
brisk ride in the PortaBote while we were still wet allowed us to cool down
on the way in for dinner.
Throughout our travels, we've met the MOST interesting folks. At that last
dinner, a 30+ years cruiser plopped himself beside me, and Lydia, after
patronizing the local cruiser who was raising money for her trip around the
world by selling hand-made jewelry, found herself, on the other side, next
to an electrical contractor doing major work in the Bahamas. Despite our
expectation of returning to the boat before dark, our conversations kept us
until well after sunset.
June 6th saw us heading out in the early morning to a recommended surface
dive of a plane wreck nearby. It was a bit underwhelming, in that it
literally was walking-depth, and not much in the way of coral or fish as
compared to, say, the plane wreck at Normans Cay. We took our underwater
camera, and got a couple of usable picturs, but I was annoyed to see that
the lens area in the housing quickly had condensation in it, making further
photography impossible. We'd go through some correspondence with the
manufacturere before we THINK we may have had a workaround.
Back to our home, we were under way again, and, again, in no wind, this
time, to Fowl Cay, inside the Bahamas Land and Sea Park. As was the case
with our return to Staniel/Big Majors, we motored the very short distance up
there, and threw out the hook. We'd been to this area by dinghy last year,
when we were anchored north of here off Cambridge Cay.
The attraction in this area was Rocky Dundas, home to two stunning caves,
outside of which were some of what we've learned are nearly constant
examples of photogenic reefs. So, the following day, to meet the slack, low
tide, we were off to explore the caves with our underwater camera. I
experienced the same challenges, but with our workaround, managed about 15
minutes before the fogging up occurred. Fortunately, putting the housing on
the dinghy seat, in the sun, cleared it up enough for me to get some very
good shots of the colorful stalactites and stalagmites which made columns
inside the second cave.
Thus sated, once again, on the underwater beauty of the Exumas, we set out
again on June 7th - again with no wind, motoring the very short distance to
our next stop, this time to Shroud Cay. We jumped over the Park
Headquarters at Warderick Wells and the Cambridge Cay area, needing to be
working our way north toward our eventual destination of Marsh Harbour, in
the Abacos. While we very much enjoyed the area last year, we were
concerned that we might wind up spending too much time there, and, thus,
vowed to make that one of our more extensive stops on the way back down
later this year.
Shroud Cay is a very narrow, relatively circular, island with the interior
completely given over to mangrove swamps. Going through them was reminiscent
of the trip into Ragged Island, or, on a smaller scale, some places in the
US' Intra-Coastal Waterway. The chart shows the channels which can lead to
the other side.
Our first trip was right after we arrived, which concided with nearly high
tide. The channel, cut by the tidal flow, was ample for our travel at full
speed in the dinghy. Being a former competitive water skier, I couldn't help
but think that if it were only 20 or so feet wider in some of the straight
stretches, it would make an ideal water ski course, as none of the waves
would rebound, instead being totally absorbed by the mangroves.
We didn't take the obvious left turn which led off into a much larger
pond-like area, but, looking at the Cap'n charts of the area when we
returned to Flying Pig we saw that it would have led us to the other side.
Instead, we carried on until the water, even at high tide, was only inches
deep. That led - with many other footprints sunk into the soft sand showing
that many had recently preceded us - to a well marked, very short path over
to the ocean side. On the way to the path, we were able to get close to a
lone, very rare, Reddish Egret standing on the shore. Like much of the
Bahamian wildlife, this one seemed tolerant of us approaching, which we did
slowly and quietly, getting our usual complement of pictures before he
wandered off into the shallows, looking for dinner.
Once on the path, and over to the ocean side, we saw that cruisers there had
swept the beach of trash, piling it in the area near the oceanside entrance.
So, unlike most of the Atlantic beaches we've been on in the Bahamas,
instead of masses of trash, there was only an entirely clean stretch of
beach for us to enjoy.
After our walk, as we were returning to our PortaBote, we noticed something
we'd overlooked in our hurry to get to the path. We've noted a type of bird
in the area which had an extremely long tail, and wondered what they were.
We were privileged to see a nesting mother tucked into a hole she'd made in
the sandstone. Eyeing us cautiously, but determining that we intended no
harm, we were able to get within a very few feet of her to photograph her
sharply marked black and white wings, which were spread out, perhaps to help
aid in cooling, or, perhaps, to shield her young. Later, going through one
of our many books on wildlife and fish, we discovered that this was a
White-tailed Tropicbird, previously known as a Yellowbilled Tropicbird. Her
beak color suggested she was nearly mature, as the young have yellow bills,
and the adults, red. Hers was closer to orange. The wonders of the Bahamas
wildlife never cease to amaze us...
Thrilled and photo-ed out, we sped back to our dinner, vowing to go again to
the left-turn cut-through, as there were reefs shown on the charts, which,
with the totally still air, might have been good for snorkeling.
Unfortunately, morning on June 8th was nearly dead low tide, and we didn't
get even a few hundred feet before we were grounded. Thus thwarted, we
instead took another walk, marked in the usual Bahamas fashion, by cairns
(piles of rocks), empty conch shells, and the ubiquitous assorted washed-up
This path led only to a well, surrounded by a wall which had been mortared
over, with an inscription of 1927. Whether this was a well that a prior
residents group used, or just some long-ago cruisers' project, it's been in
use for at least 73 years! The sign warned against any soap products near
the well, and there were a couple of large buckets on lines for those
wishing to pull water from it. As we have plenty of water aboard, and the
water in the well looked a bit dark for our tastes, not to mention the work
to hump containers back to the boat, we didn't partake of the natural
The area surrounding the well was full of sinkholes and caves. The
sinkholes were nearly smooth-sided, looking a bit like they'd been bored,
but much smaller than the well, which was, perhaps, 12 feet across. Noting
that the path led on, we saw that it gave out on the opposite side of the
island, near a beach opposite mooring balls which the Park Service have
installed. There was the usual self-pay box at the top of the path looking
down on the beach, but we have to say that it didn't look very well-trod,
given the number of very large motor yachts we saw enjoying the moorings
here and on our prior stop. Having seen all there was to offer on this
short trail, we once again returned home and got under way the following
day, this time to Normans Cay, home to many fond memories from last year.
As this is plenty long already, we'll leave you here, about to head off to
Until next time, Stay Tuned!
Morgan 461 #2
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
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"There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in
its hand. You seek problems because you need their gifts."
(Richard Bach, in Illusions - The Reluctant Messiah)