December 7th, written while at sea, sailing to Rum Cay.
Travelling the Exumas is an exercise in colour. When we left the peaceful anchorage just off Nassau December 3rd, we charted our course to Highbourne Cay (pronounced key) in the Northern Exumas. Crossing to Highbourne was an adventure in itself. The banks of the Bahamas are typically between 10-30ft, which require everyone on deck to monitor the many colours of the water. Dark blue – deep water, dark brown – coral reef, lighter brown – sea grass bottom, aquamarine – sandy bottom. With Bruce and I standing forward, we watched for coral as we motorsailed across the bank.
Highbourn Cay, one of the hundreds of islands in the chain, offered us shelter from the winds and a chance to swim, snorkel and visit the island. As we dinghied ashore, we spied the Caution Shark sign. Waiting sleepily below the fish gutting station and accustomed to fishing boats tossing the scraps, about a dozen nurse sharks rested on the bottom. A large bull shark slowly glided by; never still, it trolled the waters waiting. Ashore, we checked into the office and were advised of the Cay features – restaurant, bar, beach and bikes. They charge $25 to use the beach, $7 for garbage and $4.50/gallon of diesel. The Bahamas are not inexpensive. With everything either motored and flown in, there is a premium on food, drinks and fuel.
The next morning, we woke to a nurse shark hanging out under Windancer. After hand-feeding it a few scraps, we dinghied over to Allans Cay to meet the people-friendly iguanas. Crossing the small cay on foot and wearing closed-toed shoes for the first time in weeks (to cover up painted toes that iguanas often mistake for food), the iguanas advanced off the rocks. Unafraid of people, they were happy to eat the grapes we fed them off bamboo skewers. When I say we, I actually mean Marlene and Bruce as John waited back on the dinghy to minimize the water crashing over the stern and I am just too chicken to make eye contact with a 2 ft iquana.
Later that morning we sailed 5nm (nautical miles) down to Norman. John, the kids and I had visited McDuffs, a small beach bar, on our way to Florida at the end of our first journey in 2008 and we thought it would be cool to visit it again. We radio’d ashore to make sure it was open and headed in for what would be a very expensive lunch. Who knew floaters on your rum punch could cost $12? Later in the afternoon we dinghied around the tip of the island to snorkel the wreck of a C46 drug running plane that had crashed into the bay. Now home to many a fish and stingray, we swam through the fuselage and under the wing. After an evening of Euchre, we called it a night.
On December 5th, we sailed down to Staniel Cay, one of the more populated cays in the Exuma chain. Against the odds, Bruce kept the fishing lines off the stern and nabbed a 2ft tuna that died a tragic death as a barracuda did a number on it as Bruce reeled it in. Made for a wonderful ahi tuna dinner that night.
Before moving to Staniel, we dropped anchor in a beautiful white sand bay on Big Major Cay to visit the famous swimming pigs. Recognizing the sound of a dinghy engine, the pigs made their way from the shade of trees out into the water and rather aggressively begged for carrots. The three large pigs swam out, while half a dozen piglets walked along the shore. It was truly a treat to see these pigs swim out in the surf and butt against you to demand more food.
Once anchored in Staniel we went ashore to explore the Easter egg buildings of the island. Unsure of where the store was, we asked a local for directions. ‘Follow me, I will take you there’, and off we headed on Gray’s Highway, rather an exaggeration for a one-lane golf cart ridden road. The blue house, Burke’s Groceries; the yellow house, the bakery, the pink house, Pink Pearl Groceries. Seems everyone knows everyone on the island, with many family members living side by side in the colourful homes – beautiful to see from the water, but up close, littered with old bikes, engines and boat parts. Grabbed a drink at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, visited the nurse sharks basking under the fish gutting station and headed back to the boat for dinner.
We woke on December 6th to the joy of St Nicholas having visited Windancer, with treats in each of our flip flops. Seems he can find you even when you boast no fixed address. Staniel is home to another famous attraction – Thunderball Grotto (of James Bond fame), hidden at the end of one of three rock outcroppings just off the marina. Swimming under some rock formations, we entered the grotto to be greeted by hundreds of small fish waiting for a snack. The sun bore down through the hole at the top of the grotto, making it easy to spy the different fish. One last late day snorkel and nurse shark feeding before dinner. Venturing down the old stone steps, I offered the sharks tuna scraps. It appeared they weren’t too interested early, but suddenly six of them jostled onto to the lower step to get the last of the tuna.
We left Staniel at 10pm, making our way through the cut to the Exuma sound, home to some of the best dorado, wahoo and tuna fishing in the world. After an uneventful night passage, we put out the lines as the sun came up. Today, December 7th is the start of the MacKenzie – Walker Fishing Derby. Bruce has port sugar scoop, Ziggy has starboard. Within the first hour we had four strikes but only hooked 2 of them – both on the starboard side. Dorado swim in schools and as Bruce released his line on the port, he took a strike quickly followed by both lines on the starboard. John on Team MacKenzie reeled in a 2ft dorado, while I pulled in another hand-over-hand on the Cuban hand reel only to have the leader break mere feet from the boat.
MacKenzie 1, Walker 0.
While sailing sometimes the smallest moment brings joy into the day. As we sailed into Rum Cay we were greeted with 4 or 5 dolphins jumping straight up and belly flopping into the ocean. Shortly thereafter, we saw fish jumping like craze – perhaps the top of a bait ball – but none jumped onto our hooks. Score remains 1-0 Team MacKenzie.
As for Rum Cay, well, it is located in the middle of nowhere, or so it seems. Not another boat to be seen. Anchored in 10 ft of the clearest water. Were greeted by the nature team of a 3 ft barracuda and 4ft sting ray who are just hanging around the boat. And, not wanting to be late the party, a nurse shark showed up around bedtime. Now, which one of us will go snorkeling?
Day 2 Update
We left Rum Cay around 3 and got in the last 3 hours of daylight for the derby. Thinking we were skunked, as the sun set we started to hand reel in the Cuban reels. Double black fin tuna strike; Team Walker lands it on the boat, off the hook for Team MacKenzie
Day 3 Update
Score tied at 1 a piece.