Tuesday, March 28th
Weather: mid-70s, 5-10 knot breezes and partly cloudy
Route: motoring out of Highborne Cay Anchorage --> figuring out the Alexian's rigging to raise the Main and Forward Jib sails --> sailing to Shroud Cay --> motoring to the Land and Sea Park's Mooring Ball in the Shroud Cay Anchorage
- snorkeling at Shroud Cay's Neptune's Oasis
- a dinghy ride along Sanctuary Creek through Shroud Cay
- hearing the Captain's bad news that we had already used too much fuel to reach Staniel Cay
- working as a team to calculate a new itinerary
- a calm sea for a good night's sleep
According to our itinerary, today we were supposed to sail 20 nautical miles to Warderick Wells Cay. Instead we decided to sail only as far as Shroud Cay, where "Sanctuary Creek" was a unique feature through mangrove swamps. While enjoying our normal cold cereal and fruit (papaya) breakfast, we boiled eggs for today's lunch -- potato salad using yesterday's leftover dinner potatoes. We were eager to hoist the anchor and start sailing.
Outside the anchorage it took Hubby and First Mate about 30 minutes to untangle the main sail rigging and winch the sail up the mast, stopping several times to re-open the reef line clutches, which locked up randomly for no reason, causing the boom to lift. We realized then that it had been a good idea to abandon the sailing attempt on Sunday in the high wind and rough seas.
In today's light 10 knot NE wind the Captain next gave the order to haul out the forward jib sail, giving us a little more power, then turned off the motors. At last we were sailing with only the sound of rigging clanging in the wind and water swishing between Alexian's two hulls. To correct our course a little we eventually had to make a jibe turn, finding that the secondary jib sail required us to have split-second timing during the turn so as not to wrap the open jib around the secondary sail. Our next jibe turn was better but we had run out of time to play. It was already time to stow the sails and head towards the mooring field in the lee of Shroud Cay (#6 on the map).
As the autopilot motored us toward the mooring field, the women headed for the galley to finish preparing the potato salad, lettuce, olives, pickles, grapes, bananas and biscuits. The 13:00 lunch was later than usual and everyone was hungry. There were no leftovers.
Shroud Cay is within the boundary of the Exumas Land and Sea Park and as such provides mooring balls to keep anchor damage to a minimum. For a 38' boat like Alexian, the mooring fee was US$20.00. We needn't have worried about finding a free mooring ball, there were several free ones to choose from. The tricky part was coordinating the 3 crew members at the bow with the Captain at the helm to ease the boat up to the ball, grab the ball's loop with the gaff pole and run a port and starboard mooring line through the loop end, Bahamian style, without injuring anyone or dropping the pole in the water. With the boat secured on the mooring ball, we planned to self-pay at the box onshore on our way to snorkel at Neptune's Oasis (#5 on the map). But first we had to slather on sunblock, wriggle into wetsuits and gather our gear -- somewhat more efficiently than we had yesterday. Because of his pulled back muscles the Captain opted to skip the back-wrenching and bumping of the dinghy experience. He enjoyed a quiet afternoon with the Alexian all to himself.
At the beach, Hubby jumped out of the dinghy as soon as the water was shallow enough and scurried up the weathered limestone bank to register the Alexian at the self-pay station, then waded and swam back out to the dinghy. The visible coral reef at the location marked on the map made Neptune's Oasis easy to find. We anchored and dropped from the dinghy into the water. It was a lovely spot with hard and soft corals, sponges and frilly growths that I had not seen anywhere else so far. All the amazing underwater shots in the clear water here were captured by First Mate.
Back at Alexian we swam over to snorkel along the "Sheltered Shores" of the nearby limestone cliffs, where we found a different type of underwater community. Hunger and cold brought us back to the boat again for an afternoon nibble of cheese, crackers and hummus while we warmed up and dried off. We were waiting for the tide to be high enough for a visit to Sanctuary Creek -- a dinghy ride from east to west through Shroud Cay's mangrove swamp. Endangered white-tailed Tropic Birds began darting overhead, no doubt returning to their nests in the limestone cliffs here. They were so fast and blended so well with the colour of the sky that we could not capture photos of them with our "amateur" cameras.
It was time. Again the Captain opted to stay with the Alexian as the rest of us piled into the dinghy for a slow 2NM trip to the estuary. On our first try we passed its mouth, ending up in very shallow water (marked "shallow" on the map). Once or twice we had to lift the dinghy motor and walk the dinghy over sand bars but eventually we found the creek mouth and headed in.
Sanctuary Creek (#1 on the map) is a passable waterway through the delicate mangrove swamp interior of Shroud Cay. The mangroves provide nursery-like safety for small fish, birds, crustaceans, conch and other marine organisms. The creek was formed by tidal flows, causing shifting sand banks and winding passages, most of which can only be explored in a kayak. Dinghies and small motorized vessels are cautioned to travel this larger creek only at idle speed in this no-wake zone. The creek was wide enough in most places for two small vessels to pass. We only encountered one other boat. On our ride to the western mouth of the creek we saw a green heron, a few turtles (maybe hawksbills?) and a large bird, perhaps an osprey. The tidal flow on the western end, facing the deep Exuma Sound, was strong, the waves were rough and felt powerful. After watching, captivated, for a few minutes we retraced our route back to the Alexian, arriving before dark.
It was then that the Captain dropped the bombshell -- we had already used half our fuel! One tank of fuel was supposed to get us to the marina at Staniel Cay, still more than 30nm south. The engineers and boatmen among us could not explain why the fuel was gone but everyone did agree that the Captain's fuel estimate was correct. As the women began preparing dinner, hamburger and stir-fried veggies with rice, the discussion began about what action to take. We thought we had three options:
1) Motor south to the next cay, Norman's, in the morning and refuel before continuing south to Staniel Cay.
2) Try to sail all the way to Staniel Cay to refuel.
3) Motor back to Highborne Cay to refuel and scrap the plan to travel to Staniel Cay.
After digging through our reference material and raising Highborne Marina on the radio we confirmed that there was no fuel available at Norman's Cay. Option 1 was scratched.
With the weather forecast indicating light winds shifting to the east and possibly the south there was little hope of sailing south to Staniel Cay in one day. Nobody liked the idea of wasting a travel day but option 3 was the safest choice. We would return to Highborne Cay in the morning.
We didn't let the itinerary change ruin our dinner though. How lucky we were to be here together, sharing this experience, no matter how many miles we covered. While the men again gallantly washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen the women dug through the reference material to figure out how much travel time would remain after refueling at Highborne Cay and how far south could we go tomorrow in the remaining daylight. We decided to try to reach Warderick Wells Cay, the Exumas Park Headquarters 20nm from Highborne Cay, by tomorrow evening. We agreed to get an early start in the morning.