Thursday, March 30th
Weather: Clear, sunny, low 80s with fair wind from the east-southeast but waves from the south
Route: Hawksbill Cay south --> Warderick Wells North Mooring Field Ball 8
- disappointing snorkel spots at the south end of the cay
- getting a last-minute mooring ball reservation at Warderick Wells Cay
- an interesting hike from the Exumas Land and Sea Park HQ to Boo Boo Hill
- creating a quick dinner with pasta and leftovers
- a quiet night in the mooring field protected from south wave action
The two kayakers wanted to explore for an hour before slack tide, so our 7:00 breakfast of cold cereal or oatmeal, yoghurt, orange or V8 juice, oranges, tea or coffee was over and cleaned up by 8:30. The rest of us used the time to "swab the decks" and galley floor and hand wash some laundry. By 10:00 we had donned our wetsuits, applied sunblock and were riding the dinghy south to a snorkel spot called Rocker Point, named after the last inhabitant of the cay. To our dismay there was a strong current and choppy waves as we neared the snorkel spot (#7 on the map). Had we missed the slack tide? Perhaps inside the northern cove (#8 on the map) would be more protected? A Spotted Eagle Ray glided under the dinghy in shallow water. We searched several possible locations for the calm shallow coral garden described in the guide book before retreating to a sandy beach with a little protection from the south. Once there I snorkeled close to the sharp limestone rocks to find nothing but sandy bottom. Hubby and I swam a lap across the cove in the clear turquoise waters. We had never seen so many different colours of blue in one spot. Our Canadian friends were especially relishing the warm sun and water, remembering the snow they were not shoveling today. We watched a few curly-tailed lizards in the rocks above the water line before returning to the dinghy and the Alexian. In hindsight, given that the waves were coming from the south we would probably have found better snorkeling and a calmer mooring field at the northern end of the cay near the Loyalist Ruins (#3 and #5 on the map).
We noticed that high tide seemed to be about an hour later than the tide charts indicated, possibly because we did not correct for Daylight Savings time?? This triggered another exhaustive discussion of tide charts. Lunch was not easy to prepare as the boat bounced and rocked facing into the wind while sitting sideways to the rolling waves, but it was worth the effort -- tortillas, tomatoes, salsa, pork loin, beans, shredded cheese, veggie spears and hummus with an apple for dessert. Over lunch someone proposed leaving this mooring field, thinking how uncomfortable our sleep might be if these waves from the south persisted. Again we radioed the Warderick Wells Ranger Station asking if there were any mooring balls still available there. They reserved Mooring Ball #8 for us. It was already 14:00. We had to get going!
We estimated 4 hours of motoring at 4.5 knots, but as we turned south into the waves and wind our top speed was only 3 knots if we kept the one working engine below 2000 rpms. Despite a strong southeast wind the sails would do us no good at all on our heading. When we reached our first waypoint and changed course to the east I asked if the Jib Sails would give us more power now. The Captain liked the idea until the First Mate pointed out that any slippage downwind off our course could run us aground on shallow sand shoals. Oh well....I tried.
With the extra chop we noticed that the strain was tearing one of the dinghy's two side cleats. It was necessary to stop and make some adjustments to how the dinghy was secured to the boat. Now, to make our destination before dark, the Captain brought the motor up to 2500 rpm, increasing our speed to 4 knots. We expected to arrive before dark if nothing else happened to slow us down. By 17:30 we were entering the mooring field, slowly working our way between the boats already moored there and a sand bar on the starboard side. The First Mate was at the helm today. Mooring ball #8 (a little north of #2 on the map) had a float on the loop end and the rope loop was protected from fraying by a stiff plastic sleeve, called a thimble, making it an easy pickup for the Captain despite the moderately strong current.
It was already 18:00 when the First Mate and his wife suggested we go ashore to hike the short (about 1 mile round trip) trail to Boo Boo Hill for a view of the area. We were hesitant to go so close to sunset but didn't want to miss a good opportunity to see the sights. With our $20.00 mooring fee in hand, the six of us piled into the dinghy for the 10 minute ride to the dinghy dock at Park HQ. At low tide we had to climb carefully up the dock scaffolding from the water level.
After 16:00 the Park office was closed for the day, BUT there were some interesting outside postings to read, including a weather forecast. After reading that the weather forecast was broadcast every morning at 8:00 on Channel 6 we realized it was only our inexperience with sailing in this area that caused us to miss the daily forecasts. Winds were supposed to be shifting from northeast to southeast tomorrow. It was our bad luck that they seemed to shift this afternoon, earlier than forecast, when we were travelling south.
Taking only a quick look at "Stinky", a Pilot Whale skeleton outside the Visitor Center, we headed to the beach, passing the 52-foot skeleton of a Sperm Whale, killed by ingesting plastic, on the way to the trailhead. At the water's edge something skittered into the water ahead of us. We think it was a ray, although we only saw its tail fin above water.
The Boo Boo Hill trail had informative signs at intervals. Hubby took photos of them to read later, so as not to delay the group. Now we had to hurry to make sure we could get to the top of the hill and back to the dinghy before dark. With a lovely sunset it was tempting to stay there for too long, which is what the First Mate did. Five of us returned to the dock, paid the fee and dinghy-ed to the Alexian. In the twilight the Captain carefully dinghy-ed over the sand bar to the nearby beach to pick up his First Mate while the rest of us started dinner.
Whole wheat pasta, basil pesto, leftover chicken thighs and roasted veggies were relatively quick to prepare. We paired it with a white Chilean Savignon Blanc and a large salad. According to the pasta's nutritional information the two boxes would make 12 servings. There were only two servings of leftovers. During dinner we discussed the plan for tomorrow. Everyone wanted to explore the Cay's trails in the morning and snorkel in the afternoon, staying here for one more night. Emerald Rock seemed to be the best snorkeling spot, as it was not supposed to be affected by tidal currents. We'll see....
As we sat in the mooring field we were amazed at how quickly the sand bars appeared and disappeared with the tide changes. This would be a tricky mooring field to enter in the dark, especially when the tide was just high enough to obscure the sand bars on each side of the field. While drinking tea with chocolate and biscuits we heard a loud splash in the dark water close by. A man overboard? A midnight swim? A very large fish? With the large spotting light the Captain illuminated a fish about the size of a large salmon. Watching for a few minutes we saw several fish aggressively chasing small Needle Fish at the surface, sometimes jumping out of the water to grab them. Wow! What a show!
Facts, Superstition and Legend: At 70 feet above sea level, Boo Boo Hill is the highest point in The Exumas chain of land masses (yes, the cays are definitely going to change if sea level rises). There are two remarkable features of this hill. First, it affords a spectacular view of the harbour below and the other nearby cays. Second, at the top of the hill can be found a huge rock cairn covered with signs bearing the names of boats that have moored at this cay. Superstition has it that leaving an offering to King Neptune and the sea gods will allow a boat good sailing and safe passage through this area. Most of the signs are wooden and have the boat's name and the year of its arrival here. Some we saw were simple impromptu carved driftwood while others seemed to be well thought out in advance. Boo Boo Hill acquired its name, so the legend goes, because it is haunted by the souls of a shipwreck on the reef below. Not a single body was recovered for a Christian burial. On windy nights the souls of the missionaries and their shipmates can be heard singing on the hill.