Sailing the Exumas

A few weeks ago, taking advantage from being in Florida, the four of us sailed the Exumas islands in the Bahamas with Sylvia Richardson’s family (Sylvia, Jessie, and Alex) on a charter catamaran, Stray Cat, piloted by Captain Mark Pomerenke. Although “sea, sun, and sail” is not in my top ten list of outdoor activities, I enjoyed it very much, along with all members of the trip! Here at last is the shiplog of our week in the Exumas, mostly written by Sylvia (with a few additions of mine for the ‘Og).

Saturday 6 August
Thanks to Emily having become “Remnants of Emily” on the Thursday evening, our decision not to postpone the cruise paid off. At 10 am on Saturday, we met Captain Mark at the Yacht Haven Marina in Nassau. Stray Cat is a splendid catamaran with 5 cabins. Jessie, Sylvia and Alex are in one wing, Brigitte, Xian and Mark are in the other wing, Rachel and Joachim are in an outside cabin accessible from the deck.
After a large shopping expedition incl. an unusual stop in a sex shop that also sold alcohol (no details but really curious!!), we left the Yacht Haven Marina around 1 pm. The sky was grey but the wind so good that we decided to try to get to the Exhumas that night (a long trek of 40 miles). However, after one hour or so, the sea became quite choppy and the boat was bumping along quite uncomfortably, and Mark decided that it would be too long a ride against the waves for a first day. So we turned round and went to a private island called Rose island where there is a very narrow man-made entrance in the cliff providing a very peaceful shelter in the middle (shelter that Captain Mark used during the recent hurricane Irene). We moored at a pontoon next to a Canadian cat (friends of Mark who gave us a lobster). The skies cleared up and we had a nice swim (Joachim barely escaping a whole class of jellyfish when he went diving into a wreck) and rest. We made spaghetti bolognese for the team.

Sunday 7th
We woke up early because it had been really hot during the night. We left the mooring around 8.30-9 am. The wind was south-southwest and shifting continuously throughout. We had a lovely sail averaging around 6-7 knots. We had to tack frequently and so after 30 miles, we put the engine on and motor-sailed for the last 12 miles. We got to Allen Cay around 4 pm. On beautiful turquoise waters, Mark took us in the dinghy towards a reef for snorkeling. It was very exciting, with lots of colored fish and corals.

We then went towards a beach full of iguanas. Gold sand, birds and lots of iguanas of different sizes. Joachim who has a natural talent for reptiles started taming them, following the alligator demonstration that we saw in the Everglades. Alex got bitten on his finger trying to feed the iguanas leaves as they are prone to eat anything that moves…

We also saw a fisherman’s boat sorting out lots of conchs. They sold us some fresh lobster! This fantastic day ended with a culinary feast orchestrated by chef Mark on the outside barbecues: fresh lobster, chicken and corn on the cob. Paradisaic evening under the stars.
Monday 8th
Most of the boat woke up quite late thanks to an air-conditioned night (!). It was decided to have a snorkeling day. After taking pictures of the iguanas, we motored to Highborne Cay, a private island where there is the possibility to buy ice and refuel which we did. We were expecting to see sharks on the way but they did not turn up au rendez-vous. We went round the island to snorkel in a well-populated reef. Joachim came back in a haste after being pursued by a large barracuda. Mark explained that they are territorial but that they don’t attack and that you should ignore them. Superb reef with lots of different corals, and many different kinds of colored fish and a few rays. Like a forest under sea. In the afternoon we motored to the other side of the island to anchor for the night. Happy evening under the stars. During the night, some lightening and wind got up for a while, but no rain.
Tuesday 9th
Some of us swam in the morning and then we took off to sail to Norman’s Cay, a once notorious drug platform. We had a lovely sail with light winds (averaging 5-6 knots). We also put out fishing lines but did not catch anything but weeds … We anchored around 3 in a splendid bay called whale tail. The reef was quite sandy and beaten up by the storm so it was less colourful than the day before. After the snorkeling and swimming, we then went to Norman Cay cut, a postcard bay with a paradise “one coconut tree island” in the distance, which we fell in love with. In the evening we set off in the dinghy to the key, to go to Mac Duff‘s restaurant. The restaurant was fun, we ate conch fritters, and fish, and drank rum cocktails, bumping into two of the conch fishermen having a beer there. The veranda in front of the restaurant was very much out of a 19th century book on the Caribbeans, wicker chairs, low tables, a great view and lots of mosquitoes! The toilets were secluded in nature, quite unique. We hurried back to the boat as lightning and black clouds were threatening over our heads. The air was fresh and the breeze was strong. In the end the storm passed over.
Wednesday 10th
We set off in the morning towards Exhumas landsea park, a national park on a small group of islands, about 12 miles south of Norman’s Cay. No wind, so we had to motor all the way. As we approached, we started to discover a symphony of colors, from light green to emerald green and blue. Truly amazing. We tied up to a buoy and got ready to swim when …. Mark called out — look at the shark! We saw a shadow and most of us thought he was joking. As soon as we set foot on the ladder, we clearly saw a nurse shark swimming around, not too far from the surface, with little grey fish attached to his back. What a sight. After a while some of us started to get ready to snorkel, as this shark is not dangerous. There was an old wreck beneath our boat, which “housed” many species of fish. Top and king of the castle was a big “bar”, with a lovely yellow tail, which swam around quite close to the surface, surveying his kingdom. Lower down were families of fish of all colors. Brigitte was the last to come back enjoying the observation of the various fish around the shipwreck but still keeping an eye on the amazing nurse shark who was laying still on the bottom water bed with his four personal parasite cleaners hooked on him. Marks told us they are called remoras. Later on as Jessie was going in the water with Alex, a massive barracuda swam by which scared them!

Towards the evening, we went in the dinghy and onto the pontoon where the wardens of the park have a little exhibition. On the beach are the bones of a big sperm whale! Quite impressive. Sylvia, Alex and Xian walked a few steps in the mangrove where they saw a least bittern and many hermits. Little breeze in the evening, so the night was quite hot.
Thursday 11th
This is our last day and we started early (around 8 am) to make our way back towards Nassau. The few days at sea went very quickly … We first motored to Highborne Cay to get some fuel for the dinghy, some ice and some cold drinks. We were hoping to get some wind in the afternoon and to sail back to Rose island, but the weather was overcast, heavy, and the wind did not get up. Around 4 we arrived at Rose island and anchored round the back of the island near a large reef. Everybody was very happy to be able to swim and snorkel after such a long day on the motor. The view behind Rose island is spectacular, with the world famous island of Gilligan’s Island (10 coconut trees) in the background. The reef was spectacular by its width, interesting relief around its edge, some many different corals, sponges, forest like branches and fans, and colourful fish swimming gently around. Xian, Alex and Joachim dived for empty conch shells dumped by fishermen and managed to retrieve some nice ones quite deep. Lovely sunset and twilight.

Friday 12th

We went to Nassau marina in the morning and said our goodbyes to Captain Mark, who was in a hurry to get the ship ready for his next guests. We all have had a wonderful week, discovered a beautiful undersea world, enjoyed the sailing and the company and got a taste of the very special atmosphere of the Exhumas. We are very grateful to Captain Mark for sharing this with us.

2 Responses to “Sailing the Exumas”

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