Monday, April 25, 2011

Warderick Wells to Black Point, and what lies beyond

Last time we checked in, we were tied up to a mooring ball in Warderick Wells, exhausted from hiking the miles of trails on the island.  After blogging, we went for a swim.  The mooring field is just a winding channel of deeper water in the middle of shallow water.  At low tide, these sand bars turn into little beaches in the middle of the bay.  We swam to one of them and lazed about until the sandbar disappeared from under us as the tide came back in.  Not a bad way to cool off and unwind.

Earendil, hanging out on the ball. You can see the shallow parts that end up above water at low tide.

Glenice on the other side of the low-tide "beach".
The next morning, we headed out.  We were only planning to head down about six miles to Little Hall's Pond Cay (owned by Johnny Depp) to anchor and then dinghy over to the Sea Aquarium, an excellent snorkeling spot.  Glenice (we've been running into them since we hit the Exumas, and they got to Warderick Wells when we did) was also heading out.  We thought we'd try the outside, since the current was taking us that way.  We went right, and Glenice went left.  It looked a little choppy, but we thought it was just where the current met the bigger waters of the Exuma Sound.  It was a little rough, but we thought once we made it past the chop, maybe it would smooth out.  Nope!  After the chop, the waves just got bigger.  I think they're the biggest waves we've been in on the trip.  It was rough, and we were rolling all over the place.  Even though we only had to endure it for a mile to the south, we didn't think we could take it.  So we headed back in to the cut.  Unfortunately, the current that took us out so fast was now pushing against us.  The GPS said we were going 0.9 knots.  Not very fast.  We finally made it back in.  Once we were past the choppy bits, Trevor put up the main sail to give us some speed.  We climbed to 3 knots!  Now we're talking.

After that bit of adventure (and an hour wasted going the wrong way), we looked to see how we could cut off some time.  As we passed the east end of Warderick Wells, there was a big shallow sand bar, but the chart indicated a slightly deeper path cut through the middle of it.  We decided we would try to find it.  Using only our eyes, we managed to find the deepest path through the sandbar.  We saw nothing less than 7', and cut off a mile or two!  Yay for visual piloting!  After that small victory, we looked for more "VPR" routes (shallow routes where you have to use your eyes to judge the depth and keep from running aground).  We ran across another one to cut over toward Hall's Pond Cay.  We had no idea what the depth was, just that it went from dark green to pale, pale blue.  We turned the boat and ran across it on a tilt. Zoom!  And we were over it, with 6' under us.  Sweet!  Then on to bluer and deeper water.  The we ran down the inside coast of Hall's Pond Cay, but the current was against us again, so we only made 3 knots.  The water shallowed, and it was time for more excitement.  We cut across another bar (5' under us) and headed toward Little Hall's Pond Cay.  This was where the water got really skinny.  We managed to pick our way through the shallows and kept 4' under us at all times.  We hit deeper water as we rounded the Snake Cays and scooted down the coast of Little Hall's Pond.  The anchorage shown on the map was less than impressive, so we went back up and around the Snake Cays.  Did I mention it was low tide?  Yep, we navigated shallow water at low tide.  We are awesome!  We anchored just north of the Snake Cays in 5' of water.  Pretty protected and good holding.  Then we donned our swimsuits, gathered the snorkel gear, and headed down to the Sea Aquarium!

We heard from many people that the Sea Aquarium was a must-see in the Exumas.  We dinghied down there, getting passed by bigger dinghies many times.  There are only 2 dinghy moorings, so we tied up to a boat that was already there.  And over we went.  Gorgeous coral from little soft corals to big coral heads.  Hundreds of sergeant majors hang out just under the surface to greet snorkelers.  We saw at least half a dozen queen angelfish (my favorite fish in the sea, unbelievably beautiful), lots of snapper (they looked delicious), and a wide assortment of other reef fish.  We estimate the water ranged from 10-25'.  I dove down a few times to take pictures, and I'm pretty sure I made it to 20 feet.  I'm getting pretty good at this skin diving stuff (go me!).  Then we loaded up and headed back to the boat.

We saw a couple of people (and a couple of dogs) on the beach of Little Hall's Pond Cay.  Though we didn't get close enough to see (hate to intrude on their privacy), I'm pretty sure one of them was Johnny Depp.  Fun with celebrity-stalking!  The island is gorgeous, with a couple of houses and quite a few nifty bridges connecting hills.  If I were an eccentric millionaire (billionaire?), I'd want to own an island like that.

I made oatmeal cookies that afternoon, comparing methods of "baking".  I cooked some on the grill and some in a skillet.  All the cookies turned out pretty good.  And we had a pretty awesome sunset, too.
Sunset at Snake Cays


The next morning dawned bright and breezy.  We had an east wind, and we sailed off the anchor and back across the shallows we'd crossed the day before.  But it was high tide, so we just scooted right over them.  We zoomed southwest until we were well pass all the sand bars, then turned south.  As much as we could.  The wind was now in the southeast, so it was more on our nose than we like.  The water got rougher as the day went on.  Our short, 2-hour day turned into a 5-hour day.  That's what happens when we get excited about a short day.  We fought the wind and waves and finally made it in to Sampson Cay.  Someone told us it's a great place to resupply, so we dinghied into the marina to check it out.  We saw the boat "Southern Belle", who had been kind enough to let us borrow their phone back on Highborne Cay.  We said hi, and they told us about a lunch deal at the restaurant.  We went over for $2 appetizers.  Wings, tacos, and sliders!  We were in heaven.  Our ice had been long gone, so we didn't have any meat that wasn't canned.  It was such a treat!  We went back to the boat and relaxed for a while.  But there was a ton of traffic there.  Dinghies, tenders, jet skis, runabouts.  And fast!  We were constantly rocked by their wakes.  Not so much fun.  We called down to Glenice, who were anchored at Big Majors Spot near Staniel Cay to see how the anchorage there was.  They said there was plenty of depth and room close to shore.  We planned to head down first thing in the morning.  As we were looking at the chart, we realized it was only 2 miles away.  Screw this high traffic, let's go down there!  So we hauled up anchor and headed down to Big Majors.  Of course, we took the shallow route down for a shortcut and a little adventure.  We got anchored near shore and headed over to Amata Marie, where the party was.  Always good times when cruisers get together.

Big Majors Spot is an interesting place.  It's an excellent anchorage, very sheltered from east winds.  But everyone knows about it.  There were a ton of boats there!  And quite a few of them were megayachts.  Megayachts themselves aren't a problem, but the swarms of jet skis, tenders, and dinghies that fly out of them are.  They zoomed through the anchorage, kicking up wakes and going entirely too close to the boats anchored.  I got all stressed out thinking about them running over our anchor line.  All it takes is one boat coming too close, cutting our anchor line, and sending us on our way to Andros.  I then remembered reading about using a kellet to drag the anchor line lower in the water.  It increases holding power and, in this case, keeps the line out of harm's way from inconsiderate boaters.  So I took my diving weight belt, loaded weights into it, and put it through a loop in the anchor line.  It did the trick!  Our line sat about a foot lower in the water, and it eased my mind considerably. 

We went in to Staniel Cay to do some grocery shopping.  The prices were absurdly high in Sampson (though we didn't know it until we checked out, because they don't put prices on their groceries, very sneaky and evil).  I got soaked going to shore against the wind and into the waves.  But we pulled the dinghy up on shore and went shopping at the stores in town.  Grocery stores here are very different from those in the States.  They're small buildings, sometimes just additions to someone's house, with a small selection of goods.  But the people are nice and helpful, and we got some more essentials.

That afternoon, at slack tide, we dinghied over to Thunderball Grotto.  Yep, from the James  Bond movie.  It was a very cool snorkel, with a cavern overhead and lots of fish below.  There are a few holes in the "roof" that let in shafts of light, dramatically lighting the water below.  I took a whole roll of pictures, and I hope a few come out.  It was pretty dark in there, so the pictures may be terrible.  We won't know until we're back in the US and get them developed.  Film.  So inconvenient.  :)

After Thunderball, we dropped our gear on the boat and went to the "pig beach".  There are pigs on the beach.  People come in from their boats and feed them, so they come right up to you in your dinghy.  A big one tried to get right into our dinghy.  Yikes!  It was an odd thing to see pigs strolling on the beach.  Not what you think of when you think of the Bahamas.

The next morning, we were very happy to leave the megayachts and their hordes of obnoxiousness behind.  The wind was picking up quite a bit, so we raised the main and zoomed downwind.  We rounded Harvey Cay and made a beeline for Black Point with the wind on our quarter.  We made it in to the anchorage and moved closer to shore than the rest of the boats.  We're shoal draft, so we're used to parking in front of everyone else.  The holding here is excellent; our anchor has never been dug in so deep.  Our friends on Glenice and Amata Marie are also down here with us, waiting out the winds.  There were Easter weekend festivities here in town all weekend, and we enjoyed some of the local food.  These people are excellent cooks.  And there's internet here! 

The wind is going to keep blowing pretty hard for the next few days, so by the time we leave, we'll probably be here a week.  But there are definitely worse places to be "stuck".  There are no megayacts here, just real cruisers.  It's a nice change.  Less traffic, less noise, and everyone is considerate.  The way things should be.

Stormy clouds moving in.  Trevor snorkeling over the anchor.

Overlooking the anchorage at Black Point
They have random "let's stand around and hang out" buildings all over town.  Such a fun community.

Trevor, enjoying some sunshine.

BASRA dock at Black Point

Janice (from Glenice) playing basketball with the local kids

Cruisers hanging out and eating. 

Our original plan (as much as we "plan" anything) was to turn around at Black Point and start making our way home.  We're running very low on cash at this point, and we won't be able to get more until we hit Eleuthera, if then.  The group we've been traveling with is heading down to Georgetown once the wind eases.  After much discussion, we've decided to head down there with them.  There are several reasons for this.  One is the need for cash.  Also, it's beautiful here.  We're afraid that when we get back to the States, we'll be so let down that we won't want to cruise anymore.  Part of the reason for leaving the Bahamas is the expensive food.  But we have money saved up for a reason.  If our travels end quickly once we leave, we hate to have money left over because we were so hasty.  We'd rather burn through our cruising kitty in paradise than mope through the muddy waters of the ICW and wish we'd stayed here just a little longer.  Once we're in Georgetown, we'll be mere miles away from the Tropic of Cancer.  Taking the boat across that line is a pretty impressive feat, and we'd love to get there while we're so close!

So we'll still be in the Bahamas for a bit.  Have I mentioned it's amazing here?  Because it is.  We'll come back to the real world eventually, but we're not in any hurry.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bahamas Pictures!

We have a little under 2 hours and 65 MB left on our internet allowance, so you get one more quick blog and a few of our (hundreds of) pictures.  Yay!

Last night we gathered on the beach with the other cruisers for the weekly "happy hour".  Everyone brings munchables and beverages of choice and just hangs out for a while.  It was great to talk to new people and people we already knew.  Good times!  And a gorgeous sunset!  (Though we forgot to take the camera ashore, so you don't get to see it.)

This morning, we headed out on the trails to explore the island.  And explore we did!  We left before 10:00 this morning and got back a little before 2:00.  We were exhausted!!!  We hiked up and down hills, across beaches, through trees and bushes.  It was a solid 2-hour hike down to the other end of the island and the "Pirate's Lair".  It was really just a clearing.  A lot of work for not much reward.  Then we had to come back.  We managed to take different trails all the way back.  And the views were absolutely gorgeous, but we were so hot and tired we didn't enjoy them as much as we should have.  I think our general opinion was that the trails on Hawksbill Cay were easier and the vistas just as nice.  And we might be done with hiking for a while.

If we recover enough, we might go snorkeling at some coral heads down by Emerald Rock later.  If not, we'll go for a dip here at the boat to cool off.  Then solar showers! 

And now, the reason you're here, pictures!  (My camera is on the fritz, so some of the pictures have black corners.  Don't know why, but the lens isn't opening all the way or something.  It's an old camera.)

Little Harbour Cay, home of Flo's Conch Bar

Alice Mae in front of Flo's

Sunset at Little Harbour Cay

Cold front moving in at Little Harbour

Storm clouds on that cold front

Popup storm cloud at West Bay

Life on a Tilt!  Sailing to Highborne Cay and the Exumas

Anchored at Highborne Cay.  So crowded!

Sharks at Highborne Cay Marina

Beach on the east side of Highborne Cay

Trevor's first fish!

Queen Triggerfish.  So delicious!

Trevor!  We were exploring Norman's Cay

Cap'n Rumslinger herself

Hawksbill Cay.  Unbelievably beautiful all over the island.

Trevor on the beach at Hawksbill Cay

One of the vistas hiking on Hawksbill.

Aw gosh!  We're so happy to be hiking on Hawksbill.

Cap'n does love a beach

Sunset at Hawksbill Cay.  It was a particularly good one.

Overlooking the north mooring field at Warderick Wells.

Earendil chilling out on a mooring ball.

Hiking to the Pirate's Lair.  We were still fairly fresh at this point.

Rocky shores on Warderick Wells.

One of the many gorgeous beaches on Warderick Wells.

Our plans from here are to mosey south.  Tomorrow we aim for the Sea Aquarium down by Obrien Cay.  Eventually we'll make it to Sampson Cay to restock our supplies.  Then Staniel Cay so we can see the Thunderball Grotto!  And down to Black Point, where everyone is just super happy to be living in paradise.  Timelines are vague, as are end destinations.  We're just enjoying it as we go.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Bahamas are Amazing!

It's been a while.  Internet has been scarce for the past couple of weeks.  But now we have it again, although with limited bandwidth.  So there won't be a lot of pictures.  But hey, you'll get tons of text.  Yipee!?

I think last time I blogged, we were in Great Harbour in the Berry's.  While there, we ran into our friends David and Alice on Alice Mae.  We had met them in Marathon and had looked for them since we'd gotten over to the Bahamas.  While hanging out on their boat, we all decided to travel together, at least for a little while.

Saturday, April 2, we headed out of Great Harbor, right behind Alice Mae.  We rounded the northern end of the Berry Islands and headed south down the east coast.  The wind picked up throughout the day, and the waves with it.  Of course, it was in our faces and slowing us down something wicked.  But at last we made it down to the Devil's-Hoffman anchorage (between Devil's Cay and Hoffman's Cay, you know).  There were 8 or 9 other boats in the anchorage.  Crowded!  But we made our way past them and anchored in 5' of water.  We were at mid-tide, so I was a little concerned about the depth, but we were too tired to pull anchor and move.  We met our next-boat neighbors Ron and Marie on Molly Bloom, a totally sweet catamaran.  They were excellent hosts, giving us drinkies and cheese snacks.  Delightful!  The anchorage itself, besides being so crowded, was very rolly.  The boat rocked and rolled all night.  Until 2:00 am, when we awoke to a slight thunk and realized the boat wasn't rocking anymore.  We were aground.  Strangely enough, it was a nice change.  A welcome break from the rolling waves.  And we floated off half an hour later.  Back to the rolling.

The next morning, we left right behind Alice Mae.  We aimed to get down to Little Harbour Cay, home of world's famous Flo's Conch Bar.  Oh boy!  It was only a few miles down, so even with some rough waves, we made it in about an hour.  The little harbour was a little tricky to get into.  We came in pretty close to high tide, but we still managed to run aground lightly.  We didn't thunk or anything, just stopped moving for a couple of minutes.  Alice Mae draws less than 3 feet, so they went ahead of us.  We drifted off the ground and followed them in very slowly.  We made it in without further incided and tied up to one of the moorings there.  What a gorgeous place!  Absolutely stunning!  We planned to be there three nights because some pretty wicked storms were forecast to come through in a few days.  They didn't amount to much, but we were happy to be there anyway.  Beautiful setting, good friends.  We explored a little on the dinghy.  We snorkeled.  Our first time snorkeling in the Bahamas!  The bottom there was very hilly sand with a few patches of grass.  We snorkeled over some grass patches, saw a few little bits of coral.  When low tide rolled around on our first day (and again that night), our boat sat on the bottom.
The next day we shortened our lines on the mooring just a little, and that kept us off the bottom (along with a slight wind shift) the rest of the time.  We snorkeled around the boat to check things out and ended up scrubbing the bottom of the boat a little.  The water was shallow enough for us to stand and do the job.  Pretty cool!  And we used our solar showers for the first time on the trip.  It took us 6 months to use them!  And they were awesome!  Much warmed than we expected.  Very nice.  We ate dinner at Flo's Conch Bar that night.  The food was pretty good, a little expensive for what it was, and Chester (the guy who runs the place) was less friendly than we expected.  Not rude, just not warm and fuzzy.

The next day (we're up to April 5 now), we played Mexican Train Dominoes with David and Alice aboard Alice Mae.  We'd never played before, and it was super fun!  We hung out with them for a few hours, playing.  As soon as the game was over, we went back to the boat to get it ready for those predicted 70-knot squalls.  The squalls didn't amount to nearly 70 knots.  Not even really squalls.  Just a normal cold front moving through.  It was pretty neat, though, when it came through.  We could see the distinct line in the clouds.  Felt the wind shift and the temperature drop as the front moved in.  We got some rain, which we really needed to wash the salt off the boat.  And that was about it.

The next morning, we left for New Providence Island (where Nassau is).  We had a strong northeast wind, and we sailed pretty fast!  It was a nice change from the 2-3 knots we'd been used to.  Alice Mae was planning to go into Nassau, and we weren't.  Big city, expensive, lots of boats, lots of people, a fair bit of crime.  No thanks, we'd skip it.  So we sadly parted ways and headed down to West Bay (yep, at the west end of the island).  We ended up anchoring there for three nights.  We tried to head out the second day, but we didn't want to fight the headwind and came back.  But it was a pretty nice place to be stuck for three nights, very sheltered and fairly quiet.  And I made an amazing pot of soup that we ate for 2 days: potatoes, sausage, corn, tomatoes, a pack of onion soup mix, and an assortment of spices.  Delicious!  And not just by roughing-it-on-a-boat standards, but actually really good.  We also had random thunderstorms move in those couple of days anchored there.  We were very happy to be anchored, and not out on the water.  I even managed to bake bread!  No, we don't have an oven on the boat.   I "baked" it on the grill.  It was pretty dense, but it was bread!  We were pretty excited about it.

Saturday, April 9, we left West Bay for good.  It was much calmer than a couple of days earlier.  With the main sail up, we made 4.5 knots most of the day.  Not bad!  When we put up the genoa, we averaged about 5.5 knots.  Sweet!  We were racing to the Exumas!  We spotted Highborne Cay about 2 hours before we got there.  That's one of the funny things about the Bahamas.  We see land and think we're almost there, but we still have a long way to go.  I guess that's part of life aboard a small, slow boat.  We anchored on the west side of Highborne Cay, with about 10 other boats.  We thought it would be remote and empty once we got to the Exumas.  We were wrong!  We spent 2 nights there.  We dinghied into the marina there for some supplies (water, fuel, ice, food).  It was sticker shock when we saw the grocery prices!  $9 for a box of corn flakes?  We bought 2 oranges, a lemon, a steak, a couple of hamburgers, a pepper, and a tub of margarine and were lucky to get out under $30.  Yikes.  We were hoping to get more, but we just couldn't wrap our heads around the prices.  We were also hoping to call home and let our families know we were okay, but there isn't a pay phone on the island.  Luckily, there was a family that offered to let us use their cell phone to call home.  How cool is that?  We offloaded our groceries, donned our swimsuits, and loaded the snorkel gear into the dinghy in preparation for heading to the beach on the east side of the island.  We stopped back in the marina to borrow the cell phone.  And what a cool family they were!  They were on a motor boat of some sort, Southern Belle.  The parents were Tom and Charlene, and they had 3 kids in the age range of 7-11 (I'm guessing).  They were all so nice, and the kids very polite.  What a great thing to do!  Those are some cool kids.  Such a great experience for them.  And the whole family was obviously loving the cruising life.  We hung out with them for a little bit, then told them about our plans to go to the beach.   They thought it sounded like a great idea, and they went to the beach, too.

What a nice beach!  The water was that amazingly clear crystal-blue.  We dodged rocks and coral heads and finally beached the dinghy.  We snorkeled around the coral heads that were maybe a few hundred yards from shore.  A pretty nice coral reef.  Little jellyfish all around, but there was only the occasional little sting, so we didnt' worry too much about them.  At one point, Trevor noticed a conch on the bottom.  It was about 15' down, so he couldn't get it.  But I did!  Oh boy, our first conch!  We hoped to find another, but had no such luck.  We wandered the beach and picked up a few shells.  Then we headed back to our side of the island, fighting the current the whole way.

I forgot to mention the sharks.  At the end of the marina dock, there is a fish-cleaning station.  As people clean their catches, they toss the extra stuff off the end of the dock.  The sharks have learned this and just kinda hang out there.  Tons of them!  If I had to guess, I'd say there were 15 or 20 sharks swimming around when someone is cleaning fish.  I think they're all nurse sharks, which are the most docile in general.  We drove the dinghy past them, and they didn't care that we were there.  We could almost reach out and touch them!  It was awesome!

That night, we tried to clean our conch.  Being taught by a local is the best way to learn to clean a conch, but we hadn't had anyone teach us yet.  So I went by the paragraph in the cruise guide and tried it.  No luck.  Couldn't get that thing out of its shell!  We tried everything we could think of, even doused it with tequila to subdue it into letting go enough to grab it with pliers.  Nope.  It just held on.  We put it in a bucket of water and decided we'd try the next day.

The next day (we're up to April 11 now), we headed south.  There was a very slight breeze (very slight), and we sailed right off our anchor and out onto the Exuma Banks.  We sailed slowly, but the weather was so nice we didn't really care.  It was so calm, I went below and made bread dough.  We only started the motor once we headed in toward land.  And we anchored just north of Skipjack Point on Norman's Cay.  There were several boats anchored to the south of the point, but none near us.  That's the most privacy we've had in the Exumas so far.  We finally got that conch out of its shell.  The shell was beautiful, and I really wanted to keep it.  But by this time, we were tired of messing with it, so I hammered it to pieces to get that blasted conch out.  Then came the cleaning.  Ugh, what a mess.  It's the stickiest slime I've ever encountered.  What a mess!  Finally got the thing cleaned, sliced, and tenderized.  I stuck it in the cooler to deal with later.  We snorkeled that afternoon.  We saw what looks like the very beginning of a coral reef.  Mostly sponge, with a few bits of coral starting to grow.  Maybe in 100 years, it'll be something spectacular.  But it was nice to swim, and then use those solar showers again.

We decided to go fishing the next day.  We had extra pieces from the conch and had read that conch bits make excellent bait.  So we found a coral head, anchored upwind of it, and set our bait down.  Immediately, Trevor caught a tiny grouper of some sort.  Too small to eat, so he tossed it back.  It was his first fish ever!  Then he pulled up a grunt.  Oh boy, this is going to be great!  It was pretty small, so we tossed it back, too.  Then I pulled up a grunt, also pretty small.  We tossed it back and decided to try the coral reef that was further down the cay.  On the way there, we passed by a couple of boats we knew.  We stopped to chat for a while with the folks on Glenice.  They're super nice, and seem to be moving at our slow kind of pace.  We saw them when we were leaving Highborne Cay, and they came down to Norman's a day after us.   Then we went in search of the reef.  Couldn't find it.  I think the chart overstates the amount of coral out there.  But that's okay.  We found a couple of coral heads.  There was a triggerfish swimming around one of them.  "I want to catch that fish!" I proclaimed.  I'd heard queen triggerfish are delicious.  I tossed out my line.  Oops, over the coral head.  We were going to have to go get it or lose the line.  Just as Trevor was about to pull up the anchor, I caught a fish!  So the fish saved us from losing a hook!  And it was that triggerfish I wanted!  Bonus!  When I pulled it in, it was spitting out blood.  Apparently, it swallowed the hook.  So we put it in the bucket and got ready to catch some more.  There were no more fish to be had.  We headed back to try the more successful coral heads from earlier.  No luck there, either.  I pulled up a couple of little squirrelfish, but they're small and bony and not good eating.  But hey, we had a queen triggerfish!   I've never cleaned a fish before, so I was clueless about what I was doing.  But I managed to gut it, skin it, and pull off a couple of little filets.  I tossed the extra stuff overboard, and a shark came in for a free meal.  Cool!  A shark at our boat!  I wrapped the fish in aluminum foil and added a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt.  Grilled it for a bit.  It was delicious!  White and firm, with a mild, if slightly tangy, flavor.  So good!  I would definitely eat that again!

The next day (April 13 now), we set out on the dinghy to explore Norman's Cay.  We saw a wrecked plane on the south end.  We battled some fierce current to get to the east side.  Gorgeous there!  We went into a very protected bay (called Norman's Pond, or Half-Moon Bay).  It wasn't as awesome as it looked on the charts.  But there were a couple of caves we rode past, one of them had conch shells everywhere.  Pretty neat.  Instead of going back the way we came in, we decided to try an inland route.  It looked just deep enough for a dinghy once the tide started coming in.  It was like one of Dad's adventure roads!  It was really pretty, mangroves and shallow water.  Sometimes it was so shallow that Trevor had to ride on the front of the dinghy to keep the prop off the bottom.  Eventually we made it back out to the south end of the island.  Pretty cool!  It was an adventure!  A small, unscary one, and that's the best kind.  When we got back, I finally cooked that conch.  It was okay.  Tough and chewy and not a lot of flavor.  I think we've decided that conch is just not worth the effort.  I'd rather have fish.  For dinner that night, we had the steak we had bought in Highborne Cay.  Oh, so delicious!  Steaks are always better when cooked on a grill.  Delicious!

And the next day (only two days ago now, we're almost caught up), we headed south to Hawksbill Cay.  Once south of Norman's Cay, we had entered the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a protected preserve.  No fishing or taking of anything.  We tied up to a mooring ball and marveled at how it gets prettier every time we go somewhere.  We read that there were trails on the island, so we went ashore to explore.  One took us up and down and around and around, and then Wow!  Amazing views of the northeast beach area.  Gorgeous vistas with that blue blue water.  So pretty!  Then we took another trail, up and around and Wow! again.  This time we came out on an amazing beach!  With that same amazing water.  Yep, we took lots of pictures.  It was great.  We came back to our dinghy and decided to explore with it a little bit.  We came to a small beach to the north and pulled up the dinghy.  Another trail!  We took this trail up to some old ruins of a Loyalist plantation.  Not much there but a few walls, but still pretty cool.  And then another trail took us to more ruins.  Neat!  We got back in the dinghy and rode north a little more to some caves.  They were cool, too!  What a great place!  We're so glad that we stopped there, especially since we thought about skipping it.

Yesterday, we left because it was a little rolly in the mooring field.  And we'd pretty much seen the whole island.  So we headed out.  It was pretty rough out there, but we were committed to going.  The trip took longer than we expected, but eventually we made it to Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park.  We managed to snag one of the last mooring balls.  It was a bit of an adventure.  The current was pretty fast, as the tide was coming in.  We were going about 4.5 knots, but slowed down to 1.5 by the time we got to the mooring field entrance.  And that was with a sail up.  Once we turned in, Trevor took down the sail, and we were going with the current.  It's a very  narrow channel, with mooring balls down the middle of it.  So we're riding the current, trying to stay off the boats moored there, but also trying to stay out of the shallow water thats right there.  Then it was around the sand bar and turning into the current.  Luckily, I'm an excellent driver, and Trevor is super good at catching mooring balls.  We were tied up in a jiffy and then marveled at how it's even prettier yet again!  Amost too much pretty to handle!  Our neighbors stopped by to say hi and invited us over for cocktails.  Sweet.  So we went over there once we were settled.  They're on a 26' Macgregor.  A boat smaller than ours!  Very impressive.  We had a great time hanging out with them, sharing stories and getting advice from the neighbor on the other side of them.  Good times!

This morning, we headed in to pay for our mooring ball, internet, and a much-needed bag of ice.  We got a map with the trails on the island here.  We dropped the ice in the cooler and decided to knock out one of the easier trails while we waited on the tide to slack.  So we hiked a short trail up to Boo Boo Hill.  (It's said to be haunted by the ghosts of a ship that wrecked a long time ago.)  And there was quite a view from up there!  Gorgeous!  We came back down and ran into some people we knew from Boot Key Harbor.  We talked to them for a little bit, then it was time to snorkel!  Like I said, the current is pretty wicked through here, so we have to wait until slack tide in order to explore the coral garden that's a hundred yards away.  We tied the dinghy up and slipped over the side.  Really nice snorkeling!  There are a few coral heads, one pretty big one, but it's mostly soft corals and lots of things getting started.  We saw quite a few Nassau groupers, lots of parrotfish, sergeant majors, blue tangs, wrasse, some yellowtail snapper (they looked delicious), and some huge lobster.  These guys grow big in the sanctuary.  When the current started to pick back up, we decided to head back to the boat.  But since the tide was low, there was a beach on either side of our boat.  So we snorkeled over to one of them and enjoyed the lovely soft sand for a little while.  Now we're showered and cleaned up, waiting for the pot luck dinner on the beach tonight.  Should be pretty sweet.  I think we're going to stay here on the ball one more night.  We want to  go exploring the other 4 miles of trails the island has to offer, so we'll be doing some serious hiking tomorrow.  Yay!

Overall, we're doing great.  It is amazing how beautiful it is here!  The Exumas are breathtaking.  Absolutely amazing.  And we still feel like we've just gotten started.