Friday AM was a calm motor ride to Cambridge Cay. It was so calm we could make out blades of grass on the bottom 22 ft below us! Just before going into the Sound, on the southern boarder of the Exuma Land and Sea Park (no take zone), Brian landed a large Barracuda…. Not good eating, but great bait fish. Noted as a “Must See” snorkel spot, as soon as we picked up a park mooring we dinked up to the Seaquarium and dove with the fish. The Sargent Majors were so friendly you could feel them picking at your legs, and they would eat crackers out of our hands. This area was plentiful with Angles, Trigger’s, Damselfish, Grunts, young Grouper and Snappers. The coral reefs were like landscaped tiered gardens with colorful fans, finger and leaf corals, various brain coral and long spined urchin. It was the most beautiful spot we’ve snorkeled. Sure wish I’d invested in an under water camera!
Back to our boats for a quick lunch then a walk on a conch-lined sandy path across the Cay to Honeymoon Beach on the Atlantic side; pretty beaches and high vistas, but no shells. Beach combing has become a passion for us all. And the eastern Atlantic exposure always offered the best opportunity to fill our collection bags. Lauren and Brian look for sea glass along the rocks, I hunt for pretty shells and “Sea Beans”, and Adrien hunts thru flotsam and jetsom for treasures he can repurpose for Add-on’s to Dolphin. Adrien has a sharp eye and gifted me with a few beautiful Sea Hearts. Interesting beans, from the Rain Forest in South America, they grown inside a pea pod that growns several feet in length. The bean itself is about 2″ in diameter, has a shinny hard dark brown shell and an air pocket inside that allows it to float. When it rains the pod falls and breaks apart. The bean is washed into the river that flows into the Amazon River where it makes it’s way to the Atlantic to be carried away by the currents North. Very romantic don’t you think?! Next on the list is the illusive Hamburger Bean! It looks like a mini hamburger on a bun! We’ve been on the look out since we stopped in the Berries but no luck yet.
The wind predictions indicated a Westerly coming thru, again…and the weather further North would be worse for the next week. Time to regroup and revisit the sail plan. Further south the weather was much better…..so South we’d go. A visit to Georgetown was back on the agenda. It made sense to stay on the mooring the next day in this very protected harbor. The guys continued to snorkel and explore our surrounding areas. The Island of Little Bells is rumored to be owned by Johnny Deep but we did not have a celebrity sighting. I caught up on some reading and gave Dolphin a good wash down, and enjoyed some good exercise walking in knee deep water against the current on the near by sand bar. I found a couple of huge conch but we couldn’t take them! We enjoyed a delicious roasted chicken dinner on QSS, and another game of Hand and Foot….the girls rule!
While the guys were snorkeling they discovered a abandoned 150lb Danforth anchor and tried to salvage it. They figured they could sell it in Georgetown and take the girls out for a really nice dinner. It took them 2 hrs to drag it by dink to the boat to hoist it up, only to discover that one corner and rusted and needed repair. All in a days work when your retired!
On to Lee Stocking Cay the next morning, it was deemed to be a good half way point to make the long sail South to Georgetown….and nearby Leaf Cay was noted for unique pink iguana and its amazing array of sea beans including hamburger beans! This leg of the trip took us off the calm shallow Exuma Bank of 10-12′ into Exuma Sound where the ocean floor drops from a few feet to over 2000 ‘ in less than a mile from the shore. We enjoyed the best sail of the trip, doing 5-7 kts in W10-15 kt winds…..and no motor! Brian put out a line and hooked a beautiful Mahi Mahi. Bring in a big fish while your under full sail is tricky. We learned of a new technique to keep your catch quiet if you want to avoid trying to kill it in the cockpit and cleaning up the mess afterward….. You cover it with a wet towel. The fish quiets right down and dies! It worked really well for this catch.
Lee Stocking Cay is was once the home base for the Caribbean Marine Research Center, one of NOAA’s National Undersea Research agencies. We’d heard that it had been shut down sometime last year so we weren’t sure what we’d find. Much to our surprise there were no other boats in the harbor, open moorings and many buildings but not a sign of life on land.
We picked up a mooring, and since the center was closed Adrien dove on the mooring to insure it was in good shape. We relaxed for a while and then hosted the evening on Dolphin enjoying Brian’s Mahi Mahi, cooked on the grill with a rosemary, garlic and OVO marinade and a delicious salad for dinner. Played a few card games and called it a night excited about our next adventure.
The next morning we endured a wet and willy 3 mile dink ride across the cut to Leaf Cay. A pretty little island with a fine white sandy beach, the iguana’s came out to investigate as soon as they heard our engine! And, they were pink!! I’m hoping the pictures will reveal what we saw. Their soft skin areas, (around their neck, under arms) have a beautiful pink metallic hue when the light catches them right. And in they eyes, where we have whites, theirs are pink. They blend into their surrounds so perfectly and sit so still that we were continually surprised to discover them when we were only a few feet away. Not aggressive or scared, they did not move until you were a foot away. You can tell they thrive on this little island, with no natural predictors. Several were huge, over 4’ long from head to tail!
We took a walk along the shore and along large pockets of rocky coral we’ve dubbed “iron coral”. Most of the islands we’ve explored have it. Its rock hard with peaks and valleys and sharp jagged edges that vary in size from a few inches to a foot or more deep. It’s very difficult to walk on as you must constantly look down to see where you can safely plant your next foot step. Footwear is a must and flip flops get torn up very quickly! I’ve looked on line to learn more about how and when these were formed. They were under water at one time, contain lots of fossils and are probably thousands of years old.
Anyway, we mad our to the Atlantic facing beach. Our first observation is that it was very clean….no plastic or trash. We were far from any Bahamian settlements and seeing a pristine beach free of the flotsom/jetsom was a rare experience. Within a few minutes Adrien found our first hamburger bean! They too float ashore with the surf and land just above the seaweed line formed at high tide. We found two more once we knew where to look for them!
On the way back to Dolphin, still not seeing any sign of life, it was time to explore! We tied up at the dock of the research center campus and walked around exploring the area. The dock area was adorned by several buildings; an office, dive shop, safety office, shed with several washers and dryers, a ’80 vintage Ford Pick Up truck with the windows down, and conch lined paths leading to several homes and dorm buildings, The grassy areas appeared to be maintained, the walks clean, chairs on the porches…. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was Sunday and everyone left for the day.
Of course we had to check it out up close! I walked up to the office, the door had a heavy industrial door knob….I turned it, yelled out “Hello”… It opened! Inside were several desks, chairs, office supplies, boxes of parcially packed notes, binders, books, posters of indigenous plant and sea life on the walls…it looked partially cleaned out. Half full boxes, one contained a supply of new books, and autobiography on Dr Perry. (We believe he was the founder of the research center, lead an interest life as a driven achiever, entrepreneur…but at the expense of a family life.)
It didn’t stop there, each building was open and assessable…..it was like a frenzy, Lauren and I couldnt move fast enough to open the next door as we explored each building. The safety office had cabinets filed with aspririn, anti acids, bandages, eye wash….and a 12′ long decompression chamber. The dive shop had regulators,fins, wet suites, tools,etc. one of the house had furniture, mattresses, supplies of sheets and pillows, the kitchen had dried good, herbs, rice, pancake mixes, even syrup….with current stale dates….. The bathroom had shampoo, soap, bug spray, vitamins….bedrooms had clothes left behind….. Near as we could tell they may have closed down at year end….just a few months ago.
The paths led to Dorm rooms, a Rec center and main kitchen (all appliances were gone but left behind VCR tapes, books, posters, ), Research labs (test tubes, bottle of solutions & solvents, swivel bench chairs,antiquated instruments etc), Computer labs with old parts, a reverse osmosis water shed, Diesel generator bldg and just outside a huge tank of Deisel 1/2 full….it was amazing,and EERY!!!!
I might add that while Lauren and I were focused on absorbing all we could see as fast as we could, Adrien and Brian were collecting fallen ripe coconuts…… How could they ignore all this intrigue for coconuts?? (This new found affinity for coconut ‘s is a story for another post!)
As dusk approached, we were still exploring…but the no see’ms and mosquitoes were out, it was time to leave….but there was still so much to explore….we decide right then and there we must stay another day!
As we settle on Dolphin for the evening, just a couple hundred feet from shore, we noticed several Bahamian men coming out of the woods with a gas powered saw headed to a 14’ whaler on the boat ramp. They were loading the boat up with coils of black jacketed copper wires. We tried to strike up a conversation… They said they were exploring and gathering stuff from the dump….. Hummmm, a dump? We needed to check that out on our next visit!
The next morning we started exploring the far reaches of the island. We passed a hanger and airport runway, a beautiful beach, and on the far side of the island a long abandoned “Inn” with several guest rooms and out houses. At the Aderly Cut entrance channel, high up on a bluff was a beautiful home with a wrap around deck offering 360 degree views. As we walked up the hill leading to the house we passed a shed, door open, inside a Xantrex inverter…with lights blinking…. So maybe this place was not abandoned…… Yelling “Hello” again we approached the house but no one responded. Screen door locked, a quick peak in the window revealed dishes stacked in drying rack next to the sink, portable phone plugged in and charger blinking, bed made, light on…..but no one was here? Clearly someone lives here! We wanted to explore some more but now it felt intrusive…time to withdraw! We headed back to Dolphin via the dump…No dump…and the men in the Whaler from the day before were back on the island cutting conduit and the copper wiring within …..stealing?! When they left the dock that day their gunwales were resting in the water they were so weighted down!
We got back to Dolphin in time for the guys to do a bit more spear fishing…..this time they returned with grouper and porgy’s. Between fresh fish and over 20 coconuts we had a full bounty!
We’d have to say this was one of our most interesting stops. The surreal feeling we got from walking the island will stay with us for a long time to come!