Thursday, June 7, 2018

Exuma Exeunt

We are underway across the bank, the northern Exuma Cays receding behind us, en route to Nassau. We've enjoyed the month and a half or so that we spent in the Exumas and the out-islands, but our time there has come to an end.

Double rainbow yesterday afternoon off Leaf Cay. Highbourne and the megayacht anchorage in the background.

Monday evening we splashed the tender and headed ashore to the Cape Eleuthera Marina for dinner. The chart showed a back way in from the bight, via a small dinghy channel under a pair of bridges. We started to take that only to find ourselves being swept down the channel by more than a couple of knots of current.

The channel was clearly excavated from hard rock, and, not wanting to be swept into rocks without a clear idea of what was ahead, we turned around and instead went around the point and in the main marina entrance. We tied up and walked to the restaurant, which has been renamed to Barracuda's. We had the whole place to ourselves. Afterwards we strolled around the cape a bit.

The storage tanks for the Cape Eleuthera fuel dock are painted with an aquatic mural.

With the benefit of some local knowledge, and much closer to slack, we left via the dinghy channel which was a much shorter and more pleasant ride. We did glide over a rock shelf just a couple of feet deep, so we were wise to have turned around earlier.

The bight was almost unbelievably calm overnight. We spent some time on the aft deck watching a variety of fish swim around us in our underwater light. We were surprised that the fish tally included a couple of squid. Those are wicked fast when they want to be, and with the tentacles folded in they can pass for regular fish.

Last night we had pipe fish rather than squid, feasting on minnows. Dozens of them, all night.

Tuesday morning, as we were enjoying our coffee on deck, again in complete calm, we were entertained by a trio of dolphins. We saw them approaching from a quarter mile out, but as they neared Vector they decided to put on  a show. One had a good size fish in his mouth and was tossing it forward through the air, then resurfacing to catch it. We'd never observed this, but it is apparently a common dolphin behavior. Then two of the dolphins began a series of full breeches, launching perhaps six feet or so in the air. It was all quite spectacular, but over all too soon, and we never even got a photo.

Just as we were preparing to raise anchor for the run to Highbourne Cay in the Exumas, Loose Seal called on the radio to tell us they'd be heading north along Eleuthera instead. The wind was going to be directly on our nose for our crossing, acing them out of sailing across. They are also headed to Nassau, so perhaps we will see them yet again.

The aforementioned minnows. I was just trying to capture how close our keel was to the bottom.

We had a pleasant and uneventful cruise across Exuma Sound, and an easy entry to the bank via Highbourne Cut. With winds having clocked uncharacteristically to the west, several large yachts were anchored on the sound side of the cays, and we soon learned why. We came around the corner and dropped our hook among a gaggle of megayachts (map), but in a good half meter of swell.

Fortunately, the wind held us directly into the wind-driven swell and so we pitched rather than rolled. The megayachts, at three times Vector's length, barely moved. We looked at some more protected options on the charts, but ultimately decided it was tolerable and that we preferred to have the shorter tender ride through the chop to dinner.

Vector among her larger brethren. We recognized Gallant Lady at left from Fort Lauderdale.

The very nice and very upscale Xuma restaurant on Highbourne requires reservations for dinner to be made by 4pm. I had been trying to call them on the phone all afternoon with no success -- several rings and then a disconnect. And so I ran over alone in the tender just before 4. The phone issue turned out to be a BTC outage. The early run allowed me to stop in the little store attached to the marina and pick up some fresh veggies and milk.

We returned in the tender at 6:30 for dinner, which was very nice if a bit pricey. Highbourne does have condo and resort guests, and perhaps some were with us, but I think most of our dining company were megayacht guests (or owners) who had been tendered ashore. The marina was incredibly busy, considering the rest of the Exumas seem to have emptied out for the season.

The megayachts are too large for the marina, and I counted at least a half dozen anchored with us or a short distance away. A clear giveaway that this is a nightly occurrence: the local gulls appeared off our stern at night to feed in our underwater light.

Vector from Leaf Cay. Allens Cay in the background.

Yesterday morning, with the swell and chop still high enough to make hoisting the tender dicey, we set it on a tow line and moved around to the protected anchorage between Allens Cay and Leaf Cay (map). Surrounded on all sides by cays, it was flat calm in there, and lovely. I snorkeled and we both swam before dinner. I also swam ashore at Leaf Cay to get some close-up photos of the famous Allens Cay iguanas, which exist no where else in the world.

A pair of Allens Cay Iguanas, looking for a handout.

Another pair. Even with his markings, the big male nearly disappears against the rocks.

Anchored, as we were, less than a hundred yards off the beach, we could see the iguanas just fine from on deck, and we had the entertainment of watching an endless procession of tour boats land on the beach. Rules against feeding or molesting the endangered iguanas are routinely violated. AT one point a giant charter cat, whose enormous tender had already landed on the beach, came right up to us and spun around between us and the shore.

Our entertainment, watching the beach. AquaCat is spinning around at right and their tender is to the left.

The cat was quite large. Normally a dive charter.

Shortly after anchoring we tendered over to Southwest Allens Cay, which is where the largest group of iguanas is said to reside. A bored-looking yacht crewman was on the beach watching over an Easy-Up with a table and a half dozen chairs, waiting for a group of passengers. He told us he'd only seen a couple of smaller iguanas with white X's painted on them, and we ultimately realized the larger group is now on Leaf Cay where we anchored.

Iguana x-out. I don't know what it signifies.

I grilled a nice steak for dinner and we had a blissfully calm night at anchor. Two Sea-Rays and a sailing cat shared the anchorage with us. This morning we took a quick dinghy tour of the cays surrounding the anchorage before hoisting the tender back on deck.

Two iguanas heading into their den.

Today we have near-perfect conditions for crossing the bank. While we are not due at the marina until Saturday, we'll be happy to be in the harbor a couple of days early. That will give us a chance to check out the marina and figure out how to dock with no thruster, which quit back in the Turks & Caicos. It will also give me a full extra day to get ready for my class  and do the prerequisite reading, without worrying about weather or moving the boat.

Faded iguana sign.

I'll be back in the US for five days while Louise holds down the fort. I've already ordered a half dozen spare parts sent to the hotel to bring back with me, including parts for the watermaker and the tender engine. And I will be bringing all my US SIM cards and devices to let them sync up with their domestic carriers, so they won't be shut down for being offline longer than 90 days.

When I return we might spend a day or two at Atlantis to play in their water park, if they have room on the "cheap" dock ($4.50 per foot!). From there our return path to the US will depend on weather and fuel pricing; we can come back via Bimini to Palm Beach, or else via Freeport or The Abacos to points north.

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