Snorkeling reefs, diving plane wrecks, underwater caves, and doing 360s
January 16, 2019
The sail from Highbourn to Cambridge Cay was fantastic. We had both the main and genoa up, averaged 7.5 knots and arrived with enough time for me to take a quick snorkel under the boat before my first meeting at 12n. However, the entrance to Cambridge is not for the faint of heart.
The C-Maps chart plotter and the Navionics chart maps on our iPad showed slightly conflicting information at to depth and position of sand bars. With my beanie and headset firmly in place, and sitting on the port bow seat, I watched for changes in the water, which is fairly useless as everything looks like it’s 2’ underwater. Except for obvious obstructions, I think my job at the bow is to distract Erik from the decreasing depth.
Every few seconds I’d ask for depth, he’d repeat “5 feet, 4 feet, 5 feet, 3 feet…” and I would reply “all looks good here… avoid that dark patch…” But then, as we turned to port and hugged the lee side of the entrance, Erik calls out “OK here is where it’s going to get skinnier.” I refocus my eyes, and we do our usual dance regarding depth. This time though, he calls out “2 feet… 1.8 feet… 1.1 feet… oh shit.” And he turns sharply to starboard. “OK 1.3 feet… 1.5 feet… 2 feet… 3 feet…” and just like that, 3 feet under our keels makes us feel like we have all the room in the sea to navigate.
New this year is the concept of park host. S/V Banyan hosts Dave and Alexandra came out to greet us as we made our way into the mooring field and much to my delight, all I had to do was toss our bridle to Dave who connected it to the mooring thimble. Voila, all done and no anxiety of lifting it!
They also gave us an activities list of all the wonderful things to do, including nearby reefs, aquarium, drift sites, and beaches. My only sad face was the fact that my 2-week vacation wouldn’t start for another week so we’d only have a few hours each morning to go play.
Day 1 at Cambridge was awesome. Turns out the mega-millionaire/oil-baron who owns Bell Island put in a cell tower repeater within the last few months so I had good internet! At least on day 1. That changed as soon as the mega-yachts showed up.
For whatever reason, we were flanked by 100-150 foot yachts, that were blocking the tower for us. Day 2 at work went something like this:
- Join Webex
- Use Mac speakers for audio
- I can hear them, but they can’t hear me
- I can’t see the screen as it’s locked, but they are happily talking about something 3 slides in
Days 2-3 were terrible at work. I tried every combination of things. Use my BTC phone for Webex, use Erik’s GoogleFi for audio. Every time the current and wind shifted, so would our boat, and we’d lose cell service.
But we had fun each morning. We visited the Cairn Garden just south of the mooring and saw some beautiful tropical fishes and new corals growing. We also hiked to Bell Rock which is just a fantastic large rock on the Sound with huge crashing waves.
Early on Day 4, we took our dinghy to other open mooring balls to see which would have the best line of sight to the cell tower, and then moved our boat there. This was serendipitous as well as the park warden was replacing outdated thimbles with new heavy-duty ones.
Of course, as I tried to lift up these 50-lb thimbles (I’m likely making up the weight of the thimble, but it felt like 50-pounds), I couldn’t lift it over the bow lines. The park warden asked if I wanted help and I did not hesitate to say “yes, please come aboard!”
Secure at the new mooring site, and with LTE cellular coverage as well, we took off for a quick hike and swim at Honeymoon Beach. And that’s when shit got real.
We were having a blast swimming in the gorgeous pale blue water off the beach when we heard our hand-held radio go off with a call for “Music & Lyrics, Music & Lyrics, Music & Lyrics, this is Banyan on 16.” We sprinted to the radio and changed channels to find out what was going on. Dave told us our boat was doing 360s in the water. Erik had to have him repeat that – our boat was doing 360 degree turns?? Dave said he and Alex went to our boat to see what was happening closer up, and assured us we were still on the mooring ball, but we hiked back to our dinghy as quickly as we could.
Getting in our dinghy and making our way as quickly as the ‘no wake zone’ would allow, we watched in horror as our boat was in fact, making full 360 degree turns.
Winds were coming from the Southeast at about 18 knots, and current was going Northwest and our catamaran has a lot of windage. It wasn’t comfortable, and even though I kept checking our lines every 15 minutes, neither of us expected what would happen next.
Anchor bridles (and snubbers) are lengths of line attached to a chain hook. They are used while anchored to create a direct link between an all-chain anchor and strong points on the boat – bypassing the windlass. The bridle system is designed to absorb shock load from wind and waves. As the opposing wind and current took our boat and swung us around, it also meant that the bridle line would rub against cleats on our boat.
So as our boat was spinning, and the mooring ball was popping up and down between our hulls on either side, the starboard line chafed against the cleat on the port side, eventually giving way with a very loud SNAP.
We were on board when it happened thankfully, and were able to jury rig a new line from starboard to the thimble, but not without the usual shenanigans that accompany our antics. Ole MacGyver here first tried to rig the new line while standing upright in the dinghy, fighting the current and the boat who refused to sit still and let Daddy help.
After a solid 20 minutes of that bullshit, Erik tried another tactic that worked better – he donned his mask and fins and disentangled the shredded line, then threaded the thimble with the new line and handed me the end to pull through and cleat off on deck.
But wait, that’s not the end of the woes. Winds and current would continue to twist us for 2 days, securely embedding our lines at the top point of the thimble, which had, unbelievably, twisted the thimble itself. But periodic checks on new chafing of these lines showed us that we were fine.
On Friday morning, we took off for a short dinghy ride south to Honeymoon beach again, this time with our snorkel gear in our backpacks. We joked that if we get another call on the radio, this island would be jinxed for us. Thankfully, we did not get any calls and the hike felt good, the warm air on our faces making us smile. At the end of Honeymoon trail, at the edge of the Conch Cut, the beach has two areas for snorkeling, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the tropical fish, some so big they looked edible (just kidding, Exuma Park is a no-take zone, plus c’mon, nobody eats tropical fish!) with colors so vibrant I just found myself in awe. If I had a nickel for every time I said “oh wow”, I’d be wealthy! Moving on to spot #2, we got back in the water but unfortunately, the Coral Garden here is showing devasting affects of bleaching and algea. There were almost no tropical fish on this coral and little if any new growth. However, we did pick up a buddy. This fish decided Erik was his new BFF and stalked us the whole way back to the beach – probably to make sure we left. I am glad I didn’t realize that this was a dangerous barracuda while we meandered in the water.
We hiked back to our dinghy and returned to the boat, with enough time for a quick fresh water rinse before I grabbed my Mac and started my final work day.
Throughout the week, the internet was still hit and miss, but I had a new work worry on my hands. The Senior VP wanted a presentation on Friday of what I have planned through 2019 and my concern over spotty coverage was amplified. I had to confess to my boss’ boss that my coverage was not stellar, so I could get permission to have a backup person on the call just in case I got dropped, and he made it clear to me that he “hoped this was a temporary problem.”
I made the decision right there and then that while I’m in the Bahamas, and working, that work is the #1 priority, excuses are poorly disguised as bad planning, and we would no longer be sailing to remote islands during a work week – I would now need to be in clear range of a Batelco tower. And I’m okay with that. Erik, however, is not thrilled, but we both knew going in that it is because of this job that we are here. If one day we can afford to live without my job, that’s another story.
Meanwhile, I asked a few friends and family to pray for a calm day, with no obstructions to the tower, around 3p that day. And guess what? The winds calmed, the boat stopped swinging, the megayacht was not blocking the tower, and I was able to deliver my presentation without the big boss knowing I did so from the cockpit of my yacht, anchored off a little island in the Bahamas. In fact, it went so well, that he thanked us, telling us “this is exactly what I was looking for!” #winning
On Saturday, we awoke to an amazing rainbow at sunrise, but as the morning arrived, it brought with it storm clouds and rain. So, my first day of vacation was spent reading Harry Potter and napping happily.
Early Sunday morning, the storm cleared, and just after low tide, we set off to dive the natural aquarium off O’Brien’s Cay. The current really rips in these waters, and we were happy that there was space on the dinghy mooring ball provided. We donned masks and fins and the minute we sank into the water, a huge school of tropical fish swarmed us (clearly looking for the bread crumbs or crackers tourists feed them). I giggled in my mask – it was so cool. We saw some beautiful fish, Angel fish, Needle fish, Tangs, and the odd grouper. There are colorful corals, including Elkhorn and Brain, which was very heartening to see so many new growths, and we even saw a barracuda in these incredibly transparent waters. We snorkeled around the entire island and only left when I started getting cold and winded from fighting the current.
We decided to dinghy over to the sunken sea plane from the 80s, which is set in 25 feet of water and where a new coral reef is forming. Rumor has it that this plane was a drug smuggling plane and was shot down by the DEA. Whether or not this was true isn’t really the point though… The fact that life renews itself and builds itself where it can, was what made this such a joy to see. However, this was a shorter excursion for us than we planned – because there were reef sharks swimming about 3 yards from us.
Later that day, the last of the winds died down, and we had a wonderful sunset. For the first time since being here in the Bahamas, I actually felt like I was in the Bahamas. I know that must sound ridiculous to you, but with all the stress and anxiety of sailing, all the fronts we’ve weathered, being in the water this much, enjoying the natural beauty of the islands, feeling the warmth from the sun, and witnessing magical sunsets was the therapy I needed.
The next day, Monday, dawned with absolutely no wind and the water was flat calm. This would be the day for us to take our dinghy south toward Compass Cay where two rocks, known as the Rocky Dundas are. It is here that two unique caves can be found, but really best at low tide as the entrance is very narrow and unless you want to free dive under the water to enter the cave, you should go at or near low tide. Legend has it that these two sites were Lucayan sacred sites and the stalagmite and stalactite formations are very impressive. One such formation actually looked like the skeletal remains of a human. We spent a good amount of time relaxing inside the caves, marveling at how untouched it looked. And oddly enough, we were the only people there, which made it even more special for us.
After our cave dive, we headed East for a spot known as Rachel’s Bubble Bath. We weren’t exactly sure where it was, so when we saw another dinghy pull up to a beach, we joined them and together, we set off to find this unique spot. This unique area is at the edge of a rocky shore line where a natural pool formed. As sea swells make their way toward the shoreline, and crash against the rocks, and over the shallow rock wall into the pool, the water foams. It was spectacular and we all felt that it would be incredible to see it under less calm conditions, and at high tide. However, for all of us, that would mean braving the turbulent waters in Conch Cut, which are notorious for huge, disorganized swells. No thank you.
Given this was our final full day at Cambridge Cay, we decided to try going further south to Compass Cay marina, where the infamous nurse sharks are – after all, I really wanted to pet a shark and swim with them. But consulting our maps, and how long it took us to get to Rachel’s Bubble Bath, we decided it might be best to cut across the Cut earlier and not risk adverse conditions on the dinghy ride home.
Once back in our little lagoon, we stopped in and chatted with Banyan and asked for assistance getting off the mooring ball the next day. My concern was that one or both of our lines was wedged in the thimble tightly, which would make exiting stressful. Dave agreed and the next day, he came by close to high tide, helped me disconnect her, and we sailed off.
Next: Swimming with pigs, and revisiting old problems