Hello Highborn: Into the Exumas
A funny thing has happened since this blog was started last spring: it became winter. Posting pictures of water and sailing and swimming during the summer has people saying, “Ah, isn’t that nice.” “Oh, look at that.” So let’s just put this on the table here and now . . . you are about to see pictures of blue water and swimming and sailing. And you may be one of the people sitting in a part of the country having record low temperatures and snow, and for that, we are very, very sorry for you. Really – we feel just terrible. So if you’re going to be totally disgusted with us when you see the blue water and snorkeling, then just stop reading now. You have been warned. There are a few pictures thrown in with us wearing jackets, just for good measure. Why, as this is being written, it’s 66 degrees with a wind chill of 62! So it’s not all 80 degrees and sunny, okay. We’re suffering too. We had to put long sleeves on this evening!
With that out of the way, put the winter aside for a few minutes and come to the Exumas with us. We left Nassau and did the 35ish mile trip to Highborn Cay (pronounced “key”). There was a little wind vs. wave action going on, so there there was a chop to the water and some pretty good sea spray happening over the deck. It was also our first day of using “VPR” or Visual Piloting Rules which you need to do a lot through the Bahamas. The note on the chart says, “VPR apply. Good weather, sunlight, bottom reading, and piloting skills required.” In short, that means, “Watch out for the coral reefs.” Watching the color changes in the water is a big clue, and down here the water is SO clear that it is pretty easy to see the changes. Different shades of blue indicate different depths. What took a little getting used to is that, if you can see the darker brown areas that are the coral, it looks like it’s really, really shallow! Very unnerving. We were learning that the coral can be 10 – 15 under your keel and you’re still going to be able to see it in the clear water; it’s only going to FEEL like you’re about to hit it. So one part of our trip to Highborn went across what is called the Yellow Bank where you really do need to have someone perched to watch out for coral heads.
Highborn was just an overnight stop, but an important night: we were traveling with Magnolia and it was Anthony’s birthday! We enjoyed dinner on Eleanor Q and Annette brought the birthday brownies.
There is a common occurrence at sunset: the blowing of the conch shell. It is not uncommon to hear a conch shell at sunset, a sound which very much resembles a note being played on a french horn. On one of our early vacations to the British Virgin Islands when we chartered a boat for a week, Frank bought me my own conch shell. I will digress and briefly tell you the story of how that came to be. On that vacation, we went to a place with live music and the very entertaining performer had various ways to engage the audience. One activity was a conch blowing contest to see who could hold the longest, continuous note. Being a former tuba player (yeah, you can laugh) I thought I had a good shot. Turns out I was out of practice and didn’t have a particularly good showing. That stuck in my craw and I vowed to come back another year and compete again (not that I’m competitive or anything). And with that in mind, Frank surprised me with my own conch shell. The following year, we repeated parts of that vacation and went to see the same performer who was doing the same schtick. This time I was ready. I was singing in a college/community choir . . . I had been doing my breathing exercises . . . I was ready. And I made sure I was last in line. Moral of the story, the first prize bottle of rum went home with me. And so, the conch shell travels with me on this adventure and comes out at sunset. Additional side note: we have also used it at various services over the years, too. When I was working as the organist/choir director for Pastor Rich in Illinois, he said it sounded like a shofar – pronounced SHOW-far – which is an instrument made from a ram’s horn and was used to announce special holidays, mostly in the Jewish faith. So we opened the Easter services with the conch blowing. Mid-morning when Frank asked me how the services were going, I couldn’t help but answer, “Shofar, sho good!”
Okay, enough about the conch shell – back to the Exumas. The next stop was Shroud Cay. We spent two nights there and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the great places to explore by dinghy. This was our first stop in the Exuma Land and Sea Park – an amazing stretch in the Exumas that helps to preserve these wild places. It is a “no take” zone meaning that you don’t fish or collect shells. And there is no place to deposit trash. So what comes into the park with you leaves with you, and you don’t take anything from the park out. The motto is, “Take only pictures; leave only footprints.”
The next day we set out to explore the creeks on the island. After a very long ride with some very shallow sections where we had to row or pole the dinghy (and a couple of places where we had to drag the dinghy!) we made it to the Sound side of the island (the Exuma Sound – basically the ocean or western side of the island). We discovered the most outstanding beach. This is one of those obnoxious blue water pictures I warned you about.
We met up with the crew of Magnolia and Mandala for a swim. What a wonderful afternoon.
Next we headed to a place Frank has read about, day dreamed about, and visualized on those nights that he couldn’t sleep. We were on our way to Warderick Wells, also in the park. I would have to agree with him – that has got to be one of the prettiest places on earth. It has an iconic horseshoe shaped mooring field. And we got one of the prettiest spots of all, right in front of the park office. It was another really cool moment for us both, but especially for Frank. Once we got in there, it was hard to leave, and we stayed for five days. There we enjoyed the hiking trails, the snorkeling and just hanging out with our (now expanded) water family of Magnolia and Mandala. We loved every day there.
One of the must see sights at Warderick Wells is Boo Boo Hill. Follow the trail up to the top of a bluff for a gorgeous view of the island, but also to see the offerings that have been left at Boo Boo Hill. So here’s the tale of the hill . . . It is said that, back in the 1800s, a ship load of missionaries wrecked on the island and met an untimely demise. It is also said that on the full moon you can sometimes here their spirits singing hymns. It is another tradition that when you visit Boo Boo Hill you bring a piece of driftwood with your boat name carved in it to leave as an offering. It is the one exception to the “don’t leave anything behind” rule. I must confess, we came woefully unprepared and will have to remedy that for our next visit.
The next night was, indeed, the full moon. I suggested to Annette that we should hide somewhere after dark and start singing, “Nearer My God to Thee” and see if we could freak anybody out. Between that remark and going empty handed to Boo Boo Hill, we got ours. At about 9:00pm, the moon rose on one side of the boat and the lightning started flashing on the other side. Light rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance. A couple of hours later, the heavens opened up and we had rain upon rain upon rain for hours that night – HEAVY rain. If you had a leak in your boat, you found out where it was that night. And then I started having very strange nightmares for most of the night. In the morning, I declared that the next time we went to Boo Boo Hill we were going to be sure to leave something with “Eleanor Q” on it and add it to the pile. Not that I’m superstitious . . . Frank and I both agree that it’s bad luck to be superstitious. But all the same, I’ll just think of it as insurance. I gotta say – it was a pretty cool full moon night! Spooky!
During our visit, we snorkeled for hours! Now keep in mind, I grew up in West by God Virginia. There’s not a lot of snorkeling there. This stuff is ALL a stretch for me . . . but my friends Ron and Nancy on Mandala were intent on getting me out there. And so the six of us set out to snorkel around the park. It was AMAZING and I loved it, much to my (and Frank’s) surprise and delight. It was only my second or third time and it was pretty cool.
One of our other favorite activities while at Warderick Wells were evening jam sessions! Ron also plays the guitar, so we’d pull out all the musical instruments we had on board and try to make some music. One night on Mandala we even attempted to do a group sing!! I don’t know if that had any influence on the catamaran next door taking off early the next morning or not, but I have my suspicions.
After four days, it was time to move on. If that place had better internet, we might never leave. But we were ready to get into a little bit of civilization again, too. There are no restaurants, no shopping, no services in the park . . . and for the better part of a week, that was pretty okay with us. Time to go to Staniel Cay . . . but that will be the next post.