Saturday, 30 March 2019

Bitter Guana Cay & Great Guana Cay Bahamas

A lovely looking house (or perhaps a small hotel) en route to Bitter Guana Cay

Having spent a lovely hour or so snorkelling in Thunderball Grotto we decided to spend the afternoon peering at the iguanas of Bitter Guana Cay.  The wind was not helpful to us and the area between Staniel Cay and Bitter Guana Cay is very shallow with several narrow winding passages so we had to take a circuitous route between one and the other.
Approaching Bitter Guana Cay

The quickest and easiest way to travel was under power, so Mr Beta got a bit of a workout.

We anchored off, ate lunch and headed ashore.

Even from where we were anchored we could see the iguanas on the beach.

Close up they are surprisingly large….

… on their feet and keen to investigate new arrivals – presumably hoping for titbits (which we had not brought).

And they’re not scared to get close either, which is very useful for taking photos!
“I’m posing; have you got my best side?”

“Oh I do like that pretty blue boat over there.”  “What boat? Look, there might be food this way.”

BV from the high point on Bitter Guana Cay

Having spent long enough with the iguanas we set our sights on scaling the cay’s highest point.  Unsurprisingly it didn’t take too long – the most difficult part was working our way through the scrub on the dunes backing the beach.
Looking northeast

Despite the lack of height, we had great views along the line of the cay and across to Exuma Sound…..
The Exuma Sound side of Bitter Guana Cay in a brisk east-northeasterly……

……where the brisk wind was making everything a little lumpy.  It made for lovely views and fun at the cliff edge…..
…..and the Grand Bahamas Bank side of Bitter Guana Cay in the same weather conditions.  Barrier islands, don’t ya just love ‘em?

…..but the Bank side of the islands was definitely the place to be that day.
Approaching Great Guana Cay

After trying a different route down to the shore (it didn’t work!) we retraced our steps to returned to the dinghy. Once back on board BV we motored and sailed south along Bitter Guana Cay, past Dotham cut to Great Guana Cay where we anchored off Black Point settlement for the night.  The anchorage here is huge with a good, clear sandy bottom.  It has great holding and fabulous protection from the prevailing northeasterly winds all the way round to southerly winds, perhaps even from winds a little west of south.

Dark and Stormies with coconut fried prawns for Happy Hour
We’d heard that the settlement was worth exploring so we pottered ashore for a looksee.  It seems to be a nice little place (with the operative word being ‘little’) with a useful small store, a laundry, which is reported to be excellent, and a few bar/restaurants.  In the excitement of deciding that we would do happy hour and then dinner ashore I failed to get any pictures, other than of our happy hour food, but the Dark and Stormies were very good and the coconut fried prawns excellent so we can safely say that a good evening was had by all.

Given the time that Nici and Strevs had available, Great Guana Cay was the furthest south we intended to go. The following day we planned to begin retracing our steps north but the great bonus of the Exumas is that there are so many places to see we knew that we would not be revisiting any of the anchorages at which we had stopped on the way south.
Bitter Guana Cay & Great Guana Cay, Bahamas

Friday, 29 March 2019

Thunderball Grotto Bahamas

We had a busy day of motoring and anchoring but not going anywhere too far planned for Friday 29 March.  First up was to move from Big Majors Spot to the anchorage close to Thunderball Grotto, a distance of all of 1.5nm, so that we could swim in the cave (as featured in the James Bond film Thunderball) with hundreds of fish.

It was a blustery and fairly overcast day and, to be honest, the water didn’t look terribly inviting as we motored up the shallow channel past Staniel Cay towards the islet which houses the grotto.
Left: Thunderball Grotto is a cave at the northern (far) end of the islet on the left.  Right: Looking south just after entering the pool.  The motoryacht is moored at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Between the south end of Big Majors Spot and the northwest side of Staniel Cay there’s a large, sandy shallow area with 3 islets on the eastern side and a relatively deep pool (max 3m) in the centre; Thunderball Grotto is at the northern end of the chain of islets.  We could have reached the cave by dinghy from the anchorage off ‘pig beach’ but it would have been a 1nm or so ride in a fully laden dinghy and, with a brisk breeze blowing and plenty of cloud cover, the ride would have been wet, cold and slow, hence the decision to move BV closer and to anchor in the pool west of the islets.

Thunderball Grotto entrance with a plethora of small tripper
boats outside – this will be slack water then!
This picture was taken as we departed
The cave is accessible at all stages of the tide but due to the tidal flow through the area it is best to visit at slack water.  However, slack water rarely occurs at exactly high water or low water, it’s usually a little after – how far after we didn’t know.  We anchored in the pool at low water and, after a short faff getting everything together dinghied across to the cave entrance which we had identified by the simple expedient of watching where a couple of other dinghies were heading.  The cruising guide talks about dinghy mooring balls but there were none in evidence so we anchored off and jumped in……into a huge shoal of fish.  Even outside the cave there were loads of fish to see.

Inside the grotto looking out through the narrow
entrance we used (though the picture makes
it look narrower than it really is)
Despite it being low water, the was still flowing onto the Grand Bahamas Bank (in) quite fast so we needed to swim strongly against it to get to the cave’s entrance.  The advantage of arriving at around low water is that you don’t need to swim underwater to get into the cave.  Despite this, the entrance is narrow and can be a little tricky to negotiate; fins are a great help.
View into the roof of the second chamber

Once inside we found that the cave opens out into 2 main areas.  The first, next to the entrance we swam in through, has a lower ceiling but the water here was filled with huge numbers of colourful reef fish. The second chamber is much higher and larger and there are holes in the roof here through which, on a really nice day, the sunshine pours through, spectacularly illuminating the water below. Being a bit grey on the day that we visited, we didn’t get quite that effect but it was still impressive and there were absolutely enormous shoals of grunts hovering near the eastern (Exuma Sound side) entrance.  Wow! But not as colourful as the myriad fish in the smaller chamber.
Thunderball Grotto views.  There was a huge number of fish just inside the western entrance to the grotto, many of them a good size and very colourful. Bottom left: Queen angelfish and Sergeant majors.  Bottom right:   Queen angelfish, Sergeant majors and White grunts
Underwater in the second (larger) chamber.  Being larger the density of fish was much lower here but there was an enormous school of grunts (partially depicted bottom right) close to the western entrance to the grotto (always underwater, shown bottom centre)
Left: Sergeant majors (vertical stripes), White grunts (yellow tails and fins), Clown wrasse (horizontal stripes) and a Squirrelfish (red, on the right of the picture)

Whilst the size of the schools in the larger chamber was impressive, we all particularly enjoyed watching the swarms of bright colourful reef fish in the first chamber we had entered and spent a long time floating around, enjoying the spectacle.
Left: French angelfish. Right:  More Sergeant majors, a White grunt and (we think) some Blue chromis

Top: looking north as we left the pool where we anchored.  Behind the yachts is the southeast point of Big Majors Spot.  Centre left: Thunderball Grotto is at the northern end of the islet on the right.  Centre right: heading south towards the Staniel Cay Yacht Club on Staniel Cay after leaving the pool anchorage.  Bottom: Looking west into the pool anchorage.  Note the deep water channel (dark blue), the shallow bank around the anchorage (brownish) and the shallow water in the anchorage (turquoise)

Eventually, slack tide approached and suddenly we found lots more groups of people arriving to join us in the cave. It was time for us to leave to let them enjoy the experience, so we headed back to BV….

…. took a last look at the Thunderball Grotto dinghy anchorage (now busy with small tripper boats) ……
Leaving the anchorage close to Thunderball Grotto with a trawler-motoryacht anchored just outside one of the entrances. From this angle there looks to be (and there is) plenty of space, but when we arrived the yacht appeared almost to be blocking the entrance

…… and headed off toward Bitter Guana Cay for lunch and a spot of iguana watching.
Thunderball Grotto, Staniel Cay, Bahamas

Big Major Spot Cay Bahamas

A bit lumpy in Exuma Sound.  Note the colour change where the depth increases sharply from 10 to 20m

It was blowing quite hard from the north when we got up on Thursday 28 March.  The anchorage behind Hog Cay was still very sheltered but Exuma Sound was pretty bumpy and lumpy.  We had a good sail, 8nm or so downwind, under a reefed genoa to Conch Cut (the southernmost point of the Exuma Land and Sea Park) before motoring west through the cut to the Grand Bahamas Bank side of the cays.
Flat turquoise seas and a brisk warm breeze, perfect sailing conditions on the Grand Bahamas Bank

Here the water was flat though the wind was still brisk and we enjoyed perfect Bahamian sailing across smooth turquiose seas, south to Big Majors Spot.
Working our way into the anchorage at Big Majors Spot

Big Majors Spot and the swimming pig beach
Four hours of fun sailing after getting the anchor up at Hog Cay we had the engine on again to work our way into a suitable space at Big Majors Spot.  The anchorage was fiendishly busy with superyachts and ‘normal’ yachts; almost all types of boat were represented, except for deep draft sailing superyachts, it’s just a bit too shallow for them.  We would say that it’s all about the beach and the pigs that live there but on the day we visited, with strong northeasterly winds forecast for the next couple of days, it was a lot about the excellent shelter in the bay too.
The famous swimming pigs ashore

After lunch we took a trip ashore in the dinghy to see the swimming pigs.  They are, apparently, wild pigs but they all have numbers and names, there are a couple of shelters where they can sleep and a wooden gazebo with information boards about them and how they are looked after.  So, whilst they’re not owned by anyone and are free to wander where they will, they are inoculated and cared for if they are sick – free-range really more than wild.

Nevertheless, they are great fun and we had a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so with them, though keeping them from investigating all the stuff in the dinghy was surprisingly hard work!

The wind was still brisk and there was a reasonable amount of cloud cover so neither we nor they were much inclined to get in the water (to Nicky and me the Bahamian seas still felt quite cool at 24degC versus the balmy 28degC further south in Cuba).

And, in their eyes, we were a bit boring having brought no tasty morsels for them but we enjoyed pottering on the beach….

….and watching the baby piglets and their mothers in one of the shelters.
Tripper boats visiting the pigs. To see the pigs swim you need to stay afloat and then they are very keen to come out for tit-bits.  Note the issued white latex gloves for the punters and the gulls trying to get a look-in too

When the first of several tripper boats arrived, the pigs were delighted and rushed out en masse to welcome the visitors and to vie for the proffered vegetable snacks.
Swimming (and eating) session – GO!

Though the boats came in close enough for many of the pigs to just wade out, or only have to swim a short distance, they would quite often swim a circuitous route back to the shore from the tripper boats proving that they are pretty good swimmers and that they seem to enjoy swimming too.
The gulls also enjoyed all the freebies on offer

Nicky (top right) and Nici (bottom) with the pigs

Take my picture, please, please! Or, more likely, feed me, feed me, please please!

US Coastguard flypast

Part way through the afternoon we had a flypast from a US Coastguard helicopter.
Cool in the breeze with woolly hat under faithful Tilley and a windproof
jacket too! (must be getting soft)
To finish off the afternoon we took the dinghy to the northeast corner of the bay where there is a small coral reef and a number of coral heads and spent a while snorkelling around them, enjoying the fish and other wildlife.  Rather as at Lobster Cay, the snorkelling was somewhat disappointing in comparison to places we have been in Cuba, the Turks and Caicos and some areas of the Eastern Caribbean but there was a reasonable number of small reef fish, some of them with really good colours, so it was very much a worthwhile stop, particularly for Nici and Strevs.  But as you can tell from the picture, it was quite cool in the breeze – I certainly hadn’t expected to be wearing a woolly hat in the Bahamas!!
Big Major Spot Cay, Bahamas

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Hog Cay Bahamas

We made another relatively early start on Wednesday 27 March, departing Lobster Cay at 0750hrs with the aim of arriving at our destination, Hog Cay on the east side of Warderick Wells, in the early afternoon so that we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the anchorage and the islands.
Arriving at Hog Cay.  Hog Cay is to the left of the pictures, Warderick Wells to the right

We motored out from Lobster Cay, winding our way along a series of narrow, shallow channels until we reached the heady depths of 5m.  Here we raised the main and genoa and beat southwards, towards Warderick Wells, the cay where the Exuma Land and Sea Park has its headquarters.  There are a couple of very popular mooring fields and an anchorage on the west side of Warderick Wells but, with the wind from the southwest and forecast to go further west, Nicky’s plan was to take a mooring in the Hog Cay mooring field on the east side of the island [Ed: mooring field in the loosest possible sense of the word: there are only 2 moorings there now!]. At 0900 she joined in with the Exuma Land and Sea Park radio net to request the use of one of the Hog Cay moorings and, happily, both were available.  We were asked to take the small one (capable of taking yachts up to 65ft).
Our cruising guide says that there are 6 moorings here but there are now just 2, one for boats up to 65ft long (small black splot) and one for really large boats (large white mooring buoy with pick-up buoy)

We arrived off the entrance to the mooring field at about 1400hr and motored carefully in.  It’s a relatively deep entrance (5m) but narrow and the area outside is, yet again, strewn with coral heads.  Having moored up, Nicky, Nici and Strevs inflated the dinghy and headed ashore to find the honesty box on the beach where we had been asked to pay our dues.  From there they walked across the island to a beach on the west side and agreed that the east side of the island was most definitely the place to be.  On the west side a slight surf, driven by the 15kt wind, was breaking on the beach and everything was blustery, choppy and seemed a little grey.  But in the inlet on our side of the island, the sea was tranquil, the wind a little less and everything seemed just that bit bluer, brighter and more friendly.
We were joined later in the afternoon by this yacht, which we think is a live-aboard dive boat

Whilst they went ashore to pay and explore a little, I stayed aboard to fight with the generator again.  As we had sailed down the cays we had started up the generator to run the watermaker but after a while it had run down unexpectedly. This time I changed just the fine fuel filter in generator; having recently changed both filters the only one that could be a problem at this point was the fine filter. Then I tried again but, once more the generator ran for a short time before faltering and shutting down!  Clearly something else was wrong but I didn’t have time to find out what with our timetable for exploring of the Exumas.  It looked as if we might have to plan for the generator, and hence the watermaker, to be out of action for the duration of Nici and Strevs’ stay with us.  This would not be ideal.  Without the generator we would not be able to make water which would have something of an impact on life on board.  Whilst we have a reasonable amount of water in the tanks, we’d need to be careful about showers and any excessive use for the next 10 days, perhaps resorting to using the solar shower if we couldn’t find a source of potable water at marinas or small settlements in the cays.  More than a little frustrating when we had guests on board.
There’s a fair old tidal flow through the Hog Cay inlet as you can see from the ‘bow wave’ on the mooring buoy to which the other yacht is moored 

Over sundowners in the cockpit we discussed water but, far more importantly(!) we talked about the plan for the next day.  The theme, it seemed, was hogs:  we would leave Hog Cay and go to see the swimming pigs at Big Major’s Spot.
Hogs Cay, Bahamas