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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where there's a well, there's a way.

We have spent almost two weeks in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, a beautiful and pristine 176 square miles of water and islands. The park headquarters is on an island called Warderick Wells, where we spent a couple of nights on a mooring in superb harbour where the deep water winds around like a river, bounded by shoals and sandbanks. The water here changes colour dramatically with the depth - which is one way we navigate - and the moorings were in a dark blue curve bounded by light blue tending to cream and then yellow as the sandbanks rose to the surface. Beneath us were coral gardens, inquisitive lobsters, lurking turtles and groups of huge Eagle Rays cruising at the turn of the tide.

Ashore was equally fascinating, as the island has a series of nature trails with many information boards describing different features of these cays, their history and wildlife. We walked up Boo Boo Hill, the highest peak in the area, for stunning views all around and out across the deep Exuma Sound. Waves from the Sound crash into the island, eating away at the softer rock and leaving cliffs pitted with holes, from millimetres to metres across. In some places, this erosion combines to form blowholes, where the waves crash under the cliffs and force air up through holes in the rock. Issie stood over one, wearing her dress, and you get a perfect Marilyn Monroe effect. Up on the peak of the hill, boats have traditionally left a token, usually their boat name on a piece of driftwood. We found some wood, some old washed up rope, and made our own little sign to add to the hundreds already there. It was fun to pick out the names of folks we knew from our cruising.

After a lovely couple of days, we went north to Hawksbill for a couple of nights and then onto Shroud Cay. Both are uninhabited, wild places. Hawksbill has ruins from a plantation built and abandoned many years ago in the days of the American revolution when Loyalists from the Americas left the newly separated colonies to start again on these islands. The living was harsh and one can imagine that the intense beauty of the area quickly paled as the realities of finding water and growing crops soon became apparent. It could be argued that they picked the wrong side, and might have been better breaking with the crown and making it in the good new USofA.

Shroud Cay stands in contrast to the more hilly Hawksbill, it is very low lying and the interior is mostly salt pond and mangroves where the sea floods in and ebbs away twice daily making it a precious nursery for all manner of sea life. We took the dinghy into the interior and followed a fascinating creek that led all the way to the far shore. On the far side are traces of 'Camp Driftwood', a camp built in the sixties by a vagabond sailor who washed up on the island. By the late seventies he was joined by a couple more and the little camp was quite a well known landmark. It came in useful to the Americans, too, when drug enforcement agents made enough friends on the island to be allowed to set up a sophisticated camera to spy on Normam's Cay, five miles to the north. Here Carlos Lehder, a Columbian drug smuggler, was running the largest smuggling operation in the area, flying pot and cocaine in from Jamaica and Columbia and on again to the USA. The camera at Camp Driftwood recorded the details of all the planes coming and going from the nearby airstrip but the whole operation came to nothing because, in 1979, enough of the Bahamian police were in the pay of Lehder to let him know when the raid was coming and his island was as clean as a whistle. By 1983 the Americans had found other ways to curtail his smuggling operations and Norman's Cay fell into disrepair. Lehder was finally extradited from Columbia in 1987 and jailed in the USA for 135 years. We visited Norman's Cay and will post some pictures later.

Back on Shroud Cay, quiet and nature reign. On Ty Dewi, our thoughts turn to the water tank. We have now been almost three weeks since filling up in Georgetown and a small leak lost some of our remaining supplies. We can get more water a few miles up the coast, at fifty cents a gallon, but interestingly enough there is a well here on Shroud Cay. It seems worth investigating, so Max and I go ashore. Up a short trail we find a big pothole, with a low cement and stone wall around it, full of water. Lower a bucket on a rope and you bring up a few gallons of the softest, sweetest water you could taste. We planned to fill a couple of five gallon canisters and just see us through to the town water taps of Nassau, a week away, but we had heard that the water there could be a little brackish and Gesa suggested that we might as well fill up here since the water was so good.

So it was that we took five of our canisters over and spent a couple of hours filling, carrying, shipping to the boat, pouring, returning, repeating until we had moved seventy five gallons of water from the well to our tanks. It was a good workout, and the kids enjoyed playing on the beach as we did so.

We're also low on groceries, having spent so long in this beguiling park we are almost completely out of fresh food and relying on the tins and packs we bought in Puerto Rico back in January. Gesa has become tremendously inventive and can whip up a delicious meal from a pack of crackers, tin of sardines, leftover tinned peaches and some condensed milk. Well, we're not write at that stage but we have had some surprisingly good meals as we dig deep into the food lockers.

Right now we are at Highborne Cay, an overnight stop before we head over to Nassau and the lights of the big city. At last we will have supermarkets, laundry and other such 'delights' to look forward to. About forty miles to sail tomorrow, not huge but an early start and a fair day at sea. The wind is set to ease and swing well behind us, so we look forward to an enjoyable day's sail.

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