December 13 (Thursday!) 2012.
We raised mainsails and anchors at Rose Island at 7:25 am on a bright sunny day and left with La Toison D’or to cross the Great Bahama Bank, heading for the Northern Exumas. This leg crosses the Middle Bank, a section filled with dangerous shallow coral heads, and the general advice is to cross it at midday when the sun is at its zenith so as best to see and avoid the uncharted heads. We knew we would be arriving early – around 10 am, but it was a relatively calm sunny day, with enough wind for sailing some of the time and motor-sailing the rest.
I was on the helm and Steve was up on the bowsprit on watch as we warily approached the dreaded Middle Ground, sun in our eyes and reflecting off the water in front of us. We both had our wonderful Eartech headsets on – a gift from Paul and Mary, they have been real marriage-savers for anchoring, picking up moorings etc. as they allow two-way conversation, no more yelling at each other over the engine noise. Luckily Steve was able to clearly see the patches of dark water in between the areas of clear turquoise water. So with clear communication we were able to avoid the few patches of coral along our path and by 10:30 am we had successfully navigated the Middle Banks. We turned off the engine and sailed to fully enjoy the experience. The most astounding thing about sailing in the Exumas is the colour of the water – or rather colours. The water is so clear you can almost always see the bottom, and the colour varies from light turquoise to a deep royal blue depending on depth and sea-bottom (sand, coral, grass or rocks). It is so beautiful that I am full of awe and wonderment every day here.
La Toison D’or was ahead of us as we entered the channel between Allen’s Cay and SW Allen’s Cay to get to the anchorage. As we rounded the corner we saw a motor-cruiser anchored ahead of us and a sailboat that looked as if it was rafted to the cruiser. We could not see La Toison D’or and were puzzled until Claude called us on the radio. “We are behind the cruiser”, he said, “and aground a little – not too bad”. It was low tide and very shallow, so he suggested we anchor in the other arm of the anchorage. We immediately turned around and crossed to the deeper channel on the other side between the cays, separated by a shallow sand bank.
By the time we were anchored and lowered our dinghy to reach them, we saw that the cruiser was “helping” La Toison D’or by towing them using a line attached to the top of the mast. Unfortunately, due to currents and the lay of the land, it made matters worse and by the time we got to them they were high and dry and listing badly to starboard. Poor Claude and Marie – stressed, unhappy and embarrassed. Such an easy thing to happen here where many of the approaches and anchorages are 6 feet deep or less at low tide. But not so much fun if/when it does happen. Nothing to do but wait for the tide to turn, and unfortunately it was still ebbing. The experience rather spoiled our otherwise much anticipated arrival in the Exumas.
Meanwhile we took our dinghy over to the nearby beach to see the rare (endangered) rock iguanas which inhabit two of these cays. Marie followed in their dinghy and joined us on the beach. The Bahamian rock iguanas are various shades of brown, about 2.5 to 3 feet long, and thrive in a couple of dry cays in the Exumas, where there are limestone holes to retreat in for shade to regulate their body temperatures. The serrated ridge on their backs also helps radiate excess heat, and is used in territorial displays to make them look bigger. They can cleave their tails at will, regenerate them and they usually live up to 40 years. Although there are signs to not feed them, it is obvious that people have fed them as our arrival on the beach prompted many iguanas out of their shady holes and rock ledges onto the beach. Truly amazing creatures. Soon the beach was covered with them. I stayed in the shallow water near the dinghy, not wanting to get too close and knowing they don’t swim!
We both went for a swim afterwards and Steve snorkelled over to the boat, at one point spotting and pointing out to me a large manta ray that swam under our keel. At low tide (1:30 pm) we helped Claude and Marie get a second anchor on their boat off their stern to ensure that the incoming tide did not take them closer to shore.
They came over to our boat and we sat chatting in our cockpit, surprised at how quickly the tide started to rise. As we watched a swift current gradually brought La Toison D’or upright. At about 3:30 pm Steve went over with them to help them get her floating, while I started to prepare a celebratory dinner for all of us. Steve snorkelled and checked the depths for them and provided information and instructions. By 4:30 they were safely afloat and re-anchored in a deeper channel.
So by 5:30 pm we were all ready to enjoy the stunning and peaceful surroundings with our sundowners, before dinner on board T’ai Chi.
View our photo journal for Allen’s Cay.
Day 187: December 13;
Distance travelled on this leg: 31 NM;
Current Position: 24° 44.95 N; 76°50.32W;
Left Rose Island at 07:25;
Anchored at Allen’s Cay at 13:10;
Wind 5-8 kn; seas 0.1 m, sunny and clear, 25°C.
View Tai Chi: Journey 2012 in a larger map