Florida to Warderick Wells, Exuma Islands, Bahamas

8th January - 12th February 2009

Porridge bowls in one hand, breakfast tea mugs in the other, (thank goodness for autopilot!) we headed out of the shallow channel from No-Name Harbour, Miami and off to cross the Gulf Stream, bound for the Bahamas.    

Much horror existed in the cruising community at the prospect of making a Gulf Stream crossing with northerly wind, which would oppose the strong current from the south, producing choppy conditions.    However, to our joy we discovered that, although a wind direction beginning with an "N" may have been considered a scary prospect, when combined with "W" at not too many knots, it actually made for a very pleasant crossing.

By late afternoon we were motor-sailing across the shallow, crystal waters of the Great Bahama Bank and as darkness fell, we enjoyed a beautiful star and moonlit night.  

Suddenly the peace was disturbed by a distress call from a small power boat.    Another British yacht, Aliana, crossing the banks close to our position, immediately picked up the call.     It was curious, we'd both heard the very same vessel making the same distress call early that morning, when they had made contact with the US Coastguard but had seemingly refused any assistance.    This struck us and the other yacht as a little suspicious, making us wary.    In any case, the location of the vessel was several miles away, across water too shallow for deep-keeled sailboats.   The best solution we could come up with was for our fellow Brits to make a call with their satellite phone to pass on the information to the Bahamian authorities.

As usual, we passed the confusing area back into the deeper water of the Tongue of the Ocean in the dark of early morning.    We are always nervous in this narrow area, between reefs, where if any lights are visible at all, they seem to bear little resemblance to our chart.    On previous occasions we had also encountered freighter ships in this narrow channel but on this trip, we listened with interest to another yacht experiencing our normal close-quarters freighter ship encounter on our VHF radio.

At dawn the fishing lines came out but unfortunately there was no sign of any fish.    We pulled into Nassau Harbour in the early afternoon and were delighted, on this occasion, to be given permission to tie up on the Government dock, close to the cruise ships, to clear Customs and Immigration, instead of having to clear in at a marina.    

Eagerly we motored up to the Prince George Wharf, to the spot where we'd tied up once before.    Of course, mooring would have been considerably easier if there had been anything to which we could secure our lines.    We were faced with a stone dock wall, which, at low tide when we made our approach, was very high.    All we were able to grab hold of was a huge tractor tyre, which was hanging off the wall.    Still, it was only temporary, much cheaper than a marina and so we somehow secured our lines to the large tyre, pushing Anju off the wall, whilst Phil scrambled up to land on terra firma.

Our Nassau Neighbourhood

All spruced up, our Captain made his way to the Customs office to clear in.    Meanwhile back at Anju, we had a uniformed visitor, enquiring why we were tied up in a restricted area.     Oops.    After offering an explanation that the Harbour Master had allowed us to tie up at the dock to clear into the Bahamas, the uniformed visitor seemed satisfied and sped away in his golf cart.   

Five minutes later, Anju had another visitor in the Golf Cart.    This time a Customs Officer asking questions; for how long did we want to visit the Bahamas, where would we go, etc, etc.    All questions were duly answered in the hope that Christine's answers matched those of the Captain as our plans were pretty vague.    That Officer duly disappeared and Christine returned to her task of holding Anju away from the large tyre.

Five more minutes and the Golf Cart was back, carrying the same Customs Officer, another very glamorous Customs Officer lady in shiny high heels and Captain Phil.     They had come with the intention of boarding the boat prior to issuing our paperwork.   One look at the shiny shoes made us fear that they were soon to be lost to the deep, if the glamorous officer attempted the perilous scramble down the dirty tyre.    She obviously reached the same conclusion.    Minutes later we had our official cruising permit and the friendly officers sped away.

After a night on the hook close to the cruise ship dock, we headed off towards the Exumas, heading around the brand new, shiny, low and bollard filled dock, where we presumably were intended to make landfall, had it not been hidden from our view by the five visiting cruise ships.

We headed across the Yellow Bank, keeping watch for submerged coral heads in the shallower areas and arrived at Allen's Cay.    This was a new destination for us.    We crept into the narrow deep water channel inside the cay, still nervous after our recent tow boat encounter and dropped our hook.    We had hoped to stay a day or two.    As usual the weather didn't comply and we were forced to move on in search of a more protected spot the next morning.   We did, however, manage to see the island's famous resident colony of endangered and rather chubby iguanas.


We decided to head to the Exuma Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells, of which we were members, in the hope of finding a sheltered mooring available in water deep enough for Anju.    We were in luck.    We intended to volunteer for perhaps a day or two at the park and headed ashore the next morning at 9 am, to see what kind of work the park may have for us.    One month later we finally left the park!


Anju on her mooring at Exuma Park

In the interim, Warden Tom and long-term volunteer Andrew kept us busy, six hours a day, six days a week.    Our main task was the cleaning, checking and repair of two donated boats.   The first was a speedy power boat with two 175 hp outboards, the second a small cabin cruiser.   After our first day on each of these boats, we discovered that they were actually white-coloured vessels.    We evicted all the six legged squatters and set to work ensuring all the boats' systems worked correctly, installing new VHF radios, antennas and compasses.     

Before we knew it we had our own "Anju" work list on the job board and the "Anju Tea Break" had become a Park institution amongst the other volunteers.    Once the two boats were beginning to get shipshape and there was a danger that our job list may get shorter, Tom was sure to come up with other Anju projects.   During a bumpy patrol, the radar fell off one of the Park's patrol boats, when the mount snapped, this was added to our list.  The other patrol boat developed a persistent and mysterious rust stain which needed to be tracked down.    

For a little variety we undertook some beach clean-ups.    The first involved an uncomfortable and very wet boat ride to Hawksbill Cay, several miles north of Warderick Wells.    The boat ride was exhausting, beach clean-up more so.    Next day we eagerly returned to boat repair.    

We'd planned to stay a few days at the Park.   After a couple of weeks our supplies were running low.   However at the mention of leaving the Park to re-provision, we were overwhelmed with groceries from Judy's own supply.   We'd have to get the electrics working on the Park's Houseboat, "The Owl" before we could go.    

Possibly our most stressful job was the application of the Park Warden lettering and park logo to each side of the donated speedboat.      We set to work from our trusty dinghy, Anjulita.     It wasn't easy measuring and marking the side of a bouncing boat from another bouncing boat but after several hours the port side of the boat proudly displayed the Park Warden sign, which was even straight.   

Our work continued next morning on the starboard side but now the wind was howling and attempting the job from the dinghy became infeasible.   Finally the boat was moored close to the beach where we stood all day, up our our knees in the water applying transfers.     Eventually all the lettering and logos were successfully applied but by now the boat was aground!    

The fleet of boats in our care

Results of a small beach clean-up

We did manage some fun time too, whilst staying in the Park.     We snorkeled, spotting a large number of the Park's large, happy, protected, resident lobsters looking back at us from beneath the reefs.    Phil decided to take a swim with the group of five large spotted eagle rays, which would swim beneath our boat late each afternoon.    He swam leisurely alongside the rays, swimming back more quickly on spotting a couple of good sized reef sharks heading his way.

On our day off, we'd walk the Park's trails, checking out the flora and fauna and exploring the deep cave-like holes, possibly former pirate lairs, on our way.     One Sunday morning, as we made our way back to Anju in our dinghy, we were alarmed to see a waterspout right in front of us, passing through the cut north of the park and heading towards us.     Luckily it stayed out of the mooring fields but was dramatic to watch.

Phil down a hole


Scary waterspout                                                        

We also had time to enjoy the company of friends old and new after work hours.     George and Penny invited to Starshot for cocktails.     Our buddies Chris and Vivian swung through the park on their way south, dropping off our gin and wine delivery on the way.  We made new friends JT and Rebecca on Joyfull, who we met through a bottle of transmission fluid which they urgently needed and we had aboard but no longer needed.   We donated the fluid and they invited us for dinner and a lovely evening aboard their boat.    
We'd been at the park so long that even the wildlife was becoming accustomed to the "Anju Tea-Break".    Lizards would line up for cookie crumbs.   The tiny, cheeky Bananaquit birds were not so polite and would often fly into the workshop in search of treats, eating out of our hands, landing on our hats whilst we supped our tea and even following us out to the boats while we worked.    They were such a joy.   

The neighbourhood Mocking Bird was not so brave but became cross that the Bananaquits got all the treats.    Not courageous enough to eat from the hand himself, his hobby was to take a close fly-by, knocking the little Bananaquits back into the air as a show of protest!

Bananaquit sugar-addicts

Hermit crabs were everywhere in their preferred large Top shells.    One afternoon we spotted a sad looking crab whose shell was broken.    We offered him a selection of two larger, empty shells, wondering if he'd like to move house.     Sure enough he was interested but obviously overwhelmed with the selection of homes on the market.    We watched, fascinated as he closely checked out each shell, before eventually making his decision.

We'd had a great time volunteering at the park but after a month the cold north wind finally dropped off, giving us a few warm, calm days in which to head south.   Leaving our electric tea kettle in the workshop, so the "Anju Tea-Break" tradition could continue in our absence, we finally cast off from our mooring buoy promising to return soon.

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