Ex­uma Sound to Al­lan’s Cay

Passage Maker - - News & Notes -

Our first and most north­ern stop in The Ex­u­mas is Al­lan’s Cay, a horse­shoe-shaped group­ing of islets. We ar­rive as the sun is start­ing to dive into a thin layer of clouds, with no other cruis­ing (or tourist) boats clut­ter­ing the an­chor­age. This is the ben­e­fit of cruis­ing The Ba­hamas in Au­gust. We set the an­chor in a patch of sand, and I make proper ad­just­ments as the com­mands of our

restive Cap­tain Swanson cas­cade down from the fly­bridge helm. Prov­ing that ev­ery­thing on a new boat needs to be re­hearsed at least once, we even­tu­ally learn how to lower the in­flat­able and putter to shore to visit the cay’s only known in­hab­i­tants.

Al­lan’s Cay is one of the few is­lands in The Ex­u­mas that fea­tures an above-wa­ter wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence. Here, rock igua­nas pa­trol the un­der­brush and visit the beach when nec­es­sary, prob­a­bly ex­pect­ing a hand­out. It’s un­likely they are sim­ply cu­ri­ous as two-legged for­eign­ers like us ar­rive by the boat­load ev­ery hour of ev­ery day. The igua­nas are friendly and beau­ti­ful, the color of baked earth­en­ware pot­tery with an ac­cent of light-pink glaze. They are also just skit­tish enough not to en­tirely trust hu­mans.

At night, in the haze of sleep, I sense the wind pick­ing up a bit, but our po­si­tion holds fast and we rise to a new day, and a new ob­jec­tive.

Back in Nas­sau, our guide Robin had told us one thing most em­phat­i­cally: “You ab­so­lutely must visit Ward­er­ick Wells.” She was not wrong. This cay is the show­stop­per in the north­ern sec­tion of The Ex­u­mas and serves as the pre­sump­tive head­quar­ters for the Ex­uma Cays Land and Sea Park. Es­tab­lished in 1958 by The Ba­hamas Na­tional Trust, the park pro­tects a 22-mile swath of wa­ter and is­lands by pro­hibit­ing an­chor­ing, fish­ing, and dump­ing of black­wa­ter tanks. Th­ese strict reg­u­la­tions pay off here on Ward­er­ick Wells—the div­ing is un­matched. The is­land it­self fea­tures over seven miles of walk­ing trails and the fa­mous Boo Boo Hill, the high­est point on the is­land, where art­fully painted name­boards left by cruis­ers past are heaped in a pile at the peak. Ac­cord­ing to legend, a ship car­ry­ing mis­sion­ar­ies went down on a nearby reef, and now, on windy nights, you can some­times hear their singing. An of­fer­ing left here for Po­sei­don, Greek god of the sea, will sup­pos­edly help you avoid the same fate. (We’d still rec­om­mend read­ing your charts, as a backup plan.)

The en­trance to the main moor­ing field is easy enough as again our low-sea­son tim­ing pro­vides us the pick of the lit­ter. Well, not ex­actly. We still have to fol­low pro­to­col. Ra­dio­ing the Park Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, we get a moor­ing ball as­sign­ment from Ni­cola Ierna, who, along with her hus­band, lives on the is­land. The cou­ple han­dles just about ev­ery­thing on the cay in­clud­ing the var­i­ous du­ties in­volved in help­ing pro­tect the park.

Af­ter din­ner, Peter and I take the dinghy back to the beach to pho­to­graph the stars. This far away from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, we have the­o­ret­i­cally per­fect views of the sky, ex­cept for one nui­sance: an ac­tive light­ning storm that wreaks havoc with long ex­po­sures. Re­gard­less, the evening brings a num­ber of in­cred­i­ble sights that we of­ten don’t get to see, in­clud­ing ap­pear­ances from Venus, Mars, Jupiter, the Milky Way, and the Per­seid me­teor show­ers (see “Pilothouse” for my al­beit am­a­teur as­tropho­tog­ra­phy tips).

Fac­ing the long­est leg of our voy­age (about five hours), we weigh an­chor early and head south­east into a steady­ing breeze to­wards Staniel Cay, with a slight de­tour planned at Pig Beach on Big Ma­jor’s Spot. Peter and I de­cide to tow the dinghy in lieu of re­hoist­ing it on the lift­ing swim plat­form, a de­ci­sion that we come to re­gret two hours later as we watch our dear ten­der slowly re­cede into the dis­tance. We sheep­ishly cir­cle back to re­trieve it, then use a much more se­cure tow line. Prob­lem solved. This is the only time we have any seas, and though they aren’t much (closely stacked 3-4 foot­ers), they are com­ing at an an­gle that causes us to drop boat­speed by sev­eral knots.

Ar­guably the largest tourist draw in the re­gion, Pig Beach is the one ex­cep­tion we find to the the­ory that there is an off­sea­son in The Ex­u­mas. A dozen boats at an­chor in­clude ev­ery­thing from trawlers to su­pery­achts, and cen­ter con­soles con­stantly zoom in with fresh loads of tourists from nearby Staniel Cay. And when I say zoom, I mean it. As Cap­tain Swanson says, “Ba­hami­ans only know one speed, and that speed is wide-open throt­tle.”

If you’re won­der­ing what it is about Pig Beach that draws year-round crowds it’s this: swim­ming pigs. The beach is full of them. (And if you want to hear more about my up close and very per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with one of th­ese swim­ming swine, the no­to­ri­ous Big Momma, read all about it in “Pilothouse,” Oc­to­ber 2018).

In Staniel Cay we an­chor and head ashore to re­pro­vi­sion at the vil­lage’s only open gro­cery store. Staniel Cay has about 100 full-time res­i­dents and a pri­vate air­port that largely serves the stash of homes that are perched on the eastern shore of the is­land. They are bet­ter de­scribed as palaces, as one, sup­pos­edly built by an in­vest­ment banker, prob­a­bly to­tals 25,000 square feet. The man­sions dwarf ev­ery­thing in the vil­lage and rep­re­sent The Ex­u­mas’ lat­est chap­ter as a con­tin­u­ing draw for the wealthy and fa­mous like Johnny Depp, who fell in love with the area while work­ing on a num­ber of films ( Pirates of the Caribbean, Blow) and bought his own small is­land nearby. Depp and other celebs are said to rub el­bows with ev­ery­one at Staniel Cay’s leg­endary and col­or­ful yacht club bar where the only thing miss­ing is WiFi. The bar is a throw­back to olden days, com­plete with black-and-white framed pho­tos that cap­ture the yacht club’s col­or­ful his­tory, tro­phy fish mounted to the walls, and hun­dreds of yacht club burgees breez­ing from the rafters.

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