July 13th: We weighed anchor at 9:45 to head just over an hour away to Allans-Pensacola Cay. The crossing was rather “bouncy” with 15-17 knot winds over rather shallow waters, but it was a pretty straight shot, so we arrived no worse for wear. There were already two boats in the anchorage when we arrived, but there was plenty of room and the anchor set well. We again had fun snorkeling after we got the boat secured, seeing another barracuda. Apparently these fish look fierce, but if you leave them alone, they are rather relaxed. We lowered the dinghy in anticipation of exploring the area, but the weather was again uncooperative with windy conditions and storms that threatened, but just skirted where we were. The lightning storms that we have seen on several nights, including the night we crossed over from Florida, have been impressive, and luckily, not directly over us or delivering bad weather. We’re hoping that this “good” weather holds and no tropical storms or hurricanes decide to form or head this way.
We got up early on the 14th, enjoying iced coffee/tea on the deck watching the morning unfold. While Kathleen got breakfast ready, Neil practiced with the drone, taking some fun video and picture of our girl and the surrounding area. After a hearty veggie omelet breakfast, we packed up our dry bags, backpack and snorkeling bag into the dinghy for a fun adventure. We took the dinghy to a beach that was decorated with all kinds of items from past visitors, and a fairly well marked trail to the ocean side a short walk away. It was fun to see flipflops, hats, floats, and even plastic bins marking the trail, which we would never have been able to follow without these helpers. On the ocean side was the “signing” tree – where many people have left signs with their boat names and their names attached to the tree. There was also a giant hammock that Neil bravely tried out, and Kathleen executed a side plank that Neil memorialized with a picture to show that her shoulder and she are really doing great.
Back on the cay side, we saw a sea turtle and a young nurse shark as we were wading in the shallow waters of the beach. We snorkeled around the area for a awhile, not seeing a lot of life (except for a blue tang, which was unexpected and fun), but a good swim. We got back in the dinghy and cruised the area, crossing an inlet from the ocean, and stopped at Umbrella Cay for another swim. We unintentionally disturbed about 20 cormorants that were upset at us for busting in on their tree time – but they eventually came back. We encountered another barracuda, this one seeming a bit more curious about us, swimming parallel to us and basically checking us out. Neil got some great video and pictures with the GoPro, and we enjoyed just relaxing in the calm water, they only humans on the beach. We got back to Granuaile about 12:30, which was 3.5 hours of sun for these Irish-heritage folks, so we decided to have a break from our endeavours, lunching, napping, reading, and more relaxing, until we decided the day was too nice not to swim again. No barracuda this time, but lots of sand dollars, corral, small fish, one clam that was just on the ocean floor, but very much alive, and Kathleen is pretty sure she saw a starfish. All in all, a most excellent day. After rinsing off, we looked at the day’s films and enjoyed some leftovers. Given the sun and swimming, it’s a safe bet that tonight may be an early one, although we’d like to check out the stars again.
We left Allans-Pensacola Cay on the morning of the 15th at 10:00 am to cruise to Manjack Cay, arriving at 1:15. This beautiful gem of a cay is breathtaking. Our friends, Christine and Joe Cook had met a couple that have lived on the Nunjack Bluff overlooking the Cay for the past 30 years, and recommended that we reach out to them. Bill and Leslie are wonderful people who have created a paradise that they willingly and lovingly share with all cruising visitors who drop anchor there. After speaking with them upon arrival and making plans for cocktails later in the evening, Bill recommended that we take a path from their beach across the island to the ocean side. The water is crystal clear and so inviting. After Kathleen volunteered to swim out to check that the anchor was well buried, we got the boat settled in, dropped the dinghy and headed to the beach. We made some rookie mistakes, namely anchoring bow-in, not setting a stern anchor, and not accounting for longer than anticipated time away from the dinghy on an ebbing tide. We headed out on a trail to the Atlantic side, which was about a 20 minute walk. Coming over the final rise, hearing the ocean before seeing it, was amazing. We quickly got down to our swimsuits and put on our snorkeling gear and kicked out to a small reef about 20 yards or so from the beach. It was a beautiful, underwater garden, with fans and ferns, all kinds of coral, and lots of tropical fish. Neil was in charge of the GoPro and got some great video. We ended up staying in the water for about an hour, only coming in when we both realized we were getting more tired than we should.
After toweling off and re-gearing for the hike back, we took what we thought was a different trail back that Bill had recommended. Our multiple backtrackings and ending up where we didn’t mean to be made for a much longer trek back. We did spy lots of hermit crabs on the inland area, as well as seeing some disconcerting large holes dug by something. Neil finally spied that something – a gray, nearly-two foot wide by 8-9” tall something – either a spider from Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest (who know they might be real?) or a gray mutant crab the likes of which we had never seen before. When we came upon another one, we were (somewhat) relieved to see that it was some large land crab and not a spider. Either way, we gave him all the room he wanted.
We finally made it back to our original beach (we ended up going back to the ocean beach and just taking the same trail back), only to find our 1000 lb dinghy firmly beached as the tide had gone out. We were both really drained. Neil tried contacting Bill, but he wasn’t near his phone. The next high tide was six hours away, at midnight. We knew we could probably bum a ride out to our boat from Bill and Leslie, and just hung out on this island-perfect beach waiting for their return. In no time, Bill appeared on his ATV to introduce himself. When he saw the pickle we were in, he chuckled, and said, “No problem, I have a tool for that” and reminded us of the Bahamian way – “when the back starts to hurt, use the brain”. He went back to his compound, returning with with a 6 foot long piece of 6” dia PVC pipe, and his wife Leslie. After introductions were made, we successfully got the dinghy turned bow into the water, placed the PVC pipe under the hull, and were able to push/pull the dinghy into the water. Lesson learned, and we hopefully will not do that again. We scooted back to our boat, took our first real shower in many days, then went back to Bill and Leslie’s for some evening relaxation.
To say their home is remarkable is an understatement. Over the past 30 years, they have built a main house, which is fit for any paradise movie theme, with a guest home and a large gardening area. They are very self-sufficient, with solar power, tank for collecting rainwater, growing their own food, having had goats and chickens over the years. It is a thoroughly modern home, with wifi, state of the art kitchen, and amazing bathroom and bedroom suite with walls open to the outside. Sitting outside on the veranda, wild birds coming in to eat seeds Leslie has placed in bowls near us, we could see why they had chosen to build here. They are in the process of completing a second home that they hope to move into, further up the bluff, and plan to sell their current home once the new home is finished. They have endured several category five hurricanes, and numerous tropical storms – and have been perfectly safe and secure. Leslie gave us several cuttings from her vast garden, so our fresh herb supply was not only replenished but improved upon. Bill introduced us to a rum (Bahamian “Fire In De Hole”) , tonic and lime cocktail, which is probably our new favorite beverage. We somewhat reluctantly wandered back to the path to their dock to take our dinghy back to our boat, lead by moonlight (and Neil’s cell phone spotlight).
On the 16th, we explored with the dinghy, snorkeling at a cay that was known for rays and nurse sharks – of which we did not see any. We did see a really cool spiny lobster and a lot of tropical fish, as well as an (empty) conch shell that had the most beautiful pink-purple inner shell. We left it on the seabed for others to enjoy and fish to inhabit. From there, we dinghied out to the Atlantic, with Kathleen snorkeling among some rock/coral formations. Neil stayed with the dinghy, both out of abundance of caution and wanting to take a break. After exploring the reef, we cruised back through the inlet, and spotted a sea turtle and an nurse shark in the shallows. We turned off into a mangrove creek area that wound around behind the island. We saw at least thirty sea turtles – they were EVERYWHERE and so very cute. We decided to come back the next day on the kayak.
Back on the boat, we relaxed, enjoyed another spectacular sunset, chatted with Bill as he passed by to check on his two sailboats in the waters near us. Venus has been flashing her very brilliant light every evening in the western sky, seeming to appear even before the sun has completely set. The moon is waxing and incredibly bright, which makes for fun shadows, but not as many stars to see. Oh well…
On the morning of the 17th, we got up a bit early, and after breakfast, deposited the kayak from the boat deck into the water, which was another learning experience. Once we got it into the water, we rafted it up to the dinghy and loaded ourselves in – our first attempt at doing this delicate maneuver – we’ll take the win that neither of us yelled or swore directly at the other one. Once we were settled in, we paddled off, to go see the turtles again. This was the first time Kathleen had been kayaking since January, and she may have over-estimated her shoulder strength and endurance by just a tad. Luckily, Neil was very understanding and encouraging. We did get to see dozens of turtles, who were quite curious about our kayak and came very close before flying away under the water when we would so much as look at them. We also saw two more nurse sharks, which was interesting as the water at times was less than a foot deep. They were way more frightened of us, and we just felt lucky to get to see them. About an hour and a half later we were back at the boat, and Kathleen was completely done in. We got the boat secured on the upper deck, and with Neil’s encouragement, Kath laid down and stayed that way until about four o’clock that evening. She’s beginning to think this excursion could turn into a really strength training mission.
Next we head to Green Turtle Cay …