Norman’s Pond to Warderick Wells, The Bahamas
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
We awoke to clear skies. Had breakfast and read before leaving on a high tide. Winds had died down substantially to about 15 knots northeasterly and we decided to head south. We offered to lead the way out after consultation with Airborne. High tide was about noon, so we left about 11:00 to negotiate the tricky cut at near high tide. There was no problem getting out with more than two feet of water under the keel at all times. No problemo!
There was some wind, but not enough to get as far as we wanted, so we motor sailed to our next stop, Warderick Wells. Airborne decided to keep going, opting to anchor off Bell Island for the night. (They are headed much farther south than us, as far as Central America.)
Warderick Wells is a cay that is the headquarters of Exuma Park. The park consists of a number of large cays and numerous smaller ones and all the water that surrounds them. It is a preserve, so that no one is allowed to fish or to take anything off any island or beach. The idea is that the park acts like a nursery for many species of Bahamian wildlife that can migrate and help populate the diminishing wildlife elsewhere.
Park headquarters consists of a small outpost office with rooms for a couple of resident “Self Defense Force” personnel (the Bahamian 900-count armed forces group). Also, there’s a home for the ranger, sole paid employee of the park. The adjacent anchorage area has about 20 moorings available for guests at the park. We called and reserved one of the moorings the day before and were directed to #18 on our arrival. The mooring field is “J” shaped, carved out by the flow of the current.
Upon arrival, we immediately launched the dinghy and went in to register and to meet Martha, the volunteer who staffs the office. She and her husband, Ray, live on their moored, Hunter 310 and are here for the season. Also on near full time staff are Blew, who lives on his Buccaneer on a mooring and Tom who also lives on a ketch out in the mooring field.
We walked Julie’s Trail, which crosses lots of limestone rock that forms the backbone of these cays and a mangrove covered shoal that joins what were once two separate cays. It was getting late, so we headed back to the boat for dinner and decided that we’d volunteer to work on projects the next morning.
Warderick Wells, The Bahamas
Wednesday, January 14 – Wednesday, January 21, 2004
The week that followed at Warderick Wells was fun and relaxing, and at times hard work! People who want to volunteer (most of the people who were here) show up at the headquarters at 9:00 in the morning for work assignments. Sandy even had a dream the night before about being to work on time! In exchange for four hours of labor, their mooring is free for a day. We did this every morning except two days that Bill had maintenance chores to do on the boat (so just Sandy volunteered). Sandy helped clean up a beach (Boo Boo Beach), repainted trail blazes, varnished railings and helped with several wood working chores. Bill filled ditches and lead a crew who covered the main, 150 ft footpath from the beach to the headquarters office, with 40-lb octagonal pavers.
We really got to feel like part of a community. Many days are really not suitable to move on because the winds are really high and/or the wrong direction. So, during a nice weather window, people move to another location. In our case, most of the boats on the moorings arrived within a day of us. No one here is in a hurry, so we all decide to stay for 4-5 days and then stretch it to a week because a front is moving in and/or we have a volunteer project that we want to see to completion.
In the afternoons we hiked the trails, went snorkeling on a couple of nice, small reefs near the anchorage and socialized with many of the people on the moorings. In the evenings we had a couple of socials at the headquarters building. What a great place to watch the sun set. One, on Saturday night, is traditional and folks bring something to eat and no one leaves hungry. (Cruisers always bring their own drinks). Two others we simply organized and nearly everyone showed up, these times with beverages and only a few snacks.
A tradition at Warderick Wells is Boo Boo Hill. It’s the highest point on the island and cruisers leave some kind of sign that they were here. In our case, we’d found an old crab pot float on Normans Cay and a piece of driftwood. Bill carved our boat name and the year into the foam float and fastened the driftwood stick to the back as a stake. We wanted to leave our mark!
Since it’s a preserve, there are lots of fish in Warderick Wells. While snorkeling, we saw big lobsters hiding in the reefs. There are groupers, yellow tails, blue fish, striped fish, and even sharks. The water is a bit chilly, and a lot of snorkelers wore wet suits. Sandy was one of them. Occasionally you’d see the slow moving shadow of a sea turtle crossing the anchorage. People had fun feeding several lemon sharks that like to hang around the dock near headquarters. There was even “Bubba”, the king of the barracuda, in the area. He liked to hang behind your boat, waiting for table scraps that you might throw overboard. Bill once threw him a banana peel, but he seemed to be looking for something “meatier”
One of the volunteers, Bill (Highlander), is a degreed environmentalist and makes a living leading nature tours, canoe trips, etc. For a project, the ranger had him review the materials they already had on the island and recommend future programs(there are none now). The next day he lead a guided nature tour and did an excellent job, detailing some of the environmental history of the Bahamas and pointing out the mechanisms plants and animals have used to adapt to this fairly arid, salty climate. It was interesting to find out that the entire chain was originally heavily forested and that the lumbering essentially turned the islands into deserts.
Warderick Wells and the Exuma Land Sea Park … a stop not to miss!