Over the next couple of issues we will explore the most popular part of the Bahamas from a cruising standpoint and we are going to start at the Exuma Land & Sea Park.
The park is towards the northern part of the Exumas Island chain and was established in 1958 to provide a safe haven and replenishment area for the wildlife native to the Bahamas and to educate the public in saving this beautiful environment for future generations. The taking of fish, conch, lobsters, or shells is not allowed inside the park and this has helped the entire chain’s seafood population immensely!
The first island we are going to visit is Shroud Cay, which is the northernmost island in the park. This island is pretty much a swamp in the middle and offers some great kayaking opportunities through several salt water tidal creeks. One of them took me all the way across the island to an amazing shallow bay. When I climbed over a sand dune, I was at the beach. Kayaking through this island is so quiet and peaceful you will love the time you spend here.
The next island down is Hawksbill Cay. This island was settled in 1785 by the Russell family, who were loyalist to the British crown escaping the newly formed America. The ruins include 10 houses and outbuildings. Unfortunately the rocky ground did not provide long term success for the family. Around the island, you will also find a nice beach to relax on, small caves or natural wells, fresh water swampy areas, and a pile of rocks used as a navigational aid in the past.
Warderick Wells Cay
Now we are arriving at Warderick Wells Cay, which is the park headquarters. The anchorage is a deep tidal creek circling a very shallow sand flat where you pick up a mooring ball. At the headquarters, you can rent DVDs, get wifi, and see some displays like an impressive sperm whale. The most famous thing here is the top of Boo Boo Hill, where boaters have been placing driftwood with their boat name on it for decades. This is to remember a shipwreck here in the late 1800’s. The survivors gathered here to remember their lost shipmates. Sometimes you can hear the cries of the deceased… or it could be the nearby blow holes.
This island has an extensive hiking trail system and along it you will find several different ruins. At the southern tip is a natural fresh water well and Pirates Lair, where actual pirates would camp in the past. It provided the needed fresh water and some R&R off the boat. In that aspect it is not much different than cruising today. At dusk watch for the hutia to come out. These rodents are the only native mammals to the Bahamas and were reintroduced to this island, since apparently their numbers dropped so much due to them being quite tasty.
A lot of the next islands are private, so our final stop is Rocky Dundas at the very southern end of the park. It is basically a huge limestone rock which has had two caves carved into it by the sea. You have to swim in. Once inside, admire the amazing rock formations including one that looks like aliens.
Come back over the next issues as we visit the upper and lower Exumas.