The side trip from the Great Loop to the Central Bahama Islands was planned to continue south past Great Exuma Island and across the Tropic of Cancer. Instead of the normal blue skies associated with the islands in the spring of the year, the crew experienced high winds, rough seas, gray skies, and rain. With the need to return home sooner, the journey was cut short. The voyage accomplished included stops at Bimini, Andros, past Nassau, a number of Exuma Cays and Eleuthera.
A look at the location of the Bahama Islands may be helpful to understand this voyage. This island country is east of South Florida and north of Cuba. From the Florida Keys, a trip to Cuba would have been a similar distance. A number of areas of deep water (as much as 15,000 feet) have to be transited.
The bright blue waters of Bimini greeted Last Dance after a crossing of the Gulf Stream from Key Largo. After a long day on rolling seas, the sight of land is always welcomed.
Bimini is located closer to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida than it is to any of the other major Bahama islands. Its location has made it a major entry point to the country and, with deep, fish-filled waters within sight of shore, it draws many U.S. based fishing tournaments.
The color and quaintness of the Bahamian communities are quickly visible in Bimini. The Dolphin House has a museum on the first floor and rental apartments on the second. The outside of the building is covered in tile and stone.
The small Methodist church displays interesting architecture. Were the flying buttresses part of the original design or a shoring up after a storm?
Bimini consists of two islands: South Bimini and North Bimini. While North Bimini has the most population and is the seat of government, South Bimini had the old military runway and, thus the airport. Not to be outdone, North Bimini also has an airport, pictured at left. Seaplanes land in the harbor alongside of the marinas and taxi onto this beach -- negates the need to take the ferry between the islands.
Many larger boats cruise the central Bahamas. AlumimericA is a 123'8" yacht, built in Holland, having traveled around Cape Horn and cruised the Alaskan coast. As with many larger boats, it is available for charter (you shouldn't miss the opportunity). With that name, you would correctly guess that it is constructed of aluminum.
Anchoring on the Banks
With customs and a Bahamian telephone purchase delaying departure from Bimini, no island could be reached before sunset. A new experience of anchoring in the middle of the Bahama Banks, out of sight of any object, other than the setting sun, was a new experience for the crew.
The harbor was also host to many boats abandoned by their owners. Options abound for those interested in a project boat with no initial investment.
Numerous sea urchins were in the shallow waters of the harbor. They camouflage themselves by picking up shells and holding them on their backs. This poor guy found a plastic fork and is carrying it around. An example of how plastic is causing damage to the islands.
The Exuma Land and Sea Park is a 176 square mile area including many islands and an 8 mile wide area of water along the island chain. Some of the islands in the park are park owned, others private, including one owned by Johnnie Depp. It is a no-take zone, with no fishing, lobstering, or shelling. This provides for an environment rich in sea life. Just to the right of the park office (above) is a reef full of coral, wide variety of fish, and huge lobsters.
The Park headquarters is on Warderick Wells Cay, which has many natural attractions.
The eastern shore of Warderick Wells borders the deep waters of Exuma Sound with tall bluffs of ironstone worn by continually crashing waves.
The western shore borders the shallow Bahama Banks and has a harbor protected by a chain of smaller islands. There is a narrow creek-like deep waterway cut along the island by the tidal currents. The Park has installed moorings along this area creating secure, protected places to stop.
Emerald Rock lies on the west side of Warderick Wells and has some interesting reefs around it.
There are beaches behind Emerald Rock with hiking trails across the island. One of the trails at this point leads past the ruins of a settlement of Loyalists who moved to the Bahamas in the late 1700's, after the American Revolution.
One trail leads across the island to the highest point, BooBoo Hill. The hike provides a slice of the different terrain and variety of fauna on the island.
BooBoo Hill not only provides amazing views of the islands and waters, it is a place where cruisers document their arrival at the island with names of boats inscribed on pieces of driftwood.
Amazing places are reached by cruising through the Exuma Cays. Cruising also brings one in contact with many interesting people. At the weekly happy hour at the Park, cruisers mingled and also got to know some of the Bahama Defense Force members stationed here.
The Park has moorings at other islands within the park boundaries, including Cambridge Cay above. On the east side of the island, a large rock stands just offshore. Its name is derived from its shape - Bell Rock.
Each island has local flora and fauna, often different from island to island.
Low tide reveals the Bahamian snails among the rocks.
The Exumas are known for their clear waters. Here, Pearl seems to float in the air behind Last Dance.
Much of the beauty of the Exumas lies under the water. A purchase of an underwater camera was considered for this part of the journey, but one was never obtained. Fortunately, Robin Roberts has such equipment and shared some images she captured.
Coral formations at the Aquarium Reef near Cambridge.
Christmas Tree Worms on Brain Coral
A Lion Fish swims at Emerald Rock. The invasive species was introduced to waters in Florida and the Bahamas by pet owners who, when tired of the care required, dumped their aquariums into the sea. The Lion Fish has poisonous tips on their feather-like fins and have no natural enemies in these waters. Another of man's negative interactions with the environment.
An amazing sunset on the second visit to Warderick Wells. What made this sunset so notable was that this short glimpse of the fiery orb was its only appearance in three days.
Spanish Wells, Eleuthera
Spanish Wells is an island at the northern end of Eleuthera. It is a Bahamian settlement with an economy based on fishing. The crawfish boats are all in great condition, many appear like new. There are no hotels, resorts or bars on the island.
Spanish Wells does have the colorful, tropical-landscaped homes of the Bahamas.
Even the Spanish Wells All Ages School is painted colorfully.
There are only two main roads on the island. The one along the bay side of the island crosses the marine railway at the repair yard. A section of road has to be removed to move boats from the water to the work area. But, with the laid-back pace of the Bahamians, no one probably notices when the road is closed.
The side streets connecting the two parallel roads were designed when transportation methods were by walking or animal. Today, golf carts are the main mode of transportation on the island.
The road on the other side of the island is located a bit off the northern shoreline, which gives great views to buildings located there. The Methodist Church sits right on the ocean.
To the north of Spanish Wells lies the deep and wide Northeast Providence Channel, a body of water that must be crossed to reach the Abaco Islands. This makes Spanish Wells a good place to wait for settled weather, which was not to be on the day of this photo.