In 1958, the Bahamian Parliament set aside 176 square miles of islands and surrounding seas as protected national parks. The Bahamas National Trust administers these parks – one of the only non-profit, non-governmental organizations in the world to manage a country’s conservation efforts. (Sometimes I wish the US national parks were protected in a similar way from political wrangling. Poor Bears Ears). The goal of the park is to protect fish and wildlife, and to conserve the islands within it in their natural, undeveloped state. And thank goodness they do, because the result is an amazing, gorgeous cruising ground, filled with sea life and with natural wonders.
Our first introduction to the park was at Shroud Cay, where we explored the magical beaches that appear at low tide, and went for a “dinghy hike” through the mangrove creeks.
The water at Shroud Cay was so clear, we could see every ripple and rock on the bottom from the bow of the boat in 18 feet of water. Or, toes from 5 ft 9 inches, during a floating happy hour on the beach!
It was fun getting lost in the mangroves…. puttering along at no-wake speed, tossing a coin to decide which direction to go at intersections, drifting the dinghy onto sand at dead ends. We saw a turtle, and sting rays, and finally did find a beautiful sandy beach on the ocean side of the Cay.
The best part of our stay at Shroud Cay was that Drew and Sharon on Z-Raye (who we hadn’t seen since Key West) sailed all the way up from Georgetown and surprised us there! The entire team from St Petersburg marina Dock 4 is reunited again!
Mike planting a tree on Shroud Cay beach
The jewel in the crown of Exuma Cays Park is Warderick Wells Cay. If you have an image in your mind of what an island in the Bahamas might look like, this is probably the closest match! The north mooring field is a narrow U-shaped band of deep water with room for about 20 boats, surrounded by shallow reefs and sandbars, excellent for snorkeling. At low tide, the central sand bar becomes an off-leash dog park and sundowners hang out. There is no development on the island, except for the ranger station and residence.
Legend has it that a ship wrecked just off shore of Warderick Wells, and the ghosts of the ship’s crew haunt BooBoo Hill, moaning and wailing in their despair. Today, cruisers leave driftwood signs with their ship names atop the hill in the hope of better luck for themselves and their vessels. It is the only place in the part that varies from true Leave No Trace ethic; as long as the signs are made of natural materials, the offers are encouraged. I made my own, accidental offering to the gods of the sea. Returning to Sanitas in the dinghy one evening after Sundowners, I lost my polarized prescription sunglasses off the top of my head in the frenzy of activity while boarding the boat. Capt Mike kept into action, scanning the water with a flashlight, and stripping down in preparation to go for a swim. But the current swept them away.
The whole crew took a long hike one morning. Although we are right a sea level, it is surprisingly tricky hiking, with the rocks and sand and small steep hills. But the rewarding views of oceanbeach, tropical vegetation, and boat harbor are stunning. The island is named Warderick Wells because the fresh rain water forms a “lens” floating on top of the saltwater in the works of the island, and people used to live on this island by harvesting the water from wells in the porous rock. It also supports a larger variety of vegetation than you find on most islands.
It’s no wonder that celebrities such as Johnny Depp and David Copperfield keep private islands in this part of the Bahamas. We’ve become Bahamas National Trust members, so I certainly hope to stop at the park again o; our way back north. Trust members get priority in the daily scramble for mooring balls. It’s a fun process to eavesdrop in on the VHF. Sherri, at the park, mans the radio on channel 9 at 8:00 am. First, she asks for departing vessels, who tend to make a shaft but gracious speech about how much they have enjoyed their stay, and thanking Sherri for her support. Then who plans to arrive today; and you can hear the stress in their voices, as they wait to learn whether a ball is available for them, or if they need to find another, less gorgeous, spot for the night. Finally, folks who plan to arrive tomorrow request to be added to a waiting list for moorings. All of this chatter takes place with the usual VHF radio protocol. Hail ” Exuma Park”, wait to be recognized, make your request ( hoping your radio is high powered enough to be heard), repeat back what Sherri said to ensure you heard correctly. Sounds easy, until every boat within range is calling out their boats name at the same time, stepping on each other’s transmissions, ignoring the polite order and protocol, or being too pushy and getting of Shari’s bad side. It is good Theater first thing in the morning!