(The Brigantines & Hawksbill Rocks)
On Friday, March 27th, after getting Christopher's friend Erik back to Texas the day before (concluding his week long spring break with us), we were ready to leave Barreterre for our next big adventure - a trip to the Jumentos. The Jumentos are a 110 mile or so crescent shaped chain of uninhabited islands, rocks and cays lying on the southeastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank along the Crooked Island Passage. There is only one settlement in the Jumentos, with about 75 residents, at the southern end of the chain. The Jumentos are considered well off the beaten path, wild and deserted, ripe for exploration, visited less often by cruising boats, and full of fish and lobster.
To get to the Jumentos we decided to take a non-traditional route, sailing around the north end of Great Exuma Island and then crossing the relatively shallow banks for about a 60 mile passage total. The Bahamian mail boats use this inside route regularly, but it is not a common route for cruising boats.
Before leaving Barreterre, we stopped in to Ray Ann's Store for a few fresh vegetables. Ray Ann's Store is a typical Bahamian out island store - just a tiny room with a few metal shelves, sparsely dressed with a limited number of products, and a vintage refrigerator and deep freeze - but unlike most, they keep a small "farm" (a big garden) out back. Cruising cognoscenti know to ask Julia, the woman who runs the store, if it's possible that day to pick fresh vegetables. Julia calls her father-in-law who walks you through the garden, picking what you want - a fresh tomato or two and a half dozen green ones to ripen in a few days, fresh okra, an eggplant, or a "pumpkin" (squash). When Nancy asked for a few bananas, he cut an entire stalk right off the tree! After weeks or months of the typical overpriced, old, flown-in-from-the-States vegetables we're used to, off-the-vine fresh is a nice treat. Nancy and Chris started in the garden while Dave and Josh dinghied to a gas station to fill our dinghy gas jug. Eventually we all got to wander through the garden. We left with our arms full and smiles on our faces.
The tide was high enough by 11 am to let us safely raise the anchor and leave Barreterre. The "deep water route" (a little over 6 feet at high tide) from the town harbor runs very close to the jagged ironstone edge of the island for well over a mile, making for a slightly nervous passage even in good conditions. The winds had abated some after the windy week of Erik's visit, and we enjoyed an hour of slow motoring to Jimmy Cay in the Brigantines, a long stretch of cays running northwest of Great Exuma Island. The banks around these cays are very shallow, with huge expanses close to dry at low tide, and deep narrow cuts between the cays. We anchored just north of Jimmy Cay and False Cay, setting a Bahamian moor (two anchors set 180 degrees apart) because of the strong currents that flow through the cuts, reversing with every change of the tide.
As soon as the anchors were set, we jumped in the dinghy to explore a long, winding mangrove creek east of Jimmy Cay. Motoring slowly in the shallow creek, we spotted baby sharks, rays and turtles, and lots of fish, including a large puffer. Sometimes the boys like to get out of the dinghy to explore the creeks or the mangroves at the banks, or to swim, and Nancy and Dave will float along with the motor off enjoying the peace and quiet (and the hoots and calls of the playing boys!). We spent another day at anchor in the Brigantines, taking a four mile dinghy ride over the shallow banks to a cut between Lily Cay and Brigantine Cay to the west. We'd read in the guide book that the diving was great between those two cays, but the current turned out to be terribly strong (we tried to time slack tide, but it was very short) and the diving was too deep (over 25 feet, and in somewhat murky water). We did enjoy the dinghy ride over the banks in shallow water, sometimes just a foot deep.
On Sunday we sailed from Jimmy Cay four hours to the Hawksbill Rocks, a smattering of small rocks and a tiny cay, plus many shallow reefs, all surrounding a completely unprotected bay. The weather was pretty benign, and we convinced ourselves we'd get enough protection behind the one little island to justify staying a night. The snorkeling was absolutely fantastic - shallow reefs covered in huge sea fans and gorgonians swaying in the current, vivid colors, and fish galore. Even better (in the boys' opinion) was the hunting - the rocks were just full of lobster. Dave had been hearing from veteran hunters that "when you find one bug, you find a bunch," but he'd never before had the experience of diving down to peek under a coral head and seeing up to 8 pairs of antennae waving back at him. We enjoyed fresh fish and lobster for dinner, and even put a few in the freezer for later. We spent hours in the water, moving from one little reef area to another, snorkeling and hunting and marveling at the beauty of this pristine jewel of a spot. In our later travels when we described our stop at the Hawksbill Rocks, we don't recall that anyone had ever heard of the spot, much less stopped and snorkeled it. The one downside, of course, manifested itself at night - it was a rolly anchorage, even in settled weather.
We survived the night, however, and got the anchor up and were away Monday morning before 8 am for a beautiful 9 hour passage across the banks to Water Cay in the Jumentos. The exceptionally clear water ranged from about 12 to 28 feet deep, with many scattered deep coral heads - virtually none near the surface - and all the shallow spots seemed to be well charted on our electronic charts. We had to run the engine for 6 hours of the 9 hour passage, but we did get in a few hours of good sailing and lots of motorsailing at lower RPMs. During the afternoon, we met up with Tauá, our Swiss friends, as they were sailing south from George Town to Water Cay. Arriving at Water Cay, we ran down the west side of the north-south oriented island, looking for the right spot to anchor. Water Cay has a long, high ridge running like a spine down the island, and it is only 20 yards wide in spots. There is one place where winds and waves have worn away the ridge so that at high tide the waves actually break and roll through a very shallow cut into the anchorage. We anchored right at that break in the hills so we could get the good east breeze and have a fantastic view of the deep blue waters of the Crooked Island Passage waters just on the other side of Water Cay. Tauá anchored just south of Liberty, and we quickly got on the radio to plan a rendezvous on the beach.
Anchor down and set in deep white sand by 4:30 pm, cocktails on a beautiful beach with good friends an hour later, kids running around, exploring and playing - this is what the cruising life is all about.
A gorgeous Southern Stingray at Hawksbill Rocks
Ray Ann's - a decent sized grocery store by Bahamian standards
We had to come in close to the rocks to get in and out of Barreterre
The pristine turquoise waters of the Brigantines
The 3 guys having fun on the little sand spit
A lizard the boys found (and caught) on the rocks by Jimmy Cay
An interesting rock formation near Jimmy Cay, exposed at low tide
A magnificent Queen Triggerfish surrounded by some small Grunts, Porgies, and Snappers
Beautful coral and gorgonian formations at Hawksbill Rocks
Christmas Tree Worms (plume worms) covering a mound of Mustard Hill Coral
A purple variety of Thin Finger Coral
Sunset over one of the Hawksbill Rocks