After nearly four months in the Bahamas, we finally arrived in the Jumentos! We had been hearing about this cruising paradise from other adventurous cruisers for months - the pristine beaches on deserted islands, lobster and hogfish leaping into the dinghy and onto the grill, a single welcoming settlement with only about 75 permanent residents, and more goats than people. Well, the Jumentos are all this, and more. A 110 mile crescent of small islands, cays and rocks, the Jumentos sit perched at the far southeastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, with the deep blue waters of the Crooked Island Passage and the Atlantic to the east and the shallow waters of the banks, with abundant deep reefs, blue holes and long stretches of sandy bottom, to the west. The uppermost 40 miles of the Jumentos (also called the Ragged Islands) have only small islands with no real safe anchorages, and are visited primarily by Bahamian fishermen. Water Cay is the northernmost island where most cruisers begin their exploration of the Jumentos, and that is where we rendezvoused with our good friends Peter, Monika and Claudia on Tauá on March 31st to begin a two week visit.
About 20 miles out from Water Cay we heard Tauá on the VHF radio, so we called them and discovered they were about the same distance (but coming from the direction of Long Island). Our courses merged about 5 miles from the anchorage and we sailed the last hour nearly together (but with Tauá just a little in the lead).). At the north end of Water Cay we rounded a point and ran down the anchorage with the island to our east, looking for a spot to anchor for a couple of days. We dropped the hook at a low spot where wind and sea has nearly eroded away the ridge of the island, and where at high tide the ocean flows across the island into the anchorage. Tauá anchored just a bit south, behind a high bluff.
March 31 - April 11, 2009
As soon as our anchors were set at Water Cay, the crews of Liberty and Tauá met on the beach so the kids could explore and the adults could compare recent cruising adventures. We had last been together a couple of weeks earlier in the Exumas, before Christopher's friend Erik came for a Spring Break visit to Liberty. As the sun began falling to the horizon, we agreed to meet for a quick easy dinner [on Tauá] to continue the conversation. It seems so easy to spend significant quality time with both friends and family in our cruising lifestyle.
We spent another two days at Water Cay, doing school, snorkeling and exploring. Because it is the northernmost safe anchorage in the Jumentos, lots of commercial fishermen come here on the way from and to Long Island and even Nassau, cleaning fish and conch in the harbor, and the sharks know it is a great place to pick up an easy meal. In the afternoon there are frequently sharks cruising slowly through the anchorage, a fairly unusual sight. We often see them on reefs, but seldom in anchorages. There is plenty of wonderful snorkeling close to Water Cay, including three blue holes. Surrounded by shallow reefs, these blue holes are about 100 or so feet across, nearly circular, and drop straight down to depths of 80 to 100 feet or more. The day we left Water Cay to head south, we anchored on the banks between a blue hole and a very large, very shallow reef that we'd heard was one of the most beautiful reefs to snorkel in the Bahamas. By dinghy we first snorkeled around the edge and over the top of the blue hole, then dove on the reef. Every form of coral was featured on this reef, including huge stands of live elkhorn coral, fans, gorgonians, and more. We dove in the deeper waters for several huge conch, evidence that these waters are still good fishing grounds. The swells here were pretty large to be at anchor, so we cut short our diving trip to continue the 10 mile sail to Flamingo Cay. We had good winds, and sailed most of the way, turning on the engine to motor into the anchorage on the north side of the island.
When we arrived at the north anchorage at Flamingo, we dropped the hook among four other boats, two with kids aboard! Side by Side and Miakoda, two families on catamarans, became our next new set of friends as we explored the Flamingo Cay area together for the next few days. Side by Side, from upstate New York with a boy and girl on board pretty close in age to Chris and Josh, and Miakoda, from Annapolis with twin girls age 8 on board, had been traveling in the Jumentos for a while and were able to tell us of the wonderful islands to come in our adventure. During our time at Flamingo, we snorkeled on the reefs and hunted, hung out together at a beach barbeque/bonfire complete with a marshmallow roast, and enjoyed a potluck on Side by Side (with the kids returning to Liberty after dinner to watch a movie while the adults hung out). The moon was nearly full the night of the potluck, and after dinner and sunset one of us was out on deck and saw a huge spotted eagle ray gliding in the water near the boat, illuminated by the bright moonlight. The scene was magical, and the ray graced us with her presence for quite a while, circling the boat and soaking up our oooohhhs and aaahhhhs and "wow, look at that's". Flamingo Cay has a large cave on the west side of the island, big enough to bring a couple of dinghies in at low tide. We explored the cave one day with Tauá, and even climbed out a hole at the top of the cave onto the island to explore. All the kid boats were on the same schedule - school and boat chores during the mornings, which gave the men an opportunity to organize a couple of morning hunting trips to the many reefs lying on the banks west of the island, and fun and play in the afternoons.
After three days of hanging out and enjoying time with friends new and old, and with at least one postponed departure (as Side by Side was heading north, Miakoda was hanging out and Liberty and Tauá were heading south), we finally raised our anchors on Sunday morning, April 5th, for a planned offshore sail 35 miles south to Johnson Cay. Underway by 8:20 am, we sailed inside Flamingo Cay and Man O' War Cay before turning offshore at the Man O' War channel. The forecast was for moderate east winds, and we hoped to catch some fish as we sailed the deep waters of the sound east of the Jumentos and south of the Crooked Island Passage. The winds ended up being a little south of east, so we
Johnson Cay is small - a hike around the perimeter of the entire island is just 2 miles - with the most beautiful cove on the northwestern side. The crescent moon beach, covered in deep, talcum-powder soft sand, wraps much of the way around the 10 foot deep anchorage over white sand and scattered sea grass, with room for just 4 or 5 boats to anchor comfortably. With prevailing east to southeast winds, Johnson Cay provides an absolutely heavenly anchorage.
After arriving Sunday afternoon, through our departure Tuesday morning, we started getting to know this wonderful island. We hiked all over, catching glimpses of bleating goats that wander freely. We discovered areas on the windward shore where wave action is breaking up the coral and rocky shore and tumbling large rocks inland, and we developed a theory as to why the beach on the leeward side of the island (away from the prevailing wind, and where we're anchored) is formed of some of the softest sand we've every had the pleasure of digging our toes into. We harvested Crooked Island Passage natural sea salt (over 2 cups of it) from tiny tide pools on the windward side that are low enough to collect sea water when mighty waves roll in, but high enough that they have the time necessary (days? weeks? months?) to evaporate and create solid salt crystals up to 5 inches deep. After drying out the salt, we plan to put it in our salt grinder, on top of the Mediterranean sea salt we currently use - visitors to Liberty should be able to enjoy this culinary delight in coming months. We found beautiful shells and over a hundred sea beans on the beaches here at Johnson Cay, and nice snorkeling too - gorgeous corals and sea fans and fish, with plenty of big eating fish too. We even found hogfish, one of our favorites - Dave speared a huge one (24 inches) as well as a few smaller ones. The big one was enough to provide for dinner for Liberty and Tauá.
At Johnson Cay, and throughout the Jumentos, we must share our afternoon snorkeling and evening fish cleaning in the anchorages with the so-called "greycoats" - sharks - who are reputedly more active in the spring, their breeding season. (Note to grandparents and others who care - we do not spearfish after about 2 pm, and we don't swim in the anchorage with fish carcasses). We have discovered fertile soil here at Johnson Cay, rare in the Bahamas - the red dirt has blown from Africa across the Atlantic during the last few millennia, where it settles on the islands of the Caribbean and Bahamas. Rains carry the soil into bowl shaped depressions (not found on every island) where it collects, rich brown or red (compared to the typical lighter colored sand), through the years. On inhabited islands, the presence of this rare fertile soil is often marked by gardens, banana trees and the like.
A foul weather forecast cut short our time at Johnson Cay. When the winds turn north in the Jumentos, there are only a couple of anchorages that provide any protection from the winds, and those generally come with swelly, rolly conditions that make the passage of a norther an uncomfortable two or three day event. We left Johnson Cay the morning of April 7th for the thirty minute, 1.5 mile trip to Man O' War Bay at Raccoon Cay where we would find protection from the west and northwest winds. At Raccoon we found beautiful snorkeling, including huge stands of elkhorn coral (one protected by an equally huge green moray eel), but again we had to share the reefs with sharks swimming lazily around.
The sharks didn't show up until Chris speared a huge hogfish early in the afternoon. Chris had seen the fish around a certain reef near shore as he was snorkeling with his mom. After retrieving his polespear from the dinghy, Chris searched for the hogfish, tracked it around the reef, and speared it right in the head (so as to not damage any of the good eating parts). The fish was so heavy that Chris quickly called Dave over and handed off the spear with the fish on the end so Dave could lift it out of the water for the swim to shore. Almost immediately Chris spotted a small lemon shark swimming towards him - he swears it was nipping at his fins, but there might be just a bit of exaggeration in that story. Even so,
We spent a very rolly night at anchor in Man O' War Bay, with swells wrapping around the island and coming in from the northeast despite the northwest winds, so the next morning we moved around the south end of Raccoon Cay to Little Kiln Bay on the west side, hoping to find protection from the now northeast winds and swells. The anchorage was a little less rolly, and more comfortable after we set an anchor bridle to turn Liberty into the swells while riding at anchor. School and a little beachcombing and snorkeling occupied our day, and together with Tauá we raised anchor the next morning early to motor about 4 miles back to Johnson Cay.
We've decided that Johnson Cay is one of the most beautiful islands we've been to, although the conditions during our second visit were not as favorable. The anchorage is open to the northeast, so the cold front that had made us move to Raccoon Cay for northeasterly protection had set up a swell in the deep waters just east of Johnson (and all the Jumentos, really), and this easterly swell would wrap around the long finger of land and rocks and reefs projecting north on the east side of the Johnson Cay anchorage and roll gently into the bay from the northeast. Gently, of course, until the swells encountered the side of Liberty's hull, since our bow was pointing into the now southeasterly breezes. Each swell would roll us from side to side, and occasionally we'd get into a rhythm that would roll us back and forth violently (remember the film footage of the Tacoma Narrows bridge? That was us sometimes.) We ended up setting a bridle, an anchoring technique that points the bow into oncoming swells and lets the wind blow across the side of the boat rather than from the bow. Then, the boat pitches up and down with the swells, a much more manageable and normal feeling sensation.
We enjoyed a couple more days of bliss (with the bridle) at Johnson Cay before sailing 15 miles south on Saturday morning, April 11th to Hog Cay and Duncan Town for Easter.
were able to sail some and motorsail most of the way, and our only luck on the fishing lines was several barracuda and a mahi that got away. Tauá was luckier (or more skillful), landing a blackfin tuna and a cero mackerel. We pulled into the anchorage on the north side of Johnson Cay just before 4 pm, in time to invite Tauá over for a sushi and grilled mackerel dinner - they brought the fish and we provided the rest!
there might be just a bit of exaggeration in that story. Even so, Dave got to swimming pretty fast, looking back over his shoulder the entire way! Back on board, the hogfish measured out at 22.5", enough to provide two meals for the family.
Erosion has carved a shallow cut
(dry at low tide) through Water Cay to the ocean
A beautiful sunset over the Jumentos
Queen Angelfish on the reefs
Chris underwater on the reefs
Potluck on the beach with friends
We dinghied into this cave and explored
Josh & Claudia climb out a hole at the back of the cave
Peter making sushi aboard Liberty
Liberty at anchor at gorgeous Johnson Cay
Ocean side of Johnson Cay with
tide pools that collect sea salt
Beautiful shells abound on all the islands of the Bahamas
This reef shark shared our anchorage,
hoping we would feed him a morsel
Two Hogfish & a Schoolmaster
Raccoon Cay and surrounding islands in the Jumentos
Chris and Josh pose for a school picture
Peter & Josh flying a kite on the beach
Marshmallow roast on the beach
Goats run wild on these islands