Bell & O’Brien Cays—Cambridge Area
Our next journey brought us to the southernmost islands within the Exumas Land and Sea Park. We left out of our anchorage from Warderwick Wells and sailed a relatively short distance to where we would spend our last night in the park.
Approaching the islands from the “bank” side we were enthralled by the largest construction achievement yet. Standing on Bell Island was a set of concrete masterpieces. The first in the set was a ship’s basin/port for an obviously monstrous-sized vessel. Not only did the port have a dock and well dredged channel to bring the ship into—it had a means of also pulling the vessel out of the water for storage inside a facility that resembled the bunker of Charles Xavier’s house on X-Men. As I peered into the open bay doors, I imagined some sort of supersonic jet inside—in wait for its next mission.
The other buildings on the island were clearly living quarters of some kind yet displayed the design of the cross between a Frank Loyd Wright house and some government agency building. As the waters surrounding the private estate were public, we ventured closely enough to admire the remote engineering marvels.
A SIDE NOTE FROM BETHANY
He was feeling rather adventurous and after relying solely on visual navigation the entire day—He’s always pushing for more and testing the limits. He knows things and what he doesn’t inherently know, he learns. Oftentimes I think his plan is unrealistic, or even pure insanity. Like the first time he wanted to use the sails on the ICW, or when he assured me the stationary power lines were tall enough to sail under, or when he decided we would leave the safe haven of the ICW and venture out on the open ocean from Port Everglades! My responses are always along the lines of: “Really? You’re serious?” And then for some reason I regurgitate the said plan, “Wait, you mean we’re going to actually use the sails, like right now... while on the ICW?” And...”So you’re saying it’s totally fine to sail underneath those seemingly low hanging power lines?” And...”Let me get this straight—we’re going out on the big, deep, actual ocean?!” Oh, but these experiences were FAR from unreal—they have been completely SURREAL! He’s confident, wise and bold and those character traits work well in the sailing environment. Don’t worry—even if my lack of confidence or knowledge causes some nervousness, I totally trust his decisions. Biblically, I’m bound to and as per the sailors creed, it all boils down to the Captain’s call. So, back to the situation we were about to encounter. This instance, I speak of, took some real faith—even for him. As we approached a narrow cut (approximately 30’ across... Note: Our beam is 10.5’ so that left less than 10’ on either side of us), a few factors led to his decision to attempt to sail through. We were already under sail and if we had ignited the engines, the Garmin screen which provides depth information, would have gone blank for a few minutes during its restart. Once I realized he was seriously going to sail through the tiny, jagged, coral rimmed cut, I went into hyper-negotiation mode, but he had already considered all the same thoughts and explained it was the only option. There was an Emmy-winning degree of suspense as he navigated right through the cut (only under sail) without any issue! As we passed between the shoal on our port, we could clearly view the gnarly submerged coral formations to our starboard side.
Back to Kyle--
Safely back in the dinghy, we headed to a nearby beach and spent the next hour spotting wildlife (spiders and lizards) and seashells when up popped a nasty looking squall which forced us to begin heading out.
Realizing we weren’t quite going to make it back to the boat we spotted a “mini-beach” (as Zion calls them) and pulled off to let the rain pass. At the beach we found hundreds of juvenile conch and a huge hermit crab. After just a few minutes of rain we headed back to the boat for dinner and bed.
The next morning we woke up to a decent breeze of about 13kts and decided that we would shave about 5 miles off the trip if we went out on the ocean side (Exuma Sound) down to Staniel Cay, our next stop. We left with an incoming tide and the cut through the cays was pleasant enough. However, after leaving the current of the incoming tide we got a good dose of the real sea conditions which consisted of 6-8' waves coming on our nose. This slowed us to a creeping pace of about 3kts, yet made for a white-knuckle experience as the bow pitched downwards into the trough of the wave and a rush of water came across the deck. Next an upward jolt would send the boat skyward as it rose to the peak of the wave. Once back down into the water, it repeated the cycle.
Bethany was completely in tune with me... was it perhaps the look of sheer terror on my face? She offered to check the charts for the next possible entrance back into the cays as I wrestled the wheel. Forty-five minutes later we had made it to the southern side of Cambridge Cay where the next viable inlet was. Taking the turn into the cut almost instantly calmed the waters as the current straightened the waves. Besides the lack of violent thrashing about, we were able to ride the current at almost 8kts before turning into the Compass Cay channel.
It was serene.
Navigating through small channels and cuts, around hills and houses, and passing boats and beaches we sailed the next 4 hours in some of the most beautiful, shallow turquoise water we had yet seen on the Bahamas Expedition. We also ran across a few more man-made marvels.
Lastly we turned into the Staniel Cay bore and were welcomed by kite surfers, the lovely Thunderball Grotto, a bay full of fellow adventure-seekers and an island dotted with colorful cottages. We made our way by a small exposed reef and dropped anchor 75 yards from the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.