The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery

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Bahamian Adventure

June 22 - June 24,  2001

These are the crystal clear waters the Bahamas are so famous for.  The hat, as funny looking as it was, kept the back of my head and neck cool in the intense sun and heat. 

   

From the moment my college bud Ron told me of his new business in the Bahamas, I was ready to go visit. He and his wife started a kayak outfit called Abaco Outback, that provides guided eco-paddling day tours of the area around Marsh Harbor on the island of Great Abaco in the Bahamas.  After getting together two other adventurers, we decided to set out on a 2 night paddling and camping trip to spend some time with friends and explore some of the local crystal clear Bahamian waters, uninhabitated tropical islands and a few Bahamian salt marshes and creeks.  

   

After a great deal of planning,  Dan, Tom and myself arrived  on June 21st by 'puddle jumper' in Marsh Harbor on the Bahamian island of Great Abaco from West Palm Beach.  The plane held only 10 passengers on each side and was so small you could not stand up in it. I was in the first seat and could literally have a conversation with the pilot because my seat was directly behind his.  I refrained from talking to him, as I thought it would be best for him to keep his attention on the flight controls during the 50 minute flight.  It was in Marsh Harbor  that we met up with Ron and his wife Erin, who had charted our course and prepared most of what we needed for our camping and paddling trip.  They also provided the boats ...along with a great deal of Bahamian hospitality.  After a nice sunset dinner at a local waterfront joint and some last minute planning, we slept real good at the Lofty Fig where we rented a villa for the night before our Bahamian camping and paddling expedition. 

   

On the morning of June 22, at around 6 am, we loaded ourselves and our gear into the Abaco Outback van with the trailer of our kayaks following behind us for a 30 minute ride to the launch site.  After fully loading up our Perception Prism sit-on-top kayaks, we launched out of Snake Cay at about 7 am under sunny, hot and very humid conditions.

A good part of the first day was spent paddling to a very small uninhabitated island called North Pelican Cay where we set up our camp. After landing, unloading our gear  and setting up our tents, we explored the island a bit on foot.  On the top of a pretty steep and high hill, we had a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding area.  It was at the top of this hill that we also knocked a few coconuts  off a palm tree with a large tree branch. After hacking it open with a machete, we drank the bitter milk and ate pieces of the tasteless unprocessed coconut.

 

The island was filled with small sandpipers, curly tail lizards and literally hundreds of hermit crabs which seemed to be getting into all of our stuff.  After making a fire for grilling and eating Ron's specially prepared garlic & herb marinated chicken , vegetables and rice, it began to get very windy and our tents looked as if they were going to blow away so we moved them up against the side of a rocky hill to shelter ourselves from the wind.  Shortly thereafter the ominous clouds moved in and the rain came down heavy and did so for a good part of the night.  We quickly retired to our tents and the 20-25 knot winds made them feel as if they were going to blow away again.  As it was the first night of the summer solstice, there was no moonlight, making the sky an extreme form of blackness.  Occasional bursts of lightning illuminated the summer sky and could be seen even thru the nylon covering of  our tents.  That night we attempted to sleep with the  intense sounds of a violently roaring surf, the fierce howling winds, the earth shaking thunder and constant pelting rain on our tents.  I finally fell asleep when the thunder stopped and the pelting rain on the tent became less severe.

I was one happy camper!

The next morning, after eating some nutrigrain breakfast bars and granola cereal, we departed North pelican Cay with a plan to go snorkeling at Sandy Cay reef.  On our way, we encountered a pretty severe squall which dumped some heavy but cooling rain on us.  Paddling in the rain wasn't too bad, but the crashing bolts of lightning and strong winds were very  scary to be paddling in.  We took  shelter on Sandy Cay as fast as we could paddle. On the island, we all crouched in the tall island grass for safety until the storm passed.  After the squall, and a few hours of paddling in the intense heat and sun, we paddled back out near the reef .  

     

Sandy Cay Reef is located in the Sea of Abaco and resides within the Pelican Cay Land & Sea Park. It is a living coral reef with mooring buoys to preserve the coral formations from damage by anchoring boats. It is located in such a way that on windy days when the ocean is too rough, the waters around Sandy Cay typically remain calm.  Sandy Cay Reef bottoms out at 25' while the top of the reef will break the surface at low tide, making this a good spot for snorkeling or diving. This is a protected area where fishing and the taking of any of the marine life is prohibited.

     

Once at the reef, we moored the kayaks,  donned our snorkels and fins, and swam over to a coral reef where we saw tons of brightly colored fish, sting rays, two nurse sharks and a few stray barracuda.  The photos above of the barracuda and the nurse shark were taken with one of those cheap disposable waterproof cameras. Since there was no zoom lens, Ron 'volunteered' to be the brave soul to dive down a few feet closer to get a better shot of the shark  (Thanks Ron!),  while the rest of us admired from a more comfortable distance at the surface.   Swimming and snorkeling through what seemed to be a giant natural salt water aquarium was the highlight of the day.  It also felt good to cool off in the water.

After snorkeling Sandy Cay reef, we paddled across Spencer's Bight to explore the ruins of Wilson City, an old logging town. After hiking through the remnants of the abandoned ruins of the town, we paddled back to Sandy Cay, watching developing storms all around us.  Ron taught us a bit about reading the clouds and it was very interesting to watch the storms developing and then finally seeing the ominous clouds turning to gray and then dumping the rain many miles away.  The picture above shows a storm in the distance with a developing waterspout. We ended up adjusting our itinerary a few times due to some more threatening thunder and lightning storms. It seemed with the storms all around, we were bound to get stuck in one, so we decided to get to the safest place as fast as we could.

   

We 'high-tailed' it across Bucaroon Bay in some light rain.  As the the winds picked up , they made some fierce waves for us to paddle through.  We finally made it back to the mainland of Great Abaco, setting up camp north of Bucaroon Bay, on a forested beach just south of the southern entrance to Snake Cay Creek.  Once we landed and set up camp, we noticed the area had many large deep holes in the sand everywhere.  We soon found out they were from land crabs which had bodies of about 5-6 inches in diameter and huge spider like legs.  They would hang outside their holes, until someone got too close, then they would quickly retreat to the safety in the depth of their hole.  Not shortly after we set up our camp, the next storm hit and dumped a torrential rain for a few hours into the early evening.  Dan used the storm as an opportunity to have a freshwater shower.  As the rain pelted and the thunder roared, we all sat in Ron and Dan's tent, eating cheese and crackers, drinking wine and talking about old times. As the hours passed and the wine bottle  got lighter, we wondered when this storm, which seemed particularly long, would end.  It ended at about 11 pm  and after a small nap I decided I would try to get a fire going to so we could cook our last night's dinner.  There wasn't a dry piece of wood to be found on the island and it was good planning that we had stored  some pieces in a plastic barrel we found on the island before the rain started.  After we got the fire going, we threw some potatoes in tin foil on the hot coals and cooked the remaining marinated chicken breasts.  We enjoyed our dinner that night at the edge of the beach while sitting on our kayaks with only a propane lantern for light.  Aside from the light of the lantern and our campfire, the rest of the island was pitch black.  We ate a delicious and long awaited  dinner sitting on our kayaks and staring out into the blackness of the bay.

   

The next morning after loading our gear into the boats, we paddled into the Snake Cay Creek via the southern entrance and snorkeled over a salt water blue hole locals call "toilet Bowl" because of the whirlpools created by water rushing through the underwater caverns. We then continued north up the creek to drift snorkel over "dummy conch crawl" which is a deep hole with lots of tropical reef fish in it. This drift was about 150 meters long over a patch reef eco-system. Sharks, turtles, morays, and barracuda are abundant here. As we neared the last leg of our trip, I sensed a quiet and reflective disappointment from everyone that the trip would soon be over. We paddled through a mangrove creek and saw a 3ft reef shark glide right next to our kayaks in less than 3 ft of water.  We then ate lunch on a nearby rocky beach and finished up the portion of our trip back at the launch site on Snake Cay.  We landed just in time as Erin arrived with the trailer and greeted us with ice cold waters and beers.

   

After our paddling adventure, we relaxed a bit, and unloaded our gear while Ron and Erin got their boat ready for our trip over to Guana Cay.  In Guana Cay, there are no paved roads and no cars and people travel in golf carts.  Other than the few natives that live there, most people arrive to the isle by boat from surrounding islands to enjoy the beaches, the nightlife and the pool at Nippers (the place that most islanders boat over to for an afternoon of food, folks and fun).  In Guana Cay we planned to enjoy the beautiful beaches and take in some afternon action over at Nippers . Me, Tom and Erin got 'nipped' at Nipper's, while Dan opted for some A/C, a shower, and a nap in our villa at CoCo Paradise.  On the walk back, we stopped off for a relaxing swim in the crystal clear water of the  beautiful secluded area at Dolphin Beach before we returned to the villa to shower and get ready for dinner.  At sunset and after a few  "CoCo Locos" at the beach bar on the deck at our small resort, we walked in total darkness down a dirt path to the Mermaid Cafe.  The Mermaid Cafe was very rustic and homey and there were only two other parties in the whole place, one of which Erin and Ron had known.  We enjoyed a very nice dinner of chicken , conch and salmon in addition to two bottles of wine as we joked,  laughed and told Erin more stories of our previous day's paddling adventures.  As we ate, another storm hit, knocking power out in the restaurant a few times.  At one point, the power was out for about 20 minutes, however we didn't seem to notice, or even care. We had a small candle lantern in the middle of our table that provided all the light we needed..besides..the wine had us in too relaxed a mood to be concerned about something so trivial.  

   

I think I could really get used to this island life.

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Here are some Bahamas websites to check out

[Abaco Outback Kayak Tours]     [Abaco Islands Vacation Guide]

[Marsh Harbor Vacation Guide]   [Lofty Fig Villas]

[Dolphin Beach Resort]  [Nipper's Bar & Grill]  [Friends of the Environment]

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