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Bahamas Cruise
2011
The Yacht Freedom
~ The Yacht Freedom ~
Warderick Wells, Exuma
Bluebloods, Brits, Banshees, Bones & Buccaneers
Around 11:00 AM, we departed for the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells. The journey started out under sail, but within an hour we had to turn into the wind, drop our canvas, and wake up the mistress. The wind whipped the waves into a sloppy chop that sent Neptune to the onions, but luckily, it would only take four short hours to get behind the lee of the island.

Though the park offered a couple dozen mooring balls, Re Metau's deep draft caused too much worry to navigate through the shifting, shallow inlet of the lagoon, so we motored up to the designated anchorage off Emerald Rock. Shortly after, a familiar form followed our wake.

The Bluebloods
The elegant Edwardian profile of the 1920s yacht Freedom that for some weeks had been tied to the end of our dock in Marathon, was soon bobbing comfortably in the harbor with us. A sister ship to the USS Sequoia, which served as a Presidential yacht between the Hoover and Bush years, this 104 foot Mathis-Trumpy classic was easy to distinguish.

Launched on Independence Day in 1926, Freedom's passengers were just as noteworthy as her stately sibling. Among her owners were the richest woman in 1930's America Jessie May Woolworth Donahue, heiress of the Woolworth's retail empire; Miami Beach's Sunset Island developer S.A. Lynch, also of Paramount Motion Pictures fame; and Herbert M. Plimpton of Plimpton Press.

Exuma Land and Sea Park Headquarters
~ Exuma Land and Sea Park Headquarters ~

Eventually, the gilded age of the robber baron was quelled by the IRS and the cost of maintaining the wooden fantail houseboat became too exorbitant for modern times. Sadly, Freedom was eventually left derelict in Jacksonville's St. John's River. Just moments before being turned into scrap, a New England investor bought the forlorn lady for $100, shipped her by barge to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and spent several years and several million dollars restoring her to her original Bristol beauty. Now she spends her days sailing between New England and the Bahamas.

Shortly after we settled in, a much larger, more modern yacht showed up to the anchorage, and the contrast between the dignified, vintage houseboat and the synthetic, insipid ship could not have been more drastic. I'd no doubt that, in decades hence, no preservationist would scurry to prevent the plastic model from being scuttled.

The Base, a Bag and Boo Boo Hill
The next morning's agenda began at the Visitor's Center to donate to the conservation cause, get a map of the park trails, and gain some local knowledge about things to see and do on the island. We also hoped to obtain that ever enticing, ephemeral substance much sought after by every sailor cruising the subtropics in a small vessel such as ours – ICE!

Yes – frozen H2O, cool cubes, those lovely crystal mini 'burgs that float around in most every 21st century beverage were a treat to those of us whose freezers were too petite to expend any space on such luxuries. And here, at this far flung, uninhabited latitude with no other modern conveniences afforded, this rarity was ironically available by the bag full!

Blow Hole
~ Blow Hole ~
Boo Boo Hill
~ Boo Boo Hill ~

Oddly enough, however; trail guides were unobtainable. The park had run out, so we'd have to explore sans map. The attendant suggested we begin our expedition by climbing up Boo Boo Hill, and pointed us in the general direction. Stone cairns marked the trails, so finding our way wasn't too difficult, and the path was further lined by lots of information posts about the crater-like landscape.

The Brits
Unlike most islands born of volcanic action, the Bahamas was the result of interplay between wind, wave, sea levels, sedimentary minerals, and marine invertebrates. Historical accounts indicated that, prior to British rule, Warderick Wells (as well as several of the other islands) was actually lush with mahogany, and other tropical woods. But lumber was needed in the motherland, so the terrain was denuded, leaving the mix of ooids sand (little calcium carbonate pearls), coral reef bones, and ancient limestone exposed to the elements.
The Banshees
Rainwater worked like acid on the fragile composition, and thus resulted in a sort of Swiss cheese geology. A consequence that was the very reason for our destination's name. Once atop the hill we heard low, deep reverberations of "BOOOOOO" emanating from the ground. Though haunting tales of pirate spirits and soulless poltergeist prevailed, the more plausible cause was in the topography.

Erosion bore vertical tunnels from the overhanging plateau all the way down to the surf, and the force of the surge blown up through the long portals caused the ghostly moans from the underworld. It was nature's own didgeridoo! One could stand over the blow holes and feel the rush of air blast up like a wonderful organic air conditioner.

Boo Boo Hill had become a spot for fellow cruisers to bring a piece of driftwood inscribed with the date and name of their boat as a testimonial of their trip, and we'd come prepared to follow suit. The mound of mementos was staggering (it appeared that the cay wasn't so far-flung after all), but amazingly, within minutes Don found a familiar epithet.

LA and Susan Wyatt aboard Genesis were a mere two months ahead of us! I was stunned that amongst the numerous signs, in a moment we'd lit upon friends from the Keys. Though this cruising lifestyle was fluid, and it felt as if we are forever saying goodbye, here was proof that our courses often crossed and when the planets aligned, we'd sometimes meet again – in the most unexpected locales.

Sperm Whale Skeleton
~ Sperm Whale Skeleton ~
The Loyalist's Wall
~ The Loyalist's Wall ~
The Bones and More Bluebloods
We returned to walk along Powerful Beach and get a better look at the enormous skeleton assembled on the edge of the little cove. The cause of death for the 53' Sperm Whale was, unfortunately a discarded Hefty bag. What a sad epitaph for such a venerated giant. Meanwhile, more blight was covering the beach as the crew from the big plastic power yacht began setting up for their passenger's recreation (as if a tropical island full of history and natural phenomena wasn't diversion enough).

A huge trampoline as well as a string of well attired beach chairs annexed the narrow beach. A table loaded with food and beverages occupied the tiki hut. Two center console tenders intruded on the shore, and a 20' wide rubber raft sullied the bay. Once the yacht's guests invaded (and most of them were of adult age I might add), Don and I decided to pack it up and pursue more pristine areas of the park.

More Brits
We landed on Beryl's Beach, the trail-head to Loyalist ruins. Forced to abandon substantial New World estates during the American Revolution, some of the wealthiest and most prominent British exiles dodged the American Revolution by retreating to the West Indies with their families and slaves. It was a short hike to the site of small, stone foundations surrounded by arid scrub and deep, empty chasms. The razor sharp terrain pock-marked with bottomless pits was the antithesis of the rich, fertile property from which these colonists fled – but oh what a view!

There was much more on the cay that we wished to explore, but our bellies were rumbling. We made our own retreat to the boat, planning to return for a picnic and snorkeling. This would also give us a chance to reference the Cruising Guide for some additional, albeit nebulous park information.

The Buccaneers
With the cooler restocked (and the ice rapidly depleting), we aimed the dink toward Pirate's Lair, nestled between Warderick Wells and Hog Cay on the island's southeast side. The haunt provided a narrow channel through a deep crystalline pool completely obscured by palm covered hills. It was a perfect niche to conceal picaroon schooners lying in wait for passing ships to plunder. A portal to the atoll's freshwater lens made the area even more attractive to thirsty marauders (when all the rum was gone).
Breathtaking Beauty
After dining alfresco amongst the indescribable beauty of that enchanting setting, we concluded that it was getting very near shark bait time as far as snorkeling was concerned. The stromatolites would have to wait another million years.
Our Beach Art
~ Our Beach Art ~

The tide was rising and our buffet area on Tiny Beach became even more minuscule, so we headed back around the southernmost tip of the island to Cockle Beach, a huge expanse of sand that jutted deep into the Exuma Bank.

Re Metau sat solitary in silhouette against the brilliant sun hanging low on the horizon; the neighboring yachts in the anchorage had traveled on to other destinations. The finger of sand was swept free of all but our footprints and a loop of curly tailed lizard tracks (the little critter apparently sought a cool sip from our soggy bag of ex-ice). Surrounded by the sublime beauty of unblemished land and endless azure seas, the location lulled us into the sensation of being the first two people on the planet standing on the tip of creation.

Don found a stick wrapped with a piece of rope and, like a conquering victor, planted it upright in the sand; the perfect genesis for a little composition of our own. We wandered along the shore gathering up shells, sponges, and coconuts–flotsam and jetsam of both natural and nautical origin. Bit by bit, we added each found treasure to our magnum opus and became rather proud of our beach art.

That was, of course, until we turned around and saw…

The Masterpiece Nature Painted on the Sky
~ The Masterpiece Nature Painted on the Sky ~
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