Pipe Cay and Exuma Land and Sea Park and the UNTOLD Story
We continued north for a short trip to the Pipe Creek area which fellow cruisers particularly Sea Turtle had ranked amongst their favourite Exuma areas. It is a grouping of small cays connected by a lot of shallow water which for us is only accessible by dinghy.
We anchored off Pipe Cay amongst the usual superyacht contingent who had set up private beach parties on various white sandy beaches. These involve loading up one of the large tenders with all manner of water toys, canopies, beach furniture, outdoor speakers, etc. Once the tenting is erected (one tent for lounge furniture, one for dining), beach recliners arranged, speakers connected to sound system, jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards arranged on the beach or sitting in shallow water, the second tender arrives with the catering. Typical protocol appears to be 3-4 crew on the beach, another 1-2 in tenders for waterskiing, paragliding, or assisting guests with jet skis, while remaining crew stay on the mother ship polishing stainless steel. Sometimes, guests even turn up, but often these beach camps remain empty and are dismantled again at the end of the day.
We have seen huge inflatable waterslides mounted off the sides of the superyachts, inflatable swimming pools sitting behind superyachts, inflatable jungle gyms which float gently in a sheltered bay, and for the ultimate beach accessory, a water jetpack towed behind a jet ski.
While at Pipe Cay (as beaches were all in use) we dinghied around to check out Compass Cay marina. This is an extraordinary marina tucked amongst small cays with a very narrow channel deep enough for massive superyachts to use at high tide, when Channel 16 is full of Securite calls announcing a large vessel is leaving or approaching the marina and requires all other vessels to stand off. The marina itself is gorgeous, and it’s not often you see people swimming off their boats while berthed at a marina. Our friends on Dragonfly were there, and were on the small boat dock.
The next day we moved on into the Exuma Land and Sea Park. This is an area of 176 square miles of ocean and Cays designated as a no-take zone which includes not only fish, shellfish but even shells lying on the beach cannot be touched or removed. It is a very beautiful part of the Bahamas and we took a mooring ball at the Emerald Rock mooring field at Warderick Wells, paying $30 to help support the cause. There are strict rules regarding any discharging from boats, there are no trash facilities and limited Wi-Fi only available at Park HQ. Beaches on the island are connected by a series of paths, not always easy to find or navigate, and we were glad to be wearing trainers for our 2 hour walk which at times took us over rocks and past limestone caverns.
We met up with our friends Nigel and Hillary from Silver Spray, who were on a mooring in the very picturesque north field, essentially a tidal stream within an estuary. They have been volunteering at the Park, helping to construct and erect signage to educate on the flora and fauna on the island.
One of these signs is in front of a small whale explaining that this and many others whales, turtles, rays and other sea creatures die from ingesting plastic dumped in our oceans. We have seen tragic evidence of this on almost every windward beach throughout the Bahamas. You could literally fill several skips of inorganic materials: plastics, ropes, bottles, metals, clothing on every one of these beaches. These are the photos that you don’t see in tourist brochures, or on websites or blogs. So we have posted – they are shocking and sad. Fishing quotas and closed seasons can help to protect and perpetuate marine life, but when people dump their trash into the sea they might just as well be killing these beautiful creatures, and the ocean as well. We have taken some photos to illustrate the point.
It was a bit windy for snorkeling but we set up our own beach camp (deck chairs, books, and four cans of beer), although were later invaded by guests and crew from an Italian superyacht moored behind us.
From Warderick Wells, we moved onto Shroud Cay, also within the Park and took the dinghy through a mangrove estuary which eventually (at high tide) flows out to a beautiful ocean beach. Other mangroves on the island can only be explored by non-motorized vessels, although the many superyachts at anchor seem to be exempt from that rule.
There is talk of other areas in the Bahamas being designated “no take” zones and we are very supportive of this, particularly being divers. We love seeing turtles, rays, sharks and other creatures either in the mangroves or in the ocean. Yes we take fish when we can, but we respect not only the rules of the Parks, but the strict guidelines around fishing quotas and err on the side of caution when it comes to size whenever we do land fish. It is a fine line though for the Bahamas, as so much of their tourism and employment derives directly from those who come from the US for sport fishing and bone fishing so to declare too much of their country as a no take zone may not make economic sense for them. The fishermen will go to Cuba or other places.
The Bahamians that we have spoken too are very distrustful of Donald Trump and express concern about the implications of some of his policies on tourism to their country. We have found taxi drivers particularly vocal on this point. While independent, there is no doubt that their economy is highly dependent on the US traveler – although they have their own currency, it is 1-1 with the US$ and when paying cash (the preferred method for most of the country) you are likely to get your change in either denomination.
We left Shroud Cay to make another relatively short trip north to Highbourne Cay, where we will be a couple of nights before making our crossing back to Nassau.