The Natural Beauty of Great Guana Cay

I am anchored just south of the point called Hetty’s Land on Great Iguana Cay. There are only two hulls in this stunningly beautiful little bay…and both belong to Oh!. It is so quiet here, the only sounds are the breeze in the rigging, waves gently lapping at the hulls and some soft music playing. It is surreal. Over the past few nights the moonless sky revealed a canopy of glittering diamonds bisected by a cloud like ribbon of light that is the Milky Way. I wish I could get a picture of the night sky to share. But it is not possible on a moving boat with my limited photography skills and equipment. The days are spent doing a combination of relaxing, reading, boat chores and exploring this little bay. Yesterday afternoon as the light was fading I took advantage of the fading light to stroll across the island. The red line traces the approximate location of the “trail”.

Oh! Is the red arrow and she lies about 200m off the beach. The water is crystal clear and sand ripples and even coarser sand grains are easily seen on the bottom three meters below. Halfway to the beach it shallows to waist deep water over soft sand. The slope to the beach is almost imperceptibly low. As I swam ashore the bottom had the usual symmetrical wave driven sand ripples complete with bits of turtle grass, shells, conchs and a few small and one large star fish slowly moving across the bottom. The water is noticeably warmer here than at Bitter Iguana Cay since it is shallower and gets a lot of daytime heating. Plus, it is a long way from the tidal influx of colder water from the sound. Which makes it one big beautiful swimming hole.

But there was also an unusual band of sea floor that was covered in multi directional ripples. The resulting patterns shaped by the shifting winds and resulting wave directions. Sand ripples are not static and are constantly changing with wave and current direction whenever the wave energy is sufficient to reach the bottom. My suspicion is that the multi-sided ripples represented the wind directions over the past few days as the winds veered 360 degrees. They could only be created when the winds and subsequent waves were strong enough to have reached those depths; that would typically have been in the afternoons. That might explain how the alignment shifted in a time lapse, or staccato like fashion.

I have never seen ripples like these before, but then everyday is filled with new wonders to see. The beach rises gently from the sea here, no abrupt transition. It is a perfect spot to watch the sunset as the warm water gently laps around you. The sand is composed of fine grained carbonate particles that are soft on the feet and your bottom. There are no loud beach bars, or groups of people, or jet skis to spoil the beauty of the natural setting. It is one of those times and places that just takes your breathe away.

As boats continue to migrate north out of Georgetown and the Bahamas, the areas around Staniel Cay, and my previous anchorage at Bitter Iguana Cay were slowly filling up, so the decision was made to move south and do a little exploring. The potential attraction to Hetty’s land was better protection from surge and swell, a trail that would allow for evening walks, calmer waters for paddle boarding, and an excellent swimming area. There might even be a chance for some “get away from it all tranquility”. This little bay earns top marks on all of the above.

Within minutes of anchoring I was in the water. After lingering at the shore long enough for my fingers and toes to look like the sand ripples on the bottom it was time to search out the trail. Since I was bare foot there were no delusions about making it all the way across…just go as far as it was comfortable and then come back tomorrow to explore further with sandals.

The trail is well marked, reasonably well travelled and, to my surprise doable even with this sailor’s tender toes! The cruisers have clearly been busy marking the trail in typical cruiser style. If you find a piece of debris washed or blown ashore, place at even intervals along the way. Although it is a collection of nautical “debris”, it is very effective at helping keep hikers on a similar path. Over time, even with low traffic volumes, it actually creates a trail through otherwise difficult foliage and preserves the untouched beauty of the rest of the island for just our eyes and that can be really beautiful. Just as at Bitter Iguana Cay, the wonders of nature are there, we just need to be receptive to seeing them.

The terrain varies from stunted palm trees to grassy areas, a salt marsh, and some rugged limestone remnants of the former sand dunes that create the highlands on the Cay. There must have been some recent squalls pass over the island as the mud cracks in the marsh were soft. It felt good on my bare feet as I walked across the flats. The mud was not mucky soft, nor did it stick to my feet. It was just moist enough to mould under my weight and shape to each toe, my instep and heal.

Eventually the trail took me right across the island and up to the top of one of the dunes. That marked the end of the trail for this tender foot as the calcified sand has small leached pockets and a spiky texture which along with the larger jagged karst limestone features made it too painful to walk on barefoot. However, the views from the sandy trail that led to the top easily made up for not going any further. It was very calm on sound side, quite different from the day I was exploring Bitter Iguana Cay. The mood of the sea is constantly changing, today it wore a smile.

By the time I had reached the summit the sun was getting low. Time to scoot back across the island as this was no place to get caught barefoot in the dark. The stroll back was beautiful with the warm glow of the setting sun creating a soothing warmth. It is so different to the searing heat of the day. I wish it was possible to extend the time from 5 pm to sunset…it is such a beautiful portion of the day.

The swim back to Oh! was surprisingly warm and refreshing, I had somehow expected it to feel cooler without the intense radiation of the sun, but it was just the opposite; the sea felt much warmer due to the cooler evening air. The last of the great ball of fire sank below the horizon as I showered off at the aft sugar scoop. A beautiful end to another day in paradise. Dinner was pretty good too. In anticipation of my guests arriving some Ahi Tuna had been purchased and it needed to be consumed. I won’t even try to down play it…life on a Oh! can be pretty darn amazing.

The next morning was even more stunning than the previous day. The wind had shifted 90 degrees and was coming directly out of the east which meant a nice breeze but no waves. With deep sapphire blue skies and those Bahama blues seas, it was simple “wow”. There was still a lot to do on that “to do list” but all work and no play really messes with one enthusiasm for cruising. So some smaller jobs moved up the pecking order. Today it was some cleaning, website editing, a little tax work and the biggest job, cleaning the port engine compartment and Racor filter assembly then replacing both the Racor filter element and the primary Volvo fuel filter. At least Oh!’s engines are very accessible, and the port engine was in the shade. Once those were complete it was time to go exploring again.

To the casual observer there may be a question of where all that beautiful white sand comes from when the islands are made up of grey, jagged nasty looking limestone. The answer is very nicely displayed along the shore of Hetty Point. Here you can see the contrast between the jagged grey weathered surface of the limestone verses the interior of that same rock.

In the top picture part of the overhanging calcified sand dune has broken away where the under cutting from waves simply could no longer be supported. The core of the limestone is revealed as beautiful blond carbonate sands. The lower picture shows another part of the same overhang that broke off years ago. What once would have exposed the same blonde sands as the newly broken over hang, has weathered grey. All of the grey limestone of the calcified dunes reveal a blonde inner rock wherever a break has exposed a fresh surface. All that beautiful sand on the beaches and sea floor is simply the continual breakdown of those former dunes; and because it is constantly being abraded, it is always a fresh blond colour. Which makes for really beautiful beaches and those stunning colours of the water along the shoreline .and in the shallow areas.

Just don’t get too close to those jagged rocks making up the overhangs, they are mass of razor sharp needles and edges. At the beach, low tide revealed a shallowing spit forming along the shore that is caused by the change in wind angles and long shore transport of sands in the bay. Even a tranquil little beach on a deserted stretch of an Exuma Cay is dynamic and constantly changing environment.

I could easily have walked at least 2/3 of the way back to Oh! in the shallow aqua marine and pale blue waters off the beach. However, the warm water is way to enticing to do that and it was much more enjoyable swimming in the “pool”. The picture of my hand was actually taken close to the bottom in 3 m of water as I approached Oh! where she sat in the deeper blue waters some 200 meters from the beach. The water is so clear it looks as if the picture was taken in the air.

In the light breeze Oh! would gently swing from side to side and with each gentle tug of her anchor chain cause the sand and silts to puff up in a little cloud along the chain. The bottom clearly shows the result of the 90 degree wind shift as the chain slowly re-aligned and raked the sand bottom in the process. Behind, Oh!’s shadow provides shade that is frequently occupied by small schools of fish.

I could very easily spend several weeks here getting boat tasks completed, accounting and taxes done as well as soaking up the peace and beauty enveloping Oh! The cellular internet connection is excellent and the setting, as you can see is spectacular. As the sun creates a pathway of sparkling diamonds off Oh!’s stern that will eventually become yet another jaw dropping sunset, it is time to make dinner

And that pathway didn’t disappoint me.

Cheers! From another day of isolation on Oh!

Posted in Blog.