Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picnic Day at Warderick Wells

Ron and I made a dive in the morning near Bell Island, using the bottom profile on our depth sounder to find a dive site. We chose a spot that looked promising, anchoring in sand in 80’ near the edge of the wall, then went down the anchor line to investigate its set  before exploring the area. While the reef profile was very pretty along the edge, there was a surprising amount of algae growth on the coral, so it was a bit sad. Between the somewhat silty waters of an outgoing tide and the dim light from a mostly cloudy day, we found the visibility limited. Nevertheless, we both saw the outline of an eagle ray feeding and cruising along the wall before it ghosted out of sight. Always like to see those graceful creatures -- that made the dive for me!

We packed a picnic lunch and picked up Sam and Heather in Tingum, then we cruised north out on the sound to Warderick Wells, where the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park is located. The Park, established in 1959, is possibly the most pristine and gorgeous area of the Exumas, encompassing 15 cays and over 176 square miles, from Wax Cay Cut in the north to Conch Cut in the south. The Land and Sea Park prohibits taking of any plant, animal, bird or marine life including coral and shells, in order to protect the great diversity of marine and land life in the Exumas. In light of the diminishing lobster, conch, turtle and grouper populations everywhere else in the Bahamas, the park conservation policies are critical to the replenishment of native marine life, and in fact, some species of the Park’s flora and fauna are no longer found elsewhere in the Bahamas.
The Park Headquarters at Warderick Wells
We’d been here some years before with Ally, when we were vacationing aboard the live-aboard dive boat, AquaCat, but it was fun to revisit it. It’s gotten spruced up over the years, for in addition to the unique old Park Headquarters, there is a new house for the Defence Force personnel, who assist the wardens and staff in combating poachers, for many see the rich abundance of the waters within the park as an easy place to take fish, lobster or conch. An incredible shame, but unfortunately, it occurs on a daily basis, by locals looking to profit by selling their catches, or by visiting yachtsmen who might or might not be aware of the Park’s policies. Penalties are severe in either case!
Warderick Wells has a long history filled with pirates, shipwrecks and skeletons, so of course it’s rumored that the cay is haunted. In the late 1780s, there were conflicts between the few remaining pirates of the time and Loyalists who settled on the island, ending with a Loyalist massacre. There are reports of singing on the nights of the full moon, followed by unknown voices calling out, as well as the finding of bones and a skeleton. 
One of the three shipwrecks offshore Warderick Wells occurred in the vicinity of Boo Boo Hill, which is the high hill with a cairn that was erected long ago as a monument to those lost at sea. We climbed the famous Boo Boo Hill trail to reach the top, where cruisers have a long tradition of leaving the names of their boats on the cairn, carved or painted on all sorts of items. 

The Park has cleaned up the cairn area quite a bit, for it used to be a pile of all sorts of nautical flotsam and jetsam. From old boat name boards to fishing floats to old outboard engines and decrepit life rings, it resembled a junk pile. Now, in the name of being environmentally conscious, the Park has cleared away the man-made junk and requests that any boat memorabilia left be made from driftwood. In keeping with that request, we found a unique piece of bleached driftwood and used a Sharpie to make a marker for Equinox. After admiring and perusing the many other pieces of driftwood art naming those who had been here before us, we found a good place to wedge our marker in amongst the other bits and pieces on the cairn. Perhaps we’ll see it again on our return?

Karyn working on our driftwood marker for Equinox 

Our marker -- not so artistic, but spur of the moment! 
We eventually hiked back down and made our way to the well-known blow holes on the eastern edge of the island. Some areas of the island were off-limits due to the tropicbird  nesting habitats, but there are more than 4 miles of well-marked trails all over the cay. Placed periodically along the trails are new signs with interesting and detailed information about the various species of plants and animals found on the island. Very nice!
One of the flora and fauna signs
It was a great day, and stirred up a lot of good memories. Made us miss Ally a great deal...I think she was 10 the first time she was here, and she’s soon to be 18. How time flies!

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