Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mayaguana - full of surprises!

Ron and I were up early on this gorgeous day, and by 8:30, were in the water diving. We dove on the reef that encircles the island, just to the east of the eastern entrance to Abraham’s Bay. We used the sonar on Eclipse to follow the bottom profile to find the edge of the reef, and anchored in a sandy patch nearby. It's always a bit of a surprise, a hit-or-miss proposition, because not all dive sites are as interesting as the sonar sometimes indicates.

But...what a SPECTACULAR wall!! Ron and I were in awe…it was truly amazing underwater topography. The reef wall was sheer, almost completely vertical but for the profusion of fringing, delicate, intricate and overlapping decorations of brightly colored sponge, coral, sea fans and sea life. I felt dwarfed by the huge size of the coral formations, the thick coils of rope sponge trailing off the wall face and the absolutely gigantic barrel sponges protruding out from the wall. There were deep crevices filled with shy reef fish like squirrelfish and red hinds, as well as enticing swim-throughs and arches along the top area, tempting us, although we refrained from exploring them too thoroughly, since some were deep and we didn’t have the time to explore each ravine. It was just stunning to be cruising along the wall. LOTS of reef fish, too, although no sharks, rays or pelagics. (Darn!) Schools of blue chromis were streaming across the reef tops, and a large barracuda came bolting over indignantly to patrol his territory while we were there. I saw a twinset of tiny spotted drums with their tail ribbons a-flutter, and Ron found a spotted moray tucked into a hole. It was a truly great dive site, and the time flew by altogether too fast!  A fabulous surprise!

Troubling though, was that in the shallows on the top of the reef there was this same mossy green, slimy lettuce leaf algae over all the coral, sort of smothering it. We've seen it before, farther north, on the reefs off West End, Grand Bahamas, in the Exumas and in Bimini, but it's here off Mayaguana too. We were more than surprised to see it; we’d always associated the leafy algae with areas that have coastal development, but this is totally different, since Mayaguana is so remote. Sorry to see the coral in such a spectacular place struggling, overcome by this stuff. It's like kudzu of the deep!

We debated whether to stay on anchor and dive more along the southern wall or move the boat to Betsy Bay, to the western end of Mayaguana. Scully had said there was good diving there (everywhere, really) as the wall encircles the island, and since the weather was so settled, we decided to go ahead and move, and stage our next passage from Betsy Bay. 

Our remote anchorage off Betsy Bay, Mayaguana
I’m sorry we did!! While in the lee of the current easterly winds, the anchorage off Betsy Bay has a snarly, ragged rocky bottom of rocks and coral heads. We attempted to anchor three times near the settlement itself (or what few buildings we saw) but had no luck…each time, the anchor simply bounced, rattled and rolled across hard, rocky scree on the bottom. Ugly!! No holding whatsoever. We had read conflicting reports about the anchorage here between the two cruising guides we had, so I guess we should have known better! (Surprise!!) We were sorry we even moved from the good sandy anchorage of Abraham’s Bay, especially since the diving there was so stellar. Oh well, gotta go with the flow, and take what comes! 

We finally found a good stretch of sand along the north shore, about halfway between Betsy Bay and Northwest Point, where we managed to drop the anchor and get it set well. Ron snorkeled on the anchor to be sure it was dug in, and then we took Eclipse and followed along the reef wall in search of a good portion to dive. We were conservative, going round and round relentlessly to scope out the orientation of the wall and reef structure in relation to the shallower sandy spot where we decided to anchor. The area is known for strong currents, so we were even more cautious; we used the anchor line to descend, for if the current was too strong, we could abort the dive immediately and return to the boat easily. 

Thankfully though, the current wasn't an issue, and the wall here was quite lovely! As we followed the rode down and double-checked the anchor, we both spotted a large southern ray and an even larger Hawksbill turtle feeding in the shallower waters atop the reef. The portion of the reef wall here wasn’t as steep as at Abrahams Bay, but it still had a majesty all its own. Lots of healthy coral, with more reef fish than you could shake a stick at, including a trio of juvenile spotted drums, and some absolutely huge conch! Unfortunately, I also saw four rather large black-and-white lionfish as well. Those pesky invaders are everywhere!! And alas, more of the same leafy green algae here too! Ugh!

After a day of diving, we enjoyed dinner on the back deck, marveling at the solitude here. It is so remote, and starkly beautiful. Afterwards, just before sunset, I went to rinse out one of our cooking pots  -- a small dutch stewpot with two handles – in the water off the back deck.  I flipped out the few fragments of leftovers, and watched as the boat swung away from the small bait fish eagerly nibbling them up. I lay down on the transom, looking down through the clear water to the sand below, leisurely swishing the pot through the water at the surface as I held it by one handle....then I got quite a scare! A big barracuda came up shooting up from beneath the boat and bit the pot handle on the opposite side, slamming into it with an amazing amount of force -- it nearly knocked the pot out of my grip!! The teeth marks on the pot are what freaked me out the most….right by the shiny silver handle, which must have caught its attention. Good thing I didn't have my other hand on the other handle as well….ouch!! Sheesh!! What was I thinking? 

Teeth marks left by the barracuda! 
Yes, life sure throws you surprises! But that's what cruising does: puts you out in the world, out in the wild. Needless to say, I shall be more mindful --- and use the galley sink next time! 

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