Sunday, March 27, 2011

 It was getting cold in the fall when I received an email from my friend,
 Greg Pflug, owner and operator of Adventures in Florida, inviting me to
 join him for a week of paddling in the Bahamas in February.  As the first
 snowflakes swirled outside my New York window, that sounded great!  We
 emailed back and forth and I decided to fly down a day early for some
 serious defrosting.
 Friday, Feb. 18, found me at JFK, boarding a flight to Miami and, after a
 short layover, one to Georgetown.  Once past the Florida Straits the
 Bahamas came into view, golden islands in torquise water, surrounded by the
 deeper blue of the deeper trenches between the islands.
 I landed in Georgetown on Great Exuma just in time for their first shower
 in weeks.  A taxi dropped me off at the hotel.  The view was obscured by
 the rain but the restaurant/bar was open so that is where I went to meet
 Greg and the other paddlers.
 We spent Saturday iding about, enjoying the weather (sunny, low 80s,
 pleasant breeze), looking at all the sailboats anchored at Stocking Island
 to the east for their regatta into the Caribbean, and stocking up for our
 trip.  When the other paddlers had arrived we had great bbq withlocal beer
 and Guiness.
 Sunday morning we seperated that which stayed behind from that which went
 with us.  A van took us to the outfitter where we picked up our paddles,
 tents, pads and pfds.  He followed us north with his Necky kayaks ? 6
 singles and a double for Greg and whomever, to our launch site at
 Berraterra at the north of the island  Packed and paddled northeast on the
 torquise but choppy waters as a head wind made us work.  But we soon made
 landfall on a barrier island that protected us from the Atlantic's storm
 surge.  If watching the immense waves on the other side of the island
 wasn't warning enough, a blowhole sent spumes soaring over our heads twenty
 feet into the air.  After looking at that, and at the waves crashing and
 hurtling through a narrow channel, we continued for a few more miles to our
 first night's campsite with plenty of time, after pitching our tents, for
 swimming and snorkling, all before Greg's great supper.
 Next morning dawned calm and clear so we took off after breakfast for an
 easy paddle north along this western strip of islands.  For a while we had
 a strong current pushing us along at a great clip ? maybe 6 knots!  We
 stopped for lunch at one island and then continued, with calm waters but no
 help from the current, to our night's stop.  No sooner had we landed then a
 greeting committee - of iguanas - came rushing up.  But as we had no fruit
 or fresh veggies for them they soon left.  Set up camp, snorkled in the
 warm waters watching the brightly colored fish, supper and then watched
 satellites and meteors, one of which ended in a spectacular explosion, in
 the now dark sky.
 An easy paddle next morning to Norman's Pond Cay.  This was an abandoned
 salt works ? the high tide was let in, then blocked from exiting.  It soon
 evaporated in the heat and the salt was harvested.  Now there was a small
 rise that let the high tide into the acres of mangroves around the shallow
 lakes.  After setting up our tents some of us snorkled, some walked, and
 some paddled up to the lakes.  Many fish were seen slipping among the
 mangrove roots but none were both confiding or big enough to shoot and eat.
 In the open water away from the salt works we found huge hermit crabs
 cramped in conch shells as well as live conchs that made a great appetizer
 leading up to another good supper; more satellites overhead, and to sleep
 in the cooler evening ? mid 70s.  The temperatures stayed the same
 throughout the trip though the wind did vary from dead calm to quite
 strong.  Almost always sunny with only occasional clouds.
 Next morning we paddled to the east chain of islands to head back south to
 Exuma.  On the way we stopped at a small island with an even smaller one
 just north of it.  This small island was in about 7' of water, full of
 fishes and other sea creatures.  A small shark, Lionfish, bright yellow,
 green-spotted sea slug, conchs, snappers, groupers and other tropical fish
 abounded.  A large sting ray watched us from only 20' out.  A 10# red
 snapper made the mistake of getting too close to Greg and so became a
 delicious supper.  We then continued to Gold Ring Cay where we camped for
 the night.
 Next morning a short paddle in a dead calm took us to New Cay where we set
 up camp in a shallow bay, swam and snorkled.  Some of us decided to paddle
 around the cay.  Once we left the shelter of the bay we were hit by a
 strong wind from the southwest.  Paddling south into it was easy, but as we
 turned east into the channel between Gold Ring and Brigantine Cay the waves
 bounded and rebounded into 3' seas and made this an interesting passage to
 work through.  Once through we had the winds rapidly push us to the north
 cut which, being narrower and angled more to the north, was calm.  Then
 back upwind to our camp.  Walking in the shallow waters near the mangroves
 we were waved at by standing 8? tall crabs while minnows swarmed around us.
 A restful afternoon and evening, another good supper with conch in the
 cool of the evening.
 The wind was still blowing in the morning as we packed up and started back
 to Berraterra (spelled differently on each map conulted!)  Our heavy boats
 succesfully paddled through the cut and into the calm bay, sheltered by the
 island.  As we continued our 10 mile paddle we ran out of the wind shadow
 and soon were fighting bigger and bigger waves coming at our rear quarters.
 But then we were back in the wind shadow of Exuma itself and had a calm
 run into the Berraterra harbor.  We unloaded the boats but before we could
 carry them up to the parking lot the local kids ? 6 to 8 years old - hopped
 into the boats and paddled them about.  Greg had to rescue one who had gone
 out to sea and then we were able to carry them to safety.
 The van showed up, we loaded up, stopped for a cold beer and were driven
 back to the hotel.  Collected our gear, showered, shaved, and then another
 great bbq washed down with a variety of local specialties.
 The next morning we flew out to our cold, grey, world.

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