Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Highbourne Cay to Norman Cay, Exuma, The Bahamas //
Given our night in Highbourne Cay was less than desirable, we quickly moved on to Norman Cay the following day, Friday, January 18. At the time we did not know this was where the failed #FyreFestival was initially to take place (we have watched the Netflix documentary since — what a mess!), but we definitely knew this had been one of the infamous islands that served as the headquarters for drug smuggling operations for many years, yikes!
We immersed ourselves, quite literally, in the island's history by taking a swim and snorkeling at the site of the famous DC-3 wreck along Norman’s Cut. We anchored nearby various other sailing vessels and dinghied over. Maybe the plane was carrying questionable cargo, maybe be not, but it made for great snorkeling, with tons of fishes and coral to see. Shortly afterwards, we picked up our anchor and headed out the cut towards the Exuma Sound.
After tons of research we had decided we would seek refuge for the upcoming weather system at a Norman’s Pond inside Norman’s Cay. It is known as a hurricane hole, offering great protection in adverse conditions. We were expecting a heavy blow, up to 40mph winds and squalls on Sunday, so we figured this would be our best bet. The trick was getting in. The entrance to Norman’s Pond is very difficult to traverse when the winds are blowing directly from the East, and the depths through the inlet can be very shallow requiring careful visual navigation under good sunlight. After reading plenty of cruiser’s reviews online, it was apparent that a vessel with a draft of under 5' could definitely maneuver through, so we were determined to give it a try in hopes of getting good night's sleep and weather the upcoming system.
At the Exuma Sound, there was a lot of chop and slightly strong NE winds so we ended up moving very slowly. Another vessel nearby, moving in our same direction, called us over the radio wondering if we were headed to the pond. They were hoping we'd go first and let them know what depths we found as we moved through. Their draft was a little over six feet (eek!), but always the ones to help others (and make new friends!), we agreed to keep them updated. We had already made our minds to go in either way.
On the approach, we had to pass in between two small rocky inlets. We had reasonable depths there. But soon after turning to starboard, the numbers on the depth gauge started falling quickly. We were finding about one to two feet under our keel. We informed S/V Tyee as we proceeded, but as soon we picked up the radio and looked over, we could not see them moving. We figured... oh snap! They quickly called back and said they were aborting as they had run aground. We were surprised as we had found plenty of depth at the inlet. Nevertheless, they were safe and were able to pull out and turn back while we continued along.
Having so many instruments to keep track of: chart plotter, Navionics on our iPhones, along with visual piloting off the bow, we got distracted and suddenly realized we were the ones no longer moving... We looked off our starboard, we seemed a safe distance away from the shore. We looked off our port side, and there it was, we had drifted and nudged ourselves into a nice little sand bar... While running aground in this section of the entrance would have been completely unavoidable, it provided for another good lesson on how to kedge ourselves off. Tom quickly deployed the Danforth anchor into the dinghy and rowed with it off our stern. In the end, the currents helped us get off, Tom came back aboard, I put us on reverse and quickly steered us away to deeper waters, which ended up being staying uncomfortably close to shore. After clearing all potential hazards, we found ourselves in the calmness of the pond, and to our pleasant surprise, with a few other sailboats inside. We made our way in all the way to Half Moon Bay and anchored amongst them for the evening. Needless to say, dark and stormys were had and we finally got a good night’s sleep.
Over the next couple of days, we were able to hike around and explore some secluded beaches by foot. We enjoyed a 'hurricane party' aboard S/V Down Home and got a chance to meet other fellow cruisers that had been coming to the area for 25+ years! We even foraged for conch (found three!) and fried them up for an afternoon snack. The cold front system moving through luckily only brought about 25-30 knot winds on Sunday, and not a lot of rain or thunder. With a new cold front system moving through the area over the following week, we decided to get out of the pond and head towards Warderick Wells before we got stuck for too long. We quickly found out that the cold front systems around this time of the year would be moving through every 4-7 days. Keeping up with our travel schedule would soon would prove next to impossible and it was up to us to work with the weather to continue moving South as safely as possible.