Cay Sal, Cay Sal Banks

Saturday, May 20, 2006

023-41.334 N
080-23.400 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the Bahamas!

It's been a whirlwind of activity since we got back to FL.  We spent a full day in Fort Lauderdale doing "boat things" before heading to Key West.  For those of you who don't know, Fort Lauderdale is the center of all things for boats.  I swear that 80% of all boat related industries are located there and you can find anything that you need for your boat.  It helps that there are 40,000 boat there too...Anyhow, we got back to Key West and the bee hive of activity continued.  In the space of a day and a half we (that's the royal "we") re-provisioned boat for the next 2 months.  We have no idea what type of provisions we're going to find in the Bahamas and we expect to spend most of our time in the middle of nowhere.  As a result we made many trips from the dock to the boat with the dinghy filled to the gills.  Yesterday afternoon we returned the car and finished storing everything away in preparation for our overnight to the Cay Sal Banks.

The Cay Sal Banks are 75 miles ESE of Key West and only 25 miles off of Cuba.  We departed from Key West at around 4:30 PM with the intention of arriving at Cay Sal at about 10 AM.  There was a big "H" on weather maps of our area and that meant that we wouldn't have any wind.  No wind is much better than the normal 15 kts which would have been on the nose.  We motored on glassy seas at times.  At around 4 AM the winds began to pick up, the sails went up and we had a nice sail for the rest of the way. 

The most spectacular part of the passage was the phosphorescence of the water. It was pitch black and the wake which swept off off of the bow was absolutely brilliant, glowing with thousands of points of light brighter than anything in the sky.  The stern of the boat was equally impressive.  It looked like the propeller had a blow torch attached to it as the water exiting the stern of the boat glowed impossibly brightly and stretched back for easily a hundred feet.  At one point I shut off the running lights and I could easily see my hand in the glow from the prop.  Later we had a pod of dolphins ride the bow wake and you could see their shapes glowing underwater as they darted too and fro around the bow.  When they leaped out of the water the water would glow around them as they re-entered and went down.  That was cool!

My original plan was to go to Elbow Cay in the Cay Sal Banks, but on our way over I noted a caution on the charts about the strength of the currents there.  I decided to bypass Elbow Cay and head to my second planned stop, Cay Sal island.  At 10 AM we dropped the sails and started looking for a place to anchor.  Believe me, the Cay Sal Banks are well off the beaten path and there's nothing written about the area.  As a result this is very much a virgin cruising area and it was up to us to determine a suitable anchorage.  Strong currents wrap the island and the W side offered the only tenable anchorage and it's rolly.

The anchor wouldn't hold on our first try so I jumped in with my flippers and mask in an attempt to set it by hand.  Well, I found that I could barely swim against the current to reach the anchor and then when I tried to reach the anchor (which was in 25 feet of water) I didn't have enough air to swim against the current and reach the anchor.   We pulled the anchor up and moved further out in an attempt to find more sand and had the same result.  This time I donned my diving gear and I had to use the anchor chain to reach the anchor.  The problem was that there's close to a knot of current and that current has scoured away most of the sand, leaving at most 4-5" of sand on top of coral and there's no way to get an anchor to set.  We took the dinghy around the island looking for a better anchorage and didn't find one.  I did note that there were patches of sea grass that appeared to have trapped more sand, so we dropped the hook in a hole in between grass beds and the anchor stuck.

Based upon my cursory scan of the island it was clear that diving there would be very difficult with the current.  You could only do drift dives.  We attempted to find a sheltered location to snorkel, but we couldn't find any coral patches!  On top of that the current seems to surround the island and there really aren't any sheltered places to dive or snorkel.

We did explore some of the island by land.  It has beautiful sandy beaches stretching for miles.  The interior of the island contains a lagoon and despite what any charts show, it is NOT accessible from the water.  At one point it appears that someone attempted to run a palm oil plantation, but a semi-recent fire seems to have wiped that out.  Other than that, the island is uninhabited.

Tomorrow we're headed 55 nm (that's nautical miles or 63 statute miles) to the Anguilla Cays which are part of the Cay Sal Banks.  We'll depart at around 6 AM and we should be in 11 hours later.  Hopefully we'll find a better anchorage there!

-- Geoff & Sue
Log ID: 854

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