April 27 — Cairn at Hawksbill Cay

Hill top cairn.

On Friday we woke up to grey skies. We had had an exhausting day before traveling from Highborne Cay to Hawksbill Cay and then exploring ruins ashore at Hawksbill. The lack of sun became a good excuse to delay our trip to Warderick Wells, the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We went back to bed.

We had picked up a mooring ball in the lower mooring field off of Hawksbill Cay the day before. It was not the calmest of waters. By afternoon we were rested up and ready to get off the boat for a while.

From Blue Wing we had a direct view of a large cairn sitting on top of a hill. According to our guidebook an osprey nest topped this pillar of stones for years before it was toppled by high winds in 1979. Once ashore we climbed a steep rock face and to the top of the hill to explore what was left of this pile of rocks.

The pile was impressive and not easy to get to. The view from the hill was stunning. It was a perfect place to contemplate the natural beauty of the islands as they stretched out towards the horizon.

The size of the cairn, knowing it was once taller, and the difficulty getting to it makes me wonder what would possess anyone to lug each one of these heavy rocks to the summit of this hill and pile them one on top of each other. Greg has a theory about this one of Aunt Exuma’s mysteries.

Back down the rock face, across the beach, into the water and around a rock out cropping, across another beach and over a hill we found a sprawling salt pond and the reason for our less than settled mooring. This salt pond flowed between two large cliffs into the Exuma Banks creating a small current that rocked Blue Wing back and forth where she sat tethered to her mooring ball.

Mangroves in the salt pond.

The tide was ebbing as we visited the pond. The water was shallow and many fields of spongy quick sand covered by a dark fungus spread out ready to devour our feet as we attempted to cross them. We walked on cracked flat stones and black coral like rocks, mangroves grew in the soggy earth, and low lying plants and bushes grew out of the rocks, sand and dirt. But what fascinated me most about this expansive swamp was the cairns.

These cairns were not massive like the one we had seen on the hill, but small piles of rocks carefully stacked taking in consideration, shape, form, and balance. I marveled at who might have put these stones here with such an artistic eye. There were many of them. As soon as we saw one we saw another off in the distance and then another. Gradually they started to look more like plain old piles of rocks rather than aesthetic formations. Then, finally, I realized that these cairns weren’t created merely out of the need to exercise creative energy or even as an outlet for the tedium of daily survival, but that they were actually marking a trail.

Sometimes I feel like we will one day be led into a horrible trap, but even though, when ever we see a trail, we tend to follow it. The trail wound us around quicksand and muck, over rocks, through a small stream, up a hill, into a forest of palm trees to a wide-open beach on the great Exuma Sound.

This cairn tells us we've reached the beach!

Feeling as if we had thoroughly explored the salt pond and surrounding area we returned to Blue Wing, untied our mooring, and headed to the northern mooring field off Hawksbill Cay. We motored very carefully through water not much deeper than Blue Wing’s draft to arrive at a mooring ball anchored in water deep enough to keep us a float at low tide. Thankfully, the waters of the Exuma Bank were calmer here and we spent a restful evening under dreary skies that would continue to hide the Bahamian sun from us as we traveled to Warderick Wells the next day and for many days after that.

View from the top of the hill on the beach to the mouth of the salt pond. Blue Wing waits for us just over the hill in the distance on the left.

1 thought on “April 27 — Cairn at Hawksbill Cay

  1. As the men of the original loyalist Russell family made their first trip to the beach they kicked and tossed scree to the side of their path. As they tromped along they sang a very unflattering version of Yankee Doodle. Young Percival Russell lagged behind the others. He did not share their enthusiasm for bawdy songs and body function humor. He also thought they were making a big mess. He started stacking the discarded stones into neat piles. The others derided him, but were grateful for the cairns on their return trip. The rock piles helped them find the way home. Ironically, the practice of maintaining these markers will far outlast the homes the original Russells built.

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