Cambridge Cay

January 14 – January 19.

Cambridge Cay as viewed from high on the north end.

We left Warderick Wells and sailed to Bell’s Island. The island is private. We didn’t go ashore, but Duwan was able to pirate an internet signal from a construction site there. Arg. I rowed over to take a peek at Cambridge Cay (also known as Little Bells Cay), about a mile away. On my way back in deep water a manta ray passed under me.

I did see my first green flash at Bell’s Island. When the sun sets, if there are no clouds, the last little bit of the sun to clear the horizon appears to turn green just before it vanishes. I guess it’s called a flash because it happens so quickly. Don’t see many of these in Atlanta.

We took the northern route around Bell’s to go to Cambridge. This takes you through a narrow gap between a sandbar and big rock, around between Bell’s and O’Brian’s cays, between O’Brian’s and some other nasty looking rocks, and out into Exuma Sound. Then you turn back toward Cambridge and use a ‘range’ to sight your way in between Cambridge and a shallow reef. You especially need the range if the waves from the sound are adding a few knots to your speed.

A range is two markers set on a hillside. One is higher than the other. As long as they are both lined up vertically you are in the channel. If the lower one looks like it’s drifting right you steer right until it’s lined up again. Many of the markers here in the out-islands are kept up by volunteers. This range looks like a couple of frisbees hung in trees.

This little trip had all the ingredients that would have made your humble narrator very nervous last year. But Duwan is great at the helm, and I can spot frisbees, so we did fine.

Water courses between the anchorage on the west side of Cambridge and a shallow bar and band of rocks a little further west. The current overrides the wind, so your boat is always pointed (at east to some degree) into the flow. It’s fun to watch the tide change here. About an hour before high or low tide you slowly turn into the wind. Then no current at all for a few seconds. Then you slowly start swinging back the other way.

Cambridge Cay is awesome. A nice path takes you up around the northeast side overlooking the sound. Bell Rock is picturesque. Back on the west side you can see bonefish and rays in the shallows. On the south end there is another path that will take you to the beach off Coral Garden Reef. (We didn’t spot the path at first. We rowed an extra half mile then walked on rocks another extra half mile.)

On Thursday the 17th a front is supposed to pass through, so we’d like to go somewhere that looks more protected. We leave out the shallow rocky southern end of Cambridge with the help of two big rock landmarks, four GPS waypoints, and me watching closely for any coral heads that didn’t make it into the charts.

We rolled past the two big Rock Dundas cays resolving to come back and snorkel the caves there in a few months when the water is warmer. We head into small U-shaped Chicken Cay, which looks like an inviting place to ride out weather. On the chart that is. Up close it looks like a fairly safe place to leave your boat a few hours while exploring the caves at Ricky Dundas.

Our backup plan is a spot between nearby Compass and Pipe cays. We negotiate the narrow dredged gap between them with the help of another range, thread through a course where most of the channel markers have gone missing, and drop anchor where the chartbook and guidebook say to. The boat swings violently around for a bit, then we are pointing away from the wind with the anchor directly behind us. And we are dragging. It’s just after high tide and we have a lot of current. I can’t imagine that this would ever be a good spot to stay.

So we leave and go back to the place where we woke up this morning. Sometimes you have to measure progress in terms of knowing what not to try next time. Turns out this was a fine spot for a mild cold front. We even got to visit the isle again before going back to Bell’s Island on Saturday the 19th for some more internet pirating. Arg.

Route to Cambridge Cay.
Upper range marker at north end of Cambridge.
Bell Rock.
Bell Rock, with Greg on top.
East coast of Cambridge Cay.
This ray, whose wingspan is four feet, poses for Duwan.
Head of the trail on Southern Cambridge. Coordinates 24° 17.689′ N 76° 32.080′ W
Beach overlooking Coral Garden.
Beauty from the sea.
Mangrove flats on west Cambridge.

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