A Powerboat Adventure in the Exuma Cays
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Tags: Bahamas Exumas Powerboat Adventure Snorkeling
It was a classically gorgeous Bahamas day; cloudless skies and a blazing sun reflecting off the white, sandy ocean floor, giving the water that incredibly translucent, looking-glass quality that one can only find in the Bahamas.
We could hear the full-throated thrumming before we caught sight of the sleek, 45’ “Island World Adventures” custom built speedboat as it surged into the dock at the foot of Paradise Island Bridge. The twin 420 HO turbo-charged diesel engine can reach speeds of up to 45 mph, which did not seem overly fast in my mind when I read about it. I was wrong. 45 mph on the ocean is really, really, really fast.
We were excited about our upcoming day of adventure at sea, exploring a deserted island called Saddleback Cay, with a little snorkeling on the side, some swimming & relaxing on one of the island’s deserted beaches, and an island BBQ was on the agenda. On the way back, we’d be stopping at “Leaf Cay” to observe the local endangered Allen’s Cay Iguanas was something I was looking forward to. Our hosts were Captain Steve & assistant Jason, who greeted us with welcoming smiles. As we were the last passengers to be picked up, Captain Steve issued his instructions. Go to the bathroom now or never, as once underway there would be no getting up for approximately one hour. Those who had a seat in front of them would be allowed to briefly stand up and stretch if they held onto the bar in front of them, but we were out of luck in the front row!
The boat was vibrating like a great white horse waiting to be let loose upon a racetrack. Steve and I exchanged dubious grins, not knowing what we had gotten ourselves into this time, but anxious to find out. We rumbled slowly under the Paradise Island Bridge, admiring luxurious yachts & expensive manor homes as we made our way to the open ocean. This was an interesting and beautiful way to see Nassau from a different perspective. Once clear of the channel, Captain Steve warned us to “get ready and hold on” as the engines began to whine and hum like a jet engine; we slouched down in our seats and braced our feet against the curving interior of the boat.
Thus began one of the most bone-jarring, eye-tearing hair-raising, exhilarating and incredibly fun days we have ever had in theBahamas. As we gained speed, the boat became a mallet wielded by a madman, pounding fiercely against waves of blue steel that seemed determined to break off the front of our boat and consume it in one gulp. We hung on for dear life. We bounced up and down, screeching out loud when we hit the waves, laughing hysterically every time our boat would shoot up out of the water and become airborne, sailing through the air before slamming back down into the jaws of the waves.
It took over an hour to get to Saddleback Cay, and our legs were beginning to stiffen up from the pressure we were putting on them to keep ourselves wedged into our seats so that we did not go flying off the side of the boat. Despite the heat of the day, we were happy we’d each brought along a big beach towel to wrap ourselves in, as a cool ocean spray misted us every time we surged back into the waves. Soon a few small islands came into view, appearing almost mirage-like to me by this point. We were shivery, goose-bumped and a little shaky as Captain Steve finally eased up on the throttle. To my relief, we began a more civilized putter through tranquil, gin-clear, aqua waters.
Slowly, my watery eyes slowly were able to focus on the beauty of the surroundings. Saddleback Cay appeared in front of us, impossibly stunning and exotic The growling engines were cut, and a warm envelope of pure, silky silence enclosed us, broken only by the gentle lapping of translucent water and the occasional splash of wavelets. The scalloped shoreline of Saddleback Cay flaunted lush foliage and appeared secluded and virginal. We followed our host up a tunnel-like path cut through the foliage. A strong, sturdy, multi-level deck appeared, hanging over the side of a small, rocky ledge, offering a scintillating view of nothing but aqua water, cerulean sky, and a very sexy beach. There was also a barbecue pit , and plenty of benches and shady areas to sit and relax. I cast my eyes to the intimate sliver of white sand beach. Impossible to resist.
Moments later we were wading into cool, delicious water. The other guests had wandered elsewhere and the beach was our very own. We had brought our snorkel masks and soon after we donned them, we saw a glimmer in the astonishingly clear water. The flapping wings of a Southern Stingray caught the sun, and fragmented prisms of light reflected the steely sheen. We held our breath as it swept past us, oblivious to our presence.
Later the unmistakably long, silvery glint and marbled eyes of a Barracuda shot past us, as a myriad of tropical beauties scattered before him, a profusion of aquatic blossoms of lemon yellow, neon blue, fire-engine red and royal purple. Enchanting.
As we reluctantly dragged ourselves back into the land of lumbering humans, Jason stopped by to offer us a brief tour of the island, which we were happy to accept. As we walked, he told us that because of the scarcity of fresh water available on the Exuma’s, there was very little bird life except for the Osprey. Those who did live out here had to subsist on rainwater accumulating in rocky pockets. The Cay was encircled by a series of gentle hills which were covered with scrubby bushes and as we walked, the only sound we could hear was the wind keening through the branches of a peculiar looking tree which appeared to belong to the Fir Tree family. It seemed to be the only one of its kind that we could see, and I pondered momentarily the strange circumstances which must have brought its seeds here to this tiny island in the sun.
A small salt-water pond occupied the middle of the island, sprouting thousands of tiny patches of some odd vegetation. It shimmed in the baking sun, no doubt harboring its own complex ecosystem as regular surges of saltwater brought new Lilliputian life forms in during high tide. We continued our walk to the far side of the island, only a few minutes away. We dipped our toes as we navigated the circumference of this tiny paradise, each pink-tinged scallop of beach welcoming small surging wavelets, producing a mock-surf. We walked out, out, out….the water rising only to our knees, warm and welcoming.
We had opted to do a drift snorkel, and we climbed aboard the powerboat once again. We cruised slowly past blindingly white sand bars, and yet more small islands that hosted only the hardiest of birds. We came to a stop as Captain Steve pointed out the best areas to explore, and moments later we were submerged, floating over a gorgeous wonderland of massive vibrant coral formations that proudly waved fluorescent-tipped branches and stems in the generous current. A long, narrow island dipped convoluted root systems into the cooling ocean waters, an excellent place to find shy tropical fish & corals. Sure enough, as we floated hand-in-hand, mixed in and amongst the convoluted twining of roots were brightly swathed two-bar Anemonefish and even a hard-to-spot Pufferfish whose shy attempt at camouflage was not quite appropriate for his location. Long thin needlefish hovered near the surface, ready to dart at any sign of approach. The clarity of the water was absolutely amazing and it was some of the best snorkeling we have done. After about an hour of enjoyment, our grumbling tummies told us it was time for lunch and after hauling us aboard, Captain Steve headed back to Saddleback Cay.
Lunch was a delicious assortment of barbecued chicken, grilled island grouper, salads, fresh breads, icy cold beer and tropical drinks. We sat at one of the picnic tables looking out over the turquoise waters, tucking the beautiful picture into our memories for a rainy day.
It was time to head back to Nassau soon, but there was still one more highlight to come. After about 20 minutes the big boat slowed again as yet another scrubby island came into view. At first it looked like all the rest we had seen, but Leaf Cay was different. As the rumbling engine stopped and we came to a gentle stop on the white sand beach, a strange sight greeted our eyes. One, then two then three, four and five very large iguana’s made their way out of the dense bushes, running towards us with the uniquely strange & awkward gait of the lizard family, tails swinging side to side. It was rather like being greeted by a very odd group of bearded, leathery dogs. Captain Steve & Jason rummaged through some bags they had brought and produced some grapes and left-over fruits from the BBQ. With a toss, one of the grapes rolled close to the first iguana’s feet. Within mere seconds, the grape was gone. A few pieces of honeydew melon followed. We saw more scuttling shapes appear from all directions, and soon the beach was alive with dozens of very large lizards, many of them over three feet long. It appeared that no-one else on the boat wanted to meet them, but I did! I jumped up and slid down the long white bonnet of the speedboat, landing a little awkwardly in the sand. I wanted to really experience these creatures up close.
The rest of the passengers waited to see if I would be pounced upon and eaten up before their eyes. The lizards eyed me with interest but maintained their distance, and I could see more beady little eyes peering out from the scrubby vegetation. I couldn’t believe how prehistoric looking these creatures were, the males being larger, measuring over three feet long, and in mottled shades of light and dark gray, and some with pink and orange tinged highlights that actually made them quite handsome! Captain Steve tossed me a handful of fruit and apparently this was the key to their hearts. Suddenly a large circle of lizards had surrounded me. As I tossed the grapes, only the largest lizards would run for them. The smaller ones watched a little jealously. Occasionally a spirited fight would break out as some of the smaller lizards tried to steal a grape away from another smaller one, but on the whole the largest, oldest iguanas were respected.
These lizards have no natural enemies other than humans, yet this population, as well as a smaller group on Allen’s Cay, are now an endangered species, but whether this is because of poaching & interfering behaviour by humans, or because of erosion of their sandy cays, where they burrow into the sand to lay their eggs is not known. I also wondered, as we powered away from the island, how much of a negative impact these visits by tourists are having on the iguana populations as we introduce foreign food and human interaction into their social structure.
As the boat gained speed on our race back to Nassau after this long and very fun day, we were glad that we had brought along some extra towels, as the sand from the front of the powerboat blasted onto the two of us in the front seats. It was also really chilly, so we bundled up and just enjoyed the power and the exhilaration of the ride as the ocean reflected the deep pink striations of the setting sun. We were tired, chilled and a little achy, but we both agreed – this was a great way to spend a day in the Bahamas!