We left Provo a week ago and have hopped through a few islands already on our way north.
We headed out of Provo Mon Apr 5 and headed off to West Caicos to stage ourselves for the 40 NM run to Little Inagua. West Caicos had a bustling salt and sisal industry in the late 1800s, but went uninhabited for decades when those industries went bust. In the late 1990s, a developer started building an exclusive condo/marina project – which promptly went bust with the spiraling real-estate market. But not before completing a dredged basin for the marina that never was. This was our anchorage for the night. Today the only inhabitants of West Caicos are the skeletal security detail who guard the half-finished condo complex and construction village. The basin makes for a comfortable protected anchorage – but visits ashore are unwelcome. In the morning we headed off to Little Inagua.
The name is rather deceptive, as it turns out to be a huge island (maybe 10 sq. miles) – and quite a gem. We anchored at the southeastern corner – which is an open roadstead with some surge from the surrounding Atlantic waters. The island is uninhabited, except for some feral donkeys and goats. One cruising guide we have recounts a tale of cruisers being greeted by “south American gentlemen with automatic rifles” in 1991 – Little Inagua is somewhat ideally situated as a waypoint for elicit traffic. But on our visit we encountered not a soul. We went exploring along the beach on the southern coast, walking east. This beach has impressive quantities of flotsam. We collected a few “petard” metal fishing floats – but no sign of that elusive glass float. This beach was littered with “sea beans”, and Maddie alone collected 178 in an afternoon. Further east, the beach is enclosed by a lagoon and off-lying barrier reef. It appears there is a deep water cut in the reef, and the lagoon might have sufficient depth to accommodate a cruising boat. If so, this might offer a better anchorage than our chosen spot. I’d hoped to explore this by dinghy, but the wind was howling and the wind and waves were running too rough along the reef. After a couple of nights at Little Inagua we headed off on the 45 NM run to Hogsty Reef.
Hogsty is a bit of an oddity in the Atlantic basin. It is a 3×2 mile coral atoll rising up from 6000 ft deep surrounding waters. Atolls are presumed to form from extinct volcanos – in a process whereby the volcano creates the seamount which rises from the ocean depths, then subsides leaving a coral atoll. There are just a handful of these geological formations in the Atlantic, whereas there are hundreds in the Pacific. Hogsty is uninhabited and hardly anyone ever visits. There are just two tiny islands – hardly larger than sandbars – not enough to offer any real lee anchorage. The islands are small enough to walk/circumnavigate in 5-10 minutes. They do offer good shelling. We anchored off one of these the first night, and ventured up to the head of the lagoon and anchored behind the reef for our second night. The wind was blowing about 20 kts during our visit, and in these conditions, the anchorage at NW Cay was uncomfortable – and on the margins of “unsafe”. The anchorage in the lagoon was better – much more comfortable at low tide – but bumpy at high tide – and overall much more “safe” feeling. Although none of the charts/guides recommend or even mention anchoring at the head of the lagoon, I’d recommend it over the NW Cay anchorage. Navigating up the lagoon was quite easy. It’s mostly 20-30 ft deep with only occasional coral heads to dodge (you do need good light). Once at the head of the lagoon, there is a nice large field of 10 ft sand to anchor in. The charts indicate areas of the reef dry at low water, which suggests good protection from surge at low tide, but I’d say none of the reef actually dries anymore – maybe there has been hurricane damage since the surveys, or maybe it’s rising sea levels ;-).
There are two impressive shipwrecks on the reef.
One is a Liberty ship – wrecked on the northern part of the reef. These were made during World War II using a revolutionary construction technique whereby large sections of the ships were manufactured separately then welded together . At times, shipyards spat out a new Liberty ship every four days. I think 100s were made to support the transatlantic supply chain – and grimly, keep ahead of the attrition rate inflicted by U-boats. This Liberty ship is well on its way to being reduced to dust. The superstructure is caving in and the hull is broken. The name was not visible – I could just make out a few letters in the middle “…E V…”.
The second shipwreck is on the southern part of the reef. It’s much smaller than the Liberty ship – and looks like a small inter-island freight boat – maybe 120 feet long. The wreck appears to be much more recent and is in much better shape. The name is still plainly visible – “Lady Eagle”.
After our stay in Hogsty we headed out for the 40 NM run to Castle Island.
Castle Island is on the southern extremity of the Crooked/Acklins district. It hosts an important 100 ft lighthouse which guides much shipping from the Old Bahama Channel and Windward Channel up through the Mayaguana Channel. The lighthouse used to be manned, but is now automated. One cruising guide we have mentions that you can still climb the tower though and take in the sights. Sadly, this is no longer (easily/safely) possible. The interior spiral staircase is iron railings with wooden steps. The wooden steps are rotting and many are missing – including a section of 4 steps in the first flight. Gung-ho adventurers might still be able to climb the stairs using just the iron railing, but with Maddie in tow, I was unwilling. Falling through a step at higher levels could easily lead to a fatal fall. Gung-ho adventurers who insist on trying this should bring a harness and headlamp.
One amusing feature of Castle is the small Belizian freighter wrecked on the beach at the foot of the lighthouse tower. Reportedly this freighter had a cargo of shoes and clothes, and shoes used to litter the beach here for years. Today not much is left of the freighter. The superstructure is gone, but the hull shape is still pretty intact.
We did not stay the night as the wind was picking up from the ENE making the anchorage uncomfortable, so we headed up to Acklins for the night.
Acklins Island – Datum Bay & Jamaica Cay
The Datum Bay anchorage is an open roadstead with deep turquoise water just a hundred yards behind the boat. The bottom is hard and the holding is worrisome. There’s not much ashore at Datum Bay – perhaps the most redeeming value is proximity to the windward side beach which you can dinghy around to. As with Little Inagua, this beach has impressive mounds of flotsam and we again collected a number of interesting “petard” floats and a few shells – including some nice helmet shells. The Datum Bay anchorage was a little rolly, but not unsafe – just uncomfortable at times. From here we headed into the Bight of Acklins – and onto banks water.
Out first stop in the Bight was Jamaica Cay. Thus far, the banks offer exceptional feelings of solitude – no other boats, no obvious signs of settlement ashore, not many signs of human activity (e.g. conch shell piles), not even any garbage/flotsam. Jamaica Cay in particular offers some new and different scenery – yellow/orange sand, lots of sponges washed up ashore, but no shells. Overall, it’s unremarkable – but perhaps our standards are tight.
From here we will head up to Delectable Bay and the Spring Point settlement perhaps today or tomorrow. Then on to Snug Corner or Long Cay. Still hoping to be back in Georgetown for the Family Island Regatta next week.
We’ll append pictures when we get internet access…