Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

The chief delight of Shroud Cay is its variety of creeks . . . The central tidal swamp forest of mangroves abounds in sea life.—Stephen Pavlidis, The Island Hopping Digital Guide to the Exuma Cays – Part II – Exuma Park [The Bahamas] 

Entrance to Shroud Cay’s mangroves. Exuma, the Bahamas.

Wayne chose Exuma Park’s Shroud Cay for its shelter from strong Northeasteries, as the Bahamas forecast a pummeling of 20-35 knots of wind off and on for ten days. We didn’t want to spend that time stuck in Nassau—we came to spend time in nature, away from civilization. He knew initially the winds would come in from Northwest, which would not be comfortable, but they would clock east, then we’d be fine. Shroud offered one of the closer destinations from Nassau—44 nautical miles—an easy day sail with time left to play ashore that day. 

From Shroud Cay, we could cherry-pick our way to other nearby anchorages in the Exumas that also offered protection as well as excellent opportunities for hiking, dinghy rides, kayaking, and snorkeling. 
Our anchor came up with ease before 7 a.m. in Nassau and the winds pleasantly surprised us. We didn’t expect to sail most of the way to Shroud Cay. We did, arriving a tad before 3 pm. 

We dinghied to the nearby beach and coated our feet in the powdery, buff-colored sand. 
See that lone mangrove sprout? That’s how mangroves sprout, and spread. Mangroves are amazing ecosystems—they purify water and provide shelter for a diversity of life.
They are also one of the best places to ride out a hurricane.

The crew from a pavilion from one of the eight superyachts parked in the mooring field gave us their best guess at high tide, important for planning our mangrove exploration the next day. Our guidebook advised entering the creek two hours before slack tide. The tide needed to be high enough to navigate its narrow, rocky, coral-strewn, inflatable-dinghy-puncture-capable entry—and clearing not long after slack to avoid getting stranded before the shallows filled in and stranded us. Also, the nasty Northwesterlies were due to arrive around 4 pm. I wanted us to be snugly back aboard before they hit full force. 

Twice in the last few days, the winds arrived earlier than forecast, and we were groggy from getting violently tossed around from a wicked southwesterly at 5 am that was not forecast. Had we anticipated a southwesterly, Wayne would’ve opted for Norman Cay, with its southwesterly protection, then moved to Shroud Cay the next day. 
In the morning, by the time I poked my head into the cockpit for a look around, only our boat and Scintilla remained in the anchorage. Besides the superyachts, us and our friends on Scintilla, there was one other sailboat the night prior, but the sailboat and all the superyachts were gone. I didn’t hear any of them leave.
Sculptural trees at Driftwood Beach, Shroud Cay, the Bahamas.

I thought we were taking off for our dinghy ride at 11:30. At noon, I got antsy. Phone, text, and email coverage was non-existent at Shroud Cay (though unbeknownst to us, our friends discovered the night before, one of the superyachts radiated open WiFi and took advantage of that). That left VHF radio or a dinghy ride for communication, and we typically turn our radio off shortly after anchoring and weren’t sure when Chris and Chris left theirs on. Wayne dinghied over to Scintilla to check in. Christopher quoted tide data rather than an anecdotally-based later slack tide than the superyacht folks, so we left at 1:30.

The entry into the creek was high enough, and our outboard propeller only briefly churned the sand a few times from a low water level section. Still, I remained twitchy about getting back before the tide dropped too much or the winds kicked on early.

The Bahamas colors are often surreally beautiful—like some hyped-up Photoshop travelogue creation. But they’re real, practically glowing in the sunlight like some overdone supermodel surpassed by the equally dramatic appearance of true natural beauty.

Leafy green mangroves thrust their curvaceous branches through a bright beige sandy swamp. The crystalline water spanned a glimmering palette from pale alabaster sand to celery to teal. Overhead, a mix of fluffy white cirrus clouds and a bank of bruise-colored clouds punctuated the otherwise intensely blue skies. The squally-looking clouds looked like they’d mostly bypass us.

Startlingly white egrets scattered in flight as our dinghies wended their way through the meandering creek. Several turtles swam past; we’re sure we missed some as the breeze rippled the water’s surface. Wayne spotted a baby stingray; I saw a charcoal gray four-footer. Because Shroud Cay is part of the Exumas park system, it’s illegal to catch or take anything—even abandoned seashells. Surprisingly, we didn’t see other fish, though we know the mangroves are a nursery for a variety of fish, often including sharks, as well as a welcome habitat for conch and lobster.

Sometimes I’ve spotted large populations fish that were otherwise invisible kayaking or snorkeling. I was hoping to do both before we left Shroud Cay.
Exumas Sound View from Camp Driftwood trail. Shroud Cay, the Bahamas.

We parked our dinghies at Driftwood Beach, which curved its way from the protected mangrove to the open ocean of Exuma Sound, an inviting stretch. We were there to explore Camp Driftwood, a lookout point described as a Robinson Caruso-like setting with cruiser mementos and benches and tables cobbled together from found materials. We didn’t see anything like that. However, the lookout point gave us an expansive mangrove view, all the way out to our anchorage on the opposite side of the island, about a 40-minute slow dinghy-ride away. The other side offered a breath-taking view of the aquamarine sound, framed by beach below, palm trees on the side, and gray-violet clouds above.

North-facing from Driftwood Trail Shroud Cay viewpoint. Exumas, Bahamas.
The mangrove ride more than made up for our sleep-deprived wee hours of the morning. The breeze shifted to wind as we approached the exit back on the Western side of the island. Waves exploded in a 20-foot airborne stream of white mist as they slammed against the seaward rocks. “The fun part of your ride is now over,” Christopher deadpanned. Christopher, as he’s wont to be sure you know, is usually right. Today marked no exception. Foolishly, Wayne and I waited too long to don our foulies before we exited the creek. We were a quarter of the way back to our boat, and thoroughly soaked before Wayne noticed Chris and Chris beaconing us back to the creek’s entrance. We retraced our ride along with Chris and Chris until we exited where we entered the calm-water mangroves, at a point closer to where our boats were anchored.

In the interim, the wind increased its velocity, with chop to match. 

Chris & Chris of s/v Scintilla, aboard their dinghy in Shroud Cay’s mangroves. Exumas, the Bahamas.

We agreed to help Chris and Chris get their dinghy aboard as they mount it on their foredeck, enough of a hassle they avoid using their dinghy whenever they can. The formerly glassy seas churned, a bubbling mass of aqua and whitecaps amidst three-foot waves. In addition, Scintilla was rocking violently, bow to mast, every few seconds.

We sent Chris and Chris to the seaward side of their boat, where they placed a step alongside their hull to make it easier to make the three-foot step from their dinghy to their deck.
We positioned ourselves on the opposite side, to bounce from the high point of our inflatable dinghy’s swing to hoist ourselves on deck, supporting ourselves on Scintilla’s thick wire cables for mainsail standing rigging. I caught my daypack between their upper and lower safety lines, stuck while Wayne became increasingly distressed from repeatedly becoming airborne inside our dinghy while trying to hold it in place alongside the bucking Scintilla.

Responding to Wayne’s shouts and his concern observing the awkward position of my knee, Christopher dashed over and yanked me through the safety lines, once I also moved my camera, which also hindered my escape as it jutted from my shorts pocket. Wayne leaped aboard and secured our dinghy as soon as I got out of his way. Christine, meanwhile, bronco-rode their dinghy, on the other side of the boat. Once aboard, she valiantly leaped back aboard her dinghy to attach a bridle to lessen the weight of their hefty fifteen-horse outboard. We dragged her aboard and Christopher used his mainsail halyard to haul their dinghy aboard, with Wayne pulling it from the front and Christine and I guiding it over the stanchions and lifelines onto the foredeck.

I brushed aside Christopher’s concerns about my knee, though as usual, he was correct, I did torque it. Years of sports and an easily panicked mother taught me to brush my pain aside until later.

Wayne and I turned down Christopher’s invitation to relax and have a beer aboard Scintilla, and instead jumped back into the fray, making short albeit tense work to return to our boat, clamber aboard and secure our dinghy. We expected the winds to continue to build.

I discount “red sky in the morning, sailor take warning” but when clouds take on bruise-colored shades,
I’m on alert!

“Too bad you didn’t get pictures of any of that,” Wayne commented, referencing our adventure once we left the protected mangroves. I reminded him the last thing he wanted me to do when we were in the middle of sh*t was to take pictures instead of paying attention to safety. “Pity,” he agreed. That means you get to see the pretty stuff but need to read to get the dramatic stuff.
The winds continued to build, though once they shifted to the Northeast—as expected a few hours later, around sunset—Gallivant’s motion calmed, despite 25+ knot winds. That night we enjoyed a glorious sunset and even a green flash, our view no longer obscured by a superyacht, like the previous night. Our view of the stars was also clear, with night vision unhampered by superyachts who irradiated the area with lights nearly as bright as a Times Square Christmas tree.

Considering, we slept relatively well. I awoke a little before 9 am. 

I set about making bread, as the last of our second stale loaf of gluten-free bread, purchased from Fort Pierce two weeks prior was finally gone.

Once again, Gallivant and Scintilla were the only boats in the anchorage. A little later, as I was about to pop my bread into the oven, Wayne noticed we were the sole remaining boat. We didn’t hear Scintilla’s radio hail or their departing calls as they circled the boat. We raised them on the VHF radio and found out weather guru Chris Parker’s radio forecast today provided the calmest weather to move in the next 3-4 days. They were bound for Warderick Wells, the best all-around weather protection in the Exumas. We made sure there was an available mooring and followed, once I pulled the bread out of the oven.

My first loaf of gluten-free bread cooked in s/v Gallivant’s oven became fish food because I unknowingly tripped the propane off while it cooked. The loaf top’s lovely golden-brown, dry surface deceived me—the bread was three-quarters raw, a gooey mess inside when I turned it out to cool. I’m still learning the ins and outs of an oven that up until this point seared the bottoms of my baked goods. This time I set my loaf pan inside a Pyrex dish with some water—it definitely slowed down the bottom cooking. Next time, less water, longer bake time.

No snorkeling or kayaking in Shroud Cay this time. No kayaking and snorkeling stop at Hawksbill Cay, in between Shroud and Warderick Wells. When given a choice between safety or adventure, we opt for safety. Maybe we’ll get another chance to peruse Shroud or Hawksbill by kayak or snorkel on our way back to the States.

Regardless, the Exumas, the Ragged Islands, and Eleuthera offer plenty of opportunities for fun. 

Was Shroud Cay worth it? Yes. Though if we knew before we chose it that we’d get a strong Southerly and an early Northwesterly before the area finally settled into a Northeast blow, we would’ve tucked behind Norman Cay for our first night, then bypassed Shroud for the protection of Warderick Wells. We’d cross our fingers the weather would make a visit to Hawksbill and Shroud on our way back.
Wayne, manning our dinghy through Shroud Cay, the Bahamas.

Location Location
This is a retrospective of March 6-8, 2021, mooring in Shroud Cay at 24 31.980N 76 47.911W. We lacked sufficient WiFi for this post for a while. We are currently in Staniel Cay, headed for Georgetown tomorrow—or Lee Stocking Island if we can’t day-trip it all the way to Georgetown.