After our night of sailing we pulled into the Emerald Rock anchorage at Warderick Wells. Wardrick Wells is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There are about 25 moorings in the anchorage but the charts say you are allowed to anchor outside of the field. Our plan was to anchor, sleep, then go into the ranger station to inquire about a mooring in the north field. The north field is the famous one where you anchor in narrow channels surrounded by shallow pure white sandbanks that go dry at low tide. If you have ever looked at one of those glossy sailing magazines you have no doubt seen pictures of it. Gorgeous. I’ve imagined taking a picture of our boat sitting in this idyllic anchorage for about 15-20 years or so. Finally we were here! However the entrance to the north field is narrow, dotted with a few coral heads, and has a killer current to boot. The winds were in the upper twenties so we definitely didn’t want to do it unseen or while we were very tired. Didn’t seem smart, besides we were planning on spending several days-hopefully through Christmas here so no hurry either. We dropped anchor several hundred yards behind and to the side of the completely empty Emerald Rock mooring field and promptly crashed into bed. The pretty would still be there when we woke up.
We were woken up about thirty minutes later with the warden knocking on our boat saying we had to leave. Apparently you must not only be out of the mooring field but a certain distance from shore too. We moved back about 300 feet and satisfied the warden. It wasn’t the most pleasant first impression of the Land and Sea Park but I get it, they want you to use the moorings, the twenty bucks help support the park. We just didn’t see the benefit of using a mooring ball when we have a perfectly good anchor, wide-open sand anchorage (not harming any coral), and not interfering with other boats.
After a few hours of sleep we got in the dinghy and headed over to the ranger station to see what the Land and Sea Park was all about, where all the trails were, take a walk, and arrange plans for moving into the pretty north mooring field. There is often a waiting list and we didn’t know if we needed to sign up on it, we could see lots of boats already there. The mooring balls are $20.00 a night or you can volunteer four hours of work for a nights stay. On the sail over Keith and I decided that we wanted to volunteer our time if they needed something done for one or two of the nights. He has plenty to offer mechanically and I was was planning on pulling out the Sailrite sewing machine and my supplies if they had covers that needed sewn or repaired. If they just needed trash picked up or something scrubbed, that would be fine too-we thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some other cruisers and personally support the park too.
There are several beaches on the island to pull the dinghy up on and a dinghy dock at the ranger station. Since we were headed to talk to the rangers we pulled up to the dock. Walking up to the office we saw a sign saying it was $10.00 per person to land a dinghy. Huh? In the office I greeted the ranger (interrupted the ranger from her book) and said it was our first time to the Land and Sea Park. I was greeted back with a grunty “uh-huh”. I said we were interested in getting a ball for the next day. I was answered with a grunty “twenty bucks”. Yes, thank you, and how about the draft, we draw 5’8. “You will fit most places” she said. Ok, that was vague. The conversation continued in this difficult way. I was starting lose my motivation, but said that we were also interested in the volunteer program if they had projects that needed done. “Yeah, you could do that” she said. Even with more prodding I never really got who we were supposed to see to arrange that. Then I finally asked about the sign by the dock asking for ten bucks (each), was it just for use of the dock or access to the island itself. Nope, we were expected to pay $20.00 to come ashore. Like as in right now. Even after seeing the sign I was a bit dumbfounded by the answer. I asked if that was on top of the mooring fees we were expecting to pay-yep. I was quite stunned and a bit confused-hadn’t read anything about a landing fee anywhere. What I was very sure of was that we did not stick a twenty dollar bill in our pockets to come walk on a beach!!! Hell, we didn’t even bring shoes. Not to mention from where I stood I could see a handful of other islands with beautiful beaches that I did NOT have to pay to walk on. I thanked her, went outside and told Keith we needed to go back to the boat. Even if we had our wallets with us, it wasn’t happening. I get supporting a park, the problem was after my encounter I just didn’t feel like doing so anymore.
As I walked down the stairs to the dinghy I could feel my eyes stinging with a huge wave of disappointment. I thought I had learned my lesson on the danger of expectation, I obviously I hadn’t. The long dreamt of photo of our boat in that anchorage was not going to happen, the days of walking the highly recommended trails wasn’t going to happen, the Saturday sandbar pot luck wasn’t going to happen, the famous cruisers Christmas dinner at the wardens house wasn’t going to happen, snorkeling the coral gardens wasn’t going to happen. In a matter of moments I had gone from excited to crushed. My views on the park soured in just minutes of being in the headquarters. Before we got to the dinghy the ranger called after us and gave us permission to take a walk-for today. I said we didn’t have any money on us, we were just going back to the boat. She said it was OK, go for a walk. We got in the dinghy and headed back to the boat anyway, but Keith knows me well and knows how much I had looked forward to walking up to Boo-Boo Hill at least and realized I might regret not going when we had the chance. We decided to go ahead a take a short walk, as we both knew, even with out discussion, we were unlikely to come back here.
^^ The north mooring field.
^^ a picture of some else’s boat in Warderick Wells.
We anchored the dinghy on the beach and walked up what we thought was a trail but when we passed the back of a sign we turned around and saw that we had just come from a restricted area. S#it. Now we are not only that jerky boat that anchored instead of picking up a mooring and the cheapskates that didn’t pay the ten bucks (each) to land, we were now the A-holes that just stomped through the protected bird nesting area. (Which I would never have done on purpose!) We made it to Boo-Boo Hill, snapped a few picks of the boat names on driftwood, and even took a few minutes to try and find names of ones we knew or recognized from the radio. Neither of us much in the mood, more just checking the box. Obviously many (everyone else?) has had a different experience with Warderick Wells than us. This gem, not-to-be-missed, highlight-of-the-cruise, island just completely missed the mark for us. We started talking about all the other islands that had been such a more pleasant experience and just as beautiful. It was therapeutic and by the end of the short walk (we did find the real path back to the beach) we put it into perspective. It’s just one island, so what if we were the only ones who didn’t fall in love with it, there were plenty more that we had. We find the Bahamians lovely and friendly, the rangers were sadly the very rare exception and hopefully we just caught them on a rough day as we had heard they were terrific. We dinghied away form the bustling main mooring field filled with boat loads of people having fun and headed back to our lone little boat way, waaayyy, out on the other side. We laughed and kind of felt like Emerald Rock should have been name Exile Rock.
^^ Mark and Cindy (Cream Puff) you were easy to find!
^^ Jesse and Stacy (Smitty) you were a little harder to find! Love the crab.
^^ If you look very, very hard-out past that little island (Emerald Rock)- you can see where we anchored. It probably looks like a spec of dust on your screen. So glad we had to wake up and move back another 300 feet immediately.
I do hesitate to even post this as I think our experience was far different than most and I don’t want to taint it for someone behind us. That, and the whole if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all thing. Perhaps if we had just called ahead and paid for a mooring ahead of time it would have gone differently, I don’t know. For now, we are off to find any other beach that doesn’t cost $10.00 per person to walk on. Yes, I’m a little stuck on that-kind of blew my mind I guess. However, when you can’t find the differences between a national park and a club, maybe something isn’t right.