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A couple Days at Allan's Cay
By Gene Gruender
After several disappointing days traveling around Eluthera, we remembered Donnie and Lisa aboard Elisha E, who we'd met back in Nassau. They'd talked about all the fun things to do at Allan's Cay in the Exumas. I was trying my best to show my nephew, Jason, a good time but was feeling like a failure. We changed course to find the place, hoping they were still there.
As we approached the anchorage we could see Elisha E. We're a little new at this and don't want to draw a lot of attention to ourselves. We just wanted to slide in, drop the hook and enjoy the place without making fools of ourselves. We headed for the spot where Elisha E was anchored between Allan's Cay and Leaf Cay. Between the two cays are two deeper troughs on either side with a higher ridge in the middle. Elisha E was on the other side of the ridge. Naturally, I found that ridge with my keel. After getting off the sandy ridge, Donnie came over and took my anchors out in his dinghy, showing me how to set them. Everybody in the anchorage could tell I was in class and Donnie was the teacher. So much for making a quiet entrance.
Allan's has several interesting attractions. On leaf Cay there is a large population of iguanas. These big lizards come running when a boat shows up at their beach. They are hoping there will be food handed out. One by one, they come walking up and stare at you. Soon you are surrounded by these guys. No food? Just throw some sand in the air. They'll investigate it just the same. Usually just raising your hand will do the trick, forget the sand. And more iguanas will come running to make sure they aren't missing out on something. Jason and Zachary amused themselves with the iguanas for quite some time.
A lot of the entertainment comes from the newcomers showing up. Newcomers like us, when we ran aground, or the many who followed. We'd watch as new boats would come in and try to anchor. The tide rips through the anchorage, first one way, then the other. The wind has little effect on how a boat lays. It takes two anchors to hold the boats, one for rising tide, the other for falling tide as the current changes direction. Some old timers made it look easy. A lot of new guys, like us, had a little more trouble with it.
Take the 45 foot ketch that showed up one evening. This was a gleaming boat, well equipped with all the latest gadgets. The stainless was clean, the gelcoat was unstained. The lady of the boat was at the helm, the master at the bow. They tried to drop the anchor over a bit from us and just upstream from a smaller sloop in the eastern side. They'd drop the downstream anchor then go on up to drop a second one. Both anchors would end up at about the same spot. They had electric windlasses, so, fortunately for them, it wasn't real difficult to get the anchors back up. They'd try again and drift down on the little sloop, who had started his motor to maneuver a bit, even though he was still on his anchors. He wasn't appreciating the entertainment a bit, he just didn't trust them. A third try didn't do any better. Then they tangled both anchors. At this point, most couples would be screaming at each other. They were calm and just went through their tasks. It was plain they'd practiced anchoring badly for some time. After three more tries, we had to wonder if the current there was causing the problem. Maybe anchoring at that spot wasn't possible. An hour after starting, they finally gave up and motored all the way around the anchorage to the western side. They were on their forth attempt on the other side when a ratty looking little 30 foot sloop motored up where they'd tried so many times next to us, dropped one anchor, continued on and dropped a second. The anchor lines were tightened up and they were barbecuing while the ketch was still on it's forth try on the other side.
Soon after a little steel schooner came motoring in and found the high ridge the same way we did. They were going much faster than we were and ended up stuck pretty badly, heeled over about 30 degrees. Of course, a number of us had to go offer help and advice. It's just part of the entertainment. We were sure that all he had to do was raise all his sails and he'd come off. He wasn't so sure. Finally he gave in, probably as much because he was tired of arguing with us as anything. Once he did, it only took minutes until he was off. Of course, I'm sure the fact that the tide was coming up very quickly didn't have anything to do with it.
That night about 2 AM Nellie woke me up, wondering what the pounding noise was. It was our keel, which had, once again, found the ridge. The tide was slack for a short period of time and the wind was blowing at right angles to the directions we'd point if there had been current. We were swinging a different direction, hanging on both anchors, and we were back to the ridge again. At least I had no audience while I set out a third anchor to kedge out a bit. After 2 days, people were beginning to think I was an old-timer. I didn't want to ruin my reputation. Of course, I got a few strange looks the next day when I had anchor lines out in all sorts of directions. And the fact that my two initial anchor lines were twisted around each other didn't help, either.
I figured my reputation was still somewhat intact, though, after Nellie talked to the people on the boat next to us. They left France and cruised for 3 years. After settling in Canada for a couple of years, they had started out cruising again. The wife had confided to Nellie that she and her husband were paying particular attention to how I was anchoring so they could learn how it was done!
One of the attractions to Allan's is the conch. Conch are big snails. They are fairly common here, slowly crawling around on the bottom just for the picking. I'd never caught a conch before. I'd never cleaned a conch before. I'd never eaten a conch before. What an education. What a mess. What a lot of work for so little meat. Getting a snail out of his shell and cleaning up the mess is not something I look forward to doing again. I suppose some of the others got a lot of entertainment at my expense, watching me engaged in that activity. The real entertainment for me came later, watching Donnie, sitting in his dinghy, pounding the dickens out of the meat with a hammer, trying to tenderize it enough to be eaten. Hey, you get your entertainment where you can!
There are also some very interesting coral reefs nearby. We took the dinghy over and floated over them looking through our glass bottom bucket while Zachary and Jason snorkeled over the top. Down among the coral there were all sorts of colorful fish between the swaying fantails and other corals. It was a very pretty sight. All of a sudden both boys were making a fast swim to the dinghy. It seems there was a 4 foot barracuda also enjoying the view! The boys just didn't seem to want to share that view.
The number of boats in the little anchorage varied each day. There were as few as a dozen and one day nearly 30 boats. With that many they were packed pretty tightly. Remember, as the tide changed, the boats all swung 180 degrees several times a day. It would look like one big dance. With 30 boats crammed in there, anyone who practiced poor anchoring techniques could cause some frayed nerves. With the unusual combination of slack tide and no wind boats just drifted around their anchors. This really got neighbors together.
Eventually we were oldtimers. We'd been there longer than anyone. As much fun as it was, it was time to move on and explore new places. Elisha E and Rainbow Chaser headed out to find Hawksbill Cay, reputed to be the prettiest Cay in the Exumas.
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