The Jumentos and Ragged Islands are closer to Cuba than to Nassau. The west
coasts lie on the Bahamas Banks, which are usually calm, while the eastern
shorelines are rocky and rugged and face the North Atlantic.
There were many good reasons for us not to go the the Jumentos and Ragged
islands. They are remote. All but one are uninhabited. Few boats go there so
there is no form of assistance available. There are rumours of night time
drug activity, using these islands as a transit point due to their
remoteness. There are also no anchorages that provide protection during the
passage of a cold front, when winds clock through 360°
from the prevailing south easterly.
However, most of the way down the Exumas we had anchored in the company of
other, sometimes many other boats. We wanted to find seclusion. Having
listened to the experiences of a couple of cruisers who had visited the Raggeds, we decided
we had to see them.
We travelled south from the west coast of Long Island, via the narrow Comer
Channels over the shallow bank, a distance of 45 miles to Water Cay, the
most northern island in the Jumentos. We saw no other boats on the way and
had the island to ourselves. Well, almost.
As we set our anchor, we saw what appeared to be a large ray moving
around. These do not present a problem, so Iza set off immediately in her
kayak to explore the beach. Geoff meanwhile, was convinced this 'ray' had a
large fin on his back. Not being over courageous, he hung over the swimming
platform on the boat with one hand and waterproof camera in the water the
next time the 'ray' passed. The 'ray' was a 7 foot bull shark, the shape
having been diffused by ripples on the water surface. Later on, another
is used by fishermen from
Long Island and George Town, to clean their catches. The bull shark
obviously assumed we were a fishing boat.
Water Cay was narrow, with long white sand beaches on the west coast and a
rugged cliff fringed Atlantic coast. We stayed there for 2 days and saw no
moved further south to Flamingo Cay. More fabulous beaches on the west coast
separated by limestone cliff and outcrops. In one such cliff is a cave that can
be entered by kayak. We saw one other boat at Flamingo Cay, but moored in a
cold front came through while we were there and
Cay is not a recommended anchorage during a frontal passage. However, the
Jumentos and Raggeds are all further apart than the islands in the Exumas
and the more protected alternative would have required us to go some way south but
we did not want to make that move so early. There was a rocky outcrop lying
in a northwest direction on the northwest corner of Flamingo Cay, which
appeared to offer some protection at least until the winds moved northwest,
although there were a few coral heads in the area. After a reccie by dinghy,
and some assurance from the forecasters that the winds would not be too
strong during this frontal passage, we decided to stay at Flamingo Cay. We
moved Dream On around the NW outcrop, and laid a track with GPS waypoints that
the autopilot could follow out if necessary in the dark. Fortunately, the
winds did not clock to southwest until daylight, and we stuck it out until
they were from the west. As the weather after a frontal passage is unsettled
for a day at least and was not conducive to further kayaking and
beachcombing at Flamingo Cay, we decided to use the westerly, then
northwesterly winds to move further south.
As we moved out of our little cove on the northwest of
Flamingo Cay and headed south on the banks, we were faced with some heavy
post-frontal rain squalls with heavy winds and had a very bouncy, wet ride
for a while. The route on the banks took us through a narrow pass between
two shallow reefs. We arrived at the waypoint recommended for safe passage
and were hit by another squall and some very large waves at exactly that
moment. We came through unscathed but after some serious adrenalin flow.
We stopped shortly after that experience at Jamaica Cay.
We had intended to stay at least a day, but found Jamaica Cay did not offer
the same fabulous beaches and coves as Water and Flamingo Cays, so we continued
south after a lunch stop. As the winds were still
northwesterly, we went out through Jamaica Cay Cut east into the Atlantic
which was now much calmer than the banks and had a very pleasant sail down
to Raccoon Cay.
We came in around the south of Raccoon Cay and anchored
in sheltered water between Raccoon and Nairn Cays for the night. The
following day, with winds now from the east, we moved around to the east
side of Raccoon Cay to find fabulous beaches, wooded hills, a blue hole
inland, no other boats and the whole island to ourselves. This was our kind
of island. We loved it.
Over the next few days, we explored Raccoon Cay,
Buenavista Cay and Nurse Cay heading north again. No other boats in sight.
However, yet another, but milder cold front was due so we headed south
again, around the southern tip of Raccoon Cay to Johnson's Cay, which offers
good protection from southeast through westerly winds. Still we would have
to leave as the winds went northwesterly.
The small bay at Johnson's Cay was semi-circular with a
fabulous white sand beach with rocky outcrops at its northwest and northeast
corners. This became our favourite spot in the island chain. We only wished
that we could have spent longer there. In the morning of our second day at
Johnson's Cay, the winds were blowing from the west and due to shift
northwesterly at any time. We consulted our weather forecaster over single
sideband radio and decided to use the westerly, then northwesterly winds to
make an overnight passage back northeast in the Atlantic. If everything
worked in our favour, we would try to skirt the southeast corner of Long
Island, continue up the east coast of Long Island and make it to Rum Cay
before dark the following day a total of 120 nautical miles.
Shortly after leaving Johnson's Cay on a relatively calm
Atlantic, we caught our first Dorado, (also known as dolphin fish and
mahi-mahi). This fish offers some of the best eating from the sea. It is a
fast deep water predator, in a range of vivid green colours and one of the
favoured catches of deep sea fishermen. Ours was around 36 inches long
and provided a 24 inch long, 2 inch thick fillet from each side. We live
very well on board!
After a race to clean the Dorado before nightfall, the
weather then deteriorated, with some heavy rain and thunder storms. This
caused the wind to gust from all directions and slowed our progress
considerably. We saw the south of Long Island at daybreak, but fought
against strong winds and sea to try to reach the island. We realised that we
would not make it to Rum Cay that day, so put in to Little Harbour on the
south east coast of Long Island for the night.
They are some magical deserted islands in the Jumentos and Ragged Islands
and we would like to re-visit for longer at some future time. There are
very few boats, no annoying radio traffic, but the occasional low overflight
by US Drug Enforcement Authority Black Hawk helicopters. These are usually
at night and the helicopters are unlit. No doubt they have good infrared
photo coverage of us.