FNPS Trip to the Exumas

Diary of an Island Hopper
Written by Richard Brownscombe, edited by Laurie Sheldon

February 17, 2012
Miami to the Exumas
Today we pushed off the dock and embarked on the first and longest leg of our journey - the crossing from the Miami River to Nassau. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a moment of boredom in the 16 hours it took to reach our destination, which we spent eagerly anticipating the next week’s adventures and soaking up our new surroundings. As our boat plowed through the glassy blue, two varieties of flyingfish (Atlantic and Oceanic two-wing) leapt ahead of us, using their long pectoral fins to clear a floating mat of gulfweed.  Porpoises darted alongside and under the bow until they finally ran out of their seemingly inexhaustible energy.

February 18, 2012
R/V Coral Reef II - our transportation and 10-day home
We finally reached the Great Bahamas Banks and felt like we were in a tropical oasis. The carbonate limestone platform is only 25 meters deep, unlike the surrounding areas, which are incredibly steep. As such, the water looked like a shock of turquoise (especially when compared to the dark blue-green we’d been travelling over) and seemed straight out of a Conde Nast magazine. While in Nassau we visited a 1797 colonial jail round-house which was converted in 1873 to a library-museum of reading nooks with shuttered windows and old wood display boxes filled with all manner of artifacts, shells, and island basketry.

February 19, 2012
Rhachicallis americana (Hogbush)
We moored overnight at Allen's Cay in the Exumas Land and Sea Park and awoke to perfect warm weather and clear, calm water. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to deal with going cool water snorkeling, but after a minute or five my body temperature had acclimated, allowing me to concentrate on the world beneath the surface. The exquisitely-colored fish and coral seascape kept all of us captivated. An hour later, the ever-watchful Captain John came in the Zodiac to shuttle us back aboard the Coral Reef II to eat. Lunch exceeded my expectations - and how! Although it’s technically a research vessel, the gourmet spread was befitting of a luxury yacht.

Strumpfia maritima (Pride-of-Big-Pine) - rare in Florida but
ubiquitous in the sandy dunes and coastlines of the Exumas
After lunch, we took a botanical hike with Steve W., FNPS President, then created our first plant inventory and collected uncertain and abundant specimens. Both the botanical and common names were serious challenges for me - there were just too many of them, and not enough time to learn them all. Many of my shipmates were well versed in plant-speak; they repeated the names for me and pointed out species characteristics with tireless patience. Rhachicallis americana (Hogbush) was ubiquitous, and chameleon-like in form: some were flat, and growing in rock crevices, some resemble bonsai "trees", and others reminded me of the whip-like Ocotillo. Strumpfia maritima (Pride-of-Big-Pine) became a favorite with its wind-shaped form and delicate pink flowers. We coined another "Baby Powder" for its tiny sweet-scented white flowers; its botanical name was Antirhea myrtifolia. The specimen "landscape" plant everywhere was Joewood, Jacquinia keyensis. Clearly, its form was the byproduct of life under harsh circumstances.

February 22, 2012
Encyclia altissima  -  Hodge’s Butterfly Orchid
Each cay has been different, but all have had new botanical, archeological, and/or marine life to discover. We happened upon Hodge's butterfly orchid, Encyclia altissima, which had inflorescences so tall they were beyond our reach, and excitedly gathered around to capture it on film. On another cay we found a Tillandsia utriculata specimen that was three feet in diameter! We snorkeled into two caves with sun holes and stalactites hanging from their roofs. One of the caves was abundant with fish, which seemed to expect us to feed them.

February 25, 2012
Susan Walcutt hiding behind
Tillandsia utriculata (Giant Wild pine)
Today was our last day. We took the Zodiac through a mangrove-lined salt slough, where we saw a small shark and several rays, and emerged onto an idyllic beach. The water was warm and relaxing, and the setting stunningly beautiful. We lingered there, breathing in the scenery with a mix of sadness and ecstasy.

February 27, 2012
We arrived in Miami today, and must go back to our lives as we knew them. Our trip would not have been the same without:
  • Captains John Rothchild and Lou Roth, whose attention to safety and love and knowledge of the Exumas were critical factors in getting us there and back happy and whole,
  • Steve Woodmansee, who took us on“death-walks” in the hot sun and generously shared his unmatched botanical expertise,
  • Orvis, who provided an unstoppable flow of gustatory delights,
  • Patty Phares, who added an element organization to the mix - and prizes, and
  • All of the other shipmates, including Mary Rose, Annie Schmidt, and Susan Walcutt, whose wonderfully unique personalities made our traveling experience that much richer.
Our bold explorers
All photos except group c/o Richard Brownscombe; group pic c/o Capt.’s Lou Roth and John Rothchild


Hobo Botanist said…
Great Trip Everyone! For more photos, you can go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75684761@N08/sets/72157629481214035/

And check out this cool Gigapan one can zoom in on: http://gigapan.org/gigapans/99743
Mary Rose said…
I want to thank Richard for describing the great fun trip to the Exumas just like I would have liked to describe it, if I could write coherently about such a wonderful experience.
Unknown said…
Wow, wish I could have been there!!!

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