Saturday, October 20, 2007

X Files Island

After a bone rattling ride out to French Cay and back today, we detoured and finally located the small island with the "x" that I spotted on Google Earth sat photos some time back. Even though we had bascially had enough boating for the day, we decided to see if we could get to the bottom of this:

What you can't easily tell from this sat image is what this looks like from the water. Most of the small cays around here of any size have some sort of sanded in beach on the lee side. The currents wash around them, and theres a shallow spot out of the wind and waves where you can drop the hook and wade ashore. Not this one.

First we circled the island slowly, about a hundred yards or so away. These waters are unfamiliar to us. There are coral heads and rocks just under the surface. We were hoping to see some kind of natural beach, or a place where we could easily get ashore. We did not.

The X mark should be just on the far side of that hump on the right side of the photo. Of course we were hoping to find a path someplace close to the X mark to get ashore.

So, we circled the island again, this time within maybe fifty feet or so of the shore, keeping a close eye out for submerged rocks.

If you imagine you are in a small boat, just fifty or sixty feet offshore of that island in the picture above, just north of that middle "hump" in the coastline, this is what it actually looks like:

We circled it twice in the boat, looking for a trail, a ledge, some sand. Some way to climb up the side of the thing.

This is the view looking directly at the SE corner of it, knowing that X is somewhere about a hundred and fifty feet in toward the middle of it from the edge of that bluff.

See any good climbing spots so far? No, we didn't either. La Gringa was a rock climber when she went to school in Wyoming, and she didn't see any good spots. At least not for an old gringo with bad knees in a bathing suit climbing out of the water up onto those sharp rocks.

And the water all around it is at least six feet deep, right up to the rock itself. Most of it is undercut by the waves. We kept circling, lowering our standards as we went. We started paying attention to the broken off pieces, most of them the size of a minivan. But at least they left a better edge, and had possibilities.

This is from coming around the south side, which even in the sat photo you can see is pretty gnarly. This is looking directly at the western end of it:

See where that piece broke off to the right in the photo? We were looking for a smaller version of that. It leaves a smoother surface, but that particular one is at least 12 feet high. ( those two big birds to the left are cranes we spooked, with about a three foot wingspan. The third one is a large "Laughing Gull".)

And remember, in the water next to the rocks, I could barely touch bottom with the tips of my toes. Its all encrusted with barnacles and coral and stuff I dont yet know the names of. But I know I dont want it on my bare skin. My fingers would not reach the top of the ledges there on the left from in the water. And even if they did, I was NOT going to haul my naked chest and belly over the edge of that stuff.

And if we did find a way to climb up on the western end, we would have to walk some 700 feet or so through jumbled rugged rock and brush, wearing bathing suits and diving booties. So we circled around again, closer to the rocks. I was thinking "man, whoever put that x up there sure wasnt marking this for a nice picknic spot. This sucker is almost inaccessible." Hmm....that might make it good for other things, though. Our curiosity was really getting to us. We examined every little crevice, looking for an underwater ledge, or SOMEthing to help us climb up out of the water.

The South side is even worse. Not only is there a chop to slap you around, but the water is deeper, the rock face is higher, and straight up for ten or fifteen feet from the water:

The X should be on the top of this cliff, and in from the edge. There's no way to see it from a boat. No other marks that we could find to ever be able to tell there was something on the top.

It was high tide when we were there. There was also about a 2-3 ft. chop running, which was splashing pretty well against the rocks on the windward side. There is no sand to speak of around this island. I mean, the bottom of the ocean is sandy around it, but it doesn't get shallower than five or six feet right up to the edge of it. And at low tide, these cays are undercut. Most of them are almost mushroom shaped. It might be easier to climb it at low tide, because it would make it easier to find a broken off boulder, or ledge to stand on. Whoever went to the trouble to put that "x" mark on it did not choose a place with easy access. We have been to many of the small cays around here, and usually there is a small beach, or shallow place on the lee side. You can usually wade ashore. It makes them great for picnic spots.

There is almost no chance the casual boater passing by will ever see the x on the top of this one, because its just too difficult to get to. There's no reason for most people to take the trouble to climb it. We also saw no signs of human visitors, not from the water at least. No trails, no discarded water bottles.

But of course, from looking at the satellite image, we absolutely know for sure that someone has been there.

We eventually settled on this spot as the most likely place to climb up. If you look at the sat photo again ( on the previous page) this is on that little bump exactly due north of the center of the x. You can see that its where a section of rock has fallen away, leaving a crevice channel bewteen it and the rest of the island: (this photos from the nice safe boat)

We anchored the boat about 50 yards away, sheltered by that little cove you can see in the sat photo, and the three of us went overboard. La Gringa, Dooley the Devil Dog, and me.

This is what the climbing spot looked like as we swam up to it. Its right in the center of the photo. It looked like there was a flat spot on the island just above it, where that scrawny little tree is. The rock is to immediate left of the dark shadow edge. Maybe you can get an idea how enthusiastic I was about the idea of climbing this thing in a bathing suit. But I had said I would do it. Me and my big mouth.:(and this photo is from the water)

I took the camera, of course. We had to swim right up to the rock. Its too deep to touch the bottom wading. And to be honest about it, the bottom here has all kinds of stuff on it. It's just not the place where you want go go tippy-toe anyway, even when you can:

So, we swam.

At the rock face, I held the camera underwater, and managed to get a shot of a ledge about three feet below the surface. This gave us a place to get a foot onto. I am not sure we could have climbed out otherwise.

This is dark, because it is between the broken off boulder and the island. The dog was swimming in circles, trying to find a way to get up onto the rock. But there was no way he could do it. The waves would pick him up, and he would try to scramble on the rock, then they would pass and he would fall back into the water. I finally braced one foot on that ledge, and the other against the side of the island. Its about a four foot opening. I lifted the dog onto the island, and he got a grip and climbed the rest of the way on his own.

Here's what it looks like once you make it out of the water, looking back down with the advantage of some height :

Sorry its a bit blurred. There was probably water on the lens, and its dark in the shadows next to the island. Oh, never mind... Look, The truth is that I was not holding the camera very steady. I was breathing kind of hard. I had just swum 50 yards against the tide, timed the chop to get onto the ledge, lifted a very nervous, wet squirming dog onto a rock ledge over my head, and then hauled my 56 year old out-of-shape ass up the side of a small cliff. Wearing nothing but a bathing suit and wetsuit booties, Okay?

Then La Gringa climbed it, and she made it look easy. But hey, she got to watch me do it first, and besides she's LOTS younger than I am. And she used to be a rock climber, and her legs are longer, and....and...and...never mind. She's better at it. Let's move on...

Climbing up the hillside was tricky. No paths at all. And the vegetation covers a lot of loose rocks, crevices, some good size holes that actually look like they were dug out on purpose:

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Climbing to the top of the island took a while, carefully placing each step. This is not the place to turn an ankle. Its also not the place to fall down. There is nothing soft to land on here. It is going to hurt. La Gringa took a counter-clockwise path to the top, while I did more of a straight switchback route. Finally, I was on top, and looking in the direction where I expected to see this big, white X mark.

Can you see it?

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This is what the X mark looks like today:

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At first, I did not realize what I was looking at. I was expecting wide bands of spray painted rock, or perhaps long pieces of heavy vinyl. I could only see the shape of the X, becoming overgrown. Then I took a closer look, and noticed pieces of paper stuck underneath some of the rocks

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I pulled some of them out, and it was like old, crumbly butcher paper. So, what happened was that someone marked this spot by unrolling and crossing two fifty foot long pieces of paper,which they then weighted down with rocks. It was meant to be temporary all along.

I pulled up a few pieces of the paper, to see if it had any writing, or markings on it. I could not find any. It is brittle from exposure to wind,rain, and of course the sun is absolutely fierce at this latitude. The paper appears to have been doubled over, or folded, before being placed. Here is a closer photo:

What I think happened was that the paper shaded and killed the vegetation under it. Or perhaps they took a machete and cleared that out so that the paper would lie flatter, and the plants are just now starting to grow back.

We looked around a while, enough to notice other, hidden caves obscured by vegation. But it had been a long day, so we gingerly worked our sunburnt way back down to the ledge where we climbed up:

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We didn't even try to climb back down. I lept off the ledge feet first. La Gringa tossed the dog in, and after I got him stabilized, she jumped in too.

I did not have a mask and snorkel, so trying to take underwater shots was not worth a lot of effort,but I did take a look at what was at the base of the cliff on the swim back to the boat:

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For someone like us, accustomed to clear, sunlit water,it is kind of spooky up against the island. There are grottos and underwater caves all around it.

We had already spent five hours in the tropical sun, swum from the boat, and climbed the island. We were not equipped with the right footwear to really explore this, we told ourselves. And we still had to swim back to the boat and motor back to our home marina. So, we decided to call this a pretty good first look, and told ourselves that we need to come back when we can spend the day and really look around. There's still some questions in my mind about it.

(After posting this, I was going through the fifty-something photos we took, and this one caught my eye. It's another angle on just one of the holes we found, and I dismissed it right off because it was blurry.

Then I did take a look at it, because the photos on either side of it were not blurry. Then I saw the strange shadows of the rocks on the far side of the hole. If you mentally subtract the loose piece of rock in the way, does it look strange to you? Eerie, but a total accident of light. I think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice as usual, it may take us a little while to figure out how to operate this new site, perhaps Ill ome back tonight after a beer or two, my brain normally operates better then. I like the format though Gringo. Well done.