Friday, December 25, 2009

You Have Mail…And Perhaps A Refrigerator

Provisioning on the Exuma islands is not like at home where, if you need to shop, you just go to the mall. Here, people rely on boats and, to a lesser extent, planes. Several islands have runways used by commercial services, charter planes, and small personal planes. But mostly, they use their own small boats, or local ships. The mail boat comes weekly to many of the islands, delivering mail and fresh food and supplies and picking things up to go elsewhere. Here are pictures of the mail boat at Little Farmers Cay, and the boat that came out from the island to meet it. On the small boat were adults, children, dogs, and a refrigerator to go onto the mail boat. It was a little choppy that day, but the transfers were made and the ship got under way. Another day, a barge (see below) carrying building supplies came in. There’s no dock large enough for a ship, so it pulled right up to shore and lowered a ramp to offload its goods. We have it waaay too easy at home.

Little Farmers Cay

What a terrific place with terrific people. It’s a small island, which we walked all around in about an hour, and it’s beautiful, with unparalleled views of the ocean and surrounding shallows. One of the highlights was an afternoon spent at the Ocean Cabin Restaurant and Bar, run by Terry Bain, pictured here with Chris (the blue drink on the right is the O.C. special, very tasty). Terry is the consummate host, and a font of knowledge about the Bahamas. He also is the spokesman for the Save The Exuma Park (STEP) group, so Anne was quite interested in his views of the park and its conservation. The Ocean Cabin is quite the gathering place. One of Terry’s neighbors dropped by with a dish his wife had made, which Terry shared with the four of us who were there. It was a Bahamian recipe: guava paste baked into a flat bread, covered with a sweet guava sauce, and served cold – delicious! During the afternoon, some of the diverse group of people we met were: Barry, a local who lives next door to the Ocean Cabin and used to own a landscaping company in Washington, D.C.; Pam and Jack, researchers with the University of Miami, who are setting up a research station at Darby Island; Rick, an owner of Darby Island; Steve and Cindy, who are renovating a house on nearby Big Farmers Cay; and Liz and Charlie who anchored near us that afternoon. Charlie has been on four Olympic sailing teams. So it was quite the diverse and interesting group: meeting such people has been one of the pleasures of cruising.

A Recap Of The Last Couple Weeks

We haven’t had good internet access lately, so I haven’t been able to post blogs. But we have been busy. From Big Majors Spot we sailed south through Exuma Sound to the Black Point settlement to deliver twelve boxes of school supplies, shown here in our cockpit, that we brought over from Florida as part of a Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) project. Then back to Staniel Cay to pick up parts for our 12-volt refrigeration system. Thankfully, we were able to resolve the issue of importing boat parts into the Bahamas; with a valid cruising permit, you don’t have to pay the 45% duty, which is good, because the duty on our package would have been $175. Once we had our parts, we headed south again to Issac Bay on Great Guana Cay, and from there to Little Farmers Cay, which I will detail in the next blog.


While at Big Majors Spot, one day we had such lovely weather and calm water that we decided to have cocktails with water – in the water, that is. Luckily, the lid to our little cooler not only comes off, but it floats. Not a drop spilled.

65 Feet Deep

See in the picture here, how you can see things so clearly? (OK, looking at it here it doesn't really look clear, but trust me, it is.) We took it while we were sailing in Exuma Sound, and we could see every rock and coral head on the bottom, even some fish. And yes, the water was 65 feet deep. Incredible!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

007 Snorkelers

Da dadala da…da da da. Da dadala da…da da da (in a higher key). DA DA (even higher).

Do you recognize that as James Bond music? If so, perhaps you remember the scenes filmed in Thunderball Grotto in the Thunderball movie. The grotto is just off of Staniel Cay. It’s just a small island to look at from the outside, but if you go at low tide, you can swim or snorkel inside. Fantastic! It’s like the whole island is hollowed out into a chamber with holes at the top (see picture at right). Inside, the water is about ten feet deep, and there’s plenty of head room to take out your snorkel and look around (see picture at left). There are also fish galore, mostly sergeant majors looking to be fed (see previous blog as a warning), so they swarm all around you. I made the mistake of telling another woman snorkeling in the grotto that I had been bitten by a sergeant major, and she immediately freaked out, saying that they were looking her in the eye. Oops! And yes, we have a license to kill—fishing license, that is. But not here, as the grotto is a no-fishing zone.

Do You Think They’d Mind If We Had A Barbeque?

After our stay at Waderick Wells, we made our way down to Staniel Cay. This is the first town we’ve seen in a while, and it’s a welcoming community. We anchored off of the island just north, Big Majors Spot, not realizing that the beach we were near is Pig Beach, so called because of the pigs that live on it, waiting for tourists to feed them (note the wild animal-feeding theme here). We dinghyed in to the beach, not to feed the pigs, just to look. Well, the pigs waded out to our dinghy looking for food. We didn’t have any and the dinghy engine quit, but luckily we floated into deeper water. The pigs didn’t appreciate our lack of donations, so they swam out to the dinghy, tried to climb in, and snorted pig snot all over Chris’ arm before he could get the engine started. I, of course, was taking pictures the whole time.

Guess That Wound!

So we’re in the Bahamas, swimming everywhere. We see sting rays, numerous nurse sharks and at least one black tip. So what does Anne get bitten by? A stinking little sergeant major fish. As we noted previously, tourists love to feed things. As we dinghyed up to a mooring ball near O’Brien Cay (it felt like home; my mother is an O’Brien), dozens upon dozens of fish, mostly sergeant majors, swam toward us. We knew they didn’t love us personally, just any food we might have brought along. We hadn’t brought any, and as we swam around the rocky islet, we lost them. Coming back around the corner, they found us again, and we again ignored them…until Anne felt a sharp pinch on her leg. One of them had bitten me, and once I got back in the dinghy, I saw that it had actually drawn blood (OK, not a lot, but it was a blood-drawing event) and left a mark that took days to go away. How embarrassing…

A Little Sign Of Home

During our walk on Waderick Wells, we came upon a cairn built by previous cruisers, who have carved, written, or painted the names of their boats on stones, driftwood, and other materials. One that immediately caught my attention was this one for Rising Tide out of Cohasset, Massachusetts, where my brother, Frannie, lives, and not far from Quincy.

Walking Waderick Wells

Those of you who know me (Anne) know that I love to walk. So, we had to try out the walking trails on Waderick Wells. We got the map and started out by climbing Boo Boo Hill, which is not that tall, but gives beautiful views across the northern portion of the island and down onto the coral formations in the waters of Exuma Sound (see photo at left). Looking at the little dotted lines on the hand-drawn map, I imagined paths through brush and along the beach. Wrong! The picture on the right gives a much more accurate example of what the trails were like–hell rock, pocketed sandstone, tangled roots, and challenging ups and downs–which, actually, are what we enjoy, although we could have done without the mosquitoes in the swamp. But we had crackers and cheese, water, and apples to munch on, so we were pretty happy. Besides, it makes the swim and glass of wine at the end of the day so much the sweeter. Along the way we saw several hutia, the only native land mammal in the Bahamas. They’re endangered and were once thought to be extinct, but were rediscovered on a nearby island and are being reintroduced to other islands. They’re pretty cute (I’m also partial to rodents) as you can see here, living in holes in the rocks. They’re larger than rats, but smaller than ROUS (see The Princess Bride for that reference).

Waderick Wells

We stayed at the mooring field at Waderick Wells for several days. The first day, as I mentioned in the previous blog, was Thanksgiving, and we partook of a great potluck feast hosted by the park. As thanks, we volunteered the next day at the park. Our task was to clean up and fix various maladies on one of the park’s boats, as you can see Chris doing here. So we scrubbed and bolted and gel coated, and had a great time doing it – at least we felt useful. The park is a terrific place to stay a few days. On the beach they’ve got the skeleton of a 52-foot sperm whale that died nearby; when you look down from the park headquarters building, it’s rather startling, kind of like Jurassic Beach.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Day at Exuma Land and Sea Park

I know it’s a little late, but here’s our update on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving morning, we sailed down to Waderick Wells, which is where the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park is located. They have a great mooring field, and Darcy, who was working the radio, told us that there would be a pot luck dinner at 2:00 at the park manager’s residence. What a great time! There were about 50 people there: park personnel, cruisers, and folk staying on the nearby private islands. And the food…the park provided turkey and pork roast, and everyone else brought a dish (or more than one). We had plenty to eat, and met some great people whom we hope to see again down the line. We have a lot to be thankful for.

Welcome to Norman’s Cay

Norman’s Cay is a cool place to visit. Like most of the places were visiting, it’s a small island, as you can see in this picture of the island’s airport, such as it is. But it is a relatively long island (a few miles, anyway), and we were able to take a nice walk. On the eastern side of the island is a lagoon with a veritable maze of depths, so we had to pick our way carefully through with our dinghy. The water was gorgeous, with infinite shades of blue indicating different water depths (see picture at right). There also were caves eroded into the hillsides; one had hundreds of conch shells in it. We snorkeled through some mangroves, which was terrific, and which I will write about in the future. One day we splurged and went in to MacDuff’s Bar and Grille for lunch. There was a bar inside a screened porch, and outside on a covered deck were several tables for dining, as well as a couple of sitting areas with colorful cushions on the wooden chairs and settees, and low wooden tables. A very nice, low-key atmosphere. We shared conch fritters, curried conch chowder, and some really wonderfully done fries; not a healthy lunch, but delicious, and plenty so we only wanted toast for dinner. Below is the princess of the place, a tiny Chihuahua who deigns to let you pet her, and begs for food. She wasn’t any luckier than the iguanas in getting food from us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Allen’s Cay, Home Of The Allen’s Cay Iguana (Cyclura cychlura inornata)

Traveling south, we anchored amidst several small, uninhabited cays that are known for their native iguanas (see this handsome fellow in the tree above); this particular species is only found here. Unfortunately, they are a great tourist attraction, and at risk of becoming dependent on man, or sickened by man. Fast boats from Nassau bring tourists here and show them how to feed the iguanas. I don’t know what they feed them, but when we went ashore, iguanas raced to the beach and hung around the dinghy, looking to be fed. We did NOT feed them, much to their chagrin. We got to see some interesting displays between iguanas, as you can see here. These two would approach one another, bobbing their heads and occasionally opening their mouths, then one would rush at the other and the other would back off, then they’d repeat the sequence. They kept this up for quite a while. If you can’t see it in the picture, the tops of their heads were blue, and their throats were pink. The snorkeling about the cays was great, too; we saw all kinds of fish and corals and sponges and invertebrates, as well as a big hawksbill turtle that let us hover above and watch it for a while before gracefully swimming away (the turtle swam gracefully, not necessarily us). I thought the picture below illustrated our couple of days here well; Mr Mac anchored in lovely waters offshore of an iguana on his beach.

Robert’s Cay, Exumas

The Exumas are a series of islands that run approximately northwest to southeast along the eastern edge of Great Bahama Bank. It’s an interesting area: on the western side of the islands are the shallow waters of the bank, while on the eastern side are the depths of Exuma Sound. Robert’s Cay is in the northern Exumas. We had nice sand to anchor in, and lots of reefs to snorkel on. We started referring to one of them as the “dinner reef”, because it yielded three lobsters for us that made several dinners (check out that big boy on the right in the picture!).

On nearby Ship Channel Cay, we spotted this funky little bar on the water, which we thought was an abandoned resort, but which turns out to be a place for the fast boats from Nassau to bring the tourists for lunch after they sight-see around some of the other cays.

Learning To Read The Water

Conditions in many areas in the Bahamas require that you follow Visual Piloting Rules (VPR). Basically, this means that someone stands on the bow of the boat to tell the person at the wheel when to turn to avoid hitting something, usually a rock or coral head. The person on the bow “reads the water”: dark blue=deep water, light blue=shallow water, brown=seagrass, black=corals. This is most easily done when the sun is behind you. One VPR area we traversed was across Yellow Bank from Rose Island to the Exumas. As you can see in this picture of our chart, Yellow Bank averages 2-4 meters (about 6-12 feet) water depth. See the small crosses on the charts? Those tell you that there are coral heads and rocks that you need to look out for. It was actually pretty easy to identify areas to avoid. As you can see from the picture to the left, the black spots show up clearly, and we had no problem avoiding them. It’s nice when something is easier than you expect it to be.

Peaceful Sleeping

A sure-fire way to lose a good night’s sleep is to suspect that your anchor is dragging. To avoid this, we try to set the anchor in good substrate (sand) and make sure that we’re solid in place, usually by taking fixes on several reference points, such as overlapping lights on shore or near and far markers or trees. That way, if their orientation relative to each other changes, we know we’re dragging. But when anchoring away from shore, and definitely away from any lights or man-made objects, we need another way. That’s where our GPS (Global Positioning System) comes in. As you can see in the picture here, this particular display is very simple; it shows a line where we have been. The single line represents our approach to the anchorage. The pendulum (no pit here, for you Edgar Allan Poe fans) represents the boat swinging on its (firmly stuck) anchor. This is a quick and easy way to see if the boat has been dragging, or merely swinging, a blessing when you’re stumbling to the cockpit at 2 am to check your position. If you see this display smiling back at you, you can go back to bed with an easy mind.

OK, we'll try this again - pics from previous blog

Rose Island

We’re playing catch-up again because we have had no internet access for over a week. So here goes.

Our first stop out from Nassau was everything Nassau wasn’t: isolated, quiet, pretty, and great snorkeling. Rose Island is a long, skinny island, and the western end is quite close to Nassau; day-trip boats bring snorkelers here. We anchored for a couple of days down at the eastern end, and were the only ones here. The shore of this island, and most of the islands we’ve been visiting, consists of rocky overhangs, with patches of sandy beach in protected areas. It makes for great snorkeling along the wall. In this picture, you can see Chris relaxing after we snorkeled, and the rocky shoreline in the distance. He caught this nice fish here on one of the reefs, which we happily ate for a couple of dinners.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTY: The image I tried to upload wouldn't load, so I'll try it again later.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paradise Island – The Anti-Nassau

Fact: Paradise Island’s original name is Hog Island, but who wants to say they’re going to Hog Island for an expensive vacation? Twenty miles from Nassau you can see the Atlantis Resort, shown here up close. It’s an intriguing structure. See the bridge between the two buildings? That’s the Presidential Suite, which, according to a city guide, goes for $25,000 per night, four night minimum. We were anchored along the Paradise Island residential shore, just off of this lovely little vacation home with its modest 50+ foot motor yacht at the dock. What really caught my eye was just to the right of this home. Lush green vegetation spilled down the hill to the water, and atop the hill was what looked like a Greek temple. I found out later that it’s called The Cloister, and is a popular wedding site. No wonder – it was absolutely enchanting! We didn't go ashore at Paradise Island, but from what we can see, it's pretty far removed from the rather gritty environment on the Nassau side of the bridge. We saw numerous limos on our walk, probably coming from the airport, and they all seemed intent bypassing Nassau proper and on crossing over to Paradise.

Nassau, Bahamas

We tend to prefer quiet, low-key anchorages, with lots of nature and not lots of development. Well, that’s not Nassau. However, we needed to pick up some fresh food and fuel, and Chris needed a part for the refrigeration, so we stopped here for a few days. We anchored near the east end of the harbor, which is actually the strip of water that runs between two islands. The harbor is bordered on the south by New Providence Island, where Nassau itself is, and on the north by Paradise Island, which is the playground of the rich and richer, but we’ll get to that in our next blog. We walked all over the place to complete our chores, then took a day to explore. Nassau hosts huge cruise ships – five were in port yesterday – and the thousands of tourists from the ships create quite a jam in the downtown area. British influence is prevalent in Nassau, with a statue of Queen Victoria outside the Parliament building (above; this style of architecture was typical of many of the buildings). However, the subtropical flora also exerted its influence on the architecture; I loved this stranger fig tree growing down the wall.

Despite the density of cruise-ship tourists in town, we managed to avoid the Hard Rock Café and fast-food places in favor of this little hut, which we found down an alley byfollowing the delicious curry aroma. We had a great lunch of conch fritters, curried mutton, rice, cole slaw, and corn, along with a couple of beers, for less than $20, which around here is quite a feat, given the expensive prices in Nassau.

Incredible, Illuminated Sand Spots

I mentioned in a previous blog that we try to anchor in sand patches; the holding is best there, and it minimizes our impact on the sea grass and corals. During the day, sand patches are easy to see because they show up bright blue against darker sea grass meadows. Deep sand is somewhat harder to distinguish than shallow sand underlaying with hard pan (rock), but it’s doable. Anyway, when we entered the anchorage at Frazer’s Hog Cay the other night, it was dark, with no shore-side lights nearby and no moon, only lots of stars. We intended to use the Q-beam to find sand patches, but figured it was going to be a difficult task, going back and forth so see what substrate was below us. But lo and behold, when we looked out over the dark water, we could actually SEE the sand patches gleaming in the starlight. Wow! We couldn’t get a picture of the sand hole at night, but here’s a picture of the contrast between the sand hole and the surrounding sea grass the next morning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crossing the Great Bahama Bank and Frazer’s Hog Cay

We had great conditions for crossing the bank: sunny, warm, and a nice breeze out of the south. We sailed at least half of the day, and reached six knots of speed under sails only! We had 4-18 feet of water under the keel all day, mostly deeper, but since the breeze was kicking up, the water was not as clear as it has been. The most interesting part was that we saw only four boats all day – there was NOTHING out there. You can’t see land, you can’t see other boats, and no one is talking on the radio – kind of like a little sailing purgatory. We reached the east side of the bank at dusk and continued on to Frazer’s Hog Cay, about another 15 miles. We entered the anchorage in the dark, and thanked goodness once again for our radar. It was so dark you couldn’t see the point that lead into the anchorage, but between the radar and Anne on the bow with a Q-beam (spot light), we had no problem. It was rather daunting to see the point the next day (picture at left), as it is rocky and not very forgiving. But we exercise extreme caution when we have conditions like this (and at all other times, too), so MOM, DON’T WORRY! All in all, it was a nice little anchorage (as long as you can find a sand hole to drop your anchor in, see Chris readying to haul anchor below) and it held us safe so we could sleep, which we appreciated. NOTE: We saw no hogs on Frazer's Hog Cay.

With Apologies to Honeymoon Harbour

We’ve now stayed at this anchorage twice, and I realized that I hadn’t posted a picture of it, and it really deserves recognition. This is a small anchorage at the base of a long U-shaped area bordered by small rocky islets on the east and west, and Gun Cay on the south. In fact, this was where Chris caught his spiny lobster (his first self-caught lobster), so it holds a special place in his heart (and stomach). Here are a couple of pictures that I hope do it justice.

Bounty from the Sea

A fishing boat (seen in this poor picture) shared our anchorage at South Cat Cay for a couple of days, and boy, was that advantageous for us! They came over to ask if we liked fish, which we affirmed. We then watched them pull their fish traps, and they brought us back four yellow-tail snappers, so fresh they were still alive. We gave them what was left of our Nassau dark rum, about a third of a bottle, so everyone was happy. Actually, Chris really liked that rum, but he wanted fresh fish more. He marinated and sautéed them and I made some ginger slaw (cole slaw with fresh ginger in it), and we had a couple of grand meals. Then, on Chris’ birthday (November 10th, the same as Anne's mother’s: Happy Birthday, Mom!), he gave himself a present by catching a tasty spiny lobster (with a seven-inch tail, plenty large to be of legal size, which is 5 ½ inches), which we had for lunch with rice salad. Pretty cool to be able to catch your dinner and cook it up ten minutes later!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Waiting for Weather at South Cat Cay

Winds from the northeast and east were predicted, so we made our way a few more miles south to South Cat Cay. We had to poke around for a while, but we eventually found a big sand hole to plant our anchors in. The winds started the day after we got here (Friday), and are expected to continue through the weekend. We’ve haven’t been able to get out in the dinghy to explore, but we’ve found plenty to do aboard: reading, writing, editing, getting the SSB to work, baking bread and trying out new recipes. We’re certainly not bored, but it will be good to be able to get out and about again once this system blows over.

Honeymoon Harbour, Gun Cay

After leaving North Bimini, we sailed south just a few miles to a tiny little anchorage called Honeymoon Harbour (British spellings in the Bahamas) on the north end of Gun Cay. We anchored in a lovely big sand hole; sand is the preferred anchoring substrate as it provides much better holding than sea grass or hard pan, and there is less flora and fauna to disturb. After murky waters, it’s so nice to SEE that your anchor is firmly stuck in the bottom. In this picture, you can see our anchor chain extending into the sand hole, while the boat floated over seagrass. By the way, that water is about 12-feet deep – nice visibility, huh?! We swam and snorkeled to our hearts’ content, although there was little in the way of coral reef here, there were lots of fish. The anchorage was apropos for the date; our 20th wedding anniversary was November 4th. What a great gift, to be able to do this.