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.

North Bimini, Bahamas

We spent one night on the dock in North Bimini, and did some exploring around while we were there. The waters surrounding the island are incredibly clear and myriad shades of blue. In the picture on the left, it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the ocean began. But although we managed to work our way successfully through the waters, others apparently have not, as you can see by this rusted steamer parked on a rocky portion of the North Bimini Island shoreline.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

First Stop: Bimini

Our first foreign country check-in in Mr Mac! We arrived in Bimini at about 1:00 pm Monday after crossing over from Fort Lauderdale, and headed for the harbor. The only problem was that the three outer buoys shown on our chart were missing, so we had to feel our way in. A bit nervewracking, but good practice, since channels in the Bahamas are not as well-marked as those in the US. But the water sure is pretty! As we headed in, the depth went from over 200 feet to 80 feet in a matter of seconds. When I could see the bottom well I asked Chris how deep it was: 50 feet! Visibility got even better when it shallowed to twenty feet, ten feet, five feet… We basically felt our way in (we love our depth sounder!) past the shallows, and put in at the Bimini Blue Water Marina. This is the first dock we’ve been at since we left St. Pete in May, since we prefer to anchor out, but it provided easy access to the Customs and Immigration offices where we checked in to the country. See the Bahamas courtesy flag flying near our mast? Dinner out as a treat to celebrate our arrival, and we were in bed by 8:00, since we’d been going since yesterday morning with not a whole lot of sleep.

So, How Clear Are The Gulf Stream Waters?

The waters of the Gulf Stream, and the waters near the Bahamas, are so blue and so clear, it’s like looking through glass. As we crossed, we’d see clumps of gold-colored sargassum (a seaweed, see it in the lower left corner of the picture above) floating, with schools of tiny fish beneath. We also had a visit from these dolphins, who played around the boat for a few minutes. Believe it or not, in both of these pictures, the dolphins are underwater, even though they look like they’re out of the water, especially in the picture below, where Anne is watching the dolphin from our bow sprit. A few moments later, the dolphin swarm straight down, and we could see it perfectly clearly until it disappeared under the boat.

Bahamas Bound!

We set out from Fort Pierce Sunday morning intending to sail to Miami and make the jump to the Bahamas from there, but it was just so darn nice out when we got to Fort Lauderdale about 1:00 am, and Bimini was the same distance as Miami, so we made a hard left turn. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions: full moon, good breeze (although it died after a while), and slight seas. However, the Gulf Stream, which when we last saw it helped us speed up the coast at ten knots, now conspired (Yes, conspired. I can anthropomorphize anything – try me.) to run us north again, so that even though we were running a compass course of about 140 degrees, our course over the ground was closer to 90 degrees. Even more fun was avoiding the heavy shipping traffic going in and out of Fort Lauderdale. But once across the stream, we were able to steer directly toward our goal. All in all, it was a great crossing, and the sunrise was fantastic, as you can see in the picture.

Ashopping We Will Go

After returning to Vero Beach from St. Pete, we were busy shopping for provisions (food and such) for the Bahamas. We continued shopping in Fort Pierce, our next stop on the ICW. The cruising guides, as well as people who have been there, say that the food selection is limited, so we tried to stock up on what we liked best. Amazingly, we were able to fit it all into lockers and hammocks, albeit sometimes cramped, as you can see here. Mr Mac has terrific storage, with locker space under the settees, and more locker space UNDER the locker space under the settees. It makes getting at some stores a bit of a hassle, but what do we have more of now besides time?