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.