Friday, January 22, 2010

How To Ruin A Beautiful Thing

Many of the Exuma islands are privately owned, and they are marked as such on the charts. So, we don’t go ashore. On a few we saw small signs that said “Private.” But only on Rudder Cut Cay did we see such ugly signs as this – large, black and orange, and everywhere – warning against trespassers. What otherwise is a beautiful beach has been marred not only by the sign, but by the attitude. But there’s plenty to see in the water, like this beautiful (albeit fuzzy, being underwater) orange and red starfish, and they can’t control where you go on the water.

Close Encounter…No Camera

According to the charts, there are several ocean holes along the shore of Acklins Island a few miles from where we were anchored. These holes provide access between the ocean and the lagoon, and are analogous to the blue holes seen on land. We decided to dinghy over to snorkel them, but changed that plan when we rounded the point and pounded into the wind and waves – not comfortable at all. So we turned around and went over by the abandoned government pier to take depth soundings and…dolphins! We haven’t seen dolphins since we crossed over to the Bahamas, and have really missed them. There were five, and they thought we were pretty interesting, too, because they came over and just swam around the dinghy looking at us, not five feet away. They stayed quite a while. Of course, I didn’t have my camera. But sometimes, you just have to sit and enjoy the experience.

Acklins Island: What Terrific People!

The Crooked-Acklins area consists of two large and numerous small islands surrounding a shallow lagoon in a U-shape, with the opening to the ocean on the west. We anchored at Acklins Island, one of the large islands (50+ miles long, less than five miles across), near the Spring Point settlement, and went ashore to take a look around. It looked to be about three miles walk to the settlement, but that’s OK, because we like to walk. Well, we nearly didn’t get the chance. Before we got a half mile, a nice gentleman offered a ride to the settlement, and we accepted. On the way back, no fewer than five people stopped to offer us rides; we walked because we needed the exercise. And everyone, whether driving or walking, welcomed us and said hi. Spring Point is smaller and less village-like (i.e., more spread out) than most of the other places we’ve been so far, with a few houses and businesses (one gas station, one restaurant, one bar, one store) stretched along the road. We stopped at the bar, which advertised wholesale liquor, because Chris has been looking for Olde Nassau dark rum, which we picked up in Bimini and have had a problem finding since. Colby, the owner, welcomed us to Spring Point, and apologized not only because he didn’t have the rum, but because he couldn’t drive us back to our dinghy, since he had just picked up supplies and was unloading them. Perhaps it’s because there are fewer than 500 people living on the entire island (I read that in the 2009 Bahamas phone book) and they get so few cruisers, but the warm welcomes were very gratifying. We also saw several kestrels, small falcons, on our walk, and that’s the only thing I got a picture of (although not a good picture, here it is).

UPDATE: We're now on Mayaguana (no internet lately), and the people here are just as friendly. I love these out-of-the-way islands!

Tsunami Warning

We left Clarence Town on January 12th, for an easy overnight run to the Crooked-Acklin Islands. Late afternoon, we pulled the anchor and went in to the Flying Fish Marina where we filled our fuel tanks, then headed out. About an hour later, just before dusk, we got a call from the marina on our VHF radio, telling us that there had been an earthquake in Haiti (7.0 on the Richter scale) with potential aftershocks, and that a tsunami warning had been issued for the southern Bahamas and other nearby areas. Great. Then we realized that the open ocean was exactly where we wanted to be during a tsunami warning, since a tsunami’s damage generally occurs when the water reaches shallows and land. In deep water, we might only see a tsunami as a swell. So instead of following our intended course along the coast of Long Island, we headed out beyond the 1,000 meter depth contour before turning south again. We maintained contact with the marina and another boat that had left earlier in the day. And…we had a beautiful night. No tsunami, no bad weather, and we made our waypoint by dawn.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

I may have mentioned in an earlier blog that fresh foods are really expensive in the Bahamas, compared with most places in the states. That’s because, on most islands, fresh food is shipped in by boat once a week. On Long Island, however, they actually grow some types of produce, and sell it once a week at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries building in Clarence Town before shipping it out to the other islands. There was some beautiful produce there, and it was fresh and local. And the prices were terrific compared with the grocery stores we’ve shopped in elsewhere in the Bahamas. For example, in George Town we paid $1.95 per pound for butternut squash. In Clarence Town, we paid $0.50 per pound for some freshly harvested hard squashes and pumpkins. That’s quite a savings, especially since we bought about 15 pounds of squashes here. They also grow produce on Great Exuma, where George Town is located, but you have to go to the government packing houses to get the deals, and they’re not close to town. In Clarence Town, the packing house is right across from the government pier (because it’s sent out by boat) and the beach where you land your dinghy, so it was extremely convenient. So we got lots of squash and papaya and other stuff (see the picture) for less than $16, and our stomachs and wallets are quite happy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Clarence Town, Long Island

Well, we’ve left the Exumas and are now in the Far Bahamas. We know because we had to change to the Far Bahamas Explorer Chart Book (tricky, eh?). A norther was predicted, so we hunkered down in a little anchorage off of Clarence Town. Clarence Town is quite small, but has some imposing architecture. These two churches—one Catholic (top), one Anglican (bottom)—are on hill tops, so you can see them from quite a distance. The people are very friendly. The fellow in the photo below stopped us and asked where we were going, then led us to a nearby local restaurant for lunch. When we thanked him, he said that was the Rasta way. Unfortunately, it’s been so quiet that the woman who owned the restaurant hadn’t cooked anything that day, so we ended up at the Flying Fish Marina Bar and Grille for OK burgers and good conch fritters. That was all right, because a boat that we recognized from George Town was at the marina: Pas de Deux, with Dave and Donna. We had a nice chat with them at the bar. What the food was lacking, the bar totally made up for in location and ambiance (at least, as we like it), as you can see below.

Time for Engine Check-Up

We could barely believe it, but our engine turned over 1,000 hours on our way to Clarence Town, near the southern end of Long Island. We've had the engine for just over three years, but most of those hours have gone on since last May. That means that we need to get out the book and see what systems need to be checked. It also means that we’re motoring way too much. We’ve actually been sailing or motor-sailing quite a bit, which is good, since it’s quieter without the engine, and it also uses less fuel. But sometimes the wind just turns on your nose, and you’ve got to fire it up. One benefit: hot water at the end of the trip for bathing.

Stocking Island

I mentioned in a previous blog, is most of our time in the George Town area we were anchored at Monument Beach Stocking Island, across the harbor from town. One day we hiked up to the monument above the beach and were rewarded with some fantastic views. Here’s a picture of the monument itself; no marker, so we don’t know what it was built for, but the top currently makes a great place for a pair of ospreys to nest. Looking toward the south, you can see the principal anchorages: Volleyball Beach and Holes #0, 1, 2, and 3. We met a lot of good people here and plan to come back, but for now it was time to head out again.

Cool Goings-On in the Sky and on the Sea

sundog: 1. a parhelion. 2. a small or incomplete rainbow.

parhelion: a bright circular spot on a solar halo; a mock sun: usually one of two or more such spots seen on opposite sides of the sun, and often accompanied by additional luminous arcs and bands. Also called sundog.

We saw this sundog when we were in George Town on New Year’s Day. We actually wouldn’t have known what it was, but someone was kind enough to announce it on the VHF radio. It’s not a great photo of it, but you can see the arc off to the left of the sun.

Also in George Town Harbour on New Year’s Day, we watched local boats racing. This one was particularly pretty, painted bright yellow. The booms on these boats are longer than the boats themselves, which allows them great sail area, and these boats really scoot. Beyond and to the left of the boat you can see the cut into Lake Victoria. The cut is actually a cut through the stone, perhaps ten feet wide, with a bridge built over the top. You dinghy through the cut to get to the dinghy dock. Coming back out is a (wet) adventure when the tide is ebbing against the wind!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

George Town, Exumas

Or Mecca, according to some cruisers who come here every winter, for the entire winter, to meet and greet and have fun. We’ve been hearing about the huge cruising community in Elizabeth Harbour, which is where George Town is located, and expected boats to be anchored cheek-to-jowl. There are dozens of boats here, maybe a hundred, but it’s a huge area, and we haven’t felt hemmed in at all. However, we’re told it’s still early in the season, and after New Year’s it really begins to grow, especially around regatta time in March. Most boats anchor along the shore of Stocking Island (see the picture above) for protection from the prevailing easterly winds. We anchored off of lovely Monument Beach. There are myriad activities organized by the cruisers: art group or yoga on the beach, volley ball everyday at 2:30, Trivial Pursuit competitions, etc. Anne did yoga and Chris played volley ball one day, and we’ve met lots of nice folk. Last night we attended a meeting of the Alcohol Research Group (ARG) on the beach. This group is kind of the antithesis of AA, with eating, drinking, singing, a bonfire, and an all-around good time. George Town itself isn’t as large as I’d expected for the largest town in the Exumas. In fact, you’re looking at the backside of the “downtown” area below, across Lake Victoria. It’s not Nassau…and that’s a good thing! There are a couple of markets and banks, gas stations, restaurants, liquor stores, and hotels – everything we need to reprovision, especially fresh veggies and fruit.

Life Will Arise!

Like little mushroom men, that is. It rained the night and early morning before our hike on Lee Stocking Island, and everything was still damp and dripping, but that and the cloud cover kept it a bit cooler than it would have been with the sun shining, which was OK with us. But look at these mushrooms! They obviously emerged AFTER the rain stopped, because they were right in the open, and the sand around them hadn’t been washed smooth by the rain like it had everywhere else. So they must grow to full size under the sand, then pop up quickly (within a few hours) when conditions are right, i.e., after a rain. And you can see by comparison with Chris’ hand that they are a good size. We thought they were pretty cool, but then, we have a thing about interesting fungi.

Lee Stocking Island

After Christmas, we went down to Lee Stocking Island, where the Perry Institute for Marine Science is located. We had a nice introduction to the institute by Eric, the island manager (originally from New Hampshire), but there were no researchers there at the time. We hiked some of the island trails, passing by Coconut Beach (Pretty, isn’t it? And yes, we got some coconuts to eat) on our way to Perry’s Peak, the highest point in the Exumas. Offshore of the island was this pair of little islet, appropriately named Tug and Barge – don’t they look like it!

Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Our last internet access was Christmas Day, when we posted the previous blogs. Our winter holidays have been fun and interesting. We spent Christmas on Little Darby Island at the research lab being set up by Pam and Jack, researchers at University of Miami. Pam studies stomatolites, which were early microbial reef builders, whose role was presumed to have been taken over by corals, until they living specimens were re-discovered in the Bahamas. How cool is that! Also at dinner were Innis and Gerhard, a Dutch/German cruising couple, and Cindy, a Bahamian jewelry maker originally from Barreterre (near Darby Island), now living in Freeport. We ate al fresco while the sun went down, and we even had Christmas lights after dark. But who needs a Christmas tree with a star on top when you have stars like this one! For New Year’s Eve we were in Elizabeth Harbour between Great Exuma Island and Stocking Island, across from George Town, the largest town in the Exumas. Some cruisers had a bonfire on the beach that we attended, but only for a while because the bugs, they were abiting!