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s/v Always & All Ways
No Grouper today.
Mark
03/24/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Friday, March 23. After a beautifully peaceful night, the morning dawned clear and sunny. After breakfast, I attached the reel to my spear gun. It had come with a reel when I bought it, but it was not actually the correct model for that gun and I had never got around to using it. I figured that with the size of that grouper, it would be a good idea to be able to play him like with a fishing rod after I shot him, so I rigged it up. I took the dinghy to the edge of the patch of reef where we had seen him and went snorkeling. Craig was doing some maintenance and said he would join me with his Hawaiian sling soon. The patch reef was actually very beautiful coral and lots of fish – bu no grouper. I circled it twice cutting back and forth across it. I had about given up and was focusing on some good sized yellow tail snapper when Craig showed up. As he circled a large clump of coral, he came face to face with the grouper. They were both startled and the grouper was GONE. He disappeared into a hiding hole and never reappeared. We waited nearly ½ hour circling back and forth, but no grouper today. No conch here either. We decided to take the dinghies out to the edge of the reef and see what it was like. First there was a stretch of patch reefs that we had to dodge around and then the outer reef. It was not the solid, breaking & drying reef that we knew from Belize. It was slightly less high and broke, but never dried and had lots of breaches through to the outside. We started swimming cautiously in the significant surge. Canyons wound back and forth between coral too high to swim over. Then the canyon would open to a grotto maybe 25' deep and 30' around. At one point I popped through a breach in the reef and went outside. The outer edge of the reef was all old and dead. It dropped quickly to beyond sight. When I turned to swim back in, I discovered there was quite and outgoing current. Ooops. I waited and rode the surge back in, treading water against the tide until the next surge carried me further. No problem. The fish were amazing. I saw three of the largest midnight parrot fish you can imagine! Each had to be at least 300 lbs. They were beautiful iridescent blue and black. Midnight parrots may be nearly extinct in some parts of the Caribbean, but not here. There were also tons of black durgeons. I had never really seen them in schools before. So close tot he open water, everything was large. I decided I could at least get a good sized snapper for dinner since I missed the grouper. I was nearly lined up on a nice one when a surge spooked him and he disappeared. At just that time, a small tuna (bonito) came around the corner. Too bad for him, seared tuna for us. The reel worked well and I had no problem reeling him in and swimming back to the dinghy. Although I did see a couple interested barracuda, they did not approach. After lunch, Deb & I went to hookah another of the mini-atolls. (Craig & Liz were resting.) It was much like the previous – fantastic! Once again we traced up and down the 30' edge of the atoll seeing lots of coral and fish. One large trigger fish (~2') and a whole school of dark blue tangs stayed just in front of us all the way around. At one point I saw a “something” coming out of a crack in some coral. It was about 1 1/2” in diameter and 18” sticking out that I could see. It looked fleshy and soft, maybe like a small elephant's trunk? It was laying on the sand. I cautiously touched it with the tip of my flipper and it just slowly retracted sort of scrunching up shorter and fatter until it disappeared. No idea what it was. (Deb later chewed me out for poking at things I did not know what they were.) Again there was the thermocline at about 15'. We made it a shorter afternoon than yesterday. It was a slightly smaller patch anyway and we ended our dive by swimming back and forth over the interior looking for conch. I found two more nice big ones. It is strange, we have only found 5 conch so far, but all of them are real large. Where are the youngsters? After cleaning and towing the hookah, we went over to Salida as Craig wanted us to show him ow to clean conch. I took along Gram's rook hammer and a boning knife and quickly had three of them out of the shell. He did the other two – got the first one quickly, but I had to help with the second. Deb then showed him how to gut and skin them while I had a beer with Liz (who took pictures for Craig but didn't want to watch. We took the filets back to our boat and I cut up one for conch salad – just one made more than enough for 4 of us. I also did the seared tuna (which I had “filet and released” earlier). Deb did a veggie and dip plate and Liz brought bratwurst slices so we had quite a feast. We talked about moving on and decided probably Monday as we don't want to run into surcharges for checking in to San Andres on Sunday. We could stay here a week (or two or three...) but we will get to stop on the way back as well and so far we are really enjoying traveling with Salida.

03/25/2012 | Cynde
I'm so jealous, fresh tuna wow in coffee grounds. Going to Boqutte with Rotarians for a couple days
One more time
Mark
03/24/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Saturday, March 24. Today's grib files force our hand. We must leave tomorrow because the winds will be from the ESE – something that very rarely happens here and perfect for a sail to the NE to San Andres. By Monday it is back to NE which would be right on the nose. It is about a 30 nm sail and so we can make it even at 4 kts. which hopefully means sailing instead of motor sailing. So today is our last day here this time. WE WILL RETURN! In the morning I swam off the boat in water that was truly “gin clear.” You could count the grains of sand on the bottom from the deck before diving in. In between swims, I reviewed the charts for tomorrow's trip and double checked waypoints. After hamburgers for lunch, we went hookahing again – all 4 of us. This time we went to the third mini-atoll near us. It again had great coral and great fish. There were several huge mushroom shaped coral heads that rose 20-25' from pure white sand. It is quite interesting that the white sand makes the coral stand out more. You can see all the nook and crannies - the way coral is piled up and built one upon the other. The funny thing is that with all these nooks and crannies and with a hookah to allow plenty of time for inspection, I still never found a lobster. Maybe the local fishermen get them all. We had sundowners on Salida but returned home for an actual supper for the first time since leaving Bocas. Just as we were preparing to sit for dinner, we witnessed the most amazing sunset with the brightest and longest green flash I have ever seen. And shortly thereafter the tiniest crescent moon appeared just over Salida's mast. A great ending to a great day.

A Warm Welcome.
Mark
03/22/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Thursday, March 22. This morning we went ashore to “check in” with the local officials. We were not sure what to expect as we had heard various stories from different cruisers. As it turned out we were very warmly received. We took the dinghy ashore and spoke (in Spanish) to a couple of young guys on the beach. They went to get “Senior” who was at least 23 y.o. and the man in charge. He led us across the island to their office where he dutifully copied the info from our zarpes into his log. While we were waiting we were served orange juice from Army canteen cups. After the paperwork was complete he welcomed us to the island, invited us to come watch TV with them if we wanted and offered water or food if we needed it. We were welcome to stay as long as we wanted. We couldn't have asked for more. Next we took the dinghy and sounded the sandy area in front of the boat. Finding depths of at least 6' all the way in, we weighed anchor and slowly motored across the sand until we could drop anchor and still be over the shallow sand once we fell back on it. We will take a picture and post it when we can but it looks really cool to see our boat sitting over the white sand just off the island. After we relocated, we did boat chores. Deb cleaned the windows in the salon and I repaired the high output alternator ( a ground wire was disconnected and the fuse on the hot side had corroded to nothing.) Then the water maker failed with a “Needs Service” light. It turned out that the replacement filter I had installed before leaving was not up to the 160 psi that was required. It split. So I put the old one back on. It still drips a little, but it works and I have a drip ledge installed so it cannot drip on the motor now. Next time in the US, I'll have to get a high pressure filter. For now I can still make fresh water, I just have to run the bilge pump after each run. In the afternoon we took the hookah out to one of the baby atolls. Craig & Liz came along as well. It was fantastic. All along the edge it dropped from 1-2' to 30'. Beautiful coral and lots of fish. We even saw a fish we had not seen before – almost clear with black tail fin and pectorals. Deb looked it up and it is a “masked hamlet.” Also saw a large midnight parrot fish – quite rare. I found a large conch just as we were ending our dive and that prompted a “hunt” for more to make conch salad. We tried the grass just off the island, but the crew on the island can obviously swim that far and there were shells but no live conch. Further off the island, in another patch of coral Craig & I each found a large conch. I also found a 3-4' grouper. Tomorrow I'll return with a spear gun and hopefully we will have grouper for supper. We were invited over to Salida for cocktails and once again the apps turned into supper. They have a very nicely set up boat. (It is a Robinson-Cane, same as the Moorings cats.) Almost caught up on sleep. Another early bedtime and we will be all set. What a great day it has been.

WOW!
Mark
03/22/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Wednesday, March 21. It was a great night. The wind built slowly until by dawn we had double reefs in the main and about 1/3 of gennie not because the wind was too strong, but because we wanted to slow down to arrive mid-day. The stars were phenomenal. The Southern Cross was high in the sky and rotated through the night, its tail always pointing to the non-existent South pole star just like the big dipper (which we could also see) rotates about the North pole star (which was below the horizon). At about 0300 there was a meteor shower. One even appeared to curve and change course as it passed the Southern Cross. Even with our sails reefed down, we were making 6-7 kts in ~ 15 kts of true wind on a close reach – these cats do love to reach! Salida and we changed places through the night with them appearing to the East and South of us by morning. Instead of reefing so much they had just sailed tighter to the wind (and thus more East) to slow down and and were heading back West (and thus down wind and slower) by morning. We arrived at the Albuquerque Cays nearly together. I first saw land at about 0730. Two small rounded bumps on the horizon and one ragged bump quite a ways to the West, but still East of our way point on the SW corner of the atoll. As we got closer it became obvious that the ragged bump was not an island, but a warship. Hmmm, maybe we'll swing a bit wide of that point. The Albuquerque Cays atoll covers an area of several square miles, but except for the two islands on the SE corner, nothing breaks the surface or really gives an indication of the depths which rise from off soundings to 30' in several boat lengths. What a shock early explorers must have had! We had good charts and way points from previous cruisers so entered without difficulty. Salida chose to go first and I let her. Once we were into the “lagoon”, it was easy to see where the water was 50' and where it was 6'. We followed the waypoints and also eyeballed it in too the center and up to the islands. At one point we saw a large motor launch filled with soldiers that we thought might be approaching us, but they turned and disappeared behind as we kept our attention forward to avoid errant coral heads. Off the Northern end of the Northern most island there stretched a beautiful patch of white sand that might have had 8” or 8' of water over it. We approached very slowly and watched the depth jump from 25' to 6' in a boat length. Larry always says that “Six feet is good water.” (He is from the Gulf coast of Florida.) But when it jumps up that quickly, I get nervous so we dropped the anchor right there in the sand and backed out to deeper water. As we drifted back, Deb noticed that the chain was going off at an angle and, sure enough, when we went back and picked it up, it had snagged a coral head. Since it never had tension on it, it came up easily and then I backed carefully straight back form our anchor as we laid the chain. It set well and we let out more chain, the kellet and the bridle. If we were to drag, the anchor would quickly be in 25' of water, so we set up for that possibility. When we swam the anchor, the first thing we noticed was the incredibly beautiful coral right below the boat. We then swam up to the shelf and it turned out to be ~8' deep and extended at that depth for quite a ways. We probably could get the boat all the way on to the shelf. (Maybe tomorrow.) After lunch and a nap, we took the dinghy exploring. There were three tiny atolls within easy distance of where we anchored. Each went from ~30' up to 6' or less with sandy centers and coral surrounding. We anchored dink in the closest one and went snorkeling. Unbelievable! Very healthy coral, lots of reef fish and crystal clear water. This is definitely hookah territory-the walls are fantastic and spread out across the bottom in fingers at ~30' in pure white sand. The others were the same. Tomorrow we dig out the hookah and set it up. Craig and Liz from Salida are certified divers as well and we will offer them to use it too. The launch that had left full of men returned with only two and ignored us. Then we saw that the warship was gone. Probably this was the “changing of the guard” with new soldiers dropped off and the old ones relieved. Generally the guards here welcome cruisers. You cannot officialy clear in to Columbia here, but as long as you have a Zarpe to San Andres, they welcome you to stay a bit and enjoy the atoll (You cannot go on the military island, but the other island is for fishermen and I believe we can go ashore there.) We had heard that the Commandant in charge a few days ago was not welcoming at all so hopefully it WAS a change and the new ones will be more usual. We will find out tomorrow. We invited Craig & Liz over for “sundowners” and chicken wings. It was a typical “Belizean sunset”, i.e. no sunset as a cloud bank covers the horizon, but we had a good time and got to know Craig & Liz better. An early bed to catch up on sleep and a peaceful night in very tranquil waters with a nice Caribbean breeze to cool things off.

Fun Day at Sea.
Mark
03/21/2012, Somewhere in the Caribbean

Tuesday, March 20. Isn't that what the cruise ships say? Well, today really was! It didn't start that way, however. We got up at midnight. I had everything set before we went to bed, jack lines rigged, dinghy secured all lifelines up, etc. I fired up the engines, raised the main and prepared to weigh anchor. Except that there was a HUGE chunk of coral that somehow got wound not only around the chain, but the bridle as well. It measured at least 2' in all directions and the windlass had trouble lifting it. No way we could knock it loose from standing n the tramp and poking it with the boat hook! So, I launched the dinghy, drove it around and in between the hulls to wrestle with the monster. With moderate difficulty I got the briddle unhooked from the chain, unwound from the coral and handed up to Deb. Then I had to lift the chain to try to unwrap it. Fortunately we were in only 18' of water; unfortunately our new 26 lb. kellet was attached beynd where the coral was wrapped so I had to lift 18' of chain and the kellet. Also unfortunately, there was a pretty strong current putting as strain on the chain. Somehow I got enough slack to loop it over the coral and it worked.The monster sprung free and headed for the bottom. I re-stowed the dinghy on its davits, powered forward while Deb raised the rest of the chain and anchor and we were (Finally) off. We motored out around the reef and headed for the Albuquerque Cays. Salida left Bocas about the same time. They were about 12 miles West of us and 4 or 5 North. The day delay to avoid rain cost us about 5 kts of wind but also gave us calmer seas. They were 3'-5', mostly 3' with a rare 10' thrown in to make sure we were paying attention. It was beautifully sunny with wind less than 10 kts. From the NE. We motor sailed most of the day with all sails up making 5-6 kts. By evening the wind picked up and we were able to turn off the engine and just sail which made it quieter for the off watch person to sleep. We truly could not have asked for a more beautiful or fun day at sea.

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