February 3, 2013 , Big Majors Beach, near Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Sitting here (here and home, at the moment, is just off Big Majors Beach, a wee bit North of Staniel Cay) watching the dissipating dark grey clouds of night and starting to feel the heat of the day as the morning sun rises, sipping on a coffee, and agreeing wholeheartedly with Dave as he came up the companionway and commented,
"What a Glorious Day, Babe".
So lucky and thankful to here. Babe !
I had to look at the calendar day and date this morning as I know that quite some time, and distance, has elapsed since our last post, back at Normans Cay. A definite (involuntary?) escape had us disconnected from not only The Collective but our cell phone was flashing "NO SERVICE".
(Oh, and it's February ? What happened to January ?)
A few days of "The Jitters" followed, which shows just how addictive the constant stream of social media can be. The thought that, gasp, we might be "missing" something. Anything! And, perish the thought, what IF something happened and someone was trying to reach us ?
But anyhow, the jitters were quite quickly and easily offset by the hike to Boo Boo Hill, just atop Warderick Wells National Park, where cruisers have been going to for years, no decades... and leaving behind some "natural" memento of their visit.
Usually a piece of driftwood or a conch shell inscribed with their names, or their boat name and the year, some so faded there is nothing left to discern but the scratch marks etched in wood that might have one day long ago, read something.
One of the handmade signs on the island advertise "Take only Memories. Leave behind only Footprints". We should all treat Mother Earth this way!
And what followed these long morning hikes ? Snorkelling by the reefs in the afternoon. Clear turquoise (and warm) waters that had you jumping into them with happy abandon, swimming over to the reef to witness the many schools of very bright and colourful reef fish hiding from the two giant intruders casting a shadow over their underwater home, seeing a baby ray glide its way along the bottom (awww, how cute) and then quickly jumping back in a scared flutter of finned feet as Dave barely misses the momma 8 foot ray that silently appeared from behind the reef in search of her little one. That was a YIKES moment !
We stayed for enough days to meet most of the fellow boaters that were moored in the narrow strip of deep blue on that large expanse of almost visible sand,
some we have crossed paths with before, and some were new to us, in both cases, all of them we are hoping to meet down the road again. Meet and greets held by the gazebo that cast a shadow on the structure of the whale on the beach (that sadly died from eating too much plastic), or having sundowners over an unorganized and impromptu get together on our boat, that had us feasting on nachos and chili and peach pie (calories in = calories out?), however, not one HUTIA (a relative of the Canadian Groundhog perhaps?) was seen, although there are rumors that the Island is overpopulated by them, as evidenced by the mountains of hutia poop on "Hutia Highway" (one of the walking trails), that has you scampering and climbing over limestone rocks and trying to keep away from the Poisonwood trees.
I read somewhere that the Gumbo Limbo sap is the only remedy to the itchy welts of Poisonwood, however, have not laid eyes on anything that resembles a Gumbo Limbo, and of course, being disconnected from The Oracle, one cannot easily Google any wisdom or knowledge and has to rely solely on any information others can provide. And sadly, Jen at the office had no idea what I was talking about.
And what of the jitters from the disconnect to the Collective ? We paid $15 for 100 mb of data, which had runout in an impressive short amount of time that it took us to download our email and glance at the news headlines, and ascertain that, thankfully nothing dreadful had happened while we were "away" and no one had missed us too much ! So why worry ? Man !
But there was an email from our kids saying they missed us "terribly", which is always nice to read, but makes the heart-ache a tad much? Followed by the great news that my daughter is coming to visit, how fantastique !! Mon !
And then, as is always the case, weather was coming and it was a decision of stay where we were for more days of serious wind, or move now before and go someplace new... So we opted to move on down to Big Majors, where we joined the many other boats already there, and anchored ourselves snugly by the beach of pigs.
Ah, the Beach of Pigs ... another milestone for us, as Dave and I remember reading blogs, over the snowy winter months years ago, of other cruisers living on the waterways of this cruising lifestyle, and posting pictures of their adventures, as they fed the pigs ! We enviously just couldn't wait to be "doin' the same!" and here we were, today, "doin' the same"... Ah, sigh. Dreams, can and do, come true.
A few tears of joy where shed behind the camera lens, as Dave threw the cabbage we had bought back in Vero Beach and imported into the Bahamas all those weeks ago, along some bread ends into the water. The very large spotted pigs heard the engine and ran (yes, ran !) out of the woods, across the beach and splashed into the water, and swam towards us. Man !
Just before the onset of the impressive blow, we re-anchored facing North, and got to work on some "boat jobs". I re-stitched the leather on one of the wheels, as the thread was coming undone, waxed the floors, oiled the teak, made some cinnamon buns and tried a new bread recipe, offered up by MAJIKS. Dave installed a toggle switch for The Wirie, so we can keep the fans on without burning out the Internet, organized his tool chest and went hunting with the boys from MAJIKS and Blue Moose, but sadly, came home empty-handed.
And so today is Sunday, and the only reason we know that is the VHF is happily booming in Bahamian lingo "today be SuperBowl Sunday mon, come on down to Staniel Cay for Happy Hour, and the kick-off, and feast on the Superbowl Buffet and part-ay!
... MAN !"
January 25, 2013 , Norman's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
There are stories that begin with "once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after". And then there are stories that are sadly filled with the drama that only drugs, sex and violence can induce, that don't necessarily end with anything pleasant for anyone involved, but probably make for more profit in the selling of books and movies.
How Banyan stumbled onto this little piece of paradise, complete with a captivating history is largely due to the Cruising Guides, The Oracle, and oh, a silly little thing called, The Weather.
The Windy Weather, as you may remember, had us high-tailing it out of the very bouncy surge-filled Highbourne Cay and motor-sailing North into Allen's Cay for a lunch-time diversion with the Iguana's.
We didn't much like the idea of staying there, and so a two hour sail later, we turned left and entered the channel towards Norman's Cay. It was much less bouncy in here, and we happily dropped (and immediately set) the anchor.
The Cruising Guides strongly suggest Norman's Cay as a good and/or must-stop on one's visit down the chain of islands that make up the Exumas. Sure enough, as we arrived, we were instantly and immediately mesmerized and awed, in a jaw-dropping type of way, by the large expanse of quite shallow ever-changing green to emerald to turquoise to sapphire waters, and if you remember the T.V. commercial, this was THE island where the M&M's dropped down out of the sky on the unsuspecting, and quite stranded, but oh so happy, party-ers. Ok, maybe not, but sure looked like it. We saw no evidence of M&M's or party-ere!
We watched the sun set.
And relaxed. And were comfortable. And then we looked at each other in surprise as we heard, and then saw, the approaching descending plane coming in for a landing. On this island? In the middle of an abandoned "nowhere"? WTF ?
And so, dear reader, here's our story. A story that combines our visit here with the fascinating history of "yester-day". A story that combines such infamous characters as Manuel Noriega, George Jung, Carlos Lehder, Pablo Escobar, the Medelin Cartel with Dave and Alexandra, the crew of Banyan, anchored here in the idyllic setting of Norman's Cay.
In the 1970's and 80's some were quite happy to (turn a profit) and oblige the marijuana and cocaine that America was demanding.
Just imagine how quickly the speed boats and planes could making the short jump from the US shores to the many secluded Islands and Cays of the Bahamas that would offer the seclusion and privacy needed for these type of covert activities. The Abacos (an Island Chain in the Bahamas slightly North of the Exumas) and the island of Andros were also pit-stops in these runs, but the center of all the action, was right here at Norman's Cay.
Norman's Cay was always a popular anchorage spot for visiting boaters and yachts, due to its location and protection from the elements. Also, there was a small residential community, complete witha clubhouse, store, marina, and an airstrip...
Then, along came a man named Carlos Lehder, who in 1979, shelled out the modest sum of 900K for half of this 650 acre island!! This purchase netted him the Norman's Cay Yacht Club, the airstrip, grocery and liquor store and the 10 rental units. All he had to do was scare away the residents and the tourists and bring on the drugs.
Pretty soon, any boaters or visitors to the Cay were chased away by gun toting guards, probably standing on this weather beaten and decaying wharf.
As seems to be the case with greedy profit turning people, they didn't stay far enough under the radar, and the plane and boat traffic was steadily increasing and all of a sudden Norman's Cay blipped on the radar of Those Who Watch, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Those Who Watch, aka the DEA, planned a task force, named it Op Caribe, and the agents, disguised as boaters (cruisers?), set up surveillance from Shroud Cay (hmm, methinks we now need to go visit there?) and it all went down, just like in the movies, with the bad guys ending up in prison and the island slowly returning to some form of natural glory, the only things left are the abandoned and decaying buildings and the remnants of something hidden in the shrub.
Dave and I arrived on the beach, and anchored dinghy ashore, and walked the hot and sandy path arriving at the airstrip where those planes must've landed last night. And what do we hear off in the distance, the roar of engines as a small charter plane arrived, disembarking some passengers and loading up others.
We were once again, surprised in a jaw dropping type of moment, that there were not only planes, but signs of life, and people, with dogs, and activity happening here. A construction company was obviously here trying to build something up.
We remarked at how the dense vegetation made us feel as if we were in some secluded jungle where there may be drug-runners around - how little did we know!
We crossed the airstrip and reached the beach, left our set of footprints on the coarse sand that pedicured our feet, and rounded the point back to our beach-anchored dinghy. At one point we thought we might be stuck as the beach ended, the high and dangerously ragged edges of the honeycombed limestone made climbing up and over impossible, and so we backtracked, and Dave bravely disappeared into the shrub looking for the path we both knew was "just there". He came out a few short moments later,
Dave: "You'll never believe what was back there?"
Dave: "Abandoned motel units !"
Me: "No way!?"
Had we known then, what we know now, we would have looked for some of the bullet holes in the buildings that are reported to be there.
Had I known about this history I would've yelled "HANDS UP" as he was trying to exit the shrubbery in one of those "you had to be there" hilarious moments.
And then of course, there's the sunken Curtiss C-46 Commando plane,
resting in not even 4 feet of water, not far from where we are anchored, that played a part in this drug-running days of mayhem.
The current was a tad too strong for us to feel comfortable snorkelling around its protruding jagged edges, so we circled 'round a few times, checking out the ravages the salt water had done to the innards. We didn't see any skeletons. Or satchels of dope. Or bags of money. Dommage.
Carlos Lehder was sentenced to life in prison. However, from the little research we did, we think he may have received a reduced sentence, for some testimony he may have supplied, indicting others.
A movie was made from these events, starring Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, entitled "BLOW".
Dave and Alexandra enjoyed the rest of the day walking some of the many beaches, snorkelling these gorgeous waters, and gunk-holing with dinghy.
And all the rest of the pictures are on our Sailing Banyan page, like us to view !!
January 24, 2013 , Allen's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
The Arawark Name for the animals that clambered over to meet us on Allen's Cay, was "Iwana". As our dinghy approached this gorgeously picturesque beach, with clear sapphire waters, we saw first one, then another, then as we jumped in the water to land dinghy, there were a dozen of them flitting about. Had this been some pre-historice time, millions of years ago, they very well may have been the size of New York skyscrapers and we would have been madly running away, yelling and screaming and hollering.
Instead we were the giants and these beasts were staring up at us, blinking their eyes in leisurely fashion, wondering and questioning our arrival on their surf and on their turf.
But I get ahead of myself. We woke up this morning, or rather, since we spent another night NOT sleeping (much), due to the surge, wind, chop, you name it, we had it, and we swore that we were getting the YOU KNOW WHAT outta here ! No matter where we were going, we were going, and it had to be better, right ??
So we pulled up anchor, got precariously close to our neighbour boat doing so, which made me rather nervous, but all went without incident, thank The Universe, and by 8:30 we were heading NORTH.
The Capt'N solemnly sipped his coffee and said "You do know what I always say about going North"??
I solemnly sipped my coffee, and blinked my eyelashes, and said "Oh, but it will be so worth it, you'll see!"
"Yes, dear" he replied, and sighed.
We rounded the point, pointed towards Allan's Waypoint, and carefully navigated our way in, and immediately on the right, we saw a very secluded, very picturesque, very private, perfectly C-shaped and just gorgeous beach and anchoring area. No one was there and we immediately pointed in, did our circle to determine depths, and dropped anchor, that set immediately, in quite shallow water.
Shallow being, what 7 feet ? We are getting quite used to, and quite comfortable in this shallow water anchoring business. It IS quite disconcerting though, coming from very deep and very dark Nova Scotia waters, to see through the water and your anchor clear to bottom. In fact the visibility is so good (we don't even need our glasses) we can sometimes see the sand ridges or trails that sealife leave behind.
Into Dinghy we went, with camera in hand, and Dave sternly admonished my bringing along a carrot. I know you're not supposed to feed these lizards, however, I figured if there were that many of them, all coming at me, or even ONE coming at me, with an evil grin, eyeing me as its possible lunch, I was going to throw that carrot as far away from me as possible, and RUN, and RUN FAST the other way, waving my arms and hollering loudly ! Thankfully that didn't happen, but one has to have a plan, right?
Two of the lizards were quite ferociously doing the "i am better, stronger, bigger, older than you" dance, so there !! Or maybe it was a mating ritual ? Or maybe they were just showing off, hoping I would throw that carrot at them?
We scampered across the island, and as we walked gingerly through the sandy shrub, we heard the pitter patter of scurrying beasts, scurrying to come meet us, not run away !!
You can see us, just past this honeycombed limestone, anchored off in the distance there, along with another boat that came precariously close to us,
tide was getting lower, we didn't like the surge, wind or depth readings, nor the winds... and figured it was time to, get the YOU KNOW WHAT outta there.
Iwanas are one of the three endangered (sub)species of the Northern Bahamian Rock Iguana, and protected by law. They can grow to be 5 feet long, and we found them to be multicolored and varied in size, from tiny what looked like babies (awww....) to ones whose bodies were as large and as thick as our thighs (ok, maybe Dave's thigh?) with tails twice as long, and were so close we could see the yellowish green and orange scales on their legs. Incredible ! Just one of those amazingly incredible moments in time that take your breath away.
These creatures are mostly herbivores, eating leaves, flowers and fruit (there's fruit on this tiny piece of land??) I would seriously think that their diet (and thus their large size) would mostly be due to the tourists handing out sandwiches and table scraps, which is definitely why they came scurrying out to meet us, as they heard our engine approaching. Pavlov would have had a field day with this one.
Iwana Iwana, you be gorgeous and lovely. May you grow live long and be free, see you later !
NOTE: Many more pictures on our FB page, like us to view them !
January 23, 2013 , Highbourne Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
It's blowing a stink out there. And then some.
Like 25 knots plus of wind.
But the wind, combined with the surge, and the tides and, and, and... imagine a washing machine churning at full speed !
It's part of North wind which makes it cool-ish. Well, we're still in shorts and tank top, so nothing to complain about. Especially since our friends and family back home are in the midst of an Arctic Freeze. And we're posting pictures of warm, sunny places. And feel bad doing it too !!
Anyhow, 'round here it's blowing a stink and churning up the waters and making us rock and roll. Not fun. Neither one of us slept. Much. If at all.
Alls I could think of all night long, as we rocked and rolled (cause of the wind blowing a stink, not cause there was any hanky panky going on) was that isn't all this movement good for the body and muscles and burning calories? And if nothing else, will definitely get one used to the motion of the ocean ?
However, the lack of calories vs the lack of sleep had me not enjoying either option, and well any thoughts at 2 o'clock in the morning aren't usually coherent, or logical, right?
Chris Parker's weather forecast was on way too early but we were up, so what did it matter ? More of the same was forecast, and since we had journeyed for so long and so far, to get here, it was now DECIDEDLY time to STOP. Slow Down. Smell the Flowers. Live life in the Slow Lane. Even if it was blowing a stink !
So we decided to stay and visit Highbourne Cay.
We are at the "top" of the "entranceway" into the Exumas, a route well loved by pirates, way back when. When slavery was abolished in the early 1800's, many of the freed slaves settled on Highbourne Cay. In the early 1900's, aloe vera farming was popular here, but with the high cost of production and shipping, it turned out to be economically unsustainable. And we all know how great Aloe Vera is for you right?
Highbourne Cay is approximately 3 miles long (about 500 acres). The name chosen because the island is shaped like the letter "H" and it's highest point is over 100 feet above sea level, one of the highest elevations in the Exumas.
It is a private island, home to 28 residents, and cottages for rent (the cheapest one we found was a 2 bedroom cottage at 700$ a night in low season). The marina has EVERYTHING, from ice to laundry @ $10/load. Their store is well stocked with basics and some goodies, everything from cranberry juice ($10) to eggs and bread and chips and frozen meats (that all looked great). We missed out on the last "Half and Half container of coffee cream, the guy walking out had just bought all they had. We paid Valdez our $5 for our bag of garbage (first two bags are $5 apiece, the third bag is $25), and he told us we were free to roam, or grab their bikes, and go anywhere and everywhere (except the Village).
Anyhow, back to Life in the Slow Lane. The first sure sign that we were (finally!) starting to slow down was this,
so I says to Dave, "see Honey, we weren't meant to be jogging. Why the speed police would come after us, as we (ahem, ahem) jog so fast, we'd set their radar detectors off !!"
And then we came across this fella, who looks like he was slowed down, and been waiting for quite some time,
so I says to Dave "see Honey, we need to stop at the Xuma place as here we are exercising and we need to find ourselves something to eat before we look like this guy"
At the Xuma Restaurant and Bar our bartender made us his speciality, SeaBreeze drinks (he changes their colour, pending the colour of the ocean that day!)
that we shared along with some conch fritters, and mahi mahi fish-fingers.
so I says to Dave "see Honey, what happens when you share ? You get more of everything".
Some more pictures of our walk,
and over on the Atlantic Side with the spectacular colors and pounding surf
the sand so powdery-soft, the water so crystal clear
We saw a notice that there are experiments in progress on the island, and not to go near the stakes in the rocks. Made us wonder what might happen if we pulled on one of the stakes ??
We didn't quite dare (didn't need a LOST rerun?), so we kept on going.
But first, it was really impressive to see these low-lying, layered, rock-type formations on the shoreline, called : stromatolites. Most reefs are coral, but stromatolites are made of blue-green microorganisms, and are the oldest known (3 billion years ?) macrofossil (able to be seen without a microscope). Almost extinct, living stromatolites have been recently found in Australia, a few place in South America and the Exumas. The Exumas is the only location where they grow in open water conditions. Stromatolites were responsible for the creation of Earth's oxygen. Hence, most likely, the research going on here...
Elsewhere, the vegetation was lush and dense,
and other than a few birds and butterflies, we really didn't see evidence of any life around us.
That's our story today, life in the slow lane.
NOTE : A whole album of pictures to be seen on our Sailing Banyan Facebook Page.
January 22, 2013 , Highbourne Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Talking on the VHF has its own lingo.
Over. Roger that. Roger, roger, roger that. Come Back. Over.
In Canada we have to obtain our Radio Operators Card (following a course, and passing a written and verbal exam). I won't go into the nitty gritty details of "everyone is listening to what you have to say" type-of-life on the VHF, but oh-the-stories, and many of them, could we tell !
When you are done saying what you want to say, to the person you are talking to, you end every speaking blurb with "over" so the other person know its their turn to talk.
When they are done saying their piece, they say ... "blah, blah, yakkity-yak, blah, over" and you know its your turn to talk.
And well yesterday we had a good giggle. We were having a REAL PHONE conversation, when at the end of the conversation, SOMEONE said, "blah, blah, blah, yakkity-yak, OVER" LOL.
And then we tried not to laugh, and acted all dignified.
We woke up to the happy realization that the anchor alarm never went off during the night. Dave was up anyways, for anchor checks, but we were (thankfully) doing a-o-k (no wind, no current) so barely no movement.
Raising anchor was a trifle easy this morning, lol, as it obviously hasn't set. At all.
Sunrise was pretty darn impressive,
and there were 2 other boats that had left just ahead of us, as we left West Bay anchorage (and what looked like to be some sort of resort),
rounded the corner and headed for our next jump over to the much anticipated Exumas.
We had our sails up almost immediately, but alas, wasn't blowing hard enough yet to sail, so we motor-sailed along. Then by 11, the winds had picked up, and for the first time in days, (weeks?) we turned the engine off, and allowed the wind to propel us along at a wonderful 7 knots !!
Given the strong Northerly blow, we spent quit a bit of time debating the pros and cons of anchoring at Highborne Cay vs Normans Cay. As did the rest of the general traffic on the VHF radio.
What to do ? Highborne seems to have more room to anchor, with good holding, however, there a surge to contend with, as well as high speed yachts zooming by. Normans Cay is narrow with a reversing current, and room for how many boats? Given the weather that was coming, everyone was scurrying for cover, trying to find the most protected spot.
Then there's the knowledge that we have to time our arrival so that there's room for us. We don't want to get there, only to find that there's no room for us. However, since we had left early enough in the morning, and were zooming along at 7 knots, we were making good time, and anticipated arriving between 3 and 4.
We finally decided on Highbourne Cay and let the cards fall where they may. We came in just in time as the winds were really starting to pick up, tried to find the best spot, circled around the area for a bit, and then we set our anchor just outside the marina, with two other boats already there. Room enough for 3 !
The nice gentleman from the neighbouring boat, was using his looksee bucket to check his anchor, came over and checked ours as well. How nice was that ? He reported a two thumbs up, and after last night, that was a welcome relief !!
We got the engine on dinghy,
and cleared up our lines, and sat down to watch the clouds roll in,
and the sunset
And as exhausted as we were travelling non-stop the last few days to get here, we both went to sleep with a grin from ear to ear, knowing that we had arrived IN THE EXUMAS !! Roger that ! Over?
January 21, 2013 , West Bay, New Providence, Bahamas
Not much to report today except that we got alot done and are another 42 nm closer to our destination.
Alot, in our world, meant oil change for main engine and the gear box.
I fixed some knobs that had come unglued in the galley cabinets.
Two for the price of one !! Blue jobs and pink jobs and all that.
Not that we have any of those onboard, LOL !!
And then we raised anchor and rode the rising tide out, anxious to be on our way once again, but more than that, just really, really anxious to "get there".
There being the Exumas.
The Exumas are about 40 nm away, bearing South-East of where we are now, and are an archipelago (which is just a fancy way of saying la group of islands) of over 350 cays (and islands), stretching over 120 miles ! Many are private, some inhabited and some not, some are so pristine and precious that the Bahamian govt set aside a large area for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park...
There's a bit of weather coming and we wanted to be safely tucked away before the North Winds start to blow by Wenesday. We have one more long day tomorrow and then we should be there, phew, we "can't wait"!
So today was another day spent "motoring" along. Amazingly enough we went from 7 foot depths to 13 feet, to whoa, crossing the tongue of the ocean at well, the charts were saying 9000 feet plus, and our depth sounder, well it was blinking ferociously, meaning, it had no idea! The water was a delicious shade of purple-blue, nice !
We tried trolling but there be no fish caught on Banyan today. So we busied ourselves with the Watermaker and we're thanking the lucky stars to have such a wonderful machine onboard.
We had to make a quick stop at Lyford Cay Marina for a top up up of diesel. The idea being top up whenever you can, as you have no idea when you'll get some next. What a posh marina, and we knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that if there was a 160 foot yacht in there, there be enough depth for us, however, at $4/foot/night to stay there? Yikes!
They say Sean Connery makes his home around here, and just what would we say if we came face to face with him? Here being somewhere in the island of New Providence, Bahamas. New Providence is an island wedged between Andros Island and Eluthera. The capital, Nassau, could be seen off in the distance, as could Atlantis, and we heard and saw the planes vying for their place on the tarmac. The AIS clearly showed one of Disney's cruise ships was in town.
And then it was back out of the channel, round the bend into West Bay, and not liking the very black squall we were seeing on the horizon. We increased our speed to get in before the squall and/or before the sun set so we could see where we were going... hoping to sit back and relax as we watched the sun set, sooner rather than later.
Notice how there's no spectacular sunset pictures to post today? Well turns out we were a tad busy with this whole anchoring process... Something that usually takes us oh, seemingly very few minutes.
We tried and then tried again, then changed location and tried again, and changed location and tried again.
It's not set as firmly as we'd like, however, at this point, we've had supper, we've showered and wifi'ed ourselves to up-to-date-dom, anchor tracks and alarms are on, and thankfully, quite quiet, for now.