02/11/2008, Anchored north of French Wells, Crooked Island, Southern Bahamas
I always thought High Pressure was a good thing - but its bringing us strong winds,..as if a low was passing over instead! Southeast 25-30 knots, increasing tonight and tomorrow. We seem to be travelling with two other boats now - Sunshine Daydream, and DragonFly. Sunshine Daydream - Vytas and Tracy are on their newly acquired Morgan 43. They are travelling the Bahamas, and then going to Bermuda to join the ARC to cross over to Europe. They are in their mid to late 30s, and a great couple. This is his life dream to do, and he is really in to it! She seems to be happy to be doing it with him, having adventures she never imagined she would have. The other boat, DragonFly is a Catamaran, about 40 feet long with a couple named Rick and Cindy who are about our same age, who are out for their 3rd year. They return to their home in Marblehead MA for a few months each summer to enjoy the summers and their friends there. They have done the Eastern Caribbean their first year, the Northwest Caribbean their 2nd year, and this year are doing the Bahamas, and then straight through to Cartagena Columbia. They will travel southern Central America before returning home for the summer. They are avid scuba divers and are out doing their thing much of the day. We met them in Conception Island and have been on about the same wavelength for about a week or 10 days, along with Sunshine Daydream. The other day, in Clarencetown, Rick and Cindy walked to another Blue Hole about 3 miles up the coast, Vytas and Tracy rode their bikes, which I am totally envious of them having, and we dinghied up. We could not get in over the reefs at all, but we dove every coral head between Clarencetown and that blue hole - and got nothing except a lot of gas burned up, and a lot of water in the face on the ride back. We had dinner on DragonFly, with Vytas and Tracy a few nights ago. I made conch salad using my last precious red pepper and a conch from that very anchorage, and a big bag of ice for nice cold drinks. Thank you SeaFrost! RicK and Cindy grilled up their Mahi Mahi that they had caught on the way there, and Vytas and Tracy brought a great big bottle of wine. We have been enjoying comraderie every day. We crossed over from Long Island to Crooked Island, about 45 miles, took slightly different routes, and arrived to the same place within an hour of eachother. The Morgan had to motor sail because it is designed for heavier winds, and we only had about 10 knots of wind. Dragonfly and Brick House arrived at about the same time, sailing almost the whole way. It will be sad when we all sail in different directions to continue along our planned routes. I guess this life is full of hellos and goodbyes. I love the hellos, and really dont like the goodbyes. I felt like I had to say goodbye to my fairly newly made friends in Newport too soon, and now I say goodbye to people after days or weeks...its sort of sad to meet all these great people, and know you will likely never any of them again. DragonFly and Brick House may end up meeting somewhere in Central America, as they travel north and we travel south several months from now. We will certainly stay in touch with them. We arrived at French Wells yesterday, but at low tide, not early enough to enter the cut to get in to the anchorage. The other boat with less draft attempted it and said they bumped everywhere going in, and did not see any good way in. Patrick and I scoped it out this morning, and agree with him- there is no way in, and even if there were, its not a great anchorage- strong current, as expected, but little protection despite claims of such ion the guide books. So we dived for conchs and got enough for dinner tonight. We came back and moved the boat 2 miles up the coast to have some better protection with the winds that are now blowing 23-28, and expected to increase overnight and tomorrow. This is not noted as an anchorage in any guidebook or chart, but it seems to be a good one, with a sandy bottom, and relatively deep water ( 10 feet) almost up to shore. Of course the catamaran, with 3 feet draft is practically up on the beach, the Morgan 43 with 5.2 feet draft is a little further back, and we are the furthest out, with 6 feet of draft. Its relatively flat water, just high winds so the wind generator is spinning very happily and heartily! A fourth boat decided to join us this afternoon, and are flying a flag with a red stripe on the top, white stripe in the middle, and blue stripe on the bottom. I wonder what that flag is...seems we may have created a new anchorage! Patrick still wanted to dive, so he went with Rick from Dragonfly for the afternoon. I am on the boat feeling the snubber line on the anchor tension and relax, and trying to keep the conch from crawling out of the bucket and back in to the water. I read 1/3 of a book about the first woman to sail singlehanded across the ocean - "When I set to Sea", and am writing this blog and retrieving email on the single sideband radio.
We are not sure we will go in to the Bight of Ackins...it is very shallow on the chart, but at least its not a tricky route in that shallow water. It would be nice to see what is described in the guidebooks as "virgin cruising area". We would be sailing in 6.5 feet of water, with our 6 foot fraft for about 15 miles.... We also are eagerly awaiting benign weather so we can go to Hogsty Reef- a coral atoll about 60 miles south of here. Quite honestly, I'm a little nervous about the area. The guides say a lot of boats peril here- and I can see why...its not an easy place to see since it is only 8 feet above sea level in its highest place. You have to hope your charts, electronics and navigation skills are pretty darn right, and don't break down at the last minute before entering! Patrick really wants to go, so we will probably go there. It will be cool if all goes well I guess. And he will likely catch a lot of fish to prove to me what a good idea it was...I cant argue with that...
I was just saying to Patrick this morning that it seems I always would run in to trouble on my previous boats, when going by the book, and doing everything precisely right and safely. It seems like every 3rd weekend, we would hit something, rip a sail, or have some other death defying catastrophe. With Patrick, we go to anchorages not on charts anywhere, wind our way in between coral heads with precision I never would have guessed possible, and don't really do things by the book a lot of the time, and we have had no troubles- just my heart and nerve trouble! I have to keep reminding myself that we aren't two beginners out here...Patrick has done this before, and I know everything that can go wrong because they have almost all happened to me in a previous life...Lets hope that stays true - its fun being a little daring...as long as my home stays in one piece! Last night, we had a coral head to worry about on our port side. The wind was "scheduled" to change to take us further away from it, but if it was wrong, we would have the chance of hitting it if the tide was at its lowest when we swang that way. The little coral patch would probably be 3 inches below our keel if everything went wrong at the same time. I knew low tide was at 5am so my head scheduled an internal alarm clock to get up and see where the boat was at around 4am. The wind did what it was suppose to do and we were further away from it. Later in the morning- 630am or so, Patrick had a bad dream where he had to kick a dog. He kicked the wall in our bedroom. I awoke startled and announced that we had just hit the rock, and hard! He laughed and told me his dream. I didn't laugh- I really though we hit the rock. Many nights are spent feeling and waiting for something to go wrong. Anchor alarms help me sleep better, but I still have that never ending nervousness that something bad will happen to our boat at night, I wonder how long that will take to go away. Right now it pretty much happens 5 nights out of every 7! I guess I just don't believe that our "luck" will last forever...Patrick says its not luck at all...but I think kharma plays a big role in what happens to us out here. We are suppose to make it further...we are suppose to have more adventures..our trip is not suppose to end yet...
Patrick is back from his fishing/exploring hunt, so I am off to go see what he got! I'm SOOO in the mood for a lobster- so Im hoping that's what he got! He gets bummed out if he comes home emtpy handed...
******************* UPDATE- Patrick came home with but ONE treasure- a HUGE lobster. And our friend Rick got one too! We will eat well tonight!!! I cant believe that's what I was wishing for, and that's what he got- he is such a good provider!!!
Well, we are off to the beach to go seek some famous pink flamingos!!
02/08/2008, Anchored at Clarencetown, Long Island, Southern Bahamas
Rebecca gets so nervous as Brick House slips into a new anchorage or bay area where the charts show numerous shoal and/or coral areas, or where the authors of a cruising guide write dire warnings about.
We had sailed all night in a 20 knot north wind, the Monitor self steering vane doing all the hard work. Our approach to Conception Island was timed perfectly so the sun was overhead as we rounded the southern tip of the island and continued east into the two mile white sand crescent formed on the south side of the island. Dark patches of coral heads and grass beds spotted the bay area we were traversing. The water visibility was frosted by the wind scratched waves making it difficult to tell if the dark patches were several feet or inches below the surface. The cruising guide made it sound like a mine field nearly impossible to traverse at times. We later found that nearly all the dark patches were coral heads extending from 20 feet of bottom to a depth that would easily nip chunks out of our keel but there were only a quarter as many as expected. With good light it was as easy as missing a pothole every two hundred feet in a dirt road. Even Rebecca was somewhat comfortable most of the time, anyways.
Although the strong wind was now coming from the north east two other yachts were rocking and rolling in the ocean surge swelling in from the south east. We continued on past those boats to anchor Brick House close to a rocky island on the eastern side of the bay. Everything to the south east around to the west of us was open to the huge bank of shoal water then the quick drop off going down over 4,000 feet. The surge was less pronounced tucked in behind the island but still uncomfortable. Rebecca and I were tired from the all night sail but this was the most settled weather we would have to explore this normally windward side of the island.
With flippers on our feet and mask on our faces, area after area we entered the water to drift with the wind and current. Huge coral heads with a labyrinth of holes and small caves were everywhere. What was missing was live coral and fish. The coral was silted over with sand and sediment. The coral for the greatest part was dead. There was the lack of bright or distinctive color a healthy reef would display. Only a few parrot fish and other smaller wrasses swam to hide in the holes as we drifted over. It was a huge disappointment.
The next day the wind shifted from the north east then south east making the south side of the island sending in short waves and a rolling swell. We retraced our chart plotter track out to deeper water to the west and headed north along the west coast for what would be a more protected anchorage along the long white beach on the north west side of Conception. The other boats headed to Rum Cay we presume. We settled into the anchorage amongst the dark spots of widely dispersed coral heads which rose to within a safe 15 feet of the surface. With the wind blowing from the east we figured we would have the entire island to ourselves as the wind would be on the nose for anyone coming from the Exumas or Long Island. By late in the day, 6 masts were on the horizon. By evening 6 new boats lay at anchor in a row off the beach.
In the morning Rebecca and I loaded the dinghy with snorkeling equipment and headed north to the prominent reef extending miles north from the island. Again, it was once a beautiful reef which now lacks live coral and the fish which would live there. The coral was covered with silt and algae and other barnacle types of sea life. I don't know of any documentation of just when the reef started to die off.
Off of southern Miami, south of Fowey Rocks lighthouse, there is a dead reef. North of Antigua and south of Barbuda, in the Caribbean, is an extensive beautiful reef which is bleached and dead. I have never seen any documentation of when these reefs started to die off. The death could very well have started in the 1700s when land was extensively cleared for farming. The runoff from such clearing would have choked the live corals. Hurricanes over the centuries have obviously impacted these reefs leaving broken stag horn and elk horn coral strewn on the bottom. There is little sign of new growth on these old reefs.
At Conception we did float over a coral head which had a bit more fish activity than the others. Diving down and looking in the holes there was one 15 pound grouper and in a nearby hole a dinner for two lobster. I don't spear groupers. There are not many around anymore and it is difficult to find grouper that are more than a couple pounds in size. The older fish are the breeders and the only hope of keeping something alive on the reef.
We have friends on a catamaran who SCUBA dived on a site which is a destination for advanced divers around the world. The site starts in 55 feet of water and is a cliff dropping thousands of feet. Our friends reported fantastic sea fans and other soft corals and some fish at depths around 80 feet the best they had seen in the Bahamas.
Rebecca and I sailed on to Rum Cay to our south. The wind was out of the SE which would make the NW area a protected anchorage. Oh, was Rebecca fretting and grinding her teeth as we motored into the calm water. But she didn't make me stop like many people would have - she trusted me to get us in to this questionable area. The outer reefs forming our entrance were breaking with waves and the calmer water just inside the narrow pass was strewn with coral heads rising just to the surface. It was a labyrinth of coral heads. "I've done this a thousand times" I kept telling her. I could not let her know that it was really not a task to be taken lightly. If the south side of Conception island was like dodging a pothole every 200 feet in a dirt road, here it was dodging a pothole every two car lengths. It was slow going and at times heavy on the throttle to throw a wash over the rudder to kick the boat hard in a new direction. We worked our way into a nice sand hole off the beach and near the ruins of a very old stone house. The anchor was eased out on a short leash for the lack of swinging room between the coral heads. We had to dive on the anchor and make sure it was well set as there would be no way to leave this anchorage at night if the wind shifted.
After inspecting the anchor, it quickly became obvious that the nearby coral heads suffered the same fate as those in Conception Island. It was a beautiful area at one time in history but for a couple grouper, snapper and one conch, not else lived here.
We will keep heading south and looking for good diving spots. Rebecca has big hesitations but I want to go to desolate Hogsty Reef. Hogsty is south of Acklins Island in the middle of nowhere. The closest land to Hogsty is at least 30 miles away. It is a coral atoll, which is rare in the Americas and the only one in the Bahamas. The reef has been a one way trip for many ships and yachts over the centuries. Many boats attempting to get in to the one opening of this ring of coral miss the entrance and end up on the coral. The highest bit of coral lies a mere 8 feet above high water. If the weather is settled enough, we have to give the diving there a try. I'm still working on Rebecca to get her to agree to it. The books all say it's not the place to go to unless its extremely settled weather, and if you are very confidant and skilled navigators. Keep your fingers crossed for me that is for getting Rebecca to agree to go there!
Tomorrow, the wind is predicted to change to the north east so we can leave Clarence Town, Long Island for Crooked Island 45 miles to our south east. We have had fun with the 2 boats that are anchored here with us. Dinner aboard one of the boats one night, a group trip to a blue hole, and magazine and computer file exchanges have filled the 5 days we have been here. We are eager though for a change of scenery. The fishing and conching is suppose to be great on Crooked Island, so we leave with our mouths watering, and our spears sharpened!