We left The Bahamas to travel alone along the 603-mile rhumb line to Puerto Rico, on what sounded like a nice weather window - and it was! The opportunities to head East this time of year without bashing and crashing into the trade winds are few and far between. But an unusual, long window opened up so we took it, and our Eastern Caribbean Adventure began!
We left George Town at 3:30pm on a "spicy" day with 20 knots of wind out of the NW. The current was ebbing and we rode it out the cut from Elizabeth Harbor into Exuma Sound. We usually have the main up to execute a cut, and after we entered the sound all three sails were up. Crossing Exuma Sound was a great sail. That, five hours between Long Island and Samana, and about six or seven hours at the end turned out to be our only engine-off sailing of the trip!!! (Is that the engine still ringing in my ears???)
We had hoped for a little more wind, but this was what Michael calls an MBR - Motor Boat Ride - with sails up, so it was a motorsail. We took advantage of any wind boost (even 2k!) to help us make more miles and conserve fuel. We carry 106 gallons in the tanks and we had 15 on deck in jerry cans - and I cannot tell you how many times we calculated and recalculated and devised bail-out plans if we needed to stop for more diesel. WHEW!
So we thought it might be fun to describe a day at sea... We use a four-hour watch system in which the first night one person has watch from 6-10pm, sleeps from 10pm-2am, and stands watch again from 2-6am. So of course the other sleeps, has one watch and sleeps again. During the day, we trade off catnaps as needed. The next night we switch, so we trade 2-watch nights. Roberta actually likes the 2 watches better; she can sleep better in between. Michael's old fire-fighting nap anywhere anytime skill allows him to get more sleep in two segments than R is able to do.
A typical morning has the sleeping person waking up at 6. Coffee is made. At 6:15 we check in with the SSB radio net we have set up with dear and faithful friends to track our position and report how it is going. It is so great when you are out alone in the middle of the big blue to hear those voices from The Bahamas and Maryland! At 6:30 we listen to Chris Parker's Bahamas weather. At 8 am we listen to his Caribbean weather (since we are traveling between!). At 8:30 we check in to "Cruiseheimers" - a wonderful managed network of cruisers who communicate through this means - with emergency, medical or priority traffic (such as missing-boat watches), announcements about seminars or whatever, and then check-ins - a good way to find out where friends are and to report your position if traveling. If one boat wants to communicate with another, they just say "traffic" or "contact" and then are allowed to call another boat and move to another frequency to chat. If someone cannot be heard, there is a relay to make sure everyone gets connected. This net also sponsors a "tech net" so if you have boat repairs to do or need something, others will help work it through. We have located lots of friends and connected this way - over the air and in port. Anyway, during or after all the communication, Roberta makes breakfast. This trip it was easy to cook because we were not heeled over, and the seas were very smooth - we had about a 6-8' roll swelling out of the north at 11-second intervals - quite benign!
After breakfast is a day of recording log information every hour (lat/long, engine hours, course, speed, wind speed and direction, temp, visibility, seas, and comments). Our chart-plotter tells us how far we have traveled, how far we have to go, our average speed and how long it will take to reach our destination, among all the other info.
In between record-keeping and meals we fish, read, write emails to send over the SSB radio, nap, make lunch and dinner and clean up. And this trip we managed the sails a lot. "Genny" in out in out in out, pole up pole down, as the wind came and went (under 10k - actually, even under 5!). Roberta manages to get in an hour of cross stitch - maybe.
Between Samana and Mayaguana Islands, Michael caught a 20lb mahi! Well WE caught it! When the line he has out hooks a fish, Roberta slows the boat so he can reel the fish in, and while he plays the fish she runs about to fetch M's gloves, the waist pole-brace, the hook pliers, gin to spray in the gills (puts it to sleep), "fish towel" to cover the eyes and hold onto it once we have it on deck, mouth pliers and scale, filet knife, cutting board, camera, and lastly the gaff hook. When Michael has the fish next to the boat, Roberta gaffs it and lifts it aboard, covers it with the towel and sprays the gills, then hops back to the wheel to power up and return to course. All this has taken maybe 15-20 minutes. Michael filets the fish on the side deck, and completes trimming and portioning the filets in the galley. One of us cleans the deck and Roberta vacuum-seals the filets and freezes them - except for one pair that we eat for dinner!
Other entertainment underway: using Star Walk on the iPad at night to learn new constellations; dolphins near the Turks and Caicos leaping 10' out of the lapis-blue, gin-clear water on their way to come "play" with the boat - which means diving back and forth under the bow and swimming with us; a tropic bird flying out to greet us and circling the boat just off the Silver Banks above the Dominican Republic; watching for whales on Silver Banks (where "thousands come to breed Nov-March"); watching the AIS signal to identify and avoid ships...
And speaking of whales... our traversing of the Silver Banks was so awesome it is hard to describe. Everywhere we looked, in a 360 degree panorama, we saw humpback whales. None closer than about 50 yds and most about a mile or more away. But with creatures that big, when they come out of the water breeching, you can see them clearly from a distance - and we like a little distance from a frisky, breeding whale!!! We saw fin slaps - whomp, whomp, whomp - over and over and over, like the male was saying "get over here woman!" or "whoowhee that was good!" There were tail slaps, flukes, and mostly leaping breeching humpbacks by the dozens. WOW!!!
In the evening, at 5pm we check in to the "Doodah Net," which is kept for boats underway to report position. If we do not check in, they send out a boat watch until we report or are seen. Then comes dinner and sunset. At 6:30 we check in with our own faithful friend SSB radio net and after that, one of us goes to bed, and the other begins a long dark night. Moonrise this trip got later and later and the moon became smaller and smaller, but it is amazing how much bright light a "fingernail moon" puts out.
While we both wish we could have sailed more, the conditions made for a very easy, comfortable passage. We caught 5 fish, saw dozens of whales, some dolphins, a tropic bird, a frigate bird, lots of ships toward the Mona Passage and no other pleasure boats.
Close to Puerto Rico, we had a wonderful sunset sail to end the trip. Near Isla Desecheo we were spotlighted by a Coast Guard helicopter. We had an easy ride across the notorious Mona Passage and set anchor in Mayaguez. Traveled 605 miles in 103 hours. We arrived 2 hours after Banyan (Nova Scotians we met in Vero and saw again in George Town) and Blue Moose - also Canadians. Both boats left three days ahead of us but stopped in the D.R. and at Mayaguana.
Our Customs experience was a hoot. None of us could call in - no working phones. Our US Go Phone had expired, and our Bahamas phone WORKED (surprise!!!!) but was almost out of minutes. So here is the series of events:
Blue Moose was called on the VHF by the Coast Guard on the way in. The CG wanted to know who they were and what they were doing. When they got closer to Mayaguez, we could hear Banyan calling via VHF to a non-existent harbormaster, then to the Coast Guard to report in.
The Coast Guard gave Banyan a phone number to call customs. After discovering he could not call Customs, and neither could Blue Moose, Banyan called the Coasties back. They were very accommodating and took "preliminary" information and called Customs for both boats. Customs indicated they should anchor and report in person at 8 in the morning. We heard all this and tried the given number on our two phones. We actually got Customs on the Bahamas phone, and probably could have completed check in, but Roberta had to repeat everything at least three times and the agent could not get past that we did not have a Customs decal and then the phone ran out of minutes. So we called the Coast Guard on the VHF, told them we could not complete check-in with Customs, and then the Coasties tried to call, but the Customs office had shut down (this was all happening at about 10pm). So the CG told us to anchor and report in person at 8am.
We were ready to go before the other two boats, so at 7:50am we headed over to the ferry dock to climb over huge truck tires (just as Roger and Jane on Sereno 55 had indicated!) to wander around the terminal grounds and garage calling "hola" and "hello" and "good morning" after finding the front door locked and all lights dark. No answer. Hmmm... where we in the wrong place???
We scrambled back down the tires in a huge swell - no easy task - getting us and the dinghy all black and nasty, and went back to the boat to drop Roberta off to look at charts for a second indicated Customs office and make copies of the town map while Michael went ashore in a different place and started to ask around. Meanwhile, Blue Moose had got online, and was able to talk via Skype to Customs, who said they could see us in the harbor, gave us an address, and told us to head on over. But we could not figure out where the address was. So we all loaded into dinghies again and went back over on an exploratory trip to the ferry dock, thinking perhaps this office might now be open. And it was. Scrambled up tires again - more black - and met two VERY nice young Puerto Rican Customs officials, who said they had been open at 8:00! (They were not!)
We were escorted into a room where they meet hundreds from a weekly ferry from the D.R., and handed over our documents. One officer - a very personable, charming and handsome guy - stayed to chat with us while three others processed us all. Roberta asked about highlights and we had a fun talk about what to see in PR. We had to pay $27.50 because we did not have a Customs decal, but the cost will go towards getting one as soon as we can get online. Good thing we had some cash on hand! We didn't get a decal in Florida before leaving, because the Customs agent who gave us our Florida Boaters Option cards told us to wait (it was late Dec and they are only good for a calendar year) and that it wasn't totally necessary anyway, and then we forgot. It seems to be a big deal here... so we will get one, it will be mailed to my brother, and we will just use the number until we can have it in hand - which is ok according to these Customs guys. For any US boat heading here, we highly recommend a working phone and a customs decal.
Then, Customs allowed us to leave our dinghies on their dock for a while, and told us how to find AT&T, etc., by walking about a mile, which we did. (YAY! We have an unlimited-use US phone again for another month or so!) Found a McDonalds "café" (trying to be like Starbucks), and by then we were all starving, so we had lunch - and a latte!
We eventually got back to the boats, and headed for Boqueron down the "inside" path. It was a somewhat wild ride. 15-20k wind behind, big swell bumping into shallows, but it was fun! We slid into Boqueron, and anchored with very few cruising boats and quite a few derelict sailboats, which it turns out have people living on some.
Cruising guides by Van Sant and Pavlidis have interesting descriptions of Boqueron - including information that "Bohemians" have moved in. We wondered what their definition of a Bohemian was... So of course, as soon as the anchor was down, we drove in to find out, despite being thoroughly exhausted.
The dinghy dock was quite decrepit, and a small breaking swell was rolling through it onto the beach. After much adjustment, we were able to tie off, throw an anchor line, and monitor that the dinghy could ride it out. At the town end of the dinghy dock, the Saturday night party began!
This is a narrow-streeted, college hangout, beach town (but the "young bucks and bikinis" were all up at Rincon for a surfing competition, according to our Customs guys). There were lots of families hanging out, kids playing in the surf, small kiosks selling art and homemade jewelry, others hawking clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, lobster. Stores of beach wear - PR style. Sidewalk karaoke bars. Loud music blaring from taverns 'til 2am. And of course, the "bohemians" - which it turns out (we think) seems to be local code for "gay." What a scene!
On the way in to the dock, we passed an ARC boat (a boat who has crossed the Atlantic as part of a cruising rally) "JayJay," and at the dinghy dock we met the Brits, Debra and Paul, who sail her. Very nice people who are heading north and maybe to the Bahamas, we chatted with for a while and invited to join us. They did. Banyan and Blue Moose didn't like the look of the dinghy dock and headed for Club Nautica where they were allowed to tie up and illicitly access the road through the restaurant. On later trips in to town, we all tied up there - much nicer. We met up on the street and headed to Galloways for a cold one and dinner. It was a great evening with lots of stories and laughs. We were all tired from our passages, so headed back to the boats for a very roly night with the NW swell, which everyone kept saying was so unusual for this bay that is advertised as a calm, restful anchorage.
We spent a tired Sunday checking out an advertised but non-existent fuel dock (a gas station will loan you a jerry can if you leave an ID!), a non-existent laundry, searching for a grocery store (found a mini-mart), walking the pretty beach, transforming Celilo from passage boat to pretty, picked-up home, and making plans for where to go next and when.
After another VERY roly night and not enough sleep, we listened to Chris Parker's weather report on the SSB. Roberta called him to ask about rounding Cabo Rojo and was told "today is the best day to go," so within an hour, all three boats were anchor up and heading to La Parguera... which is where we are now, in a calm anchorage surrounded by mangroves.
Coming down, the wind was out of the N along with the swell until we rounded Cabo Rojo, a beautiful cape with bluffs and an old lighthouse. Once on the south shore we were in the lee from the swell and the wind shifted to southerly - the influence of the sea breeze dominating due to the mountains blocking the northerly.
The way in here was skinny but marked, we are in the US after all, and with the sun behind us the visibility was good. We are anchored in about 15 feet and got a good set. The diurnal pattern of the sea/land breeze means we will swing through a circle each day. May have to watch that anchor chain.
La Parguera provided a good night's sleep, the first since George Town. The town is small and there are colorful buildings, mostly weekend places it seems, built right out over the water. There are reefs and mangroves all around, a bioluminescent bay, and we had fun checking it all out. We snorkeled the reef, and Michael went swimming in the biolum bay. It was fun to see the water light up around his moving hands and feet!
After a couple of nights in La Parguera, and one at Gilligan's Island, we set out for Palmas Del Mar where we are now, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. We stopped overnight in Puerta Patillas, but didn't even get the dinghy down - it had been a long day (60 miles with a stop for fuel in Salinas), and we wanted to get going early. We arrived in Palmas about 10 a.m., and are in a marina, so we can rent a car and go see some of the country. We gave Celilo a bubble bath - she was very salt-crusted! - and then spent the afternoon at the marina tiki bar and pool. We are feeling like we are at the Ritz!
We are still with Banyan and Blue Moose, sharing dinners and happy hours with what Michael calls "The Canadian Navy" - and turns out that Dave, of Banyan, was actually in the Canadian Navy!
The Puerto Rican coastline is very beautiful. We northwesterners like to see a hill or two now and then, and after the flat Chesapeake and Bahamas, the mountainous Puerto Rican landscape is gorgeous and green. So far, everyone we have met in Puerto Rico has been fun, friendly, laughing. We are happy to be here and exploring a new place. It is still hard to believe that we have sailed ourselves here! If this is a dream, don't pinch me - I don't want to wake up!
After another fun week at Warderick Wells, we headed north again, this time to a new island for us: Norman's Cay, where Carlos Lehder had his infamous drug-running operation. Michael had just finished a book about the whole thing, and wanted to see the ruins of the opulent houses, yacht club, airstrip, etc. We anchored off the west side, had a very bouncy night, and dinghied over to the endless, gorgeous beach to begin a long, hot walk on land - down the airstrip and little-used roads to see falling down structures with vegetation growing through them and former gardens with pretty plantings and rock walls. It was quite extensive. And it was also sad to see that all that junk had been left. No one continued any of the hotel, restaurant, or marina operations, and this end of a pretty island begins to look like a city dump.
Next day, we had had it with a jerky, rolling swell, and another storm was due to approach. Rather than head back to hide in Exuma Park again, we crossed Exuma Sound to deal with clocking winds by anchoring first on one side of Rock Sound Bay and then the other and back again (zigzag). And so the Captain could fish, which he did, and got skunked...
At Rock Sound, we found Wonderland in the anchorage (we had met them in Warderick), and wandering through town we met other cruisers Pete and Diane on Pearl, who have been coming to Rock Sound for years, and know a lot about the place and the locals. Pete knew of a place to get a haircut, and Michael had his curly locks shorn in his second buzz-cut (first was in Halifax). We spent one sundown hour on Wonderland and then had Pearl and Wonderland over to Celilo. (Cruisers tend to be known by their boat names).
While we were there, we managed to process the paperwork to complete the sale of our slip on the Magothy River. We are no longer owners of a hole in the water in Maryland! It was quite complicated, us being out of country, and we needed to get papers signed and notarized... WHERE would we do that in the Bahamas??? We put word out over the net asking about notaries and a cruiser told us about their experience in George Town - apparently the US will accept a Bahamian notary. Here they are called Justices of the Peace, and often town Administrators are JP's. So we walked to the Rock Sound Administrator's office to have this official notarize our papers. But he had not "reached." (This is a particularly endearing - to us any way - Bahamian term. If someone has not arrived, they have not "reached". If they are expected, they "will reach.") One of the secretaries knew another JP, Mr. Ingraham, at the Hardware Store and called to find that he would reach at 1pm, so we showed up there at the appointed time. He reached at 2:30... but the wait was worth it!
Mr. Ingraham owns the large hardware store, which is a total trip to cruise through - you'll find stuff you haven't seen since the 50's! For the last many years his son has operated the store and Mr. Ingraham shows up a few days a week to help out. He is a retired Parliamentarian and was Speaker of Parliament for the last 5 of his 10 years there. Now, how many of you have had your real estate deals notarized by a Speaker of Parliament???!!! After all the official business was transacted, we had a delightful visit with this very gracious man. He owns a fishing boat, is quite a fisherman, and also owns a small hotel in Tarpum Bay. We hope to see him again one day.
Michael and I had talked about wanting to visit Cat Island and perhaps Conception, and it turned out that was Pearl's plan too - so after the storm passed, we started out in the wee dark hours of morning to head around Eleuthera to sail the 76 miles to Cat Island. Unfortunately, we passed retired Forest Service friends on Magpie going the opposite direction! At New Bight Harbor at Cat Island we joined up with Mon Amie, and finally met Mary (she had been in the States when Dave graciously threaded our mooring line in Hatchet Bay). Mary is the Thursday voice of Cruiseheimers - one of the nets we enjoy.
One of the fun things to do at Cat is to climb the hill up to The Hermitage, a retirement home for Father Jerome, an architect priest. The stone Hermitage is a miniature replica of a European Franciscan Monastery and was built by hand by Father Jerome, who designed and built St Paul's and St. Peter's churches in Clarence Town on Long Island, and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on Cat. From our anchorage, the Hermitage on top of the hill looks large - like a castle in Europe. But when you get up close it is sized like a child's garden dollhouse. Father Jerome lived in it for 16 years before his death at age 80.
After our visit to the Hermitage, we had a fun day walking though town, touring the church, eating at a local kiosk, and buying fresh-baked bread and buns at Olive's. Then, we all had happy hour on Mon Amie.
The next day, we all decided to head back to George Town for the start of the Cruiser's Regatta, and a couple of weeks of very silly fun. So once again, we crossed Exuma Sound (zigzag). And Michael caught a 20-pound mahi!!!
Landed in George Town at "Hamburger Beach" - so called because of the local hamburger stand there - and hooked up with friends on Rachel, Kismet, Blew Moon, Coyote, Cookie Monster, and Banyan to share cocktails at sunset, beach and dune hikes, bocce ball on the sand, and the traditional cold one at the "Chat 'n Chill" (beach bar hangout).
The Cruiser's Regatta begins with what is billed as a "No-Talent Talent Show," but we found a lot of talent there! Musicians singing funny songs, a granddaughter doing a great performance with slapping hands, cups and a very pretty voice, silly and creative skits, and the funniest thing we have seen in a long time - a bunch of 60+yr old men doing a synchronized swimming skit - on land. Afterwards, a cruiser called "Rockin' Ron" DJ'd a dance on the beach. Other fun: a bocce ball tournament (YAY COOKIE MONSTER!!! They won!), a "Coconut Round-up", Dinghy Poker Race...
With a cold front threatening - again! - a bunch of us headed down-bay to Red Shanks in a very protected spot, hid there for a week, went for 5-mile walks on that part of the island, and swam in a blue hole. Good friends Roger and Jane from Campbell River, BC on Sereno 55 had just crossed from Florida and joined us there, delivering things we had all requested from the States. It was really great to see them again, and since they had spent a year in the Carib, we had a very informative couple of hours over charts.
And then... came an unusual period of three cold fronts rolling in one after the other, suppressing the predominant trade winds (easterlies) that blow through the Caribbean - an outstanding opportunity - without bashing and crashing into the wind against us - to head SE to Puerto Rico. So we did.
Warderick Wells Again
We are back at Warderick Wells and are planning on staying here through the next blow which has pretty much come on this morning. So far it is only in the upper teens but heading for the mid to upper 20s over the next 24 hours. Not moving gives us an opportunity to relax a little more, as well as to get boat chores done - R polishes stainless, M checks off minor repairs, etc. We might go down to Staniel Thursday for a Valentines dinner at the YC...
We have had some really stunning days with light winds and bright sunshine. A couple of days ago we set out in the dink for Malabar Cays. The park snorkeling guide notes some coral heads south and east from the Cays. We drove out to the rocks and through them looking for reefy looking spots. Didn't see much at first but persisted, moving closer to shore and then we started spotting some likely looking dark places. In we went and found first one and then many really nice little heads. A great number of them were chock full of lobsters! Big ones! We saw more "bugs" there than we have seen in any one area. There were plenty of reef fish too, notably some nice big Queen Angel fish and some small Nassau Groupers.
From Malabar Cays we continued down toward the south end of Warderick Wells Cay. The water was low - just past low tide and as we approached the southern corner at the south end we found the water flooding through a narrow gap like a river. We were able to go through safely. This put us into the Hog Cay mooring field. We had seen this small body of water from land before and it was beautiful, but from the water it was stunning. The colors of the water reveal the depth, ranging from the deepest blue to the light tan color of the sand bars and everything in between. We went there, in part, to see the stromatolites that are there. Stromatolites are living organisms going back to when life was new on earth; fossils date back to 3.5 billion years. Stromatolites were thought to be extinct but were found again in the '80s here in the Bahamas and elsewhere. Those here are thought to be a couple thousand years old. As cool as they are, stromatolites are not especially dramatic to view. They look kind of like pancake rocks or big mattresses. We had thought we might swim among them but the current was too strong so we used our lookie bucket instead.
Leaving the Hog Cay mooring, we rode the current around the south end of Warderick and along the west side of Warderick Wells Cay. The current vanished and the wind dropped to nearly nothing. We stopped on one of the many beaches, soaking up a major dose of vitamin D. On the way north we noticed a cat coming in and when we reached the Emerald Rock mooring field we saw it was our friends on Makana so went over to greet them. We saw them last at Vero Beach and it was good to see them again here in the Bahamas.
Then we stopped at Celilo for a late lunch (about 1400). We hadn't had enough swim time yet so it was back into the dinghy for a run north to Long Rock. Mike went in the water about half way up the cay to recon and swam south while Roberta spotted him from the dinghy. We found this reef as described in the park snorkeling guide. Once grand but now diminished due to the growth of algae. There are still corals and there are fish but both are scattered without the concentration we have seen in more healthy areas. So Roberta didn't jump in. Moving off the reef and over a grassy sand area, Mike noticed "tracks" in the sandy bottom. Looking again and then diving down, he found a huge conch field. These were old conch with thick heavy shells. The outsides of the shells were rounded off from tumbling around in the sand for years but the inside where the animal lives was pink and smooth. Protection from the park makes all the difference.
What a day!
While up at Long Rock and over at Betty's Reef earlier, Mike had his eye on a reefy area north of the Wide Opening. We would need a pretty calm day to make the run of several miles up to this place. Yesterday, the winds were light and the sun bright so we loaded up and headed north to see how things looked. It was a bit bouncier than we might have thought but all in all not bad so we crossed Wide Opening and started checking it out, looking around again using the lookie bucket. We found scattered soft corals and fish but not a concentrated rocky reef. After a while Mike went into the water and began a swim of about an hour and half while Roberta again spotted him in the dinghy. Once in the water M found several coral heads. In between there were many soft corals and scattered fish, notably many silver and blue trigger fish and lots of large parrot fish. At one point there was a huge Nassau grouper. Perhaps most interesting was the complex underwater topography. There were many darker coral covered ridges and lighter sandy canyons. The water depths varied from tummy tickling shallows to perhaps 40 or 50 feet. The current directed Mike's swimming course through the first half of the swim, the ebb carrying him toward Exuma Sound. Mike boarded the dinghy and we both consulted the copy of the chart we had made and brought along in a zip-lock baggy. It looked like there should be a coral reef to the south and east of where we were so we motored over there and Mike went back into the water. This was much like the earlier part of the swim except there were more hard coral areas and it was more consistently shallow. M swam around until he spotted a couple of sharks. His attitude about sharks is: avoid them until he learns more about identification and behavior. Looking at the book, these might have been blacktip sharks. One was bigger than he was! He motioned for R to pick him up in the dinghy NOW!
After finishing up north we came back down and picked up the dinghy buoy at the Warderick fuel dock. Rick from Makana and his guests joined us for a nice swim full of fish and a pass by a huge spotted eagle ray which glided west to east over the sandy, deep bottom. Too cool!
With anchor light in hand (but not yet on the mast), we headed north to visit a couple of new islands, and one we had seen several years ago when we caught a ride with Osprey.
Our first stop was Hawksbill Cay, still in Exuma Land and Sea Park, and new to us. Known for endless beaches, Loyalist (those escapees from the American Revolution "rebel victory") ruins and some good snorkeling. So we walked a beach and snorkeled! We need to get back there to walk to the ruins, hit more beaches, and get to the southern snorkeling ground, but we were on a fast track to get to Highborne Cay before a front passed over, and wanted to visit Shroud Cay, so we moved on up there.
Shroud is also in the Park, and most of it is mangrove swamp. But there are several natural "creeks" through the mangroves, on one of which motorized vessels (dinghies) are allowed. We dinghied up the creek to a little beach, and then climbed the hill to Camp Driftwood, where DEA agents spied on the cocaine smuggling activities of drug lord Carlos Lehder during the early 80's. On the way back we snorkeled a line of several coral heads. Then got in the big boat, and headed for Highborne Cay Marina.
Our route took us out Wax Cay Cut where the standing waves were a little bouncy and into Exuma Sound so Michael could fish. He was hoping for a repeat of the marvelous mahi experience, but no bites. We had to go in narrow little Highborne Cut to get to the marina and ended up in a corner which will be a trick to exit tomorrow!
While here we met some cruisers from Bend, Oregon who know Michael's cousin, and reunited with Rob and Holly on Hampshire Rose - friends met last season. Monday is our 35th anniversary, so another reason to come to Highborne was to go out to dinner (as well as to watch the Super Bowl!). When we learned the restaurant is closed Mondays, Capt. Mike suggested NOT merging anniversary dinner and the Super Bowl, but having a nice dinner last night, which idea was enthusiastically supported by his first mate.
Dinner was one of the best we've had any where... Chef Devon, a Bahamian, outdid himself. Head bartender and waiter Berlin made a special table for us, spread with Androsia cloth (batik made on Andros Cay) and adorned with hot pink bougainvillea and seated on a corner of the deck overlooking the bay and under the stars. Dinner started with lobster-pumpkin bisque and coconut shrimp, and moved on to rum-roasted duck breast and fire-grilled rib eye, topped off with melt-in-your-mouth guava duff. WOW! Happy anniversary to us!
Today we are catching up on internet business before we leave the wifi world again. The Captain is napping and waiting for the Super Bowl. We have lots of ideas for where to go next, but no decisions... stay tuned!
Well, we have moved quite a ways in the past 12 days. From Marsh Harbor in the Abacos (our last blog posting) to Warderick Wells in Exuma Land and Sea Park.
Here's what has happened in between:
As last noted, we headed over to Man-O-War Cay, which was a place we both really wanted to see. It has an interesting history of being settled by Loyalists (those who fled the "rebel victory" of the U.S. Revolutionary War) and of shipbuilding. It is a tiny island with a winding street down its length, lined with tall, shrubby, flowering hedges, and tidy, pretty gardens with raked sand between the road and houses. Seemed mostly vacation homes between where we landed the dinghy on the northern part of the island and the main part of town, but not ostentatious ones. Just very quiet, pretty and, as Roberta would say, "islandy." The town was mostly small block houses, and mostly Caucasian. The shipbuilding long gone, they still build and repair small vessels. It is a dry island, so not one frequented by the vacationing college or cruise ship crowds. Nice and quiet!
After Man-O-War, we headed down for a rolly night at Tilloo Cay, then on to an anchorage at Lynyard, where we had a long beach walk looking for sea glass. We also dinghied over to Little Harbor to tour the foundary of Randolph W. Johnston now operated by his son Pete. Randolph was a professor at Smith, and a sculptor, who escaped what he called the "megamachine" in 1950, set up housekeeping in a cave, and built a foundry, a house, and a thriving art business (google his sculptures - WOW!). The first person we met on the island was Pete, and we had lunch at his very laid-back pub. We managed to talk ourselves out of purchasing a bronze sculpture (as in, "where would we put that in a 42' boat???) and reluctantly left the sculptures behind in Little Harbor. Next day we sailed across the 60-mile stretch to Royal Island, near Eleuthera with our friends Mark and Julie on Rachel. It was a long day, but all of it was sailed! YAHOO! Michael started losing lures in the Abacos, and continued on this trip. Those are wily fish out there! At anchor in Royal, one swam under the boat and cut his line on the prop! He did catch a small jack at Royal, but released it.
We stopped in a protected little harbor at Royal Island, where weather held us for a days (and also kept us from visiting Spanish Wells, darn it!). Our anchor light bit the dust at Royal Island, and Michael went up the mast (all the way thinking, "What is a 60-yr old guy DOING, doing this???" He uses rope ascenders, as we do not have mast steps. It turned out to be the light that wasn't working, not the wiring - hopefully an easier fix.
Underway again, we made the harrowing transit of Current Cut. Mark timed the slack tide perfectly, but even so, we have to make a sharp turn in this cut, and it is scary!
Next stop was another new place for us - Hatchet Bay on Eleuthera, which has a very narrow opening blasted through a rock cliff. As we started through, Roberta kept saying, "just think of it like a bascule bridge opening!" The harbor was very calm, and a new friend on Mon Ami, dinghied over to thread our lines through a mooring ball. It was very nice of Dave, since these balls do not have pennants, and getting a line through the ring on them is a real trick from the bow of a boat!
Next day we had another awesome sail down to Rock Sound and finally caught up with friends Bobby and Francie on Barefootin', with whom we had all hoped to spend Christmas at Staniel Cay - none of us made it! We missed sailing over to the Abacos with them by two days, and then got stuck in Vero Beach, so it had been a month that we had been trying to catch them. It was great to see them and to stock up on produce at the little grocery there.
And then... Michael's lure-losing luck turned. On the motorsail across Exuma Sound from Eleuthera to the anchorage at Big Majors Spot near Staniel Cay, he caught a 16-pound Mahi! It was a great fight, exciting landing on the side deck, and a wonderful dinner. We still have meals in the freezer. YUM!
At Staniel, we ordered a new light from the manufacturer (hurray for warranties!) to be shipped out via Watermakers, which makes daily flights to the island from Fort Lauderdale. We had a fun sundowner on the beach, a great long, hot walk (it has been in the 80's) along the cliffs and, at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, Michael got to watch the Ravens beat New England - Go Ravens! (Which was NOT what he was saying during the heartbreaking, edge-of-your-seat game between the Ravens and his beloved Broncos!). Currents were not right for snorkeling at Thunderball Cave, but we did get in the water and see some fish and corals, and dinghied over to see the famous swimming pigs.
While we wait for the anchor light, we decided to sail up to Warderick Wells to visit friends Andrew and Henry (Park Administrator and Warden). It is great to see them again, and an added bonus was meeting up with John on Jenny Marie, and Tom and Chris on Polar Pacer! More fun! Due to weather we may be here a couple of days, but need to get back to Staniel to pick up the light, then need a calm day for more mast-climbing by Michael. Then we hope to get back up north to some of the islands we did not see last year. We hope to get in some snorkeling while here, but it is very windy and bouncy right now, and we need good conditions and slack water. In our "down time" Michael has been splicing line for small lazarette hooks, a dinghy painter, and a new anchor snubber. Roberta has been doing cross stitch and waiting for a longer stretch to get out her sewing machine for some mending and courtesy flag-making (we have lots of countries we hope to visit in the eastern Carib!). We are back to homemade bread - which we both really enjoy.
It is wonderful to be back in the Exumas, with the gin-clear turquoise water, white sand beaches, great hikes, conch fritters, and friends. Even on too-windy, "cold" (low 70's) days!
Hope you are having a good winter! We'd love to hear from you.
We are in the Abacos with good friends Mark and Julie on Rachel... Celilo crossed to the Abacos from Fort Pierce a few days ahead of the Rachels and had a fun New Year's Eve and New Year's Day Junkanoo at Green Turtle. Junkanoo is a small, wild parade through town, where people dress up in crazy paper costumes (google junkanoo and see what they show), and they had little girls dancing, and a band with drums made out of lard barrels and things - making a huge racket! They were a great drum line! It was all very family-oriented, unlike in Nassau where it occurs in the wee hours, this was in the afternoon. Good for old people like us who like to go to bed early! HA!
Mark and Julie came to the Abacos too from Lake Worth, and once they checked in at Green Turtle, we enjoyed an afternoon, overnight and morning at Michael's favorite Cay, Powell, before all heading down to anchor at Great Guana and then over to spend an afternoon just outside of Marsh Harbor where we joined a boat called Civil Twilight in snorkeling and a lobster spearfishing lesson for Mark and Michael. Al (of C.T.) caught two lobsters, gave one to us since Michael had spotted it, and I cooked it and sliced it up for appetizers for us all on Civil Twilight.
Tomorrow we plan to sail over Man O' War Cay and anchor out to visit that island and all its interesting boatbuilding history. Then we hope to move south to less populated Tiloo and Lynyard Cays. We'd like to see Little Harbor, but may not have a calm enough day to dinghy over. Then we all hope to head south to either Eleuthera or through Fleeming Channel to the Exumas. Towards March we hope to go with Rachel deeper into the Caribbean. We'll see... plans are always flexible (should I say fluid?) on a boat!
I think we have figured it out this retirement thing a little more. Some days (like today) getting a very slow start after listening to weather guru Chris Parker, and just sort of putzing along, not feeling like we need to be so productive. Still feel a little like I SHOULD be though... so then I go polish stainless or something! HA!
Michael has been studying his fishing book and is casting his line fairly often in the morning and evening while anchored, and dragging it whenever we move. Some days all he attracts are seagulls to his little sluggo moving through the water! Yesterday he figured he must be on the right track, because a big fish chomped through his line. He said at least his bait wasn't ignored! Now that we are not in the deep water, we'd like a nice medium Mutton Snapper... and M is looking forward to more lobstering since this year he has a spear. We met a wonderful local man who owns a little closet-sized fishing shop on the second floor of a building down towards the marinas from the local dinghy dock here. He was so friendly, gave some great suggestions, and had an incredible amount of gear stuffed into his tiny shop. He prefers mutton snapper to grouper - which is good for decreasing grouper populations!
So, we are having fun in the sun, getting a few little boat chores done (stainless, minor fixes, etc.), some provisioning and walking. Last night Julie cooked an awesome curry and girls beat guys in best three out of five playing Sequence.
Like the t-shirt says: "Life is good!"
Michael and Roberta