02/12/2013, Staniel Cay, Exuma
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
We reluctantly left Highborne Cay for Hawksbill Cay, leaving one perfect place to arrive in another. These are all places which we had read about on other sailor's blogs, every winter evening for the last five years. After we settled in to our anchorage I had to collect my sense of this splendour, as though an interior decorator had been here to match the different colors of plant life with the white sand and bordered it with the perfect color of water. However it wasn't long before we had the dinghy down and went ashore to climb the coral mountain to get a 360 degree view of the whole Cay with its bountiful pallet of colors. So much better than the pictures. All I could think of again was this was so much more than I expected.
We sat in the cockpit of the boat for the evening, eating a finely barbequed steak, with all the fixings, following a sundowner drink, to gaze at the Bahama Banks for the gorgeous fiery sun to get dunked into the water, far away, over at the horizon. After the sun set, billions of stars came out, with a full moon rising, so that we could see the shadow of our little ship on the bottom, suspended as though we were sitting on glass.
I tell you this only because this is the way it really is. And we would agree with you, as to whatever did we do to deserve this? Lots of people pay thousands of dollars to enjoy this for a week or two. Been there, done that, many times. But here we are in our own little ship and we don't have to go home on Sunday. It is the light, and the aroma, and the salty taste on your lips, and the feel of the powder sand on your feet, as you wade ashore pulling the dinghy up on the beach, so much so that you just can't get enough of it. We have become so entranced sometimes, that we have to stop and look behind us to make sure we didn't overlook something.
When I was a little guy, my father left a book of maps on the table, which were necessary for him to drive a transport over the eastern states of United States. Not having a lot of other entertainment on a winter's night in northern New Brunswick, I got interested in places you could go to, in your mind, by following lines on a map. I dreamed of those places as though I had been there. Instead of arriving by car I dreamed of land appearing on the horizon from a boat and it might be Boston harbour or wherever. When my grandfather gave me a world map from his latest issue of National Geographic, I found most all of those places were bordering on water were connected to Miramichi Bay, and I might go there easily,.... if I had a boat.
Well, Dad and Grandfather, here I am.
It is February, 2013 and since we have arrived in the Bahamas, it has been very warm during the day but cooling at night. If asked, we would say the weather is perfect, except out on the water, the wind sometimes makes Chrissie uncomfortable not by degrees Fahrenheit but the degrees it makes the boat heel. The depth sounder measures water depth but also the temperature. In the early morning when we start out the water will be 75 F and the air 73 F. It changes before mid-day though as the air temperatures climb into the eighties.
Although every port we blow into has been outstanding with its beauty and its own special characteristics. The people generally have very little but their smiles and their pride but they give us faith in the human race. There has not been one person ask for a cent. We were not even able to find one beggar in Nassau, although everyone will thank you for anything you put in their hands, but only if they have given you something as helpful as directions etc. We have become completely humbled, in seeing how you can be so happy with less, rather than crying out for more.
The skies are bluer the further south we get, carrying fluffy clouds which never seem to be in the way, the breezes are created just to keep our day perfect. In the water there are always seven colors of blue, on every scale of the spectrum, together with three shades of emerald, caused by the depth over the shifting sandbars, or coral heads. This is framed by hundreds of islands (Cays) each with their own vegetation. These in fact are desert islands so the plants that grow here are thick and juicy leafed holding and preserving every drop of moisture during the three months they may or may not get rain. Animal life; salamanders, iguanas, geckoes etc. exist on insects that exist because these plants. Life, even here, as it is supposed to, goes on.
We arrived in Warderick Wells, a group of islands and surrounding area that have been designated a sea and land conservation area by the Bahama government. Everyone is welcomed, as long as they leave the area better than when they found it. There is no fishing or disturbing the marine life in any way. When our group of boats sailed in we all said "pinch me, I have never expected anything this beautiful to be part of our trip". The pictures I have posted will not do it justice but only give you the idea, that left alone and un-commercialized, nature can out-perform human efforts to improve; hands-down.
This place is like parking our boat in the aquarium at the dentist's office. After the very best ham, onion tomato, and cheese omelet served in the cockpit with steaming hot coffee (Have I mentioned we have a great cook aboard?) while the sun rose to take its position in the sky, along with Heritage, we were encouraged by the crew of Glory Days to dinghy out to a small beach not far away. It had long coral arms above water, reaching out on both sides, encompassing a stunning reef that had enough color to make an artist envious. We all snorkeled for hours, after pulling our dinghies up on the beach. Slowly moving over this illusion, it first appeared unreal, with the solid live coral extending up from the reef, surrounded by large cushions of different sponge coral, and interminable numbers of different colorful fish all feeding from the mounds, without hassling each other. On arriving back at the warden's dock we slowly passed over the top of a six foot shark who hangs around harmlessly looking for scraps. We noticed other smaller ones on the bottom "resting".
If you were to check us out on Google Earth you will find that we have anchored in Cambridge Cay and Compass Cay which is just south of Warderick Wells and the reason we did is because of the Coral Gardens. It is hard to imagine there is anything more stunning and picturesque on this earth. To snorkel over the top of these reefs with so many different kinds of coral reaching up to welcome us was magical and something we had to tear ourselves away from. On the way back north I have to stop just to see them one more time again. This area is still within the bounds of the conservation area and it is easy to see why. Hundreds of different varieties of fish make this area their permanent address.
We have arrived at Staniel Cay today, February 12th. This area is famous for the Thunderball grotto in which they made the James Bond movie, oddly enough called Thunderball. At low tide, if you don't have scuba gear, you can swim into the caves after getting through a passage underwater. Also, in a Cay just up from here, which we can motor to in our dinghy, are the famous swimming pigs who come out to meet anyone arriving. They will be the first beggars we will have met! More on that in the next blog whenever we get Wi-Fi again.
Still having fun.
02/04/2013, Highborne Cay Exumas
A boat is the closest thing to fullfilling a dream, that human hands can produce. - N.G. Herreshoff
We made it across the Yellow Banks on Sunday from Nassau to Highborne Cay, one of the northerly in the Exuma chain of islands. Anchored in 20 feet of water we can see every grain of sand on the bottom. The weather is absolutely perfect, with a great little breeze keeping it bearable !
This island is a private island for the rich and famous to rent chalets for a minimum of $1400.00 per night. Us ordinary folks can rent as well but we have to reserve years in advance. Although we are anchored off the beach but are allowed to go to the resturant / bar and use the dinghy dock.
Last night we had a snack type dinner, soup and coconut shrimp and watched the Superbowl game with Shania Twain and her husband.They had their own table and no one even paid any attention to them. Of course no one paid any attention to us either. And you don't want to know what the rich and famous have to pay for two bowls of soup and 5 coconut shrimp. We always knew we weren't rich but now we also know we can't afford to eat like we are famous either.
I can only send you pictures to show you the setting but really the air and light off the different colors of water make us spend a lot of our time looking straight to the bottom.At the fish cleaning station we missed them cleaning today. It is where the nurse sharks gather to have a feed of what is thrown over the end of the wharf.
We missed it because we wanted to take a two mile dinghy ride up to Allen's Cay to see the iguanas. As soon as our dinghy hit the beach we counted 33 came running out to meet us hoping for food. They are harmless if you leave them alone and don't bother you if they know you have nothing to give them.
Check out the pictures in the gallery.
We are leaving tomorrow morning for Hawksbill Cay and because there is no internet there will not be able to post until later when we arrive at Warderwick
Wells.Until then we will keep enjoying our adventure.
02/02/2013, Nasdsau Bahamas
Nassau is just not a town where tourists come to relax at Sandals, shop for trinkets at the straw market, or jewellery along downtown Bay Street, where at anytime there are thousands of picture taking, sunburned, sidewalk blockers, who were dispensed from the mighty cruise ships, parked four deep at any one time; every day.
This morning we rose early hoping to leave just after daybreak for the Exumas after spending the last five days at a dock waiting for the perfect window to cross the Yellow Bank. The reason for wanting clear weather is this will be our first encounter with coral heads. No guessing what would happen if we were unfortunate enough to strike one of those. This area is strewn with wrecks to prove although the pristine water is perfect for some of the best cruising in the world, it also provides just enough obstacles to keep you on your toes and wide awake. One slip and you pay.
Seven or eight boats get ready to leave at the same time, but Chances has decided she hasn't seen enough of Nassau. Rather than sailing out early I spent the morning head-first inside the engine compartment changing the electric fuel priming pump which Serendipity, one of our cruising buddy boats had as a spare. The space was so small that toy wrenches could hardly fit in there and the two bolts holding the pump, on had so much rust on them, it became clear to me, in my delusional state, that one of Christopher Columbus' crew must have installed it. The temperature in Nassau today was expected to reach the high eighties today, January 31st. At 8:00 AM this morning inside that engine compartment it felt like 100 F. It took until noon and 43 new words, one for each time a wrench slipped and I hit my knuckles and loss of gallons of body fluids though my pores to get the old one off, the new one on, the filters changed, and the airlocks out of the system. It became clear by then; we would not be crossing the Yellow Bank today. All the other boats had left, although Heritage, who had turned around to see if they could help, had to be coaxed to leave us behind.
So what to do? Advise the marina that we would be staying at least another night. Sign here please!
After drinking the well dry and a light snack I dragged out my trusty little folding bike and made off to the marine store to buy a new pump and restock the fuel filters. Sold the last one like that just yesterday and not sure when the new order will arrive but "it will git here sometime mon. No hurry".
The reason for telling you this is not to relay what a bad start to our day was but the adventure the day turned out to be. I learned enough about human beings today than I really thought I had to know. I learned of how a different culture works even though they are on island time. And I learned it on a folding bicycle.
After finding out the last pump was sold until who knows when, the lady at the counter who knew all things mechanical especially pumps and filters, said to try at Bayshore Garage just up the street in the first narrow lane past the bridge. There are two bridges so I asked her which one. She wasn't sure but it was after one of them. Apparently I couldn't miss it. When I got there I wasn't sure of what I couldn't miss; the bridge, the narrow lane, or the garage. The bridge I could see so it had to be close. There was a group of guys standing by and sitting on the curb at the street corner in front of a "refreshment stand" and every one of them had a beer or some other drink. Some were road construction workers; some were in sleeveless white undershirts, with big colourful striped wool hats on their heads, but everyone of them were talking a blue streak in a language of heavy accented English (?). It appeared like a dozen different arguments were going on at the same time, with everyone talking and laughing. I asked no one in particular if anyone knew where Bayshore Garage was. All the arguments stopped and it appeared that this was the most important question any of them was asked today. One guy asked me what they could help me with "and why wasn't I in school, young man?" Every one of them had an opinion on where it might be and the best way to get there. All were vying with each other to take their advice. I did bike around the cemetery, through the Scotia bank parking lot, until I spotted the narrow lane.
Although that garage didn't have the part and could only recommend the IDS store who might have it but it was a couple of miles away. It turned out to be 3 ½ miles. The directions were miniscule. On the way I asked a number of people but one in particular stood out. An older man with a sunken face and poorly dressed, but clean, pointed me in the right direction. Proud to be able to help he smiled with all of his seven teeth showing. The three on the top almost fit perfectly in the slots on the bottom where the except for the four teeth, all the rest were missing.
He is typical of the ordinary citizen of this town. It appears that half the population is standing idle along buildings that front on sidewalks that would be difficult for a mule to walk along. Mostly men of all ages, just standing around, hanging out. Yet there are thousands of cars zooming down narrow streets, going the "wrong" way. This was an English colony so they drive on the opposite side of the road. They are constantly honking their horns either to ask for a break to thank each other for getting one. If you pull out into traffic you honk to ask to get in then another honk to say thanks. If we try to cross the street in front of our marina to go to Starbucks (free WiFi) it requires taking your life in your hands to avoid cars speeding by. They almost seem to speed up if they see someone crossing.
Some things I learned while driving my bike to pick up the new fuel pump:
Never drive a bike on any street in Nassau. However it is more dangerous to drive on the sidewalk, if there is a sidewalk.
Don't drive a bike in Nassau. Cars use you for target practise.
Try to get clear directions on where to go if you can understand the accented directions.
Never believe that it is just ahead there. There is nothing just ahead. It is miles away.
Ask anyone for directions. These people are the friendliest people on earth, even when they look like a gang standing in groups. They love to help.
Never visit a dentist in Nassau. You will leave his office with a lot less teeth than you went in with.
Everything here is "just da ting, mon" Believe it. Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.
I love these people.
We have been here once before on a cruise ship but as big as they are, we felt very much superior to them, as we passed five of them tied to their docks on the entrance to Nassau.
We are in the centre of the Bahamas, on Providence Island, in its capital - Nassau!! Almost directly across from Atlantis on Paradise Island, we are docked at Bay Harbour Marina, for two nights and two and a half days, just to give ourselves a break, get our land legs back and provision for the next part of the trip.
When we had arrived in the Berry Islands the weather was beautiful, after a bit of nasty on the Bahama Banks. I think I mentioned already that it was a bit eerie dropping anchor literally in the middle of nowhere. There was nowhere less than forty miles in any direction. What made it more eerie was that we were doing it in a cloudburst. But when we woke in the morning and looked down through seventeen feet of the clearest water on earth it seemed to be all worth it. Even after we pulled anchor and motor sailed along, whatever there was to be seen on the bottom, we could see the whole way in. There were rays, lobster, jackfish and tuna, and at different times two large sea turtles.
No sense letting all that bounty go to waste. I put out eighty feet of line with a "special" lure and within five minutes I had a seven pound skip jack tuna in the boat. I should have taken a better picture before starting to clean it but there was enough meat on it after filleting it for six people. We cut it into four large pieces and gave two away. When we barbequed it that night on foil with seasoning, the only word I can think of was delicious. Now that dinner is just under our keel we will be having fish for breakfast.
Not so fast Chrissie says. After we landed at the Berry Islands we wanted to check in the Great Harbor Cay, Hoffman's Cay, and all the islands around White Cay. We found an anchorage just inside Fowl Cay and along comes two fisherman offering lobster tails, four for $10.00. I said how about five tails. I should have said how about seven but was told later four for ten is the going rate. He did give me five though without question. After he did the rounds of other boats, I caught up to him and asked how much for the larger ones I saw him keep. He said three for ten but gave me four with a big grin. So Chrissie just isn't eating fish. We had lobster for dinner that night and froze the rest.
These fishermen were from Nassau thirty seven miles away, with a beat-up little boat that had no shelter and dock lines that were hunks of different lines tied together to make each line. They had a scuba tank of oxygen with a rope harness which enabled them to pluck their meager living off the bottom as far as fifty feet down. Because they had an 85 HP motor they offered to stay around for an hour to help our buddy boat, Serendipity with Lynn and Lee and Maggie the dog from New York City, get off the sand bar when the tide came in. They went hard aground on the morning tide attempting to come over to anchor where we were. They had been told as we were that there was a channel through there that isn't on the charts however it is close to shore which is daunting when you look at the jagged rock walls ready to reach out and grab you.
We had tried to come through there the day before but ran aground on sand and with the help of Lee and Lynn were able to kedge ourselves off. Because they knew there was a channel through there they would do it in the early morning when they could get a better view of the bottom. We had been planning to leave to go to Nassau with other boats in the anchorage and had already taken the motor off the dinghy. By the time we were able to get the motor down, pick up George from Heritage and get over there the tide had gone out enough it looked like they were going to be there for the day. I have posted a picture in the gallery of poor sad Serendipity lying hard to starboard. After the tide came in while the fishermen were there it was getting dark so we had to work fast. It was a real struggle to get her into deeper water and had those fishermen not been there circumstances might have been a whole lot different. I don't know how much it cost but both the fishermen and Serendipity were happy. For the rest of us helping it was like a team victory.
During the day, while waiting for the time to change we dinghyed into the amazing beach area which is the landing beach for the short trek up the hill through the jungle to see the Blue Hole. This water is so clear that it made us think Chances was anchored and we were going ashore inside a swimming pool. It is something we are having a hard time getting used to. Anyway we did get to the Blue Hole which wasn't everything it is made out to be but interesting none the less. It was strange to be peering over an edge into water that we had no idea how deep it was or how it was formed. It is ringed with caves just above the water line which appear to have been eaten out by water action thousands or millions of years ago, but no one knows how.
After posing for the obligatory Kodak moments at the Hole, we went back to the pure white sugar beach and snorkeled and wasted the rest of the afternoon away. Lying back in the sun after drying off it flashed across my mind that it was January 24th and we had heard a real cold snap was crossing Ontario. I closed my eyes and through my eyelids I could see the burning disk of the sun. I turned to the left to listen to that clear water lap up on the beach, and had a short nap.
We had a system, a "Norther", come through the next day throwing up seas so we couldn't leave. We could see the waves crashing outside the small island anchorage and feel the swell to some extent, rock our boat. Not enough though I couldn't work on a project so I constructed the rack for the new solar panel. It is hard to do work here. The sky and the water and the sand and the birds and the beach all are so distracting. All you really want to do is sit with a cold drink and a book and bob your life away. I'm getting off topic. I sawed and bolted and sawed some more. Finally after working all day I got it put together and it fits. It's square, so it must be level. Hard to tell when trying to level a floating object. Stand on one side and the level has to be adjusted to compensate for your weight. Change sides and do it all over again. As we used to say at home growing up, "it is pretty good for government work".
The Cays around the Berry islands are mainly isolated except for a few small villages. It was relaxing just to get away from it all. A few other boats would come and go but we were mainly left alone, together, to float in our own little paradise. It is unlikely we will ever return except in our memories and pictures. But what a memory we have to keep with us.
So onward to Nassau, a thirty seven mile easy-breezy down the Northwest Providence Channel which is average 9000 feet deep and leads into the Tongue of the Ocean along the Great Bahama Bank. The best window for weather we could get was Saturday, January 26th and it was expected to be a run with the wind from the north, and a three foot swell. We barely make it through the incoming swell on leaving the cut between Devil's Cay and White Cay when the engine is steaming mad and hot under the cowling. Luckily we had put the main up while still at anchor, so we had some momentum when I turned the engine off. Unfurl the jib and sail ourselves out of this mess until we are at least out of the seven foot swell, but heading off 90 degrees to where we want to go. Out into deeper water where the swell, was more of a four foot Lake Ontario chop, and precious little wind. I fight enough to crab crawl a couple of miles off shore until we can get a better tack on heading south. However, no north wind as predicted but an east wind put us close hauled to gain some south and let the engine cool down. Chrissie reluctantly took the wheel and braved it out for the next six miles while I took the water pump apart and replaced the impeller twice. The first time it threw out water but then stopped. I realized that in all the confusion of working on a steaming hot motor in close quarters while being slammed sideways against the door for the head then over against the door for the aft cabin there was something I didn't do. Understandable as I was also getting my brains bashed out every time we dropped into a trough. I had forgotten to turn on the seacock to let the water in to the pump!
I took the pump apart just in case I had damaged the new impeller, but it was fine and as soon as it was put back together, we headed southeast to Nassau. Very heavy oceans swell, but no wind. At least this time it wasn't on the nose.
When we cruised into the harbour, it was another victory for us. Two of the five were from Carnival Cruise Lines were on the outside, nose to tail. The first in line was Imagination, the ship we were on with our friends, Alan and Leslie, but this time crowds were looking over the balcony at us with waves and smiles. A very large catamaran filled to capacity with bubbling tourists came slowly toward us just as we passed under the Paradise Island Bridge, and on noticing the Canadian flag started cheering and pointing out to each other, we were from Toronto.
Every year at this time there is a huge competition among the long boats and this year was no exception. We spent Sunday afternoon at the races where most of the crowds were Bahamian men cheering on their favorite boat and crew. The sail to boat ratio is huge and the crews are large. They start anchored in a line then when the committee boat gives the signal they start pulling in the lines to lift the anchor while at the same time raising the oversized mainsail and a very small foresail. The guys who pulled the boat along to the anchor now extend a long plank out over the side and a bunch of them slide out to counter the heel of the boat. There is a mad scramble when they change direction, to get to the other side with the plank, under the low boom and get set up before the wind fills the canvas. We were there mainly because of the food. They had all kinds of kiosks filled with all different kinds of Bahamian food, from made on site conch salad, conch fritters, jerk everything, all kinds of loafs including a local favorite made with macaroni and cheese. The music was blaring out happy island music. Everyone smiled except the old men and quite a few with not enough teeth. We bought four different large slices of homemade cake which takes two people to eat one slice.
Everyone is on a pace slower than island time except when they are driving a car. Cross a street to get to the Starbucks and you are responsible for your own life. When you reach the counter at Starbucks though there could be a line of ten people all talking about something to each other while I pace from one foot to the other. Even a line-up of one takes ten or fifteen minutes while the local guy chats with Thelma and Louise behind the counter about the upcoming church benefit. By the time I get my coffee, I really need it. This is all so I can get internet and they have the different access codes behind the counter.
"That's the ting mon. Git used to it. I does tings my way."
We are not staying here long, maybe a couple of days to stock up for the Exuma Islands further south. We will wait for a weather window and cross to the Elutheras or to Highborne Cay in the Exumas.
Keep well. Keep warm.
We made it across!
The Gulf Stream for those who don't know, is a fast moving undersea channel of warm water that flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Straits of Florida between Cuba and Florida and continues north along the coast to south of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland turning east into the Atlantic. It is somewhat the same path that hurricanes take when they leave the Caribbean.
It flows at 3 kts through a deep channel between Florida and the Bahamas Bank on which the small islands of North and South Bimini, Cat and Gun Cays sit on the very western edge. We bought the Explorer Chart books for all of the Bahamas but because this area is so small it has a chart all of its own. I think it is for someone to get an extra $12.95...but it works.
We set out from Coconut Grove, a ritzy little area just south of Miami, on Wednesday afternoon and sailed across Biscayne Bay in an hour and a half and arrived in a very cosy little anchorage,(called No Name Harbour!) which is the staging place for a number of boats crossing the Gulf Stream. There are some who leave directly from Miami through Government Cut, the same channel the large cruise ships leave but we wanted to cut an hour and a half off our trip. When we arrived at No Name there was hardly room to anchor, because there were so many boats thinking the same as we were.
The wind was from the east when we anchored, not a good thing, but expected to change to the south overnight, then to south west during the day on Thursday. Just what everyone was looking for. The light wind moving in the same direction as the Stream is a good thing. If the wind is from the north it is counter to the current and kicks up a very nasty chop. In case you are wondering, the wind from the east is across the current so you would be fighting the current north as well as motor sailing headlong in the breeze (wind). It is a lot of what we do on Lake Ontario, at least in one direction.
We rose at 3:00 AM as planned, and already most of the anchored boats there from the night before, had deck lights on ready to weigh anchor, some already with engines started, almost a carnival atmosphere, and a happy anxious time for everyone who had waited for the moment for so many years. Except, I noticed while hauling the anchor, the breeze was still coming from the east. With the promise of south-east to south winds, we headed out the entrance cut and were happy to see so many mast lights ahead of us. It was pitch dark ahead with the glow of Miami behind us. The swells coming in from the deep ocean were right on nose, together with the wind, although it was light. Again, we thought we made a wrong turn and we were back on Lake Ontario.
It took until 7:00 for the sun to be fully over the horizon so that we could see the four foot swell was not the normal ocean swell, but sharp so that the boat rose on one, but pitched into the next one. A bit of a rough ride to start but we hoped it would get better once we reached deep water. Just before sunrise a large catamaran turned back as he thought the pounding might get worse in the Stream. The larger boats were now well ahead of us and overhearing their conversations got the impression it was getting better. By halfway we were holding our own and the wind was clocking to the south so our speed increased. Now at over seven knots we were sailing. When you are sailing the boat handles a lot better and the swell doesn't affect it as much.
We arrived at two o'clock in South Bimini, after sailing on water that was so blue I had only seen it before in paintings. The blue was the colour of a Vicks cold medicine or Noxzema skin care lotion bottle for those who can remember. The deep blue at the sides of the boat were darker than those behind, both a natural contrast and both amazing to stare into. The charts say we were passing over water that was 700 meters deep and full of more varieties of fish than anywhere else. We were anxious to tow a lure but the water was so rough all we could do it sail it.
As soon as we docked the dock master was there with all the forms which we had to take to immigration and customs office at the airport. A beat up old passenger van with a steering wheel on the passenger's side and the sliding side door that had a hand-made sign stuck to the inside "Please let the driver open the door - It's broke" served as our taxi. The driver was big friendly guy with a cap that was at least two sizes too small sitting on his bushy head. He slowed down or stopped several times on the way to the airport to yell at people he knew, followed by a thunderous laugh.
When we arrived at the airport getting through the documents, while thorough, was easy. Both the customs guy and the immigration lady were helpful and courteous and with wide Bahamian smiles they welcomed us to their country. Their country thus far sits in a beautiful setting, is populated with friendly people who have very little. The population is small and the economy depends mainly on tourism, although there is some fishing. There seems to be a lot of unemployed people hanging around parks and the liquor store. The little park diagonally across the street from the liquor store has picnic tables on which sits a large bottle of rum being shared with all the buddies who drop by.
In Alicetown, the capital, the streets are narrow and traffic consists of scooters, motorcycles, a lot of four wheelers, golf carts, a few cars and delivery trucks. There are shops set up along the street intermixed with closed up buildings and some remains of others that either burned to the ground or destroyed by hurricanes. It has been some years since either happened but no one has got around to cleaning it up yet. The attitude of both towns, the other being Baillytown, was cheerful and everyone was cheerful and polite, but nobody saw any urgency to taking care of a situation that could be improved. Everything looks like it is either falling apart or it hasn't got started yet. There is a nice wire fencing delivered to surround two basketball courts and it was hard to tell if some of it had been installed and blew down or somebody started the fencing and just got tired of doing it and went home...a couple of years ago! Nobody wanted to talk about it. Even the two storey resort on the beautiful west shore, was only operating the restaurant and rooms on the ground floor because no one had bothered to get around to fixing the balconies or the stairs to get up there. Both were rotted to the point no one could use either, so rather than fix it they just closed it off and continued business on the main floor.
After staying the extra day, as it appeared to be a check-in point for most boats, we decide with a nuber of other boats to leave for the Berry Islands which are across the Bahama Bank. Because it is a two day trip it would require stopping halfway there and anchor overnight with no land 35 miles in any direction. After leaving Bimini we headed north to round the Great Rock the set the autopilot for Bullock's Harbour on the Great Harbour Cay. We decided to anchor just before a downpour looked to hit us, but before we could get the anchor down it came down in buckets. It was a little rolly during the night but flattened out by daybreak. Getting up with our coffee and going outside we looked to be floating on air. We were anchored in seventeen feet of water but it was so clear you could make out every pebble of sand on the bottom! When we pulled the anchor we motor-sailed along on auto-pilot for most of the day staring overboard at the life under the sea on the Bahama Banks. It was like living in a dream. The sea water is as clear as the pictures show it. Maybe clearer.
We arrived in the afternoon Sunday and anchored in a quiet little bay which had a man-made channel coming into it, by cutting through the rock that led into the bay. We only stayed the night and to pick up fuel in the morning as we were heading north around the two Stirrup Cays, one owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines and the other by Caribbean Cruise Lines. These are private islands owned by the cruise lines where we saw a ship from each company anchored off their island. They had just each disgorged thousands of people onto perfect white sand and palm trees and all the facilities needed for that many people to exist for a day. They all will be happy to go home and say they have been to the Berry Islands, although they have been to one beach for one day. But it will be one of their happiest days.
We plan to take a week to cruise through and anchor in some of the amazing scenery on this continent. The beached and the coral shores are beyond describing. It is January 20th and the water, wind and temperature are perfect. I will post some pictures to try to give you an idea of what we wake up to every morning!
01/16/2013, Coconut Grove, Miami Fl.
Last winter I bought a Waterway Guide for the Intracostal at the Toronto Boat Show. It was minus 9 C and light snow.
I took the book home and read every page of it during the rest of the winter, using Google Earth as a guide to take me leaving the boat in Ft Pierce to Mile 1094 in Miami. Yesterday, January 15th at 1:30 PM we crossed off the last mile in the book and said to each other "We did it!"
After leaving the boat at Fort Pierce and flying back to Toronto for Christmas, we picked up the SUV and drove back down. The boat was just as we left it, although it was a bit of a worry as one can never be too sure. Thanks to Dave and Brenda Brand who drove up from Stuart to check on it for us. It is a boatyard and not a marina so we were a little bit unsure but as it turned out there are lots of Canadians who leave their boats there every year and there wasn't one I met who has ever had a problem.
Up until this point we had never seen a manatee. The marina has a small turning basin for boats that are docked there. We were tied up just a few docks north of the basin in which we discovered was a manatee haven. These gentle creatures were plentiful in this area eating their sea grass and growing to be up to 1600 lbs. They surface only for air or to bask in the sun. One afternoon I counted 14 lumps in the water just a few feet off our boat. At times we could feel them rubbing the boat ridding themselves of barnacles.
They love fresh water and hang around people washing their boats hoping for a mouthful from the hose. We were told it is best not to do it as they are a protected species and should be left to themselves.
Leroy has abandoned ship. We took him back home at Christmas and decided that the papers to get him into the Bahamas wasn't something we wanted to do after all especially since he has had all the required shots at home.
Dave Brand helped me bring the boat from Ft Pierce to Stuart on a beautiful afternoon which gave us time to talk more about the retired life he and Brenda are enjoying in their condo. Chrissie followed Brenda in the car to bring them both back to Stuart. They have encouraged us to participate in their lifestyle in addition to our sailing. A long story short, we ended up buying a beautiful two bedroom condo which we consider part of the whole package of adventure we are living.
Since then we have travelled the remaining portion of the Intracoastal Waterway, sailing through some of the most prime realestate in the country. From West Palm Beach through Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood and Miami, it is a real experience to see the miles of multi million dollar properties all along the water on both sides. Even with all this display of mansions there are some that still stand out, such as the one owned by the owner of the Miami Dolphins which is for sale if anyone is interested.
We anchored in a small lake (Lake Sylvia) right in the centre of Ft Lauderdale downtown, very close to the beach strip. We stayed for two nights and wished we could have stayed longer.
We are leaving this afternoon to sail out to Cay Biscayne which will be our launch point for the Bimini Island where we will check into the Bahamas. We are hoping to leave to cross the Gulf Stream in the next day or so, which will be on the next blog.
The weather is beautiful and so is life !