04/03/2013, Black Point Settlement, Exumas
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
- Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218-224
When we arrived in Black Point Settlement yesterday, there to greet us was a small flock of a particular kind of bird; a different colored bird. Shaped the same as a small seagull, we are all accustomed to seeing. As they flew over the boat, the underside of their wings was an unusual shade of cerulean blue. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get a picture of one while in flight. However later in the afternoon we saw them sitting on a dock nearby at Regatta Point. They looked pretty normal. When they spread their wings the blue shade on their underside was gone. Can you imagine water so clear and cerulean, that its color reflects off the underside of seagull's wings? It nearly defines the beauty of this place.
Located approximately halfway up (or down!) the Exuma chain, this place reeks of paradise. I know that I have said that before, maybe about every place we have been, but this one so far ties for first place. Just another small community, of less than 300 polite and generous people, happy with their lot in life. Born into a place where the streets are safe, life is simple enough to understand, and help is just a neighbour away. No luxuries here, not only because they don't need them; they already have the best that nature provides. Located in a bay where the water is so clear you would not hesitate, except for its saline content, to pick up a glass and drink it. There is nowhere in the whole harbour that you cannot make out every lump on the bottom, in water that is over ten feet deep. You become mesmerized by the shadow of your boat and dinghy on the bottom, the large black manta rays leisurely gliding along, suspended halfway to the surface. They have the same amount of urgency the people have here.
Looking out to the Bahama Banks from the deck at the 'laundry-mat' we become almost hypnotized by the water color against the background of the blue further out framed by the rock ledges and short beaches on three sides. Ok, so it is not just the 'laundry-mat', but mainly known as the best laundromat in the Exumas. It also is a small convenience store, with very little of a few things; some staples, some motor oil, metal cleaner, and WD40. While you are doing your laundry you can also get free WiFi but best of all if you sit on a chair with your back next to the window, between the washers and dryers, the owner will give you a haircut! This one person operation also rents guest rooms and cottages if you wish. She also does the cleaning and always takes time to chat everyone up, and pass out a few hugs.
We arrived here after leaving an anchorage at Lee Stocking Island which was just off the abandoned Perry Institute for the Study of Sea Life. John Perry Jr., the son of newspaper baron John Sr., who funded the Foundation, was a pioneer in a number of things; aviation, deep sea diving, and the promotion of environmental concerns. The organization he set up on the island was designed to be organic long before green became popular. It is a shame to see perfectly good buildings, ponds, tools and machinery being given over to the elements or probably soon to be pirates. Just walking around it appears that one day the funding dried up and everyone left the next morning, with just their personal belongings. Everything is left behind right down to the open box of cornflakes sitting on the table and the grapefruit juice in the fridge. Really sad to walk around and see the investment of millions of dollars, at the start of its deterioration. Hopefully something will happen to rescue it.
Just up from there we were able to take a short trip to Leaf Cay, which we had been trying to visit ever since we arrived in the area seven weeks ago. This is the home of pink iguanas, although the pictures will show you they are really not pink. A bit smaller than the iguanas on Allen's Cay, north of here but just as anxious for handouts. We read in the literature we may see some peeking out from the underbrush but these guys were out in force. Had we brought the literature with us I'm sure they would have eaten it! A family from Calgary were already there when we arrived and their children were feeding them vegetables and the "king" iguana was allowing himself to be lightly stroked. We went around to the Atlantic side to look for sea beans but the swell was so high we felt we wouldn't be able to leave if we managed to make it to the beach. Instead I trolled a line behind the dinghy and right away something grabbed it, jumped to the top of the water and decided it would prefer to stay in the Bahamas rather than my stomach. I had the darn thing on for a minute with a steady pull but should have given it a jerk to set the hook.
So with that I will end with a bittersweet story. On the way from Lee Stocking to here, at Black Point, I decided to throw out a couple of lures and let them trail behind. Within fifteen minutes I had a three foot Mahi -mahi (also known as a dolphin fish) hooked and in the cockpit with blood all over the place. Because it was flailing around I got the hook out and threw the lure back into the water so it wouldn't get tangled in the flapping fish. Before I had the line out thirty feet I hooked another one. I could tell this was big compared to the one inside. I'm thinking I can't have two fish flapping away in the cockpit so I will draw it up to the port side of the boat. After a few flips and rolls he came up alongside as peaceful as a four foot dolphin fish could be. You can imagine the excitement. Chrissie got the gaff ready but thought the hook was really set and this one is easy to get aboard. I gave it a yank with both hands and over lifeline he came. He also came alive doing two foot thrashes on the side deck spewing blood everywhere; all over the deck, the windows, canvas and worst of all Chrissie. I was just about to do a belly flop on it when it spit out or tore out the hook. Ever try to tackle a four foot flapping fish on a side deck of a boat? The fish won and left to go see Dr. Fish deep down, about his cut jaw. Damn, I could already see the picture Chrissie was taking of me with a bull mahi-mahi across my lap, the dorsal fin from head to tail and with the smaller one lying on top of it.
That was the fourth fish I hooked with that lure so to make the story more interesting, I continued with the stupidity. Thinking the line was tangled up on the life lines, it would take a miracle to unravel it. Not so. You know that if you had the misfortune of sliding down a cliff to your death that you might reach out and something would snag you? Not going to happen you reply. On a boat with so many lines and ropes something is always tangled and knotted at the very time you need it most. Well, this was not one of these times. The line that was still coiled on the Cuban Yo-yo that appeared to be tangled around the winch, a couple of stanchions and both of the life lines was not. As soon as I pulled the end of the line around the lifeline, the yo-yo fell in the water and took the rest of the line and my best lure. There it was...gone. Now after the air turned blue and red all around me, I realized I lost my prize fish, my best lure, my mind, and my temper within minutes of each other. To say the least I almost lost a wife as she threatened to divorce me or throw me overboard, if I didn't stop screaming in the new language I just discovered.
It will take me years to recover from this but I'm doing it in Paradise. We did fillet the first one and although we didn't take a picture of it, (still too upset) we did get four nice filleted steaks from it. I could post a picture of those!
Have a great day.
03/21/2013, George Town
"Good morning Georgetown. Good morning Cruisers. My name is Herman and this is the eight o'clock cruisers report."
This is how things have been working in our world since we have arrived in George Town. At 8:00 every morning, except for Sunday, this is how our day gets going. First, we get the sailor's version of the weather report for the day (wind speed and direction) and a good part of the week ahead, then commercial ads, any events that are planned for the day, then for the week, community shout outs, items of interest to cruisers; taxi share, safety etc., then new arrivals or departures. Herman on White Wing is the moderator, a volunteer position which usually takes a half hour, and then he signs off with "have a great George Town day". Everyone who has something to sell, buy, or give away will contact each other on Channel 68. Amazing the number of items requested, services offered, and the bartering that goes on between the 300 boats that are here, but in that short while our whole world revolves around each other. Nobody is left out and everybody belongs; a real community on to itself. Who cares if the pope resigned, when we can learn if the doctor will be in town, or that the pump-out boat will not be available until tomorrow at 9:00 AM tomorrow? All a matter of the circle you travel inside.
There has been a change to note though. The jet stream finally found where we are, and arrived approximately the same time as Dorothy and Keith arrived from Toronto. Coincidence? I think not. They are members of Toronto Hydroplane and Sailing Club, as we are, and volunteered last summer to be our guests here and help us for a week to enjoy the beauty of the place. Then again, the week before they left Toronto to come down here, Dorothy sent me pictures of the trees in a park behind her apartment, laden with snow. The weather gods, thinking she was showing us the kind of retreat she would most enjoy, came through with the best they could do. Lowering the temperatures into the low and mid seventies as well as dispatching another "norther" to this area close to the Tropic of Cancer, it made for some strong winds and cool days on the water. On shore though, out of the wind and in the direct sun it was very warm to hot; enough to go swimming and snorkeling, feed the rays, or pin your ears back at an impromptu Cruiser's Jam on Hamburger Beach. Although the days were mostly satisfying warmth-wise, the nights were agreeable to sleep with all the hatches open with the gentle swell rocking us all night long. We filled up the days with plenty to do and see, just being great company. We had a really good time sailing the length of Stocking Island although the incoming swell that day was strong enough to keep us inside the harbour. We had great meals and plenty of laughs and conversation, pancakes for breakfast and Dorothy flambéed bananas and black berries with Grand Marnier for a special treat one evening. Keith became known as "the hose-man" fixing hoses on the macerator and hot water system. What a joy to be with two sailors (and real people) who expect so little and give so much.
Just so you know, we can we sleep with the hatches open and leave the companionway wide open all night, because there are no bugs of any kind! It might be a bit windy at times but we have never seen a mosquito or a no-see-em all down the chain. A real benefit to a human like me, with very thick and tasty blood. We have been asked how we can sleep with the doors wide open. Easy, just put your head on a pillow and in a minute you are rocked gently asleep. We have felt perfectly safe, so much so that we have never put the doors in since we arrived here; day or night. We have been away from the boat some days all day, until late in the evening and have never once ever felt concerned that anyone would ever venture near our boat. I think it is that way with most cruisers, because it is such a close settlement, no one would want to be guilty or even accused of being aboard a boat where they had no business. There are a few hapless souls though, who locks and bolts everything up just for a trip to the beach, within sight of their boat, because either they have been hit before or their possessions are more valuable than ours! Even in town no one locks their dinghy, even leaving groceries in them, along with back packs and life jackets, until they run up to have an ice cream or a quick snack. I have never heard of anyone even losing a toothpick by theft.
Now that the Cruisers annual Festival is over the boats have really thinned out. The "herd mentality" has taken quite a few, but daily we see lone boats heading north or east on their own. The season is winding down and it is very hard to believe that it is almost over. There was a meeting on the beach on Sunday for those heading out to the Dominican, Cuba and the BVIs. I listened in on advice at it was passed along by those who have gone before, mostly what to expect on arrival, although for me that will have to wait for another year. All the boats that we got to know on this trip have left and we now we have that lonesome feeling. Some have joined the herd, either because they don't trust their own skills or the weather, but Banyan, Between the Sheets, Knot Yet, Destiny, Heritage, Cottonwood, and Serendipity are all headed further south or north towards home, on their own. We are waiting for family to arrive and will be doing the same trek before the end of March. Oddly, we are looking forward to it. But,as on they say at the end of Just for Laughs "Oh Mommy, it's over". Well at least it will be at the end of April, and then only until next fall.
We attended the George Town Heritage and Musical Festival and unfortunately forgot to bring my camera. The pictures of a small local fair, with big name musicians from all over the Bahamas, would encompass an explanation of a million words necessary for anyone to write. The local population, most decked out in their Sunday best, enjoying and sharing their culture, food and music with us travellers, cause hip bones to become detached and sway in an uncustomary circular fashion. Oh what a feelin'! The food is customary Bahamian, delicious if and when you can get it. We stood in line for the advertised cracked lobster meal , watching person after person get their order passed over our heads, until everyone who was ahead of, or beside us was gone, but then so was the cracked lobster meal. "No moa lobesta, mon, jes cracked bird". We don't know what the cracked lobster tasted like, but we found out that cracked bird is chicken! A full 30 piece high school band marched in an area only a quarter the size they should have had, completely surrounded by onlookers who pressed in so tight on the sidelines, the trumpet player almost got trampled by the tuba player. The cheerleaders were so condensed they were required to perform without moving their arms lest they flail a fellow participant merciless. These people know how to have fun. Nothing special, but real fun.
We are looking to get out of "Chicken Harbour" as George Town has become to be known mainly because of the reluctance to make the big jump and go further south. For most though it is that the winter season is over and there are still responsibilities at home; one being that in order to keep in the protected arms of OHIP, you can only be out of Ontario for 212 days in a calendar year unless you apply for an exemption. We are especially looking forward to friends and family and the good times that summer holds for everyone in the "unfrozen" north. Like the old axiom and sums it up for both of us;" I used to be Snow White, but I drifted". We will be glad to be returning home yet a bit sad to have the year pass so quickly.
03/06/2013, George Town, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas
Check out this site if you want to dream; http://www.georgetowncruising.com/
Sometimes when I check the weather at home on the internet, when we can get Wi-Fi because we are anchored across the harbour from George Town, I am jealous of you people at home. Accu-weather had a picture of the intersection at Eglinton and Black Creek Drive in Toronto after a winter storm had come through, dumping snow, sleet and rain. The temperature was -4 C, and the picture was of people crossing at a crosswalk, climbing over the small snow banks and walking through the slush in front of cars still laden with snow. The same day we were talking to our son Brad in PEI and he said when he got up that morning it was minus 12 F. I thought "how lucky are they?"
Here we are suffering through another heat wave, (it was 89F at the time) with no sign of it letting up for the week. Local people are leaning against the shady side of buildings and talking in groups under the shade of trees close to the park. Even they, although they have lived through worse, have to get relief from the mid-day sun. At the same time I was sitting in a windowless cafe leaning out over the harbour, with the shutters wide open and even with the breeze gently wafting through, it was so warm that I could only stay there for a couple of hours drinking ginger beer. I remember thinking how unfortunate these local people are, to have to suffer through this all winter. Now I'm taking it on the chin and getting a taste of it as well.
These people here have never, or may not ever, have the pleasure of putting on layers of clothes; a bulky winter coat, scarf, gloves, and winter boots or something called overshoes to meet the environment head on and scrape the freezing rain off their windshield, all the while getting to breathe in the sweet smelling exhaust from an engine that would just turn over enough to start. They can see it though, because they have City TV from Toronto, on a satellite station which comes in better than the one from Nassau!
It started me thinking of the other tribulations we have to endure while we are here. Sure, at home you have a blanket of pure white snow which will have turned a darker shade by late afternoon, but we have to put up with this powdery white sand on beaches that stretch for miles and never melts away. When you walk on it, the urge is to remove your sandals and walk on the softer sand close to the water. Sounds easy enough but it isn't, because you are constantly leaning over to check the finely polished stones, sand dollars, sea beans and conch shells that have washed ashore, so that by the end of the day your back is so sore that it feels like you have shovelled, not only your driveway, but your neighbours as well. Besides through the decades, our feet have become so accustomed to heavy winter boots that it seems unnatural to be barefoot or wearing sandals for the whole month of February.
And you think that tracking slushy, dirty snow into the house is messy; try cleaning up sand that is as soft as powder. It gets into everything. It gets tracked into the dinghy and brought back to the cockpit of the boat so that you have to dangle your feet in the water off the back of the boat, wasting time enjoying another cool refreshment. At least until the sand is gone from between your toes. This is a time when the large winter boots would come in handy; all you would have to do is stamp them up and down a few times and like the snow, most all the sand would come off. If you have been taking time out from bending over looking at starfish or conch shells, to sit or lie around the beach to give your back a rest, then you may have the white powder sand in your armpits, or down the crack covered by your shorts or swim trunks, then a full body submersion may be required. Again the unfortunate part is this takes more time, hanging off the swim ladder in water so warm you could bathe a baby in it. This is not too bad if the stern of the boat is pointing away from the sun so that you are in the shade. Otherwise you wait for a cloud to move in and by the looks of things that may be a long time, because it is something we rarely see. Though I hear a cold front is moving in for a day or so.
And if that isn't bad enough we have to fight our way across the harbour in the dinghy to pick up our drinking water. The warm water spray from the front of the dinghy gets us so wet, that the moment we reach the dock it dries out then everyone is walking aound town with salt stained all over their shorts and shirts or their tanned bodies. Even though everyone is pleasent and courteous at the supermarket, we still have to wait in line at the cashier for up to two minutes to get checked through. These people are never in any hurry or the lineup could be cut down to a minute. They have everything that we have at home not just in a thousand of each. The only thing they don't have is a lot of meat or fish. You have to go all the way to the butcher in a free van ride to get choice cuts. Now I think they believe, there is enough fish in the ocean to go get them yourself or buy them from the local hairdresser. Honestly the hairdresser sells fish and lobster here.
We have considered doing our own fishing around the beautiful reefs here, but that too, is hard work. I would have to dig out my goggles, snorkel and fins load up a Hawaiian Sling and decide out of the hundreds of fish available should I choose that barracuda, or say that shark over there . Did I say shark? Another hazard we don't have to face every day at home. If you do spear a fish here, they tell you it is advisable to get your catch in the dinghy as fast as possible, as the guys in the grey suits will appear out of nowhere. Apparently they can smell blood up to a thousand meters away and should they show up and there is no freshly speared fish available, they may take a liking to your new red flippers with the sunburnt legs attached! The other hazard is that while looking for crustaceans, one is so overcome by the beauty of the coral and other plants on the reefs, you forget the reason you were there. Reminds me of home when I used to walk in a foot of snow out to the shed, I was so overcome by the beauty of all the snow piled up holding the door closed that I forgot the reason I was there was to get the shovel. So except for about 80 degrees Fahrenheit there is really no difference in how my mind acts here or there.
With the pure water we get here, it is a wonder we get as much as we want for free. We have to again, lineup in our dinghies with our blue Tupperware jugs to wait in the heat for other cruisers to do the same. All the time, you have to listen to the jokes and stories (everyone has the latest) and join in on the jovial conversations until it is your turn. It isn't easy to have to bear the friendly banter that goes on. You have to listen to how warm and sunny it is going to be for the next few days, all the while you are reaching for anything to cover your arms and legs while you wait because the sun is causing your blood to boil. (Old joke; how hot is it? It's so hot here the birds are using BBQ tongs to pick up worms.) It is supposed to cool down for part of next week. This water which is supplied for free courtesy of the Exuma Market (the grocery supermarket) comes directly from the Reverse Osmosis water plant not very far away. This plant takes the salt from sea water, purifies it and sends it around town and to the hose we draw from. The reason is that it very rarely ever rains here and even when it does the rainfall is so small that plants have adapted to holding water in their roots for the really dry times. We kind of have been wishing for just a bit of rain to wash the salt from the deck of the boat. Another thing we have to endure.
Although we don't have to wake up to go to work, they do have the Cruisers Network on our VHF at 8:00 AM six days a week, so we have to drag ourselves out of bed if we want to hear all the events that are going on for the day and also to get the weather. (Rarely changes except for wind speed and direction. We never hear a local discussing the weather. "Same as yesterday and tomorrow, mon"). This is Regatta time so for two weeks there is a continuous schedule of events planned for anyone and everyone who wants to participate. Then there are the hundreds of announcements on arrivals and answers to cruisers requests such as; I left one of my Crocs on the beach so if anyone has found it... or I lost my Star-spangled bikini top when I was playing volleyball, or would anyone with only one bag like to share a drive to the airport (they need help with their 8 bags) and on and on. A lot of local information overload although it applies to our small world. We never knew for two and a half months that the premier of Ontario resigned his position, but we do know what days the Pump out boat may be working.
Just as a side note we understood before coming here that soft drinks cost more than the rum you mix it with. That isn't exactly true. It is about the same. A 1.5 Litre of Mont Gay rum starts at $9.30 and runs all the way up to $14.50 for the good stuff of another brand. We have seen Bacardi's for $12.95 a litre. Outrageous. A can of Coke or ginger beer for Dark and Stormy's is $.85.
Life goes on. We are having it somewhat difficult here in the heat and constantly sunny skies , so don't envy us. OK?
02/27/2013, George Town, Great Exuma Island
.....And in the Bahamas, you can wear your pajamas, twenty-four hours a day - Bahamian folk song
There is a tradition here in George Town harbour, where there are 280 boats anchored for the annual cruisers regatta , that when while the sun sets, sailors from a multitude of boats blow their conch shells, some in a long wailful blast, and others shorter but in a more melodic tone. These people, both men and women, sound off separately from boats all over the anchorage from the time the sun hits the sea until it disappears for the day. Apparently they will compete as well at the regatta. Although this is the 33rd annual regatta, I'm a newbie so I will have to let you know what takes place over the next two weeks. There is a program loosely put together but mostly it appears to be just the simple things to have fun. There are variety shows, sailboat races, scavenger hunts, dinghy parades, beach dances, lots of food (BBQs etc.) and plenty to drink. The big thing is the competitions; sailing, softball, volleyball, T shirt design, and of course conch blowing contests.
For those of you who are not familiar with conch they are more than just a big shell you might see crawling along the bottom. Inside that shell there is a living being attached, with a long foot attached. Should you be diving or happen to walk up on a shell, when you pick it up the foot retracts like a turtles head. However inside that shell is also one of the delicacies of the Bahamas. You are talking conch fritters, conch salad, steamed conch, deep fried in batter conch and who only knows what else. The fishermen here dive for them, knock a small hole in the edge of the shell and tie a group of them together in a bunch so they can't get away. "Dat's da ting mon, you does what you 'ave to do". They leave them in the water, tied together, so they keep fresh until a customer shows up at their stand. Order a conch salad and out comes the hammer, the long thin-bladed knife, the limes, oranges and lemons and any other citrus available that day, along onion, peppers and mangos. The hammer knocks a hole in the circular end of the shell, just big enough to insert the thin blade of the knife to cut the muscle attached to the shell and presto; the conch falls out. In a matter of minutes it is cleaned of its parts not required in a salad, and diced into a thousand pieces. Then comes the slicing of the fruit in which the juice is wrung out by hand and is put with the chopped conch which "cooks it mon". Really it marinates it while the onion, peppers and other veggies are chopped. The whole concoction is then scooped up into a Styrofoam bowl, enough for two to four people. Ten dollars please. Also noticeable was the lack of health inspectors as all this is done with the same pair of hands and I have never seen anything to clean the knife or the cutting board or the hands. Maybe all the citrus juices take care of the sanitation. They do a booming business.
Tonight there was a fantastic full moon rising in the east just as the sun was setting in the west. It would be impossible to catch the scene in a camera shot and even if we could we could not translate the magic. We all were spellbound with the bright yellow horizon in the east announcing the rising moon spreading a thread of diamonds across the water to our boat and the sun competing in the west bidding farewell to us with a deep rich merlot haze stretching from north to south. One after the other the conch shell blowing starts; all competing with each other and with the sun and moon for our attention. Just an out of this world experience and worth every watery mile (kilometer?) we traversed to get here.
Like every other city, town or village with George as part of its name, this George Town (originally one word) was named after King George of England. The town is in a small harbour which is on the main island of Great Exuma Island. It is indistinguishable from any other town in the Bahama other than the main street is called the Queen's Highway. The buildings, streets and businesses all appear to be a short-lived great idea that never gets completed, or a dream where everyone woke up too early. The two banks and the five churches I have seen so far are the finest structures in town. The formation of the remaining buildings look like they were built where someone thought might be a good idea, and then the street was built in after, to accommodate them. All are built of concrete blocks because of hurricanes and the building code book has gone missing. So has the public access book. There are only sidewalks where the better buildings are built; other than that you blend in with the traffic and take your chances.
The local people aren't as friendly here as in all the other places we stopped. Because there are so many rich people who have homes on the island, mixed with all the "affluent" boaters that spend their winters here I'm thinking there is a subjugation that goes away back to plantation days. Everyone is still very helpful and courteous but there is an unfortunate feeling of divide.
The weather has been very warm to hot with enough of a breeze every night to allow us to sleep. Last week when we arrived, a "norther" passed through with high winds but that is settled down. A twenty five knot wind with gusts to thirty five, make a boat at anchor somewhat uncomfortable. To go ashore in a dinghy makes for a wet ride so we sit on our ship and ride it out. The only shelter we get is from the little coves along the beaches and there are only so many beaches. We are at Monument Beach on Stocking Island, although we haven't found out what the monument is for,(an unmarked slightly leaning concrete mass at the apex of a small mountain) and we have lucked out getting closer to the beach in the last few days. It appears to cut down on the swell a bit. Stocking Island is kind of like a barrier island across Elizabeth harbour from George Town on the "mainland" of Great Exuma Island, a mile away. Most all the boats are anchored over here at one of the beaches because of the protection from the prevailing east wind, whether it is east, northeast or southeast.
Our marvellous friends Leslie and Alan from Richmond Hill, who are in the travel business, were at the Sandals resort at Emerald Bay for four days, and then spent three days with us on the boat for a change of venue. Well, a radical change of venue, then! On one of the days they stayed with us we took a taxi back to Sandals with them on a day pass they treated us with. Hey, how about sumptuous accommodations, pools (yes, pools)and hot tubs, the very best of constant food and all you can drink, a luxury of a scented steam bath topped off with an evening meal of French cuisine? I am attaching some pictures which in no way capture the opulent aura that makes the place so tendentious for the "upper class". It costs a small fortune to stay there, but then this isn't your regular all inclusive.
The temperature keeps rising, the water is warm, the sky is always blue, the scenery outstanding and we are all very happy.
02/14/2013, Little Farmers Cay, Exumas
I can't control the wind but I can adjust the sail.
― Ricky Skaggs
It is February 14th, 2013 and we are anchored off the Yacht Club in Little Farmer's Cay, 36.2 Nautical Miles from Georgetown in the Exuma chain of islands.
The weather has been absolutely perfect lately but today was the day of all days. Not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze from the south, 76 F cerulean blue water, and a reasonable 83 F in the shade. Almost a quarter moon rising with a canopy of stars stretching in all directions out to the horizon.
It is expected to have a bit of a system moving in on Saturday, so we thought we would take advantage of light breezes to go out into Exuma Sound from here, as Georgetown aka Elizabeth Harbour can only be approached from the ocean side. We have left our boating buddies behind in Staniel Cay, one to attend to some problems with their boat, and the other who are meeting friends there. So we made the short run here on our own again.
As we have been doing a lot since we arrived in the Bahamas, we motor sailed with only the main up. We raise the main most all the time hoping the breeze will fill in which sometimes it will. Then we have the option of drawing it in if we are on a close reach or reefing if it becomes wild. We have only had to reef once but kept it up because it gave us balance in heavy seas. The foresail is out as often as we can use it but becomes annoying in light air.
This is one of the greatest cruising grounds on earth. I was reading a cruising magazine lately and the Bahamas were the overall choice of most that have journeyed other places in the world. And although we have only seen part of it, it is easy to understand why. The Bahama Banks consist of thousands of square miles of water ranging from ten to twenty feet deep, and except for the occasional bump in the middle, most of which are well charted, that if you spent years here you could never see it all. It appears to be the Thousand islands except with warm periwinkle clear water, and area multiplied by ten thousand.
The areas close to the Cays (islands) can be risky business. There are sandbars and even worse there are rocks. Some of these are coral heads which are beautiful to snorkel over; they still are just as hard as rocks. The paths into the main islands are included on the charts and usually are very good but if one dare to stray from the path using Visual Piloting Rules, and then you are entirely on your own. Those who have local knowledge or have been here enough times before usually know a shortcut through a shallow area but us "newbie's " better stick to the better travelled routes. The risk is if you get away with passing over a bar or a rocky patch that isn't well travelled, then you have to stop yourself the next time or luck may not be with you the second time. Our electronic chart plotter has been really good to us, usually with the "safe" passages marked as the "magenta" line. By following these it may take a little longer but it is safer. Now that we have got used to the colors of the water we know when to trust it and when not to. When entering or leaving port, the water can be as low as six feet and you still have to interweave around more shallow areas.
Chances has been very good to us, in a most forgiving way! She tested our resolve in the Chesapeake with the alternator, blew her cool when she refused to spit out water on her own without an impeller, and in Nassau refused to force diesel to her engine when the fuel pump quit. Not too shabby, I would say. With her new solar panel we have made up the difference in energy we use with what the motoring gives us in electricity. Now we rarely have to use the Honda generator unless it is to run the microwave, hair dryer, or sewing machine. The big draw as we expected is the refrigerator / freezer but we try to keep it full, so it has less dead air to cool.
If anyone is ever looking for advice on equipping a boat for a cruise I can think of at least 10 boats who are cruising experts whom I would trust. I certainly am not an authority; however, I could give you a few hints from personal experience. One would be, before setting out, is to replace anything that hasn't been changed in a while, and if it isn't worn out then carry it as a spare. That not only includes belts and hoses but alternators, pumps, batteries, and anything else your motor requires. The fluids and filters go without saying. You have to overstock before you leave because you can't depend on someone having a stash of your exact model number or, even one that might fit on upside down.
Bring the heaviest and best ground tackle you can find. Because you will anchor a lot, you don't have to have your wife waking up in the middle of the night screaming louder than the wind, to tell you the shore looks a whole lot closer than it did when she went to bed. I have the choice of four anchors but would trade all of them for a self-setting Delta or the now extremely popular Rocna, which I will do when we return to the USA. We have been very lucky and happy with our oversized Bruce anchor which has held us even in the biggest blows. I am a little disappointed with the CQR but they are not designed for the sandy bottoms here. It still works well though, when there is hard sand and weeds. Make sure you have a primary anchor with at least 150' of chain and a secondary with 100' of chain. The Bahamas are shallow but sometimes when a front moves in and the holding isn't that good, we feel a lot safer with lots of chain, laid out holding me to the hook.
In the water and sewage department, have extra water containers on board and keep them full in case your main tanks leak or get contaminated. With everything going green it is, or has been for a while, illegal to empty your holding tanks directly to the sea unless you are at least 3 miles off the coast. If for any reason you are caught in bad weather at an anchorage for a while then you may spend a while with your cheeks pinched and your legs crossed.
From Toronto to Georgetown, there is adequate opportunity for groceries, fresh water, propane and fuel. The prices are not as high as we expected on most things but still cost 10 to 20% more and that is due to transportation. In the larger centres stores are well stocked but for example in Staniel Cay the mail boat comes once a week. On the second day after drop off, it is slim pickings. The locals stock up on the good stuff as it is being unloaded. They know the routine; early bird gets the worm. Here in Georgetown, the Exuma market has almost everything we have at home. We brought as much unusual canned supplies that we enjoy with us expecting it not to be available. We were right but then we are able to get local brands and foodstuff that aren't available in Canada.
We will be headed for Georgetown tomorrow morning. It has been our destination for the last fifteen years. It took that time to prepare for this, so you all are right...We are enjoying it !
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.