WHAT DO WE DO ALL DAY LONG?
17 April 2012
“How come its 5:00 PM already?”and “Where did the day go?” are two of the three questions that Jim and I ask each other on a regular basis. The third question is the all important “Is it Happy Hour yet?”
We are at Long Island, Bahamas. Our 34 mile sail here was picture perfect. Aquamarine waters, sandy islets and dolphins to welcome us when we arrived at Thompson Bay. Today is Saturday, April the 14th and I cannot procrastinate anymore- its time to update that blog. The sooner this is done, the sooner Jim and I can play!
Later today Jim and I are going ashore to visit some caves. Tomorrow we have rented a car with some cruising buddies so we can explore this 80 mile long island. There is a world famous blue hole to visit and some interesting communities with old churches dating back to the 1700’s.
Anyhow, back to the first two questions ..I will write about a few of our adventures so that you might have a glimpse of our cruising life.
1. Dinghy exploration:
While at Shroud Cay in the Exumas, Jim and I offered to guide our sailing buddies from Orion and Wind Dancer on a dinghy exploration of the creeks and the central tidal swamp forest of mangroves. We promised our friends they would see baby barracuda, turtles and sharks. We assured them we knew where to go because we had been there in 2009 and therefore we were “experienced”.
These same friends have followed us all the way from Florida because we are seasoned sailors, which is another way of saying that we are still alive and the boat is still floating, and if we two dummies can do it, then so can they ..So, off we go on our dinghy adventure.
We found the creek and headed slowly down the meandering stream. We surprised turtles and we saw barracuda. We poked our way along and found a nice little spot to beach our dinghies so we could hike over to a beautiful beach on the windward side of the island for a picnic and a swim. Following this restful interlude, we hiked back to our boats so we could continue with the adventure.
Shock and disbelief and oh oh’s abounded when we saw the creek had receded about ½ mile, leaving the dinghies high and dry on a dropping tide. The laughter and light heartedness of the previous few hours vanished and Jim and I felt a bit vulnerable as our friends shot accusing looks at us. “Not to worry” we say, “All we have to do is push our dinghies towards the creek and in no time we should be floating.”
Sounds pretty easy but that half a mile was composed of soft, squishy muck. Inwardly I reviewed all the Tarzan movies featuring quicksand and comforted myself that at least we were dragging our boats with us and if we got sucked down we would be able to save ourselves. We struggled to drag the boats, sometimes sinking a foot or more into the ooze. We were hot and at our age, a heart attack is no longer a remote possibility. Eventually we decided to take the engines off the boats, walk those to the water’s edge and leave someone there to hold them upright, while the rest of us pulled, tugged and pushed the dinghies over the muck. It took a few hours before the boats were floating. The ordeal was not over yet as we still had to pull them over shallow water for another half a mile before we could get into the dinghies and use the motors. Eventually we found water that was ditch deep- a perfect place to wallow with all our clothes on and get rid of some of the muck we were covered with. Cool and refreshed, we continued with our fun. Our friends, possibly terrified of being abandoned and never finding their way out of the maze of creeks, opted to stay with us and we rewarded them with a beautiful white beach where the creek met Exuma Sound and the water was deep and clear for swimming and snorkeling. This place has to rank as one of the most beautiful spots in the Bahamas! Later as we made our way back to our sailboats, we spotted a shark swimming in the creek. The adventure was fantastic and certainly ranks as a highlight on this year’s cruising adventure for us and our friends.
2. The Golf Cart.
At Staniel’s Cay, our friends from Orion and ourselves, rented a golf cart so that we could explore the island. No one died.
3. Snorkeling Adventures.
At Cambridge Island we snorkeled at the Aquarium, a beautiful reef with lots of fish life. We also visited a sunken plane and a reef with healthy elk horn coral and an amazing underwater cave at Rocky Dundas. Further down the chain, we visited Thunderball’s Cave which was used for the James Bond movie, Thunderball. This cave is very beautiful and loaded with lots of fish. Sometimes Jim caught lobster and then we would cook them up for dinner!
4. Hiking Adventure.
Nearly all the islands have hiking trails which meander along the cliff tops and down to the beautiful sandy beaches which make the Bahamas so famous. Too often we head out for a short hike which turns into an all afternoon adventure as we discover more and more branches of the trail leading to spectacular views and beaches. Occasionally there is some bush whacking involved as the trails peter to nothing. Now we are lost. And we have no water or beer. Jim, ex-Boy Scout that he is, assumes the leadership role and marches us through the thick brush that makes up the Bahamas. The ground is very rough limestone and any misstep can lead to a twisted or broken ankle. Some of the brush is Poisonwood and if you grab one of its branches you are going to suffer as the sap is worse than poison ivy or poison oak. There are lots of thorns too. By the time we find the “right” trail, most of us are scratched and bloody. But we are having a fine adventure and that is what cruising is all about!
Before making any passages to any of the island, time is spent planning. This entails looking at charts for dangerous reefs, putting waypoints into our GPS so that we can plot a course that avoids danger and reading our Bahama cruise guides for information about anchorages. Throughout the Exuma chain are narrow cuts between islands that lead from the inside protected waters of the banks to the deeper and rougher Exuma Sound. These cuts are notorious for rages caused by the outgoing tide meeting the incoming winds. Many sailboats have been swept onto the rocky shore while going through the cuts when the conditions were unfavourable. Knowing this, Jim and I spent quite some time planning exactly when we would go through Galiot Cut, out to the Exuma Sound and onwards to Georgetown. The day of our departing comes along and we have firm plans to leave at 11:00 AM. At 9:00 AM, we eavesdropped on some other cruisers talking on the VHF radio who had just done the cut. Conditions were ideal so we threw out our plans and “went for it”! And yes, it was good. The entire trip to Georgetown, almost 40 miles, has to be one of the best sailing days ever!
We listen to Chris Parker’s weather broadcast at 6:30 AM and read his emails everyday. If we have good internet we spend time looking at www.passageweather.com and check out sea state, wind direction and precipitation for the next week. When in doubt, we can talk to Chris Parker about our sail plans. He always gives us great advice and in our few years of cruising has never steered us wrong. The most difficult thing about weather is waiting for the weather window. Sometimes you can be waiting for a few weeks or more. Waiting for weather has been known to cause grumpiness and discontent aboard sailboats, usually directed at the “bearer of bad news”, me.
After weeks visiting islands with stores that offer only the most basic of supplies, and never what you need, we arrive in Georgetown and head to the Exuma Market. Here we can buy wonderful fresh vegetables, meats and cheeses. More importantly, we can buy Cheetos Cheezies- a rare commodity in the Bahamas and nearly as important to our diet as Costco jelly beans.
In Florida, we stocked up and filled our hold with as much red wine and beer as we could. In Georgetown, a few months later, these supplies have mysteriously disappeared and we must find some drinkable red wine and beer. Beer is not a problem. It is expensive compared to Florida prices, but comparable to prices in Canada. Red wine is the challenge. We have to search all the liquor stores to find one that sells decent quality red wines. We avoid the Chilean wines as they are full of chemicals. Unfortunately that means we have to buy the more expensive brands. We found one store in Georgetown that stocked some great red wine. Even better, they gave a 20 % discount if we bought 6 bottles or more. Price ended up being less expensive than if we had bought the same wines in Canada. I was a happy camper. Jim used up the savings on more rum.
9. Scooters and Friends Visiting.
Sometimes well meaning friends come to visit and introduce us to new adventures. Our friends, Rick and Jayne Beason, visited us from Victoria, B.C. this April while we were at Georgetown. Jim and I filled their days with snorkeling, beaches, beach bars, barbecued ribs, scuba diving, lightening storms at night, dolphin encounters, rum drinks, wine and beer, conch cerviche, more beach bars, hiking and swimming. Quickly bored by this, they suggested that we rent some scooters and explore Great Exuma Island. This sounded like a great plan, especially after some extra strong rum punches, so arrangements were made. On the day of the “Big Adventure” we went to the scooter place and got the scooters. Jayne and I were happy to see that these scooters were automatic so we did not have to worry about changing gears. The owner of the scooters looked a bit worried when we took off and so he should be. I could hardly keep mine upright and the short ride to the gas station was quite challenging. Lucky for us, it was a holiday so downtown Georgetown, usually teaming with semi’s and cars was empty of traffic. After fueling up one of the scooters we set off for the south part of Great Exuma, taking care to drive on the left hand side of the road, the scooter shop owner’s warning of ”Stay left and live, drive right and die “ringing in our ears. Jim and Rick showed us how to do wheelies and sped off. Jayne and I puttered along at a stately 5 mph, eventually gaining confidence and speeding up to 25 mph. By the end of the day we were doing 45 mph. To be quite honest, I did not get to see much of the island as all I could do was keep the damn thing on the road and watch for traffic behind me. We did stop a few times and saw some interesting tombs, towers and salt ponds, but mostly it gave us the opportunity to get our hands un-cramped and slow down our heartbeats.
10. Tragedies at sea.
This is a more serious aspect of sailing and one that most sailors prefer not to think about. However, sometimes reality raises its ugly head and you are confronted with a vessel in distress. While anchored behind Cave Cay Cut, we overheard a woman on the VHF radio, calling out that their beautiful boat was sinking. Jim intercepted the call and asked for their location. They were only about 2- 3 miles away from us on the other side of Cave Cay Cut. They had struck something in the water and within 15 minutes their boat was taking on water so fast that there was no way to stop the boat from going down.
Jim did a Mayday Relay and was answered immediately by Had Hammer who was about 1 mile away from Pepa 2, the floundering Whidbey 42 sailboat. Had Hammer punched in the GPS co-ordinates that Jim gave them and headed to the rescue. By this time, the owners of Pepa 2 had launched their dinghy and abandoned their sailing home. It was heartbreaking to listen to them on the VHF radio as they described the decks awash and then the disappearance of their mast as it sank.
Had Hammer picked them up 20 minutes later and took them to safety. It is thought that they had hit a large, barely awash container which could have been one of many that get lost from freighters each year. The conditions on the day of the sinking were ideal. Seas were calm and winds were light. Fortunately for them, they were close to other boats. For all the boats in the vicinity, it was a grim reminder that things can go horribly wrong when you least expect it.
And so the sailing life goes on. Jim and I are still loving the adventures, the good with the bad. The days go by way too fast and happy hours seem like seconds. We have met many wonderful people on our travels and look forward to making more friends as we explore new places.