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Madcap Sailing
Birds and Beasts
Beth / sun and cloud, 85 in the shade
28/03/2010/3:01 pm, Nurse Cay

At both Water Cay and Flamingo Cays, we have been ooohing and aaahing at the Magnificent Frigate Birds. Magnificent is capitalized because it is part of the name - as well as being a perfect adjective. I love the exuberance of the name - Magnificent Frigate Bird - it sounds so much better than plain old Frigate Bird, which might then be mistaken (at least auditorily) for friggit bird - and that just wouldn't do at all!

They are unusual and ... well..."magnificent", and we haven't seen them before arriving here. Mostly black, up to 40" in length and with a wing span of 90", they are easily identifiable. Their wings are angular and, while their tails don't stream out like those of the white Tropic Birds, they are long enough to be distinctive. These birds soar overhead looking for fish, swooping down near the fishing boats and to snatch fish from the water. My Sibley's Guide mentions that they are also known to steal fish from other seabirds in aerial chases too, but we haven't seen that.

At Nurse Cay, we spotted American Oystercatchers standing on the rocks in the evening. These are also distinctive, and although we've seen them in Georgia and the Carolinas (and I'm sure I've seen Oystercatchers in Vancouver, BC) we didn't know they can be found here too. This pair was watching the water intently, their long, bright red beaks and pinkish coloured legs making them stand right out against the rocks.

Some of these islands are inhabited by wild goats, chickens, and possibly a horse or two, and we've seen the goats at a distance when anchored in Buenavista and Raccoon Cays. One fellow was mostly white with a chocolate brown head and neck. It was as if someone combined two different goats in one body! We know the guys from Little Farmer's Cay come down sometimes to hunt goats, and it seems like they aren't hard to find. We haven't discovered how they came to be here - descended from shipwrecked goats? Put here deliberately? As Jim wittily declared, the only thing we do know is that they didn't walk from island to island over the ice in winter!

We left Flamingo Cay on Sunday morning, bound for Buenavista, and had a fabulous rollicking sail down. We started with the main up and the yankee out, but as the wind built to 20 kn and the waves south of Man Of War were 6-8 feet, we pulled in the yankee and put out the stay sail. We were still doing 6.5 knots and were a little more stable than the heeled over 7 and 8 knots we were doing under the yankee. It was one of those beam winds that makes for good sailing for both northbound and southbound boats and we exchanged greetings with Pearl - also going hull speed as they headed north.

As we drew nearer to Nurse Cay, Jim and I decided that the lure of being the only boat in an anchorage was irresistible so we pulled in there, nice and close to the beach. Ashore on the little beach, we found some old foundations with remnants of shells among the mortar, a great many old dead conchs and lots of lizard tracks, but no shells or beans or trails through the underbrush. The swimming was good though, and we returned to Madcap well exercised.

After a candle lit cockpit lobster dinner (seasoned with peppers, garlic, lemon and butter and served with quinoa and salad) we turned out the solar light and enjoyed the moon and stars for a bit, but there was a lot of surge so it wasn't quite the still, starlit night we had envisioned!

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There's More Than One Way to Catch a Fish
Beth / 89 in the shade!
27/03/2010/2:56 pm, Flamingo Cay, Jumentos

We started to rock and roll and experienced a 10 minute downpour around 6:30 this morning as a minor front passed through. I had started some of "Pat's Bread" the night before, and as we listened to Chris Parker at 6:30, I punched down the dough and shaped it into loaves, and the cabin had that lovely yeasty smell mixed with the aroma of fresh coffee as we thought about what to do next. Jim and I were both loathe to turn around and head back to Salt Pond, Long Island because of our motorless dinghy. We just got here! The swell made staying here unpleasant, and if we weren't going back the only other choice was to go forward. Accordingly, we upanchored at 0940 and set a course for Flamingo Cay.

The main was up but it didn't do us any good and we motored along in 3-4 foot swells for the 3 hour trip. Bracing myself against the companionway steps, I popped the bread in the oven as we travelled and we were able to enjoy slabs of fresh warm bread, creamy butter and homemade rhubarb jam (my last jar) for lunch. Mmmmmmm.

Four boats were already anchored by the two palms so we went to the next beach down - partly for space, and partly because we could get in closer to the beach and the little cave. Being rowers now, proximity is important!
The folks from Kanaloa came by to say hello on their way back from the beach and, after making sure our anchor was well set, we weren't long getting ashore ourselves. We snorkeled over to the little cave and looked up through the breaks in the ceiling to see daylight and drifted over one coral head where there were a few fish, but without a motor on the dinghy we couldn't really go exploring. I was disappointed that there were no shells on the beach, but at least we got exercise, both in the water and climbing the trail to the new light on the hill where we had a terrific view north and south along the cay. Dot's Way came in too, having found that the swell continued to be uncomfortable at Water Cay.

The absolute best part of the day happened next. We were back onboard and about to settle in with our books for a late afternoon read when a fishing skiff with Justin and Dominic on board came cruising toward us. As we waved, they snugged up against us and asked if we wanted some fish. Of course we wanted fish!

Their cooler was filled with good looking, amber coloured hogfish, not-so-pretty but very tasty grouper, snapper, and some big lobsters. We offered beer and settled on a price of $25 for a couple of big hogfish that Dominic proceeded to clean and fillet. As we talked, we learned that these guys are out of Salt Pond, Long Island (Dominic is originally from Dominican Republic), that they fish with spears not lines, diving with a line to an onboard compressor (a hookah), that the fish is frozen on their boats, sold to the packing house in Long Island and then shipped to Nassau. The African market hurts them - flooding the market with lower priced fish. We have also learned that there is some degree of dissension between the Ragged Islanders and the fellows who come over here from Long Island. As Dominic worked, he sluiced off his cutting board (cooler top) with scoops of sea water, dipped his knife overboard to rinse it, and then handed the bucket to Justin who scooped the water from the stern floor and tossed it overboard. Clean up is such a breeze on a boat!

Once the hogfish was cleaned and in my big bowl along with a huge crawfish tail (and instructions for seasoning and baking) Dominic suggested that we really needed some conch. You have to picture this solidly built man - black, black skin with sparkling eyes, shiny strong white teeth and an ear to ear smile sitting up tall and pronouncing in his big deep voice, "Conch GOOD for you!" (Conch is reputed to have all kinds of good effects on many body parts!) We have yet to learn to clean conch so how could we help answering, "OK - we'll take some conch too." With that, Dominic started telling me how to make conch salad and then announced that he would make the salad right there for me. When I asked Justin (at the helm of the skiff) if they had time, he smiled, gazed around the bay and with a shrug of his shoulders drawled, "We got time" just as if I had asked some kind of idiot question. We were having an experience here!

With that, I handed over a clean bowl, and as Dominic called out items, I fished around in fridge and produce baskets for onion, sweet pepper, hot peppers, tomato, apple (apple?), lemon, and apologized for not having any more oranges. Dominic diced 3 conchs and the green pepper on the top of his cooler, and the apple, tomato and onion right in his hand - slicing this way, that way and then again in layers so that the diced bits fell neatly into the bowl. His knife was so sharp it cut the vegetables like butter and I marvelled at his control. I had never put apple in conch salad but it worked really well. With a squeeze of lemon and a flourish of the hot pepper shaker, "You want HOT??" he grinned and handed over the bowl. Oh it was goooood - even without the orange. And it was all the better for being made by the fisherman right in his boat.

Sure, we can work harder at catching fish, but how could we ever beat the story that comes with the fish when we get them this way? Matchless!

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01/04/2010/8:50 am | Sue Campbell
You have such talent for detail and picture drawing with words. I never fail to feel like I am right beside you experiencing it with you. But, dang, Beth, you had to mention Ruhbarb jam!! What childhood memories that brings back and how I would love to have a jar of that for my toast. So A+ for your writing and A++ for your ability to make my mouth water!
New Territory
Beth / beautiful weather - sunny, hot.
26/03/2010/2:52 pm, Water Cay, Jumentos

Here we are in a brand new place and ready for brand new adventures. Within minutes of arriving, we felt thrilled because it just feels different here.

One of these times though, we will pass through the Comer Channel at something more than low water because it is nerve wracking to see 6 inches under our keel for miles. Stephen Pavlidis' book says the channel carries 7 ft at MLW (mean low water) although some have seen 5 ft. We are here to tell you it carried about 6ft, 6 inches on March 25/10 (with a couple bits of 6'2"). We didn't bounce or have to plow through anything, and if we had gotten stuck, we'd just have waited for the tide to rise. It's an afternoon high tide right now, and we didn't want to make it a two day trip so off we went in the morning. Although we motor sailed until we got to the Comer West waypoint, once we pointed south to Driers, it was sail only. A dolphin came along to check us out, and swam back and forth under the bow for a bit, but he was not the playful fellow of a couple of days ago, and he had no stunts to display. I did get pics this time though!

We pulled into the anchorage at the north end of Water Cay around 1630 - with time to check the anchor, pay a short visit to the beach and break out a bottle of champagne in honour of reaching these islands that we have wanted to visit since our 2007/08 trip. There were 2 fishing boats here when we came in and another 3 arrived in the early evening. These guys work hard; they were still cleaning fish at 10pm and were off in their little skiffs again by 8 am on Friday. The "mother ships" - not very large ones - stayed here in the bay. We wondered if maybe someone would come by with fish for sale but although there were friendly waves, no one ventured over. We ate a variation of what we have come to call "Richard's Dinner": sausage, onions, peppers, potatoes and carrots all panfried together. (Thanks Carole!)

After a restful night, we decided to set off to explore further down Water Cay. We stopped at a couple of beaches, found some pretty little sunrise tellins, and had a lovely swim. That's the good news. The bad news is that the reason we pulled into the second little beach was because our dinghy motor started making a really loud racket. Oops. Not a good sound. It had a knock in it the last few days and Jim went through some troubleshooting exercises but on this outing, it suddenly got worse.

So, in true Bissell form, we went swimming while we thought about what to do! Jim had a tube of lubricant and the operation manual in the dinghy so we popped the motor off, propped it up on a rock and with me reading the instructions and finding the right holes (his reading glasses were not part of the beach gear) Jim squirted lubricant in, screwed the screws back in and put the motor back on the dinghy. With great expectations, we started off but not only was the noise still there, but we had no forward propulsion. Fortunately we did have a good strong man and a set of oars.

Also fortunately we hadn't gone terribly far and 40 minutes later we were back on the boat. Some of the fishermen were back in the bay so we rowed over to see if any of them had ideas of someone or somewhere we could contact for mechanical help, and also to get dinner.

They suggested we ask the fellow on another boat when they returned, and sold us some grouper and a couple of crawfish tails. (Interestingly, the terms "Crawfish" and "lobster" seem to get used interchangeably. These guys call them crawfish.)

Dorothy and Glen (Dot's Way) came into the harbour and we enjoyed getting to know them at happy hour on Madcap before Jim and I dined on crawfish, rice and salad under the stars.

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