31/03/2010/3:06 pm, Raccoon Cay
Because Chris Parker warned of a coming front, we thought it prudent to tuck in behind Buenavista rather than anchor along the long western beach. The waves rolling in there would mean we couldn't row our inflatable dinghy ashore even if the anchorage wasn't too uncomfortable. Both the Explorer chart and Steve Pavlidis' book mentioned that the area between the south-eastern shore of Buenavista and Low Water Harbour Cay is good for a front so that's where we headed. Pavlidis recommends going up as far into the narrow as possible, and since we were the first boat in, we did just that, stopping opposite the needle-less causurina tree on the little beach, and tucked right up close between the two cays. The bottom was a mix of rock and sand, and we had to wait till slack tide for Jim to swim over the anchor for a visual check, but when we backed on it we didn't go anywhere.
The current was really strong on both ebb and flow so although we weren't rocking, we didn't feel comfortable going ashore. At least dishes and glasses and everything that wasn't attached or placed on a nonskid surface didn't go sliding around like the night before! We napped during the afternoon, and I worked on a new basket, and we stepped up our alertness level in preparation for the front that was to pass through about 3 am. Dot's Way anchored south of us, and in the evening we saw the masts of Heart's Desire and Always Saturday (the two boats that had been anchored on the western shore) move along the cay, round the corner and anchor out in the wider part of the bay. It was a "good" front in that, although the wind clocked around and we were exposed to the west for a brief period, wind velocity never exceeded 15 - 18 knots, and we were really well snugged in.
It had been so hot and humid that it was difficult to sleep so we were happy that the passing of the front also brought a freshening of the air.
On Tuesday morning, we started out again on our southward journey toward Duncan Town and hopes of a motor- fix, but decided that we wouldn't make Hog Cay at a suitable tide time, so we made the fortunate decision to tuck into the little bay between Raccoon and Nairn Cays. Once again, the wind and waves made the western anchorage of Raccoon undesirable.
This hidey hole brought us two happy encounters. First of all, Bruce (Zingara) was here. We had met him briefly a couple of times before - in the laundry at Black Point in 2008 and at Vero Beach this trip when he gave Jim a lift back from getting his propane tank filled - but hadn't had a chance to spend any time with him. Bruce came by to say hello, heard about out outboard trouble, and in the best of cruiser tradition, said, "I know a thing or two about motors. Let's have a look!" We hoisted it into the cockpit and he and Jim spent the next couple of hours tearing it apart and discovering the problem. Unfortunately, the fix needed new parts, and that's where the next encounter happened. We had just settled back with icy beers in hand when a fast, open speed boat came around the corner. We exchanged greetings with the three fellows on board (from Duncan Town) and said we were headed in that direction. Bruce asked if they knew anyone there who might be able to fix the outboard, and Phil instantly understood the problem, saying that it was a weakness of the Mercury four strokes. He took the part number, said he'd check on availability and could probably get his sister to put it on the mailboat in Nassau and get it here on Saturday! With phone numbers exchanged, we waved farewell.
Bruce, Jim and I dined on a boilfish dinner (hogfish, potatoes, onions cooked together in a broth with limes and garlic.) It was tasty and the juice was good sopped up with home made bread, but I think I still prefer hogfish panfried. I'll use snapper next time I think, and add some other vegetables. Conversation was wide ranging and happy, and Bruce has been encouraging us to take in the Family Island Regatta in Georgetown. We'll see!
Zingara headed off toward Water Cay and Madcap set out for South Side Bay on Ragged Island on Wednesday morning. Off to the next happy encounters! And perhaps - fingers crossed - a repaired outboard motor!
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!
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!