24/02/2011/9:00 am, Georgetown, Exumas
There are more boats here than we've seen before, and at night the mast head anchor lights look for all the world like those of a city. I heard a rumour that there are more than 320 of us in Elizabeth harbour - that open area of water between Stocking Island and the mainland. It is a huge area so boats aren't crowded unless they want to be. As one cruises north to south, we pass by Monument Beach and Hamburger beach, then tiny Honeymoon Beach, and then the centre of action - Volleyball Beach. Tucked in behind that are the "Holes" - #1,2,3. Further down is Sand Dollar Beach where we stopped, and over on the other side is the flock of boats off Kidd Cove just outside the entrance to town, and south of that is Red Shanks - another tucked away little area.
We picked the Sand Dollar area because we wanted lots of space around Madcap for when the wind picks up later today and, being south of the town, we aren't in any risk of sticking out in the channel where the freighters come in. We don't get wifi on the boat, so it means a trip across the harbour to town or up to Volleyball beach to connect. Because it is a long trip across an open stretch of water, we have almost always gotten wet here, but things are better so far this year! Our new 9.5 ft AB dinghy with its higher sides, our faster Yamaha 15 hp outboard, and the calm wind in the last few days have meant very pleasurable crossings. While we used to take 20 minutes to do this crossing, we can fly across in 10 now. (A note about dinghies and motors here: We are so very happy with our new and improved models. We went for cheaper before and made do OK, but it is SO much more pleasant with the combination we have now that I would never advise anyone buying them to skimp on these two items.)
We pulled in right next to Kolibrie and were immediately invited to join them and others at a potluck on the beach. It was fun to see Bill and Barb (Suncast) and Diane and Ted (Boatel I) and to meet Axel and Mary Claire (Azaya) and Marsha and Chris (Endorphins) along with our Bayfield 36 pals, Pat and Wayne (Kolibrie).
We did more visiting on Tuesday, mingled with water jug filling at the dinghy dock and internet at Pet's Place - a new and convenient little cafe in town. On our way in, we passed a boat with a big Nova Scotia flag flying so of course we had to stop by and meet Peter Henneberry from Eastern Passage. He had amazing tales to tell of his trip down here and was also able to give us first hand information about Cuba. He has been there already this year so as we chatted, I wrote down everything he said! There must be a dozen Nova Scotia boats here - it's really fun to see them and meet them. Interestingly, it seems to be the Quebeckers and the Nova Scotians (Madcap among them) who fly our provincial flags along with the red maple leaf.
Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) are just a bit behind us. We haven't seen these old friends from MD since our brief visit to Georgetown last year and were delighted to join them and their friends Judy and John (Luna Sea) and Sandra and Chuck (Eliora) for Happy Hour. Sapphire left early in the morning, so although I had a quick chat with Mike, we'll have to wait till later to see them.
Jim had an early morning flight out of here on Wednesday and was able to share a taxi with guests of Boatel I, so we all assembled by the market at 6 am to see them off. During the rest of the day, I picked up water, checked out the grocery store, and ordered new Cuba charts from Bluewater Books in Fort Lauderdale. Apparently there are brand new ones for the North coast (NV charts) and since Jim has to overnight in Washington, they will send them there, saving us some shipping costs. A number of boats in the area are planning March trips to Cuba from Ragged Island and it is exciting to connect with them and make some plans - still etched into soft sand of course!
Chris Parker (the weather guy) arrives here on Saturday and will be giving weather seminars all week, so I joined the hoards of other boaters in registration line at St. Francis conference centre. I plan to attend Basic Weather on Saturday, and I've signed Jim up for the one on web weather and grib files when he returns. (Hope he thinks it's a good choice!!) We'll be here for the first few days of regatta this year so we'll take in a few other events too.
Last night was Happy Hour at Hamburger Beach and after debating whether I'd go or not, I decided to head on up there and I'm glad I did! The food was fine and the conversations many. I met up with the crews of Oz and Star of the Sea, Cygnus and Luna Sea, and met Ann and Joe (Short Walk) and Jane and Gary (Dream Catcher). Just after dark, Connie helped me push the dinghy off the beach and Ken insisted that I call to report a safe arrival home. Mary Lou and Bob offered an escort if I needed one. I have to tell you, it was so thrilling to captain my own little dinghy through the anchored boats and then plane down the harbour outside the city of lights and under the stars. While I love cruising with my great partner, Jim, his trips back to Canada this year have allowed me to experience the thrill of doing things on my own and being solely responsible for Madcap. It is wonderfully reassuring to know that I have good friends nearby who offer company and support whenever I want it, and so far, there have been no challenges, so I am one contented cruiser.
Now ... off to start another day. I have jobs to do, places to go and people to see!!
22/02/2011/1:04 pm, Georgetown, Exumas
We arrived in Georgetown Exumas yesterday after another fabulous sail across from Cat Island. The pic was taken at a bonfire on the beach last night - you might be able to pick out Axel (Azaya) and Pat and Wayne (Kolibrie)! We'll be here a week so I'll update later!
20/02/2011/12:59 pm, New Bight, Cat Island
While Jim picked up money and groceries on Thursday, I trundled my little cart filled with sheets and towels up the road to Willa May's laundry in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. No water problems this time so within 2 hours I had everything clean. Once again, we had a good time chatting as I waited. It is easy to guess that Willa May is a former teacher - her establishment is orderly and spotless. The little grocery section is well stocked with the staples that people need to pick up regularly (milk, rice, beans, oils, canned meats, soups, cleaning supplies), on the shelf behind the cash desk is a stack of scribblers and jars of pencils all ready for action, and jars of penny candy line the counter.
Bob and Martha (D.H.Crow) joined us for happy hour on Thursday evening, and we had a great time getting to know some new friends. We had seen the boat a few times and were pleased to meet these Canadians who are making their first visit here.
At 0615 on Friday, we were on our way out of Rock Sound, headed for either Little San Salvador or Cat Island. It was one of those days of Plan A, Plan B, back to Plan A. We weren't sure that the wind would allow us to go to Little San Salvador so we left early enough to get to Cat Island in one day. We sailed down along the "whale's tail" that forms the southern part of Eleuthera with the main and the Yankee in winds of 15 - 17 knots and decided that perhaps we'd be better served by switching to the smaller stay sail before we cleared the land mass and took the wind and swells full on. Good idea! With winds consistently 18-20 and gusts to 22 and 6 ft seas, we still had a terrific sail but safer with a more reasonable amount of sail area.
As we got closer to Little San Salvador, we decided that we didn't really want to go another 40 miles to Cat Island with the seas the way they were, so we started tacking our way over closer and pulled into the beautiful Halfmoon Bay just as the Holland America "Eurodam" pulled out. We had explored the beach and facilities on our last trip (boaters are allowed on shore after the cruise ships leave) and we weren't staying over so we just left the dinghy up and had a quiet evening aboard.
Unfortunately the quiet didn't last through the night. An ocean swell moved in and we rocked and rolled all night. We have an irritating creeeeaaaakkkk in the wall between the head and the main cabin by the mast just opposite the nav station. We never hear it except when we are really rolling. And oh boy, did we hear it that night! We rolled back and forth in our berth and listened to every single noise our boat can make. Not much sleep!
We cleared out of there at 6:15 to continue on to Cat Island. It was a gorgeous morning - the moon was still casting a silvery path across the water in the west as the east began to glow all gold and rosy. Two minutes later, the sun was up, the moon was just a shadow and the day was started. We have discovered that we like that "just before dawn" departure time. We get the anchor up, the main sail up and then as I take us on our way, Jim goes down below to listen to Chris Parker's 6:30 broadcast on the SSB. By the time the Cruiser's net comes on at 8:30 we already have a couple of hours under our keel.
It was another great sailing day. We've used very little diesel this year and have been able to sail almost all our passages from one cay to another. We pulled into New Bight, Cat Island just after 2 pm and anchored near Blue Pearl; by evening, there were 6 boats here. After a short visit with Blue Pearl, we hiked up to the top of Mount Como - the highest peak in the Bahamas - all of 206 feet! It is the site of Father Jerome's Hermitage, and the view from there is stunning. It is a quaint collection of stone turrets and arches and little corners and passages to wander through. But the best part for me is the opportunity to look down over this beautiful land and sea where courageous and determined people who landed here under all sorts of difficult circumstances earn their livings and raise their families. These rocks and waves sure have tales to tell. The messages of mourning and weeping along the stairs don't really do anything for me, so I rejoiced about love and joy and faith and hope as we climbed. Thankfully, there was no one there who might be offended by the overlaying of my own theology on that of Father Jerome.
In the evening, we joined Glenn and Pam (Blue Pearl) ashore as we looked for food and music. We ended up at one of the colourful little stands along the beach. A backgammon game was in progress at one of the tables out front, and the women cheerfully heated up some chicken and pork chops along with mac'n'cheese and peas'n'rice. It wasn't quite the fresh fish we had hoped to find, but the ambiance was good - especially when the two servers picked up saw, screwdriver, goatskin drum and began to accompany a gentleman on the accordion. They played some traditional rake'n'scrape and even a couple little waltzes. The most amusing thing was listening to "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" rake'n'scrape style!!
Thanks to Ed and Karin (Passages) we had a remarkable day on Sunday. They had told me about a trail that goes across to the ocean side, so we filled our packs with lunch and water, put on our sturdy walking sandals and set off. It is about a 10 minute walk south from the beach and then 50 minutes at a good pace across the island. Once there, we found a gorgeous beach, and more of them around the headlands in each direction. While there were old footprints and one set of recent ones, we were the only folks there all day until the owner of those prints showed up late in the day on his way back from a bottle gathering walk. We picked up lovely pieces of sea glass, a pretty cowrie shell, half a dozen sea hearts and a hamburger bean. We played in the waves, we sat and watched the water, we took pictures of the wrecked vessel on the reef. And then at the end of the day, we hiked back home again - feeling well exercised and filled to the brim with fresh air and sunshine. This was one of those days when we pinch ourselves and say, "Are we really living this life??"