11/03/2011/1:35 pm, Thompson Bay, Long Island
We generally live by the maxim that sailors should never make plans based on a schedule. We on Madcap change our plans regularly - usually on the basis of weather or a new idea but in this case, we have an unavoidable schedule.
So it is that despite what I wrote last evening, it is Friday and we are not ashore exploring Rum Cay or drinking beers on a shady porch or dining at Kaye's Restaurant. Instead, (at 1000 hours) we are motoring back across the sound toward Long Island. Our bottom line "schedule" is that we have to have Mary Jean back at the Stella Maris airport on Sunday for a 2:30 flight to Nassau, and it was all looking good earlier in the week. We knew that the weather for Saturday was somewhat awkward for what we had planned but we thought it was still doable. The front would go through today and while the winds would be NNE18 to 20 on Saturday, we'd be OK. I kept joking that we could still leave here on Sunday morning and get MJ to the Cape Santa Maria Resort by noon on Sunday and she could catch a taxi from there and everything would be fine - but she kind of shuddered each time I suggested it, and Jim grumbled, and finally even I - "the queen of down to the wire" gave it up as a bad idea ;-)
However - when we asked Chris Parker for the sea state this morning, he told us that on Saturday we would be moving in confused seas with swells coming one way and wind driven chop another. We already know we do not like confused seas - especially biggish ones! It was decision time - and there was really only one choice.
So ... the anchor came up; I called Dolores to cancel our dinner reservation; we swung by Seabbatical to say thanks and goodbye; the cornbread came out of the oven too late to share with them; and we were bound for Long Island, leaving this place behind. We had forgotten to put SPOT out last night, so it went out as we were leaving - sure to confuse the folks on our receiving list when they see it again tonight in a new place!
As Mary Jean says, she has gained a real sense of just how connected we are to weather and how the fact that we often say we don't know just where we will be at a given time is not just indecision on our parts. We are totally connected to Mother Nature and weather is the deciding factor almost all the time.
The front passed as we came down the west side of Long Island and brought no problems at all. We could watch rain in other places and the advancing line of dark clouds, but somehow it just moved around us. There were no complications and we arrived back in Thompson Bay just after dark, anchored and ready for the increasing winds.
We had to have the motor on the whole darn day, but the sun was shining, the fishing lines were out - and something made off with yet another hook and lure. The leftover lobster made a delicious lunch (the pic above is of that other fish lunch - with Mary Jean's barjack). We read our books - me on my perch on the back rail, Jim stretched out on a cockpit bench and Mary Jean on the foredeck. (The Fencing Master, Grave Secrets, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - respectively).
We will spend Saturday and Sunday morning exploring Long Island again before we reluctantly send Mary Jean off to the north. The schedule called the shots today with support from weather, but it has worked out just fine. We generally tell our guests to arrange their flights to Nassau or Fort Lauderdale and then we'll tell them where we are from there. That is what we did with each set of visitors this year and it has worked well. The going home part is trickier unless we stay in the same area. We were lucky this time - we got to move around, see two new places, avoid bad weather, and get back to an airport for MJ's scheduled departure.
Rum Cay goes back on the list for next year's exploration. We will be here until we set off south bound for the Jumentos. Life is good!
10/03/2011/1:29 pm, Rum Cay
We left Conception Island on Thursday morning - a little later than planned because, once again, the propane tank emptied itself before the kettle got to a boil for the morning coffee. This is the second time this year. I wonder which of our guardian angels are getting a chuckle out of delaying the morning coffee? What would be so wrong with delaying dishwashing water or even afternoon tea? Captain Jim obligingly switched tanks so we could all have our morning shot of caffeine and by the time we got the dinghy hoisted, it was 0630, Chris Parker time. He reported conditions that reflected what we were expecting, so after we heard what we needed, we up-anchored and waved good bye to Conception Island. We'll be back because we have more exploring to do here.
Our motoring trip to Rum Cay was slow but enjoyable - a day to enjoy the foredeck with a cushion and a book. The fishing lines were out. Jim caught one barracuda and let him go. He lost another fish - it must have been a big one because it was there one minute and then fish, hook and lure were gone the next minute. Mary Jean lost one and then caught a nice little barjack. By that time, we were almost into the anchoring area at Rum Cay so the pole and yoyo line came in and all eyes were focused on coral heads.
I thought it would be much harder to navigate among the heads and reefs, but the water is so deep and so clear that it wasn't really a problem at all. We dropped the anchor in 9 feet of water just off the Batelco tower. It dropped to 7 feet at low tide - but hey - still lots of depth! A boat was leaving from near the marina entrance, and Seabbatical I came in after us - making a grand total of 2 boats here. We had heard rumours of this being a really surgy anchorage, but it is perfectly acceptable tonight (Thursday). We'll see what happens when the wind picks up on Friday!
After getting settled in and eating lunch (salad and that nice little barjack that was in the saute pan not more than an hour after being plucked from the sea) we donned bathing suits and checked out the dark spots in the area. Once again, there were some pretty fish and some OK coral. We didn't see any lobster antennas sticking out from under rocks or any fat fish that would stay out in the open long enough for Jim's spear.
Having struck out in hunter gatherer mode, we switched to explorer mode and headed for shore. I told MJ and JD that dinner would be peas'n'rice, cole slaw and a can of tuna that night and I think they got a little worried because we went right to Kaye's Place just across the road from the government dock and reserved spaces at dinner on Friday evening (it was too late for today). Both Mary Jean and I had read about Kaye's Place and we were all keen to go there. We met Dolores Wilson, chatted with her and bought the book she wrote about her life in Rum Cay, "Rum Cay, My Home". We'll be back there on Friday for dinner and more conversation - especially since we will have read the book by then and I'm sure will have lots of questions for her.
Next stop was the Last Chance Grocery store operated by Dolores' daughter Kaye (after whom the restaurant/bar is named). No yogurt, not much produce - but the mail boat came in tonight so we stand a better chance of picking up some produce on Friday morning. There won't be any yogurt coming on the boat though, and Kaye said, "Come early" for the rest of it. I bought a little packet of "seasoning" - garlic, hot pepper, thyme in sea salt - and Mary Jean is taking home one of her pretty little shell flowers.
From there, we wandered down the dirt road to the Marina - and decided we are very pleased with our lovely, airy, easy to enter and exit spot out in the anchorage. While the marina would be well protected, it seemed claustrophobic to us, and was heavily populated with fisherfolk and surfers. There was no one in the restaurant so we didn't stop for a beer, and we didn't have our computers with us on that excursion so we didn't ask about wifi although I understand it exists. We like the town part of Rum Cay much better than the marina area and look forward to exploring it tomorrow. The Anglican Church is so pretty with its fresh coat of white and blue; the sandy roads beckon to us; the friendly folks sitting under the trees wave and ask how we are all doing. Of course the answer is "Absolutely wonderful, thank you!"
The mailboat, the "Lady Frances", arrived as we were doing our walkabout so we took some pics of pickup trucks backing rapidly down the wharf and young men toting bags and boxes to vehicles parked by the road. Kaye told us the "Lady Frances" makes two stops in the Exumas and one at San Salvador before arriving here each Thursday evening, and the feeling is much the same as on other islands we have visited. It is a social event as well as a "shopping trip." Folks gather and chat before it arrives and look forward to receiving whatever goods they are expecting from Nassau.
By then it was heading on to 6 o'clock and it was time to head home. It was then that the most wonderful event of the day occurred. Angie came flying across the water in her dinghy and upon hearing that we had no luck fishing, handed over a plastic bag with two lobster tails! She and Clark are much better spear fishers than we are - and they were out in 25 - 30 ft deep water too. Jim's diving skills are just not that good, and mine are non existent. So how wonderful was that? They knew we were keen to dine on some lobster and were having little luck catching them so they went out specifically to shoot our dinner. Pretty nice, I'd say!
I put on the peas'n'rice, made some cole slaw, slathered the lobster tails with garlic butter and Jim put them on the BBQ. Oh - what a mouthwatering meal! Mary Jean and I finished it off with Coconut rum over ice - and I think we might have introduced her to a new vice!. What a meal. Thanks Clark! Thanks Angie!
We'll be here on Friday, watching the wind clock around and hoping things don't get too rocky. We'll walk and explore, and dine well again in the evening on whatever Dolores has prepared. Then the plan is to leave here on Saturday, going back to Long Island and stopping either at Calabash Bay, Hog Cay, or going back to Thompson Bay.
09/03/2011/1:22 pm, Conception Island
The reports are true. Conception Island is stunningly beautiful.
We joined 7 boats in the main anchorage tucked into the northern corner of the island. A couple of them left during the afternoon and a few more arrived, increasing our numbers to 12 by nightfall. Despite our best efforts, we failed to catch a fish for dinner on our way over so no seafood dinner tonight! After a quick lunch, we got into bathing suits, grabbed spear and bucket and set off to the coral heads to see if our luck would improve. There is some confusion about whether or not fishing is legal here. We had heard that it isn't, but then we were told it is, and when I looked up Stephen Pavlidis' book, "A Cruising Guide to the Southern Bahamas", he says that the land is a National Park and is under the protection of the Bahamas National Trust (no shelling, no fires and no garbage dumping) but the sea is open for fishing. Unfortunately, those fish and lobsters were elusive, and we never did catch dinner here.
We dinghied to several reef areas in and around the anchorage and snorkelled over them. I can't say that the variety of colourful fish is any nicer than what we have seen in the Exuma Land and Sea Park - both at Warderick Wells and Cambridge Cay, but it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend a few hours each day.
It is probably the combination of scenery, remoteness, accessibility of reefs and variety of things to do here that makes it so wonderful. Conception Island is small and uninhabited - no Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) tower - no wifi - no shops. Interestingly, it doesn't even have VHF traffic. Despite there being 12 boats here, there is no chatter! Instead of all those things, it has white cliffs and long crescent shaped white sand beaches on both eastern and western shores, deep water and coral reefs for divers, and shallow mangrove creeks for dingy exploration. This west bay anchorage where we are is plenty big enough to allow space between boats and the coral heads are far enough apart to be easily avoided. The water is - as they say - gin clear. The white sand that lies 15 feet below the surface of the water is just as visible as if it was 15 inches below. We have seen pretty little fish (and a couple of sharks in the late afternoon) swim underneath the boat, and we hardly needed the looky bucket to see that our Bruce anchor was well and truly buried.
A long rocky reef lies to the north; a beach of steeply sloped white sand forms a crescent around us; the creeks inland lie to the south beyond a little headland. We need simply to turn our heads from one side to the other to take in all the beauty. Phil and Leona (Falcon's Nest) stopped by to say hello, and Jan and Karl (White Pepper) joined us for Happy Hour on Monday so we had the benefit of happy socializing too!
Tuesday was filled with more exploring. We followed the short trail across the island from the north end of "our" beach and walked down the beach on the other side to the tall white cliff where a thick rope hung down - just begging hands to grip it and bodies to climb up for a better view. Of course, we all climbed! After oohing and aahing, we descended again and headed back, vowing to return and climb the next rope that led to a trail all along the ridge. That had to wait because our next excursion was timed to take advantage of the tide in the mangrove creek. We were off to see the turtles.
We entered the creek shortly after high tide and dinghied slowly up - weaving our way around sandy shoals and once more exclaiming over the colours of the water. We kept our eyes peeled for turtles and eventually found them in a deep green channel. They were so fast! We had expected to find them lazing on logs or rocks, but they were in the water and positively sprinted out of our way as we drifted closer to them. After drifting around there for a while, we paddled back to the main channel and then drifted on the ebbing tide all the way back to the entrance.
After lunch and siesta/book time, we were back in water mode for more snorkelling. We also dinghied out along the rocky reef to the north - deciding not to try to get around it this time. Instead, we beached the dinghy on a tiny beach on a tiny island where we lay on the warm sand and listened to the waves until it was time to go home for dinner. In the absence of seafood, I decided to use up some canned goods and we scooped up bowls of chili - hardly Bahamian food but tasty anyway and warming because we had gotten a bit chilled.
We planned to rise early, take the hike along the northeastern shore and depart for Rum Cay on Wednesday morning. We did the first two, and then decided to stay here another day! By 8 o'clock we were on our way to the beach, stopping to say goodbye to Jan and Karl. We scrambled up the black rope on the cliff below the lookoff cliff and followed "Holly's Trail" all along the ridge to another long beach. The views were fabulous and we spent lots of time watching those spectacular tropic birds wheel and soar over the water and in and out of holes in the rock walls. They can apparently mate in midair but we didn't see any of that action! There would have been good reef exploring on the far shore except for the surf that rolled in. Instead of snorkelling, we walked - shaking our heads at the array of plastic that was tossed up in the wrack and grass. It is immensely discouraging to see the number of cans and bottles and barrels that are washed up on so many shores. We know that they get tossed or washed overboard from ships, left behind by beach users, abandoned because they are broken or unneeded. If these are picked up, more will take their place. Perhaps some of the plastic will disintegrate in the sun but much will linger for years and years. Plastic is handy on boats - it doesn't rust or break. But it needs to stay on the boats! And we all need to resist the so called convenience of more and more plastic containers of all sorts of products, remembering to reduce, reuse and recycle. (That's my "speech" for today - but I'm serious too - we use and lose too much plastic.)
By the time we hiked back along the trail (about half an hour when we didn't stop for picture taking and exclaiming) and stopped to chat with Jim and Ruth (Spirit) and Angie and Clark (Seabbatical I), it was almost noon and we decided to postpone our departure. Why race off? Weather was a consideration again. We would have a fine sail for most of the way to Rum Cay, but would likely have a slog straight east into the wind for the last few miles. Thursday would probably deliver motoring winds - but no eastward slog. Sooo - we were free to swim and play like dolphins, to bask in the sun and to curl up with books. How could that be a poor choice?
Evening found us on White Pepper, visiting with Jan and Karl and with Angie and Clark. This is the last we'll see of Jan and Karl for this year; they are headed north to Cat Island while we head south from here. We need our fleecies on tonight - the breeze is cool but we have all our ports and hatches open because the air is clear and salty and we can see the stars!
Rum Cay - here we come!