22/03/2011/12:45 pm, Southside Bay, Ragged Island
We found Phicol just outside his fishing lodge and hopped in his truck for a trip out to Gun Point. That is where the big new boat basin is being blasted and chopped out of the rock. We had thought last year that it would be useful for cruisers as well as commercial vessels but it's not looking that way at the moment. There are no plans for a floating dock for cruising boats or their dinghies, and it is a long trip to town from there. Phicol, as chief councillor for the island, is trying to encourage a dock and golf carts or some convenient way for cruisers to commute. We'll see how it looks next year!
When we bought our brand spanking new outboard motor last year, we left our old Mercury 5 hp outboard with Phicol. He thought he could get it repaired eventually and would do something with it. We were thrilled to find out that he did indeed get it fixed and gave it to the old fisherman who lives on Buenavista cay. We saw him rowing for miles when we anchored there last year and we wondered this year if he was still around since the place seemed empty. Phicol says he sure is - but was away for a couple of weeks. This epilogue seemed just like the icing on the cake to our good news story of last season.
Percy picked us up again as we walked through town and delivered us to the beach where our dinghy had fortunately remained unmolested by his pig. (Although we did find pig hairs and dirt on one of the pontoons!) After changing into swimsuits, we set off across Southside Bay to the shoal on the other side for an idyllic final evening in the Bahamas. The tide was out and the sand bars were wide. I picked up one lovely penshell, and looked through the hundreds of sand dollars for a white one but they were all green and very much alive. We wandered for over an hour, as the ripples of water came creeping back over the sand and the sun dropped closer to the horizon. Then it was time to head back to Madcap and ready her, and ourselves, for departure to one more adventure.
We both slept for a bit, and then at 2am, the alarm went off. We poured coffee into our thermal mugs, pulled the anchor out of Bahamian waters for one last time, and followed our track out of the bay. Good bye to the beautiful Bahamas for another season.
22/03/2011/10:50 am, Duncantown, Ragged Island
We had envisioned a week long trip down through the Jumentos but that hasn't happened quite the way we planned. Hmmmmm - I think I've been saying that a lot lately!
We left Thompson Bay on Friday and had such good sailing winds that we came all the way down to Flamingo Cay, bypassing Water Cay - our first stop last year. There were several boats in the little anchorage by the two palms, but just like last year, we opted to anchor in the next little bay. We covered 56.2 nautical miles and had the engine on for less than an hour (just to get us out of one anchorage and into another). While we were tired after 11 hours of sailing, it was so much better than having the engine roaring away.
We dined on a new recipe I invented, and named Chicken Quatro - for the 4 C's - coconut, curry, cassava and chicken. I must say, it was very tasty! I had never cooked cassava before but the farmer who sold it to me told me to cook it till tender, then peel it and add it to a stew or whatever I was making. It has a texture somewhat like the Bahamian potatoes, (firmer than the ones we are used to) and it worked well with coconut milk and curry powder - with a dash of the hot seasoning salt I bought at the same market. I sauteed chicken pieces with onion and tossed it all together to simmer for half an hour. Mmmmmmm.
I've mentioned "perfect moments" before, and that evening was one of them. The moon was full or nearly full and shining brightly across the water. Madcap had just the gentlest of rolls happening and we were full after a tasty dinner and pleased with our day's sail. CBC was coming in loud and clear on the radio. As we sat in this lovely anchorage among the most southerly of the Bahamian Cays, we listened to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe - recorded at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax, Nova Scotia - about a 20 minute walk from our home. It seemed to link the two parts of our lives so very well.
We listened to conversations among the fishermen on the 3 boats off Flamingo Cay, and passed several more anchored at Jamaica Cay while their dinghies scattered through the area to fish. Scott had explained to us that there will usually be a crew of 6 to 8 people plus a cook. The cook stays on board while the dinghies with a diver and a driver go off fishing. The men own their own dinghies and pay a percentage (plus their gas and groceries) to the captain of the big boat. The Captain C - the mailboat - was anchored off Flamingo Cay for a while in the evening too, before heading off across the Lark Channel. We smiled when we heard the radio call from the Captain C to one of the fishing boats, "Have you got any snapper?" and we watched as a dinghy went flying off to the mailboat.
The next day was a good sailing day too, and we moved on down to Buenavista Cay where we were the only boat on that lovely long stretch of white sand. This is the first time in months that we've had an anchorage to ourselves, and we made good use of it. We dinghied ashore and walked down the beach to the trail that leads to the southern end and another beach. I gathered some palm fronds for weaving, we swam in the clear blue water, and dried out as we walked some more. The house up at the northern end didn't seem to have anyone around this year - although we didn't go up close to investigate because our legs were tired of walking in the deep sand. Last year, we took cans of vegetables and beer to the two gentlemen staying there - an elderly fisherman who still rowed miles back and forth to his fishing grounds, and his son (I think).
We kept moving south and made the difficult decision to bypass both Raccoon and Hog Cays and come straight to Ragged Island's Southside Bay on Sunday. I remember Raccoon as being a really pretty little spot - and there was only one boat there. Hog Cay is a cruiser favourite and there were several boats we've met in there, but we had weather coming and we decided Southside was where we'd prefer to ride it out. Once again it was a fine sailing day - although a more "vigorous" one than the last two. We had the main and the Yankee up and were flying along at close to 7 knots, but eventually switched to the stay sail as the wind built to a sustained 18 - 20 knots. Eventually we had to furl in the stay as well and motor sail as we headed up into the wind for the last 45 minutes.
We went ashore to the beach and walked to town - take the trail to the road and then walk past the dump, across the airport runway, up the hill and around the corner. The runway is finished now and the roads are all smooth black asphalt. The crews were here working on them when we were here at just about this time last year. This is a very small little settlement - fewer than 100 people and it is so amazing to see such roads! It being Sunday, there were few people about, but we did find a working payphone - a most unusual thing. After a hot and dusty walk back, we stopped to say hello to the folks on Jubilee - the only other boat here and then enjoyed a quiet evening. Our Sunday dinner was stewfish - made of snapper I had in the freezer, onions and Bahamian Sweet potatoes - spiced up with some of the hot sauce I bought at the market.
We have been experiencing more of that eau de sewer lately and so we spent Monday morning dealing with that. We took up the table and the floor boards once more, wondering if it was the vent again, and discovered that the macerator pump had not been pumping. The tank was absolutely full. I will not describe what happened when we disconnected hoses to see if there was a blockage - lets just say I used lots of javex afterward. (And kiddos - you'll be impressed - your dad did not throw up or even gag!) Back in the fall I questioned whether we really needed a $200 spare macerator pump on board, but Jim took the old one out and installed the new one and it worked a charm. Thank goodness! No more smell and an empty holding tank. We poured buckets and buckets of water down into the bilge, pumped that out too and disinfected everything in sight. (You'd be proud MB) (and Alain - I didn't have to come to close to any tubing!!)
The predicted high winds and squalls arrived about noon and lasted all afternoon and evening. The highest I happened to see on the wind indicator was 29.2; the wind generator has been working hard enough to divert some of its energy over to the hot water tank and that hardly ever happens. Our anchor is well dug into one of the sandy bits here in the bay. We are in 7 ft of water at low tide and Jim put out about 100 feet of chain so we have lots of rode to hold us securely. I am always amazed that we can possibly stay in one place with such a wind - but we do!! (Knocking on wood here). We spent the afternoon with books and charts - of Cuba. Because yes - I really think we are going to get there this year. We'll deliver our boxes of books to the school on Tuesday and wait for the seas to calm. We'll visit with our old friend Phicol and then we'll be Cuba Bound.
ps - We have just delivered books to the school - 10 students this year - after Percy (from the house with the plane on top and goats, pigs,chickens in his yard - and pigs on the beach too!) drove us to town. We missed Phicol somehow and are now going to find him.
We are still on track for a 3 am departure to Puerto de Vita, Cuba - a trip of about 60 nautical miles. I hope we'll find an internet connection there to let you know how it goes. We are excited!!!
17/03/2011/10:30 am, Thompson Bay, Long Island
We have been here in Thompson Bay longer than we would have liked (although as you'll see, it works out OK), and it feels like we've been mostly finishing up chores we needed to take care of before departing.
After making blog postings and attending to email on Monday morning, we walked over to the beach that can be found at the end of the trail from pole 108 along the highway north of Club Thompson Bay. I do love that - "Take the trail from pole 108!" We have known about it since we first came here in 2008 but have never taken it, and we are glad we had the time to go this trip. The view offshore is fabulous with limestone columns and craggy cays but the beach is polluted with plastic. We expect to see washed up fishing buoys and rope and net and even plastic bait boxes. We hate the sight of oil jugs and water bottles and margarine tubs and a hundred other plastic containers, and the ever present sandals and shoes. One observation is that people are using solid underarm deodorant instead of the roll on kind. We didn't see as many of those little balls as we used to!
The Georgetown crowd came in on Tuesday. People here were told that there would be 40 boats coming and only about 20 showed up. Tryphena, at Club Thompson Bay was expecting about 80 people for dinner tonight and prepared accordingly. Jim happened to be there this morning when the call came in that there would be only 34 or so people coming. You can imagine her distress. Mike at Long Island Breeze confirmed that everyone is affected. The grocery stores brought in extra supplies on the mailboat; they were expecting more people here too. It is a real shame that someone involved with the Georgetown group didn't call on Tuesday - the day they left Georgetown to let Tryphena and Mike or Jackie here know that only half the expected boats were really coming. I understand why some of them changed their minds - it was really windy out there and probably a rougher ride than some would like. But still, it would have been both polite and helpful if the providers of food and beverage for them here had been alerted.
I did laundry on Tuesday morning ($4 per load) and the list system they have at Island Breeze really does work well. We stopped in at Sou'side bar Tuesday evening to have a Kalik or two and chat with the fisherman/bartender and when Roger Fox came by, we were able to tell him how wonderful his fish has been. (steamed lobster, lobster dip, panfried grouper, seafood pasta (with leftover grouper and lobster). We took advantage of the 25% off coupon from Hillside grocery for produce on Mon and Tues, and stocked up on apples, oranges, lettuce, limes, cabbage and peppers. The mailboat comes on Wednesday I think so they want to move the items with short shelf life. There were lots of fruit and vegetables still in excellent condition.
Jim has made numerous runs back and forth to Island Petroleum to fill jerry cans with diesel, gas and water. By the time he finished the last one on Wednesday afternoon, all our tanks were filled and we had full jerry cans on the deck. That should easily see us through our trip down to Ragged Island. Last year, we were so careful with water that after being there just over 2 weeks, we used only about 60 gallons. We would have left on Wednesday, but we were carrying around an empty propane tank and even though we have one almost full, we always like to have the backup tank ready. Unfortunately, we hadn't been able to get it filled earlier, so we had to wait for the propane truck to come to Island Breeze on Wednesday. It's a great service - they fill the tanks right there and it cost $11 for our 10 lb tank
As soon as we listened to Chris Parker on Thursday morning, we started off and made it just to Indian Hole Point when the alarm went off on our engine. Once again, we had a broken alternator belt. A friend back in NS suggested that perhaps the alignment was out, and so we began to wonder if that might be the case. We've been breaking belts at an alarming rate this year. Feeling very despondent, we sailed back into the anchorage, dropped the hook and Jim headed to Island Breeze to find a mechanic. Mike sent him to see Scott Harding who said he'd be able to come out in the afternoon. So, we cooled our heels on the boat, trying to keep our spirits up, wondering how much this would cost us and how long the delay would be - imagining a worst case scenario. I did what I usually do under stress - made cookies (with all the green M&M's I picked out of the trail mix - in honour of St Patrick's Day!) - and Jim does what he usually does - ate half of them and fell asleep, and then I did my best to finish off the other half.
Scott was a great guy - friendly, helpful and, best of all, bearing good news. The problem in his opinion was the thickness of the belt we were using. Who knew we had to pay attention to not only the length but also the thickness? We figure that the new alternator we put on last year was the complicating factor. The belt fit the wheels on the engine reasonably well, but was too small for the wheel on the new alternator. Scott showed us the way it should sit in the groove and he also suggested using a shorter one so we would have more room to adjust it as it loosened. He drove 15 miles up the island to find 2 new belts and a couple of hours later we were all drinking beer and talking island politics, culture, and economy - with a new alternator belt on, and a spare. (He says Gates 900 series is a good quality belt.)
So - we have one of those bad news/good news stories again. We didn't get away when we wanted, but we were in a good place for a fix and it didn't cost an arm and a leg. We have another name to add to our list of fine mechanics and helpful Bahamians: Scott Harding - just down the road from Island Breeze. If he's not there, he might be out on his fishing boat, or sailing on the "Running Tide" - the Long Island boat skippered by Roger Fox. They'll be in the Family Island Regatta in Georgetown!