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Madcap Sailing
Off to Visit the Iguanas
31/01/2008/3:59 pm, Allan's Cay

When we set off at 7 am on Wednesday morning for Allan's Cay, things weren't a whole lot better. We crashed and banged our way across the deep-water corner of Northeast Providence Channel to Fleeming (sometimes spelled Fleming) Channel and onto the Exuma Bank. It was reminiscent of the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia - except much warmer! The seas calmed after that and we had a good motor sail the rest of the way. Unfortunately the wind was once again from the southeast and we'd have been too many hours getting across without the motor. It was a long day any way because we had almost 50 nautical miles to cover, and we needed to arrive on the Bank early enough to ensure our ability to spot and steer around the coral heads. Jim and I took turns doing bow watch and signaling the helmsperson to go left or right. Our old bicycle hand signals came in handy. The heads were easy to see when the sun was unobstructed by cloud, and it was exciting to practice this new way of navigating. The Explorer charts are clear on VPR areas (where Visual Piloting Rules apply).

Jim had his fishing line out most of the way but got nary a nibble. Good thing we still had some tuna left!

We emptied our holding tank - the "stuff" gets well macerated and then pumped out off shore where there is current to disperse it. After that the smell disappeared, making the cabin a much more pleasant place.

We entered the anchorage at Allen's Cay to find a dozen or so boats already there and proceeded to engage in our most frustrating anchoring ever. We cruised past most of the boats to a space where we thought we'd have some maneuvering room. Unfortunately when I backed down on the anchor to set it, we just kept on backing as the anchor dragged along the sand. On the next try we ended up far too close to the sharp coral shoreline. On the third try, we were sitting on the sand bar that fills the centre of the bay. On the fourth try - I know you can imagine the mood on Madcap at that point! - we went further along past every single other boat to where it was less protected from the East and successfully anchored in 8 feet of water with lots of room around us.

After waiting a decent interval till our frazzled nerves settled we dinghied over to the little beach on Leaf Cay to visit with the amazing prehistoric looking iguanas. There we found large knobbly granddaddies and smaller, sleeker young'uns. They are quite used to being fed and came toward us to see what we had. Since we were empty handed, they settled for having their pictures taken. We had seen iguanas in Costa Rica a few years ago, and were happy to see some again. They really are incredible to watch with their thick, lined skin, pink and blue and brown and beige warty heads and tails that are longer than their bodies.

Then it was back to another dinner of grilled tuna (this time done in foil with lemon juice, onions and celery) rice and pumpkin. We passed a quiet night - the swell from the sea was just a lullaby swell and we were grateful to recover from the night before.

Next morning, Thursday, we cleaned some of the salt spray off our decks and windows and headed for the beach again. Some of my pictures had turned out blurry and I wanted another try. Then we dinghied around the corner of the cay and did a little snorkeling to see if there might be some lobsters lurking in the coral there. No lobsters unfortunately, but lots of pretty little fish. Jim was laughing at me as I went for one more swim around the bay before dragging myself up and into the dinghy again. At one time in my life, I wouldn't go 10 feet away from the boat without a pool noodle, but in this buoyant water with flippers on my feet, I feel much more secure. And snorkeling is such an amazing thing to do - just like floating in an aquarium; I would never want to pass up that experience.

Back in the harbour on board, the wind picked up to 15 -20 knots and gave us a rocky evening, but the captain was loathe to leave a secure anchorage so we rocked and rolled the evening away. We made do with soup and fresh baked biscuits instead of lobster tails for dinner.

We'll be off to Highborne Cay on Friday and probably to Norman's Cay on Saturday.

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Ferry-Taxi-Ferry to Harbour Island
29/01/2008/3:56 pm, Spanish Wells

I had arranged with Pinders - the grocery store and water taxi people to take Kathy and Mike (Sapphire), Mary Lou and Bob (Cygnus) and Jim and me to Harbour Island on Tuesday. The price quoted was the same as the Bohengy ferry and the times were flexible. It made sense at the time because we wanted to get back in time to relocate down to Egg Island for the night - in preparation for an early start on Wednesday morning. It didn't turn out to be quite the same deal as the ferry. What they didn't tell me was that rather than take the water route along through the tricky Devil's Backbone (doesn't the very name make you want to go there?) Pinders takes people on a short ferry ride over to Eleuthera Island and then by car on a land route past the airport over to where another ferry makes the 5-minute crossing to Harbour Island. The $30.00 round trip only took us that far and it was another $10.00 roundtrip per person to get across the next little stretch. I was irritated by the misrepresentation and at missing the backbone route, but the return trip was actually quite informative because Gurney Pinder was our driver and he was happy to share his knowledge.

The town on Harbour Island is Dunmore, but the place is usually referred to by the Island name and it is famous for its pink sand beach. That too was a little bit of a let down at first. For some reason I was expecting really PINK - the same way Northumberland Strait sand is really RED, and what it is is pink - subtle pink - and it took a bit of time for our eyes to pick it up.

With all that complaining out of the way...the beach is absolutely gorgeous. It goes on for miles and really is a beautiful soft, pastel pink that shows up especially when the sun is high and it contrasts with the azure colour of the ocean. It is velvety soft with the tiniest flecks of coral. It is a movie screen beach - perfect for ladies in floaty gauzy dresses and men with half buttoned shirts and rolled up pant legs to run into each others arms. Gee - we didn't actually see that happen - but it was the kind of place where it might! We did see horses come down through the trees, take refreshing rolls in the surf and move along to their shady enclosure to wait for paying riders. We saw families playing, and people relaxing on well-manicured beach properties with lounge chairs and beach umbrellas.

The six of us strolled up and down the beach until we had worked up hearty appetites, whereupon we repaired to the Harbour Island Lounge for lunch. Conch salads, Caribbean salad (with greens, mangoes, blue cheese) hamburgers, grouper burgers washed down with Kalik beer made us all happy. Then we were off to explore the shops. Some exquisite clothing had to stay on the racks because it was outside our budgets, but Kathy and I managed to pick up a couple of books and I found some pretty earrings to replace the one I lost in Marsh Harbour.

On the drive back, Gurney showed us fields that once contained hundreds of mango trees and now hold only one or two. Hurricanes Floyd and Andrew caused salt water to rise up over the roots and many of them could not recover. If I heard him correctly (from the back of the van) the farmers were also hit by a blight that killed many trees. He said his father used to have a huge acreage in production but now very little is grown on the island. Speaking of islands, I asked Gurney what the difference is between an island and a cay (pronounced key). He said it was his understanding that when they were named, an island was inhabited and a cay was not. Mary Lou had heard that an island had fresh water and a cay did not. Spanish Wells is the town on St George's Cay and was so named because the Spanish ships used to come in there especially for the water so who knows?

As we arrived back at the dock and were about to climb into our dinghy, a large motor vessel pulled up and to our great surprise, it was Wet n' Wild with John and Rhoda Page on board - from Trident Yacht Club in Ontario - our home club! The last we had heard about them was from Strathspey's blog and we thought they were still far south of us. It was great to have a brief visit with them before we headed off again.

Our (Madcap and Sapphire) grand plan was to anchor just off Egg Island to give us a good start in the morning. Like many grand plans it was a good one in theory but ... Unfortunately, the wind was blowing directly at us so we had our sterns toward the shore with our bows heaving up and pounding down in the wind and waves all night long.

We managed to have a delicious dinner of grilled tuna, Bahamian pumpkin - that tasted a whole lot like squash - and salad. But things went downhill after that. None of us got much sleep as Madcap and Sapphire bounced around. Our holding tank seemed to have gotten all shaken up too and it smelled horrible inside our cabin.

It was a less than pleasant night to end a very pleasant day.

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Back & Forth,Royal Island &Spanish Wells
Beth - weather coolish but sunny
28/01/2008/11:28 am, Spanish Wells

Sapphire and Madcap made the half hour trip over to Spanish Wells on Saturday, and dropped anchors just outside the entrance to the harbour. It didn't take long to confirm what the guidebooks said: this is a working harbour and self-sufficient town, named in the day when Spanish explorers considered this place to have the sweetest well water in the Bahamas. Big and well-kept fishing boats lined the harbour, side by side with little sport fishing boats. Boats with "arms" like those we saw back in Georgia were also tied up. Jim was told that they fish for crawfish - although the man pointed at another one and said it had just come back from Miami. "Fishing?" asked Jim. "Nope - shoppin'"came the answer.

This harbour is long and almost fully enclosed with room for a whole fleet of fishing boats and it's easy to see why Spanish Wells is considered to be home to some of the best fishermen in all of the Bahamas. There are a few moorings at the eastern end and a marina at the western end. High-speed ferries run back and forth from Nassau and Harbour Island. Water taxis and private boats abound.

When we first arrived at the dock (we tucked the dinghies in just in front of Pinder's Grocery Store near 7th St) a gentleman on a bike rode over to welcome us. "Hawk" lives here 6 months a year and is just about the best one-man welcome committee we've seen. "Yes, your dinghies will be fine there." "Do you want some tomatoes? See that woman right down there by the buggy? Go down there and get some - they're fresh off the vines, and get a pumpkin too." "Garbage? Put it in any of the bins around town - it's collected every day." "Internet? There are several hotspots around, and you can come down to my place if you want."

And so off we went down by the buggy to buy juicy tomatoes from Shirley. She also had green peppers, pumpkin (different from the ones we are familiar with) and pigeon peas. We ate tomatoes and peppers for dinner and pumpkin & rice will be on the menu another day.

Mike, Kathy, Jim and I walked pretty much the whole town, stopping at the Gap for a tasty but very, very slow lunch, at the Food Fair for oranges and green onions, and at Kathy's Bakery across the street for fresh bread and a bottle of home made pickles. I have always loved buying groceries at little specific shops and I like doing it here too - produce in one place, bread in another, meat or fish in still others. Often, in the small stores, we find an older woman or two sitting behind the counter along with whoever is doing the serving. I haven't asked, but my thinking is that these women have been working in the stores all their lives, and are still there to help or keep company. We've met them in New Plymouth, Marsh Harbour and here in Spanish Wells. It's a nice small-town sight.

We walked along to the peaceful garden at the Methodist church; it had about the only shade in the entire town, pretty little paths with lots of benches and chairs, and signs with bits of scripture on them. On our way there, we were passed by a couple of young girls on three wheel bikes. One of them had a toddler in the back - probably a babysitting situation, and the other had a big boombox! We could hear them coming a couple of blocks away - they sounded like those cars that cool dudes drive around with the bass pounding, the windows down, an elbow hooked nonchalantly out and eyes scanning around to see if anyone notices them. I was so surprised to turn around and see these two preteen blonde girls with hair in cornrows peddling their bikes. They parked themselves down by the Methodist Garden and even did some dancing in the street, and I think they were quite pleased to be the objects of our attention. Kathy and I took a little walk on the beautiful white beach while the guys filled jerry cans with fuel and water (FREE water in jerry can amounts), and then we came back to the boats.

It was a still, quiet night. As dusk fell, Jim went on deck to look at the stars and called me to come look too. A couple of metres off on our port side - nearest the shore - we could see one tiny spec of light - there for a moment or two and then gone - then back again. We have no idea what it could have been - a fish giving us the beady eye? A UFO (Unidentified Floating Object)? A lone firefly that went swimming? It hung around a bit and then passed on by -definitely the strangest thing we've seen.

We made sure we were well lit (the boat, that is, not us) and took advantage of the limited wifi from the boat to make a posting and some phone calls. The water was absolutely still overnight, and when the anchor alarm went off at about midnight, I got up to see that we had swung a perfect 180 degrees with the current.

By morning, the wind was up again and we headed back to Royal Island - discarding our tentative plans to anchor off Little Egg Island and snorkel on the reef. We tucked into a spot close to where we were last time - we knew the holding was good. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite the same spot because when the tide lowered we began to bounce. Up came the anchor, ahead we went, down went the anchor. We were a bit close to another boat but figured we'd be OK. More about this figuring in a minute...

In the meantime, we dinghied over to the ruins of the old estate. We explored the fringes of the area, trying to see a little of what was, in the 50's and 60's, a grand property with dock, windmill, citrus groves. Paved paths led inland, stone walls still stood - many with plants growing from the remaining fragments of roofs. We'd love to have explored further, but thought we should probably respect the Private Property sign!

On the way back we stopped to say goodbye to Cheryl and Carl on Mystique - off to Nassau in the morning, and Jean-Michel and Anne on Cipango, an Ottawa registered boat. It was a delight to meet them because we had seen the boat in Marsh Harbour but hadn't spotted Ottawa on the stern. Jim discovered that they knew several people in common and we had a really good gab.

Back to the close anchoring, overnight the wind shifted and we found ourselves uncomfortable close to the boat next door. Not within collision distance, but definitely too close for a good sleep. Lesson learned - next time we leave more room, even if it means moving a 3rd or 4th time.

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