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Madcap Sailing
Cay Hopping
02/02/2008/4:02 pm, Norman's Cay

We sailed away to Highborne Cay on Friday, enjoying a very pleasant sail over there. When we stopped, we could still see the masts from where we started out! We're not in the "making tracks" mood here.

At Highborne, boats anchor just along the western shore. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed on the island - unless one is a paying visitor to the marina. Seems a shame to us - this beautiful beach was just ahead of us with not a soul on it and no houses overlooking it. However, we didn't push our luck by going for a walk. Instead, we dinghied to a couple of spots and snorkeled - Jim with his spear in hand. No luck on the hunter/gatherer front, but beautiful fish to look down on and fronds wafting back and forth in the current. I think my favourites are the Queen Trigger fish. Look them up to see what they look like - they're really lovely, and they have the most endearing habit of tipping sideways to focus an eye on the swimmer above them. Most of the fish take no notice - other than scurrying away if one makes a sudden movement, but those triggerfish are curious ladies. It's almost as if they are tilting their heads to get a better look - and I suppose they are; they are flatfish with an eye on each side of their bodies. They are supposed to be fair food fish but I have no idea how steely hearted - or hungry - one would have to be to ever kill one.

By sunset, there were 10 boats anchored there, several familiar ones - Celebrian (and note to Jason: Rob says Hi!) First Edition, and Ketchen Dreams among them. Kathy and Mike (Sapphire) came over for drinks and lively conversation and we laughed the night away - Kathy and I marveling at the number of stars over our heads, and the fact that we are really here.

As I was out checking the lines late one recent evening, my sarong fluttering around my calves and my shirt billowing in the breeze - millions of stars above me, and my home under my barefeet, the thought passed through my mind that if one had asked me at forty something what I would be doing ten years later, never in a million years would I have pictured myself doing this. But here I am - traveling about as co-captain on a sailboat, feeling confident and vital and interesting. How about that?!

Jim and I took a run into the marina, on Saturday morning. We picked up a jerry can of fuel - pricey at $5.10 per US gallon - the most expensive yet. I bought some milk and a package of frozen chicken at the little store (just in case this dearth of fishing continues). I took a pass on the bag of tortilla chips for $6.95 and the small bottle of balsamic vinegar for $7.95. Yikes! Either we find these at better prices elsewhere or they have become luxury foods to enjoy on trips back home. I suspect we'll find slightly better prices elsewhere. This was a pretty little marina, but the only boats there were large power yachts.

After a perfectly lovely 3-hour leisurely sail on a broad reach (wind aft of the beam - like in the stern quarter - or three quarters of the way back along the side of the boat - do all my boating and non-boating friends know where that wind was coming from?) we turned into the anchorage at the southern end of Norman's Cay. This cay was famous in the 1970's as centre of Carlos Lehder's drug smuggling operation. We'll spend a day or two exploring this area - walking the beautiful beach that sailors are allowed to set foot on, perhaps enjoying a hamburger at McDuff's, which is reported to serve the best hamburgers in the Bahamas, and making another try at catching dinner! We yearn for crawfish.

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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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