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Madcap Sailing
A Plane and a Bar
04/02/2008/8:03 am, Norman's Cay

We had a fine time exploring Norman's Cay - in and out of the water. We dinghied around the southern corner of the cay, marveling at the breathtaking display of colours and cays. A lone palm tree topped one little cay and I later learned that it is locally referred to as Gilligan's Island. We could identify a dozen colours of green and blue - continually shifting as the sun moved over them, and edged by white sand and grey coral. We stopped to get the lay of the land from Kelly on Kwitcherbitchin, and went ashore in search of McDuff's. It was a most remarkable little journey: beach the dinghy, walk up to the sandy road that leads kitty corner across the southern end of the cay, come to an opening in the casaurina trees and find a wide flat landing strip - still in use, then walk across it to where we hear voices, up the steps and into a beautiful bar and restaurant.

McDuff's with cheery Stefan behind the bar, Sally (Gypsy Palace) making sure everyone had what they needed, and a group of local folks discussing American politics as they perched on barstools was a real find. A plug-in to the internet was available to patrons so I made the last few postings before joining the others for hamburger platters. They were good - just like the book said they would be. Jim even spotted some McCain's French Fry boxes out by the back door! The bar is beautifully designed with natural wood all round, the main part screened and with a big porch on one side. Large wicker chairs with comfy cushions, low tables on colourful rugs, lots of candles in sand and shell filled glass vases, magazines for leafing through... all beckoned the visitor to spend awhile. There were attractive wood and tile tables and chairs for serious eating and the long L shaped bar looked to be a perfect place to perch for an hour of socializing.

The bathroom was amusing - when I asked directions, I was told, "under the green umbrella" and sure enough there it was. A fully functioning flush toilet, big sink with cold running water - all spotlessly clean - just around a corner and a step up off the sand. It had three walls of palm fronds and the fourth wall was open to the trees; I judged it wise to announce myself whenever I went there just in case...

On Sunday, we went off to do some snorkeling - and again it was the same story - beautiful sightseeing but no dinner! Mike almost got one and Jim managed to bring back one tiny little scale off a fast one. I spent my time floating around over the coral heads, marveling at the colours and at the fish that nosed around them. A large ray coasted by - just barely fluttering its "wings". We swam over and around the plane that crashed in the harbour back in the busy drug running days - the story I heard at the bar was that there were problems with the landing gear and the pilot chose a shallow spot to set down. The plane was a write off but the crew walked away - no mention of whatever was on that plane. It was a bit eerie swimming around it - and was an experience I didn't think I could ever have as a snorkeller - not a diver. A pair of flippers and a mask and snorkel open up a whole new world.

In the evening, we dinghied to the beach close to our anchorage, enjoyed a stroll and, still in bare feet, made our way along a path to McDuff's for the Super Bowl party. We weren't awfully interested in the game (we did feel a bit sorry that the Patriots lost) but we figured it would be fun to be part of the crowd - and it was. The beers were cold, the wine was served in lovely tall globes, the cracked conch had real flavour and was chewy but not rubbery. People mixed and mingled around the bar with its TV up in a corner and on the porch where another TV had been installed and chairs arranged around it just like in someone's living room. We chatted with folks we had met there the day before, Lynne and George (Ketch'n Dreams) Lynn and Peter (First Edition) arrived, and we were delighted to see Karin and Mario (Victoria) last seen in St Michaels - Maryland! The resident dogs, Salt and Pepper, moved from group to group for a pat now and then but mostly settled for curling up in their corners.

When we grew weary, the four of us said our goodnights and wandered back down the beach under the stars. We were laughing at our awkwardness because of the soft sand, when we spotted sparks under Mike's feet! It must have been something to do with friction of sand we guess - or maybe he's just a real hotfoot!

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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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