14/02/2008/1:09 pm, Big Majors Spot
Happy Valentines Day from Big Majors Spot - home of the swimming pigs. We had a very good 3-hour motor sail down from Warderick Wells this morning. Sandi and Steve (Princess) headed north, and Sapphire and Madcap, in company with many other boats headed south. There is yet another north wind blowing and we picked this anchorage to give us a bit of protection, tucked up on the west side of Big Majors Spot and just south of Fowl Cay. Perhaps there is a bit of protection, but the wind is still blowing and the water is choppy. On the other hand, the water temp is 30 C and the air is 27 C so what's a little wind?!
Jim made a trip to Staniel Cay while I stayed on board to bake a birthday cake. It was probably just as well there was only one person in the dinghy - we have a teeny little 5 hp motor and it does us just fine in flat water, but it goes slowly and "wetly" with two persons aboard in choppy water. He arrived back with frozen pork chops and a pound of hotdogs, a cucumber, some spinach, a couple of oranges and limes and a dozen eggs - and a pound of mediocre coffee. We think the choices will be better after the boat comes in on Monday.
We ran out of water last night and when I went to pull out my emergency jug from the cockpit locker, I discovered the jug had sprung a leak and there was just enough for a pot of morning caffeine. Speaking of caffeine - we ran out of coffee two days ago and have been drinking tea. I made a pot this morning and then realized I had used decaffeinated bags that I had on board for the Strathspey folks so I had to add a couple more bags to the same pot - since I didn't have any more water. It was potent but it did the wake-up job. Dinners the last few nights have been canned beef with peas n' rice, corned beef hash, pasta with stirfried "whatever was left in the produce bag" and a bit of chicken. We haven't come close to starving, but it's been pretty boring!
There must be 30 boats here in this anchorage - people all seem to head for the same spots. Jim dove on the anchor, shoved it down in the sand a little more, and we hope it holds - no room for dragging here. We haven't yet paid a visit to the beach but I've been watching dinghies pull up to be greeted by the pigs. I've seen 4 of them; 2 swim out in search of food while the others are content to wait till folks land. Apparently it is considered OK to feed compost scraps to them and they are very used to being fed and photographed.
We elected to celebrate Jim's birthday (and Valentine's Day) on board with a dinner of BBQ'd pork chops, squash, and spinach salad with a celebratory glass of champagne and chocolate cake for dessert. It was the first time in 25 years that there have been no children at the dinner table to toast their daddio, but the 2 of us had a very nice time looking back over past years and reviewing old memories.
Staniel Cay looks like a fine place to spend some time - the casual yacht club is full of patrons eating, drinking and doing email. Nurse sharks (harmless! harmless!) swim along under the pier, Internet is free and the sun is hot. We deposited one big bag of garbage, bought 25 gallons of water (40 cents per gallon), and ate a good lunch. This afternoon, we'll walk around town, check out the cottage we're renting for the family next week and then move down to Black Point Settlement to do laundry. We'll have lots more to tell you because we'll stay in the area for quite a while.
13/02/2008/1:02 pm, Warderick Wells
I need to temper my assessment of Emerald Rock mooring field. It was just wonderful in the north wind but on Tuesday night the wind was out of the SE and we had probably the very worst night we have ever spent aboard. We rocked and rolled vigorously in the 20-25 knot winds with gusts to 30. (I almost put viciously - but maybe that word should be saved for an even more rocky night sometime!)
We didn't get around to installing lee cloths before we left (strips of cloth along the salon seats that fasten to the seat and to the rails along the ceiling - to keep the sleeper from rolling out when sleeping there in rolling seas) and hadn't missed them till now, when the forward berth was horribly noisy and bouncy. The benches in the salon were somewhat better but I had to jam myself against the back cushion and keep a hand tucked under the seat to make sure I stayed there. We hadn't secured everything before we went to bed because we thought it was just going to be the usual kind of rocking, so when the serious stuff started, books flew off the shelves, dishes on the counter slid into the sink and even those in the cupboards were sliding and banging against the doors. I stuffed towels into every cupboard to lessen the slide, jammed computers and cameras between pillows on the floor and then got horizontal. The cabin is not the best place to be when there is serious boat movement, but our cockpit seats are so narrow that we'd have been knocked off them in a minute if we'd tried to sleep up there. At least neither of us got seasick!
Jim and I were each up to the bow a time or two just to check on the mooring line but it was fine. One thing about being on the mooring - we didn't have that residual anxiety about whether the anchor would hold. The disadvantage was that we didn't have the benefit of a long anchor rode that would have cushioned the movement a bit.
We did some more hiking on Tuesday, dinghying in as far as Butterfly Beach. The water was rough and our fuel supply was getting down so that worked very well from both perspectives. Fortunately, Sandi and Steve are kindred spirits in their love of walking so we've had dome fine times on the trail. We ceremoniously placed a small "Madcap" sign, created from a piece of driftwood, atop the pile at BooBoo Hill. We leaned over the blowholes and were amazed at the power of the wind and spray. I was expecting a low moaning sound and instead found a real snort. It comes in short powerful blasts - enough to blow your hat off and make you step back a pace or two. I could picture a powerful underwater creature snorting and blowing his demands.
A word about footwear on these hikes: I've been wearing my crocs and they have held up amazingly well on the sharp coral. I can move in and out of the water with them and they are as comfortable as always. Those $30.00 shoes are just perfect for cruising. I wear the thongs more often, but the original clog style stays on better when going up and down the hills.
The temperature has been upwards of 27C most days, and water temp has hit 30 on occasion. We've been able to swim off the boat whenever we need a refreshing dip, and our solar shower bag is always nice and warm afterward. Our towels are getting a bit salty and we are rationing water so we can't wash them. We keep a set for drying off after a salty dip and another set for drying after fresh water. They're all lightweight - heavy ones take too long to dry.
A highlight of Tuesday was a birthday celebration for Kathy on Sapphire. Mike made some fabulous smoked salmon pate (smoking the salmon on the BBQ) and a nippy blackbean dip. We toasted her health with champagne and shared some chocolate cake to top it all off. Jim and I then made the short trip back to Madcap before settling down to the nasty night I talked about at the beginning of this post.
On Wednesday, Jim and I in company with Steve and Sandi and Mike made a great long trek - about 3 hours worth across the cay, down along the Sound side and back to the Banks side, going up and down hills till we got back to Butterfly beach where we had left our dinghy. I was reminded of the flow experiences - doing that which is just barely possible. That's the way we felt by the time we got back. Thank goodness we had taken water - some snacks will be in the backpack next time we embark on a long hike. We tramped up and down, stopping to admire the glorious views, challenging our legs with steep ups and downs, and our balance with narrow bits between eroded holes in the ground. It was all very satisfying and made for a good glow of achievement. We watched the curly tailed lizards and the tiny straight tailed ones. We stopped to read signs about the dozen different kinds of vegetation. It may look barren and scrubby here but there are an amazing number of shrubs and grasses and trees that are perfectly suited to this hot, saline environment.
We learned something about beaching dinghies too - we had pulled ours upand set the anchor the way we usually do, but had left the anchor line slack. Unfortunately, that meant that when the tide came in, the dinghy floated out enough to be the recipient of wave after wave of salt water. By the time we got there, it was well and truly swamped. Our dinghy bag with lights, depth sounder, handheld VHF was soaked and the gas tank was afloat. I bailed furiously until Mike and Jim managed to tip the thing over and get the rest of the water out. We were so lucky that the motor started up right away.
Wednesday night was rocky but much more tolerable than the night before. We watched the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and headed off to bed in good time.
12/02/2008/9:45 am, Warderick Wells
We've spent our time both in the beautiful water and on the rugged land in these last few days. We've gazed at fish and sea creatures and coral, and birds and lizards and trees.
I had one of those peak moments this week - the kind that we can remember forever in living colour and say "Ahh, that was just perfect!" We joined up with Sandi and Steve and Mike (Kathy would rather be ON the water than IN it) and went snorkeling up past the North Anchorage - on Kathleen's Reef near Turnabout Beach. The snorkeling there was short lived because the current was just too strong to be comfortable - we misjudged the slack tide - so we swam back to the gorgeous little beach and just sat in the water or floated around and chatted. The beach was tiny and crescent shaped, ringed with layers of limestone/coral rock with a few palmettos ringing the top. The sand was white and soft, and the colour of the water was that brilliant, transparent aqua that we see so much of here. It looked just like pools try to look. Inside the curve of rock, there was no current. The water was so salty that it was easy to float around in it without effort. The sun was hot enough to make the water feel delightful. The conversation - as always in this group - was interesting and lively.
I think what added up to "perfect moment" was the fact that all my senses were engaged, both body and brain were working, and I was in a place of exquisite beauty.
(I used the pronoun "I" in this bit because peak moments are personal, and we each have our own. This one was my particular one, although I expect we'd all say we had an enjoyable time!)
We dinghied next across the bay to another reef, and snorkeled slowly along the coral heads there. Jim and I missed seeing a largish shark - maybe that's a good thing. We spotted a nurse shark (harmless) before we went in and we figure the feeding must have been good there. Three of the group saw the big one cruise by them and according to Mike, they all popped their heads out of the water and said, "Did you see that?" and kept their eyes scanning around from then on. Fortunately he was not paying any attention to them.
In the afternoon, we all went hiking the trails from the Headquarters across to the Sound side, along the beach and up to Boo Boo Hill and the blow holes. Boo Boo Hill has gathered a reputation as a spot where cruisers place signs made of driftwood with their boat names carved or painted on. We had fun spotting those left by friends. It is also a spot that some say is haunted by spirits of boaters lost on the reefs, although the singing may well be an imaginative hearing of the wind through the blow holes. These are holes in the rock where the wind rushes up from below as the waves crash in. Jim and I will try to go back there when the wind is up to experience a more dramatic demonstration.
We paused to watch several good sized rays float just off the bottom as we passed over a small bridge. They are so graceful. We've seen a turtle nestling just under a ledge, and the usual astounding array of colourful fish darting about.
Among the birds we've seen are the Bahamian mockingbird - a little browner than the ones we've seen elsewhere, and beautiful little bananaquits. We spotted a brownish, sparrow type bird with bright yellow patches on its tail - I need to look that one up. Curly tailed lizards and ones with long blue tails scurry out of the way as we pass, or come looking for food when we are picnicking! There are lots of signs describing the plant life and how it is adapted to this dry salty environment. It is a very fine thing to have this park with its emphasis on letting nature take its course.
We reached our dinghies just as some heavy raindrops were starting to fall and made a rush back to close the hatches. We usually close them before we leave - but not that time, wouldn't you know? We were lucky because it was a flash shower and was over before we got back to Madcap.
Monday the water was a little rough so we kept our dinghying to the southern end of the Cay - beaching it on Rendezvous Beach and hiking up to the point overlooking the Emerald Rock anchorage, and then along several trails to end up over on the Exuma Sound side of the cay. There, we were able to really feel the difference a hill makes. While we were quite comfortable in the lee of the cay, the wind was howling on the opposite side and we could feel the salt spray while we were 300 meters away from the shoreline. It was awesome, and we were sure grateful to be snugly tucked away - also grateful that there is such good weather forecasting. We knew this front was coming a full 5 days ahead so we could easily plan to be in a safe spot for it.
Our mooring in close to shore at Emerald Rock was better protected in this particular wind direction (N) than the anchorage up by the Park Headquarters, and was certainly better than the moorings farther out. We chatted a couple of times with Princess and we were noticing wind speeds 5 - 8 knots lower than they were. That hill blocked off most of it.
The wind grew stronger and shifted eastward overnight, and while we could hear it howling and we moved around some, we weren't uncomfortable. Still no rain to speak of so our water tank didn't get replenished.
It looks like we are here for another day or two so we'll do some more exploration on Tuesday and Wednesday.