24/02/2008/7:55 am, Staniel Cay
Our "kids" were due to arrive on a private plane about 4:30 on Thursday... we thought. We rented a golf cart with Pat, Sean and Marg on Thursday morning and went off to explore Staniel Cay - up and down the hills on bumpy narrow tracks. We found gorgeous houses looking out over Exuma Sound and many unfinished building sites. We crept up such a steep slope that Jim and I - on the back - had to hop off to lighten the load. Eventually, we ended up at the Ocean Beach where we snorkeled on the Sound side of the cay, delighted in digging our toes into the warm sand and indulged ourselves with a fabulous picnic on a nice flat rock.
We made a stop at Isles General Store, noticing as we came out that there were people around a plane at the airport and thought, "That must be the flight that the kids couldn't make because the connection was so tight," and went on to the cottage we've rented to put things in the fridge. There, we met Bernadette - owner and artist - who said, "Your party has arrived at the airport and a taxi went over from the Yacht Club to get them!" This was a full half hour before what we thought was the earliest possible arrival time. So - in true Bissell/Lusby form, we were late. Fortunately the family is quite used to this and was unfazed. We scrambled back in the golf cart and tore off (remembering to stay on the left hand side) to meet them. We rounded a corner and there they were in a double golf cart... Liam, Alex, Mary Beth and her friend Will hanging out the back, with luggage, packages and an extra passenger everywhere else.
It turned out that MB and Will had breezed through customs in Nassau and brought only carry-on luggage. Liam and Alex had arrived in Nassau the day before and met them at the main terminal so their timing was wonderfully efficient. The pilot (in jeans and T-shirt) was leaning against a wall at what is now called Oddessy terminal. As they passed by him he queried, "Alex?" (one of the only two names he had). With an affirmative answer from one of them, he whisked the group into his little plane and away they went. Mary Beth said that she sure hoped he had the right Alex and that they were going to Staniel Cay! They were full of stories about the adventure. None of them had been in a 6-seater plane before so it was a grand start to the trip.
"Atlantica" cottage, like "Shipwrecked" - the one Pat rented - is just sweet. There is lots of room for the four of them, with visits from us. The décor is nautical, the view superb, and we had Madcap anchored right out front.
Since it was the final night for the Sullivans and the first for the Bissells, we all went out to dinner at the Yacht Club - Cracked Conch, Mahi Mahi, Chicken, with delicious conch chowder and salad to start, and cake and ice cream to finish. Some of the crowd retired early while Jim, Liam and I lingered a bit with Pat and Sean to stretch out this time of being neighbours again.
Friday was the mandatory visit to Thunderball Cave - two dinghy loads - and they all marveled again at the fish and coral, lit up by sunlight in the dark cave. We visited Miss Flo at the Pink Store, lounged about on Madcap, and generally had a low-key day to get everybody rested up - although card games seemed to go on into the night after our chicken BBQ on the deck in front of the cottage.
The plan was to go off to Cambridge Cay on Saturday, but you know what happens to schedules when cruising... The outboard motor chose that day to act up - it wouldn't start for the longest time, then when it did and I headed into shore, it quit halfway and wouldn't start again. After some rowing and a tow from a friendly neighbour, I landed on the beach. The boys tinkered with it, rowed it back out to Madcap where Jim tinkered with it, and then he rowed back to the Yacht Club where they called Jack to come have a look. He couldn't see anything wrong, but cleaned the carburetor and changed the spark plugs anyway, and it started up fine. Go figure.
With plans changed for the day, we ferried loads of people out to Big Majors Spot to frolic with the pigs. They were all delighted with this, although only avid photographer Alex seemed to be really excited by the discovery that one of them was munching on the remains of one of the goats we had seen there last week. Yech. Jim had to stand guard after another one tried to climb into our dinghy to grab Liam's red jacket. With that minor precaution, it was perfectly safe to be on the beach. Those pigs only wanted food - and if our hands were empty, they weren't interested in us.
The evening brought another BBQ at the cottage and more rousing card games. If everything goes well, we'll be off to Cambridge, and maybe Pipe Cays today (Sunday) for an overnighter or two. That will make for an interesting time - 6 of us all piled every which way into Madcap's cabin and decks! Stay tuned to see how that goes...
20/02/2008/7:57 am, Cambridge Cay
With Pat and Sean onboard, we departed Staniel Cay on Tuesday morning for a couple of days at Cambridge Cay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. It was an exciting couple of days too.
On the up side of exciting, we enjoyed some of the best snorkeling ever. The rocky islet next to where we anchored had a fine little reef that we explored on our first evening. We saw several of what we think are lionfish - those interlopers to these waters that look really interesting but are not welcome here. We have learned that they move in and gobble up all the juveniles of whatever other species is around and then move on.
Perhaps the highlight of that spot though, was the rays - one about two feet across and another that had to be five feet across. We were back in the dinghy by that time so we donned masks again and hung our heads overboard to have a good look. They are amazing creatures - they stayed so still while we gazed at them - just wafting a wing now and then. We proceeded on a sunset tour (with Captain Sean at the tiller) around the anchorage, taking a stroll along one beach and leaving a series of standing stones for the amusement of those who would follow.
Dinner consisted of BBQ'd pork chops, roasted yams and broccoli salad, washed down with wine and ginger beer. The night was calm - it was strange to see boats pointing every which way depending on whether they were lying with the current or with the wisps of wind. The mooring balls were full and there were another 10 or so boats at anchor. Jim and Pat experienced that phenomenon when the moon shines down through the clear water to illuminate the sand and it doesn't even look like the water is there at all - Sean and I were both put out that they didn't wake us up to see it!
On Wednesday morning, we breakfasted on Eggs Madcap and headed off to another beach for a walk to the Sound side of the Cay. It was a short trip across, and then a great walk along the beach - splashing in the waves, discovering a shady lounging spot complete with hammock and swing (no camera - drat!) and climbing a cliff to a fabulous viewpoint. It was from that viewpoint that we tracked a dark cloud headed our way so we scrambled back to the boat just in case that cloud brought wind. It passed south of us, so after a snack, we headed off again - this time to see the remains of a submerged plane just off the north end of Pasture Cay and the "Aquarium" north of O'Brien's Cay.
We didn't venture far from the dinghy at the plane because of the current, but managed to circle around the wreck and have a good look at it, and at the small barracuda lounging near it. We got to the area just before slack low tide, and current was not a problem at the Aquarium. The coral and sponges were lovely; the fish were plentiful and friendly. Another boater mentioned that the sergeant majors love orange peels, so we ate the oranges and fed them the peels - sure enough, they all came swarming around, but it seemed to be the yellow tailed snappers who gobbled those peels. Sean got right into the swing of snorkeling. This water is so buoyant that one really has to work at sinking and with flippers on, we all had good kicking strength. (Staniel Cay Yacht Club rents flippers for $5.00 per day.) Jim has discovered that he loves to dive down to get up close and personal with the fishes, and Pat got some fine shots on the underwater camera - we hope! As for me - I am absolutely content to float around on the surface and marvel at what lies under me as I try to identify the different species. We keep a couple of small waterproof books in the dinghy for immediate checking.
And so now we get to the "less upside" of exciting. We tried to tell Pat and Sean that we just wanted them to have the "full boating experience" but I don't think they bought it. Navigating our way into and out of this anchorage was challenging - at just past low tide each way. We took the route from Conch Channel Waypoint up around Bell Island and that all went very well - even past that little jutting out part - until we got to the north entrance into the anchorage. Unfortunately a moment's inattention on my part and also on the part of those on bow watch combined with a strong current and our slow and careful speed resulted in us going aground on what the chart accurately describes as a shallow rocky bar. It was astounding how quickly it happened - 12 feet to 5 feet - stuck.
We know our Navionics chartplotter is not accurate here, and I had the Explorer chart in my hand until I put it down to have a look at the sandbar looming up ahead. Oops!
The encouraging thing is that Bob - from Barefoot'n was at our side within minutes, and within just a few more minutes he had rallied about 8 other dinghies. All you cruisers know what happened next - we had double that number of opinions!! It would have been simple enough to just sit and wait for the tide to rise, but the incoming tide was pushing us further into the shallows, so the folks from Lady Galadriel took our anchor out and set it in sand, many dinghies pushed our bow around and with assistance from all these wonderful people we bumped and ground our way back into safe water and proceeded into the anchorage. Our crew members were most interested in the proceedings!
On our way back out on Wednesday, visibility was poor because of the cloudy sky but all went well through that narrow bit, and past the little point off Bell Island, until it came time to make the turn out to Conch Channel Waypoint between the sandbars. This time everyone was watching carefully, and we still misjudged the distance - primarily because of cloudy skies that didn't allow us to read the water. Once more, two dinghies raced to our rescue and within minutes had us on our way again.
One confidence-saving bit of information was that another boater said he was where we were at that north entrance just an hour before on Tuesday, and we passed a boat aground off Bell Island on our way back out. Without those sightings, I'm afraid I would have been about to give up on my turn at piloting after going aground twice in two days. It is still pretty hard on the ego.
What will we do next time? For the navigating part: go at nearly high tide- it allows more room for error; take very seriously the importance of sunlight in illuminating the way (the colours showed the channel just like a highway one day and not at all the next), enter some intermediate waypoints in the chartplotter. For the rest of it: See and do all the same things. Cambridge Cay is absolutely worth a visit!
19/02/2008/8:29 am, Staniel Cay
What a treat it was to dinghy to the beach and find Pat, Sean and Margaret just alighting from the golf cart taxi. Pat and Linda and their sons Sean and Peter were our neighbours in Ottawa, and Pat decided to bring his son, Sean, and his mother Margaret south for a little sunny R&R. They have rented the "Shipwrecked" cottage, and will base themselves there while they explore the area with us.
We headed over pretty quickly to the Yacht Club where Margaret and I got acquainted while the fellows took over the pool table. We were too late to make dinner reservations (selections need to be made by 5pm in most restaurants around here and there is generally one sitting - the bell rings at 7pm here) so we ordered from the bar menu and were all happy with our mahi mahi (veggie burger for Sean). The place was loud, busy and friendly - a great intro.
We heard a cheery "Madcap, Madcap, this is Shipwrecked" on the VHF on Monday morning, and soon afterward, Jim ferried our visitors out to the boat. Sean had covered every nook and cranny within minutes and after a general tour we left Marg to relax on Madcap while the rest of us dinghied to Thunderball Cave.
This grotto was made famous in an early James Bond movie and is certainly worth a visit. Low slack tide was 11:30 am - the best time to go - and there were many dinghies tied to the two mooring balls. (Note - when we left we discovered another dinghy - a big, empty one was leaving too. It had been tied to OUR mooring line, not to the mooring ball. That bit of carelessness meant we had to motor back up to the mooring ball, uncleat his line from his boat, untangle it from ours, thread it through the proper place and tie it up again. It reminded us to be alert about multiple tie-ups.)
At low tide it was possible to snorkel through the opening into the cave without having to dive underwater. Great throngs of fish milled around in search of the breadcrumbs people often bring for them, and light shone through the holes in the roof, illuminating the coral, sponges, and fish. It was a bit of a crush as lots of folks swam in and out of the small openings, and the fish were really up close and personal. I think I prefer to snorkel over fish that just go about their own business on coral heads, and in less crowded places, but this is an interesting spot all the same. The shafts of light shining down into the water were beautiful and seemed almost like spotlights.
Sean had a blast feeding the fish and was a real trooper as he swam in and out of the grotto. He also proved to be a natural at handling the dinghy - exercising good control and getting us safely from one place to another. The three guys made a trip over to Big Majors Spot to feed the pigs. Two pigs waded out to greet them and received carrots and celery for their efforts.
We made the rounds of the grocery stores in town to top up the larder and fridge, and then it was time to gather on the beach for the school fundraising supper. Parent volunteers ladled up Chicken Souse, Conch Chowder and Stewed Conch. The Chicken Souse was a sort of stew with little chicken drumsticks - fall off the bone tender - potato and onion in a tasty broth. The difference between the two conch dishes seemed to be the colour and flavour of the broth - one was darker than the other. Jim had Stewed Conch (dark broth) and said it was delicious. It was a pleasure to meet many new cruisers and visitors and especially to discover Raoul and Karen (Issandra). We met them in a shed at Iroquois Marine back in Ontario last winter when they were hard at work repairing and preparing their bottom (boat bottom, that is) next to our friends Christian and Mireille (Nomades).
Margaret will enjoy the sights and sounds of Staniel Cay (yes - the roosters crow here just like in the Abacos) for the next two days, while Pat and Sean move aboard Madcap for a sail up to Exuma Park for more snorkeling. We'll be back in Staniel Cay late on Wednedsay.