27/02/2008/4:21 pm, Cambridge and Fowl Cays
I'm happy to report that the family has survived - even thrived - on 56 hours of togetherness aboard Madcap.
On Sunday morning we motorsailed up to Cambridge Cay again - successfully navigating all the troublesome bits - and picked up a mooring ball. We were surprised to find several available. After a quick lunch we were all in the water to explore around the little island that we so enjoyed last time, and then we left Jim onboard to run the generator while the rest of us piled in the dinghy and went off to see the submerged plane and the "aquarium".
We were certainly blessed with great weather for this excursion. Five people very nearly overloads our dinghy - would overload it in anything but flat calm conditions - and those were the conditions we had. Snorkeling was superb again - no current - lots of sunshine. Our gang has taken to snorkeling and diving with great enthusiasm - diving down for pictures and closeup encounters, in and out of the water at every opportunity.
Jim and I took a run over to the beautiful sandy beach where a sundowners party was being hosted by Mike and Julie of Rachel - the host boat in Cambridge Cay that week. It was terrific to meet up with Jim and Jeannie (Estelle) and their guests Eugene and Florence, and also to meet several other cruisers in the area. Jim last saw Estelle in Florida where they shared American Thanksgiving with the crowd at Steve and Sandra's while I was on a visit home.
I had purchased some meat in Staniel Cay that we took to calling "mystery meat" - probably some type of lamb chops - but they must have been pretty big lambs! We BBQ'd them that night and served them with boiled potatoes and salad, followed by homemade banana bread from the Blue Store. The taste and texture of the chops were...interesting...
Liam put the pieces together for an extension that Jim had been planning to one cockpit seat, and flaked out there for the night. Mary Beth, Will and Alex arranged themselves on all the salon berths and Jim and I kept our forward berth for this experiment in how many people we can have overnight on Madcap. Despite minor complaints of a hard mattress on the port side and an insert that kept slipping out of a cockpit berth (now fixed by our problem solving expert), the gang was amazingly rested and good-natured.
I cooked up some corn grits (delicious - and an OK food for gluten free MB) and Jim fried eggs and we kept multiple pots of coffee going to start off Monday, followed by a walk for some of us on the Sound side of the Cay.
Because things had gone well, we opted to stay in the area for another night, and made a short trip through the southern approach to this anchorage - passing safely by Kiss Rock and across the channel to Fowl Cay - often called Chicken Cay. (There is another Fowl Cay down near Big Major's Spot.) Someone told us about this spot and it was a fine little anchorage for the winds we had - very light SW. We enjoyed snorkeling around all the edges of the little U shape, and finally being in an anchorage with just two other boats. It was a short dinghy ride over to the Rocky Dundas - another Don't Miss spot. The caves here were just fabulous - once again, we snorkeled in at or near low tide. Once inside, we could stand up and walk around, gazing at the stalactites and stalagmites. We swam over an impressive stag coral just outside, and when we chatted with other visitors, they said this was the best visit they had ever had there - the current and tide were just right.
The young hunter/gatherers tried to catch dinner (the park boundary runs through the cut so fishing was legal in Chicken Cay) but caught only a tiny little fish that happened to swim by as the big one swam away. We were back to mystery meat. This time, I chopped it up, browned it with lots of onions and garlic, added curry powder, canned tomatoes and some water and stewed it up till it was "fall off the bone" tender and served it with rice to sop up the gravy. Mystery meat stew received rave reviews! I had baked a chocolate cake just in case the main course needed a good follow up so dinner was a total success.
After checking the forecast, Mary Beth and Will opted to sleep up on the foredeck. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but around about midnight, a sprinkle of rain woke me up, and as I went outside to drop the butterfly hatches, I met the two of them scrambling for cover. We did a fast emptying out of the aft cabin (aka garage) and put one person in there so we managed to have everyone under cover. It was just amazing what could be done with some quick shuffling of equipment and bodies, and it was easy enough to put things back to rights in the morning.
After one last swim and snorkel followed by a pancake and maple syrup feast we left through Conch Cut and motored down through Exuma Sound to Staniel Cay. The wind was on our nose and the swells were big enough to give us some salt spray over the decks, but the wind kept us cool and the motion felt right. A highlight of the trip was the Barjack Jim caught - our first success at fishing! Liam had another nice one on his line but he got away. The entry through Big Rock Cut went smoothly even with the strong current that allowed us to make only 2.5 knots with the engine at 2600 rpms. We rounded the Crown of Thorns and tied up to one of the 7 moorings in front of Club Thunderball. The boats at anchor just north of there were sitting in really calm water, but because we wanted to spend most of Wednesday ashore, we chose a mooring ball for that extra peace of mind. ($20. per day - Club Thunderball)
We all went ashore to the Club for Happy Hour, a few games of pool and a beautiful sunset. I think maybe Club Thunderball is struggling a bit. Each time we have been in, there were hardly any people, but the food was tasty and the service friendly - it just hasn't been the "happening place" that the Yacht Club seems to be.
The wind came up on Wednesday as predicted, and Jim and I donned swim suits for the ride ashore. We rented a couple of golf carts and headed off to Ocean Beach. That turned into an entry into the "funny story" category because the electric cart Jim and I were in had hardly any power and we had to keep getting out to push it up hill. We made it to the beach, had a marvelous day there snorkeling and picnicking. Too bad for me that I decided to take my contact lenses with me and put them in my eyes there. One blew away so without my glasses I couldn't see worth a darn and missed all the excitement of lobster hunting on the reef. Jim and Liam each had their hands on one but he was too powerful for them and managed to pull himself out of their grips. Oh, to have had a spear with us...
While Jim traded in our failing golf cart for another, Liam and I headed out to Club Thunderball to have a look at how much Madcap was bouncing around. We laughed when we met another electric cart struggling to get up the hills, and we turned around to follow them back to town, Liam hopping out to help push, while I followed behind. When we finally got a look at Madcap, she was bouncing a little, but nothing like the boats out in front of the cottage.
We'll have one final dinner together tonight, celebrating this great vacation together, and then Jim and I will don swimsuits again for our journey back to the boat. We'll come back in to take the young'uns to the airport in the morning.
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!