14/03/2008/2:51 pm, Little Farmers Cay
We thought we had seen the best of the Bahamas - the water, the sky, the friendly people, and then we moved again and saw even more. These Exuma Islands are so full of beautiful communities; we just keep shaking our heads and marveling.
After a day of "housekeeping" jobs in Black Point, we headed back to Madcap to make an early night of it - stopping on the way to chat with Laurie and Frances (Glory Days). They return to Manotick, ON each summer and are old hands at spending winters in the Exumas. One thing we were pleased to hear them comment on was the value of making the first trip a shakedown cruise. We sometimes wonder if we should have made additional purchases before we left, but they supported the idea of finding out what we need and don't need, and then getting it for the next time. It's the old "Just GO" thing. Too often, when would-be cruisers wait until they have every single item purchased and every detail planned, something happens and they don't make the trip at all. There are boaters here in every kind of vessel - beautiful or weathered - with up to the minute technology or with paper charts and VHF only - with all the mod cons or with the bare minimum.
We tucked into the southeast end of Little Farmers Cay again and tied up to an Ocean Cabin mooring. After settling ourselves down, we took a run over to say hello to our neighbours, Abbie, Jeff and little 9-month-old John on Last Paradise. Now there is a young family with adventure in their blood. Hailing from Michigan, they're full-time cruisers with experience in the South Pacific and with plans to sail back to New Zealand. When we admired their courage, Abbie just smiled and said "Captain John" is a fine sailor who requires them to adjust their timetables, but not their cruising lifestyle.
Ashore, we strolled up to Ocean Cabin to pay our $10.00 per night for the mooring and see who might be about. We found three very cheery fellows in the tiny bar - all from the Bahamian Patrol vessel we had seen tied up at the dock. We joined them and spent the next hour in gales of laughter as they joked and teased. Conversation ranged from their jobs (keeping an eye out for boats smuggling drugs or humans) to our itinerary, to their favourite methods of making peas'n rice, to the Family Islands Regatta at the end of April, with a whole lot of good-natured ribbing of each other and of us. The Peas'n Rice bit was fascinating - I don't even remember quite how we got into it, but I mentioned that I'd been experimenting with ways to prepare it and all of sudden, two of them were telling me how they make it. These men know their way around a kitchen!
Cruisers kept strolling in... Sandy and Dana (Sol Purpose), Bruce and Carla (Deuces Wild), Jim and Nancy (Solitaire) and their guests Lori and Dana, Jeff and Abbie and John (Last Paradise). Terry and Ernestine Bain are the owners of Ocean Cabin and they kept everyone supplied with Kalik, all the while accepting reservations for dinner and directing VHF callers to their moorings. Their daughter, Khadejah, arrived in from school and flung her arms around her parents with a big hello. Two other daughters are in Fort Lauderdale - one in high school and one in university. We saw some pictures and they are all lovely.
On the way back to the dock, we stopped to request some fish from Jeffery and he later met us at the beach with freshly caught grouper fillets and a bag of lobster tails. Oooh - we'll eat well for a few days. For dinner, I pan fried the grouper and made a new kind of rice and beans - this one with kidney beans and coconut milk - and a bowl of cole slaw. My plan had been to make a banana cake but the warm breeze and starry night made me want to get out of the galley. Perhaps tomorrow...
Friday night ended with full stomachs, and full hearts - full of this beautiful place with welcoming Bahamians, the camaraderie of fellow cruisers, the caves and coral heads and fishing spots we'll explore over the next few days. Tomorrow is the All Age School Fair - with games and food and music.
The wind has pretty much died down and we'll have a few days of light and variable wind before the expected northerly on Sunday night and Monday. This may be a very good spot to be tucked away.
13/03/2008/11:39 am, Bitter Guana Cay
We spent a couple of nights at Bitter Guana Cay instead of going straight to Black Point Settlement. We had noticed this anchorage a couple of times but had never stopped there until prompted by Strathspey, and we're really glad we joined them.
It's a beautiful little bay bordered by snowy white cliffs rising high above a sandy beach.
There is plenty of clear green water close to shore, iguanas on the beach and white-tailed tropicbirds in the air, and an osprey perched on the cliff. What a delight! One tropicbird circled overhead just as we were anchoring, and the next morning 6 or 7 were circling around. These are white birds with bland bands on their wings and long streaming white tails - very distinctive. We wonder if they are curious too - the only time we saw them flying about was when boats were entering or leaving the anchorage. It is nesting season so we might all have been considered intruders.
Jim donned snorkel gear, checked our anchor and continued on to the beach where I joined him and we had a stroll with the iguanas. One of our books mentioned that there had once been iguanas there, and the Explorer chart notes that it is a protected habitat. Sure enough, we found quite a colony of them - every bit as large and prehistoric-looking as the ones on Allan Cay. Some are assertive -or perhaps just greedy. They came rushing at anyone who stepped on the beach, but we found they stopped about a foot away. We're pretty sure they were looking for handouts and when they discovered we had nothing for them and were not threats, they pretty much left us alone.
Jim helped Mary winch Blair to the top of their mast to check the VHF radio connection while I took pictures from Madcap, and then they joined us for champagne and munchies to honour Blair's approaching birthday and the probable conclusion of our travels together on this trip. Once they have enjoyed the company of their children in this area, they will head north, while we continue on our journey southward for another month or so. It is hard to believe that it has been over 8 months since Strathspey and Madcap left Ontario together. Since then, we've traveled together off and on as we each "followed wind, weather and inclination" as Jim is fond of describing our itineraries. As they headed out of the anchorage on Wednesday morning, we waved them off with regret; it is unlikely that we will have any more sightings of Strathspey or hear the sounds of the pipes at dusk on this trip.
Midwatch and Renaissance left as well - the water had gotten quite rolly - and we had the place to ourselves. Because the forecast was for the wind to drop over the course of the day and most nearby anchorages were also open to the west, we opted to stay here. We went ashore, picked our way through the sea grapes and grasses to the eastern side where it was lovely and calm. After a swim, we put our attention to a search for sea beans, and I found one! Beachcombers prize these beans, and I've been looking unsuccessfully for a while; the only other one I spotted was in the park and I had to leave it there.
Sea beans are washed onto these shores from trees throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America (and occasionally from Africa) and so it seems something of a marvel to pick one up. While there are lots of nuts and drift seeds to be found, the keepers are the shinies - hamburger beans, sea purses, sea pearls and sea hearts. My particular bean is a sea heart - not really heart shaped but with a slight indentation in the top - a rich dark brown and about 4 cm across. Sea hearts grow on vines called "monkey ladders" in the Costa Rican forests.
The wind stayed up at 10-15 knots from the west all day giving us quite a bouncy time of it. We kept discussing the possibility of moving but whenever we monitored a radio conversation from Big Majors Spot or Black Point, we heard complaints of rough water so we thought we might as well continue where we were.
We managed to read our books and I made Chicken Souse - pretty much like a Canadian chicken stew with lemon juice and hot sauce added - for dinner. The wind did lay down a bit so that our night was reasonably comfortable.
We moved this morning - Thursday - to Black Point for laundry and internet. Then we are headed to Little Farmers in time for the All Age School Fair on Saturday. Well ...that is the plan...unless wind, weather and inclination cause another change!
10/03/2008/10:31 pm, Staniel Cay
We watched the giant ship, Mystique, pull out of Sampson's Cay as we drank our morning coffee. Despite its huge superstructure, it apparently draws only 4 feet, and with its powerful engines and thrusters, it turned on a dime. We spotted the owner down on the lower deck and a female passenger watching from an upper deck, and at least 7 crewmembers releasing lines and scurrying about. The captain was high above at the controls. Yesterday the crew wore white golf shirts and navy shorts and spent a lot of time polishing stainless and cleaning windows. Today, under grey skies, they sported navy shirts and khaki pants as they attended to the business of departure. This is the shakedown voyage for the ship - according to the gossip we collected on the dock; the owner has had it for only a few weeks and is taking a little trip around (480 gallons of fuel an hour - no sails) before it goes back to the states to be totally renovated inside.
Now Jim and I try quite hard really to be non judgmental, but it seems almost incomprehensible that this giant ship - 164 feet long - is for the use of two people and needs to be gutted and redecorated. Does it "need" that overhaul, or will hundreds of thousands of dollars be spent just to reflect the tastes of new owners? We had a few other words come to mind as we contemplated the dollars and materials and the size of the footprint, but suffice it to say ... it is hard for us to understand how so much money could be spent on a boat.
We have met cruisers who are out here exploring the Bahamas with very little money and on boats without all the bells and whistles - some of them only 27 - 30 feet in length. Our suspicion is that they are just as happy and having just as good a time.
After lovely eight minute showers (token - $4.00) we pulled up our anchor and headed back to Staniel Cay. The parts Jim ordered to fix our head (toilet) were delivered to the Yacht Club by Watermakers Air so he has his next little job lined up. The problem seems to be that the hand pump has lost its prime. Maybe a leak in the seal? We hope it is a straightforward fix.
It felt almost like coming home as we pulled into our customary anchorage just in front of the yacht club. We dinghied ashore to make a couple of phone calls and met up with several cruisers we've seen in other places. I took a walk down the road past "our" cottage - Atlantica - and up to Brenda's house where I bought a loaf of cinnamon-raisin bread. Her hand lettered sign, "Bread" rests on a lawn chair outside her door whenever she has been baking, and we have enjoyed many loaves from her oven. I stopped to chat a bit with her and with Rhonda, the woman who was so kind to us all, and particularly to Margaret when she visited here with Pat and Sean. Rhonda was a great connection for Marg when the rest of us went off on the boat to the park for a couple of days.
I strolled on up the hill to the Pink Pearl Store to visit with Miss Flo and to pick out one of her baskets to bring back to the boat. She and her daughters plait the local fronds of grass into mats and baskets. Most of them are flat but I like the round coils, done with a needle. Some are made from sisal, some from silver top. Last week, I watched some women in Black Point sit in the shade, plaiting (pronounced platting) the long ribbons of grass that are then sent off to Nassau and made into baskets, placemats, floor mats, and lots of other creations
There was something very satisfying about being able to walk from dock to house to store, saying a farewell to people we've gotten to know, however briefly, in the time we have been visiting in this area. A few roosters wandered around yards; people waved from porches; laughter rolled along the dock from the fellows who work at the yacht club. It seemed a far cry from the conspicuous consumption we had seen earlier in the day. I know which I like better. As I left, Flo told me I have a good husband, and when I reported that comment back to Jim, he thought she was very perceptive!
There aren't very many boats here tonight - just three of us in our usual spot at the edge of the channel, and another 3 or 4 in closer to the shoreline. We spotted some masts over near Club Thunderball, and counted about 20 boats in Big Majors Spot as we came by.
It is amazingly still tonight - no wind to speak of at all - a marked difference from the last 2 or 3 days when the wind has hardly dropped below 15 knots, and although it's been overcast much of the day, there have been only a few sprinkles of rain.
The darned old generator is working away on the foredeck and I'm trying to stop resenting it and be grateful that it does some good for our sluggish batteries. That problem is still hanging over our heads - how is it that they lose their charge so rapidly? We have no freezer, no water maker, no air-conditioning, the fridge is on the lowest possible setting, we are using LED battery powered lanterns now instead of our mast top anchor light at night and we plug in the computers only when the engine is on or the generator is running. How can energy be such a huge issue???
We'll meet up with Strathspey here in the morning before going to Black Point for a day or so.