What a day this has been! We followed the folks from Solitaire to the beach at Oven Rock on Great Guana Cay - a wee bit north of Little Farmers. Once we beached the dinghies and hauled them up on the sand, we set off on the trail at the north end of the beach. Nancy and Jim have been here before so they were really clear on the way, but it is marked well enough with rock cairns to allow visitors to find it. In a way, I hate to say a lot about it because it is clean and uncrowded; in another way, it is such a neat place to visit that cruisers coming here might like to know more about it.
We couldn't see the opening until we were right at it - and then we just stepped down into it as a bat made a quick exit. (We didn't see any others) This cave is much different from the Rocky Dundas or Thunderball Caves - this one is inland and you don't get wet unless you want to - there are no fish either. But the cave is spectacular - complete with stalactites and stalagmites. A bucket with a little cup sits under one of the drips and we tasted the water - clear and pure - not all minerally like I expected. It is interesting even if all one does is stand on the rock. It is especially rewarding to go for a swim. Most of us took a dip in the pool, and Nancy, Jim and I swam around the corners to explore as much as we could. We were fascinated to swim slowly around, gazing upward at the stalactites, and downwards through the crystal clear water. The water was coolish but felt good, and Nancy's waterproof light was handy to have.
After our refreshing dip and exploration, we headed further along the path to the beach on the Sound side on a hunt for sea beans. We were all successful scavengers and came back with an assortment of sea hearts, hamburger beans, various other nuts and seeds and beads. It was a lovely little crescent beach; the sun was hot, the water turquoise and there was plentiful wrack to poke through. Mind you - whenever a beach is good picking for sea beans, it also has its share of garbage and this one was no exception. It is so sad to see the numbers of plastic bottles. There were enough plastic forks to have had a dinner party, and there are a whole lot of people walking around with only one shoe.
On Nancy's suggestion, we gathered up all the fishing buoys we could find and brought them back to the Little Farmers Dock for the local fishermen to reuse.
Then it was time for a quick change of clothes and we were off to the School Fair. This community has about 70 full time residents, and 9 students in the K-9 school. We talked briefly with Miss Wallace who has been the teacher here for over 20 years. The local women had been busy cooking, and we bought dinners for $8.00 - ribs or chicken or fish, served with peas'n rice, macaroni and cole slaw. We also had the chance to try another local dish that I've been wanting to taste - Guava Duff. It is like a bread pudding with Guava filling and a custard sauce poured over. Mmmmmm. With full stomachs (again - we never go hungry here) we stood on the lawn to watch the school children sing their national anthem, recite their pledge, and then sing the Little Farmers Song. There is quite a bit of local pride here - they have their own island flag and their own song. The Little Farmers Steppers performed a couple of drills, and during one, a little boy - age 3 or 4 joined them and we all got a chuckle out of his attempts to keep up. It was sweet to see this little guy playing with John (Last Paradise) later - one so fair, one so dark - both absolutely gorgeous children.
The event was well supported by both the cruising community and the local parents. We were interested to hear the MC extend special thanks to the cruisers. He commented that tourism is the lifeline of the Bahamas and that our support for such events as this is valuable. Jim and I agreed that although we all know cruising dollars are important here, we have never felt anywhere we have visited on this trip that people are just after our dollars. There is far more of a sense that folks welcome us to their beautiful islands, and want us to have a good time. There are often offers to take us fishing or exploring, but it has never been pushy. The children invariably say hello (often it is "Good afternoon, Ma'am") the drivers wave, the walkers ask us how we are. Interestingly, when we return the greeting and say, "How are you?" the answer is something along the line of " I am just fine - the sun is shining and I'm glad to be here." We have yet to hear anything remotely like - "Getting by", "OK", "Not too bad".
We went for a stroll around town and then back to the boat. In advance of the northerly front coming, the weather is hot (30 C) and humid. We had little energy for anything very active so it was swim time and then settling in with our books and a rum punch. At dusk, when it got a bit cooler, I cooked up some of our lobster into that excellent curry dish from Embarrassment of Mangoes.
Quite a number of boats have joined us in this corner - last night there were 3 of us, and tonight there are 8 - 3 on moorings and the rest anchored. I guess we were not the only ones to think this is a good spot to ride out a northerly. Speaking of riding out the fronts, we have had a few more of them lately and we're not sure if this is typical spring weather, or just a run of northerlies. Either way, we make our choices in how we consider them. If schedule is important to a boater, they could be considered problems. For us, and for most of the boats we hang out with, it is just something to watch and give consideration to as we pick our destinations and plan the length of stay. We have yet to be seriously inconvenienced.
As Jeffery said when we left the dock today - "Stay a while and enjoy yourselves". That is exactly what we plan to do. For us, that is one of the major learning experiences. We don't try to control the schedule. We build it around Mother Nature. It works a whole lot better that way.
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!