Read: Bahamas Shakedown or Refit or Caribbean or en Francais
Good Sailing at Last!
Bill
05/28/2007, Highborne Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

The winds backed down today to 18-22 for a wonderful upwind sail to Highborne! Dream Catcher left early this morning (they chose to wait out the wind yesterday at Warderick Wells) to catch up and we're enjoying what will likely be our last evening together. So sad. It is said that family are those with whom you have many shared memories. If so, Jim and Jan are definitely family to us and we will miss them something terrible. It looks like another 20 kt. day tomorrow and we're hoping to make the run to Bottom Harbor, just outside Nassau, so we can slip into the marina first thing Wed. and get some chores, like laundry and provisioning, done before J&L&J arrive. Cath and I went for what may be our last snorkel as well:( very nice reef just North of the anchorage, but a lot of current. Snorkeling the Exumas is tough because the best reefs are in and around the cuts and the current is fierce except within an hour either side of the low and high tides. The kiddos decided to stay onboard and get ahead on math homework to make sure they don't have any distractions while we're in Atlantis! Good thing they stayed, it turns out. Dream Catcher's dinghy freed itself and rapidly drifted away. Shelby, as she is justifiable proud to note, coordinated the rescue effort with a local powerboat and all turned out well in the end. I think the kids have arrived at being true cruisers. Not only can they take care of themselves on the boat and water, but they can help others as well.

On a culinary note, we can confirm that MacDuffs on Norman Cay (it's actually rather chic for a burger place) was indeed most excellent and the hosts easy going and friendly. Definitely a must stop for those passing through. There was one other family there: some folks from Atlanta staying at a friend's house on the island.

Caribbean
Haircuts!
Bill
05/26/2007, Warderick Wells, Exumas, Bahamas

We're sooo excited; the winds are down to 22-25 kts. and it looks like sailing tomorrow! The sea buoy reports the waves at twelve feet in the Sound, and I believe it watching them crash into and blow across the barrier islands protecting us from the onslaught. We need to give those bad boys another day to settle down. Nestled in our little cove, the water is just lake chop giving us the impression of watching, through a plate glass window, all hell break loose. The weatherman announced this morning that the only way this month could get worse is if it snowed. After considering that comment a moment, we pulled out the fleece. At least the Sun is out now. Yesterday, rain squalls washed over us one after the other, driven through by the 25-30 kt. winds. Too rough to swim or even get off the boat, confining us within fifteen feet of each other while listening to the splatter of rain on the hatches and the screech of wind through the rigging. So what did we do? I'll tell you, it was pretty exciting. We played board games, baked bread and peach cobbler, and, this was the highlight, cut each other's hair. Oh yeah, we each took a cold shower. Pretty cool, huh? Obviously, we're rapidly losing our minds...

We're rubbing our lucky fish tails that the forecasted break in the weather Monday and Tuesday will be enough to get us to Nassau. Of course, it just isn't as easy as it should be. The water's a bit thin in these parts. We need six feet plus a margin so we don't bump the bottom while rocking around. Unfortunately, all this wind has literally blown the ocean off the banks and the tides are running 6 to 12 inches below the charted values. That's just enough to make some of the islands we wanted to visit a bit too shallow. Still, we think we'll make Nassau on the 30th, as planned, to visit Jon, Linda, and Jackson. It sure would have been easier and quicker to have just walked from there...

Nassau is the next goal, but, of course, its not the end of the road for us. We still need a window precisely on the 2nd to high tail it out of Nassau. We can't stay because there are no slips available and the anchorage is dangerous, as poor Charlie on Island Star reports to us each night. Boats dragging with every squall where your only hope is hooking into a refrigerator or some other heavy trash that litters the bottom in Nassau Harbor. So wish us well and rub your lucky fish tails for us!

Caribbean
No move this week
Cath
05/22/2007, Wardrick Wells, Exumas

Looks like we will be staying here until the week-end. The forecast is just not improving here. Locals are saying this is February weather, although we had a gorgious day yesterday and did some hiking (picture). We have not had one 24 hr period without rain for over a week now. More boats are trying to go to Nassau to make their passage to Florida, but the only anchorage in Nassau has very poor holding, so the scene is not better there. We are hearing from Charlie (Island Star), now in Nassau for the past 5 days, that everyday boats dragged and have to re-anchored. Joy... We decided to stick around the Park HQs as we get hiking trails (even if under the rain), great snorkeling, Internet and DVD rental access :).. We relocated to a mooring closer to Dream Catcher, so w can shout at one another. We'll be great progress on the math curriculum this week. Tonite is movie night on Dream Catcher.

Caribbean
Exuma Land and Sea park
Cath
05/20/2007, Wardrick Wells, Exumas

Wardrick Wells, Exuma Sea and Land Park

Dream Catcher and we moved to Wardwick Wells, the Exuma Land and Sea Park headquarters, one of the Exuma highlights, where you can find maps, DVD rentals, book exchange, T-shirts, Internet access, and books. However, they have no restrooms, garbage bins or groceries, so your time in this gorgeous park is self-limiting, which works well as there is a high demand for one of the 22 mooring balls they offer at $20 a night. Outside, shallow transparent water, nice guided trails, blow holes, white sand beaches, drift snorkeling sites (the tide current is impressive here), curly-tail lizards and bananaquit birds. The most noteworthy hill, Boo Boo Hill sits at a whopping 70 ft high and shows a display of cruisers memorabilia. The park operates with heavy contribution from volunteers. We were hoping to spend time volunteering here but so far they have no work for us. The thunderstorms are still with us, so are waterspouts. Sigh.... We had Jan and Jim (Dream Catcher) over at Norska yesterday night to watch one of the DVD rental ("The Horse Whisperer"). It's quite a production to simply "invite someone over" when you can barely sit 6 people on the boat. Jan brought popcorn and drinks and they had to find their boat in the dark at 11pm....

Caribbean
Les Bahamas
Catherine
05/20/2007, Wardrick Wells, Exumas

Quelques nouvelles des 3 semaines dernières aux Bahamas.... Après avoir visiter les îles peu habitués de Mayaguana, Long Island, Rum Cay, Conception et Great Exumas, nous sommes maintenant dans la chaine d' îlets des Exumas ("Exumas Cays") où nous essayons d'éviter les orages. La météo a été en dehors de l'ordinaire et difficile a prévoir (du genre "on ne sait pas ce qui va arriver alors garez-vous quelque part au cas où il y ait un cyclone qui se forme!) - le temps bien trop mauvais pour le mois de mai - donc nous bougeons d'un mouillage protégé à l'autre, ce qui nous a empêché de voir des endroits recommendés - comme la grotte sous-terraine où un film de James Bond avait été filmé. Mais on a pu faire de la plongée içi et là pour voir les meilleurs fond marins de tout notre voyage - des homards, des poisons multicolores, des barracudas, des requins (il faut simplement éviter d'aller dans l'eau après 16h quand ils viennent se nourrir près des plages), et des iguanas en voie d'extinction. L'eau des Bahamas est exceptionnelle de couleur et de clarté, principalement parce que les Bahamas n'ont pas de rivières qui se jettent dans la mer et l'eau est peu profonde. Les îles que nous avons vu jusqu'à présent sont très peu visitées par les tourists - seulement quelques bateaux y passent, ce qui nous permet de rencontrer la population locale. Nous restons avec un autre bateau (Drem Catcher) avec qui on s'est pris d'amitié, un couple de retraités bien jeunes d'esprit, qui vivent sur leur bateau depuis 25 ans! On apprend beaucoup de la vie à bord avec eux. Dans une semaine nous serons à Nassau, New Providence, la capitale des Bahamas, où il y aura beaucoup de touristes arrivés en paquebots de croisière - grand changement de décor en vue. Mais on y rencontrera Jonathan, le frère de Bill, sa femme Linda et notre neveu Jackson de 9 mois. Après ça, ce sera le retour direct sur la Floride, en espérant qu'il ne nous faudra pas attendre trop longtemps pour avoir un temps propice pour le voyage de 36 heures de Nassau à Fort Lauderdale. Cette météo commence a nous prendre les nerfs ! On espère que ce n'est pas mauvaise augure pour la saison des ouragans cet été....

Francais
Waterspout, caves, and sharks
Bill
05/17/2007, Cambridge Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

It was great to have a full night's sleep! We had a nice, sunny morning watching an Island Packet sailboat circle their mooring over, and over, and over again. She must have been in just the right spot to catch the current and wind. Yeah, we're a little short on entertainment at the moment. The current peak at about 2 kts. flood and ebb, so we have to catch slack tide for snorkeling and such. We planned to leave after lunch for a trip to the Rocky Dundas grottos, which some say are better than Thunderball Grotto. Can't say, but they were very impressive and, unlike any others in the area, were once true caves and, thus, have stalactites and stalagmites. The snorkeling in front of the caves was spectacular, something we didn't expect, and we have high hopes for a snorkeling wall up North called the Sea Aquarium. On our first attempt to hit the grottos, an impressive storm was passing by to the North. It seemed like it would miss us by a mile or two so we didn't worry. We started watching a little closer when it dropped a waterspout (tornado over water), but the twister seemed to move with the storm. We sped at full throttle back to the boat when the waterspout took a sudden turn up towards the anchorage - yikes! (We have a good picture of it heading our way, which we'll post next time we have net access: May 30th in Nassau we think.) Fortunately it turned away again. We just watched the progression of one storm after another until later in the afternoon when we finally made a successful outing to Rocky Dundas. After the caves, we did a tour of the nearby beaches. The sea life is incredible. We saw large lobsters in some of the reefs and hundreds of conch in knee deep water. (This is a national park, so we can't take anything or fish.) Cath found a beautiful type of conch called trumpet conch (I think). A small nurse shark showed some interest in Cath's ankles, but Jan (Dream Catcher) shooed him away before he could get a closer look. We also had quite a few sharks (grey reef) around the boat this evening. They seem to come in the evening, but not to be found during the day.

Caribbean
Sound of Silence?
Bill
05/16/2007, Cambridge Island, Exumas, Bahamas

The last few days have been tiring, with the wind in the 30 kt. range and squalls right-and-left, day-and-night. Everyone is talking about how bizarre this weather has been and how its JUST NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN IN MAY! At the moment, the screeching of wind through the rigging has been replaced by silence. It's near calm as we rock gently on a mooring in the well sheltered cut between Bell Island and Cambridge Island. Getting here wasn't that easy though. This morning woke up/staid up for our 6:30 weather as usual. The short of it is that the weather prediction models are all over the map and there is no forecast. The best guess for winds in our location was light from the North East. Well, when we pulled out it was near 30 kts. out of the South. The real worry is the low forming off Jamaica. They don't think it will become a tropical storm, but there is a chance and, even if it doesn't, it's probably going to hit us with wind direction unknown until the last hours. Our anchorage at Black Point was quickly becoming untenable anyway as the wind and seas swung around to the South and we did our usual 'oh shit' quick exit, our speciality since leaving Boqueron, Puerto Rico for the Mona. We felt bad for a family on missionary work in the Bahamas and stuck in Black Point with a dead engine: no way out. Problem was, where to go? It's not like there's much in the way of harbors between George Town and Nassau. Island Star bee lined through hell and high water to Nassau, but they were farther up the chain and so sick of the weather that they couldn't care less about the Exumas anymore. Dream Catcher (aka JJ) and us (aka The Fam) opted to try for Cambridge rather than giving up entirely on the Exumas. Since VHF (radio) is essentially a party line, we could hear the other boats in the area making plans to run for cover. A competition for limited shelter was heating up and we left without our bread order, dinghy gas, etc. screaming down Exuma Sound, out Conch Cut on an outgoing tide (boing-de-boing), whipped in to Bell Cut, hung a quick left, held our breath through the squeeze of an entrance into the anchorage, picked up one the few moorings (moorings in the current swing? a nice surprise) left, and only then noticed what a splendid place this is. There's much snorkeling to be had (before the sharks come in the evening anyway) and even a grotto rumored to be better than Thunderball Grotto at Staniel Cay, which we missed in our rush for shelter. The anchorage has a bit of community, a mix of blow boats (sailboats) and stinkpots (motor cruisers). At sunset, everyone brought out their conch horns, including Spencer, to toast the sunset! We're relieved to be sheltered from whatever may come in the upcoming days, weather wise, and hope for some breaks to get out and about a bit and get a chance to enjoy the Exumas a bit rather than strategizing on how to save our derrieres from the weather gods each morning. The peace and quiet is so nice: sigh...

Caribbean
Hunkered Down
Bill
05/14/2007, Black Point, Exumas, Bahamas

We are totally psyched to be in Black Point, our first truly Bahamian settlement. Georgetown was a bizarre aberration and Lee Stocking, while enjoyable, was a research center, close at that, rather than a settlement. Black Point is poor, but clean and proud: the people friendly beyond belief. For those following along, its clear that the weather has not been cooperative. The nightly squalls, which we expect every night until perhaps Friday, insist that we be in a safe harbor, which are few in the Exumas. There are many interesting places one could explore in settle weather that are off limits because of the violent weather. Last night we had two rounds of squalls, but they were mild. Island Star reported that they were hit at Staniel Key with a squall packing 50 kts. of wind. They came out OK, but that wasn't the case for everyone and today was a mass retreat from the Big Major anchorage at Staniel. We, along with our buddies Dream Catcher, chose to sail up to Black Point during the daytime hours. Oddly enough, during the day the winds are light, seas down, and the sky cloudless. We made 4 kts. in 8 kts. of wind. We hit the cut at peak flood and road a 4 kt. current onto the banks downwind. To be good sports, we did it under full sail. We had just enough steerage to keep things under control (we had the engine running to bail us out it case we lost it) and came around the headland into the anchorage. What a ride and what a sight to turn the corner into the shallow anchorage and the intense cyan of crystal Bahamas water over a white sand bottom! Every since Mayaguana, we can't wait to jump into this water after dropping the hook. The anchorage is open to the West, but the winds are now increasing, as forecast, from the North East and, hopefully, the gust fronts will come from the same direction tonight. Holding is exceptional in stiff, but not hard, sand. After a little fitness swim, Cath and I made a reconnaissance trip to Black Point. Next to Georgetown, Black Point is the largest Exuma settlement, with about 300 residents. The people of this picturesque Bahamian fishing village are open, friendly, and talkative. We met Willie Rolle, who has a unique garden 'The Garden of Eden' where he sculpts driftwood and cultivates tomatoes to mangos: unusual in the Bahamas. We also met Willie's sister in-law, who runs a local restaurant. Willie's brother does tours of a local cave, including a tank dive as deep as you are willing to go in the interior lake. Most houses have two or three folks sitting on chairs and weaving baskets and such from palm leaves, doing as much talking and laughing as weaving. They send their creations by mail boat (once a week) to be sold in Nassau. It's one of those kinda places. We see familiar signs of the Bahamas including a couple of Abaco racing dinghies in the harbor and an Albury fishing boat. The island has a number of hikes and numerous little place you can take the big boat to visit nearby beaches or caves. We plan to ride the weather here until we get a break big enough to visit the grotto at Staniel and move up to another shelter spot. Both Norska and Dream Catcher are a little weary from the long nights on weather watch, almost like making a passage, but we're hanging in there.

Caribbean

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