04/25/2012, Rum Cay
Nestled between Booby Cay and Conception Island, you can't help but feel mother nature at her nurturing best.
We finally had Charlotte and Dakota board on Sunday the 22nd. It felt so natural to have them on Ooroo. Ollie and Charlotte wasted no time in reconnecting as brother and sister as did I with my daughter. Celebrations at the Exuma Cay Yacht Club went late into the night. Knowing we had a weather window the next day didn't curb our rum intake.
The next morning Mark, picked up his friend, Maryanne from the airport. We now have six on board. We aren't expecting too many supermarkets for the next while and so topped up our food, rum and beer and set sail for Conception Island at 10.30am.
We knew the wind was a perfect 15 knots from the SW. Perfect because with 3 sailing virgins and I wanted the introduction to sailing be a good be. Once we cleared Elizabeth Harbour across the shallow banks we tacked onto a direct line to our destination. 7 hours latter after speeds of 7 to 10 knots we arrived and what's is described as a paradise within a paradise. It was.
We crossed a turquoise 6m deep bank to the lee of the island. We anchored in 5 meters with corral reefs to port and starboard, the whitest of white sandy beach ahead and Booby Cay just behind. We dinned on the last of the Mahi, Cevichi style again prepared by Mark. It was delicious. Maryanne who had flown from Belgium fitted right into the conversations and of course general frolicking that is a feature of the Voyage.....amplified by the fact that all the crew are aged from 18 to 27. Yep, I'm the old man at 47....as Oli reminds me daily.
We all slept like angels and woke to a glass ocean. Mark, Oli and I collected 4 large Lobsters for dinner that evening and Mark speared a Snapper for lunch.
Cleaning the fish attracted a 2 meter Bronze Whaler (it least that's my best guess of what shark it was), so we all jumped overboard for a frolicking with the awesome creature. I could feel Charlotte hiding behind my taking photos over my shoulder. Dakota swam around the shark like its an everyday thing. We Christen him Bruce.
After lunch Bruce was still hanging around below us and so we tied what was left of lunch and to a rope and watched in amazement as he devoured it.....teeth bared and menace pulsating in the water. I think we all gained a massive respect after seeing such power and grace.
Oli and Mark went spear fishing again while the rest of us beach combed. Man and mother nature are at odds. The beauty was littered with plastic. Thongs, for some reason mostly left foot, fishing buoys, nets and ropes were everywhere. We even found a baby capsule, a hard hat, a trashed almost new dingy and American football.
But we looked pass that. Although only 10 meters high ,the peak showed us a panorama of small islands, coral reefs, clear, clear water, mangroves and creeks. I couldn't help imagining what Maryanne, Dakota and Charlotte made of all this beauty when fresh off a plane from the Big Smoke. I have now been sailing these waters for a month and still pinch myself.
We collected drift wood for the mandatory beach bonfire, planned post the Lobster dinner and headed back to Ooroo.
Bruce was still home and so we decided, albeit not overly responsible to feed him a couple more fish. We filmed him under water. Unbelievable.
The bonfires stated with swarms of "No-see-ems" (sand flys/midgies) attacking us all. The smoke of the fire didn't help. But no sooner had they come, they disappeared leaving us to the sunset, guitar music, tall stories and laughter around the blazing fire. Oli and I stayed by the fire until 3am....star gazing, chatting and also sleeping.
We left the beach as we found it. It would have been nice to have taken everyone else's
rubbish with us as well. That would be a major project for a small army and a little fruitless.. More plastic would have arrived at the shores as soon the job was finished.
Now for a short sail to Rum Cay. It's an easy 4 hour sail in light winds. Once again no tacking is required. We are getting quite good at sailing, not motoring and picking our weather windows. We will probably stay here until the next window opens or we get sick of Rum.
So we are here.....and not much more is here. It's beautiful and we a in a marina bar with no beer....but Internet. The owner has lent us his car to go by beers at his competing pub...."no issue, bring your own beers, hell bring your own food and use my Internet....no problems". I'm liking it already.
Mother nature and man are both kind to us.
04/18/2012, George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
The wind was supposed to back off to 15 knots but maintained 20 gusting to 25 on the first leg of our sail from Staniel Cay to pick up number one daughter and Dakota. The Atlantic was lumpy from the previous 3 day blow and so tacking into that gave Ooroo a nice old test. Waves crashed over the bow trying to intimidate our progress. Ooroo did well. We only covered 50nm in between 9 and 5...but a good days work never the less.
Our destination, George Town has a big sailing regatta this weekend and so anchorages may be rare. Coupled with the Harbour being shallow we decided to pull in behind Black Cay for the night to avoid the stress of an after dark arrival. We are just two hours away, so tomorrow will be very relaxed. We anchored comfortably, with no one in sight and after a meal of teriyaki chicken, cooked by Oli, I can write.
We have two unspoken rules now. ONE, when we anchor, we clean/tidy the boat before we go explore/party. This rule came about when I was accused of being a "kill joy" as we entered yet another exciting harbour? I knew if it wasn't done then it may not be done. TWO, If I start the engines in the morning...it means we are leaving. It's the alarm clock. Oli and Mark, then drag themselves out of bed, always happily i may add and help get us underway. I don't mind if they then drop back into bed. Im happy on deck alone. We have a few other spoken rules that I occasionally have to voice but it's less and less as our time together ebbs and flows....oh and THREE, Don't chill beers on the frozen meat. I don't want our lovely collection of Rib Eye to poison us.
Once the anchor and sails are up, Ooroo is sailed easily. With the auto helm you have the run of the boat...cups of coffee can be made, breakfast cooked and minor maintenance can occur while on deck alone. You can even write a blog.
A day sail like this works were one has the helm then another will take over. Oli and i shared he first 3-4 hours. And then a listless Mark took the helm...as a hangover cure I guess? He stayed in the drivers seat for the rest of the day, iPod in ear. This watch allowed me to read the most at sea so far. Thanks mate.
I'm right into "This Thing of Darkness" by Harry Thompson. It's a fictional account of the voyages of the Charles Darwin and the "Beagle". Its as thick as the voyages where long.
Forget Darwin's amazing discoveries, it's the guys that got him there and back that astound me. Was it leadership or blind faith that created such heroic humans. Never before had a voyage questioned the perception of God so rigorously. Charles Darwin was a pastor in the making and the Beagles, Captain FitzRoy was also a devout Christian. While one starts the see evidence that Noah was a fraud, the other fights a devil within himself.....but argues in Noah's defense. While one defends the indigenous people the other questions the intelligence of his fellow man. Two great men took the voyage and only one became famous? This is one for the Shaz and David Williams book club.....and I haven't even finished it yet.
FISH, at last. Oli had the line and was pulling in a big one. We furled the foresail and turned into the wind to watch the battle. 10 minutes latter a meter long Mahi Mahi hit the deck. That one fish will feed us for days. They are absolutely beautiful fish to catch, look at and eat. So after some sashimi we portioned the remainder up for good eating in George Town. We passed two large schools of Tuna...the water was bubbling with life. We tried to get close enough to hook on but to no avail. We a sailing
We set off at 9am (18th April) in 15 knots. We have been averaging 6 knots speed but tacking allot. After cutting around a large flotilla of yachts that appeared to be either racing or maybe one of those sailing groups that feel safer in numbers. They where heading the opposite direction. This bids well for getting a convenient anchorage in George Town. However we can see quite a few other yachts heading in our direction....the race is on.
George Town will be a party town this weekend. The regatta, promises to be huge. Coupled with the fact that this port is often the turning back point for season sailers heading back north. For us it's the jumping off point to further sail south and out of the Bahamas. It's a provisioning port...the last before Dominica Republic.
But more importantly, this is were Charlotte comes aboard. Man....I can't wait for that.
04/16/2012, Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas.
Yesterday, we were a charter business.....for the grand sum of 3 beers, one each to Oli, Mark and I, we entertained four Germans and there two crew (Lucy and Gaelle), who were otherwise stuck on the chartered boat due to the unfortunate loss of there dingy.
Gaelle, who was out for some shore time had the dingy stollen by the sea. The currents are unforgiving. The dingy, all $3000 worth was simply picked up and spat out to sea. We are learning from others mistakes continuously.
The wind topped 31 knots as we battled that same current with opposing waves to attempt a small sail with our new guests. We managed to get out into the Atlantic via a narrow cannel from Staniel Cay, but after 30 minutes it was time to head in. Just under the foresail, we cruised at 6 knots. When the current was with us it was 9. And the waves were up to 2 meters.
We then motored to Majors Cay, home of he famous swimming pigs and in response to Gaelle getting bitten by one, we BBQed pork sausage for lunch. Sweet revenge. Although poor Gaelle's week isnt improving. We we're also graced by a 2 meter Lemon Shark that swam with us under Ooroo for 20 minutes of so. Oli, Mark and I all had our photos taken with the graceful shark. It's saying something when a pig is more menacing than a shark.
We had heard a rumor that a man in an older Lagoon knows all there is to know about SSB radios. So when anchoring at Majors we spotted one and sure enough it's the guy....and he is willing to assist us in finally trying to get our expensive and powerful radio working to its full potential.
So today, with the winds backing off, we will get some maintenance done. We have nuts and bolts to tighten, rigging to inspect, a sail that needs tapping and the battens that need tightening. So if we get that darn radio working, it will be a very successful day indeed.
04/13/2012, Staniel Cay
We tried to sail, we tried to troll for fish, we even drifted in the windless conditions as Oli and Mark tried to spear dinner. The only thing we tried that worked was starting the engines.
We left Highborn Cay after an uneventful evening. The wind stopped overnight. We still had grand ideas to head to Staniel Cay and see the famous swimming pigs. But with no forecasted wind for two days I decided to motor into Norman Cay for a day or two.
There is an island of mostly sand and a lonesome coconut tree just opposite our anchorage. It's smaller than my house, without the yard. It's the sort of island that you would imagine a shipwrecked cartoon character living on with circling sharks and a barrel of rum.
Only 200 meters away is a submerged aircraft. I was a cocaine plain. I imagined that was how the cartoon guy with the rum got here. It is a DC10....so what of his companions?
This island was once the domain of a drug lord but now is home to ample beauty and a bar with no beer. And a publican with no idea. Mark and I walked into the Norman Cay Club and said a big friendly "HI". The response..."I don't have enough drink for my guests little own you"... Said with a glass of white wine in his hand. No Hi, no sorry, no where are you from? "
OK then " I said. "I'll open a bar on my boat, I have beer". His response...."the Bahamas Army will prosecute you for that" So the island has no sarcasm either. I feel sorry for that cartoon guy on the island.
So here I sit with a bottle of $6 red.
Oli is excited to see his sister. He didn't dive the plane wreck, or check out the cartoon island or visit the pub.....he rehearsed. He is playing some fantastic music in anticipation of having his sister play with him. And he is good. Much better than what I remembered before we set sail. Mark too has improved 10 fold since we left. And me, I just want to sail....and play some sneaky Rolling Stones.
The night and my typing this blog was interrupted with fireworks. It looks like the party on the distant beach was a special occasion. It was a display that made New Ears Eve look some what ordinary. It wasn't so much the 30 minutes of fireworks, but the real stars above. They circle you here....much like the Oz outback. You can lay on your back and within minutes see shooting stars and satellites. The only light interruption is the anchor lights of about 6 other yachts.....but they also look like stars.
It's Friday the 13th, and the wind has returned with a promise of 15 knots from the east. We set sail after 48 hours of glass water. The wind hasn't lived up to its promise yet. We can see a storm cell to our north and the wind is from the the direction we are heading....south. Our radar can track the storm cells. We can actually avoid the worst of them if we stay vigilant. I suspect however that they are not going to tack into the southerly like we are. Staniel Cay is 35nm away but with this wind may as well be 300nm. But the promised winds kicked in and we are on course for a "beer'o'clock" arrival. 6 to 8 knots and very deep seas means for a rocky ride. The wind is gusting to 20 knots in an unpredictable manner. Those storm cells are dancing around us and with them changing wind directions.
We just lost another batten? The largest of them all. The way this sail was rigged has allot to be desired. I am going to have to put locking screws into the battens to stop losing another $150 to the sea. I now have to find another one....I said the "f#%k to the wind and made a Peet's Coffee....thanks for the coffee Sara.
So we arrived under full sail into the anchorage at Staniel Cay. The sun came out. We have free Internet from Ooroo so I may just post this blog....and hit town for a Friday the 13th night out. I'm clearly no superstitious like some sailers we have met.
04/10/2012, Highborne Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
And no, that title is not because we just farewelled a couple of felines. It's because the Catamaran is king in these waters and yet we don't see any.
But first the felines. Cuz Sara and her mate Julie were a delight to have on board. They can mix cocktails, are tantalizing conversationalists and are just generally great people on have around. My Cuz and I will I'm sure catch up again on this voyage.....somewhere in the Pacific I guess (with Jeff). Julie inspired Oli and Mark to paint......and me....too busy for such frivolous pursuits, read and played with Ooroo. So to all those knockers out there, I can keep busy on a boat....without painting.
The other boats around here are amazing super yachts, fishing boats or sailing monos. Yet we have had an amazing amount of sailing on the shallow banks of sometimes less than two meters of water. Its nice to cut a corners while the big boats head out deeper while burning huge amounts of fuel. One sailers way of bragging about how good his boat was, said he burnt 1000 gallons of fuel between The US and Eleuthera. "Your not a very green boat" said Sara...."we burnt 44 gallons since Northern Florida" said I. Without asking any questions of my eclectic crew he told us of his Ferrari, business dealings, who he knows, that he doesnt take his boat out on windy days, how he sent his wife packing so he could play with the boys and generally what a really really amazing guy he was.
While the monos just wait for high tide....we sail, while the fishing boats wait for first light , we sail and while the big boats talk shit in Marina bars we talk it everywhere. OK so I'm bias. I see all the benefits of all these great boats and sailers....but when you only have under 2 meters of water....it's a Cats domain.
We had a blow that took most by surprise. Oli and I were on shore as distant lightening and onerous clouds grew somewhat closer. We had a northern wind and so a cold front (warm as it appeared) was on us. We headed back as it became clear that is random storm cell would hit us. We had heard about them. Wet with salt water from the dingy ride in choppy seas we soon became wet with fresh water as the surge opened up on us. The rain was stinging our faces. Oli and Mark rain danced on the bow while I stated the engines as a precaution to slipping anchor or to avoid other vessels that may become missiles in the wind. During the worst of it we could see a luxury yacht do an about turn into the surge and head seaward. Fishing vessels tied up on the dock wildly bucked against the short intense onslaught. Our nose was into it and stayed that way. We had the better ride of anyone in the immediate area. The escaping yacht latter confirmed the wind at 65 knots. That's an 12 out of 12 on the Beauford Scale. Basically a mini hurricane that started as quickly as it ended. The anchor was hard to lift the next day.....thankfully, like us it dug in.
And then all we were seeing the girls being whisked off in a water taxi to fly back to colder climes. What to do now but sail? We left the very fabulous and friendly Harbour Island. A place were the main transportation a golf carts. Walking too the beach with the eski a cart would pull over and say jump on. Heading back to the boat with supplies...the same thing happens. After one bar session a cart whisked by....Oli jumped on board and with the parting word "spontaneity" was off to who knows where. But it was expensive is USA terms. Normal in Oz terms. Still when you are use to $4 margaritas and then they triple it's a shock.
So only 6 hrs ago the water taxi left, we motor sailed back via Devils Backbone and for the last 5 hrs have been averaging a nice 6 knots...no fuel is being burnt. The Northern Exhumers a only two hrs away....but with fading light and time on our hands we will anchor behind Findley Cay for a spot of diving and fishing.
Tomorrow we put away our Far Bahamas charts and pull out the Exhumers ones. We have two weeks before Charlotte and Dakota arrive.....I wish it was sooner so we can explore Cat country together.
Easter Sunday ends with us sailing onto an anchor in the middle of nowhere. One low Cay a mile off and then nothing.
Monday 9th and General repairs continue. I remounted the SSB antenna and stated with determination to learn it true power. Only to be frustrated by the fact that it doesn't know that we installed the expensive antennas and even more expensive tuner. The radio only picks up one out of a zillion channels. Mark and I are slowly retracing the wiring to see what the deal is. We have time.
We are doing watches today for an hour on and off so that we can avoid the minefield of coral heads littering the shallows. The sun is side on and the clouds sparse. What is not on the GPS is clearly visible for a few hundred meters. Cruising at a light 3-4 knots makes for no stress sailing.
We anchored for the night (still only about 3pm) at Ship Chanel Cay next to Little Ships Cay.....confusing for a navigator....or dyslexic. There were two other vessels in sight. but they were far enough away that a skinny dip and clean up was in order.
Oli and Mark went spearing while I walked the Cay. Surprised I was..., after exploring an old ruin then rounded the corner of a coral path to find reggae music and 50 odd tourists swimming with sharks. Three Lemon Sharks and the odd sting ray patrolled the water. Jet boats had delivered the tourists from Nassau for the day. Within 30 minutes they were gone leaving me to have a peaceful swim with the sharks.
Oli and Mark picked me up shortly after that sporting only one fish. Lion Fish are beautiful and dangerous with poison dorsal fins. They are also a pest having found there way here from the pacific. So we are encouraged to eat them. So right now we have Lion Fish ceviche marinating in the fridge.
It's April 10 now and we are heading into the heart of the Bahamas. I'm starting to feel like this blog may become boring.....Mark speared a large something that is now a red curry, we land on in a beach at Leaf Cay, to be invaded by iguanas....50 of them thinking we are tourist there to feed them, we sailed onto anchorages with no diesel being used, we steal some Internet from an exclusive island resort.....we send our message to the world....but only because this Cat can get close enough to the beach to access the world. I love my Cat.
04/05/2012, Harbour Island, Eleuthera.
We motored out of Nassau shortly after the late arrival of Cuz Sara (March 3rd). While risking embarrassing her, the reason she was late is because she arrived at the airport in San Francisco with an out of date passport.....the original being locked in a safety deposit box. What that tells me is this.....my Cuz must also have diamonds, hidden greenbacks and possibly a hot revolver....why else would you have a safety deposit box I ask? Julie her bestest girl friend arrived on time and a big smile on her face, having not had a decent break away for awhile. The weather was perfect. It's also spring break....hence we have a cooking teacher and an art teacher on board. Oli has already commented had he wished he had teaches like there girls.
Nassau was OK. We ended up at an anchorage the time there, just off from he Green Parrot bar and a mile walk from where the students of Sara and Julie are possibly partying. We saw more than 10 cruise ships come and go over the three days. That's possibly 20,000 potential future leaders of America. God help America.
No wind. We chose to motor just 20nm to and area near Sapphire Cay and Little Billy Cay. The water was crystal. We fixed a frying head sail, replaced a batten in the main and renewed the lazy jack lines.
We also kept a permanent line off the stern so that we could launch ourselves from the bow catching the line as Ooroo motored onwards. A glimpse of a dolphins off our bow and a 1.5m shark swan and could be seen clearly 5m below us was the only sea life spotted while motoring. With a setting sun the only fish we had caught or harvested was in fact a conch plucked from 5m of water by Oli. Marks observations at a fish fry in Nassau taught him the art of removing the meat. Sara and Julie prepared it as a lovely appetizer to our BBQ chicken and steak. Our first non-seafood meal on board in a week.
We are now on a SW heading to Gregory Town in North Eleuthera, with a light SE 8 knot wind. Sailing at 4-5 knots sets us up for a pleasant 7 hr sail today. We also have a beautiful 60cm red snapper. It's marinating now while the BBQ fires up. It's lunch time. We have been taking one fillet from the bigger fish and then BBQing the rest of the fish whole....minus the tail so she fits on the grill. The fillet may end up as dinner.
The bank that we are crossing is no deeper than 6m the entire way. We have navigated around various rocks and shallows using charts, the GPS and this iPad. The iPads Navionics Charts are so far the most detailed and simplest to use. We now has a straight run
Everyone is reading and the champagne is chilling. Time to check the charcoal and marinade.
Gregory Town is a Mediterranean style village with brightly colored houses in a spares environment. 3m cliffs greeted us, no beach but with cool beach houses. We anchored in Annie's Bight. A small, very small bay. All five of us motored the 50 m to shore for some R & R. One bar, no customers and a pool table Ollie 50, Dad 57....the international pool comp continued.
The dingy was swamped when we came back to her but with some muscle and a bucket we had her emptied and we where back on deck for sunset.
Mark crumbed and pan fried the last of the snapper.
The anchorage was tight with only 50m to the cliffs from the stern and maybe 100m from the bow. With 25m of chain out I was a little nervous. The wind was building. I set the anchor alarm to 20m and slept on deck. So not the best sleep I have ever had on a boat.
Our plan was to move only a few miles north today and then hitch or bus to Harbour Island on the eastern side of Eleuthera. But the wind was too good. I decided to sail right around the island instead. We headed off west with a 20-25 knot wind from the SE. We hit speeds of 10 knots and arrived at the channel between Current Island and Eleuthera within 2hrs. We furled the jib to pass rough the 100m channel under the main.
The current was with us and we hit 13 knots in the narrowest section, before once again letting out the jib for a goose neck run to St George's Cay in the north....still doing 9 knots. Sara and Julie are chatting away like it's an everyday occurrence...sailing at speed in the Bahamas.
We then hit the shallows before navigating through the St Georges Cay. We where blocked in transit by a barge that was unloading right in the middle of the channel. After an hour of waiting around we finally got underway on a challenging around North Eleuthera. The route is called devils backbone and with a jagged reef 50m on one side and pounding surf 50m on the other it is no wonder why. We motor sailed with only 1m of water below our keel at up to 8knots. We made it to Harbour Island, home of some of the world best beaches....a mix of cultures ranging from ratty sailers (us) the guys that own and operate those supper yachts and locals with big smiles.
It was my best sail so far. The highest winds, the quickest speed, the lowest water and the most diverse challengers.
Now anchored off a little marina with open Internet I can share this with you...before the salt has even dried on my skin.