04/18/2012, Little Farmer's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Yesterday we and Walt and Meryl from S/V Flying Cloud went for a long walk at Black Point, crossing from the big beach to the "outside" -- with deeper and rougher water -- at a narrow point in Great Guana Cay.
It was low tide, so in anticipation of the water coming back in, we anchored the dinghy like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean: End of the World:
You can see Parallax anchored in the distance beyond the dinghy!
Derek waded out to try to guide Walt and Meryl past the first sandbank, but it was already too shallow:
The white sands that dried at low tide were covered with complex ripple patterns - the same patterns you can see preserved in fossils from the shallow inland seas on previous geologic epochs:
Miss Ida of the Rockside Laundry also has some guest houses overlooking that beach. There are three small ones, and two large ones are now being completed next to an existing larger house:
As soon as we got up to and across the road, we could see the beach facing Exuma Sound (the deep-water side of the cays):
There are so many different shades of blue out there! It's hard to show that in these photos...
Grant exploring beach on Exuma Sound, Black Point, Great Guana Cay
Once we got down onto the beach, there was less sea grape and such, more very tall sparse grasses and white sand and the usual dried seaweed drifts:
But as we walked toward the next bluff northward along the coast, we found an interesting development:
We came across this natural arch on the Exuma Sound beach near Black Point, Great Guana Cay
Of course, Grant had to climb it :-)
There were many pieces of plastic on this beach, including some very small ones, but also many natural sponges and the ever-present drying seaweed. This sponge just demanded to be photographed... you can see how the man-made trash bits are inextricably woven into the sea wrack...
This cay, like the others, has holes with water in them; this one was maybe 10' across the long axis. The greenish water in there was above sea level, so good chance it's part of a freshwater lens. Of course, none of us was interested in tasting it to find out. Not dedicated enough to experimentation, I guess.
The little graveyard includes a stone for a lady (Mrs. Sweeting) who lived on this cay for 98 years. Sweeting is a very famous Bahamian name, like Rolle and Pinder and Albury.
There is an SSCA Cruising Station in Black Point (we're also Seven Seas Cruising Association members). Flying their SSCA burgee proudly, Charles and Sharon Vassallo are former boat-cruisers who now spend 6 months of each year in Black Point and 6 months "cruising" in their RV in the States:
They told us that Flamingo Air will fly you to Black Point from Nassau for $100. That's costlier than taking the mail boat, but also faster.
This morning, we upped anchor around 11 a.m. and headed south to Little Farmer's Cay, along the banks, which are getting shallower the farther south we go. It was, for once, a sail-able easterly, although it faded in the afternoon until we had to turn on the engines again. But at least we did get to sail some of it!
It got notably shallow going into Little Farmer's; we are going to "go outside" to get farther south from this point, either tomorrow or likelier the next day. Flying Cloud actually waited a couple of hours for the tide to rise before coming in (they draw 6'). Here's what a lot of the entrance course looked like, depth-wise (pay no attention to the speedo, it's broken, we use the one on the GPS):
2.6 feet under the keel was the lowest reading we got, coming in by the deeper, southern route
The excessive and varied blueness of all the water was just amazing! But the tide had turned and was coming in strong... getting stronger as we got farther into the anchorage and nearer the Little Farmer's Cut to Exuma Sound... current runs about 4 knots.
We had to miss shoaling and a point to the left...
A point to the left, with rocks
You can "read the water" to see the point's inner shoal in brown - not usually a good color for your boating pleasure
And at the same time we had to avoid a sandbar that led to a lot of turbulence on the right as well:
As swirly as it was, the water was also mesmerizing...
You can see that Heather was enjoying the swirly steering...
This one didn't really show up well, but it's the "outside" -- the entrance to Exuma Sound at Little Farmer's Cut, and that's a tidal overfall, a sort of standing wave that sets up when there is a lot of water coming into a narrow entrance all at once. So you know we will be going out this way at slack tide, near as we can manage it.
Once we were in the anchorage, we noticed that the holding did not appear to be all that great, especially if you go by the note on the chart, other boats' gossip and the shore decorations they have around here:
Not sure how long ago this steel boat went aground, but it's still there...
So Derek decided on a mooring. Well, that and he wanted a real shower from the marina tomorrow, and probably (apparently reasonably priced) dinner as well. This place has really good internet, I was able to update my class website faster than I have been able to in many weeks. Also, of course, I can bombard you all with lots of pictures again. Think how many thousand words THAT saved. Grateful, much? ;-D
04/15/2012, Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
[Tues 4/17 NOTE: I am still working on getting the image locations to insert here. Bandwidth at our current anchorage makes Picasa a very slow way to go. Check back to see more pictures!]
We are in the fairly windy part of the trough-front system moving through the Central Bahamas yesterday, today and tomorrow. We will most likely be able to sail south again on Tuesday, but we'll see. The anchorage is all hunkered down waiting for the 25 kts to moderate. The problem is not 25 kts when that's a gust, it's 25 kts sustained -- which means there are times when it's over 30 (you can tell when the sound of the wind goes from the movie-canonical "wind sound" to starting to get some kind of musical tone from your standing rigging, the wire cables that hold the masts and spreaders (crosspieces) in position). 30 knots is 30 nautical miles per hour, which is 34.5 statute (land-based) miles per hour.
The anchorage is protected from the east, but when the wind is 25 kts sustained, the waves start pretty much right by the shore, so even in the anchorage itself, those in the middle of the bay are enduring some choppiness. We tucked in next to a rock bluff expecting the forecast strong NE winds, and indeed a couple of times from Friday through today they have gone NE, but mostly it seems to be straight east, and trying to take a dinghy to shore from anywhere in the anchorage is thus a damp experience.
Yesterday we put everything we had to keep dry in a black contractor bag and dinghied to shore at 3 pm. We were going to have dinner ashore at Loraine's with Flying Cloud but we also needed some time for online work. As we sloshed up to the government dock, we admired the nice construction of the dock with a spur off to one side for dinghies to moor and ladders to allow access at any state of tide. It looks fairly new. There is also a small pavilion on the new section, and during their Easter break the local kids have been using it to have fun jumping into the water and safely climbing out again -- our first day here that looked great (now it's a little cool and choppy and windy for that activity!). The breakwater rocks to the west of the Government Dock are painted "Black Point Settlement" and to the east, "Get to the Point, Stick to the Point" which has a sense of fun as town mottoes go. We crawled out of the dinghy up the ladder and started to sort ourselves out.
Ashore, though slightly soggy!
"Dinghy butt" is when everyone exits the dinghy with wet seats (typical for an inflatable ride through chop), but we arrived with "dinghy half" -- that is, either the entire front and butt soaked or half of the front and the entire lower body soaked. We tried steering along the wave crests, and that works to some extent, but the waves are moving westerly and at some point you have to correct easterly or be swept out onto the banks... we tried to point into spaces between wave crest formations but it didn't always work! Nevertheless, with the wind blowing like that, we started to dry (slightly crusty from the salt, but still) immediately. The stuff in the black plastic bag stayed dry, at least, which is good, for we brought in our laptops to try to get online access.
Derek in Lorraine's trying to flag down passing internet packets
Black Point Settlement is a friendly Bahamian town, businesses mostly run out of people's homes or converted houses, except the Rockside Laundromat, stunningly impressive as Bahamian laundromats go, which was purpose-built and has a full-sized laundromat and store on the first floor and guest rooms on the second floor. There is a road, and so there are people with cars (not too many) and people with golf carts (more usual). We walked all the way through the main settlement from the Government Dock to the far point (and Grant walked a bit past that -- there's a church and an airstrip WSW of town).
Regatta Point beach at Black Point Settlement
We have not yet located any place that sells gas or diesel, but unless everyone brings that from Staniel Cay (only a couple of miles north if you have a dinghy or shoal-draft vessel), there pretty much has to be one. There are several places that sell groceries (even the Laundromat has a store attached) and several places that are restaurant/pubs with bottled sodas, beer, wine or pitchers of rum punch and breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks. Lorraines' is one of these, plus Lorraine is capturing cruisers by providing a satellitel wifi service. But at first glance it doesn't seem very much like an internet cafe/pub/restaurant:
Staying out of the wind, on Lorraine's doorstep
Ida at the Rockside Laundromat is also providing free wifi, which makes the cruisers very happy -- nonetheless, yesterday we donated $5 to Lorraine's internet and bought a soda from Ida's to support these services. All for nearly nought: it was extremely difficult to connect and I could not upload a single image for the blog (or even make an entry). And I have such nice pics to share, including M/V Odyssey at the end of a rainbow :-)
M/V Odyssey at the end of an Exuma rainbow
While we were there, there was an accident aboard one of the anchored vessels; the husband and wife had guests aboard from Texas and the husband went ashore to get ice; while he was ashore, the wife went into their freezer, a large and heavy-lidded one, and the catch gave way, nearly severing the end of one of her fingers. Showing remarkable composure, she hailed the store on VHF 16 to get him and send him back to the boat -- meanwhile I alerted Lorraine to the trauma and asked whether the Clinic we'd walked past was open. Lorraine knew how to call the nurse and she came onto 16 to offer to call her. Another boat had a doctor aboard and that doctor started over to see the woman in his dinghy. After the doctor had seen her and the clinic had seen her, she was sent to Nassau to Princess Margaret Hospital in the hope that they might be able to reattach the fingertip. She was still calm and collected as she came through Lorraine's that evening, worrying that she was leaving her guests, and joking a bit.
We are all hoping her finger is saved, but also admiring her fortitude. [UPDATE Mon 4/16: Lorraine says the lady had her fingertip reattached in Nassau and is back aboard her boat: they'll know in a few days whether it will "take." Good luck to her!]
Dinner with Walt and Meryl from Flying Cloud was fun -- grouper for us, some kind of tasty ribs for Walt, burger for Grant, and rum punch for the grown-ups... we have reached the start of the area in which rum is actually cheaper than mixers like fruit juices, so drinks become very strong! Beware. I remember this phenomenon from last time we cruised, we'd been puzzled by our apparent lower liquor-tolerance until we reached the Turks and Caicos, where a bartender finally explained it to us :-)
04/12/2012, Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Note: Finally having some bandwidth, I added some pictures for Staniel Cay and Warderick Wells, Norman's Cay, and Allen's Cay (leapin' lizards!) also, so scroll down and take a look :-)
First, we had to go to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for fuel. It was low tide at the dock:
And we were not the first in line:
It was deep at the dock, about 26 feet, but so clear you could see down to the sand, through the swirling current as the tide started to come back in...
We left Staniel and headed quickly to Great Guana, to Black Point Settlement, to get into a good anchorage ahead of a bit of extra wind. Anchored in 10' over white sand:
It's nice to be able to see your anchor dig in without even having to swim it :-) Derek telling me about the great stuff "over there" at the Settlement:
Black Point has nice new dinghy docks -- one at the Government Dock and the other in front of the Rockside Laundromat, which is where the great wifi is... many reasons to visit this excellent laundromat/store! More pics when I get a chance (after laundry, probably tomorrow, since laundry will not be available until after 6 pm to allow the tank to fill up).
The supply boat inter-island freighter came this afternoon. People ride the freighter into Nassau and shop, then return. I was thinking there had to be a reasonable way for people to get there. We plan to be here a couple-few days until the coming wind has finished whatever it has planned.
04/11/2012, Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
We went to the Thunderball Cave (yes, where they filmed part of the eponymous James Bond movie) with Chris and Marisa (S/V Charisma) to snorkel. These pictures are all from my underwater camera, so some of the above-water and shallower ones I have had to color-correct since my cam was set at the 25' depth color setting. The intense blue stuff is NOT color corrected, it really looks that way!
Grant had no problem swimming in the W entrance against a mounting E-W current (other snorkelers started to clear out, especially the families, as the current kicked in after slack low tide):
Swimmers were backlit as they entered or exited the cave, and light came from either under the water, or through the few "sinkhole" holes in the top of the dome.
Although most of it is about 13-14' deep, Derek could actually stand in one section where the sand had scoured through the east entrance and piled up in the southwestern corner:
There were a lot of Sergeant Majors, just as 17 years before, probably expecting to be fed, but there were other lovely reef fish around as well, like this rather orange-looking queen angel:
Derek also dove down to flash this spotted trunkfish. I had no idea the white spots were sort of like reflecting spots! Safety first?
We also spotted this juvenile Bigeye hiding under a ledge outside the cave... he was only about 8" long and they can get to twice that when adult:
04/09/2012, Staniel Cay Exumas Bahamas
We got a decent wind for sailing part of the time, AWESOME!!!!
The quietness of sailing resulted in another strange phenomenon: our cat emerged into the cockpit while we were underway! That's a first. She looked pretty much at ease there, too:
We arrived and anchored beside Charisma and aft of S/V Free Spirit in 9 feet over deep white sand, just W of Pig Beach on Big Majors Spot (good holding close to Staniel Cay). as per his usual safety-mindedness, Derek dove the anchor:
He swims pretty fast, so it doesn't take long!
The water was 79F, gorgeous as you see, and he said the anchor buried itself with utter perfection, upright and sunk into the sand so deeply that only the end of the shaft where the chain attaches was out of the sand... Big Majors Spot, west side, off Pig Beach (where the pigs come running to see what you brought them and swim out to your dinghy if they are really feeling peckish!) is a gorgeous anchorage with lots of room and great holding. Wouldn't be so good in a westerly.
We were so happy to see Chris and Marisa again! We had a chili dinner in the cockpit to celebrate. Stayed up late by cruiser standards (though not by astronomer standards) :-)
The next day we went into town to the markets, to check out Staniel Cay (rhymes with Brie), a place with more megayachts than we've seen in one spot before. A place that was a lot less developed last time we were here, 17 years ago. We also took Grant to snorkel the cave, although we'd heard that it gets crowded now. Again, last time we had it to ourselves most of the time.
Chris and Marisa tell us that if we show up at slack tide and wait until the current starts to get strong, we will have the place more to ourselves as fewer people want to swim against the currents. So we did that, but I will have to post the pictures later... different camera.
The walk to the Isles store crossed the Bonefish Creek Bridge:
It was full of bonefish:
But look only....
Down at the Government Dock, a fisherman had brought in his catch and was cleaning it, and the rays and sharks knew about it immediately:
And in the evening, the cruisers all got together at the instigation of Charisma (of course!). There were good stories:
And some serious stories (Marisa and Meryl got to know each other, too!):
And some new friends, Marcia and Alan and Julie and Hunter. Here are Marcia and Julie:
04/08/2012, Warderick Wells, South Mooring Field, Exuma Park, Bahamas
Sorry for missing pictures, but if you check back in a week or so, we should have all pics posted. The problem is bandwidth in our current location all the way back to our last days at Coral Harbour. We hope to have better connectivity very soon.
We have been in the south mooring field at Warderick Wells for three days, enjoying the park and waiting for weather. This is Capture Beach near Pirates' Lair at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, right beside our moored boat:
Exuma Park Capture Beach
Why Pirates' Lair? Well, here:
After a windy night (25 kts NE) as the front resolved itself and moved through, the wind has swung farther east and gotten calmer, almost back to the usual for this area. We plan on leaving tomorrow, heading a bit south of here to Big Majors spot just north of Staniel Cay, within a fairly short dinghy ride of the cave, where we intend to snorkel with Grant -- but even better, Charisma (Chis and Marisa) are headed there from the south, so we can finally return their blocks (lent by Chris for the emergency steering device) and maybe feed them!
The coolness following the front (yes, 82F is cooler than it was yesterday) is very welcome. Yesterday, Derek's birthday (Happy Birthday!!!), Derek and Grant went to view blowholes on Hog Cay:
A blowhole on Hog Cay, the jet of water spraying up from the rock right behind the no anchoring buoy in this picture
and went snorkeling on the small reef at the south end of the cove, then Derek went snorkeling to find the stromatolites (resemble hairy rock-like doormats), which may not be much to look at, but have a lot of paleontological and even geological significance: these are the blue-green algae mats that formed "reefs" before corals even existed, and which consumed CO2 and excreted a deadly poison -- oxygen -- to such an extent that Earth's original mostly-CO2 atmosphere was replaced with 20% oxygen and nearly 80% inert nitrogen. The cove between Hog Cay and Warderick Wells is very well-protected from every direction, and it contains both stromatolites and moorings (NO anchoring in the park! You could hit a stromatolite and mess up someone's research project, not to mention they only exist in a few places around the globe currently), but unfortunately the deepwater entrance at the north end is pretty rough when the wind has been strong from NE, so although there are five excellent mooring balls here, only three of them are occupied today.
The southern entrance is only good for shoal-draft vessels such as small boats and catamarans -- that is the way we came in, and it leads onto the banks without going "outside" where the big waves are still kicking up (open seas for miles east of the chain of cays -- pronounced "keys"). Here's what the depth gauge looked like coming in over the shallow spot:
The Exumas are famed for amazing sailing partly because of this: prevailing easterly winds with an island chain sheltering the banks, so that you can sail really fast down the west side of this chain without paying the usual price of having to endure big waves.
When we arrived, the wind had been in the west for a day already and it was a relief to get in here and out of the chop... we did find our next boat project, though, which will be to rebed the fixed ports (windows) on the starboard side.
The next morning we hiked the 2.5 miles from Pirates Lair at the southern mooring field (SE end of Warderick Wells) to the park headquarters at the north end of the island. We passed pretty much every major feature of the park on the way: Pirates Lair, with its camping ring and mossy natural well,
that used to be used as a hidey-hole by pirates avoiding the authorities; "iron shore" terrain that was like hiking over fresh volcanic rock, sharp, black, and heat-reflective; gorgeous secluded beaches with white powdery sand; a terrain of big holes in the scoriated rock (these were right IN the trail, mind you),
some of which had wonderfully clear fresh water in them, and one of which had a ladder down into what actually would count as a cave (Murphy's Hideaway) along the top of the island ridgeline; Loyalist settler stone-house ruins from the time immediately following the American Revolution, when white American colonists loyal to England resettled in the Bahamas in pretty much any of the northern and central islands that had water sources (Abacos, Spanish Wells, Warderick Wells...),
and short palm forests. Everything EXCEPT Boo-Boo hill, which was out of our way, and by that time I was pretty much done with the hiking thing, all of us were out of water and I had wrenched my right knee on a downhill. It was rougher terrain than I had really expected given the altitude changes were matters of less than 50 meters, but over and over again, in rather tropical heat whenever the breeze was cut off by hills, and blazing sunlight at all times.
In addition to the knee and my SPF50 not really being enough to cope with the sun, I wound up with sore toenails from all the highly-tilted sections of the path along the rock parts, where your feet slide down in the hiking shoes until your toes are pressing up against the ends as you edge along the path partway up a hill that will take your skin right off -- at the very least -- should you fall. Whilst dodging, it should be said, rather than clinging for support to, the overhanging trees that happen to be poisonwood (others are not poisonous, but there is a lot of poisonwood on the southern half of the island on and around the trail). Oh, perfect :-) But seriously, it's beautiful and would have been better -- and easier to fully appreciate -- in more measured doses that did not overlap noon! Darcy at the Park office was a very welcome sight, and her fellow Ranger was a godsend, getting us some water from their supply.
Which is why yesterday, Derek and Grant did most of the exploring: that, and I had to catch up with my online class, so that my students would not think I had become sharkbait and left them in the lurch... today we are going out snorkeling again once Grant is through with school for the day.
04/01/2012, Norman's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
After a bumpy evening off Highbourne Cay, we anchored in 6-10' of clear, beautiful water over white sand... such good holding that the anchor buried itself completely, leaving only a part of the shank and a few lengths of the chain sticking out of the sand. This anchorage is large and very beautifully sandy, and the water clarity is excellent! Conch are abundant in the turtle grass shallows surrounding it, and small and large cays surround the anchorage so that there is very little roll -- a ripping current when the tide is going in or out, but not roll.
Friendly people were also anchored there, including Flying Cloud -- Walt and Meryl from Seattle, whom we had met at the Wardles' dock.
We anchored close (but not TOO close!) to them, near the dock and the shallows, as seemed right for a catamaran. Here's Flying Cloud at dawn in Norman's Cay anchorage:
Walt and Meryl took us immediately for a snorkel to swim through the wreck of a small plane that is at the edge of the shallows. It's making quite an interesting reef now, with French angelfish, a whole school of small yellowtail snappers, squirrelfish, and possibly a few shy denizens of the nooks and crannies that we didn't see :-) The only drawback: Internet is not very accessible from Norman's Cay. I will update this with pictures when I get the bandwidth to do so.
Update: Derek and Grant went in swimming whenever it was warm, and scrubbed some of the weed growth from the waterline of Parallax:
We also had a really good snorkel with Jeff and Kelly from S/V Tiger Sea on Fire Coral Reef at the Wax Cay Cut, a snorkel you want to do near slack tide on account of the ripping current through the cut. It was slack tide, no ripping allowed. I mostly clicked pictures and pulled the dinghy along, as my itty bitty ear canals make sudden dives annoying (it takes me a while and a great deal of attentive val-salva-ing to clear when SCUBA diving). Grant and Derek, however, dove down to explore everything like a couple of dolphins at play:
Grant and Derek at play on the reef
Saw a lot of really nice coral heads and giant basket sponges:
Basket sponge about 5' long
Jeff and Kelly (S/V Tiger Sea) spotted a lobster standing out in the open, as if it knew that lobster season had closed the preceding week! Derek dove close to photograph it as it was about 16' down (and the camera setting was perfect for that depth! :-)
Lobster, out in the open two days past close of lobster season, and apparently ready for a hot (but not steamed) date
While we were there, Jeff and his students on S/V Boundless came in, and Derek and I went over and did an astronomy presentation to them :-) The next night they anchored out at the southern end of Shroud Cay and, continuing southward, so did we:
I must admit it was a bit rolly that night... the next morning we struggled to get the dinghy engine aboard (a 15 HP Johnson, just under 100#) and the dinghy itself hoisted onto davits. Should have done that while it was still relatively calm the night before! Nonetheless, got everything stowed and pounded nose-on into it for miles until we got to the south end of Warderick Wells, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park's main island.
03/31/2012, Highbourne Cay west anchorage
Because Mike's Stainless Steel helped us remove the old mounting bolt, we are able to pick up the SSB weather boadcasts Carolyn does in the mornings from Coral Harbour. We try to check in, but we can't, as we have insufficient copper below the waterline to act as a good counterpoise. So we have to be content for now with listening.
Cruising boats check in with the weather and how may boats in the anchorage where they are... so it gives us an idea of the weather where we are headed as well as the overall pattern. It also warns us if an anchorage is likly to be crowded. This is on upper sideband 4003 kHz at 0720 each morning. After listening this morning I looked outside; the sandbar was lovely and tuquoise in the sun. Several boats had cleared out at first light; we had a leisurely breakfast, Derek found and replaced a rusted-through hose clamp on the starboard raw water exhaust, we plastic dipped the swaged ends of the dinghy's new security cable, and we raised anchor at noon thirty.
Highbourne Cay is owned by the various people who own houses there, but they do have a marina on its way to becoming a resort. There are docks in a protected basin, a snack bar, a grocery and gift shop with Androsia cloth, a gorgeous beach, and a restaurant with a wonderful view. I think there may be some guest cottages, but not sure. There is satellite internet access for marina guests only at $10/day. The marina entrance, beach and tiny anchorage nearby are all on a cut between this cay and the next cay south. There is an anchorage with better holding about halfway up Highbourne on the W side. We are there for tonght. It is a bit lively with a swell from the banks, but the white sand beach is very cool to see. Grant even liked it... good 3G for his Kindle as well as natural beauty.
Juan from Highbourne had the part we needed to get our fuel line fixed and went ahead and built a relacement for us so that we have a spare or alternative if it breaks again. We haded him our hose at three pm at the Highbourne dock and he jet skiied out with the finished hose and spare about 4:45. Pretty cool... most important, though, is that it works. Aaaah. With that and the groceries it was an expensive day... good thing we anchored out and cooked in :-) Heading for Normans Cay in the morning.