07/29/2012, Clewiston, FL
Left the River Forest marina in the morning, chugging along westward, past our first gator (unfortunately a dead one by the side of the canal), and under the LOWEST bridge of the Okeechobee Waterway, a 49-foot clearance railway bridge that is normally left in the "up" position (unless a train is coming):
The lowest bridge
Our mast is 46' from the waterline, we didn't even scrape the VHF antenna.
We hailed the lock at the eastern end of Okeechobee (Port Mayaca lock, pronounced as though you were in Mexico, so my-AH-ca) on VHF 13, and it was in the always-open position (apparently at this time of year that's not unusual). So we chugged through:
Port Mayaca lock was open
And on out into a wide, flat, inland-sea-looking Lake Okeechobee, nowhere deeper than about 10 feet, and generally less:
As we were passing an isolated red marker pole sticking up out of the middle of a whole lot of featureless water, and the shoreline was starting to become a dotted line of trees far astern, I wondered about this vast body of shallow open water lying under a subtropical sun... hmmm... and another 45 minutes later, there was indeed a large, dark, threatening-looking cloud on the horizon, centered just slightly to the north of our course line and covering about 1/3 the W sky.
Thunderhead over west end of Lake Okeechobee
The wind was from the south, and had picked up a bit (maybe 10 kts). Then as we got closer and closer to the now-towering thunderhead with lightning flashing down from it and opaque rain obscuring the horizon beneath it, the "cloudburst" wind hit, about 25 kts of outflow from the raining base of the cloud, out of the WNW. Derek and Grant were so exhilarated by the sudden breeze and related cooling effects, that they horsed around on the foredeck, once we were on the SW leg of our crossing and no longer heading into the cloud!
The lake got choppy fast (no pics of that, too busy steering), but also the whole phenomenon faded within an hour, so aside from a bit of spray and windy excitement, it was a peaceful crossing. The breeze certainly made it cooler, which was nice. The shallowest reading we got going across Route 1 (crossing the center) was about 5.5 feet (2.5 under the keel, as our depth gauge is keel-mounted). In the very final part, we entered a dredged canal which is sheltered on both sides by grasses growing up on the dredge spoil areas on either side. We've truly returned from the sea to "the sea of grass":
Grant and Derek got ready to do line handling and admire the herons and anowy egrets and anhingas drying their wings in the grasses and bushes beside the channel:
Clewiston is on the western shore of Lake Okeechobee, mainly they produce sugar in this area. Heading for the Clewiston entrance through another open lock, we had first passed through about a mile or more of "sea of grass" with gators basking by the edges of the dredged canal, exactly what this part of Florida is always pictured as looking like. The marina here (Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina) is also a "fishing resort," so they have a marina store that opens at 6 a.m. every morning. They also have a tiki bar called The Tiki Bar, which serves giant drinks in souvenir glasses (only they are made of plastic, but nobody ever calls that a "souvenir plastic"). There was a band that came on as we were exploring the cold drinks - not always very clear as to their name, but it seemed to be The Shurkan Playboys. JJ McCoy plays lead guitar with a yellow guitar strap that says "Police Line Do Not Cross," (someone at the side bar said he's involved with the local sheriff's department) and his "rhythm" guitarist Rob does harmonies and a few of his own lead songs, and the bass player Lou is the hairless and most outgoing member of the group, he wanders the room with his cordless pickup in his bass. The drummer, Mark, has enough hair to make up for the rest :-) They were pretty good! The have a YouTube video if you want to check 'em out. The keyboardist was not present, and apparently they sometimes have a fiddler and sometimes a dobro player. This was just two guitars, bass, drums, and JJ was running the sound board with his foot.
Since the boat is only a few boat-lengths from the bar, we were also grateful that they stopped at midnight...
07/28/2012, River Forest Marina, St. Lucie Canal, FL
It gets hot here during the day. Duh aye, Captain Obvious... Just sayin'! This is Intracoastal Waterway travel, a long motor down almost-straight dredged channels through wide rivers that are anywhere from 6' to 1' deep if you are not in the channel.
Standing birds are a good indicator of shallow, or no, water
Sometimes the tide or river current is with you, or against you, or pushes you sideways. Generally, it's hot and not very breezy, no waves except those thoughtfully provided at intervals by certain power boats (we're lookin' at YOU, Lazy Daze! Coast Guard Auxiliary my tender butt!), or the occasional tide-against current rip.
Good dryer, bad dryer and other useful tips
Nonetheless, I do have a couple of useful things for the cruiser who might find him/herself at the Fort Pierce Municipal (or City) Marina. Cobbs' is the air-conditioned two-story restaurant at the corner of the marina property closest to the street. They have a "tiki bar" appendage, not air conditioned, facing the marina. But if you are going for open air, Cobbs' Landing, the tiki bar restaurant on the actual marina breakwater, is the way to go: breeze if there is any, and views of the water in both directions, east onto the Indian River and west into the marina (and palm trees and sunset, if you like). Good food, too, and by the standards of Bahamian restaurants it's very reasonable, which is to say the burgers are actually good quality and $8.50 rather than $15 :-) This is by hearsay, of course: I had a salad! Seriously, the seared tuna salad is excellent, and you get kind of starved for proper salads in the Bahamas (they also get expensive since everything is imported). You'd think tomatoes at least would grow there... but maybe it's not reliable enough for most restaurants to use the locally-grown produce.
So, in addition to good places to catch food (speaking of catching food, more fish shots of Derek and Grant will be on previous entries in the next day or so), there is LAUNDRY. That actually washes with hot and warm and all. That costs only $1.25/load and has a side-loader for the same price! Things to watch: the side-loader will start rocking violently if the load gets unbalanced. They have shimmed it, but for best results you may have to lean on it during the final extraction spin. The dryers are interesting: two newer ones and two older ones. From the door, currently, it's new-old-new-old. I put one load into the newer one nearest the door, and one into the older "Commercial" one, and the one by the door dried its full load in the time you get for the $1.50 startup fee. The second one in (older dryer) did not. Hope that saves somebody else $1.50 or more :-)
Water is free at the Fort Pierce City Marina. In the Bahamas it was anywhere from $0.15/gal to $0.40/gal and wasn't always tasty: Spanish Wells's Yacht Haven being an example of water with a funky taste.
Good buoy! Or at least, very serious buoy...
Now for the navigation issue: there is active dredging and spoils-piling going on just upstream (south) of the channel into the Fort Pierce City Marina. There is a small two-color buoy in the center of the entrance channel to the Fort Pierce City Marina. That channel is well-marked with red and green post markers, BUT WATCH for the small, green-over-red buoy in mid-channel, partway in (just inward of the second set of markers, when we came through yesterday). Looks a bit like a fish-pot float. Normally, with green-over-red, you treat it as "green preferred," but ostensibly you can take it on either side. NOT THIS ONE. We are a catamaran. The tidal range is not all that large in this location, and we hit the silt when I tried to just follow the posts and treat the buoy as "optional." It's not optional, unless you draw LESS than 2' 10" -- fair warning! Naturally, we were not going very fast, so reversing out of it was no problem, but how annoying after all these sea miles :-)
OK, after that little shock, we chugged placidly southward along the Indian River, with a local charter fishing boat (called Catch 22: gotta like that) playing hopscotch with us: we chug, he brings his pontoon boat up next to the next marker, they fish all around the piling, we chug past, they zoom up to the next marker after that, and so forth for miles. Sometimes there is a small breeze from the east. I set up a 12V clip-on-fan in the cockpit.
Keeping Flies off your food
Derek made pancakes: yum. Also very nice that there seem to be fewer flies here, they don't swarm your plate instantly the way they often did in the Bahamas. We bought a can of Sterno after seeing it used to chase away flies at a table in a very nice outdoor restaurant there. You'd think the last thing anyone would want would be extra heat, but the fly-chasing benefits of a can of Sterno burning like a mood candle - at noon - on your table vastly outweigh any tiny heat increase!
Followed the waterway, and when the markers are buoys (in the inlet at Port St. Lucie, because the shoaling changes position often), follow the buoys, not your GPS/chart. They aren't all that different, anyway. A couple of the bridges we went through on the way to the St. Lucie Canal had a different arch marked as the one to go through than the actual arch so designated (by wooden sidings -- and a light hanging down in the center of the arch so people won't smash up the expensive bridges at night). In one case, there was a fishing pier build right across the arch that our GPS plotter indicated as the pass-through. Those chart folk might want to look into that...
It was actually a relief entering the St. Lucie canal, which is not as subject to shoaling as the preceding parts of the St. Lucie and Indian rivers. We chugged now in a smaller setting, the canal many yards wide rather than a mile or more, past some very expensive-looking real estate (lasers, robotic guard dogs... OK, I'm kidding about the dogs. I think.). And finally we reached the St. Lucie lock. We love the lock-keeper, we were struggling to make it for the 3 pm opening and he and the cruising boat ahead of us (who were heading in to put their stepped-masted sailboat onto the hard for hurricane season) waited a few minutes as we chugged frantically toward them. OK, maybe they just took their time setting up the lines to the other boat: we love them anyway!!!
In the lock, you and your fenders (big pillowy plastic inflatable things - usually - that you hang out to keep docks from smashing your hull) are up against a concrete wall and looking waaay up to the lock-keeper, who throws down a bow line and a stern line. You need a line handler for each line, usually. You pass the line around one of your cleats, and keep tension on it manually, because it's about to get 12' too long.
It's a long way up
Grant was the bow line handler
The lock's downstream doors close
and the upstream doors are opened just a bit to let is a little waterfall, and swirly, currenty things happen as the water starts to rise,
Swirly, currenty things. Cleats, lad, use the cleats...
and you keep pulling that long line through the cleat in order to keep your boat near the wall, and eventually the process is complete and hey, you're looking out onto a nice green lawn over the now-low wall of the St. Lucie lock!
Am I rising? Or is the land... sinking???
The nice green lawn
Chugging on just a bit west of the lock, there are free docks, which are nice, but we wanted to be sure of getting power, since it was 97F in the boat. So we chugged a little farther, and into the River Forest Marina, which is really a holding facility for clever people's yachts during hurricane season. Mostly powerboats in the 50' and up category, they hail from places like Road Town, Tortola, BVI, or Aspen, CO (I know, but you can put anything you want as your hailing port in the USA). There was only one other sailboat, and it's in a slip, maybe awaiting work. The yard seems very professional, quiet and busy at the same time. most boats are up on the hard, and strapped down like aircraft to strong points in the concrete. Not a lot of other cruisers here now, we have seen no one from off another boat, although there are other boats along the wall.
This morning the water was like glass, and we are heading out to cross Lake Okeechobee. More later.
River Forest Marina just after sunrise
07/26/2012, Fort Pierce, FL
Catching you up: we left Green Turtle Cay on Tuesday the 24th in the morning, motorsailing in fairly light following wind to Great Sale Cay, where we anchored overnight. On the way to Great Sale, Derek caught a nearly-4' barracuda. Well, he got it all the way in to the boat, but he didn't want to get anywhere near those teeth (really substantial little knives at that size, not like the little needles you see on edible-sized barracudas). I wish my picture could show the scale correctly: remember, the fish is about 3' below the people-feet you see here. It's larger than any of the others he's brought aboard, and the first barracuda he caught we measured at 3'. This one he could not lift on the line from the water one-handed. Note, this isn't even really big for a barracuda, it still looks like a fish. Derek's been in the water with the ones that have gotten big enough that they look fat, they look like the rump, thigh and leg of an adult held out in the water horizontally (I know that because in the BVI once, I was getting into the water and thought there was a human near Derek, I looked above the water for the part of the human from the waist up, and there wasn't any. It was a big-butt-barracuda). Once they start to get thick-looking, they are really big. Anyway, we were not gonna eat that fish (ciguatera), and we didn't want him sampling Derek, either, so he cut the leader, and it threw the hook and the lure off almost immediately once the pressure from the line was gone. Here it is by the boat, after a very long struggle. Both of them were tired: Derek and the barracuda.
The cat came out after the large barracuda was gone and we were anchored off Great Sale...
During the night, the wind shifted from light southerly to 5-10 SW, very close to the direction we were heading next!
Wednesday morning we headed to Mangrove Cay across the banks, the whole way about 15' deep, but occasionally we would cross a patch that looked very scarily light blue, like a shoal just under the water, but there would be nothing on the chart and the depth was still 10' or more, plus you could not see into them, the water was milky. These are called "fish muds" and they happen when the fish stir up the white bottom sand and send clouds of it into the water, which turns a very light milky white turquoise (looking like a sandbar with only 2-3' of water over it!). July is the mating season for nurse sharks, who are apparently very vigorous and do things in large groups -- perhaps that is the answer to the "fish mud" mystery. The more usual but more boring explanation is that it's schools of bottom-feeding fish stirring things up. Whether it was naughty nurses or not, it was a disconcerting thing to pass over!
Crossing a "fish mud" -- the depth gauge reads 13' but the eyes are saying shallow :-)
Derek also caught more King Mackerel, tasty:
Derek and King Mackerel the Second
I made mackerel ceviche.
By the time we were passing Mangrove Cay, the forecast was in for the evening, updated, and the winds were supposed to go south at 8-13 kts overnight: pretty much excellent for the direction we wished to go! So we decided to just keep going and exit the banks just south of Memory Rock just before sunset.
There is a weird haze on the horizons, apparently a pink African sandstorm that sent dust over to us in the Bahamas... so the sun doesn't set, it just gets redder (pinker) then disappears above the horizon. More weirdness...
Sailing into the pinkish sunset
Also, the banks drop off rather abruptly. Here's the depth under keel just before sunset:
And 10 minutes later:
The moon was first quarter, so for the first part of the night we had a good moon illuminating the sea ahead. I was first evening watch, so after dinner I settled to that and Derek tried to sleep. He usually has trouble sleeping the first night of an offshore passage, so we were not expecting much. I handed over to him at midnight. Despite being prepared for the Gulf Stream to push us 20 degrees north of our intended course, we were taken by surprise: the stream was cranking at more than 4 kts for hours, and the wind strengthened but it stayed SSW and even SW, rather than S, so we could not hold our point far enough south to make Port St. Lucie. On the plus side, we were hitting up to 9.4 kts on Derek's midnight watch! Eventually it went too far west, after 3:30 I asked him to take the sail in so that I could make sure we actually made Fort Pierce, the next inlet north of the St. Lucie. For a while, the wind even went north of straight west, what was up with that?! But it also calmed significantly, so the passage was still quite speedy even without the sail. Boosted by the Gulf Stream a bit, heading for Fort Pierce at 1800 rpm, we were still going nearly 7 kts some of the time.
Eventually we made it into the Fort Pierce inlet; although it was supposed to be slack low water according to our GPS's tide function, the tide was still flowing fast outward, the marker buoys were leaving wakes as we crawled past them at 2100 rpm but only about 3 kts! We pulled into the Municipal Marina in the morning and Derek called the Customs office to check us in. Then we all went to the airport in person to check in, it's a security thing. If we had come in at Port St. Lucie, it would have been a much longer drive -- the airport is north of Fort Pierce.
Derek called his parents to tell them we had landed, and we all ate and napped (even the cat!).
Landfall! The yellow Q flag is flying.
07/22/2012, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Blustery, rainy day. Hoping it clears by morning so we can set out for Great Sale. My computer (still) won't see USB cable for my camera, so I can't upload pics using my own machine. Amazingly strong winds and rain this afternoon, all around the compass. For a while it was about 25 kts out of the north, with the rain so hard it sounded like popcorn!
It's getting better. This is updated hourly, so it may be nicely clear by the time you see it:
============== UPDATE Monday 23 July ============
Still waiting... as I mentioned in email to Flying Cloud, "We're still at Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, waiting for this tropical wave to wave off. Marsh Harbour had a sufficiently vigorous storm this morning that they decided to cut off the power to the other islands until 2 pm, to avoid lightning blowing stuff up in their power system (according to the Green Turtle Club desk people). The power did go on again at 2 pm, then off, then on for longer, then off a little while, then on... it's on now :-) "
There will be suitable pictures of clouds and rain when I get a way to upload the silly things...
07/19/2012, Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
Yesterday left attractive, large, construction-just-finishing Hope Town Inn and Marina around 9 am,
Hope Town Inn and Marina. Still $1/ft/nt for a little while longer :-) [Not our picture...]
and fueled up at the fuel dock at Lighthouse Marina (they have only 6 slips and it's pretty exposed),
Lighthouse Marina. Mostly fuel, stores, and a boatyard [My USB ports will not read, so ALSO not our picture]
then motorsailed north to arrive at Green Turtle Cay around 2:40 pm. The Marina at the Green Turtle Club looks like this:
Not our picture: Green Turtle Club
The bar, walls covered with dollar bills, like so many other "fun bars:"
Bar at the Green Turtle Club -- not our picture
Derek caught two lovely (28" and 22") king mackerel on a small black and purple (and pink???!) squid lure as we were going along out the Loggerhead Channel and in the Whale Cay Channel, so we have lots of fish right now! Tonight is crispy fish fingers with a mango chutney and Bahamian bread, with two episodes of BBC's "The Final Cut" (a truly eerie fiction series starting with "House of Cards" about politics in the UK, from books written by a former Conservative Chief of Staff).
Pictures when I get the chance... my laptop is getting old and will not recognize the USB connection from my camera for 40 minutes at a time, so uploading pictures is more difficult for me lately. We're leaving
tomorrow Monday for Great Sale Cay (as in "saline"), the next day across the rest of the banks to the Gulf Stream and across to Florida. We were planning on leaving Friday for Great Sale, but there is a tail end of a tropical wave about to cause some fuss in the Gulf Stream, so we are waiting for it to pass before crossing.
We called the Port Lucie Lock, and the Okeechobee waterway is OPEN!!! Happy happy happy, we were worried that this weather delay was going o have us leaving the boat far from Ft. Myers, but having the Okeechobee open is both more weather-p[roof and faster for us. The only sad spot in that is it won't bring us past Chris and Marisa's new place on Biscayne Bay, where Chris is The Dockmaster at a wonderful-sounding marina. (He is the DockMASTER. He has mastered the dock!!! Bow later.) Anyway, with the Okeechobee open, we can head for Stuart. That'll be easier to sail, also.
07/15/2012, Hope Town, Abacos
[UPDATE Sun 15 July: added a whole lot of pictures and a bit of text to "Little Harbour after 17 years" entry.]
Last night the power went out a helf hour after midnight. The whole town went dark, except for two places that had generators, and the lighthouse, which is a wind-up mechanism (more on that later) with a kerosene light. The A/C went off. When you have to have the hatches closed and it's rainy and hot, it can get uncomfortable. We opened the hatches as soon as we could and just slept a bit, ready to spring into action and close them if the rain started again. Fortunately, about 4:40 am the power went back on.
Then it went off around 9:45. Then back on. Off. On.
It started pouring. We began to reconsider the advisability of going to Great Guana today (pouring rain, more forecast tonight and tomorrow), as our dive trip would be pretty dismal with such gray overcast lighting.
So I started updating the images on the blog (and grading). Responsive to your comments, people! :-)
07/11/2012, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abacos
Hope Town lighthouse astern of our mooring
[UPDATE Sun 15 July: added a whole lot of pictures and a bit of text to "Little Harbour after 17 years" entry.]
Got into Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abacos yesterday after a short trip from Little Harbour. Because of power usage, Derek hates to run the engines when we are in harbor, and we had to run the engines anyway, so we motorsailed, engines plus jib, at 6.3 kts, broad reaching in maybe 8 kts breeze. But 8 kts abeam is no breeze at all in our enclosed (at the sides) cockpit, so I rigged a windscoop for the helm chair... it mostly obscured the same part of the view that the jib and the mast obscure anyway...
"wind scoop for helm chair?"
Halfway there, we stopped and snorkeled at Sandy Cay, which is a marine park with great snorkeling along a small wall with moorings.
Derek and Grant still snorkeling after Mom has returned to boat
Derek dropped into the water first to check it out and saw a green turtle
Green turtle image from NOAA
and a sting ray before Grant and I got into the water -- we all saw a lot of fish afterward. There was a strong current: apparently you do not want to snorkel that reef on any kind of rising tide, but wait for falling. We were very close to high tide, but the current was strong from SE to NW. Turns out the moorings there are meant for smaller vessels, only up to 24' -- so it's better to anchor off the moorings in 20' than to pick one up and trust your boat to polypropylene line 50' upwind of rocks awash. This catamaran did that, so you can see about how far from the line of buoys they were anchored:
Catamaran anchored near buoys at Sandy Cay coral garden
The visual navigation rules that people usually use are OK in the Abacos, but do keep in mind that turtle grass is dark so grass beds can look deeper than they are. Nonetheless, if you see an almost-white line of bright turquoise, that's less than 3' deep:
Resumed our trip to Hope Town, and arrived without trouble in sunny, breezy conditions -- a lovely day! Hope Town is a lot more developed than it was when we were here 17 years ago, but it's "pretty" development - pastel houses with white roofs and white trim, palm trees lining the harbor, many pretty touches, and docks galore for the visitors to come ashore. Here is the first thing you see as you enter the harbor - a welcome sign with a speed limit and a lovely pastel house on Eagle Rock:
House on Eagle Rock, Hope Town harbor mouth
Hope Town Marina across the harbor
They still have an Albury Ferry service to Marsh Harbour, and even the boat is still named "Donnie," although now it's the Donnie VII!
Donnie VII Albury ferry in Hope Town harbor
It reminds me a little of Pusser's Landing at the west end of Tortola, BVI. The harbor is a "holding tank area," so they are trying to keep their enclosed waters clean, too -- and we saw three small (less than 24") green turtles in the water yesterday.
Seventeen years ago, our introduction to Hope Town was a little more traumatic. We loved the place, but the first thing we saw on coming ashore was four men carrying a really large (maybe 5' shell length) live green turtle by its flippers -- clearly fishermen with their catch. The local restaurants offered turtle soup. Turtle harvesting has become illegal in the Bahamas in the intervening time, because the green sea turtle is an endangered species in some areas and threatened in others.
Picked up a mooring, there are many moorings and almost no anchoring spots in this harbor. Ours was right behind a sweet little houseboat owned by a guy who does clothing based in Green Turtle Cay. He bought it as a one-story houseboat and totally redid it:
He brought his houseboat to Hope Town for the regatta last week, and hosted a party aboard
This was Bahamian Independence Day (July 10th), so stores were closed.
What happened to the Harbour View Grocery? They are closed! Ahhhh!
However, restaurants were open, and laughter and music drifted across the evening water with the breeze. We lazed around the boat and had a nice dinner from the stores we had left from Spanish Wells. Around 10 pm, then again at 2 a.m., the skies opened up. There was more rain this morning, and this afternoon, although the middle of the day was sunny, hot and breezy. We walked along the streets staying in the tree shadows when possible: one of the trees was a breadfruit brought to this island by Captain Bligh (it's near the museum -- have they mentioned they are air conditioned? :-)
This morning, Derek and I went ashore to scope out groceries and laundry, and see about taking a dive trip with Grant. Harbour View Grocery has a good selection, some of their prices are higher than Vernon's Grocery (raw sugar), some are lower (butter). The laundry that used to be behind them is no longer in business -- now you have to go to the marina! We had lunch at Harbour's Edge restaurant, which was tasty. It's the big mint-green building with white trim that's sort of sideways with respect to the harbor -- that's to allow them to catch the prevailing breeze on their deck. Their breezy deck and fresh fish were wonderful in the hot midday!
When we got back to the HV Grocery, around 1 pm, they were closed from 12-2 for lunch. Oh well. We picked up raw sugar at Vernon's. Vernon is a great baker, his breads are compelling and his key lime pies make locals and visiting sailors alike drool and pay :-) This is a picture of him from a local blog (a few years ago):
Vernon in his store c. 2007 (Photo by Meakin Hoffer, on Sam Hoffer's Abaco memoir site)
Vernon was complaining to some friends about the law against taking green turtles. Like every other Bahamian over the age of 25, he grew up being able to catch and eat turtle, of course: the law is relatively new.
"It's terrible! Turtles eat the baby conch, you know!"
"Yes! My son went out to a conch bed he knows about, and there were turtles all over the place, but no conch."
"Yes, the turtles breed faster than the conch, so we should be able to take them since we can take conch. You shouldn't go messing with the balance of nature with laws like that."
"No, the balance of nature, that's right."
That's weird, it takes green turtles 20 years at the very least to reach sexual maturity, while a conch can do it in four. I think Vernon may be letting his love of turtle soup color his perceptions of breeding rates.
Also, apparently Bahamians in boats are an integral part of the turtle-conch food chain, the legislators mustn't have realized removing human predation would mess with "the balance of nature."
Now, conch love to hang out in sea grass beds. That's where they are usually to be found. That grass is also called "turtle grass," and I had always been told that was because the turtles ate the grass. But Vernon has juvenile turtles eating conch? Figuring I should educate myself rather than condemn Vernon for making up stuff that would justify his taste for turtle soup, I did a little internet research:
"Unlike other marine turtles, adult Green Sea Turtles are nearly exclusively herbivorous, primarily eating sea grasses such as Turtle Grass (Thalassia Testudinum) and Manatee Grass (Syringodiumm Filiforme) or Marine Algae.
Conversely, the young are usually omnivorous, enjoying jellyfish, sponges, and mollusks."
Well, so if we're talking about young sea turtles eating mollusks, that sounds at least promising for Vernon's POV... continuing the research:
"The green sea turtle, chelonia mydas, is slow-growing and is endangered in the USA and Mexico. Elsewhere (as in the Bahamas) it is "threatened." Based on growth rate studies of wild green turtles, the sexual maturity range is 20-50 years of age. It is assumed that post-hatchling, pelagic-stage green turtles are omnivorous, but there are no data on diet from this age class. It is known that once green turtles shift to benthic feeding grounds they are herbivores. They feed on both seagrasses and algae.
A population of juvenile green turtles forage as herbivores in the central Indian River Lagoon, near Sebastian, Florida, and along the near-shore Sabelleriid worm reefs off Indian River County, Florida."
Not looking so good for Vernon's soup dreams.
Of course, hungry juvenile green turtles will take conch if fed loose conch meat by hand, or small crabs or cuttlefish the same way. And there are lots of "popularizing" sites, like beautifulocean.com, that assert the omnivorous escapades of the young turtles, though: "Omnivorous juvenile: Young green turtles also eat invertebrates, such as small jellyfish, snails and crabs, but will become vegetarians as they grow into adults." They might find a conch tough to handle. Adult humans have trouble breaking them open with hammers!
Now to narrow the search. I found that juvenile chelonia mydas dietary habits are a hot research field, and in 2006 there was a "first study to determine juvenile green sea turtle diet in tropical feeding grounds." Sounds right. Here's the abstract:
We offer the first published description of the feeding choices made by juvenile green turtles on a tropical feeding ground, in this case a reef flat environment. We collected 85 lavage samples from 76 turtles and compared the food eaten to the food resources available. Resampling of some individuals enabled us to gain preliminary insights into diet switching by juvenile turtles. The area of the reef flat at Green Island, Queensland, Australia, had similar proportions of coverage by seagrasses (52%) and by algae (48%). Seven species of seagrass and at least 26 species of algae were identified. The dominant seagrasses, on an area basis, were Cymodocea sp. (29.7%), Halodule sp. (11.1%), Thalassia sp. (6.4%) and Syringodium sp. (4.5%). The most dominant algae were Halimeda spp. (10.2%). and Galaxaura sp. (7.25%). Most juvenile green turtles ate primarily seagrass, but some individuals ate predominantly algae. The turtles showed clear preferences for the seagrass Thalassia hemprichii and the algae Gracilaria spp., Gelidiella sp., Hypnea spp. despite their low abundance in many cases. Ways to improve our understanding of preferences and possible diet switching, and potential factors affecting them, are discussed. [source: http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/3813/]
Wait, all these green turtle juvies were herbivorous???! What gives?
Could it be that Australian chelonia mydas juveniles make different dietary choices than Atlantic chelonia mydas juveniles?
Well, published in 2011, a study of young sea turtles in the southwestern Atlantic showed that while young turtles might accidentally ingest shells, they are overwhelmingly fond of turtle grass: less than 2.4% of the stomach contents were of animal origin. Unfortunately nearly 70% of the young turtles had swallowed something manmade, plastic predominating.
So what is the origin of this "conch eating green turtle" idea? Adult Loggerhead turtles will crunch a conch in a minute. They're also endangered. As one former turtle fisherman said, "They are dumb! They are so dumb that they are easy to catch, that's why they are endangered!"
Maybe Vernon was thinking of a little green turtle taking a piece of conch offered by hand as meaning that they would crunch through a conch shell in the wild to get some? Maybe seeing a lot of turtles over a turtle grass bed shouldn't cause his son to conclude that the small turtles are eating the conch?
07/08/2012, Little Harbour, Abacos, Bahamas
The last time we were in Little Harbour was on our last extended "cruising" voyage, 17 years ago. The first thing we saw this time that had changed was the entrance channel: it's now buoyed carefully with red and green buoys. It was still as shallow as ever, but one no longer has to guess where the deepest water is!
Entrance to Little Harbour, from the inside looking out. 3' at low water.
The next thing we noticed was that Pete's Pub has a nice mooring field there, well-marked.
Yes, recycled tires are used in the mooring floats
We picked up a mooring. A green turtle surfaced near our boat -- the turtles still love this bay! How wonderful!
And the cave is of course still a major feature of the western end of the harbor:
And unlike last time, we could see the bottom... the waters are not gin-clear, but they are clearer than they were when we were here 17 years ago. Of course, that may have something to do with weather or time of year, but I'd like to think it's actually a bit clearer now.
Pete's is all grown up -- two huge docks out front:
Pete's Pub and Gallery with one of the docks, as seen from our mooring
The gallery seems bigger, too! Pete Johnston's father was a sculptor and professor who moved his young family to Little Harbour decades ago to create a foundry and make his sculptures in peace -- so Pete grew up here (his father passed on years ago), had his own sons here (one of his sons, Greg, just married his sweetheart Heather the weekend before we arrived!), and also learned the ways of bronze work from his dad. As with Bobby Little (coral rock sculptor) in Rum Cay, wherever you go in the compound, you run into Pete's sculptures:
Scratching a living in the natural world of sea and shore
Rays have a beauty that partakes of both the sea and flight
Can you see the turtle above the second ray? Pete grew up swimming with green turtles.
We wandered the road before settling at the Pub for sunset... here's the foundry compound gate.
While wandering, I noticed that Grant seems to be growing again...!
If he's this tall at 13, it's possible he really will get to 6'4"!
As with Bobby Little's mermaids, no male sculptor's oeuvre is complete without naked ladies! But we're not sure whether this one was Pete's or his dad's work.
The area is a sea park. Don't spear fish or catch conch in Little Harbour:
It was a beautiful, peaceful first evening!
Derek walking the beach by Pete's Pub dock, Little Harbour
The front of the Gallery faces toward the beach. There was something interesting on it...
Plaques on front of Pete Johnston's Gallery
On closer inspections, there was a "Sully" commemorative:
Pete's "Miracle on the Hudson" plaque
The restaurant/bar is open 7 days, from noon each day, and only dark Monday night. There are moorings charters out of Hope Town now, and one of the first stops these 37-to-42-foot catamarans make is to pick up a mooring at Little Harbour and visit Pete's. People making trips along Abaco in their cars also stop there. Wow!
There is also a small thing that has connected us to Little Harbour for all these years. Last time through here, we used some of my inheritance from my Mom to purchase a lot from Don Chambers, who had bought the whole hillside behind his house when he came to LH in the 70s. He had decided to sell the lots on the hillside, which were slightly more than 0.5 acres each, and eventually return to the States. So, after a meeting with the LH residents, we bought one. Almost the first thing we did after picking up the mooring was to visit the lot. What had been partially cleared 17 years ago when we walked it prior to buying was now, of course, jungly! But that is also a plus for the neighborhood, in that it preserved a feeling of nature that LH residents tend to value. So, our property is to the right along the road in this picture:
Partway up, there seemed to be a thinning under the casuarinas (they tend to poison the undergrowth), so Derek and Grant went in to take a look:
Derek and Grant inspect the property... I think we may need to clear a little...
The other really nice thing about this property is that there are quite a few mature coconut palms on it. Those will be staying, as much as we can manage.
The "narrow" end of the property, along the upper road
We also plan a fruit orchard at the lower end of the hillside, so as to catch drainage and stay well-watered. Mangoes and papayas, mostly, with maybe a small veg garden down there, as far from possible salt spray as we can get it.
We talked with Pete at the pub about gardening and casuarinas (they tend to absorb salt and thus protect gardens, but they also will poison your water supply if their needles fall on your roof!) and solar power. Here's Pete's solar forest on the roof:
Pete's Pub and Gallery: powered by the sun!
We also talked with several other residents abut house-building and gardening; people are wonderful and friendly here! Our next-door neighbor will be Kay. Her place is neatly kept, you can see the transition from our jungle to her carefully-tended coconut palms :-)
As you can see from this view shortly after one of our new neighbors threw down some table scraps, disposal of food wastes is not a problem. Those are hermit crabs. As we stood on their deck, more and more of them showed up for some struggles and good eats:
Hermit crab food waste disposal system
A lot of privacy hedges near our property are made up of, or thickened with, these plants:
We can't seem to find out what they are. Kay is away, and another resident told us they were pandanus, but they are not (pandanus has a woody stem from which the leaves radiate). These things rise right from the ground with a coloring like yucca but not as heavy a texture, but they get to 8' tall or more! Clearly, they will take over the place if allowed to. Helen, you're the plant expert, can you ID these? They can get HUGE.
Derek has another question, while we're at it: what kind of flower is this? He really likes it :-)
Kay has a nice little garden, and there's a path along the bottom of our property line, that we will create another path to join once we start clearing.
The path extends along our downhill property line and heads toward Don's -- which makes sense because when we bought from Don, there was an agreement that allowed us perpetual access to the dock by the big house and the right to put in a mooring. Kay probably has the same agreement.
As we headed back to the dinghy and on to Pete's Pub, I took this shot of the NE (downhill) corner of the property, a few very nice palms before the path joins the road, marking the easement.
Boundary Palms in fading daylight
At Pete's, we found Pete (in his signature bandana sweatband), and helpful, friendly, funny new neighbors!
Again, Pete's sculptures make the Pub more beautiful! Last time we were at Pete's Pub, it was a single leaning roof over a small bar on a deck, and it was only open when Pete had a reason to open it. Things have come a long way!
One of Pete's sharks
Like the Chat'n'Chill in George Town, people's boat tee shirts make up part of the decor as well:
The next day, we took a trip to Bookie's Beach and to visit Anthea and Roland to talk about good construction ideas for a local house -- theirs has survived well! Here's the beach, it faces the Atlantic side:
Derek and Grant love a bit of surf!
Auuuugh!!! ha ha ha
Noooo! Don't let that rock get me!
On the way back, Derek also took a liking to this salt-tolerant ground cover with the succulent-like leaves:
Should have taken that gardening extension course!
The Atlantic side of the Little Harbour promontory is a wild and beautiful location:
when the hurricanes come, they move the sand dunes around
On Tuesday, we are going up to Hope Town at Elbow Cay.