01/23/2007, Emerald Bay
We got up early this morning. It was a beautiful dawn with the sun rising over Stocking Island in Technicolor. It was also a sad morning because we knew we would be watching our friends on Eyran sail away to the North for perhaps the last time in a long, long time. I was getting used to watching them leave the anchorage two hours before we could possibly get ready.
By afternoon Hideko and I had the boat ready to go and we hauled anchor and motored north out of the harbor with Hideko on the helm. You have to do a little zig zagging to stay clear of all of the shoal areas in the harbor but I think with our draft you could probably sail just about anywhere you wanted to at high tide. Still we stayed to the marked channel and the waypoints on the Explorer charts.
It took us about an hour of casual motoring in light and variable wind to get to Emerald Bay. The Marina entrance is a little dicey as the waves break on the rocky beach just to the starboard side as you enter the marina. I think they have plans to put in a proper break water, but until then you will have a tough (perhaps dangerous) time coming or going with a strong easterly driving the swell across the entrance. The channel is wide enough but you might want to wait outside if you see a mega yacht transiting.
The Marina is setup to be a very nice place but it is still a work in progress. The dock master's office and the restaurant are in temporary buildings and most of the slips do not yet have power (because the islands power plant can't supply the amount needed). There is also a fair amount of construction going on in the area, both projects in the Marina and Resort Condos going up all around.
All that taken into consideration, the Marina is a very nice place. They have free trash disposal and laundry with new high quality washers and dryers. The captain's lounge has comfortable furniture with satellite TV, lots of charts, cruising guides and magazines as well as a pool table. The restaurant has good food and a nice outdoor bar. The bathing facilities are top notch, with clean showers and restrooms sporting shampoo, conditioner, body wash, sunscreen, hand soap, mouth wash, Q-Tips, cotton balls, etceteras. Wifi is free and available throughout the Marina. They have a shuttle service that will take you to the grocery store or the nearby resort pool. The pool area has a great heated pool, a Jacuzzi, a nice restaurant serving breakfast lunch and dinner, great indoor and out door seating areas, complimentary towels, beach access to Emerald Bay along with Kayaks and other stuff.
The regular rate is $3 a foot for full services. However for the time being you can get a $0.75 per foot rate (40 foot minimum) for slips with no power. Water is metered but if you are a cruising boat set up to be independent of grid power for long periods of time this is a deal and a half.
We came into the E dock and tied up facing North East stern to. I wanted to face North East because this is where you typically get the strongest winds and I wanted to be stern to in order to allow Hideko and Roq to use the boarding ramp while I was away. They let us tie up between two spurs allowing us to avoid deploying fenders. The docks in most of the marina are floating with the posts on the inside of the spurs which is heaven compared to most places in the Bahamas. All of the floating docks have rubber rub rails and solid cleats (no tying up around a post!).
A dock hand was waiting for us when we arrived and they even set a nice Emerald Bay rug out for us. After putting the boat away, Hideko and I enjoyed a nice dinner out to commiserate the departure of our friends on Eyran.
01/22/2007, Stocking Island
We had a relaxing day today cleaning up around the boat and preparing to head to the Marina at Emerald Bay tomorrow. Our house back in California had been for sale since August. It entered escrow in late November and was now ready to close. It was going to take me about a week to clean the house out and hand it over to the new owners, so we decided that Hideko and Roq would be more comfortable in a marina for the time I was gone.
We wrapped up the day with a pizza party at the Saint Francis with Alex, Ellen and the kids. It was the last time we would get to spend time with them before they headed off to Nassau.
01/21/2007, Great Exuma
George Godfrey from Saint Francis stopped by today to give us a post sales tune up on the boat. It was a very helpful session. We bounced several ideas off of him and he answered a number of questions that had developed over our first three and a half months living aboard. We have lost several lights including the anchor light, a LED light in the transom that lights the steps for dinghy access at night, and the light at the nav station. The last two surprised me due to the fact that LEDs and Fluorescents should last for some time beyond the one year they survived on our boat. I luckily had a replacement for the transom light. I whimsically bought it at West Marine to get a look at LED lighting, thinking, "hmm, this just might work as a spare for my transom lights". I am not looking forward to messing around with the anchor light (72 feet up). The nav light is great because it is fluorescent and uses very little power. It is less than optimal because the fluorescent bulb emits a lot of RF interference and can really garble your SSB reception on some frequencies. I will probably replace it with an LED solution.
I haven't developed an optimal rig for the dinghy davit as of yet. George made several suggestions which we may try to reduce the lifting effort. Our boat has a problem with a sticky turning block in the arch that brings the lines down to the winch. This block is very hard to get to and can only be unbolted with a low profile ratchet wrench that I bought just for the task. I have been able to loosen the bolts enough to get it to spin, so other than the fact that I dumped the cover plate in No Name harbor, everything is working. George is getting us a new plate from the factory.
I bought vacuum gauges for the two Racor 500fgs we have on the boat but Duncan (the proprietor of Saint Francis Marine) indicated that the 500s are intentionally oversized and thus will probably fail to create the vacuum necessary to drive the gauges properly. Our diesel shut off valves are up in the forward locker on deck and underneath everything in the lockers. This is less than convenient when it comes to cleaning the sighting bowl or changing filters. I think I'm going to put some 3/8" shut offs in the engine room to make caring for the Racors easier. George indicated that the ABYC and CE outfits don't like the shut off near the Racor because if it were to vibrate closed it could deprive the engine of fuel in a bad situation. I will see if I can find shutoffs that can be locked open.
I noticed our starboard shrouds wagging a bit on a port tack close haul so I asked George about tensioning guidelines. I have a pretty good handle on monohull tensioning requirements but catamaran rigs are generally kept a bit more slack. This is due to the increased support provided by the additional angle afforded by the catamarans beam and the absence of a solid keel beneath the mast to cinch down on. Our boat, like most catamarans, has a double diamond system designed to keep the mast in column. After walking around the deck George advised me to tighten the lower starboard shroud and the baby stay a turn. Duncan indicated that after the crossing from South Africa and a bit of bashing to windward in the Bahamas the need for a little tensioning wasn't out of the ordinary.
After giving us a few tips on cleaning and polishing products, George headed back to the resort. He had a big night ahead with the final football playoffs attracting a large cruiser crowd. George will be sailing Calypso up to Miami for the Miami boat show in mid February.
Alex stopped by after George left to see if we were still on for fishing. I said, "of course!" I had yet to catch anything here and we were waiting for me to get in gear prior to cooking up a joint Eyran/Swingin on a Star lobster fest. I only need one good sized lobster to feed my family so the hurdle was low. No one else in the anchorage had gone out today because the swell was around 8 feet and breaking.
Hideko helped me get ready and then Alex and I took off at around 3:30PM. Many people get leery about diving as the sun sets, I on the other hand love it. Lobsters come out at night. There's also something romantic about motoring home in the fading light with supper in tow.
Back to reality, Alex and I hit the first cut to the north of the anchorage and were greeted by confused and breaking seas. Alex weaved his way out of the cut, quite a feat, and we then made our way outside. As we started to look for the reef we began to wonder how realistic it was to snorkel in the mess. One minute you'd be 20 feet above a hole, the next minute 30 feet. On minute you'd be five feet in front of the hole, the next minute you'd be five feet past it. We were also a little worried about the dinghy getting swamped, or worse the outboard getting submersed. The outside swell was breaking at the tops here and there. After a bit more looking around and consideration we decided to head back to the cut.
The cut we came out was breaking a bit too heavily at this point so we went one more up. Just at the inside of the cut we found some rocks and a little bit of reef. It didn't look like the Promised Land but Alex, always upbeat when setting out to hunt, said, "this might be lobster heaven, you never know". Skeptical, I splashed over the side of the dinghy.
The reef area was really shallow. It was kind of dangerous because there was fire coral here and there and with the surge you could be 3 feet above it one second and no feet above it the next. There were several holes and tunnels in the reef though so as long as the depth didn't prohibit them, lobsterization was likely. Before long Alex found his first. He took a shot but missed and then let me have a try (probably thinking, if I get one I'd let him go home!). I missed as well and the lobster then decided to stroll out of his hole. Cheap trick that. Alex nailed him while I scrambled to reload. It's not really yours unless you find it and shoot it, right? I think finding them is the harder part.
Disgusted at my miss I set off down reef to try to stir up something on my own. The reef quickly gave way to rock and then just the wall of the small Cay we were running along. Lots of nice Uni Sushi but no Lobster holes. I swam back to the north and realized how far I'd gone. It was a good workout with the surge and current. When I got back to where Alex was I noticed that he was fighting with a second lobster. Ok now I really had a mission. I swam north along the Cay but the reef was actually very small and ended quickly in that direction as well. A rocky bank extended underwater and out into the cut. I followed this along until I found an area in about 15 feet of water with some nice rocks and holes.
Just as I prepared to dive I sucked in a big load of salt water. My snorkel has been giving me problems for a while and so I surfaced to check it out. That's when I discovered the real problem. The swells were breaking about two feet from the ledge I was trying to explore. I figured that this probably makes the spot less traveled and more likely to bear fruit. I dove on a few spots and found nothing but Squirrel fish. A cruiser I had met the other day said that he liked Squirrel fish so I started subconsciously sizing them up. Lobster, lobster, lobster, no settling for Squirrel Fish!!
I checked another large whole and saw a crazy mix of really large tentacles and legs sticking out. What the heck is that? I dove again. Holly mackerel, was it big. I still couldn't tell if it was a Lobster, or some kind of crab I hadn't seen before, or perhaps both close together. I did know that it was big enough to eat however. I went down again with the spear cocked. As so often happens the entrance to the hole has a long flat run of rock in front of it and the critters are up in the back of the hole. I tried to get as much upward angle as I could and then fired. Two large legs popped out of the hole and dinner moved back up in the hole even farther. Arg.
Damsel fish and Wrasses began to feast on my two partial prizes immediately. What insolence. I grabbed one of the legs to look at it. I still couldn't tell what it was. I'd never seen a leg that big or that furry on a lobster. It had kind of a red fur all over the last leg segment.
Meanwhile Alex had nabbed a total of two lobsters and was motoring over my way. He was stressing a bit because he had lost sight of me due to the swell and surf. When he made it over to where I was I showed him the leg. He said some things in French that I didn't understand and then said, "where is it". We both returned to the hole.
After fifteen minutes as a team, post my initial 20 minutes of work we had nothing to show other than two more legs. This called for a strategy.
After a bit of discussion we decided to have Alex watch the front of the hole while I tried to find a way in from the back of the rock. After moving some small rocks I finally saw the beast. It was a big spiny lobster. I shot him but the barb didn't take. He moved to the front of the hole and Alex nabbed him. Victory at last. The sun had set at this point so we packed up and headed home. We had three lobster in the bucket and two in the freezer that Alex had caught over the prior few days.
Ellen cooked up the lobster and Hideko made an apple cake from my Mom's cook book. We dined on Eryan like kings. I was a nice end to a busy day.
01/20/2007, The Fish Fry
There's an area of Great Exuma with a number of small food and drink shacks known as Fish Fry Village. The Edelweiss crew has been doing a great job of seeing all of the sights in the area and invited us to join them at the Fish Fry for lunch. We set out across the harbor for the fist time on Little Star around noon, following Lowell and Jane in their Zodiac. It was just Hideko and I so we got up on a plane pretty easily but out little 8HP could not come close to keeping up with the 15HP Zodiac. Lowell waited for us on the other side of the harbor and we made out best guess as to which beach the shacks were on.
We ended up one cove north where the Peace and Plenty Beach Club and Coconut Cove Inns are located. They directed us back to the beach with the two rusting barges just to the south. We ran the dinghys up on the sand and took a walk though the shacks. As it turns out most don't get going until about 3PM and only a few are open during the week. The man who gave us directions recommended we try Aces. After discovering that they were the only place open I could see why he would make such a recommendation. We all order the grouper, fried. It was great. With our mercury and bad cholesterol levels all peaked we headed into town to catch up on some business over the Internet.
The Peace and Plenty hotel on the Northeast of town has a dock in the harbor just down from the Fish Fry so we tied up there and tried out their Internet. They charged $5 for a half of an hour and have a Wifi hub in the manager's office that works right around the lobby. If too many stations are on line you can't get on so instead of using Hideko's laptop I used the desktop PC they have available. The sale of our home back in California is imminent so I had to make a call as well. There are payphones out side of the Peach and Plenty Hotel and across the street at the Peace and Plenty boutique (although one was out of order). Two out of three is a good ratio here. Few of the phones in the Bahamas take cash so you either need a prepaid card or some way of making a collect call (which BTC seems to leave curiously dysfunctional in most places). After trying several approaches at a collect call I gave up and bought a BTC pre paid card. After catching up with my real estate broker it appears I will have to fly back to Los Angeles to wrap things up.
01/19/2007, Fowel Cay
There's a lot of confusion regarding where you can and can't fish in the Great Exuma area. Explorer charts from 2003 show a very large park covering all waters south of Volleyball Beach from the Great Exuma shore out to 50 meters. This would make the outside reefs around the southern cuts and the Fowl Cay area all off limits. These spots are where most of the cruisers go to spear fish. After about a week of trying to get the real skinny I have come to believe that you may not spear fish anywhere in the Elizabeth Harbor. A larger park was planned but various private interests on Stocking island seem to have gotten in the way of the park being finalized. Thus spear fishing outside of the harbor is acceptable. Nassau grouper are out of season until March everywhere.
John aboard Freebird, a Lagoon 42, stopped by last night to invite me to go hunting Lobster with Steve from Shanty and George from another boat off of Volleyball beach. Alex joined us and we headed out at about 8AM. We tried some shallower spots around the outlying rocks past Fowl Cay but no luck. Alex found a medium lobster at the second spot we tried but the rest of us were skunked as John put it. Alex had to head back so John and I tried some rocky spots North of Elizabeth island and again nothing but the skunk.
We headed back in through the cut between Elizibeth and Stocking islands. It was half tide and the cut was breaking so it was pretty interesting coming back in. John is an expert dinghy pilot so it was an easy shot back to the boats. I had originally though that Freebird was an older Privilege due to the general shape and Battyline window covers. It was the first older Lagoon (pre the vertical windows) I had seen up close. It is a nice boat and looks a bit stronger than the newer models.
01/18/2007, Volleyball Beach
Today we hit Volleyball Beach for the first time. This place is the center of all cruiser activity in the area. There are all sorts of cruiser organized activities taking place and truly something for everyone. A lot of folks come out everyday for Dominoes, Bridge, Volleyball (ranging from highly competitive to jungle ball), or just to hang out on the beach and relax. There's a little bar and grill called Chat & Chill right on the beach and while it is a bit expensive, it has a great beach vibe and is in a perfect location to keep all of the cruisers properly lubricated.
Hideko and I went to a Bridge Training session hosted by Stewart, the British skipper of Union Jack who we met at the Atlantis Marina. He is obviously a bridge expert and did a great job herding the chickens. We all learned a lot and then played a few hands. We teamed up with the crew of Shaza, Bob and Sharon, for our practice runs.
Bob was responsible for the tour of the Stromatolites the prior day that we missed. Stromatolites are bacteria and this flavor actually forms reefs of a special kind. They typically exist in extreme conditions (for instance very hot) in the modern world and it was quite a surprise when they were discovered a few years back in the Exumas. They are not known to be found anywhere else outside of extreme environments. Bob gave us a nice overview of the tour he provided but we were even more bummed out that we missed it afterwards. There are so many amazing things to see in the world. The more you learn about things the more amazing they are.
After a quick run to the boat to let Roq play on the beach we headed to the Saint Francis for the evening Texas Hold 'Em tournament. It was a lot of fun and there were at least 30 folks playing. Hideko and I both played and made it about half way.
As we got set to head home under the moonless night sky with millions of stars above, we realized that we had no flashlight. Major cruiser sin, that. It was no problem for me to find the way back to the boat but the other dinghy captains blasting around at 10 knots can't see you. It had been such a busy day, and so bright and sunny that we just didn't think about a light. We need to make a good waterproof light a standard part of the dinghy gear.
01/17/2007, Elizibeth Harbor
We spent a bit of the day today swimming and playing on the beach with the Eyran crew. Roq had not been in the water since Hideko dunked him at No Name harbor, so I was thinking it was about time to get him back in the swing. It would also cool him down a lot. So Roq and I took our first long swim together.
Rather than taking him to the beach in the dink, I lifted him into the water at the big boat, with his PFD on of course. At first it was me towing him but then he started to get the idea and began paddling. It was a lot of fun. It cooled him off nicely and gave him some good low impact exercise for his recovering leg.
Being a good swimmer is not just a fun thing on a boat, it is a safety issue. It was nice to know that if Roq fell into the water at the big boat, he now will have some idea of how to exit the water. He's a decent swimmer but I think his PFD is an important addition at his age. The flotation it provides is ok but I wish more of it was lower in the vest. His body ends up underwater but his head is up high enough to keep his airway and eyes and ears clear. Practical Sailor just reviewed Dog PFDs this last issue (ours wasn't in the test) so perhaps I'll have to keep an eye out for an upgrade.
Roq wrapped up the day with a shampoo and shower on the transom. No matter how much hair you get off of him the quantity he sheds in the boat never declines. It is amazing.