06 April 2017 | St Lucie Inlet, Florida
02 April 2017 | Stocking Island, Exuma
01 April 2017 | George Town, Exumas
30 March 2017 | George Town, Bahamas
22 March 2017 | Elizabeth Island, Exumas
09 March 2017 | George Town, Exumas
04 March 2017 | Thompson's Bay, Long Island
03 March 2017 | Stella Maris, Long Island
02 March 2017 | Long Island
26 February 2017 | Crossing from Water Cay to Comer Channel, Jumentos
25 February 2017 | Double-Breasted Cay to Thompson's Bay, Long Island
23 February 2017 | Double-Breasted Cay, Jumentos
19 February 2017 | Hog Cay, Jumentos
16 February 2017 | Duncan Town, Ragged Island
14 February 2017 | Hog Cay, Jumentos
10 February 2017 | Hog Cay, the Jumentos
06 February 2017 | Duncan Town, Ragged Island
05 February 2017 | Hog Cay, Ragged Islands
05 February 2017 | Duncan Town, Ragged Island
The Home Stretch: Weather Before Wallet
22 March 2014 | Crossing the Great Bahamas Bank
Photo: anchored at Emerald Bay
"Working, Working, Working on the Boat!" Who of our cruising friends remember that song by bluewater folksinger Eileen Quinn? It kept going through my head as we spent days scrubbing and polishing Halekai inside and out, all the while enjoying the lovely anchorages of Stocking Island. Now that she's all clean and shiny again we're even more proud of our beautiful "floating home"--which is the rough translation of Halekai, in Polynesian.
We left Georgetown last Monday with a good weather window for the week ahead. We day-hopped along the shallow Exumas Bank to Little Farmers Cay, to Staniel Cay, and then to Emerald Bay in the protected waters of the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. We snorkeled around Emerald Rock (in photo above) and coral heads teeming with colorful fish. It's amazing to see fish not scurry away, knowing that they're in a no-take marine reserve.
Then onward to Highbourne Cay, where there's an exclusive little marina resort. We dinghied ashore past a bunch of sharks with their fins slicing through the water off the entrance to the marina basin, begging for fish tidbits to the delight of the resort guests. After viewing the fancy $38 entrees on the restaurant menu, we bought cleaned conch from a local fisherman for $2 each and had gourmet conch salad aboard.
Last night we took shelter off Rose Island, just across from Nassau. Annoying jet skiers from a large motoryacht buzzed noisily around us but thankfully disappeared before sundowner time. This morning we sailed past the huge pink Atlantis resort complex and several cruise ships, and this afternoon we passed between Andros and the Berry Islands.
We're now on the shallow Great Bahamas Bank, a weird feeling sailing miles from land in only 10 to 15 feet of water. In the morning we'll cross the Gulf Stream and should arrive in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow afternoon. Oh no, we'll be clearing Customs & Immigration on Sunday, yet again! More overtime charges? But with the next norther on its way, waiting a day would mean risking west wind while crossing the notorious Stream, a most unpleasant prospect for the home stretch. Weather comes before wallet.
It'll be the first time Halekai has been back in the States since we left Fort Lauderdale in January 2005. Time for another celebration!
Bahamas: Return to Paradise
16 March 2014 | Monument Beach, Stocking Island
"Now that you've sailed around the world, what places did you like the most?"
Julie and George of s/v Seaquel, some friends who had completed their circumnavigation before we left, told us that the Bahamas were their favorite cruising grounds. They've been spending their winters here ever since they circled the globe, and we just had a fun reunion with them aboard Seaquel in Georgetown.
We often thought of that conversation during our travels, which took us to more than 30 countries along the trade wind route.
The world and its peoples are so diverse that choosing favorites among them is like comparing apples and oranges. We have wonderful memories of the many places we've visited and the friends we've made along the way, and there's really nowhere in the world that we didn't enjoy in one way or another. The South Pacific, Turkey and Morocco were perhaps the most exotic, for different reasons.
But the beautiful aquamarine waters and white sandy beaches of the Bahamas are like nowhere else in the world. We love snorkeling the coral waters and hunting for lobster and conch. The climate is warm and balmy. The people are friendly, crime is almost non-existent, and it's nice to be where English is spoken. We have old friends who continue to winter here. There's an international airport in Georgetown making it easy to have guests.
CLICK FOR PHOTOS OF PARADISE!
Now that we've spent a month in the Exumas, our concern that things might have changed for the worse over the years has been put to rest. And how convenient for us that they are so close to the US East Coast, for our future winters afloat.
Snowbird Cruising Mecca
03 March 2014 | Georgetown, Exumas
Photo: with Sue, Chesley, Connie and Mary
We anchored in Kidd Cove and spent two days catching up on the mundane: ATM, internet, laundry, haircut, produce from street vendors, groceries and ice cubes from Exuma Market. Cracked conch and grouper fingers at Eddie's our first night, freshly made conch salad and grilled jerk chicken at Martin's for lunch next day. We splurged on lobster tails from Martin and had a feast aboard two nights ago, still in celebratory mode.
CLICK FOR PHOTOS
Nothing much has changed in Georgetown since our last visit nine years ago. Hundreds of East Coast and Canadian snowbird cruisers winter here each year, keeping busy with all sorts of organized activities. We anchored off Volleyball Beach and went for a morning walk on the lovely Stocking Island beach, together with Mary and Christian from s/v I Wanda. We first met them a dozen years ago here in the Bahamas and have seen each other often over the years at SSCA Gams. Yesterday we went to the Sunday Pig Roast at Chat 'n' Chill and caught up with old friends and new.
Crossing Our Outbound Path
27 February 2014 | Calabash Bay, Long Island
Drumroll ... ! Yesterday we crossed our outbound path! Nine years ago this month we anchored here in Calabash Bay on our circumnavigation aboard Halekai, begun in Annapolis in 2004. We celebrated with our favorite meal, duck breast a l'orange, and pink champagne. Prosit!This morning we're motoring across to Georgetown, Exumas, where we'll enter the harbor with the traditional hoisting of flags from countries we've visited along the way.
An Underwater Paradise No More
26 February 2014 | Conception Island
From afar we could see that we wouldn't be alone at Conception: binoculars revealed a forest of masts in the anchorage. As we approached and circled the fleet we spotted mostly Canadian flags among the more than two dozen yachts, evidently a group outing organized from Georgetown.
We dropped anchor in 12 feet over sand. After lunch and a swim we took a siesta. That night we thawed out some wahoo and dined by candlelight in the cockpit, surrounded by bobbing mast lights and twinkling stars. It doesn't get much better!
We were surprised to see a cruise ship pass by to our west. The AIS showed it was in transit from St. Thomas to Little San Salvador, previously a popular destination for boaters but now off-limits, since a cruise ship company bought it from the Bahamian government.
Next morning we dinghied through the cut on the north end of the island to snorkel around the cove on the other side, where the coral was as bleak as out on the reef. Then we moved to the reef on the south end of the island but alas, it was no different there. We did spot a five foot nurse shark resting on the bottom, some colorful parrotfish and triggerfish and several small groupers, and some dead conch shells. No sign of lobster. The area has been under environmental protection for years due to over harvesting but the marine life doesn't seem to have recovered yet, surely due in part to the unhealthy coral.
Close Encounter with Coral
25 February 2014 | Southhampton Reef, Conception Island
"We stopped in Conception on our way over here," our Kentucky boat neighbors told us before we left San Salvador, "and it was great. We were the only boat there." We were anxious to seeing if the uninhabited Out Island was as beautiful as we remember it, and this sounded promising.
As we motorsailed 37 miles across the deep trench that separates the islands, our AIS showed heavy ship traffic transiting the channel. The course was set for the end of Southhampton Reef where a visible wreck was charted three miles north of Conception. We were looking for it when suddenly we were in less than 30 feet of water, with coral heads all around us! The reef was longer than the chart showed.
We slowed down to a crawl and maneuvered around the heads, luckily not as shallow as they appeared in the clear water, into safer depths on the far side of the reef. Then we dropped anchor and launched the dinghy to explore up close. What a disappointment! The towering coral heads were mostly dead and there were few fish. Either a hurricane or a season or more of abnormally warm water temps (global warming?), or both, had wreaked havoc.
Reconciling with Church and Slavery
24 February 2014 | Cockburn Town, San Salvador
For an island population of only a couple hundred we counted at least half a dozen churches in town, animated sermons and choir singing audible as we passed by. Late model cars filled the church parking lots and worshipers wore their finest despite the tropical temps, men in dark suits and women in fancy dresses. The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches were the largest and most impressive (see photos); there were also Baptist, Church of God of Prophecy, Kingdom Ministries, and others we can't recall.
In addition to a few shops we passed several small government office buildings. Half the population must be civil servants, there were so many of them. The other half must work at the resorts and shops, as there didn't appear to be any other signs of commerce. The island consists mostly of sand and salt marshes, not much arable land.
We smiled and said hello to everyone we saw and they all answered in kind, but nobody initiated a greeting, unusual for such a small place. Most inhabited, pastel-colored houses were in good shape but there were quite a few deserted ones slowly being reclaimed by nature.
Considering there were just a couple of lanes in the little village, they were remarkably well signed. The First Avenue and Deveaux Street intersection caught our attention (see photo), as Devaux was Burger's maternal grandmother's name, of French Huguenot origin. The other intersection was at First Avenue and Queen's Highway, amusingly pretentious for the sandy beach road.
As in all the Bahamian islands, the original native peoples were replaced by European colonials who brought in slaves to work their plantations, but when the poor soil and harsh living conditions led to their demise, the slaves were abandoned to their fate. Today's population are their descendants, and the poignant words on a large framed illustrated sign commemorating island history reflect their continuing struggle to reconcile the past with the present:
"... the salvific Cross of Jesus Christ, marking the first landfall in the New World by Christopher Columbus on 12 October 1492, reminds us that the greatest benefit of the arrival of the Europeans was the gift of Christianity, even though the Church's representatives were culpable in the genocide of many peoples in the Americas and the institution of slavery but has served to guide us towards becoming communities of love."
"... Watling's Castle reminds us of the experience of colonialism and plantation slavery and our continuing effort as a people to rise from the ruins of the institution of slavery to a free and sovereign people aware of our history and our national potential."
Never on Sunday
23 February 2014 | Cockburn Town, San Salvador
Our 4-day passage to San Salvador ended early Sunday morning when we anchored on the shallow bank off the tiny town of Cockburn Town. We were under sail the whole way but no sooner did we arrive than the trades dissipated, as expected. Since it's an open roadstead we were happy to find it calm and relatively free of swell. One other sailboat was at anchor, hailing from Kentucky.
We had been here once before many years ago, May 1976 to be exact. We'll never forget diving into the crystalline water that the Bahamas are famous for. The pure white sand was littered with thousands of helmet conchs who were evidently on a migratory march. This time we found just one solitary helmet conch, and some rays buried in the sand with just their eyes showing.
We launched the dinghy and beached it in the slight surf, next to the rusting relics of the old town dock that had evidently been destroyed in a hurricane. (Later we realized we could have more easily tied up the dinghy in the small boat marina half a mile up the coast.) A small RO-RO supply ship (roll on, roll off) was just leaving as we arrived, having delivered a few containers to the island. It didn't need a dock to do so, as it simply drove close enough to shore to drop its front gate onto the concrete ramp at the water's edge, so cargo could be driven on and off.
We walked along the beach road about a mile to the airport to clear in with C&I. Luckily we knew in advance about the exorbitant $300 Bahamas Customs fee instituted a few years ago, and had cashed up in St. Thomas. C&I didn't accept credit cards. There was an ATM at the bank we passed, but whether it had cash? We were surprised by the additional $130 Immigration fee, $30 of which was Sunday overtime. The folks on the other yacht at anchor who cleared in elsewhere told us that overtime charges are no longer permitted, and to complain in Nassau. We will! The officials are on duty seven days a week at the airport. The Immigrations official offered us a ride back to town, maybe to justify the fee, but we declined as we needed the exercise after four days at sea.
We could of course have avoided all the recent weekend and holiday charges with better planning, but then again, waiting could have meant missing weather windows.
While we were inside the C&I office, the small Cessna we had walked past was replaced by a large private plane with 12 windows on each side. Two young American men cleared in after us, presumably the pilot and co-pilot, but we saw no other passengers. After rehydrating with sodas at the airport snack bar we returned to town, past the Club Med and the Red Riding Inn & Marina, both dive resorts whose guests fly in with Bahamas Air. White diving buoys lined the drop-off where the shallow aquamarine bank meets the deep blue sea. A handful of sportfisher boats were berthed in the marina, their owners most likely Floridians who commute by private plane.