Conception & Long Islands
03 February 2017 | Georgetown, Great Exuma
Jan 24 - Feb 4 We had a good rinse off with the frontal passage on Monday with a rare steady rain of about three hours duration. We met some folks from the vessel "First Love" from Northeast Maryland and Sharlene stopped by and discussed various things to see and do along the ICW during our trip home in the spring, which was much appreciated. We ended up staying one more night at the marina while winds piped down a bit, chatting with folks on the dock and on boats. Wednesday the 25th we headed out and made our way to Georgetown, first time to be back there since we left on Dec 1. I tried trolling for tuna or Mahi Mahi armed with new information from fellow cruisers, but only got a bite. Once we arrived, we anchored just south of volleyball beach, near the "Chat & Chill", south of the main group of anchored boats. We were a bit surprised to see fewer boats here than we expected, still only about 15 here and 15 near Monument beach. It seems that the weather had continued to inhibit travel from Florida for the past weeks. We dinghied over to the St. Francis resort for dinner, also on Stocking Island, but again were a bit surprised to find that we were the only customers that dined there that evening. The next day we left Elizabeth Harbor and headed out the southern cut and across in an ENE direction towards the northern end of Long Island. We had a great close reach sail for the entire day and arrived at Calabash Bay by midafternoon. The bay offered good protection from easterly winds and had a long beautiful beach with a peaceful looking isolated resort at the far northern end. This set us up for a sail in open water to Conception Island, another Land & Sea park this time with no inhabitants. The first sights we saw as we headed north and east was around Cape Santa Maria where Columbus ran aground in his flagship on the second island they were to land on in 1492 (the first being San Salvador island 50 miles to the NE from this Cape). There is a monument on the cliffs to mark the locality which we may visit via land at a later date. It was a beautiful broad reach sail in 10-14 knots of wind on another great blue day. I tried trolling once more and about a third of the way across, in the deep blue water, I hooked a fish...finally! It took about 40 minutes to eventually land it, a beautiful Mahi Mahi that comes out of the water as a bright yellow color but quickly fades to blue grey once landed. It was 39 inches long tip to tip and weighed 11.2 lbs. Once we got to anchor later in the day, I started the task of cutting up the fish into filets which, being inexperienced at this, took me the good part of an hour. It sure did taste good that evening for dinner, and made enough to freeze for five more dinners, yum! Conception Island was a really beautiful spot with exceptionally clear water, nice beaches and reefs. We happened to anchor near the boat "Breeze On" from Cambridge Maryland, whom we had met at the marina a few days before and had them over for sunset that evening. There were ten other cruising boats here enjoying the park with us. We did some snorkeling in the bay where we had anchored and also across a narrow isthmus to a north facing beach with a vast area of coral heads.
The next morning (Saturday the 28th) we were up early to go for a long dinghy ride to a salina on the southwestern shore accessible only during states of high tides. It turned out to be perfect conditions for it with light winds and super clear conditions. We made our way up the winding waterways amongst the mangroves, using my phone app for navigation and were rewarded with sightings of stingrays, including a few spotted eagle rays in the shallow water. The highlight near the end was a sea turtle habitat with many turtles swimming beneath us in the greenish water. This was a particularly long dinghy excursion (over 7 nm round trip) and we were glad that it all happened without incident, since later that day an incident did occur! In a late afternoon snorkeling trip to a reef offshore from the anchorage, the dinghy motor made a brief but unsettling sound that seemed to come from inside. It still kept running but died when we slowed down and I couldn't restart it. As it happened, our new friends on Breeze On saw us in difficulty and dinghied over to help. They towed us back to our boat thankfully where I attempted to sort out the problem.
Sunday the 29th, after two nights at Conception Island we hoisted anchor early and headed back southwest towards Cape Santa Maria and Long Island. We had a nice sail in the open water being met by a pod of a dozen or so dolphins that played in our bow wave for a while. We then motored down the west side of Long Island negotiating the sand bars on the banks side of this new island for about 25 more miles to arrive at our destination of Thompson Bay by midafternoon, a 43 nm trip in total. The water here was different than other places we've been so far. It was a brilliant turquoise color but was nearly opaque, reminding me of runoff from a high mountain glacier. Apparently the fine silt in the water along this coast gives it that characteristic. Once comfortably anchored in Thompson Bay, we were ready for another frontal passage, which proved well behaved and all high winds were from the windward shores to the NW to NE directions. The 25 or so boats here were quite widely spaced from each other so that there was little worry about errant swinging at anchor after dark. I set about tearing into the dinghy outboard to try to resolve its issue, but after three attempts at removing, cleaning and rebuilding the carburetor, and checking other things over the next couple of days I had to admit defeat. The recommended expert on shore here at the town of Salt Pond was away on a fishing trip until the following week, so that made the decision to sail back to Georgetown easy.
Tuesday the 31st we made our way westward across the banks to Great Exuma Island and Georgetown, a good bit of it under sail in a downwind direction. This time in the harbor there seemed to be quite a few more boats even than just last week. Someone had a boat count of 189 as of Feb 1. Once there I made one more attempt to diagnose the outboard malfunction, without success. So on Thursday (Feb 2) we made our way into town the old fashioned way...rowing...that is until a fellow cruiser took pity on us and gave us a tow into Lake Victoria and the boat yard, outboard dealer inside there. The mechanic quickly took the outboard and diagnosed it with a compression test and found loss of compression in one cylinder, meaning a major tear down was necessary. Not something I could fix onboard either, most likely a piston ring had broken. Since getting the right parts and making repairs was looking like a multi-week prospect at best and much longer at worst, we went ahead and ordered a new outboard motor. If there's a good thing about this incident, it's that one can still get 2-stroke outboards for a decent price here in Georgetown and it was determined that they had them in stock in Nassau. (They are no longer available in the US). So we'll be staying in Georgetown through next week to get this taken care of, and plan to be on our way again after that, hopefully returning to Long Island and Thompson Bay. We're really getting to know both the joys and challenges of the cruising life!