Rum for Mahi
17 May 2021 | Little Sampson Cay, Exuma
We are still in a fishing drought. We now troll three lines instead of the usual two and switch lures regularly. We don't fish in shallow water where it is quite easy to catch Barracudas. We caught two of these but that doesn't count, can't safely eat them in the Bahamas.
Sailing with Starship from Conception to Cat Island, we saw six, large sportfishing boats working the south end of Cat. They were talking with each other on the VHF and we listened in. Some were cursing the Mahi for wrecking their bait sets. They were hunting big Marlin.
A few days later, we rented a car with Mitch and Delana to tour Cat. We stopped at Hawk's Nest Marina bar where the sportfishing boats were hanging out. One fisherman confirmed Mahi were a nuisance. I offered to trade a big bottle of rum for a Mahi. He agreed.
The next day we called Anita Jeanne and asked if they had some Mahi to trade. They said they would. Lisa and I dinghied ten miles from our anchorage in the Bight to Hawk's Nest. It was downwind so not that rough a ride. That's still a long dinghy ride doing 15 knots, about 45 minutes.
We arrived and had a nice chat with Pete, his son, Spencer and crew. We gave them a 1.5 liter bottle of Cruzan Rum and the gave us a little bag of fillets. Spencer said, “I feel bad taking your rum for just that bag of fish.” I replied, “We will take more if it will make you feel better!” He gave us another bag.
Hawk's Nest Marina had a nice, paved airport. Pete mentioned to us that there were five paved runways on Cat Island. There are fewer than 1,000 people living on Cat. Remember my last blog? In a half-finished hotel, gas station and restaurant complex we met The Pilot of Pilot Harbor. He explained that his family had cargo planes, light planes and a helicopter. Why so many airports, pilots and planes in a desolate place like Cat Island? Do the math, it's not long division.
It was getting toward dark and Lisa and I had a long ride back to Uproar. Remember when I said the ride to Hawk's Nest was downwind? Well it was upwind going back and the wind had picked up. Not only were we soaking wet but I had to modulate the throttle to keep from slamming into the bigger waves and still try to keep on a gentle plane. On plane we are a bit higher above the waves and go faster. I'm sure we took twice as long to return to Uproar.
It took forever until we could see Uproar's anchor light in the distance, well after sunset. This is a sparsely populated place. There were no other boats around and very few houses along the shore. Lisa had the forethought to bring a portable VHF radio in case we needed help.
The water gradually flattened out as we approached the Bight anchorage. Our hands, arms and shoulders were cramped from hanging on. Lisa's back hurt for two days. But we finally had some Mahi, enough for four small meals.
We have enjoyed two Mahi meals so far. With our French Polynesian recipe for vanilla sauce, the fish is superb, but decidedly not worth the punishing dinghy ride. Just hope to catch one of our own soon!
Pilot of Pilot Harbor
15 May 2021
“I”m a pilot. I went to school in Florida and the UK. I was once a first officer on jumbo jets but now just fly my family's inter-island cargo and small planes.” I asked if he could take us up for a ride and fly around the Exumas. “That plane is off island now but next week for sure.”
Lisa and I sailed from Conception Island to Cat Island, Exumas. It was a smooth, 40 mile spinnaker run in light to moderate wind. Cat Island is a 40 mile long hockey stick shape. The Bight is inside the crook of the hockey stick toward the south end. We anchored there for the most protection from changing winds.
Starship II followed us to Cat. We had just said hello a few times passing in the dinghy. They left Conception just before us. We called on the radio to introduce ourselves and determine if we were headed the same way. Yes, they were. They anchored in Cat a few hours after we arrived. Later that evening a small sloop beat to weather into our anchorage. They anchored just before sunset. I called Bimini Blue on the radio and told them we enjoyed watching their nice sailing into Cat. And would they like to come over for an anchor beer. Yes.
Shortly after they arrived, Aaron and Amy from Horizon Run also dinghied by, we invited them to join us for cocktails. These are two young couples doing some extensive cruising. We love to see young people out here. Why wait until you are old to throw off the dock lines.
But our first morning on Cat began with a dinghy expedition. Having a fast dinghy is such an advantage. It is our “car” and allows us to venture far from where Uproar rests at anchor. We headed for some buildings on shore just over a mile away. The chart showed a creek that led to a mangrove. This is typical of the eastern, Exuma Islands. These low islands have extensive mangroves in their interior. At high tide, it is often possible to dinghy into these mangroves and explore for miles. Turtles, rays and occasional nurse sharks live in these shallow waters.
We found the entrance to the creek at Pilot Harbor and dinghied as far as we could. It just became too shallow after about ½ mile. We returned to a boat ramp where we anchored the dinghy and went for a walk. The first building was a nice house with several additions. No one was around. Down the road further was what appeared to be an abandoned hotel. There were eight rooms, arranged town house style with a second floor. But the first floor on the beach side was just an empty shell, not finished. It could have been a cute hotel but was further compromised by the rusty wreck of an old tug on their beautiful beach. Such is the Bahamas.
We walked along and came to some construction machinery and fuel tanks. These led to a gas station, closed, with convenience store, closed, and a sign for laundry. A young Bahamian man was putzing around with a truck. He was the pilot. He explained his family had built the buildings we observed, the first being a restaurant. The hotel wasn't finished but they occasionally had groups stay there. A power surge had knocked out the freezers in the store and gas pumps. And no the laundry wasn't operational.
It was clear his love was flying! He talked about his family's planes They even had a helicopter. It is a shame we didn't get his name. We usually introduce ourselves and spend time getting to know other people. But in this era of masks, there is an undertone of caution that doesn't lead to personal encounters. What a shame we weren't able to fly with the pilot of Pilot Harbor.
Later we met Delana and Mitch from Starship II on Rollez Beach Resort for a beer. Carl had built a small and colorful resort on the beach. What an inviting spot. We planned to share a rental car with Delana and Mitch the next day and further explore Cat Island.
01 May 2021
Nick Hayes wrote an insightful book, “Saving Sailing.” He looked at sailing and other sports and hobbies and what has caused a decline in these activities.
I will try to summarize his findings: Leisure activities that are learned through inter-generational participation become life-long passions. I sailed at a very early age with my father, my kids and some with my grandfather. Sailing has become a life-long passion for me.
There are more kids participating in sailing now than when I was a kid. But few of them stick with sailing. Why? This participation consists of being dropped off at a sailing school, learning to sail, then going home. At the end of the lessons, there is no next step. The family is not involved beyond transportation to lessons which doesn't lead to future opportunities and inspiration.
It's the same with soccer. Millions of kids play soccer but few continue in the sport past youth teams.
Another example Nick gave was fishing. Fishing for me was going out in a rowboat with dad or grandpa and dangling a worm. I'm sure this is still the way a lot of kids go fishing. But there has been a glorification of the tournament fishing. Big purses and TV shows are now a huge part of the sport. Dad wants to be a part of this so buys a sparkly bass boat with a huge motor and all the gear. He is certain to wear the right clothes and have a truck big enough to tow the boat. The simple pleasures of dangling a worm with the kids may get lost in the hype. I sure hope not.
Nick called the participation that just involved showing up a “charted experience.” You get exactly what you expect when you drop your kids off at sailing school, a few hours of lesson. Going to Disney World is a charted experience. You just show up (and pay a lot) and you get the Disney Buzz. It is fun but let's face it, you don't have to expend any effort or imagination. And when it's over, it's over except for some memories.
Compare a trip to Disney with a canoeing or backpacking vacation with the family. These families will make their own experiences, not just be present for them. Nick didn't come up with a term for this opposite of the chartered experience. Let's call it an “earned experience.” One has to become intimately involved in a canoeing or backpacking trip.
It has been six years since I was at the Annapolis Boat Show. A few years ago, another sailor told me she knew people going to the show, just to meet the Youtube sailing bloggers! I was shocked. I go to see my sailing friends, hit a few seminars and drool over the cool sailing stuff on display. I could care less about Youtube sailors and what they cooked for dinner, but it sure is a thing.
I recently talked with a cruising, sailing school instructor. He said the majority of his work is teaching people who have never sailed before, who have bought cruising catamarans, to sail their own boats. These people spent up to $1/2 million on a boat and didn't know how to sail. And they were ALL inspired by Youtube channels. Talk about a chartered experience. They see the Youtubers living the life and think all they need to do is buy a boat like theirs. Voila! Oh, let's pay for a week of lessons just to get it right. The instructor told me he can teach them to drive a boat but that's not sailing.
Let me give a recent example. A few weeks ago we came across a boat that was aground. They had the sails sheeted in tight. We dinghied up to the boat and asked if we could help. They said, “No, as soon as the tide goes up, we will just shoot forward and be off the bottom. I mentioned as diplomatically as possible that the boat will not go forward until there is some speed over the keels. It would just be pushed sideways into the shallower water. They were oblivious to what I mentioned so we just motored away and wished them luck.
We know a handful of zero to cruising, cruisers who are very competent sailors. I can assure you they were motivated by far more than a Youtube channel. The ones I know really dedicated themselves to learning all they could and taking it slowly. They mixed with other cruisers and learned from them. They had no delusions that the mere purchase of a boat made them a cruiser.
But that's not the current trend as I was informed and what I am observing in the Bahamas. Our return to the Bahamas has shown us an influx of new cruisers. We have talked with a few. We always introduce ourselves to boat anchored nearby. These new, inexperienced cruisers don't mix very well. One told us with pride, “We are buddy boating.” We have seen them and others since who are in lock step with their buddy boat. How much they are missing by not expanding their experiences with other cruisers and local people. Lynn Pardee warned, “As a single person or couple, you are approachable by local people. As two couples, you have your own thing going and won't be approached.”
I recommend that all new sailors learn to sail a small boat. It can be a Sunfish or something larger. I suggest it be a tiller steered boat with a main and jib. Once you learn to handle that boat with proficiency, you will have strong, basic sailing skills. Spend a few thousand dollars on a Flying Scot or similar. These boats are great fun to sail and sensitive to “feel” sailing. Most of us started sailing this way, did some racing and sailed on a variety of boats. That's how we progressed to buy the boat that is now our life and home. It is an earned experience that is quite rewarding.
If you are a Youtube newbie sailor, I hope you are not offended by what I am writing. Why not take a step back and learn the basics of sailing? Make it your earned experience to love for a lifetime. Sailboats are slow, why hurry? Learn for yourself what sailing is all about, not just what other people tell you it is about. There is plenty of room out here and it is a life I sure recommend for all who dedicate themselves to go to sea.
Georgetown, Adult Daycare
01 May 2021
It's the “sticky harbor.” Georgetown is one of the largest settlements in the southern Bahamas. Cruisers intending to sail to the Caribbean often use Georgetown as a provisioning and jump off point. Unfortunately, it is the most social spot for cruising in the Bahamas.
“Oh, just another sundowner on the beach with friends and we will leave tomorrow.” All of this detracts from the girding of loins required to sail the “thorny path” to the Caribbean. From Bahamas to the Caribbean can be a tough, upwind slog, especially for boats that don't sail to weather very well. Those loins remain un-girded and boats tend to stay in Georgetown until they are hard aground on the pile of coffee grounds surrounding their keel.
In 2016 we were “stuck” in Georgetown for about six weeks with a vacation to Long Island in between. Steve and Carla were flying to meet us, we had to be here for their arrival and departure. But we had a great time. There were 300 boats in the anchorage in 2016. We were told it is usually closer to 500 but the weather was pretty tough that year and some boats just went back to the US.
The Georgetown Regatta was a big part of our stay here. This ten day event consisted of three sailboat races (we won) and a wide variety of fun events. They had a cruise ship style talent contest, conch horn blowing contest, coconut dinghy gathering, dinghy poker run, volleyball tournament, softball games against local team, bake sale, treasures of the bilge sale, and lots of food and drink at Chat 'n Chill beach. But most of all, there was a pet show. Sophie won “oldest participant!” They don't just give that prize to any old dog.
The organizers of Regatta really put on a professional style event and it was great fun. They raised money for local charities in the process of entertaining about a thousand cruisers. But there is always social fun in Georgetown. Every morning there is a cruiser's net on channel 72. It is easy to meet other cruisers here, a big plus. Even outside of the regatta craziness, there are cruisers gatherings every day. The Wednesday ARG (alcohol research group) is especially well attended. That's why we call Georgetown “adult daycare.”
Unfortunately, 2021 is quite different. This year we are a bit late in the season, boats are already heading back to the US for hurricane season. There are only about 60 boats here. We have still had fun meeting new friends and old. Leahona, Willy and Mark, friends from the Caribbean saw on FB we were coming here. We had fun hanging out with them and catching up. It had been five years since we last saw them in Dominica.
Covid and the Bahamas are to blame. Great that the Bahamas is open to cruisers (with extensive Covid testing) but bad that they increased cruising fees from $300 to $600. They still issue a 90 day cruising permit for $300. Guess what? Many cruisers now leave after 90 days.
We spotted another sister ship, First 42s7. We had just a brief conversation with the young owners. They loved their boat but hurricane Michael didn't. Their boat barely survived the hurricane in Panama City. The insurance company paid for a superb paint job to repair the dock damage. They hadn't even painted a name on her yet. We hope to see them again somewhere.
We will be sailing to Conception Island tomorrow. We have enjoyed our time in Georgetown but after a week, we are itching to go sailing again.
28 April 2021
“Need any crew?” That's my begging voice any time I'm around boats racing. I must look desperate as I almost always get a ride.
Our trip through the Bahamas is filled with nostalgia. This was the first tropical place we cruised Uproar when we left the US in 2015.
We were fortunate enough to be at Little Farmer's Cay, Exumas for the 5F regatta: First Friday in February Farmer's Festival. They had scheduled two long races for C Class Bahamian Sloops. I wheedled a ride on Potcake and had a great time. I'm going to embed a link to the blog I wrote about this local racing experience.
I remembered the boat owner said he was from Barraterre, a town about 20 miles south. Lisa and I anchored behind Rat Cay and Barraterre was visible on Great Exuma, about 3 miles away. I said to Lisa, “Let's go to town and see if we can find Potcake.”
After tying our dinghy at the government dock, we approached three guys having a chat. I explained I was looking for the C Class Sloop, Potcake. They smiled, one of them was wearing a Potcake #7 shirt. I recognized him, Darrin, the owner. Not sure he recognized me but he sure remembered the “white guy” who sailed with him. We had a nice chat and I asked him where the boat was. They told me it was a long walk, past the fire station and next to the blue building. No problem, Lisa and I set off.
A car stopped along the way and the driver, a young Bahamian guy, asked us if we wanted a ride somewhere. We said, “Just a walk, looking for Potcake,” He said, “Oh, the slow boat.” and laughed. He was right, we were the slowest boat in the fleet.
We came upon a yard full of Bahamian sloops. The family there said Potcake was down the road a little further. They were pleased that we were interested in the sloops.
Sure enough, we found the blue house and there was Potcake. We were warned that she needed work and they were fixing to replace the deck. There is no sugar coating it, Potcake looked a mess. The deck was stripped off and the hull full of Casarina needles. She looked like a sick puppy. Perez came out of the house after we had a chat with his mother. “Hey, I remember you!” Perez was also in the crew. We talked about the boat. “I'm going to have her back together in a month, stop back and we will go for a sail.”
We saw Darrin in town on our way back to the dinghy. I told him about Perez's enthusiasm for fixing up Potcake in a month. Darrin laughed, “He has been saying that for months.”
They have not had much racing this past year but had a three boats out last weekend. Don't know if Potcake will ever get back on the racing circuit but there is definitely enthusiasm for Sloop racing in the Bahamas.
Oh, in case you didn't read the initial blog, Potcake means Bahamian dog. And Potcake #7 lived up to her name.
Whisper Reunion, Bill and Judy
26 April 2021
It is hard to know where to begin telling about our cruising friends, Bill and Judy. Judy raced with us on Veloce during the early 90's. We raced against Bill's Olson 911 on occasion and surely enjoyed a few at the yacht club bar. Both Bill and Judy also did the Milwaukee River bar hopping on our 1909 launch, Putt Putt Boat.
We moved to the River Retreat in 2011 and sure enough, Bill and Judy lived only about four blocks away. We both planned on leaving Milwaukee in July 2015 to go cruising. For months we got together for dinners and more than a little wine to plan our new life afloat. Whisper left a week before Uproar but we met up in the North Channel of Lake Huron a few weeks later. We cruised through the beautiful North Channel and Georgian Bay. Lisa and I had never cruised Georgian Bay but Bill and Judy showed us some of their favorite spots in these pristine waters.
We met up a month later in the 1000 islands area where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence Seaway. Together we cruised that area and down to Oswego and Erie Canals. Sundays were always a challenge to find a bar to watch Packer games in some of these largely abandoned towns.
After the Annapolis Boat show in October, Chesapeake Bay was our cruising ground for six weeks. Then we parted company as Lisa and I sailed to the Abacos. Whisper sailed further down the ICW and arrived in the Bahamas after us. Uproar sailed on to the Caribbean and that is the last we saw of Whisper.
Our reunion came just five days ago after seeing Whisper last in fall of 2015. Whisper is heading north, back to Florida and Uproar is heading south, to continue cruising in the Exumas. We met in Lee Stocking and enjoyed three days and evenings together. What memories we shared during our late, evening dinners. We all expressed how lucky we have been to live the cruising life and to have enjoyed each other's inspiration and friendship.
That's not to say we hadn't seen Bill and Judy all that time. We occasionally saw them when we returned to Milwaukee for short visits. And they joined us in French Polynesia to sail on Uproar with us for a few weeks. A great time!
Here are some highlights:
Sailing Whisper through the treacherous Parting Channel, Georgian Bay, (too dangerous for Uproar).
Cleaning and shucking oysters from Chesapeake for three hours on the back of Uproar. Bill and I looked like we had had a mud bath. Oysters were well worth it!
All the great snorkeling together, Bahamas and French Polynesia.
Of course the many sundowners, dinners and stories.
The laughs from other cruisers when Whisper called Uproar on the radio.
We will be seeing Bill and Judy again this summer in Milwaukee, our first break from cruising in six years. Thanks guys for everything. Love you guys!