Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Real Exumas

March 17th 2013  

Position N 24° 39.789’.
               W 76° 63.294’.  

Warderick Wells Cay, Bahamas

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We waited out an unusual weather front in the protection of the anchorage at Allens Cay, it stalled over the Bahamas and just blew and blew for three days and it was cold! We experienced gusts up to 43 mph and am pleased to report the anchor held! Presented with a good calm weather ‘window’ on the fourth day we headed south leaving Allens  Cay at 06:30. Our journey to Warderick Wells of 32 nm was uneventful and we successfully moored to ball #6 at midday. The water approaching Warderick Wells was even more spectacular than any we had seen before, are we really doing this? Lavinia and I have to pinch ourselves almost daily to remind ourselves that we really are making a go of this thing, the cruising life. We passed from the deeper blue water of the Banks and crossed a well defined line as we entered the shallows surrounding the Warderick Wells Cays. Literally one half of the boat was in deep blue the other in the lighter turquoise! 

We were looking forward to being moored to a ball and not anchored as, although the anchor did a great job at Allens Cay, the wind and the rocking and rolling we experienced there made for restless nights, so, being a little sleep deprived the security of the mooring ball and being inside a totally protected area was appealing. Oh! The beauty of this spot...reportedly Warderick Wells is the most visited of all the Exuma Cays and we can now see why. The crystal clear water, beautiful sand and just its idyllic serenity make it a standout.

Warderick Wells is the centre of the Exuma Park, an area set aside by the Bahamian government where no fishing of any kind or collection and removal of any fauna or flora is allowed. The idea is to provide a totally natural habitat and environment to allow the replenishment of life which will expand across the whole of the Bahamas. 

The area is so beautiful, we couldn’t wait to lower the dinghy and begin our exploration of the islands. Soon we were off just riding to the extremities of the Cays to get the lie of the land. There are three mooring fields the north one which is where we are and there is a south one between Hog Cay and Warderick and a west one at Emerald Rock. The north one is the spectacular one (we think) and the one usually featured in any photographs. Its setting and the varied water colours are captivating. There are many trails to hike and we planned to do one tomorrow, meanwhile back to the boat for a relaxing evening, dinner on the aft deck and a gooood nights sleep.

The islands are made up from limestone and have extremely unique and rough rocky terrain; in fact I have never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. Hiking the trails was not easy and a good stout pair of shoes is a must together with a certain physical ability. Both of us just, only just, qualify with the later qualification. We were proud in the end that we completed one of the longer and steeper trails, the one that took us to the highest point on the island, Boo Boo Hill. At the top is a monument of sorts built by cruisers who have taken drift wood, washed up on the beaches, and have either carved or painted theirs and or their boats name and placed them in an ever growing pile. It was fun reading over the menagerie and being reminded of the nationalities that have visited this spot. We felt privileged to be amongst the few who have been here. Being the highest point on the Cay the view was outstanding, it is not so much the height that enables one to see farther, it is the height that enables one to look down at the vista and see the colours of the water and just the blatant beauty of this place. 

After three days in this most tranquil of Shangri-La’s it is time to move on south, we took the dinghy for one final trip into the park rangers office, settled up with Andrew, bought a T-shirt each and that was it, we’ll be sad to leave...our next stop will be Big Majors at Staniel Cay just a short run of 18 NM.

Friday 8th March. Today is ours and ‘Partners’ one month anniversary, we left Sarasota, FL on the 8th February and we can hardly believe that we have travelled this distance in one month and have managed it in reasonable comfort in our little floating home. I think we have finally ‘got it’ that ‘Partners’ is our home and wherever she visits is where we live too! I think as cruiser we have taken on an additional quality, that of ambassador. We are very conscious of being ‘visitor’ in others countries. It is different than flying somewhere and knowing that you will be there for just a week or two on vacation and then will be flying back again to ones normal life. With us now we are visitors in someone else’s country for an extended time, we want people to like us and be helpful to us; of course this is not one way traffic so we have done what we can to ‘fit in’. We have made a point of exclaiming the beauty of the Bahamian islands (not hard to do) to the local people; we have taken time to talk to them. What a friendly bunch they are, always helpful, always happy! We find the lilt in their speech is also calming and they always make time for you.

We anchored off Big Majors Spot at noon after a relaxing cruise south on the Banks. Big Majors beach is famous for the feral pigs who swim out to meet you looking to be fed as you dinghy in. They are ‘big’ much bigger than the pictures I had seen depict. Some, so we were told, weighing as much as 500 lbs. They are intimidating and swim right up to you; the experience is definitely different! Big Majors is a popular anchorage with great holding and plenty of room for an unlimited number of boats. The large charter yachts come in and mingle with us small fry, it is a fun place. Staniel Cay just to the southeast has a small settlement, a yacht club, some stores and a Batelco telephone office.  

Our first evening here the Admiral requested a night off from cooking and as this was the first civilization we have visited in a while we went ashore to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for drinks and then a short walk south along the winding road to a small restaurant overlooking the water where we had dinner. Lavinia had a wonderful grouper sandwich and I had a plate of huge coconut shrimp, twice the size of the ones in Outback! We met some locals and after a very leisurely dinner and conversations we walked back to the dinghy dock at the Yacht Club and proceeded to drag the dinghy down the beach back to the water, yes we landed at high tide and now had to work off diner with some exercise. The tides here are about 3’ and the beaches exaggerate the tide as they are steep. The next challenge was to find our way back the two miles or so to ‘Partners’ in the pitch black. Fortunately it is not the first time I have done this and when we came in I instinctively made a mental note of various things, headlands, and other anchored boats, where the shallow spots are and so on, we made it to HT’s amazement! What a great night… 

After a peaceful night’s sleep, the holding in Big Major is excellent and we didn’t budge an inch, we started our first full day here with one of my full English breakfasts eaten al fresco. With not a cloud in the sky we planned to go ashore to Staniel Cay and do some grocery shopping, make a stop at the Batelco telephone office and explore the settlement. We managed to accomplish almost all but this was Saturday and the Batelco store was closed; weekends much more so are still observed here unlike the State. Our walk around town was interesting, the small modest homes by and large are well cared for and painted bright colours and there seems to be an unwritten code that no two shall be the same colour. Most people seem to live simply although every now and then one will see a large house, most of these are owned by foreigners we were told, they stick out as being rather ostentatious unfortunately and definitely do not fit into the general scheme of things. We saw it as a stark difference in culture, the large house typical of the ‘McMansions’ in the State where big is considered better and people tend to provide themselves with way more accommodation than they need, (we included) was in stark contrast to the typical Bahamian home where the mentality is providing yourself with just enough room to get the job done, just a different priority. The Bahamian people seem to be outgoing and fun loving, life to them is important and being social is a need which they all appear to fulfill willingly. 
At the Yacht Club there is an area where, every day, nurse sharks and some rays gather to be fed. Everyone can pet the sharks and feed them if they want; these sharks are well looked after and this day we saw many lobster carcasses in the water, minus their tails! Later we talked with one of the locals who told us a group had traveled to a spot some 30 miles down islands and had caught about 70 or 80 lobsters that morning by diving up to 40 ft and using a Hawaiian sling as the method of catching. We finished our days visit ashore in the Yacht Club where we met three boat crews we had first met in Allens Cay who had just arrived here and where anchored in Big Majors. Many boats leap frog their way down the island chain and therefore one frequently run into people seen before. Gratin and Jennifer from Moon River travelled from Warderick Wells the same day as we did and were in the bar so while they ate lunch we had a beer with them. We’re getting the hang of this ‘super’ social life. We all know how one thing begets another, well…after taking our bounty of fresh vegetables, eggs and bread back to ‘Partners’ we decided to explore the north end of the bay where ‘Cocoon Two’ was anchored. ‘Cocoon Two’ is another Kadey Krogen and Tom the owner had stopped by to say hello to us yesterday so today we stopped at their boat to return the complement. Tom introduced us to his wife  Phyllis and we nattered with them for a while and agreed to meet on ‘Partners’ at 17:00 for sundowners; Gratin and Jennifer were coming as well, six cruisers on one boat spells fun, trust me it was. Cocktails turned into much more and the evening didn’t wind down until 20:30!

Tom had owned ‘Cocoon’ a 42’ Kadey Krogen for 19 years before it caught fire while on the hard with them away back in their native Canada. The sad event halted their cruising lives for a year and a half before they were able to find ‘Cocoon Two’ their 48’ Kadey Krogen.  

The Cays around Staniel and Big Major have some notoriety for being the sight of the James Bond movie Thunderball and there is the famous Thunderball Grotto just a two minute dinghy ride from where we are anchored, a must do excursion…

More from Georgetown, Exumas…

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Bahamas at last!

March 4th 2013  

Position N 25° 04.537’.
              W 77° 19.302’.  

Nassau, Bahamas

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As we left Miami the wind was not as quiet as I had hoped and as we entered Government Cut I could feel the Atlantic swell on our bow. There was much chatter on the VHF radio as two Cruise ships were preparing to enter Miami; I could see them on both Radar and AIS. A quick plot ensured me that we would clear the channel into open Atlantic before they became an issue for us. Our course would be 121° M although the bearing of the North Rock where we would enter the Great Bahamas Bank was 91° M. The difference in our course is, of course, the Gulf Stream; I had looked at the Gulf Stream forecast prior to our departure and paid attention to the strength, which does vary slightly from time to time, and based my calculations accordingly. I would not be using the Navigation mode
on our autopilot as I did not want the pilot to be ‘fighting’ the current trying maintain the direct course bearing to North Rock, instead I engaged the auto mode to maintain the 121° M course I had calculated that would, with the current drift, set us right onto the Banks at North Rock, 44 NM ahead of us. It was a dark night and with no moon to aid us, the lumpy seas where unnerving to HT, she not being used to this life yet, and as many people do, worried when one cannot see anything! Over time one learns to trust in oneself and the boat, fatalistically hoping that there isn’t anything ‘big’ floating in the way of your course to inflict serious damage! As daylight came and vision was added to our senses HT became a little more comfortable. The conditions were not ideal but ‘Partners’ was comfortable plodding along rising and falling to the seas motion. Longer passages like this are delightful or boring, in rougher weather they are monotonous as movement around the boat is difficult and leisure activities hard to carry out. In
A Bahamas Blue Cocktail
calm condition the opposite, one can move around easily and simply enjoy the trip. As time progressed the wind and seas abated bringing much awaited enjoyment to the Admiral. Lavinia is a good sailor who doesn’t suffer from seasickness but just needs some miles under her keel! At 11:40 we could see the land of the Bimini Islands, always an excitement to see land, they appeared dead ahead but we would eventually pass to the north of them as the Gulf Stream continued to exert it’s gentle force on us.

By 13:40 we were passing North Rock and on the Banks. Oh the waters! A blue that is so special the Admiral made up a cocktail drink and named it after them. Sampling Guests will be given the ingredients! We continued onto the Banks using the Northwest Passage towards Chub Cay in the Berry’s we intended to continue until dark then anchor for the night and proceed to Chub the next day. The winds were picking up and the shallow waters of the Great Bahamas Bank kicked up to a
miserable short heavy confused chop. When we did anchor the motion was unbearable, every loose item onboard banged everything that could fell to the deck, the loose gas tank in the dinghy up on the boat deck banged and bounced! After three hours of putting up with this we gave up, upped anchor and proceeded on our way. A sleepless night behind us our arrival in Chub couldn’t come soon enough...

By 08:30 we were off the Banks and into the Tongue of the Ocean and 5 – 10,000 ft deep water! Winds were still in the 25 knot range from the SE but the seas became uniformed and well spaced, quickly ‘Partners’ settled into her smooth comfortable motion.

At 12:00 we entered Chub Cay Marina, one of the most beautiful marinas I have ever seen, where we were met by a very polite dock boy in a dinghy who led us to our slip and helped us tie up and connect our power cords. Once tied up he left to get the clearance paperwork so we could complete them onboard before I had to go ashore to the marina office to check in. At the marina office, once the formalities there were taken care of the clerk ordered the transport to take me to the airport which
is where the customs and immigration office is situated. Chub Cay is under developed without any roads as we know them. The maximum speed we were able to travel was 15 mph lest complete destruction of the vans suspension system would have taken place! The driver and I looked both ways as we crossed the runway to the small airport office! Within five minutes the customs and immigration officer arrived. I found him surprisingly young and very polite also. After much official stamping of all the forms and our passports, we were in! The officer advised me that I could down the yellow quarantine flag and hoist the Bahamian Courtesy flag in its place. We were granted a 90 day stay which could have been longer had I requested it. (We plan to be through the Bahamian chain and in the Turks & Cacos islands by April.)

We spent only one day in Chub but did take a walk to the beautiful beach. As I mentioned before, the island is underdeveloped although plans are underway to build many homes around the marina and island, mostly, I imagine, to be sold to wealth foreigners’. The marina is in receivership and the bank and the residents/property owners who have either built or bought land around the island currently split the costs of the marina equally. Apparently the owners cannot agree on a price with the bank to
buy the complex as they would like to own it and run it all themselves. The whole development is at a standstill and has been in a stalemate for 3 years now...sad because the potential is enormous. We paid $4+ ($2.50 low season) per foot and .65c per kilowatt for electricity, water was .40c per gallon (fortunately we have a water maker and did not take water), so, although a fabulous marina, it was expensive. Incidentally, we may as well not have bothered with the electricity as the generator supplied power kept going off when the generator stopped, we were only there one day and it must have stopped three times!


On Sunday 24th February we headed towards Nassau cruising in the deep water of the Tongue of the Ocean. With just a 33 nm run we arrived at the west entrance to Nassau harbour at 15:00 having had a smooth comfortable passage. A call to Nassau Harbour Control quickly granted us permission to enter and seek an anchorage. Immediately Nassau shows the signs of being a busy place, boats are passing everywhere in the big protected harbour. Large 1,000 ft long cruise ships, four at a time occupy the cruise ship terminal constantly; they do the cruise ship shuffle
during the night as after a 24 hour stay four leave and four more take their place. Smaller boats too fly all over the place some with a complete disregard for wake and at night many do not have navigation lights! Music can be heard in the evenings as the town comes to life and the bars and night clubs get ‘cranked up’. We anchored in the east anchorage and were soon visited by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the equivalent to the US Coast Guard; very politely they requested to board and to do an inspection, similar to the Coast Guard inspection, fire extinguishers, flares, life jackets etc. They were very professional, polite and efficiently conducted their business, they advised me that we were anchored a little too far out into the main channel but need not worry about moving until the morning, with that they were on their way. When morning came we upped anchor and moved to the west anchorage right opposite Atlantis on Paradise Island. Also nearby on New Providence Island is the legendary Green Parrot bar and restaurant known amongst cruisers as a friendly and welcoming establishment. They allow free garbage disposal and provide free Wi-Fi, two majorly important items to us cruisers.


Size matters...just look at this one!
With the dinghy in the water exploration commenced...our first trip was the whole length of the harbour to get the lie of the land. We quickly found the fishing boat docks; I secretly wanted to buy one of the huge lobsters that can be caught from the surrounding waters here. It did not take too long with much hollowing back and forth to find a boat with lobsters onboard, most have an abundance of hog and red snappers. We bought a 15 lb massive specimen which will provide us with, at least, half a dozen good meals. I cleaned it; the tail I cut into six good sized helpings and the body provided enough meat to provide another four means of lobster pasta or the like. I could not believe how big it was. That evening we had the first sample, oh my word!

Oh the water!

After exploring Nassau, doing a little provisioning and sightseeing it was time to press on. We left Nassau on March 1st and crossed the Yellow Bank to arrive in Allens Cay, a must for Lavinia as her family name is Allen. Allens Cay is uninhabited and famous for the iguanas that populate two of the islands in the collection. We anchored with eleven other boats in the protected area between Allens Cay and Leaf Cay. The water was spectacular and there was no need to dive on ones anchor or travel out in the dinghy to use the lookey bucket, the water is so clear it is as if not there! We were contacted by one of the sailing boats in the anchorage and it was agreed all crews should meet on one of the beaches for a bonfire and rubbish burning session which, of course, included libations! We met
16 other cruisers who turned out for the event and
it really was amazing...just think, here we are in, literally the middle of nowhere, without communication save by radio and yet us humans can congregate and make merry...while burning garbage! This is our life now, in some ways primitive and self sufficient but in others exciting, adventurous and full of the spontaneous and unknown...I wonder what the next stop will have in store. We are off to Warderick Wells tomorrow and hope that we can radio ahead to the park warden to reserve a mooring ball as anchoring is not permitted in the marine park which abounds there...

From a techno standpoint ‘Partners’ is performing well, we are making beautiful RO water at will and therefore are taking long cool showers, a luxury for most of the Sailing boaters who rarely posses a Watermaker. We have even washed the boat off with fresh water although do it very early so as not to be seen by anyone else in the anchorage; don’t want to rub in, too much, the copious amounts of water we have... The new bimini top we had made in Sarasota has four forward straps that tension the front and are anchored to the pilot house roof. In the strong winds we have had for the past three days (up to 43 mph gusts, wow!) they make a terrible racket reverberating and vibrating, so we have decided, as a priority, to have some stainless stanchions made to replace the straps thus illuminating the problem. Meanwhile I have folded the bimini up and put on the boot!

As a footnote we are severely challenged with getting an internet connection in these Out Islands and it could be feast or famine with my blog entries.