Friday, April 30, 2010

Fish, fish!

A quiet day aboard, since the winds were their usual snippy state, blowing too hard for comfortable diving. We did some cruise route planning and small boat chores in the morning, and watched a movie in the early afternoon out of sheer boredom. Finally unable to sit still, we took Tingum out for some late afternoon fishing. While seas were a bit rough, they were just tolerable, so out we went! Plus, overcast conditions are supposed to be great for fishing, so that was another factor in our favor. It was just after the stand of high tide, so the tide was ebbing as we meandered up the east side of Highborne Cay trolling some ballyhoo. Ron was insistent that today was the day we would catch something off Tingum; it had yet to happen! While we’ve always caught something off Equinox whenever we fished while underway, Tingum was still unlucky in that regard. We spent a good hour or so rocking and trolling, and getting drenched in the spray from the occasional awkward wave.
Yet...Ron was right!! Just off the northern tip of the cay, something bit hard on the port line. I grabbed the rod, reeling it in to set the hook and then something long and thin jumped, flashing momentarily in the air. Ron immediately thought it was a barracuda, but I wasn’t so sure. We then switched spots, with Ron reeling in the line while I got the gloves on and the gaff ready, scrambling madly. Once the fish came close to the boat, we saw it wasn’t a barracuda at all, but a mahi-mahi! Unfortunately, never having tried to land anything aboard Tingum before, my gaff attempt was rather lame, serving only to cause the fish to thrash harder, and quickly threw the hook. Fish one, Tingum zero. Ugh!
Knowing there would be more mahi around, we doubled back to troll through the same area, hoping, hoping...! And...before even 10 minutes passed, we had another mahi-mahi on the line! This one appeared a bit bigger, so I was very determined to handle the gaff more adroitly, now having a better idea of how to approach the fish over the gunnel with the gaff. Ron brought it alongside, and yes! One swoop up with the gaff and the mahi was over the side and in the boat! Success!! We subdued it as quickly as we could, getting it into the fish well with ice right away. Yes, fresh mahi was on the menu for dinner!!
Finally!! Tingum now has the "good luck fish stink" upon her! 
We decided to head back inshore, after some discussion. Ron was intent on getting more fish, but mid-tide was approaching, and I had no desire to buck our way in against the ripping ebb current in the winds that were already tossing us about. We returned through the cut easily enough and spent the next hour cleaning and filleting our catch. While we’re not experienced pros at processing fish by any means, every time we do it, we get better at it! I vacuum-sealed a good 5 bags of fish, not counting what we kept out for dinner. Need I say it was delicious?!

Back North to Highborne Cay

We cruised early this morning, up and out O’Brien’s Cut well before we needed to, wanting to take advantage of the slack water on our exit through the cut there. When the ebb tide opposes the wind, the cut gets nasty rough even in the lighter winds; in a good blow, the waters flowing through the cut can get into a "rage" where it really isn't passable. Today, though, it was an uneventful cruise (always good) under mostly cloudy skies of only a few hours as we made our way north. It was nice to be offshore and not threading our way through the shallows filled with coral heads, but when we arrived at Highborne Cut, it was at mid-tide and the winds were against the ebbing current. Never a good thing as I stated before, especially in the Exumas where the current flow through the cuts can be quite strong! Still, although the winds were just 10-15 knots, the cut was clearly a bit rough so we pulled in the tender off the towline. I jumped in (literally) off the stern of Equinox to pilot Tingum, while Ron took Equinox separately, since we didn’t want the tender to get yanked about in the steep chop of the cut. Despite a few waves bouncing Tingum about, we each had an uneventful passage in to Highborne Cay from Exuma Sound.
We anchored in the lee of the cay amongst a few other boats. Highborne Cay is a privately-owned island with a small marina and fairly well-stocked store, but no other facilities, not even a restaurant. Thus, it’s a highly transient place with many boats coming and going, heading north or south. We are hoping to do some diving here if the wind ever dies down, since we know the wall here is phenomenal. The question is, will the wind EVER die down this year?? Apparently not...!
We had a farewell dinner with Sam and Heather aboard Cloud Nine in the evening; they are heading on north tomorrow, wanting to stay on schedule to reach Virginia by the end of May. We have enjoyed out time with them as they have been so much fun to be with! From their stories of cruising in the Med to their adventures in the Pacific, it’s been an instructive, interesting and very enjoyable time together. That is the real treat of cruising, meeting other boating folks who become friends. It really makes cruising so wonderful!
Sam and Heather, aboard Cloud Nine

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picnic Day at Warderick Wells

Ron and I made a dive in the morning near Bell Island, using the bottom profile on our depth sounder to find a dive site. We chose a spot that looked promising, anchoring in sand in 80’ near the edge of the wall, then went down the anchor line to investigate its set  before exploring the area. While the reef profile was very pretty along the edge, there was a surprising amount of algae growth on the coral, so it was a bit sad. Between the somewhat silty waters of an outgoing tide and the dim light from a mostly cloudy day, we found the visibility limited. Nevertheless, we both saw the outline of an eagle ray feeding and cruising along the wall before it ghosted out of sight. Always like to see those graceful creatures -- that made the dive for me!

We packed a picnic lunch and picked up Sam and Heather in Tingum, then we cruised north out on the sound to Warderick Wells, where the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park is located. The Park, established in 1959, is possibly the most pristine and gorgeous area of the Exumas, encompassing 15 cays and over 176 square miles, from Wax Cay Cut in the north to Conch Cut in the south. The Land and Sea Park prohibits taking of any plant, animal, bird or marine life including coral and shells, in order to protect the great diversity of marine and land life in the Exumas. In light of the diminishing lobster, conch, turtle and grouper populations everywhere else in the Bahamas, the park conservation policies are critical to the replenishment of native marine life, and in fact, some species of the Park’s flora and fauna are no longer found elsewhere in the Bahamas.
The Park Headquarters at Warderick Wells
We’d been here some years before with Ally, when we were vacationing aboard the live-aboard dive boat, AquaCat, but it was fun to revisit it. It’s gotten spruced up over the years, for in addition to the unique old Park Headquarters, there is a new house for the Defence Force personnel, who assist the wardens and staff in combating poachers, for many see the rich abundance of the waters within the park as an easy place to take fish, lobster or conch. An incredible shame, but unfortunately, it occurs on a daily basis, by locals looking to profit by selling their catches, or by visiting yachtsmen who might or might not be aware of the Park’s policies. Penalties are severe in either case!
Warderick Wells has a long history filled with pirates, shipwrecks and skeletons, so of course it’s rumored that the cay is haunted. In the late 1780s, there were conflicts between the few remaining pirates of the time and Loyalists who settled on the island, ending with a Loyalist massacre. There are reports of singing on the nights of the full moon, followed by unknown voices calling out, as well as the finding of bones and a skeleton. 
One of the three shipwrecks offshore Warderick Wells occurred in the vicinity of Boo Boo Hill, which is the high hill with a cairn that was erected long ago as a monument to those lost at sea. We climbed the famous Boo Boo Hill trail to reach the top, where cruisers have a long tradition of leaving the names of their boats on the cairn, carved or painted on all sorts of items. 


The Park has cleaned up the cairn area quite a bit, for it used to be a pile of all sorts of nautical flotsam and jetsam. From old boat name boards to fishing floats to old outboard engines and decrepit life rings, it resembled a junk pile. Now, in the name of being environmentally conscious, the Park has cleared away the man-made junk and requests that any boat memorabilia left be made from driftwood. In keeping with that request, we found a unique piece of bleached driftwood and used a Sharpie to make a marker for Equinox. After admiring and perusing the many other pieces of driftwood art naming those who had been here before us, we found a good place to wedge our marker in amongst the other bits and pieces on the cairn. Perhaps we’ll see it again on our return?

Karyn working on our driftwood marker for Equinox 

Our marker -- not so artistic, but spur of the moment! 
We eventually hiked back down and made our way to the well-known blow holes on the eastern edge of the island. Some areas of the island were off-limits due to the tropicbird  nesting habitats, but there are more than 4 miles of well-marked trails all over the cay. Placed periodically along the trails are new signs with interesting and detailed information about the various species of plants and animals found on the island. Very nice!
One of the flora and fauna signs
It was a great day, and stirred up a lot of good memories. Made us miss Ally a great deal...I think she was 10 the first time she was here, and she’s soon to be 18. How time flies!

Sampson Cay to Bell Island, Exumas

The winds shifted again during the night, which we could tell from the sounds of the wind and water. Once we had daylight, we didn’t tarry, just got ourselves ready to make way aboard Equinox, dropped Tingum back on the tow line and proceeded north towards Cambridge Cay. We’d been in touch with Sam and Heather from Cloud Nine and knew that they were heading there as well, but were behind us as they’d spent the night near Fowl Cay along with all the other boats.
We were a bit worried that we’d get to Cambridge Cay/Bell Island area and find it already full of boats trying to escape the west winds, but optimistically forged ahead nonetheless. We were heading to Bell Island’s Harbor Bay on the eastern lee side of the island, but to get there, we had to go up and around the west side of Bell Island and squeeze through a narrow cut at the northern tip of the island. The charts showed that it would be rather  a narrow gap to go through, but I have to say, I wasn’t prepared for how skinny it looked!
My heart caught in my throat when I saw it, for on the starboard side there was a good car-sized rock with a submerged bar behind it while to port there was a sandy shoal with about 1’ of water over it. The gap between the two looked nigh impassable, since the turbulent rushing water made it hard to determine where the shoal ended and the deeper water ran past the rock. From afar, it all appeared extremely shallow! I jumped to the bow to keep an eye on the water depths, and while Ron slowed Equinox a tad, I also knew we couldn’t possibly stop too quickly with Tingum in tow. So...we trusted our eyes and charts. I was out on the bow, looking ahead intently, checking depths and looking for shoaling, holding my breath as we approached the cut, which appeared narrower by the minute, but...while turbulent, the water was more than sufficient. There was no issue with depths and we breezed through with a good 7’ of water beneath us. Whew!! Gratitude!!
Once around the northern tip of the island, we could see into Harbor Bay -- and, amazingly, it was empty! All the other boats were over in the mooring field by Cambridge Cay, but we had the bay blessedly to ourselves. Once the anchor was down and Tingum pulled up to the starboard hip, we radioed Sam and Heather to give them a heads up about the depths of the cut, along with its narrowness and intimidating shallow appearance. Later, when Sam and Heather joined us aboard Equinox for another fun-filled evening dinner, Sam stated when Cloud Nine came around Bell Island, he immediately upgraded Ron in his  respect and estimation, awarding him the title of “Captain Cojones” for piloting Equinox through that narrow gap. (They were worried about piloting Cloud Nine through, and couldn't believe we squeezed through ourselves!) This from a man who has circumnavigated the globe and seen any number of tricky cuts --- we’re honored!!
Our view of the sunset in our Bell Island anchorage


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sampson Cay

Ron and I spent the morning out diving with Staniel Cay Divers, enjoying a great time underwater. The first dive was a tremendous spot called "Jake's Drop", a swim-through at the edge of the wall in Exuma Sound that bottomed out about 116 feet. The coral was gorgeous and healthy, with lots of fish life. One huge lobster was out, clambering over the reef in plain view. (It was clearly aware that the lobster season is over until August!) 
The second dive site was much shallower, and a gorgeous one as well. There were many more juvenile fish tucked in amongst the corals -- staghorn, star, brain, sheet, encrusting -- lovely in its variety! I only saw one lionfish, too, which was refreshing. I’m really tired of seeing those intruders everywhere!
After diving, we returned to Staniel Cay to discover all the boats at the marina had been asked to leave due to the nasty southwest winds; the older piers at SCYC just can't handle big winds from that direction, apparently. We had lunch at the SCYC before heading back to Equinox, only to find that every other vessel in the anchorage at Big Major’s was also gone! With the winds picking up from the south and west, the anchorage was very exposed, so many of the boats fled to the anchorages in the lee between Little Major's and Big Major’s or the far side of Fowl Cay. We decided we’d head out ourselves, perhaps to Cambridge Cay, to find a better protected anchorage as the skies looked rather ominous and the winds relentless. 
However, just ten minutes underway, the winds totally switched direction and came whipping out of the north! We then wondered why we’d even left Big Major’s, and whether we should just turn around...but prudently decided to head into the anchorage near Sampson Cay, since that had protection from the squall winds. The radio was burning with calls for slips either at SCYC or Sampson Cay; SCYC resolutely told everyone they were closed until the winds shifted, and Sampson Cay Marina was already full. 
We dropped anchor just before dinnertime outside the marina at Sampson Cay, where there was protection from the northerly winds. Tucked in and secure, we figured we’d stay the night, and simply wait to see what the morning weather brought us! We were grateful we weren't among the hordes packed in to the other anchorages by Little Major's or Fowl Cay, as we heard a lot of folks on the radio unhappy with the wind shift. There was more than one anchor dragging too, from the sounds of it. Serendipity!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Snorkeling and swimming pigs!

We moved the boat today, north to Big Major’s as the winds stoked up last night and bounced us but good in the anchorage at Bitter Guana. Not the normal winds out of the southwest, but there’s a cold front coming through (again -- what the hell else is new this season??). SO, after a fun 5:00 in the morning move of Tingum -- bouncing too close to Equinox while on the hip, we moved it to let it hang back off a long painter. Nothing like a bit of O’dark-thirty fun on the back deck!
Mid-day, Ron moved Equinox around Harvey Cay while Karyn took Tingum more directly north through the shallows and coral heads, reconnoitering the depths during low tide. We opted to anchor at Big Major's; not fabulous during any westerly blow, which might come tomorrow night, but a far better anchorage than where we were in these southerly winds.


Once anchored, we picked up Sam and Heather off Cloud Nine and popped over to Thunderball Cave to snorkel a bit. This was after playing with the swimming pigs on Big Major...I got a lot of photos of the greedy creatures swimming up to the boat, looking for hand-outs. Despite being very adept swimmers, it still is rather  hilarious to watch!
Making a bee line for the boat in hopes of food
Insistently looking for a hand-out!
Thunderball Cave was actually quite a nice snorkel: it's a group of partially submerged limestone caverns, with a natural lattice-work ceiling overhead in the largest cave that allows in beautiful shafts of sunlight to flicker on the water below. The caverns are filled with a variety of fish, from grunts and small juveniles to a large school of sargeant-majors just outside. There were gray angelfish, queen angelfish, small grouper, even a few small ballyhoo, I believe, among the fish that darted about. The coral was bright and healthy, and the caverns itself was really interesting. We snorkeled mid-tide  with a ripping current, so got a nice little swim for ourselves as we went around the parts of the chamber and out the various swim-throughs. Now we have to go watch Thunderball to see where Sean Connery was in the cave!


Unfortunately the evening wasn't as relaxing, as the 12 Kw genset shut down today, unexpectedly. Ron focused on the impeller, hoping that was the cause, but we both were dubious since we'd just changed the impeller during the last oil change not too long ago. Yet, we checked it out and while the impeller looked fine, we still replaced it.  Once the new impeller was in place, we re-opened the seacock, and....water started to drip from the back of the pump. Of course, a spare raw water pump for the generator is the one item we don’t have, so we will make our way home from here more directly than not. Thankfully we have the 20 Kw genset to back us up, but that's what we reserve for windlass and bowthruster use, so we are being extremely careful with monitoring its use. Argh! Boat systems: essential but often frustrating! 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Staniel Cay, once again!

Ron was up early and took Tingum over to Staniel Cay to try to get info on some of the dive sites in the area from the nice folks at Staniel Cay Divers', and to possibly arrange an afernoon dive aboard their boat. I opted to stay aboard, getting a few needed chores done. I cleaned, vacuumed, dusted, did laundry and generally tried to beat back the sticky salt air that dusts everything when you have any window open. I never knew how dusty ocean air is!
Equinox on anchor off Bitter Guana Cay
Ron had no luck in his endeavors, as the dive shop had a private charter and was out for the morning. We went up to the dive shop after noon, to see about diving later, but conditions were sloppy with the winds, and marginal for easy diving. We opted to wait, since stronger winds were supposed to kick up on Sunday and perhaps abate on Monday. Not exactly what Ron wanted to hear, but the weather hasn't been exactly cooperative this winter, and it seems to be continuing its trend! So, we had a late lunch at the SYCY, then headed back to Bitter Guana. We invited Cloud Nine over to the SYCY for a sundowner at their funky bar, admiring the resident nurse sharks under the boats as we walked up the pier. Once there, we indulged in gazing at the photos and boating memorabilia on the walls, while we chatted over our drinks. 
Just a few of the resident nurse sharks at Staniel Cay
We didn't linger long at the Yacht Club, but returned to Cloud Nine for a delicious spread of mezze/tapas to watch the sunset and wind up the night, where a bit of wine added to the ambience of a lovely night in our quiet anchorage. So many of the anchorages in the Exumas are stunning, and tonight we had the cove to ourselves. We felt lucky to be the only boats there!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Moving North

We were up early and had a beautiful morning cruise round Cave Cay and Musha Cay in Tingum with Sam and Heather. They hadn’t seen the resort on Musha Cay, and as the island is just so pretty, we appreciated the scenery as we moved along the shoreline. After the cruise, we dropped them back at Cloud Nine, as they were heading north to Black Point for the next night’s anchorage. We went back out for a bit more fishing ourselves (again in vain) before we prepped Equinox for another move ourselves. 
During the engine room check, though, I noticed some water coming out of the 12 kW exhaust elbow vent fitting, so we spent a half hour inspecting and trouble-shooting the vent cap. Ron fixed it by re-seating the valve inside the cap, and after a bit of adjustment, the problem was solved. Still, enough water had come through that there was some salty crust to clean up on the sound shield. We did a basic wipe-down, but a more thorough cleaning is now on the agenda for tomorrow!
We headed up to Bitter Guana, just north of Great Guana Cay, where we so enjoyed hiking among the rock iguanas. It’s a beautiful quiet anchorage, and while we anchored off Black Point last time we were here, this time we wanted a more scenic neighborhood. We shared the cove off the north end with just one other boat already anchored there. Once situated, we headed out in Tingum in the late afternoon, doing a bit more fishing out on the Sound via Lumber Cay Cut. 

Equinox heading to Bitter Guana Cay
Unfortunately, as was the case farther south, nary a bite! We put the time trolling to good use, as we investigated the depth contour lines to see if there was any suitable areas for diving, as the reef drops off quite spectacularly in some spots. After finding a couple areas that had interesting bottom profiles, we dropped anchor near once such site to see what it looked like. It was in fairly deep water (~85’), and with only 300 feet of anchor line, I opted to stay aboard while Ron made the dive. 
He later reported he was happy I stayed aboard, as the anchor was holding tenuously at best on a hard, scoured bottom near the reefs. The dive site wasn’t too interesting in itself, but Ron did encounter a LARGE loggerhead turtle, a good 5-6’ long, that came quite close to him. That made the dive for Ron, as he loves seeing the larger species, from turtles to sharks and rays! (We later learned from the Staniel Cay Dive Shop that the turtle is known as "Crash", since it's a regular on that reef. Apparently Crash doesn't see too well and has been known to bump into things, including divers!) Ron reported that there was a surprising lack of small juvenile fish, but as he saw some large lionfish, that may be the reason, as lionfish are voracious feeders. We both find the lionfish invasion rather worrisome, as it does appear to be impacting the native fish life here. 
We stopped in Staniel Cay on the way back, to have a cold drink at the SCYC and use their internet connection. We called Ally to check in with her, and did a cursory check of e-mail, but the connection wasn’t very fast so it was a bit difficult to do much else. There was another Kadey-Krogen trawler at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club docks, a KK48’, (In Your Dreams) along with a pair of Grand Banks (Intermission and Interlude) near where we pulled in with Tingum. We stopped to chat with the owners, as Interlude had been in contact with Ron in George Town, offering some helpful insight regarding our SSB, which we’re trying to troubleshoot. The SSB hasn’t worked right since it was installed, and it’s becoming obvious there is DC interference or a grounding issue that needs correction. Not being electrical gurus ourselves, clearly it’s something we’ll need to get remedied this summer when we’re back in the States. 
We returned to our anchorage off Bitter Guana, delighted to find that Cloud Nine was there as well! They had stopped at Black Point for the day, but after exploring ashore, they too decided to move farther north. We’d been telling them how pretty Bitter Guana was, and once here, they’d spent the afternoon on the beach with the iguanas, admiring the limestone formations. We enjoyed a lovely sundowner aboard Cloud Nine before heading back to Equinox for a quiet night on anchor.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

72 and Up!

Most cruisers use channel VHF 16 and 68 to hail other boats or businesses. It’s a peculiarity of the George Town scene that once VHF contact has been made, very often the caller will choose a working channel by saying “17 and up” or “66 and down”, or some other similar combination. At first, I couldn’t figure out why they were doing so....I’d move to the working channel, not hear anything, and then move up (or down) one more channel to follow the conversation. (I thought perhaps folks were trying to have a more “private” VHF conversation if they moved off the “stated” working channel..silly, I know!) Ron pointed out that they probably meant that if the chosen working channel is already in use and busy, move up/down to the next channel! Which makes sense, but still, the first time you hear it, it’s rather funny. One day shortly after we arrived, Steve, off Water Lily, hailed us on 16, saying, “go 72, up 4, down 7”, busting on the local convention here. Cracked us up!
Nevertheless, just as we were starting to understand and becoming accustomed to the George Town way of doing things, we’re on the move again, heading back north to Cave Cay once again. The weather is gorgeous, winds are light and variable (currently 7.7 knots from the NNW) and seas are 1’ or less. (Perfect for towing Tingum, which is the way I like it!) Calm seas and fair winds! Ron is also focused on doing some fishing, going so far as to put out a couple lines, even though we’re towing. Not sure what we’ll catch, but we’re trying, at any rate!
View of Cave Cut as we prepare to enter inside the Exuma Bank 

We arrived at Cave Cay Cut without issue, and once inside the cut, we meandered our way north to the next cay, anchoring in the lee of Big Galliot Cay. Once the necessary post-cruise duties were done, off we went to fish from Tingum. We trolled for a good three hours, following the depth contours, as well as going a bit farther out, but to no avail. The ballyhoo bait didn’t entice any fish whatsoever. Oh well....it was relaxing anyway, just enjoying the warm sunshine and incredibly blue water of the Exuma Sound.

Cloud Nine, on anchor nearby
To our surprise and delight upon our return we saw we had company, as Cloud Nine had arrived while we were out on the sound, and had dropped their hook near Equinox in our lee anchorage! We greeted them happily and invited them over later for another dinner and a movie. Between the two boats, we created an impromptu menu of lamb chops, pasta alfredo, salad and Daphne’s mashed sweet potatoes, along with a lot of wine. Delicious dinner spiced with good stories, and the movie? Fool’s Gold -- rather fitting, being aboard out in the Exumas!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Regatta Day!

We spent the day aboard Equinox, hosting Lauren and Rob from Arita, watching the different classes of regatta races. Rob was going to be racing with the Staniel Cay fellows aboard Tida Wave in the A class race later in the day, and Lauren wanted to get photos of the races from a more stable platform than a bouncing dinghy. It was a totally relaxed and enjoyable day, as we watched from the flybridge as the B and C classes went around the harbor, with some boats tacking right through the anchorage here in Gaviota Bay -- one came so close to Equinox I thought they were going to hit our bow!

Again, as for history of the Family Islands Regatta, it began in April 1954 when about 70 Bahamian schooners, dinghies and sloops assembled in Elizabeth Harbour for a three-day racing event. The first sailors in 1954 raced in the same boats with which they used to earn their livelihood: their working wooden sloops. One of the early aims of the regatta was to help preserve the boat-building skills of the Bahamians, and today, while the boats have changed slightly into specially-crafted racing sloops, the the goal remains the same: sail a Bahamian built craft with a Bahamian crew, and prove yourself to be the best sailor in the Bahamas. Ron had the pleasure of watching several of the racing sloops being off-loaded from the big transport ship yesterday as he was awaiting my arrival!

The pink Anna Nicole being off-loaded in Elizabeth Harbour

If you can believe it, communication for the competing boats is done by megaphone, as no VHF or cell phones are allowed on the sloops. It was charmingly Bahamian seeing the chaos of each race --- first of all, there seemed to be no accurate course outlined beforehand until the prevailing winds were determined, when the marker buoys were set out. During the races, you really couldn’t tell who was out in front amidst all the boats, and there were no public announcements for the spectators as to who was in the lead. As an added challenge for the competitors, the course buoys (all two of them) were repeatedly moved throughout the race to mark the different turning points and finish line. Even the finish line seemed to be a moving target with the buoy relocations! Not to mention the challenge of sailing through the myriad of spectator dinghies and small craft shadowing the sloops. But, hey, it’s better in the Bahamas!
Tida Wave crew heading out to the starting line

Being here to see it all was a blast. We appreciated the unique opportunity to partake in a piece of Bahamian history, thus we were very excited that Rob was invited to be aboard Tida Wave as one of the few non-Bahamians to crew. As it turned out however, the winds were so light and variable, that Tida Wave opted to go with only 10 men as opposed to the usual crew of 12, so Rob graciously stepped aside to let all the Staniel Cay men sail. If they could have removed some of the 7000 pounds of lead ballast instead, they might have sailed with 12, but apparently there was some issue with that aboard the boat. So...we all became spectators instead!

We hopped into Tingum before the start of the A class race, placing ourselves behind the starting line, where Tida Wave was anchored. The sloops all anchor in a line, awaiting instructions from the Regatta Committee boat, then there is gunshot to signal hoisting of the sails and weighing anchor, and a second shot to signal the start of the race itself. Barely organized chaos!

The A Class sloops all in a line, awaiting the
starting gun to hoist sails and weigh anchor

New Courageous waiting at the starting line

And they're off!

We cruised along with the other spectators, following the sloops on their course, shooting photos as we went. It was a challenge just to navigate amid the other dinghies and small craft circling everywhere! But it was really interesting to hear Rob’s sailing commentary on the tactics of the leading boats, since we know so little about it. Tida Wave was first off the line and led for the first part of the race, but New Courageous made a strategic move after rounding the second mark and slipped ahead. Tida Wave made a valiant effort, but never could overcome the leader. Instead, she wound up in a neck and neck sprint for the finish with another boat, vying for second, which they achieved. This was just the first day, for there will be more racing tomorrow! Another Staniel Cay boat, the Lady Muriel came in 5th.

Tida Wave leading the pack

The boys on Thunderbird out on the pry board

The A class sloops in action

Tida Wave taking second place by a narrow margin

After a long day in the sun watching the races, dinner was a quiet, relaxing affair aboard with just the two of us. We dined on the aft deck, enjoying the calm water shimmering about us in the warm night air. The anchor lights of all the boats around us looked like stars, floating in the sky above the water...a perfect end to a lovely, lovely day!

Short interlude to the States...

Back to the Island for Karyn! I apologize for the hiatus...I’m fine, no issues, but I did fly back to the states to spend a long weekend with Ally and to get a follow-up check-up from the doctor. All is well! But, I admit I was swamped with must-accomplish tasks of mail sorting, time-consuming and time-sensitive correspondence and errands. The only good thing about the all the time spent doing so was that the weather was gray and rainy, so I wasn’t missing out on any beautiful Florida sunshine. Plus, I got a lot accomplished paperwork-wise, but no blogging was done as I focused on spending time with Ally, which was truly enjoyable. A good visit off-island!
Happily, arrival back to the Exumas was welcoming. There was gorgeous weather: bright sunshine on the turquoise waters, light winds, low humidity, warm temps. I only had carry-on luggage, so I breezed through Bahamian Customs and Immigration with nary an issue (although the Sherwood shammy mop heads I had in my bag did give US security a pause at FLL -- they wanted to know if I had hand weights in my bag! Uh...no.). Then I had Taxi 16, Mr. Clifford, waiting outside for me at GTT so I hopped in and listened to some rake and scrape Bahamian music all the way back into town! Couldn’t ask for a better arrival!
Arita, dressed for the occasion with 
flags of various nations flying

Ron was at the dinghy dock loading up Eclipse when I arrived at Exuma Markets. After a quick return to Equinox to unload baggage and groceries, we went back into George Town to enjoy the air of excitement. The National Family Islands Regatta is gearing up to get underway! As I've mentioned before, this annual event is when the best sailors from every major island in the Bahamas converge at Elizabeth Harbour on Exuma Island for the regatta. During the four days of racing, Bahamian sailors arrive prepared to sail their locally-built sloops for the much coveted “Best in the Bahamas” title. 

The town was bustling with people, and the straw market was in full swing with all sorts of items for sale. Some of the fish shacks were open, too, busy selling jerk ribs, chicken, pork & steak, conch salad, grilled fish of all kinds and beer: Kalik, Sands, High Rock! The Bahamian sloops, glossily painted and proudly bearing the names of the originating Cays, were still being unloaded from the ship, and getting rigged in the harbor. Some were already out in the harbor, tuning the rigging and sails in preparation of the events tomorrow. 

Where Ron and I had fabulous jerk ribs:
smoky and spicy, falling off the bone!


Grilling in action out back of the Crowbar's food shack
Ron and I walked about town, and stopped in at Crowbar's Grill Pit for a lunch of spicy grilled ribs, beans and rice and cold Sands. We walked to the water’s edge, ate, and enjoyed the spectacle around us as boats continued to be prepped and readied for sailing, people milled about the food stands, with a festive party atmosphere prevailing! The races will start tomorrow, with different classes - A, B & C - for the different size vessels. The prerequisites are that the boats are made of wood, made in the Bahamas, and have a majority Bahamian crew. (There are a few allowances for the occasional non-Bahamian, we've discovered, which is cool.) Our friend Rob, off Arita, will be crewing aboard Tida Wave, one of the perennial winners from Staniel Cay here in the Exumas, in the A class races. It's quite an honor to be invited aboard!! We'll be cheering for Tida Wave!

This food shack's sign says it all!

The mid-afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach at the Chat -N- Chill with one of Kendall's  Goombay Smashes before a lovely late afternoon siesta aboard Equinox. In the evening, we had Sam and Heather from Cloud Nine join us aboard; they brought dinner, a lovely Lebanese dish of grilled fish, rice, with pine nuts and almonds, and we supplied the movie: BottleShock, which they hadn't seen before. It was a gorgeous night on anchor, and we enjoyed it immensely!! It's good to be back aboard!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Propane Day...and Bee Gees Concert!

Ok, here's the deal. When you are down in the islands, one must realize that there isn't ready, immediate access to the basics (food, fuel or what have you) as so many of us are accustomed. While the basics are always available...it's just not every day, nor at your whim, when you need it. You plan, and make sure you are in line when the goods are available. Take for instance...Propane. On a boat, it's the galley elixir of life and when you run out, it's not a pretty sight! Here in the southern Exumas, at George Town, it's not taken for granted, as propane is only available on Wednesdays when the big tanker truck pulls up in front of Eddie's Edgewater and the cruisers flock for a fill!

The Propane tanker truck has arrived!

Ron, awaiting the fill for Equinox's spare propane tank

With the winds being what they were, it was an ugly, wet ride to town. In the bright sunshine, folks were covering themselves with foul weather gear, and placing computers and other gear in trash bags to simply keep them dry on the way over from Stocking Island. We gave Diana and Steve off Water Lily  a ride to town, so while we waited on the propane truck, they went to the Peace and Plenty Hotel and got on their internet for mail. (Not to mention a drink at the bar and a Family Islands Regatta t-shirt as well!)


Once finished with the propane chore, we walked along the harbor front (checking out the fish shacks yet again) before we headed back to the dinghy dock. We all stopped off at Tranee's Beauty and Barber Unisex Salon.... and... bought conch! Who would have thought? It's definitely not advertised on their window, nor about town, but if you want a bag of conch fresh out of the shell (although you get to tenderize it!) it's only $20 for 10 conch! Just stop in and you will be rewarded! Steve and Diana got a larger $25 bag, but I just had to giggle. Hairdo and fresh conch all in one stop!


It's not just a Hair Cuttery, believe me!

The afternoon brought a sundowner special at the Sand Bar on Hamburger Beach ($3 rum drinks!) and we found ourselves hanging with Heather and Sam off Cloud Nine along with Steve and Diana and Greg and Karuna. Of course, it's a small cruising world, as we'd met Sam while waiting for the propane truck earlier in the morning. But, after a fun happy hour ashore, we flung out an invitation for dinner aboard Equinox, and threw an impromptu dinner together for the eight of us, with everyone contributing. From tahini appetitzer to the salad and Shrimp marinara, we had a great time. After a long dinner and lots of conversation, (when when we weren't rescuing the errant dinghy trying to escape) it was only natural that we expose Stocking Island to ... a Bee Gees Concert!! Dancing on the aft cockpit, at full volume: One Night Only! :)  A fabulous night!! 


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wind, wind and again, more wind...

...which is getting really, really old. But yes, the winds continue to blow. (And blow and blow!) In case you were wondering. They are gusting up to 28+ knots, but have been consistently around 20-25 knots for most of the day today. Elizabeth Harbour is wickedly choppy and more and more boats are getting tucked in along the lee of Stocking Island. As I write, I’m hearing all sorts of chatter on the VHF about a boat that’s dragging anchor, with other boats heading to the rescue while the absent owner is located. It’s quite an active community of cruisers here, so folks are very willing to help out one another. That’s reassuring on a blustery day like today!

The Regatta Committee stand on the waterfront 
of Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, Exuma
Other than the winds howling in the masts and rigging all around us, today was another low-key day. We went into town in the morning to take in the trash, and to fill an extra can of fuel for Eclipse. (No more running out of gas for us!) While we were in town, we walked along all the fish shacks and food shanties that are being constructed for the National Family Island Regatta. The line of shacks extends all along the harbor front, and we’ve been told that it will be quite a sight to see when they are open, with an amazing variety of food to sample. The woman at Tino’s  Shack 23 said they’ll have everything from seafood to conch made a variety of ways to sheep’s tongue. Might be a bit adventurous and try some of that! In any event, we’ll find out next week when the Regatta is underway!

A long line of food shacks and stands under 
construction on the harborfront

Scorch Conch is exactly that...fire on your tongue!

We've got to stop here, just because of its name!
After returning to the boat, we went into Gaviota Bay for a slow lunch at the St. Francis Resort and Marina, where we purchased more internet time and generally just relaxed over our food. Later in the afternoon, we just hung around the boat. Ron filled some scuba tanks for Greg off Karuna, and arranged to get some waxing done on the boat later in the week, and we napped, read, did crosswords or sudoku puzzles and basically didn’t do much of anything. A lazy day! There was a sundowner on Hamburger Beach this evening, but we didn't really have the motivation to go, as it would have been a sloppy, wet ride in the dinghy to get there. Everyone was in their foul weather gear just for the ride to the beach! There's always tomorrow!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rake 'n' Scrape at Eddies!

Equinox on anchor near Stocking Island, with 
Tingum on the hip

A quiet day for us aboard; windy yet again so still no diving on the outer reefs. But, because of that, we actually got a lot of necessary evils accomplished regarding paperwork, e-mail correspondence, bills and phone calls. After that was done, I baked a couple loaves of bread, one wheat, one rye (which we gave to Karuna) while Ron made a foray into George Town in Eclipse to see if he couldn’t find a dry cleaners -- which he couldn’t. (I thought it was kind of optimistic of him to even think there would be one here, considering how difficult it is to find much more basic items and services!) There are a couple of places that do laundry, though. 
We had an early dinner aboard Equinox, with Steve and Diana off WaterLily  who arrived in George Town over the weekend. We’d met Steve and his sons last December while moored off Treasure Cay, Abacos when we had Ally and Kayleigh aboard during winter break. We asked them to join us when we discovered that we all had the same thing on the menu: lobster! We’d pulled a couple tails out of the freezer (since lobster season is over until August) and had dinner already prepped when they hailed us to invite us over to their boat. SO...we combined forces and had a great meal together. Ron had baked our lobsters in the shells while Diana had pan-fried theirs in a curry panko crust, served with a spiced up orange marmalade. Both preparations were delicious!! Steve hasn’t had much lobster before, so he’s on a mission to find all the ways they can be prepared!
After dinner, we all climbed into Eclipse and headed over to George Town in search of Eddie’s Edgewater for some local rake 'n' scrape music. The band was really good, with quite a colorful set up of drums as well as a wash-tub bass! (I was kicking myself as I didn’t bring my camera this time!) The place was jumping, just getting in full swing when we arrived, and before I even crossed the room, I was swept off to dance by a Bahamian gentleman who was celebrating his birthday. The night proceeded in like fashion, as we all danced the next few hours away, pausing from time to time only to cool off and get some fresh air out on the front porch. As always, another fun night in the islands!

Pig Roast at the C 'n' C!

The winds are up again, so no diving on the agenda today...which is getting to be a boring refrain, let me tell you. Unfortunately, it looks like the weather this week is not going to cooperate, and if anything, the winds will increase as time goes on. I’m not liking that! If anything can be said about the past few months, it’s been too darn windy too much of the time!
Now that we have found some basic internet available to us via a pay-for-service set-up, we spent the morning downloading our e-mail and  regaining contact with the outside world. On land, some things are totally taken for granted when it’s easily available -- such as all our modern-day forms of communication. In the States, for the most part, mail service, phone service and internet access are readily available and reliable. Here on the water, the ability to keep in touch via the internet or phone is not always available, and certainly not something taken for granted!! Even mail -- while more accessible, it’s not always timely, especially when one is in far away ports. Still, those modern conveniences do keep us connected: when we have them, we appreciate them!!
Ron and I spoke Ally this morning as usual, then got on-line and slogged through a ream of e-mail messages, reading, sorting, forwarding and responding to the more time-sensitive items. That took time enough, so we certainly didn’t have extra time to spend on light-hearted web-surfing, FaceBook, or other idle chatter because...the beach was waiting!

Signpost on Volleybal Beach with distances to far away 
places from George Town, including Crisfield, MD and Milwaukee, WI!

You see, Sunday afternoons are beach days here on Stocking Island. Dinghies line up along the shore as folks come off their boats for a bit of fun in the sun. Volleyball Beach was living up to its name, with folks playing hard on the courts behind the Chat ‘N’ Chill, whose famous Sunday Pig Roast was in full swing. People sat in groups under the sea pines and palms, at tables along the beach, or in chairs at the water’s edge to keep cool in the shallow water lapping at the shore, all eating, drinking, talking together, telling stories, having fun. The Conch Shack on the shore was a busy hot spot, where fresh conch salad is made to order, with various levels of hot spice available. The spices here are not for the meek! 

Chilling in the water and just goofing around
Deck side of the Chat 'N' Chill

One of the benefits to cruising is that we often meet up with old friends  in unexpected places, or as we’ve been doing here: meeting new folks. They’re from the various and sundry boats anchored here in the harbor -- from all walks of life, from all parts of the globe -- as well as folks who live and work here on Great Exuma. While some of the cruisers here are first-time visitors like us, others have been coming here for years, so it’s a fun mix. The best part is that we all have a lot in common by the simple virtue of sharing a passion for the sea and the islands. Yep...living the dream!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

George Town proper!

Another full day of sunshine and fun here, as we (Ron, Greg and myself) went out for a dive in the morning off the reefs of Stocking Island. The reef is farther out from shore and the wall drop-off begins at a deeper depth than at points farther north (like Highborne Cay), so  we were a bit constrained by the amount of anchor line we had aboard. I didn’t want to dive too deep anyway (just being cautious post-accident) so we dropped the hook in 70’, among some tongue and groove coral that looked a bit promising. The seas were a bit choppy as the winds were kicking up a bit, and unfortunately, the dive was rather nondescript and disappointing: no dramatic coral profiles, few fish except for a large lobster out dancing in front of his hole, obviously cheerful that it was no longer lobster season! We headed east towards the wall, but it was too far a swim to make it feasible, so simply retraced our path back to the boat. As usual, best to go out with the local dive masters here and get the scoop on some good sites!
After a good wash down of Equinox, with Greg generously helping, we started out in tandem with Karuna’s tender to go to George Town. Thankfully we had them as company as...Eclipse promptly stopped running after a couple minutes into the trip! They had to tow us to the docks at Exuma Docking Services, where we thought they had fuel. However....no fuel docks to be found here, as the ones at EDS are not in service. We had a fuel can with us, so filled that, and after an hour's worth of tinkering with the engine and confirming it wasn’t bad fuel, we found the problem: lack of fuel! Ooops!! Ron swears we didn't run the dinghy all that much since Harbour Island, but clearly we ran it enough! Thankfully we didn't run out on the way home across the bay last night in the dark!!

Eclipse being towed after the engine died in the 
middle of Elizabeth Harbor

After refueling, Ron and I then walked about George Town in the afternoon, looking for the local dive shops and seeing all the preparations underway for the Family Islands Regatta next week. The Regatta draws racing boats from all over the Bahamas, as all entries must be Bahamian designed, built, owned and sailed. It's one of the oldest regattas in the islands, dating back to 1954, when it was created as a showcase for the skills of the Bahamian sailors and boat builders. Sounds like it's a huge party, so we'll find out next week when it's in full swing! 

George Town has a number of businesses and buildings around the shores of Lake Victoria, usually called "the Pond". You can only enter the "lake" through a small opening under a fixed bridge with a vertical clearance of about 8'...shades of Bermuda and the entry into Harrington Sound! But it is picturesque in its own way!



We provisioned a bit at Exumas Market, which was like going into a gourmet grocer after the other out islands! (Wow. A choice of different block cheeses!) We also walked to the Peace and Plenty to get info on the local dive guide there, then stopped at the liquor store, getting some wine and beer, as we were down to the very last bottles of each libation. In the islands here, rum is plentiful and inexpensive, but wine is definitely more pricey than one would pay stateside, and rather limited in choices. (Oenophiles, take note!!)  


After hauling all our provisions back aboard, we enjoyed a quiet evening aboard. We had some impromtu visitors just before dinner -- Chris, and some of his fishing cohorts from the island as well as off one of the yachts here joined us aboard for a bit. Again, meeting new folks and making new friends -- a part of cruising! Love it!


Exuma Sound!


The winds kicked up a bit last night, gusting 20 kts from the south, and I fretted some in the wee hours that we wouldn’t have a good weather window after all for our passage  south on the Exuma Sound en route to George Town. From Cave Cay, it’s about 31 miles to Conch Cay Cut, the entrance into Elizabeth Harbour, and from Cave Cay south, our only straightforward route with deep-water. The water on the bank side to the west gets rather thin in the southern Exumas, so getting to George Town requires us to run down the Sound. 
Thankfully, the morning brought much lighter winds than the previous night. We were up early, and out of the Cave Cay Cut by 8:00 am. We were delighted with the calmer conditions; although we know Equinox can handle rougher seas, while we’re towing Tingum, we like to have the better conditions. And, the passage was just as we hoped: uneventful! 

View from the pilot house heading south on Exuma Sound

After a 4-hour cruise, we were close to arriving at George Town via Conch Cay Cut. It gets a bit dicey there, as boats must thread their way through isolated coral heads, shallow reefs, and sand banks to enter Elizabeth Sound. Charts are extremely helpful here, but it is still necessary to keep an eye on the color of the water to avoid the hazards. As we entered, we had fairly good light (despite the darn clouds that chose to congregate above us at our very arrival at the cut!) and Ron piloted us through without any issues. We even had a small eagle ray sail by us as we entered the harbor, which was a good sign in our book!
George Town is the “mecca” for sailors in the Bahamas, where for the past forty years or more, cruisers have come to spend time here. Some boats are en route to places farther south in the Caribbean, but most just stay the winter months. George Town is located at approximately 23 degrees 31’ N latitude and 075 degrees 47’ west longitude, just above the tropic of cancer. It’s about 350 miles from Miami, Florida, to give everyone some perspective.

Walking the beach on the south side of Galliot Bay

We had the anchor down near Gaviota Bay by 1:00, and went out in the tender to check out the lie of the land. We landed on “Volleyball Beach” and went up to the Chat ‘n’ Chill for a late lunch. It was exactly what was needed after a good morning’s cruise! We ended up talking with some local guys next to us at the C ‘n’ C, and before the day was out, Ron was aboard their boat, doing a bit of fishing! Ron totally enjoyed it and I relaxed a bit aboard.  
Great food, total island ambiance!  

No burgees, just t-shirts! The rafters are filled at the C 'n' C!

After Ron returned in the early evening, we went over to the Peace and  Plenty with Karuna and Greg for dinner and music. We took Eclipse, as the run across the harbor is a good mile of choppy water. We had a great dinner, taking part in the local benefit barbeque (proceeds to go towards the All-Island Family Regatta) and enjoying the ambience and reveling in the friendliness of the P and P. Great place!!