Saturday, July 31, 2010

Quick Trip to Wisconsin!

Well, it's been an eventful week, albeit with unscheduled and unplanned events! Ally and I had a respite from the Florida heat, as we spent most of this past week in Wisconsin. It turns out that the same day that Equinox returned from the Bahamas last week, my dad went into the hospital, so our return was very, very fortuitous. Thus, as the situation dictated, we went to be with the rest of my family while my dad was undergoing some needed surgery to alleviate the debilitating pain and issues due to severe arthritis in his spine. He came through the surgery well, thankfully, and is now in a rehab facility working to regain strength and mobility. Ally and I enjoyed and appreciated the time spent with family, and are very grateful that the prognosis for my dad's recovery is positive.

While we were in Wisconsin, Ron kept himself busy coordinating a couple maintenance and repair visits to Equinox and Tingum, and in between, bicycling over 90 miles. Since Equinox is scheduled to be safely on the hard during the heart of the hurricane season, we're wanting  to use the time to take the the opportunity to travel a bit and do some riding. With that goal in mind, we've been trying to build up some mileage and get in fighting shape, thinking that we might go out to California and do a bit of touring in wine country. With California hills looming and only the Florida flats to train on, I clearly have my work cut out to catch up, especially since Ron's been in "secret training" while I was gone! 

My apologies that there's not much of a boating aspect to the blog lately, with all the family issues going on! We're still working on the winter itinerary for Equinox, though, and will let you know where the compass points when we head out!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

TS Bonnie

...slid to the south of us, making landfall about 20 miles south of Miami. While bands of scattered showers came through our area, we didn't have much else affect us. Even in the way of winds, we only had brief gusts of 25-30 knots winds, but otherwise, just blustery 15-20 knots that weren't out of the ordinary. SO...feeling rather grateful that it was so benign here, and hope that it doesn't affect the Gulf situation badly. Thankfully now, the storm has been downgraded to a tropical depression and a gradual weakening of the system is expected. 

And...we're delighted to be back with Ally again, enjoying our time together before she heads off to college in a few weeks. Ron and Ally been bicycling together in the mornings now that she has her new road bike. I'm looking forward to joining them once my new shoe cleats arrive. (My old ones wore out, and keep unlocking and slipping off the pedals....not safe!) We've also kept busy doing the mundane chores of making landfall: emptying Equinox of her extra freezer provisions, consolidating items aboard, sorting and cleaning and doing last-minute boat projects to get her ready for her haul-out soon. We're going to be a bit conservative, and have Equinox stored on the hard for a month or so here during the heart of hurricane season. Ron and I will do some traveling, get Ally settled into college and work on itineraries and ideas on where we want to cruise this winter! 

So we're re-acclimating to being on land again. It's always the little things that strike you; after being on anchor all last month, simply pulling into a marina again felt weird. Odd not to be monitoring battery levels, amp draw, and the like; odd to have phone coverage again.  I'm tuned into the weather while on the boat, from noting wind speed and direction, waves and sea state, to the rhythms of the tides; I feel oddly disconnected without that harmony in the background. Being aboard seems to invite one to take time to appreciate the sun on the water, the sea breezes ruffling the anchorage, and I miss that slower pace to the day. Ah well, we'll be back out on the water soon enough! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tropical Depression Three... now aiming for the Florida coast, and hot on our heels! I am SO glad that we took the weather window Monday night and made the crossing east from the Bahamas when we did! My heart goes out to Fluke, Aroha and Eagle, knowing that they were planning to stay put in the Wells Bay anchorage to await a better weather for their boats, but now must be hunkered down and weathering the storm. No one wants to be exposed in an open anchorage during any bad weather, so I hope all goes well for them! We are grateful that Equinox easily handled the conditions that we encountered, even with Tingum in tow, during the passage across the Gulf Stream. 

Now that we are back, with Equinox safe and sound in her berth, we've been dealing with  the  mundane issues of being back: sorting through piles of mail, completing the required paperwork for Ally's college housing and registration, and trying to get the $%^& dryer in our condo to work! Those aren't really anything but minor time-consuming tasks, as more concerning are a couple of health issues of some family members, so we are even more grateful that we are back and able to be touch with everyone again. While cruising is a dream come true in many, many ways, it has its obvious drawbacks with the distances involved, and the difficulties encountered with communication. So...right now, it's family focus time!

Thus, we're keeping an eye on the weather, and a closer eye on family, and are hoping for the best for all! Blue skies, calm seas and happy trails for all until tomorrow! 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"It was all going so well until then..."

To quote Captain Ron! things change! Things never go exactly as hoped or planned, but flexibility is key! We've been keeping an eye on the weather, which, as you know, has been blustery. While the breezes are appreciated to a point, especially in the summer heat, it's also been a tad frustrating when the winds keep kicking up the seas. It's especially frustrating when we're sitting in the middle of prime diving spots! So the weather has been a bit disappointing of late.

This morning as Ron was looking at various weather sources, from the 24-, 48- and 96-hour wind and wave predictions to the NOAA zone forecasts, we realized that the weather wasn't going to get any better for at least a week or more. The best weather window we were going to get was! So, we confirmed times of tides in the Abacos, and at the St. Lucie Inlet, calculated travel time with Tingum in tow, and discussed all the variables before deciding we'd leave in the afternoon with the high tide at Wells Bay. That way, we'd hopefully take advantage of the diminished winds in the evening and overnight hours, and make the crossing while the passage conditions were reasonable. If we weren't towing Tingum, we'd not worry so much about the forecast of seas of 3'-5', since we know Equinox can handle that easily, especially in a following sea. But...towing does add an additional factor to consider!

The mid-morning hours were spent stowing items and battening down the boat in preparation for the crossing. It was hard to believe we were leaving, since mentally I was thinking we'd have another week or more to relax and enjoy the islands before having to go! It seemed especially bittersweet when we received an invitation to a potluck dinner on the beach by Aroha and Eagle, and we had to decline. Another time, hopefully, but not this trip.

We weighed anchor at 4:00 p.m. and set off across the Little Bahama Bank en route to the St. Lucie Inlet. We were making great time, even with Tingum in tow, since both wind and seas were following. It was an easy cruise, and especially pretty when the light turned golden on the water as the sun dipped lower in the sky. We were in a bit of a quandary, though, since  we didn't want to arrive at the St. Lucie Inlet in the dark, yet also didn't want to arrive when the outgoing tide was in full swing and opposing the easterly wind and waves. With the low high tide being 4:00 a.m., it was a bit of a no-win situation. Thankfully though, we've been in and out the inlet in both daylight and darkness, as well as in some rather nasty conditions to boot, so it's not entirely unknown to us. We slowed a bit before we left the Little Bahama Bank, making adjustments to Tingum, turning on her mast light for visibility in the dark, among other things. 

The crossing itself was uneventful, although not entirely comfortable. A few rain squalls moved past without anything more than a few raindrops for us, which was nice. However, the winds didn't diminish as much as we'd hoped, but instead piped up to 20+ knots, which wasn't so nice, so seas were definitely closer to 5 feet.  The NOAA Weather forecast said it all, when we saw the update on the Sirius Wx receiver:


I admit, the hardest part was my imagination, worrying about Tingum in the chop. Yet each time I checked, there she was, tracking straight and smooth behind us, up and over the waves as we went! Whew! (I sure wish worry had a purpose...but it doesn't do a darn thing except expend energy....which I'm good at!)  Nevertheless, the crossing was uneventful and we arrived at the inlet in the dark, about 5:30, as expected. Thankfully the outgoing tide didn't create much chaos with the opposing wind, either, and while it was a little stressful finding all the channel markers in the dark, we slid into the Inlet without an issue.  

Once inside the inlet though, we let our guard down at the wrong moment as we reached the crossroads of the ICW and the channel heading up the St. Lucie River. In the dark, we went too far to starboard just past the crossroads, and went on the wrong side of the red channel marker. Not good! And, since it is shallow outside the channel, we immediately nosed into the soft mud. UGH!! Shades of the Chesapeake! Quickly realizing our error, we halted forward movement, but with Tingum in tow there was no immediate reversing. We stopped, definitely aground, and pulled Tingum in to keep her from being a hazard. After some discussion, we shortened her tow line, and...used her to our advantage! With Ron at the helm of Equinox, and me at the controls of Tingum pulling on the tow line in reverse, we moved Equinox out and free of the mud. Whew!! Being aground there was NO place to be on a falling tide, for sure! Thus, another learning curve was completed, thankfully, with no harm done to Equinox! (Did I mention I LOVE our protected running gear?) 

We continued our journey up the river, aiming to join Concrete Idea at The Harborage, where we are berthing Equinox for a couple weeks until we haul her out for safety during the heart of hurricane season. After the post-adrenaline shakes of pulling Equinox back into the channel, it was a joy to hear Kerry break into our conversation on the VHF as we made our way north up river; they'd been up early and were monitoring the radio, knowing what working channel we use. With their local knowledge of the marina, we pulled in and docked easily, called customs for clearance and our crossing was completed. Nothing like being greeted by good friends with hot coffee and condolences -- or congratulations -- after a bit of excitement on the water!! As Ron later said, after telling the story: "It was all going so well until then!" 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wells Bay anchorage!

The beach at Wells Bay -- you can barely see Tingum at
the far end of the sandy expanse

Wells Bay is gorgeous!! We are really excited to explore here, being so close to the renown dive sites at Walker's Cay. Unfortunately the winds continue to blow annoyingly, and the forecast is .... unchanging. Just more of the same! It’s predicted to be continual 15-20 knot winds, with seas offshore 3’-5’ throughout the next five days. We attempted to get out to dive early, before the wind picked up too much, so threaded our way through the reef past Tom Brown’s Cay and Seal Cay, where we anchored in the sand in about 40 feet of water. The visibility was terrible, which was to be expected since the seas have been so stirred up, but the reef life was nice. There were two good sized snapper that were initially wary, but then chose to accompany us around the reef. We had a young nurse shark eagerly approach us too, before abruptly stopping, (and squinting at us, I swear! Do nurse sharks have poor vision?) then immediately turning off and swimming away. The sharks here are more aggressive than most, due to the spear fishing along the small rocks and unnamed cays as well as the former shark feeds the dive shop at Walker’s Cay used to offer. We only stayed down a short time; the limited visibility and the small bit of reef wasn’t that all exciting, nurse shark notwithstanding. If the seas hadn’t been so rough, we might have gone out farther to find the better dive sites listed in the cruising guide, but it wasn’t a comfortable option.

Karyn, post-dive, ready to explore the beach
We stopped by the beach and did a bit of exploring there after the dive. The beach is utterly gorgeous, scattered with a few pearly pink conch shells, as well as empty sea urchin shells, striped green and white. I had no idea what they were at first; didn't know sea urchins even had shells! Ron and I walked and enjoyed the solitude, and while we walked for a good stretch, we barely made a dent in covering the immense length of beach. We met the folks off Aroha, Jack and Anne, who were bringing their dog to shore and chatted with them for a bit. They've been coming to Wells Bay for years and really enjoy it. I can see why! 

After our walk, we stopped by Fluke to meet the other Kadey-Krogen owners, Wayne and Carol, and their friend Eddie. We had a nice chat introducing ourselves, culminating with an invitationto join us for sundowners in the evening. We spent the afternoon trying our hands at spearing fish  -- which just was not happening for Ron -- the grouper and snapper were way too wary and when the nurse sharks started coming around asserting their territorial rights, we left. Carol, Wayne and Eddie are avid spear-fishers; they gave us tips and tactics about spear-handling and approaching the fish, which Ron is now eager to try. An example of a typical cruising pleasure, meeting interesting people in exotic locations! We'll see what tomorrow will bring on the fishing front!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Start of the Return Journey

Dawn over Green Turtle & Manjack Cays after our departure

It feels odd to be heading back so soon -- I feel like we just arrived! But...we decided to make our way back a bit early, since the winds have picked up and diving here is less than optimal. We'll see what the weather has for crossing conditions in the next week or so! Thus, today we weighed anchor early about 6 a.m. and cruised to the northernmost area of the Abacos, to the anchorage at Wells Bay, just to the west of Grand Cay. To the east lies Walker’s Cay, the island with the well-known but now defunct/destroyed marina resort of the same name. First settled in 1911, it became a legendary resort hot-spot for fishing and diving for over 50 years.  Unfortunately, the hotel and marina were nearly completely destroyed in the hurricanes of 2004, and the resort was never rebuilt. In recent years, it only serves as a port of entry, and there are no other facilities or amenities available beyond a small airstrip. Boats head into the small settlement on Little Grand Cay, to Rosie's Place, if they need fuel,  food or lodging. 

Walker's Cay as seen from the air...the empty marina
 is all cordoned off and very desolate

We arrived at the Wells Bay anchorage just past high tide Friday afternoon, to find three other trawlers there: Aroha, Eagle and the Kadey-Krogen 48’ Whaleback, Fluke. It’s a large and gorgeous anchorage, with an idyllic, secluded beach on Grand Cay, ringed with numerous small, rocky shoals and tiny cays. We explored a bit in Tingum, before finally making our way into the settlement on Little Grand Cay, noted in our cruising guide as Grand Cays. Happily, Etta J’s harbor-side conch stand served up the best conch salad I’ve had in the Bahamas! Ron had the lobster salad, but I absolutely loved the spicy conch salad, since it was darn near perfect in its proportions of conch (nearly 95% conch, at least!) to onions, peppers and tomatoes. I did wonder the the “conch bubbly salad” was like -- and what makes it bubbly? -- but couldn’t resist the traditional recipe, which is my favorite! Unhappily, I'd forgotten my camera so I have no photos of the place! Augh!! We relaxed and watched the activity in the little marina and harbor area outside at Rosie’s Place before carefully navigating our way back to the anchorage. 

Equinox, on anchor, as seen from the beach on Grand Cay

Sunset over Walker's Cay to the west
We had a quiet evening enjoying the solitude of Wells Bay, and were off early to bed after a light dinner. It was a fairly long day!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Don't Rock!

We moved north from Treasure Cay today, seeing as the weather is forecast to continue its windy trend. With ESE winds 15-20 kts and “puffing higher” according to Barometer Bob, with snotty 2-3’ rollers on the Sea of Abaco, and 4-6’ outside on the Atlantic.  We left about an hour before the stand of the higher high tide this morning, and had quite a luxurious bit of water under the hull -- more than 3’ higher than normal! 

I ran ahead in Tingum, and Ron piloted Equinox heading for Whale Cay Cut. Since I was in Tingum, I stayed on the inside Sea of Abaco, and went through the Don’t Rock passage since seas were so rough. Ron surprised me though, and asked for depth soundings through Don’t Rock, which is known to be notoriously thin in spots. I was a bit startled to think he’d consider taking Equinox through, because of that! But...I then ran Tingum back and forth through the shallows of Don’t Rock, and each time I ran Tingum through it (three times) to double-check  the  shallowest water, I found that there was eight feet or more throughout! SO...with Tingum leading the way and taking careful soundings, Equinox followed, and we went through Don’t Rock passage uneventfully. Not exactly orthodox, but with the high high tide water, easily done! It saved Equinox from a riotous ride around Whale Cay, and cut a good hour off the passage as well.

Don't Rock, as seen on a calmer day last week

So, here we are, anchored off New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay once again. After the Don’t Rock passage, I pulled into White Sound to check if there was availability at the Green Turtle Club Marina as Ron was toying with the idea of actually taking a slip for a night, and as I approached the marina, I was startled by its the point I thought it was closed for some odd reason!! The north dock was entirely empty and there were only 4 boats on the south pier...but Wesley, one of GT Club dockhands, assured me that they were indeed open, it was just a slow time and therefore quiet. Even the anchorage in White Sound was empty but for a couple of sailboats and one trawler -- quiet indeed!
And, quite the contrast to our earlier visit here at the beginning of the month when it was Regatta Time In Abaco when marinas were full, and  the anchorages were packed. Currently, we are one of just 6 boats off New Plymouth, and to the north, there is nothing but the sunset over the Sea of Abaco. The sunset and sea views are expansive and private, with solitude our neighbor. Precisely what cruising is about! 

Sunset, looking west from our anchorage, over the Sea of Abaco

Rain and guess what? Wind!

Such a shock that it's windy...really, why would the weather calm down any, after the windy winter and spring we had? Oh take what comes with Mother Nature!! It's actually not unexpected, since it follows the calm and lovely weather we enjoyed this last week, and which was very appreciated!! So, just equilibrium exerting itself, I suppose. 

Anyway, Wednesday was gray and wet; Ron and Sammy made a valiant attempt at fishing while Karyn stayed aboard Equinox for some quiet time and domestic chores. Vaccuuming, doing laundry, even baking some bread while the guys were out hunter-gathering. Although I have to say I was more successful in my pursuits than they were...I at least had a tidy boat and a loaf of rye bread to show for my efforts, since the men got skunked at fishing. Still, Sammy directed Ron through some ins and outs (literally) of the reef at the north end of Great Guana Cay, following his "secret" route through the dizzying maze of reef and coral to get to the best anchoring spots for snorkeling and diving. They were rewarded with a gorgeous snorkeling spot at any rate!

Thursday was a dive day; we took Sammy out with us aboard Tingum, and armed with a hand-drawn map (which Sammy and Brent at Treasure Divers put together) we picked our way farther inside the reef and anchored near Blacktip Alley. While seas were pretty rough offshore, inside the reef it was much calmer and allowed us to anchor and dive easily. The area here is filled with gorgeous amounts of staghorn coral, overhangs and caverns, swim-throughs and little caves. Most of the larger tunnels and caverns were jam-packed with huge schools of silversides, shimmering in the stray shafts of sunlight penetrating the reef. Sammy showed us several of his favorite spots, and we each reveled in the choreography of the glittering schools of fish as they swirled and danced about us in the various swim-throughs. A very cool site indeed!! Unfortunately, we each only had one tank of air aboard, so after a leisurely dive at Blacktip Alley, we moved the boat and anchored a distance away at a site called The Cathedral, where we used our remaining air for a good half hour dive. Another good day on the water, and we returned to the boat in the late afternoon, tired, salty and happy! 

A map of Great Guana Cay dive sites from the 
Treasure Divers web site 

After the tanks were refilled and the boat washed down, we relaxed aboard Equinox and watched a parade of charter boats flock into the anchorage. It always strikes us as interesting how often in a wide, open anchorage with plenty of room, boats choose to anchor quite close to us. We figure that Equinox must look so salty and seaworthy, that we automatically exude an air of competence, so that others want to be nearby!! :) Either that or they want a wind break in the lee behind us...!

But as gorgeous as she is, Equinox is a heavy boat, nearly 100,000 lbs, and combined with her deep hull, she is often affected by the current as well as the wind. Thus, we anchor carefully, with plenty of rode out -- anywhere from a good 100', 120', to 140' or more of chain down depending on the depth of the anchorage. But, that also means our swinging radius is somewhat large, so we try to make sure we are well away from other boats. But while we are careful about this, it rarely seems to work the other way.... no sooner does a new boat enter the anchorage, and it chooses to blithely drop anchor just a few dozen yards away, with very little rode out. We've meet a lot of folks that way though, as the boats inevitably swing and things sometimes get a bit close for comfort...! OH well! Can't do a thing about it but laugh. Yep, cruising is always an adventure, even on anchor! 

As seen from our galley door, this boat anchored just 
under 100 feet from us, well within our swinging arc.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Different day, same routine!

Beautiful blue waters off the south end of Great Guana Cay

Well, what do you know? We were out diving again today....oh so surprising, I realize! Actually, we'd toyed with the idea of fishing in the early morning, but the forecast was for light winds and calm seas, so we opted to dive instead, and not miss out on the lovely weather! So, we ran back to the spot where we dove yesterday, to see if we couldn't find the big green moray we'd spotted there. No such luck, however, although we had a fabulous time exploring the overhanging arches and swim-throughs in the outer edges of the reef. While the lower edges of the rocky reef was fairly gray and non-descript, the upper portions of the reef were filled with life. 

Every time I looked up, I saw clouds of tiny juvenile fish amongst the sea fans, corals and sea whips that adorn the top of the reef....some so tiny they just looked like specks of glass. I also saw a pair of very small -- may 1" long -- tiny yellowtail damselfish. Unlike their mature coloring, the juveniles are a deep dark cobalt blue, with brilliant bright blue dots all over them. They are also known as "jewelfish" because of these gem-like dots, and they are stunning. There were tons of small brown and blue chromis in loose formations about the coral heads ... the blue ones always look grumpy to me, the way their mouths appear to turn down in a frown! 

A stock web photo that I found of a blue chromis

There was the occasional queen angelfish, pairs of bright yellow and black banded and striped porkfish, schools of chub and grunts, plus the ever-present parrotfishes, in their wide of colors, all munching away on algae on the coral. It was a relaxing and long dive -- again, we were in fairly shallow waters with an averages depth of 35', according to my dive computer -- so I took my time examining the fish around me. I also noted a lot of flamingo tongues on some of the sea fans, which I enjoy looking at, even though they are considered the "goats of the sea" as they forage 

After the first dive, Ron and I cruised south to Man-O-War Cut and checked out the reefs and waters around Fowl Cay. The water is an incredible shade of blue there, so we decided that after lunch, we'd check out some of the reef area there. We went up to Grabber's on Great Guana Cay for lunch poolside, overlooking the Sea of Abaco, where we had a delicious fish burger of grilled mahi-mahi. 

Awaiting lunch at our poolside table at Grabber's

After lunch, we made one more dive, this time off Fowl Cay. Fowl Cay is a Land and Sea Park, set aside by the Bahamian government, and within the undersea preserve, it is illegal to take fish, or even shells. The diving and snorkeling here is some of the best in the Abacos, and we have to agree, as we enjoyed it immensely. We will return here again to check out more of its beauty!
In the late afternoon, tired and salty, we returned to Treasure Cay to discover that our friend Sammy had arrived from Florida by boat, and was here to spend some time at his condo on Treasure Cay before flying back. Sammy has been fishing and diving here in the Abacos for over 30 years, so he not only knows many of the folks here at Treasure Cay, he knows all the tips, tricks and hot spots for diving and fishing. We had a delightful dinner with him at Touch of Class, just outside of Treasure Cay, and made plans to fish and dive with him while he is here. After a long day on the water, it was an early night!  

Monday, July 12, 2010

Nipper's on...Monday?

Ron and I did three dives today...on only one tank apiece! Ok, so we were simply investigating and wanted to check out the reef profile off Great Guana Cay. I'll admit a couple of the dives were short! The first dive was just outside Loggerhead Channel, and despite the promising sonar profile, the bottom was just scoured rock with a bit of coral around the edges of a sandy bowl. We were just about to turn back when, under a ledge alongside the sand, I saw the tail of a nurse shark, just chilling in the sand. The tail continued, and continued until we saw its wide was a good ten feet, if not twelve!! While nurse sharks are generally known to be benign, I wasn't taking any chances when the shark is larger than you are! According to National Geographic: "Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 14 feet—and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile." Thus....I don't assume anything! :)

The second dive site was a bit more promising, with more coral and reef fish than the first site, was still kind of nondescript. After the dive, we hung out while on anchor and ate the picnic lunch we had packed, simply enjoying the calm seas, gorgeous scenery and the solitude.  And, since we were on the east side of Great Guana, Ron thought it would be fun to pull up to Nipper's! So, I sat in the bow of the boat checking for random coral heads and shallow reefs as we meandered our way inshore. We used a small stern anchor to keep us off the shallow reef to out port, then swam in to enjoy the solitude of the beach and bar on a Monday!

Ron wading in to the beach at Great Guana Cay

Nipper's on Monday...seats for all!

The pool was cool, inviting...and private!

The third dive of the day was the best, although it almost didn't happen. Ron was reluctant to switch over our gear to use one of last Nitrox tanks, so after some discussion, we decided to simply use the remaining air in our original tanks. and went in with enough for a short 20-minute dive. But sure enough...lots to see! Right off the bat, I saw a Spotted Drum tucked under a corner of coral, and before I could spend a moment appreciating it, Ron motioned for me to follow him through a small swim-through. Once inside, there was a large green moray face-to-face with us, a bit perturbed that we disturbed him. Nice to see a moray here though...first for the month!

After the dive, we surfaced to find the afternoon storm clouds coalescing for some rain. We raced Tingum back to Equinox, but...the rain won! No problem, mon....nice washdown in the warm air! The was so much rain in fact, that horizon to horizon was a white-out, and you couldn't see land. But being the Bahamas, the rain comes, the rain goes, and shortly thereafter we had a rainbow that was stapled to the sky from horizon to horizon!! Gorgeous! Nice accompaniment to the usual post-dive chores of washing down the dive gear, washing off Tingum, filling the tanks and starting a load of laundry to clean the wet towels, swim suits and long-sleeved sun protection factor shirts! Dinner was a roasted chicken with root veggies and sauteed spinach while watching the gorgeous sunset to the west. Just another day aboard Equinox, although I'm fairly certain the agenda will be repeated tomorrow. The dinner menu will probably change though! 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More diving, more sharks!

Ron and I have been enjoying the scuba diving here, diving every morning and occasionally every afternoon, when we're not snorkeling and checking out new areas of the reef to dive later. What we both -- especially Karyn -- have been reveling in is the warm water temperatures!! It's utterly delightful to splash in and not have hypothermia after 30 minutes in the water, compared with the cold water temps we had this past winter!! We've been diving somewhat shallow areas of the reef here, from 25 to 40 feet or so, but as a result, we've been clocking an hour or more underwater and still coming up with air to spare! It's been great!! 

Calm conditions for our morning dive!

The reefs along Manjack and Green Turtle Cay are made up of amazing coral formations with small crevices, nooks, crannies, and sunlight-filled holes, all filled with fish life. It's so relaxing and zen-like to glide past towering pillars surrounded with juvenile fish or swim under overhangs of coral covered with colorful sea fans...we just admire it all: the scenery, the fish life, the beauty of sunlight filtering through the water. Yet, every dive is different, but that is the charm. 

Of course, there is always the adrenaline rush of the unexpected: a pair of feeding eagle rays as we round a corner of coral, a slumbering nurse shark under a ledge, a turtle calmly resting on a reef, or a blacktip reef shark swimming past curiously -- and fairly closely -- as if to see if we're spear-fishing. (No, thank you -- as it is, the sharks have been stealing from our fishing lines when we've been fishing from Tingum, so we have NO wish to go spear fishing and attract them to us by waving a wounded fish around while underwater!!) It's one thing to see sharks when they are calmly swimming past, yet quite another when you are holding an entree for them!  

Today after our morning dive, we moved Equinox from our anchorage just north of  New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay over to the Treasure Cay anchorage basin. After we put Eclipse back  in her cradle atop the flybridge, we then weighed anchor: Ron took Equinox south through Crossing Bay, out Whale Cay Cut and around through Loggerhead Channel, while Karyn piloted Tingum through the thin waters around Don't Rock on the Sea of Abaco. It was near low tide, and yes, the waters were low indeed! I'm not sure whether it was due to the solar eclipse today or not, but according to the chatter on the VHF about it and what we observed, it did seem that the waters were lower than usual. So, we pulled into Treasure Cay carefully: Karyn led with Tingum, reporting its sounder depths, with Equinox following. We were glad that we had Tingum checking the waters too, since it was shallow enough that the sounder on Equinox stopped registering -- yet we slipped in to the marina mooring basin and anchored with no issue. Whew!  Anchor down and secure at 2:02 pm, followed by a lengthy, leisurely time at the Treasure Cay Marina pool before sundowners on the aft deck! 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fish on!

Dawn over the Atlantic near Green Turtle Cay

So...we've been busy since we took Paul and Muriel to the ferry dock in Treasure Cay on Wednesday afternoon. Sadly, their time with us was over, so they reluctantly returned to reality and returned to the States. It was hard to see them go, as we had a delightful visit with them! As always, the time together went too fast! Since then, thanks to the improving weather, we've been fishing with Karen and Kerry off Concrete Idea the past couple of mornings, then Ron and I have been diving in the afternoon before dinner and a movie aboard Equinox, again with K & K. Not a bad schedule, in my book!

Plus, the fishing has been great! We've gone out the past couple of mornings, trolling outside the reef east of Green Turtle Cay and happily, we continue to find the fish! We landed four good-sized Blackfin tuna Thursday, but really should have had six ... although it was no fault of our own, as the two that got away were really taken away, since sharks got them. When the sharks hit, all we ended up with was the fish heads, which was kind of disgusting! But the tuna we did get was delicious!! Ron and Kerry did have an encounter with a very large mahi-mahi, but unfortunately, that too got away before they could get it to the boat. At least the sharks didn't get that one!! 

Ron letting out some line for trolling off Tingum

The remnants of a small blackfin tuna. The sharks
have been enjoying their share of our fish!

A better sized tuna, ready for processing

The diving has also been enjoyable, as we've been exploring the reef's edge near Manjack and Green Turtle Cays. We were going to try an area a bit deeper yesterday, near where we were fishing, but thinking about the fish we lost to sharks in that area gave us pause! We ended up in a shallower area, 45' or so, much closer inshore and found the reef filled with gorgeous pinnacles and coral structures that were amazing. Lots of elkhorn coral here, and prolific fish life. Happily too, we've not seen any lionfish here. An added treat is the warmth of the's been 82-83 degrees on most dives, enabling us to dive for over an hour at a time without getting chilled. It's lovely! At the end of yesterday's dive we saw two eagle rays feeding, just sailing around beneath us as we finished our safety stop near the boat. We both love seeing those majestic creatures!!

Today's dive was farther north, near Spanish Cay, with slightly different topography of more tongue and groove coral formations. Still a great dive, as we saw lots of good-sized snapper, grouper, a large porcupine pufferfish, among others. Towards the end of the dive we came across an utterly huge nurse shark, just hanging out on the sand between two tongues of coral. It had to be a good six to seven feet long, with an enormous head, and wasn't even under an overhang as they usually are. It didn't sit around long though, and moved off after we had a good look! As always, fun to see! Hopefully, the calm seas will continue for the next few days; we're looking forward to more dives, and if the visibility is good, Ron will do some underwater photography as well. Can't wait!  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Diving and Cruising...

...which is exactly why we're here! We did both today, as Ron, Karyn and Paul made a very enjoyable scuba dive off the Great Abaco Reef just off Manjack Cay in the early morning. We were going to try a spot outside the reef, but the conditions were a tad rough with easterly swells that were rather large and rolling, so we opted to stay inside the reef. We tucked in just behind the reef line and dropped anchor in a large sandy patch, and dove from there, going through a notch in the reef to the deeper water. Visibility wasn't great, but the reef life was prolific and vibrant -- we saw everything from grouper to Caribbean reef sharks to incredible numbers of smaller juveniles along some of the prettiest reef structure around. Lots of healthy coral, sea fans, sea whips and sponges, with butterflyfish, damselfish, blue and brown chromis, sergeant-majors, blue tangs, parrotfish, grunts, coneys, rock hinds and snapper all swimming along the reef or tucked in amongst the coral crevices and holes. Paul saw a large lobster dancing about as well, although I didn't see it myself, being entranced with the schools of colorful wrasses streaming over the reef. We all enjoyed the dive and were delighted with the sea life!

After we returned from our dive, we picked up Kerry and Karen from Concrete Idea and cruised Tingum south to Elbow Cay, Abaco, for a visit to Hope Town. Of the six of us, only Ron and I had been here before, back in December when Allison and Kayleigh were with us. Elbow Cay is one of the many gorgeous small cays in the chain of barrier islands along the mainland of Abaco, and Hope Town is one of the prettiest settlements. Settled in 1785, many of its historical homes, monuments and public areas are still in use today. 

Turquoise waters of the Sea of Abaco en route to Hope Town

Hope Town is home to the Elbow Cay Lighthouse, completed in 1864, and one of the last manual lighthouses left in the world. It burns pressurized kerosene oil with a wick and mantle, and its Fresnel lenses concentrate the mantle light into a single bright light that is directed out towards horizon. Its light can be seen up to 17 miles away! Interestingly enough, the Elbow Cay Lighthouse's entire iron lantern room -- dome, petroleum burner, turning mechanism and the rotating Fresnel lenticular panels were brought to Hope Town in 1936 from its sister lighthouse on Gun Cay, Bimini, which was being closed down. Ron and I recently explored the decapitated remnants of the Gun Cay lighthouse back in early May, but I had no idea its top was sent to Hope Town!

After a much-needed lunch of Mahi Reubens at Cap'n Jack's, we walked about the island reveling in the quiet charm of the cottages, homes and scenery. From the picket fences to the views of the water, there is always something to catch your eye! It's charming and beckoning...if we didn't have Equinox, I would be sorely tempted to vacation here! Check out some of the sights below:

          Where we had lunch after our cruise south in Tingum

Looking north onto the Sea of Abaco -- nice private island in view

Access to the Atlantic beaches --  wouldn't mind this walk every day!
        Along the lush landscape of Well Street....

The beach on the Atlantic side of Elbow Cay 
The Hope Town Harbor -- note the Stranded Naked houseboat
at the far right...our paths seem to be crossing at every juncture!

       A sea lantern hangs on the porch of a Hope Town Cottage
Not sure what tonight brings, whether it's dinner aboard here or in New Plymouth, but as it's Paul and Muriel's last night with us, we'll let them decide. Stay tuned!