The last couple of weeks that we spent in Boot Key were busy ones! First of all, we attended a couple of presentations, given by Pru of Exuberant, aimed at helping out first time Bahamas cruisers. The talks were great and provided a wealth of information that we have been using for the last month or so!
Although food is readily available in the Bahamas (the people who are lucky enough to live there do have to eat after all!), the prices can be high and the choice limited. So we filled the freezer full of meat and frozen vegetables, and the cabinets full of canned goods that we know we want to have for the kind of meals we like. Also, on Exuberant’s advice, we bought a soda stream and the syrups to make coke and ginger ale. Although they aren’t as good as the cans, they are fine to use in mixed drinks and save a lot of trash. As we have to pay to dump our trash in most places in the Bahamas, that is a very good thing. The other thing we stocked up on was Jack Daniels and beer, both of which can be very expensive in the Bahamas. Rum and vodka, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive so those we chose to buy on our arrival.
The next major task was picking up and stowing the hurricane relief supplies. Thank you so much to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe appeal. Thanks to you, we were able to buy roofing supplies and VHF radios to help the relief effort. In addition, we went to the local church in Marathon, and picked out three large bags of clothing, along with medical supplies. A couple of boaters donated two more VHF radios. Skip and Lynn very kindly helped us pack and stow everything on board, by which time our waterline had lowered by about 4 inches!
On Thursday, January 19th, 2017, along with Al, Sue and Tara on Stout Wench, we pulled up anchor and headed out from Marathon, bound for Morgan’s Bluff at the north end of Andros. We had a lovely day, although the wind meant we weren’t able to sail. We saw lots of other vessels also taking advantage of the good weather to make the crossing, among them Exuberant, who had been so helpful with their presentation. The crossing was going to be overnight one, but there were absolutely no problems. We passed South Riding Rock at 11:18pm and were officially in the Bahamas along with Prudence and Burt on Exuberant.
At about 6am, I woke Moray to let him see his first sight of the beautiful Bahamian waters.
We had made great headway, despite our extra weight and we arrived at Morgan’s Bluff exactly 30 hours after we had set off, at noon. We pulled into the anchorage, along with a couple of other boats, and were immediately greeted by Bill and Loree of Sea Wolf, who had been coordinating the relief effort between Andros and Boot Key Harbor. They took us into shore, where we were met by Customs and Immigration officials. After 30 minutes, clutching our 180 day cruising permit and fishing permit, we were taken back to our boat, to bring her into the harbour to unload the relief supplies. This was to be our first experience of med-mooring and I was not at all comfortable! However, with Bill helping keep Sol Purpose from wandering too far off course while I reversed, by using his dinghy, we got safely moored and tied off. The Customs official came on board, looked at the relief supplies and then watched as they were unloaded. There were a couple of trucks waiting to take delivery and by 2pm, Sol Purpose was back at her normal water level, and we had room to sit down in the salon!
Bill and Loree very kindly cooked us dinner and hosted us on their beautiful catamaran, before we went back to Sol Purpose and crashed for the night!
The next morning we awoke to the sound of a freighter coming into the harbour. The captains of those boats are incredibly skilled to manoeuvre in such a small space and they make it look easy.
We took the dinghy out to a coral head and snorkeled for a while. It was our first time snorkeling from the dinghy, and once again, Exuberant’s advice was very welcome. They had suggested getting a small amount of chain for our dinghy anchor. The combination of the weight of the chain and our Mantus dinghy anchor meant we went nowhere! There wasn’t much healthy coral, following hurricane Matthew, but we did see plenty of fish of several varieties, so we hope it will recover soon.
After lunch, Chris and Rasta, who split their time between Chris’ home in Michigan, and Rasta’s home in Andros, picked us up and took us on a tour of the island to see the devastation caused by the hurricane, but also the local efforts to get things back to normal. Lots of buildings had been totally destroyed, and pretty much every one that was still standing had no windows and tarps for roofs. Everywhere we stopped, people were friendly and smiling, despite the hardship they are currently going through. I’m afraid I couldn’t help but cry when we visited the last place – Diane Knoll’s bonefishing lodge. When the tsunami came in, it picked up the boat dock and hurled it through her guest house, and the wave itself followed. The water also went right through her home and office, destroying pretty much everything. Diane is 77 years old, and the day after the hurricane had to swim back to her home, as the road was completely blocked. She has been gradually trying to get things back together, so that she can re-open her business. When we were there, it was the first week she had had electricity and water – nearly 4 months after the hurricane hit.
Sunday morning we took the dinghy and went with Bill and Loree to Money Point, to do a little beachcombing. Then we went over to Diane’s to do a beach treasure hunt, as it was a particularly low tide. In knee deep water, we found her toilet, fax machine, type writer, satellite receiver box, the business sign and her perfume bottle – intact! Then we headed back towards the harbour, snorkeled for a while and then headed home to prepare the boat for the predicted 40knot winds that were headed our way. Fortunately, we had been given permission to stay in the harbour as long as we wanted to stay in Andros.
Monday morning, the winds and rain arrived, just as predicted. We were fine in the harbour but the boats in the anchorage were not doing so well. Kadra said that she would prefer all the boats out there to come in to the harbour where she would find space for them all. Some took a little more persuading than others, but eventually everyone was safely inside and rafted up.
I think they spent a much more pleasant night! That night was our first experience of freshly caught and cooked cracked conch, with Loree, Bill, Rasta and Chris. I am already in love with the Bahamas, the people, the beauty and oh – the food!
Tuesday was interesting! One of the tasks that is so much harder to do on an anchored boat than anywhere else, is laundry! First of all, as the motor hadn’t been running for a few days, and there was no shore-based power supply, we had run out of hot water. We are getting used to cold showers, but that won’t work for laundry! So the first task was to boil up a couple of pots of hot water. Then the water, detergent and dirty clothes go in a bucket where Moray stomped on them, pretending to be a washing machine! Then there was a rinse sink, and a second rinse sink, to be sure. Finally, one luxury we do have is a spin dryer. It gets out an amazing amount of water so that the clothes are easier to dry when pegged out on the lifelines in the sun.
This was going to be our last day in Andros, and we were hosting dinner for the people who had been so kind to us. It was a lovely way to round off our stay, but I am sure we will be back later this year!
Wednesday morning saw us get up early so that we could prepare to leave Andros for New Providence. We had to wait for the first of the catamarans to leave as they were sitting over our anchor, but again, with Bill’s help in the dinghy, we managed to manoeuvre round the other catamarans and bring the anchor up cleanly without incident. The lovely thing about the Bahamas is that everywhere is close – there is hardly ever a need to do an overnight trip. It didn’t take long for us to reach West Bay, and drop anchor in absolutely stunning water. Moray donned his scuba gear and got in to clean the bottom of the boat, which was desperately needed after our stay in Marathon! Unfortunately, when he cleaned off the rudder, he noticed a big crack in the skeg. Oh well – another boat repair in exotic places will be required.
Shortly after our arrival, Al, Sue and Tara from Stout Wench came over for sundowners. Instead of going to Andros, they had gone to Great Harbor, Berrys but now were down in New Providence so that Tara could fly home from Nassau.
Moray, Al and Tara went into Nassau on the local bus the next day in search of the two part epoxy people suggested would be needed to fix the cracked skeg. I had planned to have a quiet day on the boat, but shortly after the others left, Sue called me on the radio and said that their boat was dragging the anchor. I swam over to try to get the anchor to set by diving down, but that didn’t work. It took us a while as neither of us had ever done this without Al or Moray, but we managed to get the anchor up, move the boat and re-anchor safely. Sounds silly, I know, but it’s a great feeling when we get to achieve something like that without help. I’d like to think our guys are pleased that we are learning too!
Our plan had been to wait until Saturday or Sunday to leave West Bay and then head to Highbourne with Stout Wench. However, the weather forecast looked like it was going to change and we wanted to get out of West Bay, so we left on Friday morning and headed to Highbourne. We needed to run the watermaker, so we motorsailed all the way. We didn’t like the look of the first anchorage so we came a little further south. The Mantus held immediately in the sand, but Moray dove down to check on it. He came back saying the anchor was fine but that someone had hitched a ride on Sol Purpose – there was a remora clinging to the hull! Moray swam around for a while and came back with some lovely conch, which he cleaned and I prepared as Loree had showed me. Delicious!
Once again, our plans were changed by the weather forecast. We were going to spend a couple of days in Highbourne but the winds were about to change to northerly which would make for a very uncomfortable stay in that particular anchorage. So we went into the marina, refueled, watched the resident nurse sharks for a little while and then headed for Saddleback Cay. The information on it had made it sound perfect for the conditions that we were going to be getting, but we didn’t get a good feeling about it, so we headed back out and continued on down to Norman’s Cay. There were a few other boats there already, with plenty of space to spare so we dropped anchor. Norman’s Cay has a checkered history, as it was the base for a drug smuggler. The wreck of his crashed plane (there are conflicting stories of how it came to end up in the water!) is still there, and is a great snorkeling spot. We swam over and snorkeled for a while, enjoying the varied fish life.
The next morning, we took the dinghy ashore. There is a large construction site at the end of the island and on speaking to a couple of the construction workers, we discovered that they are building a new harbour. It looks lovely, and should be finished in the next few months. We spent a couple of hours walking around the island, down to Norman’s Pond, and then back to MacDuff’s residence and resort. There is a really nice bar and grille there, with colonial influence in the décor. We had a couple of beers there, while chatting with the bartender. He told us a little of the history of the resort and the owners’ plans to expand, starting with the new harbour. (A lot of the islands are privately owned, though those with resorts tend to welcome the cruisers to their bars and restaurants!)
The next day, along with several other boats that had arrived during the previous day, we rode out the front. The upside of strong winds is that our wind generator kicks in and we get to watch movies/TV series! A Sopranos binge ensued.
The weather forecast was now great, so we pulled up the anchor on January 31st and headed out to Shroud Cay. There are a couple of anchorages and a mooring field there, but we decided to try out the northern anchorage. It looked very well protected and gave easy access to a dinghy excursion we had been told about. It seems that Oopsea, another boat anchored in Norman’s Cay, had the same idea. So we followed them all the way in to the Shroud Cay anchorage. We both immediately got the dinghies in the water and headed out on the dinghy excursion through the mangroves, up to a stunningly beautiful beach, called Camp Driftwood. We climbed up the hill to see the amazing views and then back down to the beach, where we swam in the Washing Machine – a cut between two rocks where the current can pull you along very fast. It’s a bit scary until you remember that the water is about two feet deep and all you need to do is stand up!
We then sat on the beach and chatted with Tom and Cindy, from Oopsea. It turns out that we have several mutual acquaintances, including Charlie Gaines (Migration), Bob Shoen (Helios) and Mike and Joy (MiJoy)! They have been to the Exumas before and gave us a lot of good information, including the fact that there was going to be a sailing festival in Little Farmers Cay in a couple of days.
The trip back through the mangroves was interesting, as the tide was much lower and we touched the bottom a couple times. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad that I had to get out and pull the dinghy!
We decided that we would like to go the festival in Little Farmers Cay, although this would mean bypassing the Exuma Land & Sea Park. We planned to come back North after the festival and pick up where we left off at Shroud Cay. We left early on Wednesday morning and by 1:30pm, we were safely anchored in Staniel Cay, close to the Thunderball Grotto. For the James Bond fans among you, this is the island and grotto used in the movie “Thunderball”, though truth be told, it looks a little different in the movie! Anyway, as it was about low tide, we decided to dinghy over and snorkel the grotto. It’s a great experience – there are a couple of holes in the top so the light on the water is really pretty. Then there are all the fish, including lots of Sergeant Majors, which are accustomed now to being fed, so have absolutely no fear.
Staniel Cay is one of the few places in the Exumas where we are able to dispose of trash, so we walked up to the trash dump, before taking care of one of the more onerous tasks I had to do in the Exumas. I was lucky enough, back in 2008-2010, to spend time on the Aquacat, a luxurious liveaboard dive boat that operates in the Exumas. I have kept in touch with several of the people I met on those trips, one being Chris Snell. When I told him I was going to be in the Exumas, he asked me to have a “Captain & Coke” for him in Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Now what kind of friend would I be to refuse that request?!
I should have stuck with the rum & cokes though – I had a craving for a chilled wine in a real glass – at $16, I think that may be the last one I ever have!
The next morning saw a mass exodus of boats from Staniel Cay, all heading for Little Farmers Cay. The festival is called the 5 Fs – First Friday in February, Little Farmers’ Festival (I think that’s right). Bahamian sailors bring their C-Class Sloops in from as far afield as Nassau, on the mailboat. About 20 of them arrived to compete in the two days of racing. This is about the biggest event on Little Farmers Cay every year, and they go all out to make it a blast. On Thursday, the Little Farmers Cay Yacht Club hosted a welcome party for the cruisers who had come to watch the event. They also said if anyone wanted to help or even race, they would be welcome. The first day of racing saw absolutely no wind. That was not only disappointing for the racers, but also for Moray. He had arranged to race on one of the boats, but with the lack of wind, he was a little too heavy to be of use. The second day of racing was much better, with great winds, although there was a little rain in the morning, which dampened the enthusiasm of the spectators just a little. As most people watch the racing from Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grille, though, it didn’t take long for the enthusiasm to return!
Moray took the opportunity to make repairs to the skeg in the morning before the races started on Sunday. Hopefully the underwater epoxy will hold till we get back to the US.
This is a great event and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering spending their winter cruising the Exumas.
Apart from the racing, Little Farmers Cay is a nice place to visit for a few days. The anchorage is huge (but just be aware that the airplanes fly very low over the anchorage on their approach, so choose your spot carefully!), and there are several beaches where you can safely land your dinghy. The island is privately owned by the descendants of just one family, so everywhere you go there is a business owned by someone called Nixon! I have already mentioned Ty’s, which is a fabulous beach bar and grill. They have fantastic views of the sunset, great prices on drinks, reasonably priced, plentiful and very tasty food (including conch pulled right out of the water and prepared on demand), and satellite TV, where we gathered to watch the Superbowl. If you can’t be at the game itself, there are a lot worse things than watching the game on the beach in the Bahamas!
Crossing over the island brings you to the Little Harbour, where you can watch the local fishermen clean their catches, prepare conch salad etc. There is a great bar at the end of the harbour, where you can dance the night away, a couple of places to eat and some places to purchase local crafts. A little farther on you will find the Ocean Cabin restaurant, and a grocery store, which had very reasonable prices.
Little Farmers Cay is outside the Exumas Land & Sea Park, so fishing is permitted. Moray took the opportunity to try his hand at fishing with the pole spear, and came back with dinner! It took him 40 minutes to catch it as it pulled off the spear first time he shot it and then he had to track it from under one coral to another before he finally got the shot that held. I still need a lot of practice at cleaning fish but we had a very tasty dinner of fish steamed on the grill, with potatoes and peas!
After a great few days in Little Farmers Cay, we started our trip back north to get to the Park. The winds were favorable and we were able to fly the code 0 for the first time.
Our first stop was Blackpoint, not because it is in the Park, but because it has a laundromat! We hand wash most things quite successfully, but it was nice to be able to get towels and sheets into a washing machine and dryer!
After a successful laundry trip and a night at Blackpoint, we set off for Warderick Wells, where the headquarters of the Land & Sea Park are based. We anchored outside the Emerald Rock mooring field, and took the dinghy in to the office to pick up maps of the trails and good snorkeling spots. Then, we headed off to snorkel – there were lots of fish, of several varieties, but the highlight has to have been the two spotted eagle rays, which just cruised past us without a care in the world!
On Wednesday morning, we headed back ashore and hiked part of the south side of the island. The beaches and the views were absolutely stunning, and we managed to find a piece of driftwood – more of that later. Unfortunately, it was the end of the line for my 25+ year old hiking boots.
After a quick trip to pick up snorkeling gear, we headed out to the Malabar Cays to snorkel. Again, there was abundant fish life, including an enormous barracuda, just hanging out around the coral heads. After snorkeling there for a while we went back to Emerald Rock, to look at the coral heads there. One was absolutely wonderful. It was a cleaning station, where a grouper was being groomed when we arrived. He swam off shortly after our arrival, to be immediately replaced by a southern stingray. Floating on the surface, watching this all go on less than an arm’s length away was amazing.
Now back to that driftwood – the Land & Sea Park is a nature preserve. You cannot fish here, nor can you take away anything – even shells or dead sponges etc. Most of all, you can’t leave anything here. The one exception to this rule is Boo Boo Hill. The legend goes that a ship was wrecked here and all souls aboard were lost. You can still hear the wailing of the ghosts (Boo Boo) from the hill. The tradition has evolved that sailors make an offering to the sea gods at Boo Boo Hill, which means leaving a sign, made using driftwood, showing your boat’s name, crew members, date etc. We brought our piece of driftwood back to the boat, and Moray, the engineer, revealed an artistic side I never knew existed! On Thursday morning, we headed back to shore, driftwood in hand, to hike up to Boo Boo Hill and make our offering.
Thursday afternoon, we decided to move a little closer to shore, as yet another weather front was moving in, and then spent a rare afternoon of reading.
Today is Friday, and as the wind is strong, we are hanging out on the boat. As I mentioned before, having strong winds and being unable to go ashore is not a bad thing. We have sufficient power to run the watermaker, without using diesel to run the motor, so that’s a plus. We have sufficient power for me to use the computer to write the blog (though we don’t have an internet connection, so it may be a few days before it gets posted!).
After nine months of cruising, all of which has been interesting, and mostly enjoyable, we are finally sitting on our boat, looking at paradise and realizing that we wouldn’t change a thing – we are the luckiest people in the world!