Monthly Archives: March 2017

On the Ragged Edge

Finally, the weather calmed down enough for the Long Island Rally to go ahead, so bright and early on Thursday, we headed out from George Town.  The convoy of 46 boats was quite a sight to see!  The seas were still a little lumpy as we headed out of the cut but it soon calmed down for a very pleasant day, motoring over to Long Island.  As the weather wasn’t favorable for racing, the contest was changed to a fishing one.  We threw out a couple of lines and managed to catch an amberjack and a barracuda.  They weren’t big enough to win the competition, but they would go on to prove very tasty in the coming week!

We arrived in Long Island at around 3pm, which gave us just enough time to anchor, settle in and get ready to head to shore for the day’s events.  First of all, there was a gathering at the nearby Sou’side roadside bar and grill.  It was a good way to meet people, but the highlight was the conch racing.  This has to be seen to be believed but trust me, it’s a lot of fun!

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Contestants sit on the bench with your back to the conch “sled”.  One end of a line is attached to the sled and the other is wound around a spool.  You have to roll in the line by spinning the spool in your hands and the first one to have their sled under their sat wins!!

At around 6pm, two school buses arrived to take us northward to Stella Maris resort.  About halfway, the buses stopped at a roadside bar, so we could buy drinks for the journey!  Then we carried on to Stella Maris.  Once at the resort, we walked down a very steep, torch lit pathway.  At the bottom, we were greeted by waiters serving shots – the local 151% proof alcohol!  Then you enter a cave, where seats and tables have been fashioned out of the rocks – we were very grateful that someone had warned us to take cushions!.  Dinner is served buffet-style, and you can sit on the rocks eating, drinking and listening to the live band.  The lighting is all tiki torches, and there is a bonfire inside the cave.  The place was packed, and the dinner line very long, so Moray and I took to the dance floor while we waited!

It was a fun and interesting evening.  At around 9pm, we all piled back on to the buses and headed back to Thompson Bay.  This is where the craziness really began!  110 people, in various stages of intoxication, were trying to get into their dinghies, which had been tied off three deep to the dock.  Luckily, our dinghy was in the first row, so Moray jumped down into it and drove around to the steps to let me in.  I’m pretty sure people were still trying to board their boats when we were safely aboard Sol Purpose, watching a movie!

Next morning, we headed back to the shore and boarded a bus, this time heading southward towards Clarence Town.  Our driver/guide, David, was a wealth of knowledge and stopped off along the route to point out places of interest and tell us the history of the island.

We stopped at St. Mary’s Anglican Church, which is a ruin of a church built in the 1700’s.

We also stopped off at a house, where they were building a boat in their front yard!  The outside shell was fir, imported from the USA, but the interior was all local cork.  It had only taken 5 weeks to get the shell built, but all the rigging was ready, and David assured us it would be launched in a couple of weeks.

For us, the highlight of the tour was the stop at Dean’s Blue Hole.  At 660 feet, this is the 2nd deepest blue hole in the world, and each year, the Free Diving world championships are held here.  There is a permanent platform, with lines, marked in metres, going down from the platform.  Several people got in to snorkel the hole, Moray included.  He is getting more and more interested in free diving, but I think his 13 metres won’t be winning him any championships!  Keep practicing, honey!

Next stop was Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.  This was built in the 1800s overlooking the bay and is absolutely beautiful.  Our tour ended at Rowdy’s Bar and Grill, where they were offering a Rally special – $10 for an entrée with two sides.  Given the size of the portions served, it was a REALLY good deal!

We got back to Sol Purpose by around 4pm, where we spent the evening planning the next leg of our adventure!

On Saturday morning, we headed to the Farmer’s Market where we bought bread and eggs, and then we stopped at the Hillside grocery store.  This was an incredibly well-stocked store, with very reasonable prices.  Best of all, unlike a lot of places in the Bahamas, it doesn’t apply a surcharge for using a credit card!  After heading back on board, I made a quiche to take to the Rally wrap up party.  Moray went off in the dinghy to fish and came back with a lobster.  I had prepared a salad with corned beef for lunch, so I steamed the lobster tail and added that to the salad – surf & turf, cruiser style!

Later we headed over to Cruisers Beach for the wrap up party.  What a great place!  There are picnic tables and benches all set there, along with a fire pit.  Everyone brought appetizers to share, there was a bonfire, and George played DJ for the evening.  To cap it all, there was a wonderful full moon.  What a fantastic way to end the Rally!

Sunday morning saw us up and about really early to start the next part of our adventure.  Our plan was to go down to the Jumentos.  These are a chain of mostly uninhabited islands that stretch southwards, towards the Ragged Islands, which end just 62 miles away from Cuba.  There are few places in the Jumentos or Ragged Islands to hide out from weather, so that always has to be watched very carefully.  Also, there are little to no facilities available to cruisers, so forward planning and provisioning is essential.  Our plan, given the weather forecast, was to head down to Water Cay and then Flamingo Cay, spending 4 days or so in the Jumentos before heading back to George Town, as that was when a weather front was predicted to come through.

We had a wonderful day of motor sailing down to Water Cay.  We had a line out and hooked 4 barracuda.    Two got off the line, one was too big and one we kept.  There is a form of poisoning called ciguatera, which you can get from eating certain types of reef dwelling fish.  One of the culprits is Barracuda.  They are safe to eat when small but once they get to about 5lbs, you are taking a risk if eating them.  The rule that the locals use is “if its no longer than your arm, it can do no harm”.  Finally we caught a mutton snapper, which I am afraid (for him) that we kept!  We arrived in Water Cay mid-afternoon and anchored in the north anchorage, along with several other boats, some of them local fishing boats.  The method of fishing here seems to be to have one large “mothership” and several skiffs.  The skiffs go off and fish or check their lobster traps, and bring their catch back to the large ship.

The next morning we got the news that the front was now expected to arrive much sooner than previously forecast.  There were also going to be westerly winds, which is bad news when sailing the Jumentos as there are basically no places to anchor safely in those conditions.  We had to decide whether to turn back after only one day or to stick it out.  We had prepared well, and had plenty of food and fuel, so we decided to head further south to the Ragged Islands where there were a couple of places we would be able to find protection when the front came through.  We had a great day of sailing down to Buena Vista Cay, where we anchored right off a beautiful beach.  The only other boats there were a fishing trawler (Lady Marie), Triad (a trimaran we had first encountered in George Town) and Viento, a catamaran.  The beach was a perfect place to be anchored, and just around the corner was another anchorage which would provide shelter when the winds changed direction.  We spent Tuesday morning on the beach.  There we met Edward Lochkard, an amazing gentleman who is the only inhabitant of the island.  I will never forget his opening line as he greeted us – “I don’t normally bother with clothes but I put some on when I saw you walking up the beach”!  He has been building a house there for several years, and he assured us that by the end of June he will have walls!  Right now, he lives in the bottom part of the house, with palm fronds tied around the structure to form walls.  He keeps goats, chickens and peacocks!  His only water supply is rainwater (not a plentiful commodity in the Ragged Islands at this arid time of year) and he has a generator, which wasn’t working when we were there as he had no oil.  He was heading to Duncan Town at the southern tip of the Ragged Islands to pick some up.  We didn’t have the type he was looking for or we would have given it to him.  He was a very interesting man and I am so glad we got to meet him.  After chatting with him for a while, we continued our walk along the beach.  We went back to Sol Purpose to pick up a picnic, a chair and book for me, and the pole spear for Moray.  I sat on the beach and read while he went off fishing.  He came back with a lobster so we packed up our stuff and headed back to the boat.  Moray cleaned the lobster and threw the rest into the water.  Very shortly afterwards, we spent about an hour watching a shark circling the boat.  It obviously wanted the remains of the lobster but was a bit wary about coming right up to the boat.  I am sure he got his dinner shortly after though, as the winds changed, so we, along with Triad, Viento and Lady Marie, moved round to the Southern anchorage.  There were already several boats in there, and the first couple of places where there was room, proved not to have good holding.  We were also a little wary, as we had scoped out this area the day before and had touched the bottom in an area which was charted to be much deeper.  That’s one of the risks you take when you decide to go a little off the beaten path – the charts are not so up to date nor accurate.  Anyway, after looking around for a while, we eventually found a safe spot and dropped the anchor.  While the holding was good, the surge was horrendous and it was a long uncomfortable night.  So the next morning, armed with the latest weather update, we studied the charts and decided to make a run for it down to Duncan Town.  There is a large protected anchorage there, where we thought we would find the best protection.  We set off, hoping we were doing the right thing as no one else seemed to be moving, but soon we were enjoying ourselves, Skipping along under sail and with no motor – finally!  There were several other boats already in the anchorage, so we picked a nice sandy spot for good holding and dropped anchor.  Moray now had a regime of fishing as soon as we arrived anywhere, so he took off in the dinghy and soon came back with more lobster!

We now felt that we were safe and decided to celebrate.  I had put some steaks in the freezer before we left Marathon, so we had steak, lobster, dauphinoise potatoes and brussel sprouts for dinner.  We know how to ride out a weather front!

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After a much more comfortable night, we headed in to shore to visit Duncan Town.  This is the only settlement in the Ragged Islands.  To get to the town from the anchorage, you have to cross a pretty god size runway, not at the end but right in the middle.  We have never had to look left, look right and look up before 🙂  You can drop your trash off at the local dump for free, which is a godsend!  We passed several people on the road and they all smiled and said hello – such a friendly town.  The mail boat/supply ship arrives about three times a month and most people who live there order their groceries etc. from Nassau and have them delivered on the boat.  However, there is a little store where you can sometimes pick up groceries.  We took a look and managed to buy some custard creams!  I haven’t had those since I lived in the UK!  We took a walk over to the salt ponds, and also went past a house which had goat skulls and skins hanging outside.  Next door to that was a house that had cages with hundreds of pigeons – still not sure about that!  On the way back to the boat we went past the Eagles Nest restaurant which has some strange things nailed to trees on its approach

We spent two more days in the Duncan Town anchorage, waiting for the weather front to pass and the sea conditions to improve.  We relaxed, went snorkeling, fishing – and I think here I need to point out that Moray is not trying to wipe out lobsters!  The lobster season ends on March 31st and he wants to get plenty in the freezer before he turns his pole spear towards other prey!

On Sunday, we started our journey northwards again.  The conditions were great and we sailed all the way.  We anchored in House Bay on Raccoon Cay, where we were the only boat.  Just around a little headland were Bob & Vicky on First Look.  I went out in the dinghy with Moray, to move the boat as he fished.  He didn’t have much luck finding lobster but he did kill several lionfish, so it wasn’t a wasted trip.  We decided to go a little further south, to Pimlico Cay and then Man O’War Cay.  Again, there were no lobster, but several lionfish – there are 3 fewer now!  I got in the water here as there was a lovely reef to snorkel, with some elkhorn coral.

The next day, we continued our journey northwards, to Flamingo Cay in the Jumentos.  The sea state was not good which made for an uncomfortable ride, but we had heard the weather forecast and knew that we needed to get back to George Town by Thursday, to get the protection of Elizabeth Harbor.  We arrived at the anchorage mid-afternoon, where Temerity was already anchored.  We chatted with them over the radio and discussed our plans for the next day.  We were both planning to head up to Water Cay, spend a night there and then head back up – us to George Town and Temerity to Long Island.  We set out the next morning and motored up to Water Cay.  On the way into the southern anchorage, we took a look at the Blue Hole.  We had hoped to dive it, but the current was strong so we decided to give it a miss and head straight to the anchorage. It was a little disappointing, as we were really looking forward to diving.  One of the things we had been most looking forward to in coming to the Bahamas was the diving.  I have been fortunate enough to dive in the Exumas several times and was looking forward to sharing that experience with Moray.  However, there is a reason that most dive trips to the Exumas are done on liveaboard dive boats – there just aren’t places to get tanks filled.  Also, the deeper water is on the Exuma Sound side and we have, for the most part, been on the Exuma Bank side of the chain.  We had toyed with the idea of installing a compressor on the boat at one point, but rejected the idea because it would take up so much room and would be one more thing that needed to be serviced and taken care of.  We are hopeful that on our way north, taking in Cat Island, Eleuthera and the Abacos, which have dive businesses, we will have better luck.

Anyway, back to the snorkeling!  I drove the dinghy, while Moray did his usual afternoon fishing trip.  This was a great day – 3 executed lionfish and 4 lobsters!  They almost cost us dearly though – while Moray was spearing one lobster, the pole got stuck in the rocks.  As you have to freedive when pole fishing, his air was limited, so he came back up without it.  Then he had a problem clearing his ears so couldn’t get back down!  It was a tense few minutes [Ed: read, I cursed like a sailor], but eventually his ears cleared, he retrieved the spear and there was still a lobster on it!

We left the next morning, right at first light, for the 62 mile run back to George Town.  We had to motor all the way to the Comer Channel, but once we turned into the Channel, we were able to put out some sail which made the going a little easier.  The timing was not perfect, as we arrived at the Comer Channel at low tide, which meant watching the depths very carefully, as at very low tides the depths drop to 5.2 feet and we currently draw 5.3 feet.  We were fine though, and never saw less than 6.8 feet.  The water in the Bahamas is the  most beautiful we have ever seen but the trip back from the Ragged Islands topped them all.

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STUNNING!

We made it back to George Town around 5:30pm, and anchored in almost exactly the same spot as we had occupied before!  In fact, the first time we were here, we were anchored directly behind a British boat called Susimi, whereas now we were directly in front of her.

The plan was now to stay in George Town to ride out the next weather front – are you beginning to see a pattern here? – before heading to the Out Islands and continuing our trip Northwards.  Moray spent Thursday morning in George Town, dropping off laundry, getting groceries and disposing of our trash.  Then in the afternoon, we headed over to Chat n Chill, where I caught up with some friends from our last stay here, and Moray played volleyball.  The front came through on Thursday night and all day Friday, so we hung out on board.  Saturday was a little better, so Moray decided he would brave the choppy waters to go in to play volleyball.  He got into the dinghy and was just setting off when he noticed something strange about the bilge pump, it was pumping constantly when it normally only pumps about once every 5-6 hours.  I checked the bilge and found that there was a lot of water from the showers we had taken earlier in the day.  Obviously, there was something wrong.  Moray came back on board to take a look and figured out that the float switch had stopped working.  There was no imminent danger, so I said that I would empty out the water, while he played volleyball and then he would look into fixing it the next day.  I went out into the cockpit and noticed something – or rather, didn’t notice something.  The dinghy wasn’t attached to the boat.  I looked up and saw it heading out towards George Town!  When Moray jumped back on board, he had completely forgotten to tie the dinghy off!!!  Moray got on the radio and called Susimi, as our dinghy had just floated past her. Hazel was on board and was our savior – she jumped into her dinghy and rounded up ours, bringing it back over to us.  After having a good laugh at Moray’s expense, and swapping a few “stupid things I have done” stories, we learned that Hazel is from Dorset and is about to leave George Town for Cuba and then Guatemala.  We wish her safe travels!

When Moray got back from volleyball he was able to source a new float switch from another boat and we were back in the bilge emptying business within the hour.

On Monday, as the water was not too choppy, we took a ride over to Stocking Island, and went for a walk on the east side of the island, along the Atlantic coast.  It was amazing to see the difference on the two sides of such a narrow strip of land.

After a walk along the beach, and a picnic, we went back to the west side where we swam for a while before heading back to Sol Purpose.  After showers and dinner, we went into George Town, where we met up with Paul from Arriba II, at Eddie’s restaurant and bar.  Paul had told us about the rake and scrape band which plays there every Monday, but we hadn’t been able to get there before.  Rake and scrape is the local style of music, and is unusual in that one of the instruments used is a saw!  Paul was right – the band was great and we enjoyed listening and dancing.

Tuesday was a treat day!  We have been really good about eating out and saving money when we can, so we went to dinner at a lovely restaurant on Stocking Island, called Lumina Point.  It is in the resort there and really was lovely – and the food was delicious.  We both started with conch chowder, then Moray had pasta primavera with alfredo sauce and blackened grouper on top, while I had the grouper with curried seasonable vegetables and a sweet potato cake.  This was accompanied with a beautiful bottle of Zinfandel – and don’t laugh but it’s amazing how the “little things” matter – poured into real glasses!  All of this sitting on a hilltop watching the sunset over the harbor.  It was perfect!

Today was another day of making sure we had everything we needed to take off on our next adventure.  We are planning to go to Rum Cay and Conceptions Island for a few days, before heading up to Cat Island.  Grocery run, propane refill, trash drop off and laundry are now done.  We will make water on the crossing as we will have to motor into light winds tomorrow.  That will also heat the water in our water heater and fully charge our batteries.

One final thought for today.  Our good friends, Tom and Joy, formerly of Kokopelli and then Belle Ile, and whom we had hoped to meet with in the Abacos later this year, have had health issues and so have decided to stop cruising and sell their boat.  We feel so bad for the fact that their dream has come to a premature end, but so happy that they did get to cruise for a few years.  We wish them all the best in Dallas,  It’s a reminder that you just have to go after your dreams now – not in the future.  The thought for the day on the cruisers’ net this morning was:

If you run out of money, you can get more money.  If you run out of time, you’re out of time….

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Adult Summercamp

Saturday, February 11th:  after the usual morning ritual of checking the weather forecast at 6:30am, we pulled up anchor and left Warderick Wells, heading for O’Brien’s Cay, about a 2 hour motor-sail away.  We passed by Bells Island, which is owned by the Aga Khan.  Anchored just off the channel was his motor yacht, while tucked into his private harbour, we saw his sailboat – very nice!  Next we passed another private island called Little Halls Cay.  There was no pirate flag flying so we think the owner, Johnny Depp, was not at home!  We anchored a short distance away, at O’Brien’s Cay.  Once settled in, we jumped in the dinghy and headed over to the Sea Aquarium, which we had been told was a great place to snorkel.  We were not misinformed!  To get the best out of the experience, you need to be at slack tide, as there is a strong current at all other times, which makes for a great workout but not a great fish watching experience!  The minute we jumped in, we were surrounded by lots of sergeant majors.  Despite this snorkel site being in the in the Park, lots of people feed the sergeant majors here.  To show their displeasure at not being fed by us, we both got nipped a couple of times!  With very little current we spent a good hour in the water, just watching the lovely corals and fish life – southern stingray, queen angelfish, parrotfish, grey angelfish, trumpet fish, fairy basslets, blue chromis, yellowtail snapper, ballyhoo – and many others!  Next we went over to snorkel the submerged plane.  The plane itself wasn’t too interesting, but there were several lovely coral heads nearby, with lots of fish life, including, unfortunately, two large lionfish.  On our return to Sol Purpose, we called the Exuma Park to report our lion fish sighting, then settled in for the evening.

The next day’s slack tide wasn’t until the afternoon, so we spent a morning on board.  Moray serviced the wind generator, as it hadn’t been doing a particularly good job of following the wind, meaning that we regularly had to go outside and turn it manually!  Not a particularly good thing if it also happens to be pouring with rain!  It is now working perfectly.  After lunch, we headed back to the Sea Aquarium and had an even better time than the day before.  In addition to the previous day’s sightings, we saw a yellow stingray, a porcupine fish, a scrawled filefish and a nurse shark.  On the return trip we stopped off briefly at the plane and are happy to report that there are no longer two lionfish!

Moray fired up the grill that evening and we had delicious lamb chops.  Dinner was absolutely delicious and I thank him once again for installing the freezer that gave us the luxury of bringing meat with us.  Then we decided to watch some “TV” – many years ago, I watched “I, Claudius” and this had come to mind recently when I read that John Hurt had died.  As we had the TV series on our hard drive, we decided to watch it.  It looks really dated now, but is still a great story and had so many big stars in it that it is still good entertainment.

On Monday morning, we left fairly early for the hour motor-sail down to Compass Cay, and anchored at the north end of the island.  We arrived almost at high tide, so we immediately headed to shore and walked over to Rachel’s Bubble Bath.  I’ll let the video do the talking….

https://youtu.be/ZBOpm7pPCYM

Once back on the boat, we had a light lunch and then were sitting in the cockpit reading when we felt a couple of gentle bumps.  It was now low tide, and it appears that there was a shoal which wasn’t on the chart!  So we pulled up the anchor and moved a little way to a deeper spot, re-anchored and had no more issues.  That done, we jumped in the dinghy and went to explore the Rocky Dundas Caves.  We snorkeled there for a little while and then headed back to Sol Purpose.  We had the anchorage to ourselves, so we had a lovely evening in the cockpit, watching the sunset, listening to music and drinking cocktails!

The next morning, we took the dingy and headed across the cut back into the Park, to Cambridge Cay.  There we snorkeled for about 90 minutes – today’s sightings included a honeycomb cowfish and a Caribbean Squid – very nice!  On the way back to Sol Purpose, we pulled a birthday balloon out of the water.  I know everyone loves to see the balloon releases, but when they land in the ocean, they can cause terrible harm to fish that mistake them for prey and eat them.  Wherever possible, we pull them from the water and dispose of them on shore but this happens quite often.  After lunch, we headed out into the Sound, past the three mile line so that we could empty the holding tank, and then headed back in to Pipe Cay Creek, where we would be protected from an upcoming weather front.

The next morning, we took the dinghy over to Pipe Cay.  The approach is very shallow, but we carefully found a way through and secured the dinghy on the beach.  Then we walked along the beach and up over a trail to the abandoned DECCA station.  This was the system installed by he British for naval location after the second world war. It has since been surpassed by Loran and GPS but this station was working until the 70’s.

We explored for a little while and then headed back along the beach to the dinghy.  This time, we waded rather than walk on the beach itself, which gave us sightings of rays and sharks – very cool!

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you don’t even have to snorkel to see fish 🙂

Once we got back to Sol Purpose, it was time to haul the dinghy out of the water and secure everything for the approaching front.

After riding out the weather, on Friday we headed back to Staniel Cay and dropped anchor in pretty much the exact same spot as our previous visit!  After dropping off the trash, we set off to explore the island a little and to try out the grocery stores.  The first store, the blue store, was fairly well stocked, but the pink store was much better, with better prices too.  We got a number of items, including eggs and bananas, so our breakfasts are taken care of for a while!  After dropping off the groceries, we dinghied round to Big Majors, to see the swimming pigs.  I had very fond memories of seeing them when I took my Aquacat trips, but I was disappointed this time.  There were a lot of boats, and their occupants were all on shore, feeding the pigs there.  Of course the pigs aren’t going to get in the water if the food comes to them on shore!  We waited for quite a while, watching the fish life, until the other boats started to clear.  Eventually, one pig did wade out so we got to feed him.

I have since read a news report – not sure how accurate it is – that several pigs have died, with the suspected reason being dehydration.  How sad. They have since installed a trough with fresh water to help them out during the arid season.  On the way back, we went to Thunderball Grotto to snorkel, then back to Sol Purpose, before heading to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for dinner where we saw nurse sharks at the fish cleaning station.

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We both had blackened mahi sandwiches, which were absolutely delicious.  Then we had a couple of drinks with Jeff and Katina, from Bally Hai.  We had last encountered them when we were traveling down the ICW with Migration and Helios, so it was great to catch up with them and hear all their adventures.

Next day, it was time to continue southwards, so we headed to Musha Cay. At first, we anchored outside Safe Harbour Marina, at Cave Cay, but we weren’t happy with the anchorage, so we moved down to Musha Cay and anchored there, along with Exuberant and Spirit.  Musha Cay is a resort island owned by the magician, David Copperfield.  It looks amazing but of course, you can’t go onshore unless you rent the place ($38,000/night), so we had to admire from afar.

The next morning, Moray put on his hunter-gatherer hat, while I put on my homemaker hat!  I had just finished the third and last bucket-load of laundry, when he came back from spearing two large lobster!

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He got back just in time for the high tide that we needed to make our next move.   We were heading down to Rudder Cut Cay, and rather than head out around the outside, we were going to take a rather shallow passage on the inside.  We calculated that we would be fine at high tide, so we headed out, taking it very slowly, just in case!  Our timing was great, because we never even got close to touching the bottom and got through to the next anchorage safely.  There were already several boats there, planning to ride out that night’s forecast wind, before heading south through the cut the next day.  It took a couple of attempts to anchor, but eventually we were secure, and dropped the dinghy in the water to head to the piano.  This is a piano and statue of a mermaid dropped in the water just off Rudder Cut Cay.  Apparently, it was part of a magic trick performed by Copperfield some time back.  We snorkeled it for a little while and got some pictures, but the current and the waves were beginning to pick up, so we headed back to Sol Purpose, where Moray grilled the lobster he had caught earlier.  I think he should go fishing more often!

On Monday morning, we left at 7am for the 37 mile run down to Georgetown.  We left a little earlier than we maybe should have, as the passage through Rudder Cut was spirited, to say the least!  This was due to an outgoing tide and and opposing wind.  When this happens you can get 4-6 foot standing waves with a very short period which they call “the rage” locally.  We definitely underestimated its effect as we buried the bow of the boat 7 or 8 times before we made it through the cut.  Once through the cut, however, we hoisted the sails, cut the motor and had a fantastic day of sailing.  There were a lot of boats out in the Sound all heading to Georgetown ahead of the next weather front and it was a great sight.  We sailed almost all the way into Elizabeth Harbour and dropped anchor near Chat ‘n Chill Beach, on Stocking Island.  This would be home for the next couple of weeks, as we enjoy the festivities of the 37th annual Georgetown Cruisers Regatta.

Georgetown is one of the few “large” settlements in the Exumas, and one of the major gathering places for cruisers, as fuel, provisions, boat supplies and transportation are available here.  Some cruisers come here for the whole winter, but many more others pass through here on their way to the more southern Bahamian Islands, or to the Caribbean.  There is a great community of cruisers here, helping each other out with repairs, knowledge, friendship etc.  We were lucky enough to arrive on the same day as the weekly fresh produce delivery, so we headed straight over to the grocery store and picked up all kinds of fresh produce, as well as some more milk and eggs.  While there, we finally met up again with Al and Sue from Stout Wench and made a plan to meet up with them the next day.

At the end of February/beginning of March every year there is a big cruisers’ regatta, which I heard – very accurately – described as a cross between summer camp and spring break for adults!  It is a 10 day event, with sailboat racing in the harbour and around Stocking Island, along with more lighthearted races, such as the blindfold rowboat races, and the paddle board races.  There are also kid friendly events such as a sandcastle building contest and scavenger hunt.  There is a softball game against the local Bahamian team, a volleyball tournament, and a Bocce Ball tournament.  Then we have the fancy dress party – this year’s theme being Gilligan’s Island, the Poker Run, the Scavenger Hunt and finally the Coconut Challenge!  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that these are all associated with parties and a goodly amount of alcohol!  Our original plan had been to stay around for the first couple of days of the Regatta but you kind of get sucked in!  The next day (Tuesday), Moray heard that there would be softball practice for the Cruisers’ team that day, so he decided to give that a try.  He had never played before and had a great time and decided that he would like to play in the tournament on Sunday.  On Wednesday, we did the Poker Run with Al and Sue.  There were four of us, crossing the harbour on a wavy, windy day in a small dinghy, so we got wetter and wetter as the day went on.  However, after visiting all seven bars to pick up our playing cards, it seemed to matter less and less!    On Friday, it was the official Regatta kickoff, so we went along to take a look and ended up signing up for:

Sunday:                                softball game v/ Bahamian team

Monday:              coconut challenge, with Al and Sue of Stout Wench

Tuesday:              In Harbour race on Spiraserpula, Bill and Gayle’s catamaran

Wednesday:      Fancy Dress contest

Thursday:            Round the Island race on Spiraserpula

Saturday:             Volleyball tournament

There were door prizes and Moray won a $20 gift certificate which we consider to be about the most valuable prize of all the certificates handed out that day.  Oh how times have changed when you are so excited to have won a gift certificate to the local grocery store!

The softball tournament was a lot of fun, despite the fact that the Bahamian team has won for the past 36 years and probably had no intention of losing this time.  They were so confident that they only had three players at the beginning of the game!  As the Cruisers had about 20 team members, they graciously shared a few players so that a game could be played.  It was neck and neck until the mid-point of the game, when several more of the Bahamian Team showed up.  It was still a very close game, and with the crowd cheering them on, the Cruisers’ team played their hearts out!

Then came Monday where we went to see the sandcastle contest before the Coconut Challenge.  Both children and adults entered and I will let you decide which was which…

Next was the coconuts.  There are three parts to this challenge:

  1. Each team of four has to have a dinghy, stripped of its motor, oars and any other form of propulsion, other than a diving/snorkeling fin per team member. Each team member must be wearing a life jacket (though there are no rules as to how it should be worn, other than it can’t be an inflatable PFD).  Each boat may have one bucket.  The dinghies all line up on the beach, until they are given the start signal.  Then they each have to paddle out into a lagoon, using the fins on their hands (no feet allowed), to the area where 1,000 coconuts have been released into the water.  They have to gather as many coconuts into the dinghy as they can.  No physical altercations are allowed, and no coconuts can be stolen from another dinghy.  However, should a coconut float out of someone else’s dinghy, it’s fair game – now you see the purpose of the bucket – MAKE IT RAIN!  To make it even more exciting, there are a couple of golden coconuts which are worth extra points.
  2. Coconut catch – two team members don protective headgear and between them, hold open a black trash bag. In front of them are the other two team members – one facing them with a pile of coconuts and the other with his back to them.  At the whistle, the first team member throws coconuts to the second, who then throws it over his/her head to the final two, who have to catch the coconuts in the bag!  You have 30 seconds to catch as many coconuts as possible.
  3. Coconut Toss – each team member stands on a line on one side of a volleyball court. On the other side of the court is a target.  At the whistle, each team member must throw their coconut over the net and into the target.  There is a 5 second time limit for this.

Oh my goodness!  This challenge is pure insanity and the best fun!  After quite a bit of trash talking at the start line, especially with the lady in the boat next to us who happened to be from Dallas, the whistle blew for the start.  We had planned our strategy and took off towards the far side of the lagoon where there were the most coconuts.  We had already given up on the golden coconut as we had seen it go floating past us while we waiting for the start and we knew that someone else had grabbed it as soon as they were in the dinghies.  As soon as we reached the first coconuts, Sue and I stopped paddling and started grabbing all the coconuts we could reach.  When Al and Moray got us to the big group we had talked about, we just started tossing them into the dinghy.  Then we realized that there was ANOTHER golden coconut.  We couldn’t believe it!  We got it!!  We felt like Charlie!!!  Back to the plain coconuts – well, we got so many, Sue and I were actually getting buried so couldn’t paddle any more.  So we yelled out where to head and just kept piling them in.  Then the water fights started!  But we held on to our haul, despite the cockroach that crawled along my arm – just as well it was me and not Moray!  When we got back to shore, our counter came over, and Moray and Al, dug out Sue and I from under the pile.  When all was done, we had 171 coconuts and that precious golden coconut.  We later learned that our nearest competitor had 131 coconuts and a golden one.

Next was the coconut catch.  Sue and I put on our crash helmets and took our position with the trash bag.  Moray stood with his back to us and Al got ready to feed him the coconuts.  We had watched the other competitors so we had an idea of strategy but when coconuts start flying towards you, that all seems to go out the window!  It was a crazy 30 seconds!  But at the end we had 14 coconuts, which eventually gave us equal 5th place in that round.

Then the coconut toss.  I was just praying I would get the coconut over the net, but we all succeeded in doing that, and in fact hitting the target!  I believe that we may have had the most points in that round too.

When the winners were announced, we were in first place!  We walked up to get our prize, and couldn’t believe it when there was a bottle of rum and a regatta pennant for each of us!  We also got an inscribed golden coconut – the perfect end to an absolutely crazy fun day!

Tuesday saw us up early to get a practice run in on Spiraserpula before the race started at around 10:30am.  There were four boats in our division and we were trying to scope them out before the race.  When the race actually started we crossed the start line with Beguiler, and identical model boat, and were pretty much neck and neck for the first half of the race.  Then they managed to get a little ahead of us and beat us across the line by about 30 seconds.  It was a great race and lots of fun.

Wednesday morning was spent baking and trying to figure out what to wear for the costume contest that afternoon.  I tried, but wasn’t able to persuade Moray to go in costume, but after looking up the characters of Gilligan’s Island, I decided the easiest to pull together would be Mary Ann.  As you can probably guess, there were a lot of Mary Anns!  There were only three Gingers but as two were men, that was an interesting group!  The overall winners of the contest were the brothers who wrapped palm fronds around their waists and went as Tom Hanks in Castaway.  Their costumes were fantastic and they thoroughly deserved to win!

The next day saw an early start as we were going to crew on Spiraserpula for the Round The Island race.  We got a pretty good start, just behind Beguiler (who had beaten us in the In Harbour race).  Then Let it Be, a Fontaine Pagot 44, started catching us and overtook us just before we rounded the first mark.  All three boats had very different strategies and headed out in different directions, but as we all began our approach to the mark, it became clear that Bill’s strategy had paid off and we were in the lead!  I am happy to announce that the combination of Bill’s strategy and Moray’s weight holding down the jib enabled us to win handsomely!  Thanks again to Bill and Gayle on Spiraserpula for letting us join them in the race – it was a lot of fun.

I had planned to spend Friday doing laundry and having some quiet time, but the weather forecast necessitated bringing forward all of Saturday’s events to Friday.  We ran into Georgetown and dropped off our laundry at the laundromat, arranging to pick it up, washed, dried and folded the next day for a small fee!  Then back over to Chat ‘n Chill, where Moray was going to play in the fun volleyball contest.  There were 6 teams, which made for a great competition.  Unfortunately, Moray’s team, although they played hard, didn’t win any games.  Sue, on the other hand, was on the team which didn’t lose a single game, so she added to her tally of pennants and rum!

After the contests were all done, we had the wrap up party, and guess what – I won another $20 gift certificate to the grocery store!  To wrap up a perfect day, we went over to have an early birthday celebration for Al on Stout Wench!

Saturday saw a huge change in the mood of the harbour.  A weather front was forecast to be heading our way, so Moray went over to Georgetown to pick up the laundry.  Just before 11am, the front arrived, bringing with it torrential rain and strong winds – 25+ knots sustained, gusts in the 30s, with one reaching 42 knots.  Watching from the cockpit, and listening on the radio, we witnessed several boats dragging   their anchors, but everyone was alert and all the situations were resolved quickly and safely.  Once the initial onslaught was over, and it seemed that all anchors were properly set, we decided to make use of the wind-generated electricity to watch Orange is the New Black as we would probably not get much sleep that night.  At the end of each episode, Moray went out and did a quick position check, before settling down for the next!  We did manage to get some sleep that night, thanks to our wonderful Mantus anchor.

The next day, we discovered that one boat near us had lost their dinghy motor during the night.  That made us very thankful that we had decided to pull the dinghy and motor on board the day before.  Another boat had lost both the jib and the staysail when the winds caught them.  The winds had not died down at all, so it was another day of napping, knitting (me, not Moray!), and binge-watching TV shows.

On Monday, the winds had calmed a little, but not enough to make it safe for both of us to be in the dinghy, so Moray went to Georgetown to do the final load of laundry.  It was a great decision because the usually packed laundry was empty and he got straight in!  After lunch, he went to Chat ‘n Chill, where a few brave (or just stir-crazy!) people had gathered to play volleyball.  Light balls and heavy winds make for interesting play 🙂

Tuesday saw the winds ease a little more, but not much so in the morning, Moray serviced the wind generator, before heading back in to shore to play volleyball.

These four days that I was “stuck” on board were great!  The two week regatta had been a lot of fun, but I was ready for some quiet time!  I baked, knit, read a book, watched TV and generally relaxed!  On Wednesday, the winds and waves dropped significantly.  Great timing as we needed to get the boat ready to leave on Thursday.  I cooked to fill the freezer, while Moray got the groceries (thank heavens for the $40 of gift certificates!), and got the propane, petrol/gas and scuba tanks refilled.  That done, we headed over to the volleyball courts.  It was his last chance to play and our opportunity to say goodbye to friends who are not heading to Long Island and will be gone by the time we return.  We wrapped the day up with farewell drinks on Stout Wench, before heading back to Sol Purpose for our last night in Georgetown.