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!
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!
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.
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….