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….
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!
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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.