One of the great things about the cruising life is all the great people you get to meet. Of course, that means that one of the worst things is constantly saying goodbye to some awesome people. This has particularly been on our minds over the past few weeks. First of all, it is a year since we had such a great leaving party, and we realise how much we are missing our friends from Texas. Then, we have been thinking about the people we have met over the past year and wondering where they are now.
We spent quite a lot of time in Georgetown and got to know a few people there, so leaving on March 30th was bittersweet. The day started by waving goodbye to Paul on Arriba II and Hazel & Sue on Susimi. They were heading south towards Cuba, while we were heading north to Emerald Bay to refuel and then east, towards Long Island. We spent the night anchored at Calabash Bay at the north end of the island, so we were ready for an early start to head to Rum Cay the next morning. Almost as soon as we set off, the autopilot decided to go on strike, so this would be the day for me to practice steering manually! I am confident steering under engine power but when the sails are introduced into the mix, I get a little stressed. Practice then, forced or otherwise, is a good thing! Next, Moray went up on to the deck to check the mainsail, and found that the topping lift shackle had disconnected from the boom. This wouldn’t be a problem while we were sailing but we wouldn’t be able to furl the main without dropping the boom on to the bimini. With Moray standing on the rail to reach the boom, I was even more stressed, but he fixed it quickly and all was well.
We had decided to anchor at the north end of the island, where there was a nice reef we wanted to snorkel. The downside was the number of coral heads around. There are so many that they aren’t all marked on the charts, which means that Moray stood on the bow to signal back to me where the coral heads were. We dropped anchor, and Moray jumped in to check around. When he came back aboard, I could tell that he wasn’t comfortable, so we pulled up the anchor and searched around a little, until we found a better spot. Now that we were settled, Moray took the dinghy over to the reef to take full advantage of the last day of lobster season. He came back with a huge lobster, but had left a big grouper as a shark came by when he was about to spear it!
We spent two nights here, in a totally secluded anchorage, sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming. The coral was bleached in places, and there was clothing all over it, presumably remnants of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the island quite hard. However it reached from the sea bed 20ft up to the surface and was over 2 miles long, there was plenty of fish life and it was a fun day of snorkeling. Rum Cay was idyllic and just what we had hoped for when we came to the Bahamas.
Our next stop was to be Conception Island. We had a great day of motor sailing with the Code 0 (love that sail!), and arrived in Conception around high tide, which was perfect for visiting the mangrove creeks. We dropped anchor near the entrance to the creek and set off into the creek in the dinghy. We spent about 90 minutes riding around the creeks, looking at the green turtles, nurse shark, sergeant majors and barracuda. We even saw a porcupine fish. We also got our first sight of tropic birds.
We got back to Sol Purpose, pulled up the anchor and carried on round to the anchorage at the north end of the island. There were already several boats there, but it was a large anchorage so there was plenty of room for all. This is where we got our first sighting of s/v Adele. She was 180ft long, and had a tender that is bigger than Sol Purpose! A stunningly beautiful boat!
Conception Island is part of the Bahamas Land & Sea Park, so there is no fishing etc. allowed here. We hoped that this would mean great diving, so we got all our gear ready, and headed out, first to snorkel to check everything out in the morning and then to dive in the afternoon. We were really disappointed when all we could find was bleached, dead coral. There was some fish life, but not much. We headed back to Sol Purpose to regroup. We had considered taking the dinghy a couple of miles north on to the reef, but it was open ocean with a fairly strong current and we weren’t sure that we wanted to do that if there was nothing to see. An alternative plan was to leave the next day, and drop anchor just off the reef, so that we could dive from Sol Purpose, with a swim platform, rather than the dinghy. In the meantime, we would make the most of the rest of the day by taking a walk along the trail towards Booby Cay, which was by all accounts, raw and beautiful. The trail begins at the top of a little cliff, but there are ropes there to help you climb up.
We didn’t go the whole way along the trail as part of it is right on the cliff edge, and was too much for my height-hating brain to handle. We did see some stunning views though, and looking down from the hilltop, we thought that the coral on that side of the island might offer better snorkeling.
While we were sitting in the cockpit drinking our sundowners, another boat, Island Hope, came back from a dive trip out to the reef. Moray spoke with them, and confirmed that the coral out there was also dead, and that there had been too much swell to dive safely. We had held such high hopes from all the reviews of Conception Island, but it hadn’t turned out as planned. However, the island was still a beautiful place to sit at anchor and watch the world go very slowly by! Moray took one of our buckets and made a looky-bucket out of it. He cut the bottom out and cut a piece of Makrolon to fit in the bottom which he sealed in with Sikaflex.
The next day, I packed a picnic lunch and we took the dinghy round to the beach on the north side of the island. We took the looky-bucket to take a look at the corals but there was nothing here to see so we went ashore and found a place to sit and eat our lunch. After lunch, we headed back round to the anchorage and snorkeled there. We saw a smooth trunkfish, which was nice, along with a tang-gang (as Ned DeLoach calls them!) and parrotfish.
Sitting in the cockpit and hour or so later, reading, and a strange movement caught my eye. I looked up and in horror, saw the dinghy painter heading towards the back of the boat – it had come untied and the dinghy was once again, trying to make its escape! I managed to grab it just in time!
Next stop – Cat Island. At first light, we pulled up anchor and headed out. We unfurled the Code 0 and were sailing at a gentle 4.5 knots, so Moray decided to throw out a line. As the water here was more than 5,000 ft deep, he was hoping to catch something other than a barracuda! And didn’t he just! He managed to catch a 20lb or so Mahi Mahi! After a little bit of a fight, and a lot of blood strewn around the boat (all the fish’s, I hasten to add), he brought it on board.
The only thing bigger than the fish was the huge smile on his face! After the fight to bring it aboard, and the cleaning process, the boat looked like something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so we furled the sail, switched on the motor, and Moray used the deck washdown pump to clean up while I steered towards Reef Harbour, Port Howe, at the southern tip of Cat Island. We had researched the various anchorages and knew with the weather front that was approaching, this would offer us the best all-around protection. We picked our way through the gap in the reef, and dropped anchor in the large harbour. Dinner that night was super fresh Miso Glazed Mahi Mahi over Udon Noodles.
At this point, the winds had not yet changed from the south to the west, and our decision proved to be a bad one. The waves coming over the reef to our south were not broken up at all and we had one of the most uncomfortable nights we have had so far. The boat was pitching and rolling and the next morning, with little sleep, we were both thoroughly miserable.
The wind direction change was not going to be for another 24 hours and we knew we couldn’t manage another night like that, so we pulled up anchor and headed round the island to the Hawkes Nest anchorage. As soon as we dropped anchor there, we heaved a huge sigh of relief. It was almost flat calm and we knew we would be better there, as long as the winds remained from the south. We had planned to stop here after the front passed, as the resort here advertised that it had a dive operation. So we took the dinghy ashore, walked round to the office to try to book a dive or two. Once again, it was not to be. There was a group of fisherman staying at the resort and both the boats were booked all week to take them fishing. We were beginning to wonder if we would ever get to dive in the Bahamas. We headed back to Sol Purpose via the few coral heads but nothing looked like it had any life on it. Once back on board, I looked at a Cat Island Tourist Guide brochure I had picked up in the resort office, and found that back at Port Howe there was another resort, which also had a dive operation. We knew that we would be going back there the next day, so Moray gave them a call. Success! We booked a two tank dive trip! Finally we were going to get to dive!
Or were we? I prepared some Mahi-Mahi for dinner, including removing the skin. That is one thing it is ok to drop overboard, so that’s where it went, rather than stinking out the boat! Very shortly afterward, we noticed a shark circling the boat, obviously attracted by the fish skin. Looking at it, I was pretty sure that it was a tiger shark, but our fish ID books said they were rare in the Bahamas. Moray decided that the best way to be certain of the identification would be to video it and check it that way. He got the GoPro and headed to the swim platform. I am sure that he will add some edits to my version, but here is my version. I’m down below in the galley, preparing dinner. I think my other half is standing on the swim platform, videoing the shark from above every time it swims under the boat. Then I hear a scream followed by maniacal laughter, followed by “you know I said I’d be careful?” I ran up to the cockpit to discover that my crazy guy had put his arm in the water, holding on to the bright yellow handle of the GoPro, to try to film the shark under the boat. He didn’t get right in, as that would have been dangerous??!!??!! So, he can’t see the shark, which he thinks is a tiger shark, a highly aggressive shark, that’s looking for food, when he puts his hand in the water. The scream was when the shark touched him as it swam past from under the boat! The ensuing video had to be edited before he posted it on Facebook, because my language was far from ladylike when telling him what I thought! Ah well, he is still with us, unharmed and yes, it was a tiger shark!
small section of video showing the start where the shark brushed my hand. Edited for public viewing 🙂
The next day we moved back round to Reef Harbour, Port Howe, where we spent a much better night, now that the winds were not coming out of the south. We got up early on Saturday, excited to be finally getting a chance to dive. We headed over to the beach, where we were to meet our divemaster, Antoine. While we waited, we chatted with Hoyt, a local fisherman, who was preparing bait for his grouper traps. He was smoking fish carcasses on an open fire, covering the fish with palm fronds. He explained that sharks and barracuda will go after any bait that smells of blood, but that if he smokes the carcasses, they aren’t attracted to them. However, the grouper will still be attracted, so he puts them in the traps and can get up to 15 grouper in a trap.
Antoine arrived, right on time, and we loaded the gear on to his boat. We were to do two dives, the first called The Cathedral, followed by a shallow dive. We got in the water for dive number one, so excited to finally be diving. Then I realized that, to my horror, my dive computer readout was fading. Then it died completely, so now I had no idea how much air I had, how deep I was diving, or how long I had been in the water. Anyone who has ever dived with me knows that I am 1) little miss conservative diver, and 2) little miss play by the rules diver. I was devastated and did not want to call the dive. So I let Moray know that I had a problem. We have dived together so much that we know we use our air at the same rate, and we knew that we had had the same amount of air when we dropped in the water. So I am making my confession that we broke all the rules and did both dives using Moray’s computer alone. Mea culpa over for now – the dives were great! First of all, we saw the first moray eel of our trip. Then there was The Cathedral which is a small chimney in the coral, that you drop down through and it opens into a cavern, which opens out on to the drop off. It was beautiful! There was a lot of varied fish life, but coming out through the cavern into the blue at 100 feet was amazing. We had never seen a drop off that was so extreme, it went past vertical which made it look all the more ominous as it dropped over a thousand feet down. On the second shallow dive, we saw a burrfish, honeycomb cowfish, smooth trunkfish, flamingo tongues, southern stingray and barracuda. It was a really nice dive. After getting back to the boat, taking showers and cleaning the gear, we relaxed with books, reveling in the fact we had finally been able to dive. Thank you to Antoine and Greenwood Dive Centre!
The next morning, now that all the gear was dry, we took a look at my dive computer. We had changed out the battery a few days before, to ensure that all our gear was ready. Now it seems that the battery compartment had flooded when I entered the water. We opened up the back and realized immediately that there was no rescuing the computer. We have changed the battery on that computer several times, so it was just one of those things, but so frustrating. Luckily, I have a backup computer that just needs a new battery, so when we get to Eleuthera or the Abacos, we will get that taken care of and we will be back in business.
Once all the gear was stowed, we pulled up anchor and headed toward New Bight. It was a bumpy ride, but we could tell from the three other boats already there that it was nice and smooth in the achorage. Normally we hoist the dinghy into the davits when we move from place to place, but this time we had decided to tow it behind us. We have done this a couple of times before, but not in a while. Now, when we anchor, Moray is up on the bow, watching for a good place to drop the anchor and taking care of letting the right amount of chain out etc. while I steer and keep an eye on the depth. Once the anchor is down, I reverse the boat to make sure the anchor is set. We have the routine down and it usually works just great. However, I forgot to factor in the dinghy. I was reversing to set the anchor, when I heard a clunking noise and realized to my dismay that the dinghy painter had been drawn under the boat and was now round the prop. [Moray’s note: The painter was made of water skiing line which is meant to float but I guess the suction caused by the prop when setting the anchor was enough to pull it under]. I put the boat into neutral as I shouted to Moray. Then I turned around and saw the dinghy making her third attempt at escape. The painter was made of very thin line and the prop had cut right through it. This time there was no time to call anyone, so as Moray turned off the motor, I jumped in and swam after the dinghy. I caught up to it, and clambered into it. Then I had a few minutes of struggle as the engine mount was stiff and I couldn’t drop it down into the water. Eventually, I managed and got the motor started. Heaving a huge sigh of relief, I started heading back toward Sol Purpose. It was then I realized that a bikini top is not the best thing to be wearing when you swim after an errant dinghy, climb aboard and then struggle to release the engine. I was almost back to the boat and, in full view of the other boats in the anchorage, when I realized they were getting even more of a spectacle than the dinghy debacle itself! Ah well!!
I then dived down to see the prop and had to clear some more line from around the shaft. I checked that everything looked OK and that there was no play in the prop.
There were three other boats when we arrived, but by the end of the day, we totaled nine! After dinner, we took the dinghy to shore and headed for the Fish Fry. This is an area of waterfront bars and restaurants serving Bahamian food, and can be found in lots of Bahamian Settlements. We walked past all the bars before deciding that we liked the look of Annie Boo’s best, so we stopped for a beer. What a great evening! Annie’s 3 year old son, Charlie (3 going on 30, that is), entertained us all with his antics. He’s going to give his parents trouble, I can tell! Every few minutes, a car would pull up, the driver would call his order and it would be taken over to the car! After a while, Howie Pinder, Annie’s partner, turned up to take over the bartending.
What a great guy! He is a former police officer, who now splits his time between the bar, and teaching music. When he started talking about music, we told him that we had liked the local rake ‘n scrape music. Hearing that, he called over to a gentleman who was sitting at the next door bar (Sunshine’s). This turned out to be Pompey, who has traveled the world playing rake ‘n scrape at festivals, and has even been featured on the Today show! He said that he had seen that there were several boats in the harbour, so he and his band would play the next evening at Sunshine’s. Oh, by the way, if you ever get a chance to drink at Annie Boo’s, ask for a shot of Liquid Cocaine. It is Pinder’s own creation and, while I can’t confirm this, Moray says it is wicked! It is a combination of tequila, Goldschlager and Jägermeister.
The next day, we put out a call to the other boats in the harbour to let them know about the rake ‘n scrape that evening, and then went ashore to buy groceries, get rid of trash and inquire about renting a car. The latter turned out to be far too expensive for our budget, so we dropped that idea, and stuck with picking up groceries. We knew that people in the family islands were renowned for their friendliness, but we were stunned when a young man driving by stopped to offer us a ride back to our dinghy with our groceries. We were almost there so we declined but thanked him.
After an early dinner, we headed back to shore to take showers before going to the Fish Fry. New Bight is an amazing place – not only are the people wonderful, they offer free trash disposal to boaters, and even better, free showers – yes, free! There is a public toilet and shower block right on the waterfront, which is clean and has plenty of hot water. Heaven! Clean and happy, we headed to Annie Boo’s for a couple of drinks before joining in with the rake ‘n scrape. Yes, I did say joining in. Pinder had brought his trumpet and to make sure that everyone got to play, he also brought something that looked a bit like a large cheese grater, along with an afro comb. That was our instrument! I had a go but Moray was a star, as you can see.
It was a great evening, but eventually we all had to head back to our boats. We were just about to leave the beach when one of the other boats called to us that they were out of fuel. So we towed them back to their boat before heading home and to bed.
The next day, we went to shore and paid a visit to the local bakery to get some fresh bread. As we opened the door, the smell was fantastic. We selected the bread we wanted and then I saw a sign that the baker was taking orders for Hot Cross Buns. Now this was Tuesday and we were leaving the next day, so I mentioned that I would have loved Hot Cross Buns, as I haven’t had those on Good Friday since I left the UK over 20 years ago. The baker asked what time we were leaving the next day, and said if we could wait until 10am, she would bake a batch, just for me! She had a deal!! After that, we took a walk up to Mount Alvernia. This is the highest point in the Bahamas at a whopping 206ft! At the top is The Hermitage, a little one-monk monastery built by John Hawes, aka Father Jerome in the 1940s. It is built out of stone to be hurricane proof and is an incredible testament to not only the man’s faith, but his architectural skills.
There are 2 ways to get to the hermitage. There is an easy path around the back and a steep climb up the front which has the 14 stations of the cross carved and in cement. Two of the stations were missing (stations 5 and 6), I presume due to hurricane damage.
One final task that day was to fill a jerry can with petrol, so that we can continue to use the dinghy (if it doesn’t finally escape!) – but at $34 for 5 gallons, ouch! I guess we will get more used to those prices when we get to Europe. However, for almost-Texans, that was a bit steep! That done, we headed up the coast of Cat Island, to Fernandez Bay, where we planned to spend a couple of nights. Fernandez Bay is a resort, but they are welcoming to cruisers. We didn’t go ashore while we were there but we did enjoy snorkeling around the coral heads in the anchorage. Again, the coral was not in the best condition, but there were colorful fan corals and lots of fish, so it was fun. We also enjoyed watching the antics of our neighbour’s dog. The boat is called Caribbean Soul, and they have a large dog on board. They have put together a ladder, with boards behind so the dog doesn’t fall through, and fenders at the water end. They drop this into the water and the dog comes and goes as he pleases. He seems to love being in the water and would swim for hours! We’re not sure how they would protect him from a shark in the anchorage, but we noticed that they appeared to pull up the ladder mid-afternoon, which is when sharks start their hunting.
We started Good Friday with Hot Cross Buns before pulling up the anchor and heading to Arthurs Town, a little further up the coast.
It was a brisk sail, at 6.5 knots, which was a lot of fun. After dropping anchor, we headed to shore to Da Smoke Pot for dinner. We had amazing cracked conch and ribs, before joining in with a rake ‘n scrape band. There was a lovely family from Baltimore there, and while it took a little persuasion, we all took a turn playing the saw!
The next day was a lazy day on the boat. Moray took advantage of a good internet connection to download dive sites from wannadive.net to BlueCharts on our iPad. We noted that there were a couple on our planned route to Eleuthera, so we decided to take a look and see whether there were mooring balls or if it would be feasible to get there by dinghy. Moray had taken a walk around the settlement the day before and had found there was nothing much to see, so we just relaxed on board, before leaving on Sunday morning for Orange Creek. Orange Creek has a laundry and grocery store, and unlike most places in the Bahamas, it was open, not only on Sunday, but Easter Sunday. That is because it is run by Seventh Day Adventists, for whom the Sabbath is Saturday. The laundry was very reasonably priced, as was the grocery store. It was so nice to have clean clothes and fresh vegetables!
We took a dinghy run up Orange Creek, but there wasn’t much to see. And unfortunately, this proved to be another very rolly night-so bad, in fact, that Moray slept in the cockpit, the least rolly part of the boat.
That made the decision to leave the following morning really easy! Our next destination would be Little San Salvador, where we hoped to dive. Little San Salvador is owned by the Carnival Cruise line, but cruisers are welcome to anchor there and, if there is no cruise ship in, to go ashore. We had checked the cruise line’s schedule and found that there would be no boat there on Monday, which was perfect. We went to the north end of the bay and dropped anchor before putting our dive gear into the dinghy and heading round to a reef we had seen on the chart. It was a very shallow dive, with not too much to see, but we had finally managed to dive from the dinghy and had been able to find some dos and don’ts in relatively calm waters. Sol Purpose was bouncing a little when we got back to her, so we moved further south, where a couple of other boats were anchored and seemed much more settled. It was a good move and timely, because within a couple of hours, there were seven or eight more boats anchored. We sat on deck and watched dolphins playing in the anchorage before heading to bed for a good night’s sleep.
Our next destination was Eleuthera, where we will be riding out the next weather front. It was a fairly long run, so we set out early. The winds were great, so we were under sail alone for most of the trip. Now many of you will know that in a previous life, I took five trips on a liveaboard dive boat called the Aquacat. It is a 102ft motor catamaran, which travels to dive sites from Nassau down through the Exumas, and it was on those trips that I fell in love with the Bahamas. This was one of the reasons that I was so keen to share the Exumas with Moray. Now occasionally, the weather means that the Exumas are not the best place for the Aquacat to be, so they head over to Little San Salvador or Eleuthera. As we were approaching the dive site marked on our charts, we saw the Aquacat! I called on the radio and had a brief chat with Captain Des. He was first mate when I took my trips and he and his girlfriend, Meghan, helped me out on a couple of occasions when my flights didn’t work out as planned! It was lovely to talk with him. I have to thank Moray too, because I spent the rest of the day reminiscing about the various trips I took! After our brief interlude talking with the Aquacat, we headed into Rock Sound Harbour. It is a lovely big space, with pretty good protection all round, so this is where we will spend the next week or so, waiting for the front to pass. It had been a fairly long day, so we decided to wait to go ashore, and just relaxed on the boat for the evening. We had a really calm night, so much so that, after the last few rolly nights, I woke up convinced we were sitting on the bottom!
Anyway, that’s been our last couple of weeks of adventures. Hopefully, my next update will have no mention of dinghy debacles and lots of diving delights!