Dinghy Debacles, Part Deux

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!

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Last spiny lobster of the season

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.

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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.

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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!

Video of the shark under our boat

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.

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Annie and Howie, the perfect hosts

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.

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This should come with a government health warning!

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.

Moray on the cheese grater/afro comb

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.

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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!

Debbie on 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!

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Sol Purpose at anchor just off Orange Creek

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!

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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!

Duncan Town 022

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.

Duncan Town 015

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….

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!

Georgetown 007

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.

Staniel Cay 002

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!

Georgetown 009

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.

Bahamas Bound

The last couple of weeks that we spent in Boot Key were busy ones!  First of all, we attended a couple of presentations, given by Pru of Exuberant, aimed at helping out first time Bahamas cruisers.  The talks were great and provided a wealth of information that we have been using for the last month or so!

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Feeling like a student again 🙂

Although food is readily available in the Bahamas (the people who are lucky enough to live there do have to eat after all!), the prices can be high and the choice limited.  So we filled the freezer full of meat and frozen vegetables, and the cabinets full of canned goods that we know we want to have for the kind of meals we like.  Also, on Exuberant’s advice, we bought a soda stream and the syrups to make coke and ginger ale.  Although they aren’t as good as the cans, they are fine to use in mixed drinks and save a lot of trash.  As we have to pay to dump our trash in most places in the Bahamas, that is a very good thing.  The other thing we stocked up on was Jack Daniels and beer, both of which can be very expensive in the Bahamas.  Rum and vodka, on the other hand, are relatively inexpensive so those we chose to buy on our arrival.

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Our second water tank put to better use! 6 cases of beer

The next major task was picking up and stowing the hurricane relief supplies.  Thank you so much to everyone who donated to the GoFundMe appeal.  Thanks to you, we were able to buy roofing supplies and VHF radios to help the relief effort.  In addition, we went to the local church in Marathon, and picked out three large bags of clothing, along with medical supplies.  A couple of boaters donated two more VHF radios.  Skip and Lynn very kindly helped us pack and stow everything on board, by which time our waterline had lowered by about 4 inches!

On Thursday, January 19th, 2017, along with Al, Sue and Tara on Stout Wench, we pulled up anchor and headed out from Marathon, bound for Morgan’s Bluff at the north end of Andros.  We had a lovely day, although the wind meant we weren’t able to sail.  We saw lots of other vessels also taking advantage of the good weather to make the crossing, among them Exuberant, who had been so helpful with their presentation.  The crossing was going to be overnight one, but there were absolutely no problems.  We passed South Riding Rock at 11:18pm and were officially in the Bahamas along with Prudence and Burt on Exuberant.

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arrival in the Bahamas

At about 6am, I woke Moray to let him see his first sight of the beautiful Bahamian waters.

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We had made great headway, despite our extra weight and we arrived at Morgan’s Bluff exactly 30 hours after we had set off, at noon.  We pulled into the anchorage, along with a couple of other boats, and were immediately greeted by Bill and Loree of Sea Wolf, who had been coordinating the relief effort between Andros and Boot Key Harbor.  They took us into shore, where we were met by Customs and Immigration officials.  After 30 minutes, clutching our 180 day cruising permit and fishing permit, we were taken back to our boat, to bring her into the harbour to unload the relief supplies.  This was to be our first experience of med-mooring and I was not at all comfortable!  However, with Bill helping keep Sol Purpose from wandering too far off course while I reversed, by using his dinghy, we got safely moored and tied off.  The Customs official came on board, looked at the relief supplies and then watched as they were unloaded.  There were a couple of trucks waiting to take delivery and by 2pm, Sol Purpose was back at her normal water level, and we had room to sit down in the salon!

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relief supplies loaded and ready for distribution around Andros

Bill and Loree very kindly cooked us dinner and hosted us on their beautiful catamaran, before we went back to Sol Purpose and crashed for the night!

The next morning we awoke to the sound of a freighter coming into the harbour.  The captains of those boats are incredibly skilled to manoeuvre in such a small space and they make it look easy.

We took the dinghy out to a coral head and snorkeled for a while.  It was our first time snorkeling from the dinghy, and once again, Exuberant’s advice was very welcome.  They had suggested getting a small amount of chain for our dinghy anchor.  The combination of the weight of the chain and our Mantus dinghy anchor meant we went nowhere!  There wasn’t much healthy coral, following hurricane Matthew, but we did see plenty of fish of several varieties, so we hope it will recover soon.

After lunch, Chris and Rasta, who split their time between Chris’ home in Michigan, and Rasta’s home in Andros, picked us up and took us on a tour of the island to see the devastation caused by the hurricane, but also the local efforts to get things back to normal.  Lots of buildings had been totally destroyed, and pretty much every one that was still standing had no windows and tarps for roofs.  Everywhere we stopped, people were friendly and smiling, despite the hardship they are currently going through.  I’m afraid I couldn’t help but cry when we visited the last place – Diane Knoll’s bonefishing lodge.  When the tsunami came in, it picked up the boat dock and hurled it through her guest house, and the wave itself followed.  The water also went right through her home and office, destroying pretty much everything.  Diane is 77 years old, and the day after the hurricane had to swim back to her home, as the road was completely blocked.  She has been gradually trying to get things back together, so that she can re-open her business.  When we were there, it was the first week she had had electricity and water – nearly 4 months after the hurricane hit.

Sunday morning we took the dinghy and went with Bill and Loree to Money Point, to do a little beachcombing.  Then we went over to Diane’s to do a beach treasure hunt, as it was a particularly low tide.  In knee deep water, we found her toilet, fax machine, type writer, satellite receiver box, the business sign and her perfume bottle – intact!  Then we headed back towards the harbour, snorkeled for a while and then headed home to prepare the boat for the predicted 40knot winds that were headed our way.  Fortunately, we had been given permission to stay in the harbour as long as we wanted to stay in Andros.

Monday morning, the winds and rain arrived, just as predicted.  We were fine in the harbour but the boats in the anchorage were not doing so well.  Kadra said that she would prefer all the boats out there to come in to the harbour where she would find space for them all.  Some took a little more persuading than others, but eventually everyone was safely inside and rafted up.

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four catamarans rafted up and several monohulls rafted up on the left side of the harbour

I think they spent a much more pleasant night!  That night was our first experience of freshly caught and cooked cracked conch, with Loree, Bill, Rasta and Chris.  I am already in love with the Bahamas, the people, the beauty and oh – the food!

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from left to right, Chris, Rasta, Bill and Loree

Tuesday was interesting!  One of the tasks that is so much harder to do on an anchored boat than anywhere else, is laundry!  First of all, as the motor hadn’t been running for a few days, and there was no shore-based power supply, we had run out of hot water.  We are getting used to cold showers, but that won’t work for laundry!  So the first task was to boil up a couple of pots of hot water.  Then the water, detergent and dirty clothes go in a bucket where Moray stomped on them, pretending to be a washing machine!  Then there was a rinse sink, and a second rinse sink, to be sure.  Finally, one luxury we do have is a spin dryer.  It gets out an amazing amount of water so that the clothes are easier to dry when pegged out on the lifelines in the sun.

This was going to be our last day in Andros, and we were hosting dinner for the people who had been so kind to us.  It was a lovely way to round off our stay, but I am sure we will be back later this year!

Wednesday morning saw us get up early so that we could prepare to leave Andros for New Providence.  We had to wait for the first of the catamarans to leave as they were sitting over our anchor, but again, with Bill’s help in the dinghy, we managed to manoeuvre round the other catamarans and bring the anchor up cleanly without incident.  The lovely thing about the Bahamas is that everywhere is close – there is hardly ever a need to do an overnight trip.  It didn’t take long for us to reach West Bay, and drop anchor in absolutely stunning water.  Moray donned his scuba gear and got in to clean the bottom of the boat, which was desperately needed after our stay in Marathon!  Unfortunately, when he cleaned off the rudder, he noticed a big crack in the skeg.  Oh well – another boat repair in exotic places will be required.

Shortly after our arrival, Al, Sue and Tara from Stout Wench came over for sundowners.  Instead of going to Andros, they had gone to Great Harbor, Berrys but now were down in New Providence so that Tara could fly home from Nassau.

Moray, Al and Tara went into Nassau on the local bus the next day in search of the two part epoxy people suggested would be needed to fix the cracked skeg.  I had planned to have a quiet day on the boat, but shortly after the others left, Sue called me on the radio and said that their boat was dragging the anchor.  I swam over to try to get the anchor to set by diving down, but that didn’t work.  It took us a while as neither of us had ever done this without Al or Moray, but we managed to get the anchor up, move the boat and re-anchor safely.  Sounds silly, I know, but it’s a great feeling when we get to achieve something like that without help.  I’d like to think our guys are pleased that we are learning too!

Our plan had been to wait until Saturday or Sunday to leave West Bay and then head to Highbourne with Stout Wench.  However, the weather forecast looked like it was going to change and we wanted to get out of West Bay, so we left on Friday morning and headed to Highbourne.  We needed to run the watermaker, so we motorsailed all the way.  We didn’t like the look of the first anchorage so we came a little further south.  The Mantus held immediately in the sand, but Moray dove down to check on it.  He came back saying the anchor was fine but that someone had hitched a ride on Sol Purpose – there was a remora clinging to the hull!  Moray swam around for a while and came back with some lovely conch, which he cleaned and I prepared as Loree had showed me.  Delicious!

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Once again, our plans were changed by the weather forecast.  We were going to spend a couple of days in Highbourne but the winds were about to change to northerly which would make for a very uncomfortable stay in that particular anchorage.  So we went into the marina, refueled, watched the resident nurse sharks for a little while and then headed for Saddleback Cay.  The information on it had made it sound perfect for the conditions that we were going to be getting, but we didn’t get a good feeling about it, so we headed back out and continued on down to Norman’s Cay.  There were a few other boats there already, with plenty of space to spare so we dropped anchor.  Norman’s Cay has a checkered history, as it was the base for a drug smuggler.  The wreck of his crashed plane (there are conflicting stories of how it came to end up in the water!) is still there, and is a great snorkeling spot.  We swam over and snorkeled for a while, enjoying the varied fish life.

The next morning, we took the dinghy ashore.  There is a large construction site at the end of the island and on speaking to a couple of the construction workers, we discovered that they are building a new harbour.  It looks lovely, and should be finished in the next few months.  We spent a couple of hours walking around the island, down to Norman’s Pond, and then back to MacDuff’s residence and resort.  There is a really nice bar and grille there, with colonial influence in the décor.  We had a couple of beers there, while chatting with the bartender.  He told us a little of the history of the resort and the owners’ plans to expand, starting with the new harbour.  (A lot of the islands are privately owned, though those with resorts tend to welcome the cruisers to their bars and restaurants!)

The next day, along with several other boats that had arrived during the previous day, we rode out the front.  The upside of strong winds is that our wind generator kicks in and we get to watch movies/TV series!  A Sopranos binge ensued.

The weather forecast was now great, so we pulled up the anchor on January 31st and headed out to Shroud Cay.  There are a couple of anchorages and a mooring field there, but we decided to try out the northern anchorage.  It looked very well protected and gave easy access to a dinghy excursion we had been told about.  It seems that Oopsea, another boat anchored in Norman’s Cay, had the same idea. So we followed them all the way in to the Shroud Cay anchorage.  We both immediately got the dinghies in the water and headed out on the dinghy excursion through the mangroves, up to a stunningly beautiful beach, called Camp Driftwood.  We climbed up the hill to see the amazing views and then back down to the beach, where we swam in the Washing Machine – a cut between two rocks where the current can pull you along very fast.  It’s a bit scary until you remember that the water is about two feet deep and all you need to do is stand up!

We then sat on the beach and chatted with Tom and Cindy, from Oopsea.  It turns out that we have several mutual acquaintances, including Charlie Gaines (Migration), Bob Shoen (Helios) and Mike and Joy (MiJoy)!  They have been to the Exumas before and gave us a lot of good information, including the fact that there was going to be a sailing festival in Little Farmers Cay in a couple of days.

The trip back through the mangroves was interesting, as the tide was much lower and we touched the bottom a couple times.  Luckily, it wasn’t so bad that I had to get out and pull the dinghy!

We decided that we would like to go the festival in Little Farmers Cay, although this would mean bypassing the Exuma Land & Sea Park.  We planned to come back North after the festival and pick up where we left off at Shroud Cay.  We left early on Wednesday morning and by 1:30pm, we were safely anchored in Staniel Cay, close to the Thunderball Grotto.  For the James Bond fans among you, this is the island and grotto used in the movie “Thunderball”, though truth be told, it looks a little different in the movie!  Anyway, as it was about low tide, we decided to dinghy over and snorkel the grotto.  It’s a great experience – there are a couple of holes in the top so the light on the water is really pretty.  Then there are all the fish, including lots of Sergeant Majors, which are accustomed now to being fed, so have absolutely no fear.

Staniel Cay is one of the few places in the Exumas where we are able to dispose of trash, so we walked up to the trash dump, before taking care of one of the more onerous tasks I had to do in the Exumas.  I was lucky enough, back in 2008-2010, to spend time on the Aquacat, a luxurious liveaboard dive boat that operates in the Exumas.  I have kept in touch with several of the people I met on those trips, one being Chris Snell.  When I told him I was going to be in the Exumas, he asked me to have a “Captain & Coke” for him in Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  Now what kind of friend would I be to refuse that request?!

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Here’s looking at you Chris!

I should have stuck with the rum & cokes though – I had a craving for a chilled wine in a real glass – at $16, I think that may be the last one I ever have!

The next morning saw a mass exodus of boats from Staniel Cay, all heading for Little Farmers Cay.  The festival is called the 5 Fs – First Friday in February, Little Farmers’ Festival (I think that’s right).  Bahamian sailors bring their C-Class Sloops in from as far afield as Nassau, on the mailboat.  About 20 of them arrived to compete in the two days of racing.  This is about the biggest event on Little Farmers Cay every year, and they go all out to make it a blast.  On Thursday, the Little Farmers Cay Yacht Club hosted a welcome party for the cruisers who had come to watch the event.  They also said if anyone wanted to help or even race, they would be welcome.  The first day of racing saw absolutely no wind.  That was not only disappointing for the racers, but also for Moray.  He had arranged to race on one of the boats, but with the lack of wind, he was a little too heavy to be of use.  The second day of racing was much better, with great winds, although there was a little rain in the morning, which dampened the enthusiasm of the spectators just a little.  As most people watch the racing from Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grille, though, it didn’t take long for the enthusiasm to return!

Moray took the opportunity to make repairs to the skeg in the morning before the races started on Sunday.  Hopefully the underwater epoxy will hold till we get back to the US.

This is a great event and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering spending their winter cruising the Exumas.

Apart from the racing, Little Farmers Cay is a nice place to visit for a few days.  The anchorage is huge (but just be aware that the airplanes fly very low over the anchorage on their approach, so choose your spot carefully!), and there are several beaches where you can safely land your dinghy.  The island is privately owned by the descendants of just one family, so everywhere you go there is a business owned by someone called Nixon!  I have already mentioned Ty’s, which is a fabulous beach bar and grill.  They have fantastic views of the sunset, great prices on drinks, reasonably priced, plentiful and very tasty food (including conch pulled right out of the water and prepared on demand), and satellite TV, where we gathered to watch the Superbowl.  If you can’t be at the game itself, there are a lot worse things than watching the game on the beach in the Bahamas!

Crossing over the island brings you to the Little Harbour, where you can watch the local fishermen clean their catches, prepare conch salad etc.  There is a great bar at the end of the harbour, where you can dance the night away, a couple of places to eat and some places to purchase local crafts.  A little farther on you will find the Ocean Cabin restaurant, and a grocery store, which had very reasonable prices.

Little Farmers Cay is outside the Exumas Land & Sea Park, so fishing is permitted.  Moray took the opportunity to try his hand at fishing with the pole spear, and came back with dinner!  It took him 40 minutes to catch it as it pulled off the spear first time he shot it and then he had to track it from under one coral to another before he finally got the shot that held. I still need a lot of practice at cleaning fish but we had a very tasty dinner of fish steamed on the grill, with potatoes and peas!

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A 2lb mutton snapper that didn’t get away.

After a great few days in Little Farmers Cay, we started our trip back north to get to the Park.  The winds were favorable and we were able to fly the code 0 for the first time.

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flying the Scottish colors

Our first stop was Blackpoint, not because it is in the Park, but because it has a laundromat!  We hand wash most things quite successfully, but it was nice to be able to get towels and sheets into a washing machine and dryer!

After a successful laundry trip and a night at Blackpoint, we set off for Warderick Wells, where the headquarters of the Land & Sea Park are based.  We anchored outside the Emerald Rock mooring field, and took the dinghy in to the office to pick up maps of the trails and good snorkeling spots.  Then, we headed off to snorkel – there were lots of fish, of several varieties, but the highlight has to have been the two spotted eagle rays, which just cruised past us without a care in the world!

On Wednesday morning, we headed back ashore and hiked part of the south side of the island.  The beaches and the views were absolutely stunning, and we managed to find a piece of driftwood – more of that later.  Unfortunately, it was the end of the line for my 25+ year old hiking boots.

After a quick trip to pick up snorkeling gear, we headed out to the Malabar Cays to snorkel.  Again, there was abundant fish life, including an enormous barracuda, just hanging out around the coral heads.  After snorkeling there for a while we went back to Emerald Rock, to look at the coral heads there.  One was absolutely wonderful. It was a cleaning station, where a grouper was being groomed when we arrived.  He swam off shortly after our arrival, to be immediately replaced by a southern stingray.  Floating on the surface, watching this all go on less than an arm’s length away was amazing.

Now back to that driftwood – the Land & Sea Park is a nature preserve.  You cannot fish here, nor can you take away anything – even shells or dead sponges etc.  Most of all, you can’t leave anything here.  The one exception to this rule is Boo Boo Hill.  The legend goes that a ship was wrecked here and all souls aboard were lost.  You can still hear the wailing of the ghosts (Boo Boo) from the hill.  The tradition has evolved that sailors make an offering to the sea gods at Boo Boo Hill, which means leaving a sign, made using driftwood, showing your boat’s name, crew members, date etc.  We brought our piece of driftwood back to the boat, and Moray, the engineer, revealed an artistic side I never knew existed!  On Thursday morning, we headed back to shore, driftwood in hand, to hike up to Boo Boo Hill and make our offering.

Thursday afternoon, we decided to move a little closer to shore, as yet another weather front was moving in, and then spent a rare afternoon of reading.

Today is Friday, and as the wind is strong, we are hanging out on the boat.  As I mentioned before, having strong winds and being unable to go ashore is not a bad thing.  We have sufficient power to run the watermaker, without using diesel to run the motor, so that’s a plus.  We have sufficient power for me to use the computer to write the blog (though we don’t have an internet connection, so it may be a few days before it gets posted!).

After nine months of cruising, all of which has been interesting, and mostly enjoyable, we are finally sitting on our boat, looking at paradise and realizing that we wouldn’t change a thing – we are the luckiest people in the world!

Boot Key – highs and lows

Our time here in Boot Key Harbor has brought both high points and low points.  In the week following Christmas, we visited Key West twice.  There is a great bus service that charges $4 for the two hour ride from Marathon to Key West.  The first time we took the bus, there were several people from the Marina headed down there, along with lots of locals heading to work.  One woman seemed thoroughly enamored with Moray, much to the amusement of several of the bus riders!  We visited the Wreckers’ Museum, which was really interesting, and then the most southernmost point of the continental USA (although a quick study of the map of the area shows there is a slightly more Southerly point, just not accessible to the public :))

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View of Key West from the lookout tower above the Wreckers’ Museum

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most Southernmost point of the continental USA (almost!)

We then started out on a Duval Street pub crawl.  If you ever decide to do this, beware – there are a LOT of bars on Duval Street!!!  So much so, we went back on New Year’s Eve to do Pub Crawl, Part Deux!

We finished that evening on the balcony opposite the Bourbon Street Bar, watching some great entertainment culminating with Sushi, the drag queen, dropping from the balcony down to the street, in a huge ruby slipper!  Awesome!!!

Unfortunately, as with most things in life, you have to pay the piper.  For us, this took the form of the 2 hour bus back to the marina with a host of other revelers.  It was actually quite entertaining 🙂

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The boating community here in Marathon is amazing.  Every morning, we start our day listening to the boaters’ net, where the community welcomes new arrivals, says bon voyage to departing boats, people can ask for help, trade stuff, find out what is happening around the area etc.  We have been to a talk on sailing to the Bahamas, which was very helpful, met lots of people while sitting up in the boaters’ lounge, got involved in taking hurricane relief supplies over to Andros – all very interesting.

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Bahamas briefing

There have been some low points, however.  One task that has been on Moray’s list for a while is to convert a water tank to a diesel tank.  Our Caliber is one of the older ones, and had two large water tanks, but only one small diesel tank.  60 gallons of diesel has been fine so far, but when we want to venture further afield, we wanted to have more.  Now that we have a watermaker, the plan was to convert the second water tank to a diesel tank, bring our fuel capacity up to 140 gallons.  The plan was all going great, and all the parts were ordered.  Then, after transferring some diesel to the new tank, we discovered that there is a pinhole leak in the tank, which basically put paid to that plan.  We had to quickly transfer the diesel back to the old tank from the “new” one before the small amount that made it into the bilge was enough to get it pumped overboard.  Within 2 hours we were back to our original situation and all diesel cleaned up and taken to the fuel dump station a the marina.  We will have to revisit the situation and see if there is an affordable alternative solution at a later date.

The other REALLY frustrating issue has been the ongoing saga of the non-working iPhone.  Moray has spent countless hours on-line with Apple, visiting two different AT&T stores, and still we can’t get the phone to work.  If we come to shore, we can make calls using Skype, but we can’t receive calls, and once we get back to the boat, we are off-line completely.  Still working on this issue, luckily some friends back in Texas have been good enough to offer to send us old phones and we are waiting on one of those to arrive before e head across to the Bahamas.

Although both of these issues have been incredibly frustrating, the fact that we are pursuing our dreams is not lost on us and quick slap upside the head usually brings that back into focus.

Last Sunday we went down to Key West, probably for the last time, to have brunch at the Hot Tin Roof.  This is a very nice restaurant which Moray’s family bought us a gift voucher to dine at for our Christmas.  All I can say is WOW!  The food was fantastic and kept coming till we said enough.  There were also bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s which you could make up yourself from a Bloody Mary bar.

When we go over to the Bahamas we will first check in at Morgan’s Bluff on Andros.  Andros was the most heavily hit island in the Bahamas when Matthew came through.  It is still struggling with the rebuild and so we will be taking disaster relief building supplies and other items with us from Marathon.  We would like to raise $1,000 to buy supplies.  We will personally contribute $200 and so we are looking for another $800 to reach our goal.  We have started a GoFundMe page so people can donate to the cause.  If you or anyone you know is willing and able to contribute, it would be greatly appreciated.  We have so far managed to raise $410 and will close down the page at the start of next week to give us time to purchase all the supplies.  The link is below…

https://www.gofundme.com/andros-hurricane-relief-fund

Over the next week we will finish off a couple more projects on the boat, buy the supplies for Andros and the boat and wait for the first good weather window.  It looks like that might not be till Thursday of next week but we will have to see how that pans out.  Hopefully our next post will be from somewhere in the Exumas!

Christmas in the Keys

It seems like a long time since I wrote last, and so much has happened!

First of all, there was Moray’s birthday.  We started the celebrations with a trip on a little ferry boat along the parts of the river we can’t reach because the bridges are too low for our mast.  It was a lovely trip and we enjoyed the scenery, the commentary and the beautiful sunset.  Once back, we headed out to meet up with Clare, Bob, Jeanne and Dale, for a birthday dinner at Morgan’s Tavern and Grill, followed by drinks at Prohibition.  Moray thoroughly enjoyed his birthday, so thanks to everyone who helped make it so great.  I must also add that he is one spoiled man, because he had birthday dinner round 2 a couple of days later, when Joy and Tom (who had been out of town on the big day itself) took us for dinner and drinks!

Next came Thanksgiving.  Beth and Dave who were our neighbors on B dock, arranged and hosted a wonderful dock Thanksgiving lunch.  About 10 people came to the pot luck dinner, and the fun and discussions went on late into the night!

Now we started watching the weather so that we could plan our journey southwards.  We wanted to leave in the first week in December so we spent the days after Thanksgiving finishing up the last few “must-do” tasks, such as cleaning, compound and waxing the boat, getting the bottom of the boat cleaned, restocking the fridge and freezer etc.

We had a pre-Christmas/see-you-soon dinner on board Sol Purpose with Bob, Clare, Tom and Joy, with Christmas stockings, food and wine!  These four people were so great to us in New Bern, lending us their cars, showing us around, and basically being around when we needed them.  Good friends, indeed, and we are very lucky to know them.

New Bern had been a very good choice of place to stay to carry out the list of projects that we had to do before heading South.  There was much to do and the complete list of tasks that were completed were…

  1. Compounded and waxed boat – topsides and cabin top
  2. Cleaned all stainless
  3. Stripped, cleaned and oiled all teak
  4. Overhauled galley sink (new faucet, new spouts for foot pump and water maker, new drains and plumbing)
  5. Made new fridge shelf to accommodate new drop in storage containers
  6. Fitted new Davis windex and GWS10 wind vane
  7. Sewed on new leather patches on dodger to stop chafing on cabin top hand rails
  8. Made a mast boot cover from Sunbrella to protect from UV damage
  9. Moved stern light above bimini to allow visibility when dinghy is lifted in davits
  10. Replaced panel labels to suit new equipment installations
  11. Replaced all bow sprit attachment bolts due to crevice corrosion
  12. Had new stronger bobstay attachment fabricated due to metal fatigue of old one
  13. Replaced undersized holding tank vent with larger vent
  14. Replaced all snaprite fasteners on all hatches for new covers
  15. Serviced and repaired all friction levers for hatch hinges
  16. Replaced acetal gear and bearing in DuoGen3 wind generator
  17. Replaced 3 cigarette lighter outlets with PowerWerkz dual USB outlets
  18. Replaced prop zincs and cleaned the bottom of boat
  19. Deep clean all cupboards and storage spaces
  20. Added snaprite tabs to seal rear enclosure properly at base

Wednesday, December 7th was the day of departure.  The plan was to go to Morehead City to refuel, and then to make the decision whether to anchor that night and head on out, or to just keep going, pulling in as and when the weather dictated.  We made really good time getting down to Morehead City, so decided that we would carry on and make an offshore run down to Jacksonville after we refueled.  We motored as far as Cape Fear, and then turned closer to shore.  That way we were more protected and could take advantage of the winds when we turned to head southward.  The original plan was to stop at Big Bay and Jacksonville, to rest for the night and refuel, but the weather was so good, we were able to sail all the way.  We decided to carry on to the Fort Pierce Inlet, but when we were approaching Cape Canaveral, the winds were picking up (high 20 knots) and the seas were getting a little rough on the beam with the waves getting up to 7ft.  Rather than fight our way on down to Fort Pierce, we decided to come in at Cape Canaveral and take the ICW on down to Stuart.  We came in through the Cape Canaveral Inlet at dawn, along with two cruise ships, and made our way through the first opening of the bascule bridge and lock.  Then it was a steady journey down the ICW to Vero Beach, where we anchored and settled down for the first full night’s sleep in five days!

On Monday, we set out for the 30 mile or so run down to Stuart.  We called Sunset Marina where we had stayed on our northbound journey, but they were full.  So we called and found a slip in Mariners Cay Marina, just off the ICW in Port Salerno.  The entrance is a little shallow, but we took it steadily and got in and tied off safely.   Once docked, we called Mack Sails to let them know we had arrived.  The reason for coming to this town was to pick up the sails we had ordered back in June, and Moray was so excited to be getting this early Christmas present for the boat!  John and Richard from Mack Sails arrived shortly afterwards, bringing with them the new genoa, staysail and mainsail.  They also went up the mast to make a template for the masthead as it will now need to support a code zero.  That would take a couple of days to fabricate, so we arranged with the Marina to stay a few extra days, and then headed off to the Manatee Island Bar & Grill, to sample the Happy Hour menu.  It was their Trivia Night, so we stayed for that, which was a lot of fun!

In the morning, I took advantage of the marina’s laundry facilities, while Moray worked on a couple of tasks on the boat.  Richard and John came back to install the first three sails and take another look at the masthead, as it looked as though a Plan B would be needed.  We also ordered a couple of things, to be sent to the Port Salerno Post Office.  This would be the first time we had used the General Delivery Service offered by the Post Office, and I was a little concerned but it all worked out perfectly.  We will definitely use that again, whenever we are in the US.

Wednesday was a lazy day, but on Thursday, Mack Sails came by to fit the new masthead plate and Code 0.

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The new mast head plate in the background with anemometer, wind vane and masthead light already attached.  Note the block for the Code 0 halyard.  The old mast head plate is the small dark piece in the foreground.

 

Now all we needed was to set off, with good winds to test everything!  I picked up the mail at the Post Office, got a few groceries and we were all set.

Friday, December 16 we set out early, hoping to get as far as DelRay to meet up with Charlie Gaines on Migration.  There would be a lot of bridges to time so we set out as soon as we were able to refuel.  Much to Moray’s dismay, we weren’t able to test out the new sails, but it was a pleasant trip.  During the day, Charlie contacted us to let us know that he would be staying one more day in West Palm Beach, so we arrived early afternoon.  We anchored right in the heart of West Palm Beach, and immediately Charlie came over to say hello.  After a quick chat, we arranged to meet later for beer and pizza.  We had a great night out in WPB, especially looking at the Christmas decorations all made of sand.

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West Palm Beach sand castle Christmas Tree

 

When Charlie took us back to Sol Purpose, we realized that we were not moving the same way as a neighboring boat based on current and wind, so we had to move due to our proximity to them.  It took a couple of tries to reset the anchor, but eventually we did it.  We were still not confident about the current/wind situation so it was a long night!  Luckily, we had decided with Charlie and Bob, on Helios, to set out early in the morning to catch the 7:30 bridge opening and start heading toward Fort Lauderdale.

Next day, as planned, we started out in time for the 7:30 bridge opening.  As Charlie and Bob were both single handed, we took the lead and set the pace for the bridge openings.  However, after a couple of hours, Bob let us know that his engine was overheating.  We were close to DelRay, so we decided to stop there for the night to give him a chance to investigate the issue.  Sol Purpose went ahead at the last bridge to scope out the possible anchorage.  We were the only boat, so there would be plenty of room for all three of us.  (By the end of the day there would be another two boats join us!).  I settled in the cockpit with a book while Bob and Charlie started investigating the engine issue.  After ruling out a couple of possibilities such as impeller, Bob changed out the thermostat.  Once again, we made our plan to leave early the next day and make our run down to Lake Sylvia, Fort Lauderdale, where Helios and Migration would rendezvous with 2 Outrageous, some Canadian friends, and would leave us and head for the Bahamas.

On Sunday, we left in time to make the 8:30am bridge opening, once again with Sol Purpose setting the pace.  Bob’s engine problem seemed to be fixed so we motored on, arriving at Lake Sylvia anchorage at about 1:45pm.  On the way we saw the most extravagant Christmas light installation we have seen to date on a residential home.

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there was a Santa and reindeers on the roof and veranda as well as 5 or 6 other festive scenes!

 

Both Helios and Sol Purpose anchored and then decided to move, but eventually we were all settled in.  We had a nice evening, calling relatives in the UK, watching the sunset and then the cruise ships headed out to the Bahamas.

The next day, we said our goodbyes to Helios and Migration, and headed out of the ICW, through the Port Everglades Inlet and started south for Miami.  It was a beautiful day and finally we got to use the new sails!

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Mmmmhhmmm, new sails 🙂

 

We made good time and by 1pm we were pulling in to the anchorage outside No Name Harbor.  At that time there were only two other boats there so we were able to pick and choose our spot.  Once anchored safely, we both went for a swim – in December – that’s what we were looking for!

The next morning, we got an early start and headed down through the Keys, arriving at Rodriguez Key at around 2:30pm.  We had the best day of sailing, with all three new sails fully deployed.  Awesome!  Once again, we went for an afternoon swim before relaxing with sundowners in the cockpit.

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stogies and sundowners

 

One last early start for a few weeks!  We set out at about 7:30am from Rodriguez for Boot Key Harbor in Marathon Key.  Once again we were motorsailing, but suddenly we heard a nasty vibration from the engine.  We immediately switched off the motor, and under sail headed in to Tavernier Key and dropped anchor.  Moray jumped in to take a look and pulled about 5lbs of seaweed off the prop!  Thank goodness that was all!  We set off again, and had a great day of sailing down to Boot Key.  As expected, on arrival we found that there was already a waiting list for the mooring balls, but we found a pretty good spot to anchor, dinghied in, and signed up for the waiting list.  Our initial impression is that Marathon Key is going to be a great place to hang out for the next few weeks!

The next day was mostly taken up with walking around to find out where everything is, and signing up for the Boot Key Harbor Pot Luck Christmas lunch!

Unfortunately, on Friday, most of Moray’s day was spent on the computer with Apple, trying to get our phone to work – it stopped working when we ran the iOS update 😦  I kept him company in the boater’s lounge, and occupied my time doing a jigsaw puzzle.  Not only was it a lot of fun, I got to meet lots of people who stopped by to help me.

On Saturday it was more of the same for Moray, I’m afraid, to no avail.  I finished up the jigsaw in the morning.

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750 pieces, called Mountains of Fire.  Next up, 1000 piece called Florida Keys.

 

For me, as for most people, this was the final Christmas shopping day, followed by wrapping gifts.  While we sat in the cockpit, enjoying our Christmas Eve sundowners, a couple of highly decorated boats made the rounds of the marinas and anchorages, which really put us all in the festive spirit.

Sunday. SANTA CAME TO SOL PURPOSE!!!!!!  In case you were worried, neither the local dive store nor West Marine will be going out of business any time soon!  After a relaxing morning of coffee, bacon sandwiches and present opening, we headed over to the boaters’ lounge to share a pot luck Christmas lunch.  About 130 people attended and the variety of dishes was amazing!  We met several boaters, most of whom are heading to the Bahamas soon, so we are looking forward to meeting up with them over there.

We expect to be here for another 10-14 days and will take in New Year’s in Key West.  There are 3 ball drop equivalents that take place in Key West…

  1. The Shoe Drop at the Bourbon Street Pub which is, well, exactly what it sounds like, featuring a 6 foot tall high heel, carrying a drag queen by the name of Sushi descending from the roof of the pub.
  2. Another unusual “drop” takes place at the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar on Duval Street, where their emblem of choice is a conch shell.
  3. The final act is the not really politically correct Wench Drop, which sees a pirate’s wench lowered from the mast of a schooner moored in the Key’s Historic Seaport.

At this time, we have not decided which one to attend but we are leaning towards Sushi in Heels 🙂

End to End Issues

One of the projects we had set aside for New Bern was to  move the stern light.  The original position was on the pushpit just to port of the stern walk through.

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This was fine until you lifted the dinghy up in the davits.  The dinghy ended up at the exact height of the light and this caused 2 problems; the light could not be seen by other ships at night and the reflected light ruined night vision in the cockpit.

After some consideration, I decided to move the light above the bimini, where the flag pole was mounted.  It came out of the solar panel supporting framework.  I would cut the flag pole and attach some angled stainless plate to act as a light shield so that the light would not hit any equipment that hung off the back of the boat.  After cutting the flag pole, I cut out some cardboard, folded it and attached it to the pole.  With the light temporarily affixed I was able to shape the cardboard to ensure that no light hit the boat and it could still be seen by other boats even when we were heeled over.  I found a guy called the GrillMan who custom makes grills so I got out the bike and make the 17 mile round trip to see him.  I provided the flag pole stub and the cardboard and he told me it would take a week to make.

While the piece was being fabricated I pulled the old wiring out of the pushpit tubing and ran new cable from the breaker panel, through the pushpit tubing and up the outside of the solar panel framework to the lights new position.  For the return trip to pick up the new mount I borrowed a friends car, luckily we have good friends where this is sometimes an option 🙂

The pictures below show the final installation.

Now for the other end of the boat 😦

While Debbie was polishing the stainless she noticed that one of the bolts that held the bowsprit on was missing its head.  After inspection it was obvious that crevice corrosion had caused it to fail and fall off.  I decided to replace all six bolts that held on the bowsprit just to be safe.  I had to replace the bolts one at a time as the standing rigging was still fully tensioned.  Debbie’s keen eyesight had possibly saved the day as 4 of the 6 bolts had crevice corrosion that was so bad that the bold heads snapped off with almost no effort while trying to loosen them.

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crevice corrosion on 4 of the 6 bolts

Now I became concerned about the bobstay attachment fitting on the bow just above the waterline as the same bolts were used there. The bobstay is a part of the rigging which counteracts the upward tension on the bowsprit from the jib and forestay.

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bobstay attachment fitting with bobstay rod going up to the bowsprit

I slackened off the backstays and forestay so that there was no tension on the bobstay and then removed fitting.  Three of the four bolts that held it on were in good condition and the fourth had a small amount of crevice corrosion but not enough to be of any real concern.

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I bought all new bolts and washers just to be safe.  I then cleaned up the bow to remove all old sealant and check the fiberglass was all OK.

While polishing the bobstay attachment fitting prior to refitting, I noticed that there was stress cracking around the tang which the bobstay attached to.

As I could not tell how long it would be till this sort of issue caused a failure I decided to replace the fitting.  It is not an of the shelf item and therefore I cycled back to see Chris at GrillMan to get a new one fabricated.  To ensure it would not happen again, I decided to beef up the specifications.  I went from a 1/8″ thickness backing plate to a 1/4″ plate.  I also up-sized the tang from 3/8″ to 1/2″ thickness.  The end of the bobstay rod had space to allow the thicker tang.

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old fitting showing available space

Chris had the new fitting made in three days so bike ride number three was undertaken.  The old and new fitting can be seen side by side as a comparison.

It was then time to reinstall the new fitting.  It was through bolted to the hull.  Just to make the task that much more enjoyable, the space behind the hull is the holding tank for the forward head… yaay!!!  I had to reach down through a 4″ inspection hatch to get to the nuts at the back of the fitting at the bottom of the tank.  This involved getting my arm in the tank up to my armpit.  I volunteered to hold the wrench on the bolt heads on the outside but Debbie suggested that if I wanted her help I might want to let her take on that role.

After liberally applying sealant to all the bolts the job went relatively smoothly.  Now we have all new fasteners supporting the rigging at the front of the boat and a little more peace of mind.