Archive for February 2011
Pirat’s shadow at W.W. (Lee at the top of the mast).
Here we are in a new place again. Moving down this island chain is starting to feel so natural that I take our progression South for granted. On any given day we are either enjoying where we are or working towards what’s next. From Warderick Wells, Staniel Cay came next. and Black Point followed shortly after.
Before I get too ahead of myself, Lee and I had a busy and productive last day at W.W.
I began the morning with yoga on the boat. Lee and I took the dinghy ashore after breakfast and were stunned by a huge ray that flew out of the water right in front of us and in our direction. Our volunteer work starting with painting. The warden and a couple of friendly, experienced volunteers set us up with supplies and a whaler so we could repaint a red channel marker and a couple harbor entrance markers on the rocks. These were easy jobs, except maybe for manhandling the channel buoy into the boat.
After a lunch break the warden sent us on a mission with several objectives:
- Disassemble fire ring and scatter pile of wood assembled on Alive Beach (no fires allowed in the park!)
- Collect trash along rocky Southeastern shore of the island.
- Straighten up trails around Pirate’s Lair; clear and mark trails leading away from Pirate’s Lair.
It was an epic mission that kept us busy all afternoon. We took the park whaler again and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the way to Alive Beach. The fire ring there had not been used but someone put a lot of effort into setting it up. There were two layers of large stones and the bottom layer was completely buried in the sand. We excavated all the stones and lugged them off to various locations along the beach. The pile of firewood went back into the bushes. Why can’t people just follow the rules? Why would you want to start a fire that could burn the entire island?
Next, we motored the whaler around the tip of Warderick Wells and came in close to the rocky shoreline. The warden said a lot of ocean trash collects in that area and he was right.. Lee and I filled a yard waste bag. It was mostly little things (shards of plastic, plastic bottle caps, fishing twine, and lots of random stuff) but they really added up. It didn’t help that the rocks along these islands are so unbelievably jagged. It’s a miracle no one fell on one of the knife-like protrusions.
After thoroughly denuding the rocks of unnatural debris, we moved on to Capture Beach and the Pirate’s Lair. We straightened up the rows of conch shells directing hikers to the trails and then set off with our gloves and clippers to do some trail work! We cut palm fronds, build cairns, places pieces of wood to mark trail edges, and puzzled over which way the trails actually went. The terrain was mostly jagged, holey rock slabs with palmettos, Poisonwood, and other shrubbery overgrowing the trails. The protected cove on that side of the island was the most beautiful place I’ve seen in the Bahamas so far. A small, outer cay creates a channel of calm water along the larger island. The water was clear and calm along the beach and the little channel felt cozy and private.
The perfect spot: Capture Beach.
Our afternoon of hard work was so rewarding. I felt good to help a worthwhile organization and outdoor, manual labor is always satisfying. I’m glad the Bahamas National Trust exists and does what it can to protect this beautiful place. Now, when Lee and I return to Warderick Wells someday, we can look at the red channel buoy and pristine Alive Beach and know that we played a tiny part in keeping the park running.
That evening, huge fish of an unknown variety hung out under our boat for a while. They hovered in the current while we started at them from above and I tried to work up the courage to go for my daily swim/bath.
We left Warderick Wells in the middle of the next day and motored the short distance to Staniel Cay on the gulf side (as opposed to the banks side, or “inside”). There was no wind and we watched coral pass under the boat through 50 feet of crystal water.
The world under our bow on the way to S.C.
At Staniel Cay we anchored near one of our friend boats and made a quick run into town for produce while the general store still had a good supply (the mail boat had just come that day). The tiny town is very cute in a bright, hodge-podged, island kind of way. I was amused by the cruising wives buying supplies in the general store. The first thing they grabbed was a flat of tonic water (for cocktails). They filled their baskets with some fresh produce, as I did, but also grabbed things like canned tomato paste and a box of cereal. Didn’t they stock up on things like that before coming out here? Why would you buy canned goods on an island for many times what they cost on the mainland? I felt good about my preparedness after that shopping trip.
This morning our the two boats of friends anchored at Staniel left for points south. We said goodbye for the time being, as we planned to stop in a closer cay than the one they were aiming for. Lee and I went for a nice run onshore and made a quick stop at Thunderball Grotto, a sea cave that famously appears in the James Bond movie. It was definitely worth the visit, as a friend had told us. We swam into the cave, whose mouth included a couple feet of air space, and found ourselves in a large, high-ceilinged chamber. Schools of fish (you know, the colorful striped ones) followed us in. Lee swam into the big underwater opening that I distinctly remember from the Bond movie. I stayed put and dealt with my fear of underwater spaces.
On our way our from Staniel Cay, we filled up on water at the yacht club. The wind was dying on the banks side of the islands so we took out our big genoa. Lee has been anxious to try this old sail that came with the boat. It’s bigger than our working jib and has a much lower clue. The sail change was a bit of a hassle but, in the end, totally worth it. We had another fabulous beat to our next destination.
Here we are, anchored between the same two friend boats we saw at Staniel. They turned in early because of the light wind and ended up at Black Point, just like us. Black Point, a settlement on Great Guana Cay, has a big cove full of anchored boats and town complete with laundromat, restaurants, and shops. I plan to spend some time at the laundromat tomorrow and hopefully get a taste of some authentic, out-island culture. We’ll probably be here for a few days and I’d guess little Farmers Cay is next on our track.
It hasn’t even been a week since we left Nassau and Lee and I are already falling into the rhythm of the Exumas. It goes something like this: Wake up, investigate weather, explore/swim/eat/hang out, sleep, wake up, clean up boat, sail to next anchorage, explore, socialize, eat, sleep – repeat!
We have been moving about every other day but we don’t feel rushed. The distances between cays are so short that it only takes a tiny fraction of a day to sail from place to place. Every little hop is also some of the most wonderful sailing we have ever experienced. The water is flat and the wind is strong. It’s warm but not hot and there are beautiful things to look at all around.
After Highbourne we rejoined the gang of young sailors at Shroud Cay. We were all drawn to that particular island but Lee and I were heading for a different anchorage until our friends called on the radio to say there was enough depth for Pirat where they had anchored. We nosed up to the island cautiously but never saw less than 9 feet. The three couples on the other boats were all out in their various water craft when we got there. The sailing dinghy was towing the dinghy with a broken motor while an inflatable kayak did circles around them. We were so, so glad they had called us over to their anchorage. It was truly a beautiful spot. Ours were the only boats anchored snugly in a cove with a tiny sandy beach and a rocky reef around one side.
Everyone gathered on our boat for dinner that night. I served up a big pot of veggie soup others brought pressure cooker bread, humus, and drinks. We feasted and talked sailor talk.
The next morning Lee rowed me in to the beach so I could do yoga (so sweet!). It seemed like a great idea until I noticed all the tiny flies swarming around me. Lee was long gone visiting another boat and I stuck it out to the end of my practice before calling him on the VHF to come get me. The flies were a nuisance but I didn’t notice any bites. It felt great to do yoga, especially on dry land!
After breakfast it was time for some serious exploring. We had heard that tributaries through the mangroves led all the way to the other side of the sizable island. One of the group had been down them before so he led a few of us in a cross-island expedition. Once again, a comical trio of craft took to the water. There was the sailing dinghy, valiantly tacking through the current. Lee rowed our dinghy, since engines aren’t allowed up the pristine waterways. One of the gang paddled the kayak, by far the best vehicle for the trip.
We all found the brisk outgoing current pretty challenging. Lee could easily row in place but had to fight a significant water flow to make it up the channel. The sailing dinghy became a rowing dinghy until the oarlock broke, when it became a floatation device to walk next to. We encountered shallow places were we could walk, waist or ankle deep in water. We spotted sharks in deep spots and little fish hiding among the mangroves. The whole thing was like a dream. We battled the current, took in the spectacular scenery around us, and enjoyed the company of fellow adventurers.
The mangroves were low most of the time, maybe just below eye level. The tributary was sometimes as narrow as 10-13 feet and sometimes twice that wide. It seemed to go on forever! Eventually we passed a branch where the current was flowing in, so our branch lost it’s opposing flow and we picked up a lot of speed.
When we reached the other side of the island a low rise lined with trees blocked the view of the beach. We left our dinghies tied to mangroves in shallow water and walked over the rise. A spectacular sight lay before us. The ocean waves broke on rocks and reefs along a white sandy beach bordered by green trees. The water was so many different colors at once. It was like many different kinds of water converging on the shore. We found a pile of sea junk (buckets, ropes, you name it) washed up by storms. Around the corner was a pristine crescent beach perfect little waves.
We were worried about our dinghies being left high and dry as the tide continued to go out so we didn’t stay long. One couple had been smart enough to bring snacks and kindly shared them with the rest of us. We chowed down on sardines, crackers, orange, and apple, then got back in our boats for the return trip.
The current was with us this time but it was still a long journey. We saw more sharks, fish, and even a sea turtle this time. It was almost 3pm when we got back to out boats and Lee still had the energy to windsurf! I relaxed on the beach, did a little swimming, and took an ocean bath while Lee tore halfway around the island. The group met up for a potluck on the beach that night and then we all watched a movie on one of the boats. We had to stack ourselves like sardines. It was cozy.
At some point during the afternoon my lower back started to itch. Then I started scratching my neck and wrists too. I looked in a mirror and realized that the little flies had been biting me the whole time I was doing yoga. It had dozens of bites all over every part of skin that was exposed that morning. It was sooooooo itchy! It was like a traumatic flashback to my horrible poison oak episode!
Yesterday morning it was time to move and the group dispersed again. Two boats set out for Staniel Cay, a settled island outside the park, another left with no particular destination in mind (and probably ended up at Staniel), and Lee and I headed for Warderick Wells. Yes, that’s the name of and island.
My itchy bug bites have kept me awake half the night for two nights in a row now, even with benedryl. My entire body continued to itch. It seemed like new bites were popping up all the time but I swear they all came from those little flies! Itchiness is worse than pain for me. I think I’m hypersensitive to things like this after the poison oak incident. Those stupid bugs, they even bit both of my earlobes, the corner of my left eye and my upper lip. To top it off, my body’s reaction has reactivated some old bug bites so they’re itching like crazy too.
We called ahead for a mooring from the park this morning and sailed the <20 miles in perfect conditions. We even had our full sails up! Our mooring is on the outskirts of the cove near the park headquarters. This afternoon we walked to the top of Boo Boo hill and looked out to see. This is another beautiful island and it has quite a few trails as well as some Loyalist ruins I’d like to see. Today we went for a little trail run, tried out the local internet, and lounged on the beach.
Tomorrow we are volunteering to do some odd jobs for the park warden around the island. Should be fun!
Crossing the Banks to the Exumas.
Lee sings this song regularly. Back on the Chesapeake, a guy gave him this homemade CD of music by a sailor/musician. It was kinda weird, sailor-y stuff, including a song about somebody named Esmerelda. Lee left the CD in a rental car in Florida but has been singing his own versions of the Esmerelda song. In one version, he morphs the lyrics into “Mayaguana”, the name of an island in the Southern Bahamas. Lee thought it was announced my iguana, provoking a chuckle from me every time he belted out his ballad about iguanas.
Then we pulled in to the anchorage at Allan’s Cays and saw iguanas! We knew these islands were home to the last population of indigenous Bahamian Iguanas but we didn’t really know what to expect. I joked about watching for giant lizards out on the rocks (Galapagos style) when we were dropping our anchor.Then there they were: giant iguanas swarming the beach. Some silly people were feeding them. There were dozens of them and they were so cool!
Iguanas and all, Lee and I have arrived in an exotic landscape of islands and ocean. The Exumas are reputed to be some of the best cruising grounds in the world. There’s no doubt about that in my mind.Our crossing from Nassau was smooth and fabulous sailing – no rocks or coral heads got in our way.
The Allan’s Cays anchorage.
Allan’s Cays are a cluster of tiny islands near the top of the Exuma chain. They serve as a gateway for many boats from Nassau. The anchorage was crowded and plagued by strong currents but we found a nice, deep spot. Our one night there was much more comfortable than the couple of nights our two boat friends had at Allan’s. The boats we met at Bottom harbor beat us to the Exumas by a day and spent a nerve-racking first night watching their boats spin pirouettes in the current. They were anchored too close together and nearly collided several times in the night.
We hung out with both couples as well as another young pair on boat they had met a while back that pulled in that evening. It was a boisterous group celebrating a birthday and Lee and were glad we had caught up with them.
The water looks like this!
All of us left at different times yesterday. One boat took off first and headed to the ocean side of the islands to troll for a Mahi Mahi on their way to Norman’s Cay. Their brief ocean run paid off! They radioed their success to the rest of us and I’m sure the Norman’s Cay crown had a Mahi feast last night! The whole gang moved to that cay while Lee and I opted for Highbourne Cay, the next island down the chain from Allan’s. Norman’s, the next after Highbourne, is a bit too shallow but Highbourne has room for Pirat almost all the way up to the shore.
We have good shelter from the Northeasterly wind here and good holding for the anchor. There are quite a few other boats but there is plenty of space so we don’t feel crowded at all. Yesterday evening, after we anchored and waiting for a brief rain squall to pass, Lee and I took the dinghy ashore hear the Highbourne Cay Marina and went for a great run. There are narrow little roads along the island, linking a handful of private homes and winding through the stubby palms and thick, tropical greenery. We glimpsed white sand beaches in protected coves on the ocean side and watched waves break on the reef. I picked up a couple nice shells where we landed the dinghy (I’m starting a little collection for table decorations at the wedding).
This morning began with a flurry of tools and activity as Lee attempted to diagnose a refrigeration problem. It didn’t cool off the cold plate when we ran it last night so were were afraid it had finally bitten the dust. After some tinkering, Lee started the engine and turned on the refrigeration to find it working again. We still don’t know what was wrong or whether it will happen again. I’m just thankful that we don’t have to switch back to ice!
Our renewable energy sources are also on the fritz. The problem is most likely with the charger that directs voltage from the solar panel and wind generator to our batteries. We noticed that the wind generator was making an intermittent grunting/moaning noise and our voltage hasn’t been doing so hot despite the bountiful breeze.
Look at that beautiful loaf!
Galley News: I have made bread! I feel like running around like Tom Hanks in Castaway yelling “I have made fire!”. It’s that exciting. This isn’t my first loaf of bread but it is by far the best one yet. I made the french bread recipe from last time but plopped the dough in a loaf pan instead of trying to squeeze baguettes into my tiny oven. I skipped the pan of hot water but started baking at 400 degrees, switching to 350 after 15 minutes as the recipe suggests. It worked beautifully! This loaf had actual crusty crust! I’d still like it to rise a little more so maybe I’ll try more kneading and a longer second rise next time. Now that we’re really out in the middle of nowhere I have to make bread if we want sandwiches!
Sorry for the long post. I guess I’m just excited to be able to post at all! Our BTC blackberry and tethered internet work beautifully albeit slowly. Hey, at least we can check our email, download weather, and upload blog posts.
We’re trying to leave, really we are, stuff just keeps coming up. This morning we set out to procure a Bahamian cell phone but found that the store was closed. The building across the street was on fire – so on fire that it’s still burning tonight.
We had to take a bus to another store. That was quite an experience! The bus drivers here compete with each other for passengers and drive their mini-buses through the narrow, busy streets like they’re in a video game.
The cell phone store was rather interesting too. I’m not sure if I liked it better than scummy US cell phone companies. It was very busy and disorganized but they don’t force you into contracts and actually have reasonable rates. Now at least we can make local calls with something other than the SAT phone and even check our email in the out-islands!
Tomorrow we’re leaving for real. I promise. I also promise myself that I’m going to do yoga in the morning!
The view from our original anchorage in Nassau. That’s Atlantis on Paradise Island.
You wouldn’t think weather would be exerting so much influence on our passages at this point. What’s a little wind and a few waves after some of the sails Lee and I have done over the past few months? Well, the Bahamas introduces a new element into our passage planning: coral heads.
Depth has always been an issue. Her 7.25 ft. draft makes Pirat an awesome boat to sail but hinder sour travels somewhat. We knew we’d encounter a lot of shallow water in the Bahamas and we expected coral and rocks too. What’s tricky and unsettling about the shallows combined with the underwater dangers here is that we could be sailing along far from land in 10 foot water and come upon a coral head with only 6 feet of water above it. It’s not like we only have to worry about hitting things when we’re approaching shore or maneuvering around in an anchorage under power. We could be dodging rocks while full-on sailing in the middle of a 30-mile passage!
The trip from Nassau to the Exumas is one such passage. The banks in between are shallow and dotted with hazards. Our charts show some major things to watch out for but pretty much tell sailors that depths of 1.5 meters or less could crop us in any 3 meter zone. That means we will have to keep constant watch for anything that might reach up to bite us from below. Here’s what we know about reading the bottom from above so far.
Very, very light blue/white = very, very shallow (2-4 feet) with white sand.
Light turquoise = very shallow; too shallow for us; sandy bottom
Turquoise = shallow, probably around 10 feet so passable for us; sandy
Blue = dark patches seem to indicate either a rocky or grassy bottom; generally deep enough for us as long as it’s surrounded by deep enough water too.
Very dark blue/black = Rocks! Serious rocks seem to show up as super dark splotches that don’t lighten as you approach them and the light changes.
Blueish yellowish greenish = Coral, shallow, generally bad stuff.
Watching the underwater landscape from Pirat’s bow has got to be one of the most nerve-racking experiences ever. I constantly wonder is that dark spot a rock? Is it too shallow for us? When we go down with this wave are we going to hit the bottom? Is that light patch a shallow sand bar?
We haven’t hit anything yet but we’ve crossed some shallow, sandy areas where we probably had inches of water under our keel.. We’re definitely erring on the side of caution.
The Green Parrot, where we’ve been docking our dinghy and internet-ing it up.
So, we’re still in Nassau because as soon as the wind started coming from a favorable direction (northeast), it also came in at 20+ knots and brought clouds with it. Clouds mean no direct sunlight, which we need to be able to see the things we don’t want to hit. The mysterious bottom is even more mysterious when you can barely make out what’s down there.
We tried to leave on Thursday but elected to duck into Bottom Harbor just outside Nassau because the wind was still from the southeast. Why beat when we don’t have to? It was supposed to clock around the next day, and it did, but then the clouds arrived. Leaving our anchorage yesterday made us realize how hard it was to see in the clouds. We ended up going back into Nassau and anchoring on the East side of the harbor for an easy exit when we can finally get out of here.
Our foray to Bottom Harbor on Rose Island was not unproductive. We met people! I’ve been complaining about how we weren’t meeting people, especially cruisers our age. Well, Bottom harbor filled up with sailboats shortly after we anchored there and two of those boats belonged to young couples. Illusion and Rasmus met back in Florida and have been sailing together since then. They’ve been in the Bahamas about as long as we have and are heading to the Exumas. A third sailboat of young people joined them recently but they were off on a side trip.
Bottom Harbor on a gloomy morning. Rasmus (center), Illusion (right)
It was so amazing to sit and talk to people with similar stories to ours and similar experience levels. We spent a few hours on Rasmus Thursday night and have been communicating with the bunch on their little VHF net since we left. Hopefully we will all head to Allans Cays tomorrow, when the wind should be a bit calmer and hopefully the clouds will be gone.
Meanwhile, Lee and I will be exploring Atlantis and wondering about the gigantic party boat that woke us up by pulling in right next to Pirat and blaring insanely loud music in the middle of the night. Oh, and I’ll be stressing out about the wedding because it’s next month!!!
On our first morning at anchor in the Bahamas I started to panic. Mostly I just felt funny. I got up, looked around, made breakfast, and just sat there wondering what to do. What does one do with an anchorage – a huge expanse of water – to oneself on a sunny, beautiful morning?
There was no shore to go to (our nearby island was someone’s private island and the next closest was quite a trek away).
There were no preparations to make for a passage or a project.
There was no internet.
There were no other boats or people to watch or visit.
Our world seemed so strange, so empty and isolated. I felt like we’d passed some kind of point of no return, beyond which we were cast into an abyss water and sky. We were so, so far from where we’d started and, seemingly, from everything familiar. I sat in a daze, pondering these things all morning.
Luckily my shock wore off and I managed to enjoy the amazingly beautiful spot Lee had picked. He was looking for an anchorage we could fit into depth-wise that would protect Pirat from the southeasterly and then southeasterly forecast before we left Sunshine Marina. We planned to ride that northeasterly breeze to the Berry Islands in an overnight sail. Unfortunately, the South wind came early. We beat upwind all night and most of the next day to reach our anchorage. I now understand and appreciate two things:
- Why cruisers don’t like sailing upwind. Who likes to beat into the seas and wind for more than 12 hours?
- Our boat rocks. Seriously, it would be so miserable to sail a slower boat that couldn’t point as high as ours on a passage like this. It would take more tacks and more time to work through the same weather.
Okay, enough gloating about the boat.
Lee and I spent three fabulous days anchored at Frozen Cay (pronounced key, by the way). The cay next door, Little Harbor Cay, is home to Flo’s Conch Bar and provided some territory to explore. There was no one at home in Flo’s or the surrounding shacks when we visited. We petted their dog, ogled the giant piles of conch shells, and obtained a coconut from beneath one of the gazillion palm trees.
Motoring around in the dinghy to get to Little Harbor Cay and other spots was like flying over the bottom of the ocean. Normally, traveling in a boat concentrates your awareness on moving through the water, or maybe gliding over it’s surface. When the water ranges from 3 to 30 feet deep and you can see everything on the bottom in vivid detail the ocean almost disappears. Instead of moving through the water, you’re moving over what’s beneath it. I found myself watching the bottom whiz by on every dinghy ride like I would watch farmland through a car window.
We saw giant starfish, elaborate coral formations, and schools of exotic-looking fish going about their undersea business. It looked like Finding Nemo or the Little Mermaid. I actually did a little swimming with my goggles and swim cape without letting the sea life freak me out!
Lee was in and out of the water all the time. He dove down to check on the anchor, set it into the sane better, and clean the bottom of the boat. He snorkeled and windsurfed. I swam and bathed with Joy dish soap.
We picked up a second coconut on a beach at Little Harbor Cay. Lee managed to strip both coconuts of their outer husk by banging them on rocks and we took them with us to enjoy later. There were conch shells everywhere on that beach. Some of them were so old they seemed to have fossilized into the sand and become part of the rocky outcroppings along the shore.
On our last evening at Frozen Cay, Lee and I were retrieving his windsurfing bag from a beach along the private island (I know, we were trespassing) when we spotted some more coconuts and decided to augment our supply. Of course, just then a little motor boat pulled out of the private marina and people appeared along the breakwater of the formerly deserted island. Lee leaped away from the pal, dropping the coconuts, and stabbing his foot on something sharp on his way back to the dinghy. The motor boat returned the it’s harbor and no one hassled us but I pictured us in some sort of James Bond bad guy scenario involving a shark tank. Don’t only James Bond villians have private islands in the Bahamas?
We left early and sailed most of the next day to reach Nassau. It was another upwind sail in pretty strong wind and good-sized waves. Pirat does about 6 knots close hauled with a reefed main and the solent in 15-18 knots.
Nassau harbor. Apparently I can’t take straight pictures.The boat is always rocking!
Cruise ships and a beautiful sunset greeted us in Nassau harbor. We anchored alone in one spot the first night and then moved to the more popular cruiser anchorage the next day. From here we have a nice view of the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.
Nassau is WILD. It’s strange to think that this crowded, grungy, working city is out in Atlantic ocean. We’re just starting our explorations. I think my favorite part so far is the market under the Paradise Island bridge where boats from the out-islands bring fresh seafood and produce to sell. There are all kinds of colorful shacks selling conch salad and fried fish. There are mangoes, papayas, yams and all sorts of things I can’t identify.
Some time in the next few days we plan to head for the Exumas. We’ll make our way down that long chain of islands
Well, we’re in Nassau. Lee, Pirat, and I have managed to avoid running into coral, dragging our anchor, getting chased off of private islands for stealing coconuts, being devoured by man-eating tropical fish, melting in the hot sun, and going crazy from lack of civilization. Our first week in the Bahamas has been a true success!
We spent most of the week anchored in an idyllic spot in the Berry Islands. It took a night and most of the next day of tacking upwind to get their. Yesterday we beat into the wind again to go the 30 miles to Nassau. Now we’re in the land of cruise ships, throngs of pasty tourists, and insane driving. Somewhere around here there is rich Bahamian culture and relics of British colonialism but right now we’re in Starbucks using the internet. I know, I know. It’s criminal.
I promise more of an update soon.