Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bimini to Shroud Cay, Exumas February 2011

Lighthouse at entrance to Nassau Harbor
 Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cruising through the busy Nassau Harbor was quick and easy, after obtaining permission via the VHF radio to proceed through.

Note the deep dark blue water and then the more shallow, lighter colored water near shore, close to the lighthouse.

Discussion:  Why do lighthouses exist?

Cruise ships in the busy Harbor

The trawler, Sea Dog, looks small compared to those cruise ships!!
The fabulous Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Nassau

It’s been a busy few days; a change in plans yet again and limited wifi here in the Exumas.   Hearing over the VHF radio friends we've cruised with off and on over the past year, Jim & Diane, aboard their trawler, Ocean Dance, we diverted farther south to Shroud Cay to meet up with them.  Shroud Cay is the first island in the Exumas Land & Sea Park, a must see protected national park.  We picked up a Park mooring ball next to Jim and the 6 women guests + his wife aboard Ocean Dance.   He is clearly living the high life.  Andy is calling his boat the Estrogen Dance....

Ah, this Sea Park is a must see. The first such park in the world, it covers 176 square miles of small islands from Wax Cut Cay to Conch Cut.  The beaches are pristine; hiking trails throughout are loaded with wildlife and various species of birds not often found anywhere else; and snorkeling numerous small coral reefs clearly marked on Park maps is a wonder.  Much scientific research occurs here, with scientist arriving from all over the world to study this natural environment.  Wardwick Wells Cay is the Park Headquarters.

This sperm whale died because he swallowed a large plastic bag floating in the ocean.
Discussion:  Talk more about pollution & it's effect on people, plants & animals

We tried to explore via dink, the mangroves along Sanctuary Creek on Shroud Cay.  Billed as “you will think you are in the movie African Queen”, all us women loaded up with bug spray and some water and headed out.  Unfortunately, my info did not include the note to only go on a rising tide or one can get stuck inside till the next tide change.  Phew, we could not get IN, as it was low tide.  Saved by luck.... I’ve added this Cay to my list of places not yet explored and will hit it appropriately on our return trip to the USA in a couple of years.

Discussion:  Why is the tide important here?  What would happen if we had managed to get IN and then the tide dropped further? Would we be able to get OUT?  How would we get OUT?

All About Survival on the Islands

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pulling anchor early, we traveled the few hours to Warderick Wells, the Land & Sea Park Headquarters, grabbing our assigned park mooring ball.

One calls ahead the day before via VHF and gets on the waiting list for a ball.  Then, at 9:00 AM the day of your arrival, listen in for your assignment.  At $30 a night for our size boat, and no real place to anchor, we are quite happy to be here, snuggly secure.  I got cheers from Ocean Dance as I easily grabbed the mooring line and secured our boat...seems they had a bit of trouble.  GRIN. 

Banshee Creek @ low tide

Our group hiked to the top of Wardwick Cay, across the barren, slightly damp Banshee Creek,

Hiking to the Top of BooBoo Hill

and up to the top of BooBoo Hill, picking our way carefully among the limestone rock potholes.

All About BooBoo Hill

Andy & Sharon & Finally Fun's momento

At the top, we left our boat’s name as a memento to our voyage here.  In truth, our sign is so beautiful, we almost hated to leave it!

Banshee Creek at high tide

My sister, Anne, an art teacher and artist, painted the sign with the back of Finally Fun displayed along a beach scene and our names.  Ours is the most distinctive memento in the pile of driftwood and sticks and stones!

Later in the day, our group retraced our steps back to the top at 5:00 PM in anticipation of watching the sun set from that high vantage point AND to explore the Blow Holes at high tide which would occur at sunset by chance of timing.  Funny, now that barren Banshee Creek was a foot deep as the tide had come in and we waded through with sneakers on our heads.

The Blow Holes at the top of the hill were fun, but no water shot through today -- just wind and a howling noise.  Locals say the place is haunted and the noise is the ghosts of past lives.

  No matter, we fortified ourselves with the sangria brought by the 6 gals, sharing it with two Bahamian Defense military guys who hiked up to join us and a couple of guys on a sailboat who’d heard the group of young women would be there!  The wind would howl up through the blowhole, but no water splashed up as the seas were fairly calm.

Bonfire on Wardwick Wells
Also, the Bahamian military guys who get 8 weeks or so of duty providing security to the Park certainly get lonely and a bit bored.  They love it when friendly tourists are about.  We had some great conversations with them, learned a lot and after hiking back down, were joined by a couple more.  The guys build a large bonfire on the beach for us and much splashing and swimming later, we finally departed in the pitch dark in the two dinks with NO flashlights.  We had not anticipated staying so long and will be better prepared from now on!  A bit of a scary 15 minute ride back to the boats.  I was absolute NO help as I only had my sunglasses on.  Legally blind and having forgotten to carry my regular glasses, I was forced to wear the sunglasses at pitch black dark.  Phew, glad to safely reach the boat. 

We snorkeled several of the reefs the next day, seeing a few large lobster tucked in the deep holes in one reef; saw a mana ray swim by; a turtle and one shark...which I was unaware of.  Diane, swimming with me, simply told me she wanted to head to the dink and get, I followed.  Good thing! 

Later, the current began ripping through “The Rangers Garden” reef as the tide changed, catching us.   Huffing, puffing and paddling mightily, I made no headway trying to get to the dingy and began sliding out to sea.  I could certainly tell I was no longer 40 something!   Diane untied the dink from the reef mooring ball & came out to rescue me (remember the safety rules - one left in the boat!).  Shortly thereafter, three of the six gals suddenly found themselves headed out to sea, grabbing a channel marker on the way out.  Again, Diane to the rescue!  Hmmm, maybe not being 40 again had nothing to do with my predicament.  Grin.  Good judgment prevailed and we headed back to the big boats.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
With anticipated weather change for the worse (25-30 knot winds and a cold front on the way) and the gals aboard Ocean Dance deciding they could get flights from Staniel Cay to Nassau and then back to the US on Friday, we decided that hunkering down in a more populated place would be more fun.  Off we went, early in the morning, to Staniel Cay, just a couple of hours further south and with a well protected anchorage (except from the West) & good holding.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Florida to Bimini, Bahamas February 2011

A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step 

Finally Fun has begun her journey of approximately 1,795 nautical miles (2,066 statute miles) from Ft. Lauderdale to Grenada for a total of 5,132 statute miles round trip.  I've added an extra 1,000 miles to the total to allow for travel up and down the island chain from the US Virgin Islands to Grenada and back over the two year period we plan to be there.   Simple math and estimating that we’ll burn on average one gallon of diesel per mile & assuming an average of $4 per gallon, we will spend $20,528 on fuel.  Thus far, we’ve spent a high of $3.71/gal in Ft. Lauderdale, but anticipate spending more once out of the USA.  Hopefully, when we get near Grenada and the out islands closer to Venezuela we can get it for less than a dollar, thereby lowering our ‘average’ price.

Wednesday, February 23 & Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ah, the weather forecast gods were with us.  We pulled anchor about 6:30 AM, headed over to Bimini from Ft. Lauderdale, following in the wake of Sea Dog, a 60’ DeFever trawler we met on line recently when we asked if any boats were headed over at about the time we were.  Remember, there is always safety in numbers and it is more fun! 

Following Sea Dog in the Atlantic Ocean
The trip over was unremarkable, with seas 2-4 feet and a few higher and some rocking and rolling, even with the stabilizers.  Andy made the mistake of going into the hot engine room that really rocks and rolls  to start the water maker -- he stayed quiet & pukey green in color for the remainder of the day.

A highlight was seeing a small pod of whales out in the Gulf Stream -- a whale with a bulbous head and a large dorsal fin on top.  A search on the internet makes us wonder if we spotted a very rare False Killer Whale, which are nearly extinct.  They are found in these deep waters -- but mostly found in Hawaii.  Exciting no matter what as they swam right in front of us!  Other than that, didn’t seen much of anything - a few boats in the distance, no birds, nothing.  No fish either!  I’d set two rods out and the only thing I caught was a huge pile of seaweed that took 5 minutes to pick off the hook! 

Bimini from Big Game Club Marina Deck
The Bimini Sands Marina at South Bimini is very nice, very inexpensive @ $1 a foot and $10 day for electric.  We pass on the water at 35 cents a gallon.  Customs & Immigration were quick and easy, and no issues.  We’ll spend two nights here, allowing weather to settle and take a moment to explore Alice Town, across on North Bimini from here.  The island is a tiny place, nothing here at all.  Sport fishing is it’s claim to fame.  The water surrounding the island is beautiful, with the greens and blues. 

Up at the crack of dawn, wanting low tide, I hiked to the beach with baggy in hand.  I am on a mission to find that ‘sea glass’ that I never could find on our last trip to the Bahamas.  Sea glass is simply ground up bottles, whatever, that have tumbled and tumbled until tiny, smooth pieces which can be made into jewelry.  I love the green (probably old Coke bottles) and black is a rare find.  I hit the motherlode this morning and will keep on doing this till I have lots -- and hope I can find similar shapes and sizes so I can have earrings made.  I also found two small beautiful, pink, EMPTY conch shells which I brought back.   They’ll make nice bookends or something.....

Andy & I took the ferry to Alice Town, ($2 per person each way) & wandered about.  Absolutely nothing in this town to really see or do - it is one street, pretty humble. How people make a living here is beyond me.   The locals are very friendly - especially the woman in the telephone office that sold us our SIM card and air minutes.  She could not have been nicer, making certain we figured out the phone and how to insert the card, etc.  Andy did not have his glasses with him and I could not understand the directions I was reading.....between us, we were clueless and probably humorous to all who observed.  Dumb Americans......

Prize Catches
We’re told that the summer is their ‘busy’ season as is any time that the island sponsors a fishing tournament.  .. which is often.  This is considered the sport fishing capitals of all time., with over 100 fishing world records set in these waters.    Up on a fence are two 1,000 lb. plus sailfish, caught by Guy Harvey (he makes lots of T-shirts)  ON THE SAME DAY.  Some kind of luck or is it great fishing skills?

Ugh.  The winds that picked up during the night, with much howling and flapping and banging about of our American flag.  Finally, I got up about 3:00 am and took the flag down, realizing that we probably could not pull out as scheduled.  The winds would whip up the shallow water in the Bahamian Bank, creating rough, confused seas that would smack us around.  Sure enough, at 6:30 AM, much discussion between Sea Dog and us and the right decision was made to NOT go.

Termite Nest on Bimini
No matter, I hiked the local nature trail (not much to see) and wandered about.    The only real sighting were two huge termite nests  and lots of no see ums that ate me up.

Discussion:  What exactly is a termite nest?  What do termites do?

And when you find out, please tell me!

Tomorrow’s trip, headed toward Nassau, will be very long (10 hours underway till we can find a spot to anchor) across The Great Bahama Bank - a significant fairly shallow (5 1/2  feet at low tide to 15 feet deep) body of water not to be underestimated and so large that we cannot make it across in one day.  Navigating at night is NOT an option and far to dangerous to even think about!  This entire area (actually ALL of the Bahamas) are fraught with reefs and shoals and one must navigate very carefully, following charts (a chart is a map, especially made for navigating in water) but most importantly, reading the water.  We will have to anchor out in the Bank, picking a spot well off the beaten path near the NW Channel light  & near Frazier’s Hog Cay in the Berry Islands so a Bahamian mailboat or fisherman doesn’t mow us down in the dark night.   I intend to leave the saloon lights on all night with blinds open - well lit!   We waited a day so we can continue the trip with Sea Dog -- that safety in numbers takes on a new meaning on this leg of the journey.

Saturday will find us headed into Nassau Harbor across the NE Providence Channel, where we’ll probably hit confused seas, rocking and rolling toward Nassau.  Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, on New Providence Island, is a place we’ve been to before via air.  A Been There, Done That kind of place, so we won't stop.

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Manta Ray

As yes, “we shall see”.  The weather held us in South Bimini until 6:30 this morning, when both Sea Dog & Finally Fun (and a few others) pulled out.  It was a calm flat day on the Bahamian Bank, with good visibility.  I love peering down from the flybridge into the clear, aqua water, spying huge reddish starfish, manta rays and an occasional nurse shark on the bottom - sometimes 10 feet under!

Friday, February 11, 2011

On our Way! Jacksonville to Ft. Lauderdale

Friday, February 11, 2011

Grateful for the several days of delayed departure due to the still cold weather, coupled with rain and thunderstorms, we raced around making final preparations for our long awaited trip to the Caribbean -- the Leeward and Windward Islands all the way to Grenada.

Spending nearly $1,000 for a two year supply of staples such as paper towels, toilet paper, zip lock bags, laundry soap & softner, toothpaste, shampoo, make-up, etc. including basic food items such as mayo, mustards, cereal, oatmeal, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, coffee and paramalot milk -- we dropped the waterline by two inches I’ll bet!  It took me FOREVER to get everything stowed away properly and also to figure out in the store how much I could purchase based on any expiration dates on the items.   I made a second trip back to the commissary for chicken, pork and beef which I repackaged into smaller portions and froze.  We are LOADED.

Food and essential supplies are very expensive (sometime 150 - 300% more) in the islands due to the extra shipping costs, import taxes, etc. and that is IF you can find what you need.  I’m loaded with fresh produce, which will soon run out and produce is what is really hard to get -- the further out in the island chain, the less desirable looking is the produce.  Ah well.  We also love the seafood and hope to augment via fishing and of course, always buying local foods - no matter what they are!  I do tire quickly of conch, however........

ON our way -- pulling out of the Jax Beach marina on Sunday morning (2/13) with Matt & Donna & son, Kyle, aboard, we delighted in the sunny day all the way to St. Augustine, about a 4 hour cruise via the ICW.   The McNamara’s hopped off after treating us to dinner in St. Augustine, returning home via auto.  It was a great experience for them, especially as Matt thinks about such a lifestyle someday.....

On a mission now, we dropped the hook in Daytona Beach on Monday late afternoon, 54 statute miles away.  Tuesday found us cruising thru one of my favorite areas, Haulover Canal, near Cape Kennedy and along a wildlife refuge.  Ah, no manatee.  Last time through here there were too many to count everywhere.  

Spending Tuesday night at the Cocoa Village Marina,(67 miles traveled) we were able to have my high school friend, Jill, join us for dinner and a quick reunion.  Wednesday was another long day, dropping the hook 65 miles down the ICW in Ft. Pierce.  Ah, dolphin just absolutely everywhere, for the past two days, following in our wake along the bow and the stern, twisting, turning, leaping and in general, having a grand time for very long periods of time.  My idea is that there are few boats out and about and these dolphin are delighted to have a boat to play with, so they us follow for miles....I’ve never seen the same pod follow us for so far and for long!

A first for us - we were followed forever by one off Melbourne Beach that was tagged -- #68C written in white on his/her dorsal fin. Researchers in the area follow a specific tagged dolphin for their entire life cycle of 30+ years learning much about their social interactions, migratory patterns, etc.   I learned many years ago that dolphin migrate and come back to the same area year after year.  Interesting!

On Thursday our strip tease began.....a subtle peeling off of a jacket; shoes & socks next in order to wiggle white toes in the sun; a run into the cabin to take off the jeans to replace them with YES shorts!  At the St. Lucie Inlet, the water turned ACQUA in color, so beautiful and so exciting!  A teaser for what is to come for us as we head to the Bahamas and beyond.  The warmer weather is so very welcome!

We pulled into Palm Harbor Marina in W. Palm Beach early Friday morning, after dropping the hook a mile or so back at Lake Worth on Thursday night.  We’d made arrangements for the water maker to be looked at and fixed and to meet another group of Novartis friends  (Lila & Lourdes) for dinner.

Little Wonder Water Maker
Surprise, surprise...not really.  HOURS later and $1,500 later, the water maker was fixed.  Same story -- “gee, this piece of equipment is like a tank, they never go wrong or break.”  Yeah, right.  The repairman took the pump to his shop to bench test it (whatever that all means), calling Andy to say when he took it all apart it smelled to high heaven of diesel and that is what ruined it.  We can only assume that some boater dumped something in the Key West mooring field where we were and it got sucked up, ruining our equipment.  We ran the water maker there when only a few occupied boats were around and only when the current was ripping through.  Bah.

At any rate, we ended up staying 3 nights at this first class new marina, enjoying the town and two different festivals held over the weekend, an antique car show, including an Indian (India) celebration and waiting for a new boat buddy Andy hooked up with via the DeFever website to arrive.  We will now cross over to the Bahamas with Sea Dog, a 60’ DeFever, who is going our way at the same time.

Monday & Tuesday, February 21 & 22, 2011
Now we wait.  The weather keeps deteriorating in that the winds/waves are getting worse.  Last week, it looked like a Sunday crossing; now a Tuesday potential crossing seems to be off and Wednesday isn’t looking good either.  The forecast is bouncing, so we shall see....  We are now at anchor in Sylvia Lake, just off Ft. Lauderdale Beach and the Las Olas area where we will sit til we can cross.  It is sunny, breezy and great -- just not to cross the Gulf Stream!