Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Long Island to Mayaguana Exumas, Bahamas March 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
After some assist from the marina office and some creative faxing, I was finally able to get all our insurance paperwork back to the insurer, including FAXING the check, which they can deposit.  Amazing.

Scrambling, Andy & I pulled out of the marina at 11:00 am, headed for Landrail Point on Crooked Island, an easy half day or so trip.  No fishing today or probably any other day right now.  Our freezers are topped off now with the fresh fish (tuna, dolphin) given to us by two of the big time sport fishermen at Flying Fish Marina - a huge treat....fish for certain.  My fishing gets us Not Much.

Bird Rock Lighthouse in the Atlantic Ocean
Crossing the Crooked Island Passage from Long Island to Crooked Island was uneventful, seeing only one boat and no wildlife until we spotted the Bird Rock Lighthouse at the tip of the island.  It looks beautiful, sitting in the middle of a reef, with water splashing about, but it does not work!  Built in 1876 from stone quarried right on that island and its mechanism & ‘museum quality’ Fresnel lenses made it a ‘triumph of construction’.  Unbelievably, when the lighthouse was modernized with electricity, those priceless lenses and the rest of the mechanisms were just torn down and dumped!  The Hope Town lighthouse in the Abacos which we visited two years ago looks much like this one is still working, run by hand, and has the same Fresnel lenses that this island trashed.  

Amazing, we came into Landrail Point from thousands of feet deep water to nearly to the beach before getting to a depth where we could drop the hook.  Dropping the hook in 20’ of water into sand and playing out 150’ of chain, (the most we have ever had to put out & this is settled weather) we crashed early.

We have two more Passages to cross before getting to the Turks & Caicos:  Mayaguana Passage and then the Caicos Passage.  All three of these (includes the Crooked Island Passage) are called the West Indian Passages and are ancient deep-water channels that slant in from the Atlantic Ocean.    Storms from far out in the Atlantic can create swells and high seas, surprising one if not careful.  So far, so good for us!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our crossing today from Landrail Point on Crooked Island across the Mayaguana Passage to the deserted Plana Cays was the roughest we’ve had thus far, but certainly not really bad.  We felt as though we were riding a bucking bull all day, with waves predicted at 3-4’ every 4 seconds on our bow.  In reality, the waves had a much shorter period and the average height was more 4’ +.

Dropping the hook 6 hours later off West Plana’s sandy beach at 22 degrees.39 N by 73 degrees 37.7 W in 18’ of water at 3:30 pm, I began the cleanup.  Picking up and rearranging the cabinets where everything had slid about was easy.  Cleaning up the huge pile of dirt, herbs, rocks from the bottom of my planter that slid off our aft table and picking up broken glass from the solar light in the herb container took a lot longer.  I’d forgotten to move it to the lower deck off the table.  Conserving our fresh water, I hauled up bucket after bucket of sea water, sloshing it across the deck in an attempt to get rid of the residual dirt.  After I lost the bucket to the Atlantic Ocean when my fancy knot failed on my line, Andy took over with another bucket & line until we finally had a clean deck.   I considered for a moment jumping in after the bucket, but given the strong current, decided not to and couldn’t get the net to it in time to capture the bucket before it was gone, floating on top of the water far away. 

After spending the remainder of the day re-reading, discussing and  planning our next leg to the Turks & Caicos, including potential sight seeing options, fixing dinner and catching the green flash at sunset, we hit the bed about 9:30.  Although tired from holding on all day as we bucked our way to the anchorage and from the big swells that continued to rock us rather badly at the anchorage, neither of us slept well.  At times, I wished I had a strap holding me in the bed, we would roll so badly. The guidebook did say “expect to roll”....no kidding.

Wandering the deck at 2:00 AM, with no moon, I was struck by the brilliant stars in the sky, hanging low, looking like they were touching the ocean....the effect of being so far south.    The anchor alarm sounded at 3:00 AM, rousting both of us to check again our position.  As the tide went down during the night, I was hearing louder and louder the sound of the surf breaking on the newly exposed rocks along the beach, making me even more concerned about our holding.  Nothing wrong, just that we’d moved about the anchor so many times we’d exceeded our GPS tracks...the outline of each time the anchor chain moved.  The GPS system must get overloaded, finally frantically beeping out in total confusion!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pulling anchor this morning was as frustrating as it was yesterday at Landrail Point with the same difficulty.  Once I had only about 25’ left to pull up, the chain would quit going around the winch, pile up on deck before I noticed and then free fall back into the water.   In both anchorages over the past two days, I’d dropped 150’ of chain  - a first for us to play out so much.  Somehow, the chain is not piling up properly in the anchor well.   Andy had to go below to rearrange the chain in the well making room for the remainder to feed in properly.  We’ll see what we can do to fix the problem permanently after we play out the 150’ again...we’ll look at what’s under that 150’ we just played out and how we might rearrange the chain and line that is left in the anchor well.  Remember, we added 100’ of line to the 200’ of chain we had before we headed out on this Caribbean trip as waters are deeper there than we’ve experienced thus far.  That additional line is creating our problem.

The ice maker on the aft deck gave up all attempts to make ice for some reason a couple of days ago.  Now that we are truly in the Tropics, we are feeling the heat and missing our cold drinks.    Andy worked on it a couple of times  over the past month when the machine would drop a lot of water and then freeze it all into a block, gluing down the plastic ice holder box to the machine.  I feel like a sailor now - no ice.  Bah, another piece of equipment that doesn’t live up to the life expectancy of such expensive equipment...used less than 3 years and needs to be replaced.  My blood pressure is again on the rise!

Coming into Betsy Bay @ Mayaguana Cay
Our cruise today of 40 something nautical miles across the Mayaguana Passage from West Plana Cay to where we dropped the hook at Betsy Bay, Mayaguana, wasn’t bad at all - normal ocean rocking and rolling with waves less than two feet, spaced well apart.  Stopping here allows for two short cruising days, rather than one LONG 90+ miles day (from Plana Cays) to get to the Turks & Caicos.  This low lying, 24 nautical mile long island was once part of the U.S. tracking missile system, which is now all in ruins, including an 11,000 foot runway and a Navy dock.  We picked our way in, careful to drop the hook in sand, away from grass and coral.  Backing down on it, our Rocnar bumped along the bottom, making a racket on deck, scaring me, until it grabbed hold and the boat stopped with a jerk.  That was a new first also for us.  Must have dropped the anchor in sand over rock and it could not dig in at first.   

Hearing a splash or two, I took the flashlight on deck, shining it into the water about 9:30 PM.  What a sight!  Huge fish swimming about, with eyes glowing as the light caught them and swarms of jellyfish everywhere.....a type I’d never seen before.  The jellyfish had a body about as round as a quarter and as deep as an inch or two, then all the jellyfish tentacles flowing down about 8”.  The light made them sparkle.  To my amazement, when I turned OFF the flashlight, the jellyfish stayed illuminated, creating ever so many bright lights in the water!  The fish eyes also seems to stay lit - a red color almost.  Then it would all go away until I turned the light back on and off the sea creatures creating that strange illumination yet again.  We were, remember, way out in the Atlantic Ocean, with just this little dot of an island providing enough shallow water (20’) that we could anchor in for shelter.  Another reminder as to why I don’t like to get in the water at night!!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Georgetown to Clarencetown, Long Island, Exumas, Bahamas March 2011

Given all that and specific to our travel from Georgetown to Clarence Town, Long Island,  Van Sant says one should ‘go NORTH to go SOUTH’.  He strongly urges boaters to veer north to Conception Island from Georgetown and then head SE to Rum Cay, rather than turning east at Cape Santa Maria and cruising down along Long Island to Clarence Town.

The reason is that the Atlantic eastbound waves split north & south of Rum Cay, mixing with rebounding waves of the eastern tip of Long Island and create some horrific wave action - 12 footers closely spaced or worse.  We spoke with one trawler cruiser who did this trip a few years ago and he said the one thing he regretted on his trip was NOT following Van Sant’s advice just mentioned above.  This boater decided he would turn around the Cape Santa Maria tip in order to cruise along Long Island and if it looked bad, would turn back and go North to go South to Conception & then Rum Cay.  Unfortunately, once he rounded Cape Santa Maria, the waves were 12’ or more at times.  He was scared to turn around as he was afraid his boat would broach (go sideways and roll over due to wave action), so he had to stay in those waves for several hours until he could alter direction a bit and make his way to Rum Cay.

Given all that, our plan was obviously to go to Conception, Rum and then to Clarence Town on Long Island but realizing we had such a great weather window, with no winds to speak of for several days prior to our departure and after speaking w Frank aboard Fine Romance, who had gone along the coast of Long Island in good weather, we did change our plans.  What an uneventful 9 hour cruise along the coast of Long Island -- no waves at all.  Pretty flat, and currents that moved us along quickly at 9 knots toward Clarence Town.  Phew!  Great Relief!!

While underway, I threw out two fishing lines, only to lose one lure to some fish that was certainly heavy.  Both Andy & I battled to bring him on board, to no avail.  We never saw what it was.   I now intend to find some wire leader vs the plastic stuff I’m currently using so big fish teeth can’t bite through.  It took me forever to tie a new leader and new lure to the rod -- knot book in one hand.  All was not lost, however.  We came into Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town (16 slips at $1.40 a foot + electric + water) where the boats are all sport fisher types.  A kindly Captain gave us two meals of just filleted dolphin he’d caught that day!

 Here, again sweating began as we neared Clarence Town.  The guidebook says ‘as you approach, it is almost impossible to pick up your bearings’, ‘head for the center of the channel, using caution as there is breaking surf (reefs) on your starboard side’.  Bah, it was an easy entry, using our waypoints, visuals on the buoys marking the channel (many places SAY there are buoys, but they are long gone - one cannot count on any navigation aids in the Bahamas) and reading the water. 

Could these have been old slave homes?
We are at the Flying Fish Marina as there are no safe anchorages here...again the ominous guidebooks say things such “as set your anchor by diving; boats often drag in the grassy bottom;  anchorages are ill-defined, not safe & peppered with reefs & coral heads”.  The only safer option for anchorage has ‘anchor trapping submarine cables underwater’.   Money well spent on this marina! 

We’ll be here until we have final confirmation on our new insurance policy as we have no coverage once out of the Bahamas.  I keep checking email as the weather is perfect and we are ‘stuck’.  It was a last minute quote with good coverage and a much lesser cost with an A rated company that has created the delay.  We decided to go with this one instead of another and finalizing the paperwork with  sporadic wifi slowed us down.

Discussion Point:  Why is insurance important, even for a boat?

Saints Peter & Paul Roman Catholic Church, Clarence Town

The two Father Jerome churches in Clarence Town.  Father Jerome(1876-1956) was English by birth; studied architecture & later theology.  He came to these islands, building 10 churches  and re-building damaged ones, as well as preaching. 

St. Paul's Anglican Church

Monday, March 28, 2011
The wifi is not reliable here either -- it is so frustrating to attempt to get things accomplished via the computer -  one gets ‘on’ for a couple minutes at a time, then BING it is gone and one starts all over.  I worked for 6 hours last night no avail.  I now have all the insurance paperwork I need and am unable to send it back so we are still not covered leaving the Bahamas till I get get it back to the insurer.   Bah.  

Andy - Note steering wheel on the RIGHT
We rented a car today, driving on the LEFT all day, with the steering wheel on the RIGHT side.  Remember, these islands were at one time British and this is another one of the residuals I guess.  All day I was saying, LEFT LEFT LEFT.  Andy did just fine.  We traveled the island a bit south from here in Clarence Town and then went northward as far as Simms before turning around on this 80 mile Long Island....that IS it’s name, after all.   There is one main road, Queens Highway, stretching from end to end with lots of tiny settlements, each named after a one-time plantation owning family.   It is pretty much just scrub brush, some hilly terrain on the Atlantic side and a just a few pretty vistas along the way, but lot of settlements every few miles.  Only 4,000 live on this island.

Andy checking out the salt ponds
Highlights of our day were the Long Island Museum ($3 pp) that gave us a flavor of the island and it’s history as were the strange looking ponds with only a minimum amount of water in them.

They were laid out with stones making long rows of  big squares out of it all.  Seems they are salt ponds.  The tides bring in a bit of water and as it dries, the salt remains and is scraped off, becoming the product we buy.  I can’t figure out how they get the mud off the salt before selling it, however.  Discussion:  Can you find out how salt is made & tell me?!

Magistrate's Court in Simms, Long Island, Exumas

Old Jail in Simms
The guidebooks stated that one must see the Administrative Complex in Simms - so we did. What the guidebooks did not say was that these pink buildings are very old, run down, and somewhat falling down.  The prison is/was here along with the Magistrate’s Court, the Post Office, and what looks to be old slave type housing...all together on a tiny plot of land.  From the description, we thought this was going to be some new modern complex....surprise!  But it was interesting.   Gotta love these guidebooks....geez.

Simms, however, marks the geographic line of the Tropic of Cancer - the 23 degrees 30 line of latitude that marks the northern limit of the sun’s summer migration in the Northern Hemisphere.  So, south of Simms we are in the real TROPICS, no longer in the subtropics.  Upon arrival at the marina, we wondered why our satellite TV no longer worked.  We were told that because we are right on the Tropic of Cancer line, the satellites are too low in the sky to be of much use....can’t pick it up.  I wonder if this is why our wifi is so poor here too?  We will be cutting off our USA Direct TV tomorrow and are wondering what we might pick up as we continue cruising southward.  

Our most favorite Things To Do turned out to be the food we ate at Max’s Conch Bar.  Slamming on the brakes along Queen’s Hwy in Deadman’s Cay, we turned into this little shack lined with flags along the road to mark the spot and hopped onto bar stools at this roadside stand  The food was absolutely over the top and not expensive by Bahamian standards.
Making our conch salad

Chopping, Chopping
We had conch salad - watching Gene prepare it with large knife flashing rapidly as he chopped away.  In fact, the food was so good, we came back for dinner at 5:00 -- not terribly hungry, but not willing to pass up an opportunity to get more of the same - which we did.  Andy did order the cracked conch and it was good, but the conch salad is over the top.  We brought an extra order home with us for lunch tomorrow!  The ambiance at this road side stand is also great - quaint, cute, fun. 

From there, we drove to the Blue Hole in Deans, winding our way along dirt and gravel roads till we got to the beach along the eastern side of the island.    This Hole is the deepest known sinkhole in the world at 663 feet, with its entrance below sea level.  To my diving friends reading this - you can dive it.  It’s an 11 minutes descent to the bottom.  You can stay at the bottom no more than TWO minutes.  Upon your return to the top, you will spend FIVE hours in a decompression chamber!  In other words, no such diving is happening down there!

Deans Blue Hole is the site of a world class free diving competitive each year with competitors diving down, plucking off a line some kind of marker that states the depth and then returning to the surface.  The area is pretty, a little cove, with a sandy beach going out about 6 feet. Then the water turns dark blue and that is the hole  There is a 4,000 foot cavern underneath the hole that have never been explored.

 Speaking of caves, we called Leonard in Hamilton (VHF 16 “Cave Man” or check guidebooks for his cell #) and arranged to see the largest cave in the Bahamas.   It has been carved out of the limestone by the Atlantic and is pretty impressive.
More of the cave
Flashlights in hand, we wandered about, learning all about the Arawak Indians who once inhabited this place.  Bat guano is mined here, using it for fertilizer.  Happily, we saw only a few groups of bats stuck up on the ceiling as they rest migrate to other caves in the Bahamas and come back later in the year.

This cave has been in Leonard’s family forever - the Bahamas have what is called generational land owning and property is passed down over and over. 

Things are not as expensive here as they were in the other islands.  Food, things in stores and restaurant meals are somewhat less.  However, the ancient rental car was $70 for the day and the gas to refill was $5.65 a gallon.  There was no insurance on the auto - ‘costs too much, Mon’ and ‘besides, it’s hard to wreck around here with only one road going north/south’.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Staniel Cay to Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas March 2011

March 24, 2011
Being flexible is the name of the game!  Three weeks at Staniel Cay was not on our itinerary, but that’s okay.  We chilled out, met lots of great boaters & explored the area via dink and foot, waiting for weather and a potential buddy boat or two to travel further south with.

Moving a bit further south to Black Point Settlement, we anchored for a couple of days before heading out of Dotham Cut at 8:00 am to Georgetown, a straight shot offshore and uneventful. 
Black Sound Grocery Store

Black Sound looking over from anchorage to Atlantic over the trees

More of the beautiful waters in the Exumas

We fueled up on Tuesday, March 22 at Sampson Cay after being told that Sampson moved more fuel than did Staniel Cay.  Their prices seemed to be the same each time I checked.  Heart Attack:   We paid $5.61 a gallon for diesel.  And I screamed at their quote the week or so before of $4.88.  Live and learn.  These increases seem greater than what we hear is happening in the States.  I hope the rumors of cheap fuel further south in the DR, perhaps Puerto Rico and further down the island chain, closer to Venezuela pan out, recouping our budget.

Discussion Point:  Why is it important to obtain fuel from a marina that sells lots of fuel versus obtaining from a marina that only sells a little from time to time?

Discussion Point:  We purchased 300 gallons of fuel.  What did we have to pay for the fuel?  How much MORE did we end up paying than if we had fueled up the week before at $4.88 a gallon?

March 25, 2011

We always say what a small world this is and I am never ceased to be amazed at how true that is.  Shortly after we dropped the hook at Sand Dollar Beach on the Stocking Island side of Georgetown, we were greeted by the couple on a DeFever 49 pilothouse, just behind us.  Frank & Sal, aboard Fine Romance, were excited to see us and had been looking for us for several months, knowing we had to arrive in Georgetown one of these days.

Amazing - Frank had responded to a query I sent out over one of the boating websites asking a few questions regarding travel to the Caribbean.  I ultimately spent about an hour on the phone with him gathering all kinds of insights from him as they’d done the trip down to Martinique and back.  He was helpful then and very helpful again, coming on board and reviewing charts, anchorages and destinations with us.  I can’t believe we actually dropped our anchor right in front of his boat as Georgetown has several places to anchor and is a very large harbor area!

Tiny bridge one dinks thru to get to 'Lake' Victoria & grocery store & restaurants

Church seen from 'Lake' Victoria Georgetown
Andy & I spent the day wandering about Georgetown, walking around Lake Victoria.  We are impressed with the number of activities boaters sponsor -- including bridge groups, yoga, ‘cocktail parties’ on the beach, a Cruisers Net on VHF 68 every day that provides weather and a list of the day’s To Do’s, etc.  It is certainly an AARP active community during the winter months,  and one I’d enjoy spending a month or so in when we return this way.

Tonight, we plan to listen in on VHF at 8:15 PM to a ‘lecture’ on the night’s constellations above our heads given by a retired Navy world travelled navigator.  I’m looking forward to sitting on our bow, radio in hand and getting some of these stars straight in my head!

We'll depart Georgetown in the early morning, marking the beginning of our 'real' trip, cruising southward where not a lot of boaters venture.  We are finally really ON OUR WAY!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pulling out of our anchorage off Stocking Island at 7:00 am, Andy admitted to me he did not sleep well - anxiety over our long blue water passage today kept him awake every hour on the hour he said.  When one reads the waterway guides on the various inlets and routes, one could think the rocks and reefs jump out to grab you, just like some sea monster from below.  Then, when actually make some of these passages and in or out of an inlet, sweaty palms and all, we always say - “that wasn’t bad at all”.  It’s probably the lawyers again, making the guidebooks full of BUYER BEWARE language.

At any rate, we were a bit apprehensive going out of Georgetown as the sun, just coming up,  was in our eyes and we could not read the water.  The book said it is ‘important that you are right on top with your eyeball navigation’.  Not happening for us!  The problem is that one needs the sun behind you coming INTO our destination at the end of the day -  all those reefs again.  Obviously, there are only a certain number of daylight hours.  We are limited by the number of hours  it takes to get to our destination without getting caught in the waning light as we come into a place we have never been before.  We are trying to avoid any night cruising as we make our way across some pretty long distances between here & Puerto Rico.   Checking and re-checking our waypoints, we carefully stayed on the GPS routing and had no problems at all getting out into the Atlantic.

Discussion:  What is a waypoint?  Why are they important?

Andy’s real anxiety stemmed from reading “The Gentlemen’s Guide to Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant.  This is THE handbook for Caribbean cruising, but focused on sailors who need the wind in order to make the passages from Florida to Venezuela.  I’ve now read the book twice, highlighting and underlining it on every page.  I stay confused, feel like I’m standing on my head underside down, trying to figure out what Van Sant is saying AND I have some experience sailing.  His chapters are well focused on the weather, the winds and the tides and how to best use all three to get where you are going.  I keep trying to understand how to make his book relevant to us, a cruiser with two 300 HP diesel engines that can push thru wind and waves.

Van Sant’s book usually tells the boater to depart at night and to arrive the next morning, or to sail for two days before turning into an anchorage, etc. -- things we do not want to do!  We’ve finally decided that we can use his general knowledge regarding the winds and currents and his descriptions of anchorages all along the route to our advantage.  We will ignore a lot of everything else, but in doing so - our anxiety can increase.....what if we ignore the one critical point we should have accounted for?  Ah, well.  We are cautious, watch the weather and its patterns and always have a Plan B in our heads and on our charts should something go wrong.   Humm, worry, worry!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

Andy & Sharon @ Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
 March 3, 2011

Off we cruised to what we are told is a favorite Exuma destination -  Staniel Cay, just a couple of hours further south and with a well protected anchorage (except from the West) & good holding. 

We found a number of boats in the Big Majors Spot anchorage, but picked our way in, dropping out 125’ feet of chain in anticipation of the big blow coming for the next few days.  The water is spectacular here and so clear. 


Manata Ray

Nurse Shark
I saw several nurse sharks sleeping on the bottom, totally uncaring that we were above them, trying to anchor!  A huge manta ray swam by, likewise unconcerned that we were in his space. 

No matter the winds, we dinked into ‘town’, getting splashed by the waves and winds.  Wandering about in search of whatever we found nothing much as the one or two shops were closed.  We met up with the group at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for drinks and dinner.  A fun place - not a real yacht club by any means - but certainly the hub of all activity.  Dinking in to tie up, the area was loaded with sleeping nurse sharks and a couple of rays swimming about--- an amazing sight!  One must make a reservation here and pre order what you wish to eat several hours ahead.  All are served promptly at 7 PM - the food was good, promptly served and still hot!  There was not an empty seat anywhere.   The meal was a bit pricey, but then again, everything must be shipped in....$26 for grouper meal but $42 for a lobster meal!!  I’m still looking for any local fisherman/lobsterman to get my own personal fresh catch at far lower prices.  I must say, dinking back to the boats at 9:00 PM in the wind and cold and pitch black was a long wet ride.

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Swimming Pig @ Staniel Cay

Swimming in 6' of water
Ah Hah!  We found the pigs - or rather, the pigs found us this morning.  Dinking to the beach, carrots in hand, all us gals decided to check out this story about the swimming pigs on  Staniel Cay.  Sure enough, two big fat pigs raced (raced is relative in fat pig terms!) out of the woods, making a bee line for the water and our dink.  Snuffling and snorting, they poked at our dink, clearly anticipating being fed.

We finally dropped the  anchor, leaving the dink out far enough so a pig could not climb in - possibly destroying the rubber raft with pig

hooves!  The pigs are friendly and clearly loved the tummy rubs, snout rubs and the attention.   Several more came out of the woods, including a baby and two continued their nap under a tree near us without ever moving. We kept reminding ourselves that these ARE wild animals and could turn on us any moment.  A great time was had by all of us - a fun experience!

Saturday, March 5 2011
The wind has been howling for the past few days, making any trip in a dink hazardous to one’s safety, wet and cold and preventing any further passage making.  We’ve been lazy, catching up on ‘stuff’, including changing oil and zincs in the engine room - not me!  Scrubbing, doing laundry & some cooking kept me amused and busy.

As soon as the winds subside, I want to snorkel Thunderball Cave and a few other places.  Andy probably hopes the wind never quits.  He is not a huge snorkel fan....  Ah well, we plan to rent a golf cart and explore the entire island and to hike about.   Invited over to a neighboring sailboat for a glass of wine, we made another new friend, likewise stuck on his boat.  We spent an enjoyable couple of hours learning more about these islands and how to catch the lobster with the Bahamian sling we just bought.  If the wind will ever quit, I’m anxious to try!

Our anchor chain 10' under
The wind was the worst last night, swinging us round and round, causing the anchor alarm to go off 4 times between midnight and 3:00 AM, an indication that the anchor is dragging and the boat moving out of the predetermined ‘zone’.    Checking and rechecking, all appeared well, but this does make us nervous.  We now have binoculars with a compass in them and take bearings upon anchoring & our bearing remained the same.  Still, not a lot of sleep for me.

Someone lost their dingy - I heard a wife on the VHF calling to her husband in a dink, looking for theirs.  No luck, and then the conversation as he tried to find their boat in the dark was a bit unnerving - pitch black, only anchor lights bobbing about and strong winds - up to 40+ knots and a ripping through current, I was fearful for this man.  Finally, all got quiet, but the reports this morning is that the dink is not to be found.  That certainly will ruin a trip - try finding a dink and engine here in these islands at any reasonable price ($5,000 or thereabouts) and without one, one is absolutely STUCK on your boat with no means of transportation!  

A Very Wet Skipper

We, along with Jim & Diane and pup, Skipper, dinked into town to rent a golf cart in order to see the sights on Staniel Cay.  OMG -- soaked to the bone by the time we got to shore from the wind and waves, we shook ourselves dry just like the dog did and headed for our tour.

View of the Atlantic Ocean off Staniel Cay

Well, not too much to see here except some beautiful views from the top of the island; lots of trash about and junked boats and cars and much half finished construction.                                                                        

View from Staniel Cay, north side

View from Staniel Cay

Looking at the Atlantic Ocean from atop of Staniel Cay

View from Staniel Cay, overlooking the eastern shore - opposite side from the Atlantic Ocean.
Notice how shallow and calmer seas.  The lighter colors indicate the shallower waters.

Children go to school here just as they do everywhere.  The school on Staniel Cay, however, is pretty much a 'one room' school house.  All children wear uniforms to school on this island and all island's  we've been to thus far,

Tiny Staniel Cay Airport

Underway, repeating to Jim at every turn and curve -- drive on the LEFT; drive on the LEFT until the skies opened and rain poured on us.  We ducked into the shelter at the airport and huddled with the passengers awaiting their flights on the tiny planes flying in and out while it poured.

The moment it quit, the sun peeked out and we darted to the golf cart to get 2 minutes down the road when the sky opened again, re-soaking us.  Making it to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, we ditched the golf cart and ran for it.
Golf carts at Staniel Cay Airport- the TAXI's

Some lady felt sorry for Skipper, bringing him a towel. The shivering humans just suffered.  Finally, another break in the skies and we raced to the dink and back to the boats with the waves continuing the soaking.  Back on the boat, Andy & I beelined for hot showers and warm PJs.  Day over and it is only 4:00 PM. 

Sharon on Staniel Cay

 Sunday & Monday, March 6 & 7, 2011
After a lazy Sunday with winds calming, but still strong, Andy & I dinked to ‘town’ to stretch our legs, walking about the island.

Dinking back after a nice walk, we stopped at Ocean Dance, our friend's boat,  to invite them over for a dinner of black bean soup and to catch the sunset.  While aboard, the four of us planned our big trip for the next day.

Departing our boats aboard Jim’s larger dingy at 9:30 am on the very calm, windless Monday, we poked our way from our anchorage at Big Major’s Spot for an all day adventure, traveling about 15 miles north.  Ah, the water was spectacular as we zoomed along at about 8 mph.  Peering over the dink, I could see the blades of grass slowly waving on the bottom - no matter if the bottom was 3 feet below or 15 feet blow.  I lost count of the number of large - very large, reddish starfish I saw all along the way.  I saw a couple of nurse sharks, a few rays, lots of smaller conch lying on the sand,  but never saw any fish, except for the flying fish we would disturb, forcing them to zip across the water to get away from us.

One eye on the depth sounder at all times, me on the front of the dink, peering over and Jim standing at the helm, we tried to stay out of the shallows all around us and to certainly not hit any coral head sticking just under the surface.  Remember, the Bahamas are on a ‘shelf’ right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Realizing we were traveling on a falling tide, we needed to be extra careful about the depths we were traveling on.....more than once we’d slow, hold our breath and inch across a very shallow sandbar.  Reading the water colors does help, obviously, but shallow is shallow is shallow......

Taking a break on Compass Cay

Our first stop was Compass Cay, cited as one of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas.

I do believe, this time, the guidebook just may be right!  OMG the marina charges $2.50 a foot to overnight, plus $60 A DAY for electric hookup - very expensive! We paid $8 a couple to land here in the dingy (because we would be eating lunch there the fee was only $8 for two.  If no lunch, then $8 per person) a far better deal we thought!  We hiked about along the sandy trails and swam in the crescent shaped beach with its light tan colored sand and gently breaking waves.

There was a cute gazebo on the shore, with plastic chairs which we promptly placed at the water’s edge, each of us zoning out for about an hour, napping as the surf played at our feet.

Friendly Bonefish & Yellow Snapper
Forced by growling stomach’s, we made our way back to the ‘marina’, placing our lunch order....two choices:  Hamburger or Cheeseburger cooked on the outside grill by the marina staff.  Believe me, it was the best burger I’ve had in a long time - large & at $12, still worth it... or was it the growling stomach?  We lazed about, watching the numerous bonefish and yellow tail snapper play under the dock, along with about 4 nurse sharks.  We were too hungry to share our food with any of them....not a crumb left.

Fully satiated, we left in search of “The Aquarium”, a much touted reef off Cambridge Cay, several miles further north of us and within the Exuma Land & Sea Park.  We did have to call the Sea Park three times on VHF, rechecking again and again where this reef was as we meandered all over the place.  Finally, we spotted small mooring balls - The Aquarium!

Tying up and rolling off the dink, we swam about as hundreds of small fish surrounded us.  Oops, we’d forgotten to bring food for them!  Once they determined we had no snacks and being too large to make a snack out of us, they ignored us.

Yellows, pinks, blues and all other colors of fish were all over, with some soft and a little hard coral around, but nothing that GREAT.  Besides, the area to snorkel was very small!   I’ll say it again - I’ve never seen any snorkeling as great as in the BVI’s - not even Belize which we all thought was a bust.  The BVI’s are a major 10, and I can’t find anything else to compare.  We didn’t stay long - been there, done that, and as it was getting late in the day, we decided the prudent thing was to head ‘home’, some 15+ miles back. 

Arriving back at the boat about 5:00, we hit the hot showers.  PJs on by 5:30, I hit the bed with a good book.  Day was done and I was toast.

Friday, March 11, 2011
Still anchored in Big Majors on Staniel Cay, ready to go further south, but the weather isn’t co-operating.  Now, don't misunderstand.  The weather is really beautiful, just not appropriate for us to cruise out into the Atlantic.  The winds are very high and have been for some time.  Those winds and other storms 'kick' up the Atlantic Ocean, producing large waves, spaced close together.  That would mean we would be pounding out in the Ocean, up & down.  A very rough passage and one we are not anxious to take!  Anchoring off tiny islands in such strong winds could also be dangerous for us, so we do't go.  We are enjoying warm sunshine and stiff breezes.  At night, we often slip on a light jacket.

We did dink to Sampson Cay the other day for lunch - a great deal $2 meals & $2 beers.  This marina is the very prettiest thus far -- real green grass-- sod!  AND, luck!!

Piles of lobster & large fish all around the dock
The fishermen came in, loaded with huge lobster and all kinds of HUGE fish!  We bought 2 large lobster (fed 4 with the tails) and about 8 lbs of Nassau grouper, split between Ocean Dance & Finally Fun.  Bill was $110.  I would not let the fishermen just give me the lobster tails - I wanted the whole huge thing.  After dinner of lobster tails with all the fixings, I went to work on the large heads and long long long spindly things.  I got enough meat from the rest of the two lobsters to feed the 4 of us a great big lobster salad the next day.  However, my galley looked like a CRIME SCENE, with bits of shell; lobster head and stuff splattered just about everywhere!  What a MESS!  But, it was fun and certainly rewarding!!  Lobster lover that I am, I know how to maximize every single bite and no way was I leaving all that meat to be thrown overboard to whatever eats such stuff! 

Colorful Bahamian Homes on Staniel Cay

Other than that, we’ve been just piddling around, nothing special going on....a trip or two into Staniel Cay via dink to check out the newly delivered food supplies in the two grocery stores The Pink One and The Blue One, side by side.  The mail boat comes to this island every Wednesday, bringing mail and grocery stores foods.  Eager to replenish our produce, I hike the small hill, checking out both stores.  One dozen eggs = $3.85 and three tiny apples = $3.50 and one bag of 3 romaine lettuces = $8.50, I left, feeling very poor and wishing for a huge salad.  By the way, diesel fuel here & on Sampson Cay just north of here is $4.88 this week.  I could choke.

The winds picked up during the night.  Our anchor alarm sounded at 1:15 am and several times thereafter.  Another night of up/down check/re-check.  We’re certain we did drag a time or two, but our big Rocnar reset itself time and again.  Surveying the scene early this morning, we pulled anchor and moved within the anchorage to a wider space.  The wind is picking up and the rollers are surging into this anchorage steadily.  Getting in and out of the dink in order to check via our “lookie bucket” (a plastic bucket with a clear bottom) that the anchor was well set, we struggled mightily to get in and out of the swinging, bouncing dink onto our swim platform on the back of the bouncing boat safely and in one piece.

Sitting here at noon, I’m trying to stay on my stool at the galley counter as this boat sways wildly from side to side.   I don’t remember rolling this badly underway anywhere at sea, even without our stabilizers!

Andy is beginning to turn puke green, but I don’t want to tell him that.  The waves are rolling in big time and the storm isn’t due for several more hours.  This should get interesting before day’s end.  At least this storm is hitting during daylight - a first for us and brings a measure of comfort!  I’d rather fight the devil in the daylight!

Island Mentality
 While you are here
Stop a while
Sit a while
Observe a while
Listen a while
Relax a while
Meditate a while
Live a while longer

Ah, island mentality!   Wifi is spotty and difficult to connect to no matter than one pays $10 a day for the privilege.  When you log on to sign up and pay your $$, a note pops up that tells you to open a Kalick beer, (Beer brewed in the Bahamas) settle back, enjoy your beer while waiting for the connection.  Keep drinking the beer and you don’t care so much later on that it takes forever to shoot off an email, etc.  Funny, but not so funny.