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.  



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