Sunday, May 09, 2010

Beautiful Bahamas!

We left the Ocean World Marina in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic around 10 AM after some frustrating time waiting for the Drug Enforcement Police to board our boat and give us the clearance to leave. We should have arranged for him to come the day before but didn't understand the procedure. It didn't spoil our memory of the great service and hospitality we received there from the staff.
We had good weather predicted for our passage and it was everything we expected and a little more positive wind. This was a perfect off shore trip for me. The sails were up on a broad reach with not much force so we had to use the motor often. This means the seas were pretty calm. The skies were clear and we enjoyed the day and night passages. There was almost no boat traffic the whole time!
After two nights at sea it was great to see our first stop ahead though. Lovely Mayaguana has a long reef enclosed harbor on the leeward side, Abrahams Bay, where we once spent an afternoon with Diane and Mitch Korbey on our way south five years ago. This time we snugged up close to the reef and jumped in the water almost immediately. The color of the water was incredible. Scott did more snorkeling than I did as he saw a shark after forty minutes and that cooled my enthusiasm. They are just nurse sharks and not dangerous, but my imagination takes a sinister turn.
The wind picked up during the afternoon and from across the length of the bay so it was very choppy during the evening. We were off the next morning for another overnight to Conception Island - a Bahamas national park with no development at all. This is a beautiful place with endless stretchs of perfect white beaches and we wished we could have stayed for much longer, but we felt we needed to keep moving while the weather held. It was a short hop over to Georgetown the next morning, the south end of the Exumas chain.
Here we met old friends Ed and Benia on "Sea Angel", a Nauticat 44 (that's them with us at the stern of their boat near the top left; Ed blowing the conch at sundown top right; and "Sea Angel" herself at the top left). We have known them for about six years since we spoke on the VHF off Connecticut. We were last together at the Nauticat Rally near Baltimore five years ago. This was a happy reunion and we celebrated with a great dinner at St. Francis Marina. Here they introduced us to Lisa, Jon and Johnny (their 12 year old son) on "Just Us" (that's them above right in their dinghy with the sign they made to put at the cruiser memorial on Wardrick Wells). We all decided to leave the next morning together for a trip up the Exumas to Nassau.
We followed Sea Angel like obedient little ducklings north to Staniel Cay, the home of the famous Thunderball Cavern. Sean, Scott and I snorkeled there on our way south years ago and it loved it. This is a popular spot with a good sized Marina, restaurant and bar. On the way "Just Us" and ourselves caught fish. Scott caught a 16 pound mahi mahi and they a slightly smaller Wahoo - both great eating. We all got together that night on "Sea Angel" for a great fish dinner - fish chowder Heather made using fish stock cooked with the frames, sauteed Wahoo from Lisa and tortellini salad whipped up by Benia.
Lisa was very nervous about snorkeling let alone entering an underwater cavern but with moral support from Heather and her family she triumphed! It is a spectacular sight both above and under the water. A large dome with several rooms, lit from above by an opening in the roof, that is reached at low tide with a little space above your head and at higher tides by swimming underwater. We timed it for low tide. Lots of beautiful fish gather around you looking for handouts. The snorkeling outside the cavern was also great.
Two other highlights are close by. The pigs at the Major Spot anchorage reign supreme over their island. Two big pink and two equally huge spotted pigs wait on the beach to greet any boater getting close. They swim out and circle your dinghy and sometimes look like they are going to jump in! We came prepared with chunks of bread and threw them as far away as possible. Birds join in on the mayhem.
The second scarier attraction is the feeding frenzy at the fish cleaning spot near the marina. There the fisherman clean their catches and throw the offal into the water for the sharks and manta rays. Wow! No one swims around this area. We also walked around the island and visited the two small grocery stores - one pink and one blue. That's Jon and Johnny in front of the blue one and the owner of the pink one and her small daughter in front of The Pink Store. She was weaving straw for the local craft items. That night it was "Just Us" hosting dinner aboard. They made terrific fajitas with all the fixings. That's Lisa, myself and Benia left to right celebrating above right.
From here it was an easy half day to Warderick Wells, part of the Exuma Marine Park. In order to reserve a mooring one calls the day before at 9 AM and puts in their name. The next morning, after confirming all reserved boats are on line, the moorings are given out in order of the time received. Sometimes you have to wait several days. We happily received mooring assignments in the north bay all together. This is such a lovely spot. We expected to spend several days here so Scott and I just hung around the boat doing some cleaning. Scott scoured the teak decks with salt water and I polished the inside. We were the hosts this night for dinner. I made spaghetti with bolognese sauce and Scott made homemade bread. Another fantastic evening - party, party, and more party!
The next morning our plans suddenly changed. On our morning weather report from Chris Parker we heard that a big northern front was threatening to head south and close down passages over to Florida for awhile. We needed to be in Ft. Lauderdale by May 12 at the very latest. Ed and Benia also needed to make the crossing. So in an hour we were all packed up and off to Nassau. "Just Us" decided to go with us. It was a long but easy passage over the shallow banks. We were tied up in our marina by 5 PM. After haircuts from talented professional Lisa for Scott and I, we all went out to dinner.
Sadly we had to part the next morning. Lisa, Jon and Johnny were staying in the Bahamas for another week or two. They threw off our lines and waved good-bye. We'll all get together at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall.

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