Thursday, March 30, 2006

Staniel Cay to Georgetown

It was a lovely sail down to a one boat anchorage off a white beach near the Galliot Cut into Exuma Sound. Scott and Sean circumnavigated the island snorkeling (until they saw a shark) and exploring the high cliffs on the east side. Then we sat on the beach and watched the sun go down with drinks and snacks. The next morning early we carefully went through the cut and sailed down the sound to Georgetown. The fishing was fun but again we caught only barracuda, a fearsome looking fish and unedible in this area due to cigatera contamination.
Conch Cut into Elizabeth Bay was easy and calm and the sail down Stocking Island pretty with over a hundred boats anchored all along the beaches for miles. The channel into Georgetown harbor was very shallow and no one seemed to know anything at the Marina. They didn't even know it was high tide (it was). We went aground just off the docks and after a very scary fifteen minutes managed to get off and find someone to point out a way into a slip. There were only inches below us, if that, at low tide. Still it was very helpful to get water, groceries and settle Sean's
flight. We found a travel agent to help us and discovered he couldn't leave the next morning as planned, the timing was too short. This was very disappointing and meant he had to leave in just a couple of hours and spend the night in Nassau. The agent made reservations at a motel that Sean later reported was his first experience seeing cockroaches where he was about to sleep. They didn't wake him in the morning as requested but luckily the cab driver whom Sean had befriended the night before came up to his room and woke him up (at 5:30 in the .morning).
We left the marina at high tide the next day and anchored off Volley Ball Beach. There are many volley ball courts there and at least one was in constant use. A small beach bar, Chat and Chill, and a conch stand round off the facilities. Many hiking trails wind all over the island and there are only a few small homes and one brand new tiny hotel. The beaches on the east side have breakers crashing on them and coral reefs off shore while the beaches on the west side are quiet - all are dazzling white and the water every shade of blues and green. We hiked up and down the hills in between - cruisers have placed benches facing lovely views and the vegetation in between is cool and restful out of the sun

Thursday, March 23, 2006

James Bond and the endangered Iguanas

From Allen Cay we motor sailed down the chain of islands in brilliant
sunshine and light winds. We called the Exemua Marine Park officials on our VHF and checked in. Unfortunately the best anchorage there was filled up, so we continued to Emerald Rock and anchored. We were still within dinghy range of the park headquarters. Sean and Scott went in to the cocktail party on the beach later while I vegged out on the boat. The next day we hiked up Boo Boo Hill with Doug and Sandy from "Interlude". A collection of hand made signs painted or carved on wood or stone decorate the top of the hill.
Hundreds of cruisers have left their mark here and it's very picturesque. We went back to the beach for a swim and snorkel and then hiked all around the south end of the island. The views were amazing but we wished we had taken water by the end of the trip!
We left early the next morning for our next destination. The entrance into Staniel Cay was only guaranteed at 6 ft. so we timed our arrival for close to high tide. Near the yacht club the channel turns dark blue and deep. It winds around a series of small cays and into a harbor where an inlet empties into the Exuma Sound. The currents were very strong and we argued a bit about an anchoring spot. Sean pointed out a deep channel through two of the small cays which led to a good looking area surrounded by the pale blue sandy shoals. After setting the anchor Scott and Sean dove to check it.

One of the close by cays contains Thunderball caverns where the Bond movies Thunderball and Never Say Never were filmed. We explored them three times over the two days there, both at high and low tides. Several entrances on three sides lead into a series of chambers, one of which was lit dramatically from above by several openings. Under the water schools of fish surrounded us - many visitors feed them. Outside around the cay were some great coral heads. From under the water inside the caverns windows of light indicate the exits and highlight the underwater landscape. Next we walked around the island exploring and trying to do some grocery shopping.

This is a much different process here. There are three "grocery" stores here on Staniel. Each contains various canned goods, several each of medicinal and cosmetic products, a few potatoes, onions, carrots and occasionally a forlorn head of iceberg lettuce. A freezer contains some frozen meat and ice cream products. A refrigerator contains eggs, two types of cheese and butter. There is no fresh milk for example or any other vegetables. One big plus is freshly baked bread - a few loaves at each store. That's about it. The prices are very high naturally. We assume the local people do a weekly trip to Nassau or Georgetown for their shopping.
The Staniel Cay Yacht Club (really a marina) has some charming multicolor cottages for rent and several huge motor yachts are tied
up there - along with a classic wooden sailing yacht that took all of our breaths away. The restaurant and bar ceiling is hung with boat flags from all over the world. There is free internet service for customers so this evening we're going in for dinner with the computer. It's a single sitting and you order your meal in advance. Tomorrow we're sailing south around 20 miles and anchoring close to the reasonably deep Galliot cut through the islands into the Sound. We'll then sail 40 miles on Thursday down the coast to Elizabeth Harbor and Georgetown. Conch Cut into the harbour is a tricky entrance so we're planning to do it early in the afternoon and get settled in a slip at a marina. Sean has a very early plane flight to Nassau on Friday morning and we need to buy his ticket Thursday afternoon. It is going to be very hard to say good-bye.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Underway in the Exumas

Nassau was home for over week. We got lots of boat projects done. A hint: Don't take your outboard apart till you have all the pieces you need to put it back together again!
Nassau is the biggest population center in the Bahamas with over 100,000 inhabitants. With lots of resorts and cruise ships in port there were crowds of tourists. We heard the Sean Connery was in his home on Nassau recovering from surgery and I guess that's why we did not get invited over for drinks. Oh well.
Nassau is the cross road between the northern Bahamas and the Bahamas Out Islands and the Caribbean further south. As a result there were lots of cruising friends passing through while we were there including the Karen M, Interlude, Salty Paws and Sea Angel. Sean arrived on schedule Wednesday night and Thursday morning at slack tide we departed for the 40 mile sail to Allan's Cay in the Exumas in company with Doug and Sandy on Interlude. It is hard to imagine better cruising than the Exumas. The water is clear as glass. The coral is spectacular and very accessible in shallow waters. Our first stop was Allan's Cay, home to the only remaining Bahamas iguanas. They are an endangered species and strictly protected. However, they are thriving on Allan's Cay by approaching each boat that lands looking for food. It is a little unnerving sitting on a beach having cocktails surrounded by expectant iguanas! Never the less Sandy and Doug look might cool here in this photo. Saturday we reluctantly departed Allan's Cay for Wardrick Wells Cay. Wardrick Wells is the headquarters of the Exumas Land and Sea Park and hard as it was for us to imagine is even prettier that Allan's Cay. The turquoise blue color of the water over the sandy bottom is almost beyond belief. Sitting on the deck of the boat and seeing the blades of sea grass 25 feet underwater is astonishing. Snorkling, hiking and a Saturday night beach party are keeping us busy here. Tomorrow its off to Staniel Cay, home the the grotto where parts of the Thunderball James Bond movie were filmed. We are looking forward to snorkeling it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Docked in Nassau

All kinds of information go into making a decision about a longer passage. In this case we had to leave our mooring in Hope Town around noon, high tide was at 1PM (necessary to make our way out the long, shallow, narrow channel), the reef cut out of the Abaco Sound needed to be passable and weather conditions for the passage, do-able. A cold front was arriving the next morning bringing some higher winds and possible thunderstorms so we wanted to be at our destination around dawn. Eleuthra was difficult as we needed full daylight to enter the channel there and by that time the weather would have deteriorated so we decided to go to Nassau. The entrance to the harbor there is very wide and deep. We exited the Abacos bank through the north Man-O-War cut and had a clear, sunny day with light winds as we motorsailed south along the reefs. At nightfall we passed Cherokee Landing and Scott heard a call for help over the VHF radio. A fisherman had lost power and was stranded near the reef. His radio was too weak to reach further. Scott arranged for calls to his family and they sent out another boat with help.
It was a clear starry night and the wind started to build, unfortunately mostly right on the nose. This is one of the many times we're glad we have our big heavy boat and engine. For a number of hours we were bucking wildly as we pounded into the wind and waves. As predicted though it veered west later and our sails filled, stabilizing the boat. When we entered the New Providence Channel we encountered many huge ships. Tracking their lights and positions on the radar is a full time job for whichever of us is on duty. I always try to get the sunrise on my watch - it's a dramatic, beautiful and longed for event. In this case the lights of Nassau were welcoming us ahead as well. We rounded the lighthouse and shot up the channel at 7:20AM.
At this point the winds were 20 plus knots and gusty. The first anchorage was full and many of the boats were dragging and trying to reset their anchors. We tried three times to set ours on the opposite side but when we finally appeared set, a barge operator ordered us to move. We gave up there and tried another anchorage to the south. There the currents and difficult entrance made it equally hard.
 We did manage to settle ourselves but we were not comfortable. In addition our outboard wasn't working and it was clear we could not row to shore with the difficult currents. We threw the budget considerations out the window and called the Nassau Boat Haven.
Maneuvering into a slip there with the wind and the currents was very exciting. I had so much adrenalin in me after we tied up, I had to lie down. It was fantastic to step out onto that solid dock! Scott and I had a wonderful lunch at their restaurant and then went fast to sleep.

So we're waiting here for Sean's arrival on Wednesday, the 15th. Our "to do" list is enormous but we're slowly checking off each item. After a morning of work, we take long walks and explore Nassau and Paradise Island. We visited the Atlantis Resort and took a time share sales pitch in return for dinner at one of their restaurants. It's quite a complex!
We've met a number of couples here and several old friends of ours are on their way from Florida. We spend an hour plus each day keeping track of the weather and it looks good for heading across the banks to the Exuma chain on Thursday or Friday after Sean arrives. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Underway again!

We have been enjoying ourselves for this last week as we get the boat back in shape after its winter lay-up. Yesterday we went to a Barefoot Man concert at Nippers, our favorite Abacos beach bar. The pictures here show the front deck and the beach on another quieter day. We didn't want to have our camera with us at this party! We were there with about three thousand of our closest Abacos friends, quite a nice day. Scott was particularily enjoying himself as "Show me your tits!" is
one of the entertainer's key phrases. Marti Gras strings of beads were flying everywhere when as you may know, items of clothing were lifted to reveal several usually covered body parts.
 We took a ferry over from Hope Town as the anchorage there was packed. Several women in their seventies joined us on the ferry and were a lot of fun. Everyone danced, drank and ate the generous pig roast dinner. And happily we had the ferry captain to drive us all home.
Our outboard is one of our most important items needing repair - we've been doing a lot of rowing meanwhile. We were planning on staying here for a few more days to work on our outboard. The repair parts arrived, but it seems that the trade winds, which have been weak so far, will be filling in later in the week. This would make the trip to Nassau unpleasant then.
So, off we go on an 18 hour overnight to Nassau while the getting is good.
It will be our first passage since mid-November. Hopefully, we remember how to do it!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Back on "Scott Free" again

It's been three months since we left our boat during which we visited our families and friends up north and in California. Scott did some consulting work and I taught skiing at Okemo. It had generally been a milder than usual winter but on the day we left it was 8 degrees. We left our coats in the car and ran for the terminal. Our three flight segments from Boston to Marsh Harbour on February 27 went smoothly for us but not our luggage. We had tried to carefully weigh our three black duffel bags to make the 50 lb limit each but they went over the limits at checkin. Luckily we were able to stuff our carry on bags with the smallest heaviest elements until they were acceptable. Our fourth piece was the lovely folding carriage that Zoe and George gave us for Christmas. All four didn't make our last flight to the Bahamas and arrived at various times the next day.
Our boat survived it's winter rather well. A tribe of lizards had made their home under our dinghy and it took two days of cleaning inside and out to make it shine again, but now we're just spending time fixing all the normal breakage. The stuffing box leaked and needed to be tightened (very difficult access), our outboard motor gear shift wouldn't budge and our electric windless (this pulls up the anchor) was dead. These are just the big items. Still, "it's a boat", as everyone is fond of reminding us.

We stayed at the boat yard two days and then anchored for two days in Marsh Harbour. Provisioning was a lot easier with our new cart! At one point it held four cases of juice and soda, a bag of laundry and three bags of groceries. There is WIFI available in the harbor and we made voice over internet calls to many people right from our boat. This is an amazing change from last year when we had trouble calling home even from the local pay phone. .
Our new kyack was rescued from the customs office at a cost of $380 (the boat only cost $790) and six hours of running about filling out forms. A front loader carried it to the edge of the freight dock and we paddled it back to the dinghy dock. We've already used this extensively as the outboard isn't working and our dinghy doesn't row very well
On Friday we sailed over to Hope Town on Elbow Cay and tied up to a mooring under the candy red and white striped light house. This charming small enclosed harbor is packed with boats, many here for most of the winter. Pastel hued small cottages line the harbor and we arrived just in time for "Heritage Day".
The whole community turned out for parades (on land and through the harbor), and fete type activities. Scott and I had our first swim of the season over at the miles long white beach. The water was 75 degrees - about the same as the air. It's been dropping down in the 60's at night and we're using at least one blanket
Most of the time though Scott is trying to fix our broken items. Parts for the outboard are arriving on Tuesday (hopefully) and he's got every tool and manual out trying to diagnose the problem with the windless. Pulling the anchor up by hand yesterday was a laborious and time consuming process . The stuffing box has been fixed and our bilge pumps are no longer laboring, so that's one down.
We met a terrific couple from Columbia and enjoyed their company before we left. Luis and Natalia are cruising on their small but well equiped "Vagamundo". The four of us walked around one end of the island on the beaches and enjoyed drinks and appetisers on their boat the next evening.

We hope to leave Tuesday for Little Harbour at the end of the Abacos and then sail the 55 miles down to Spanish Wells near Eleuthera on Wednesday, but we'll see. From there it's a day sail over to Nassau to pick up Sean on March 15. He'll be with us until the 24th as we cruise down through the Exuma chain to Georgetown. Diane and Mitch are joining us there on April 1 and we plan to go through the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic with them.