Sunrise Service

Sunday March 31, 2013

When Brian found out we’d be on Long Island for Easter Sunday, he had been very interested in finding a catholic church service to attend and put a request out on the morning cruiser’s net. While he had been given the names of a few churches along Queen’s Highway, all but one requiring some kind of transportation to get there, he thought that him and Stephanie might be trying to hitch a ride just to attend. What we also heard on the net though, is that Penny and John at Fairhaven like to host a sunrise service themselves on the beach. They had done it last year with about 12 people in attendance, met just before the sun came up, sung some hymns, and then participated in a potluck with mimosas. There was no part of this that was sounding bad to Matt and I either so we agreed to join if Brian and Stephanie were planning on going. Ren and Ashley once again graciously offered to give us a ride there since it was three miles up the road from where our dinghy would be parked at LIB. Finally getting tired of the long dinghy rides into shore, both us and Rode Trip had moved our boats closer to the dinghy dock but still set our alarms at 5:30 that morning in order to meet Nila Girl at the docks by 6:00.

Matt and I climbed in with Ren and Ashley while Rode Trip hopped a ride with Alli and her dad Joe. None of us were exactly sure where to go, just to turn right on the road across from some restaurant. Even though we thought we were leaving a little late, we ended up being the first cars there which led to a little off roading down a beaten trail while we looked for everyone else. Turning around and bottoming out the car a few more times we finally saw more headlights on the horizon and followed the other cars to the correct beach. There was a group of close to 20 people this year and we got busy setting our food up on tables and placing chairs in a circle around it. Sipping on the hot coffee that Stephanie brought us, we introduced ourselves to a few new people before the ‘service’ got started. It was very short and sweet, a prayer to start while we held hands in a circle, and then anyone who wanted to say a few words was more than welcome to. We tried to follow this with a few hymns, but we only got as far as Amazing Grace when we realized the gusting wind from the Atlantic coast was drowning out everyone’s voice and no one was even on the same chord, or the sheets of lyrics were beginning to blow out of people’s hands. It was a great effort though and I don’t think anyone was disappointed in our trying.

After that we broke out the food and the champagne. Using the dyed hard boiled eggs that Ashley made, we had a little ‘egg war’ where two people would smash their eggs together and the person without a crack would move on to the next challenger. In the mix of food were things like homemade bread and jam, quiches, and brownies. It is rarely a bad idea to go to a potluck kind of event when cruisers are around because everyone has at least one dish they do really well and I never mind taking advantage of that. While enjoying all this flavorful food and bubbly mimosas, Matt and I talked to all kinds of different cruising couples, lots who wintered in the Bahamas while working back in the sates in the summer, but all were excited for us that we were out traveling at our age. As strange as it sounds, this is the first time that Matt and I have been ‘the young ones’ in a group of cruisers since we always seem to find people near our age. In this group though, besides Rode Trip and Nila Girl, we were the youngest by at least 20 years and up to 40. This is the ‘cruising group’ we were told from the beginning that we would encounter yet it has taken us 7 months to do so. They were all great people though, and very easy to talk to since we all have this huge thing in common.

With such and early wake up time that morning it wasn’t long before our eyes started drooping and either the lack of sleep or full glass of now champagne only (who would have guessed that more of that was brought than juice?) that was making me want to crawl in the sand for a nap. Luckily we had an easy out because Ren and Ashley needed to get to the blue hole and they were our ride home. I barley got the headband out of my hair when we got back before I was asleep on the settee for a good two hours. Later in the afternoon while the guys were out trying their luck at fishing, Stephanie and I took her kayaks out to a little sandy cay by where we were anchored for a little relaxing and reading in the sun. When we got there another older cruiser couple was out walking their dogs and we went up to say hi. This is a conversation I have a feeling I’ll have to start getting used to very soon:

Couple: “Are you to here on vacation?”

Us: “No, we’re here in boats as well.”

Couple: “Oh, so you’ve rented a boat to spend your vacation on?”

Us: “No, we’re also cruisers. We came here in our own boats.”

Couple: “So there’s four of you traveling on one boat?”

Us: “No. Each of us and our significant others own our own boat. That we each came here on separately. Cause we’re also cruisers.”

Couple: “So you’re from Florida? You just came down to the Bahamas for a few months before you have to go back?”

Us: “No, we came from Michigan and New Hampshire. We’re going to be out cruising for 4-5 years.”

Couple: “But you’re so young!! What do your parents think of this?”

 

Maybe the conversation sounded more degrading in my head than it actually was, or we really are such a rarity that people are shocked to see anyone under 45 doing what they’re doing. We were already nicknamed ‘The Kids’* during happy hour at Long Island Breeze on Friday and it looks like it’s going to start following us. It just irks me if people were to look at us and say we shouldn’t be out here because of our age (not that this couple was…I think). First let me say, we are in our 30′s. We did not just graduate from high school and jump on a boat. We know what we are doing and we have been planning and preparing for it for a long time. Second of all, when did 30 become so young to the point that we need training wheels to go out and do anything on our own? I’m sure that forty years ago no one looked at a 30 year old cruiser and exclaimed “My goodness, you are too young to be out doing this! We should have left you in our overprotective system another 20 years at least to prepare you!” Our parents? We didn’t have to ask their permission to leave. We told them what we are doing and they’re happy for us and proud of us for taking the initiative to live our dreams before it becomes too late to do so. To me, this seems like the perfect age to take this kind of trip, for however long we decide to do so.

I’m sorry, that’s my rant for the day. This post started out all nice with friends and kindness and mimosas and now I’ve ruined it by rambling about something that really isn’t even that important in the grand scheme of things. I apologize. Let me just get back to my happy, cheery, sun is shining water is sparking frame of mind. Happy Easter everyone.

 

*For the most part, I like that nickname. The people that gave it to us did it in an endearing way, knowing fully well that we are capable of what we are doing, are excited that there is some young blood in the mix, and wished that there were more of us. It only annoys me when people think that because of our age we are clueless or incompetent. I think for the kind of trip we’re planning I’d much rather do it at 30 than at 60. But we’re going a completely different route that those cruisers that look at us with concern and that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

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Dean’s Blue Hole

Saturday March 30, 2013

Today was the day we were going to Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest in the world at over 600 feet, with two world champion free divers, Ren and Ashley Chapman. Having just met us yesterday, they graciously offered to cart the four of us with them down to the hole where they go to practice almost daily. Loading up our masks, fins, snorkels and wetsuits, we crammed everything into the trunk of their car, and then proceeded to pack the four of us into the back seat. The drive was only 30 minutes, and Stephanie offered to sit in Brian’s lap while I squeezed into the middle between them and Brian. Speeding down Queen’s Highway to the south end of the island, we’d go for miles without passing anything at all, and then a few houses here and there. For being such a large island it only has about three towns that are heavily inhabited, and between them seem to be just a few small shack type restaurants. The drive seemed to go by fairly quick, with all of us still interested in the roadside scenery, but as soon as we pulled up to the hole the four of us spilled out of the back seat and went to grab our gear from the trunk.

Matt was the first one in the water, throwing on his fins and slinging the camera over his shoulder while the rest of us stood on shore and chatted. I was the next to gear up and go in, and after Brian and Stephanie took a little hike around the surrounding cliffs, they too made their way into the hole. What I had originally expected from it and what it turned out to be were completely different. I don’t know why, but I had assumed you’d be able to see far into the depths of the hole, almost as if it would be backlit for my viewing pleasure. What it turned out to be instead was a big black hole into which you could see nothing. Overall I think this helped with my swimming over it since you couldn’t even get close to telling how deep it was which eased my fears of falling into a black abyss, but as they say, you can just as easily drown in 30 feet of water as you can 300. So back and forth I went swimming across it, occasionally trying to dive down a little bit to get a better glimpse of the fish swimming around. Ren and Ashley were on the clock with a few students learning the art of free diving, so while they weren’t hanging around with us while we swam around, giving tips on how to dive a little deeper, they didn’t mind if we swam all over, as long as we were not to loud or distracting the students trying to dive.

Here’s a little set-up on what goes on there. Just in case I’ve gotten a few of the facts wrong, feel free to correct me, Ren or Ash. In the middle of the hole is a large platform with weighted lines running from one end to the other, and a pulley system at one of the edges. While teaching or practicing, a line will be lowered to a certain depth in the water with a weight at the end of it. After staying on the surface of the water for 30-60 minutes to acclimatize to the water and work on breathing techniques, the diver will work their way down the line, tapping the weight to mark they had gone to the desired depth, and then slowly work their way back up the line. Each time they come back up they need to give assurance that they are ok, and after a few minutes, they’ll go back down again. This is done over and over, each time with the weighted marker going further into the water and causing the diver to have to go a little deeper to reach it. I think (don’t quote me) that after enough general practicing like this has to be done, the diver doesn’t need to walk themselves up and down the line, but will just run one hand along it as a guide and they freely dive down. All of this is done without any kind of oxygen supply, just a single breathe taken by the diver.

Matt made a few attempts on his own, near the side of the hole and not the line, just to see how his skills were. He was able to touch a little ledge before the bottom really dropped off, and that’s supposed to be about 30 feet deep. I’m not very good with equalizing, my ears will always start to pop and I haven’t been able to work out that issue, so at the moment I’m about a 10-15 foot diver. When we tired ourselves out we went to sit on the platform, and Ren demonstrated a few breathing techniques, simulating a 200 foot dive. It was very impressive, and as easy as they say it is to learn, I have a feeling I won’t be diving deeper than 20 feet for a long, long time. We also got into a conversation about flippers since Ren was wearing a kind that we had never seen before. They were extremely long, looked to be made of carbon fiber, and had botties that laced up around your feet. When Matt asked to try them out, a mass flipper exchange began with all the guys trading around their flippers to see how they were different from their own. Ren’s were very long and flexible, Matt’s were medium and hard, and Brian’s were short but flexible. The real fun came when one of the students visiting from Austria, Jacob, lent the guys his practice fins, which looked like one big flipper. Matt had a blast with those, swimming quickly back and forth over the hole and performing dolphin kicks.

Stephanie and I sat off to the side of the platform, her soaking up the sun while I practiced diving board-esque dives off the back side of the platform. Then it came time for something I knew I couldn’t avoid. Something I had said earlier in the day that I would do, and there was no backing out now. With Matt and Brian next to me we jumped back in the water and made our way over to the side of the large cliff that hung over the blue hole. We were all going to make the 30 foot jump from the top down into the water. Down at the platform it didn’t look very high at all and I knew the water was deep enough to support the jump. But as I climbed barefoot higher and higher up the jagged coral, that water was starting to look very far away. Once I got all the way to the top I looked over and got naucious, unsure if I’d be able to go through with it. Brian was the first to jump off, in a spot about 5 feet lower than I was. He plunged into the water and then surfaced again, swimming back to the platform where everyone was still sitting. Although it took a moment of contemplating, Matt was the next to go, following the same pattern. Now I stood at the top alone, my heart thundering in my chest, but knowing I could not face the shame of walking back down the hill. Taking a deep breath, I knew there was enough water below to support me and no rocks to accidentally bounce off on my way down. I leaped off the side where the feeling of vertigo only lasted for a second before I caught control and remembered to go in with my toes pointing, and then splashed into the cool deep water.

Coming to the surface I expected a hero’s applause from everyone who had just witnessed my death defying jump, but all I got were a few claps from my friends and a sedated “Oh hey, she jumped” from anyone else watching. I was still on top of the world though, as this had gone much better than my rope swing jump into a river about ten years ago, something Matt’s still surprised I survived.* Almost tempted to do it a second time just because I could, I instead opted to sun myself on the platform before swimming back to shore so Stephanie and I could beach comb while the guys continued to swim and dive. In the early afternoon Ren and Ashley piled us back into their car for the ride home, but not before stopping for the island’s best conch burgers along the way. I told Matt we could not leave the Bahamas before I had the chance to get one. The food was delicious, the company was great, and I was so worn out that I didn’t even make it to ten o’clock before passing out.

 

 

*When Matt and I were about 18, we went with a group of friends to a rope swing that dropped you into a river. Instead of jumping from a tree that was right next to or hanging over the water though, the tree we were using was on a 20 foot bluff above the water, also set back about 20 feet from it. When it was my turn I grabbed onto the rope, took my feet off the tree stump that was giving me my backwards momentum, and went flying towards the water. Except, I never made it that far. As soon as I had gotten to the point that I was past the bluff but not yet to the water, my arms couldn’t hold on any longer, and I let go, dropping 20 feet to the ground below. I landed on my butt in hard sand, a little shocked, but otherwise ok. Knowing that this incident might scare me from rope swings for the rest of my life, I got back up to do it a second time. And the same thing happened!! This time I made it into about six inches of water though, still on my butt in soft sand and small stones. Once again I was not ingured, but I had not been able to jump from high places into water since then.

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Good Friday Fish Fry

Friday March 29, 2013

Trying to stay on our boats for the good part of the morning and early afternoon, we didn’t want to make it into shore for the fish fry too early all started to get restless for shore a little earlier than we thought and decided to make our way in a little earlier than planned. We found out yesterday that the fish fry was to go from 1-6, but Island Breeze was having a happy hour beginning at 5 that we definitely wanted to make it to. Parking the dink at Long Island Breeze once more, we swore that the 20 minute ride in from where we were anchored on the far end of the bay was not worthwhile and that if we were going to be here for a few more days we’d be moving in much closer. Cutting through the little paths that led between LIB and the regatta site where the fish fry was being held we could hear the music blasting away long before we ever got close. Seeing that you needed to buy tickets for both food and drinks we quickly purchased them and got in line for our fish fry. At this point the music was pumping so loud that we could barely get our orders in with which sides we wanted and had to keep yelling at the woman behind the counter although she found no reason to speak up while repeating it back to us. I had no idea if I’d end up with fish or chicken, and I was ready to take any two sides they chose to give me as long as there was food in front of me.

When all four of us had our food and drinks we sat at a nice set of tables with tiki hut roofs, overlooking the water. The fried fish that most of us ended up getting (Matt had to be the odd one with chicken), looked very similar to what we had just caught in Georgetown and tasted every bit as delicious. It was my first time having a whole fried fish though and a little strange still having the skin attached and picking the meat from the bone. Reminding me of our crab night back in Annapolis, I left a lot of the stuff I wasn’t sure about alone but was way too full to worry about if I had glazed over perfectly good fish. I figure I’ll still have a lot of chances to try. When we finished eating we figured we should try and mingle with some of the other cruisers in the area instead of staying in our own little group. Knowing that most cruisers are very friendly and outspoken, we went up to one table and waited for a few minutes to get any kind of acknowledgment but no one ever looked at us. We probably could have forced our way into the conversation, but I had spotted a group of people closer to our age that I wanted to talk to instead anyway. This also looked like a close knit group of people but Matt took it upon himself to interrupt and introduce himself.

One way that he found an in was because two of the people at the table were wearing hats that looked like they were made from palm leaves. Stephanie had wanted to ask about them anyway to find out how she or Brian could make one since they learned a little about basket weaving out of palms and thought a hat would be the perfect thing to add to the collection. What we found out after a few more introductions is that of the six people at the table, only two of them were cruisers like us. Their names were Ren and Ashley, an in addition to being cruisers, they are also world champion free divers. Everyone else at the table had flown in to take lessons from them at a blue hole on the south side of the island. They had been living in Long Island for the past five months on their boat Nila Girl (named for their late dog), and were at the blue hole almost every day either practicing or giving lessons. Ashley currently holds a few records for free diving including deepest with no fins, but is now taking it a little easy since there are expecting their first child this fall. Also in the group was a guy named Shiv and a girl named Alli just in Long Island for a week or two while taking lessons.

While telling them that we were very interested in seeing the blue hole and were thinking of hitching a ride there the next day, Ren and Ashley offered to take us with them in their car, as long as we didn’t mind squeezing the four of us into the backseat. It was not an issue for us at all and we were just thankful for the offer since we heard it can be a bit difficult for four people to try and catch a ride together anywhere and thought we might have to split up to get to the hole. We asked both of them a few more questions about free diving since it’s something we didn’t know much about, and although I’m sure they’re busy fielding questions like them all the time, they were very nice in answering all our inquiries. Next on our question list was the initial reason we came over, the cool palm hats that Ashley and Shiv were wearing. This was something that Ren was very excited to talk about and mentioned that he had some fresh palms back at a friend’s boat and that if we were planning on going next door to Long Island Breeze for happy hour that he could show us a few things. How could we resist an offer like that? Not that we were about to turn down happy hour anyway, but it was also nice to immediately be taken into a new group like we had always belonged. Ren even made sure that our bracket for the davits was given to the local welder who was also at the fish fry and was told we’d have it back first thing Tuesday, after all the Easter holiday festivities were over. Score for us!

With cold Kaliks in hand we all gathered on the deck next to the pool to watch Ren do his magic. A bigger crowd of other interested people gathered and his first lesson was in weaving a basket. Although I should have been paying attention, I was looking for lessons on a hat and decided to mingle with other cruisers instead. I met a lot of great new people, including Penny who we had heard on the net a few times. Her and her husband John own a home named Fairhaven a few miles north of LIB and are very sociable and friendly, not to mention funny as hell. Every few minutes I’d check in on basket weaving lessons and found Brian along with a few others already weaving away on their own. I asked about hats but found that you have to learn to weave a basket before you can move on to a hat. I guess I’ll have to rely on Brian to help me with that since I was so excited to skip ahead to a hat that I never learned the basics. It didn’t take long for happy hour to turn into night and before I knew it everyone was parting ways and heading back to their dinghies. We had set out that morning to experience a little local culture and hopefully make a new friends and I’d have to say we were pretty successful on all fronts. Plus Rode Trip now has a nicely woven basket to hold fruits and veggies. I’d say it was a good day.

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Beauty and the Beach

Thursday March 28, 2013

 

After our somewhat rough passage from Georgetown to Thompson Bay Long Island yesterday, we gave ourselves the evening to relax and didn’t plan any kind of group get together for fishing, games, or even just hanging out with a beer in hand. So after listening to the cruiser’s net this morning, we were all ready for a shore excursion. Knowing there was a dinghy landing on a beach, but completely unsure of how far from a road it was, we kept traveling along the shore until we came upon Long Island Breeze, a resort/restaurant on the island. All four of us were amazed by how clean and immaculate the building was. For the most part everything we’ve seen so far in the Bahamas is a little run down and overgrown, but you could tell this place was constantly maintained. We tied up to the floating dinghy dock and walked up the boardwalk, past lounge chairs on the beach and cute little cottages until we reached the main road. The first order of business was to find the welder so we could hopefully get the brackets for the dinghy fixed. It was something we were really hoping could be finished that day, since during the net they mentioned that with Easter weekend coming up, the town basically would shut down for Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the Easter Monday Regatta. If we couldn’t get the piece fixed today or Saturday, we’d be staying at the island for quite a few days.

With no signs of any kinds on the road to tell you where the body shop/welder was, we went up to a building lined with beat up cars, hoping to get lucky there. Searching around for a few minutes we didn’t see another soul around and decided that a walk over to the beaches on the east side of the island would be a good distraction until we could check back later. Stopping into one of the local grocery stores for an ice cold Coke and directions, we found that the road right next to their store was about a 10 minute walk to the beach. Setting out on the paved road it was apparent the 20 knot winds that were blowing on the water were almost non-existent on land and it quickly warmed up. After just a few minutes of walking though, we came to the top of a hill and could see the Atlantic on the other side, bringing a refreshing breeze up with it. Although Long Island is very long (about 80 miles), it’s only 4 miles at it’s widest point, so getting from one side to the other isn’t very hard. The pavement turned into a dirt road which then dropped us into a sandy trail right up to the beach. The first thing that caught my eye was a giant boulder in the water that looked like something out of a magazine enticing you to far off exotic locations. Which I guess this would count as? The second thing I noticed was all the garbage on the beach.

Since we’d been spending most of our time on the leeward sides of islands the entire trip, or were in the Great Bahama Bank or Exuma Sound, this was our first exposure to the windward side of an island from a very large body of water. And what happens on the windward side of islands, especially in large bodies of water, is that all the trash that has been floating around gets washed up on shore. The whole beach was littered with plastic bits and surprisingly, lots of shoes and sandals. I’m hoping a lot of the items were things that accidentally or unintentionally went overboard on boats since it’s happened to the best of us, but it was sad to see the place where it all ends up. I guess it just drills into your mind that if you’re in the water out in the middle of nowhere and think “I can just toss this plastic bottle overboard, no one will ever see it out here”, that it probably will eventually make it’s way to what would have been a stunning beach but now is a partial eye sore because of all the trash building up on it.

Trying to focus on the pretty parts though, we walked the shore towards the boulder, letting the waves crash up around our ankles. One by one we walked into thigh deep water and out to the boulder to explore it a little further. Even though I was sure I would fall and kill myself I carefully climbed to the top, using all the indents in the rock/coral as foot holes and hand grips. Getting up was the easy part but as soon as I wanted to go down those foot holes were much harder to see and I was tempted to ask Matt to just catch me as I fell down. Taking it slowly and going myself I did get back down without as much as a scratch. Back at the main beach we kept heading south, scouting out locations for a possible bonfire. We did have to climb up a few coral bluffs to get from beach to beach, but inside one we did find a nice protected place covered with plenty of driftwood. The four of us piled it all together with plans to possibly come back to it the next night or two.

Climbing a few more coral bluffs to get a little further down the beach we thought it would be good to try and make it back to the welder before it became too late. We found a little dirt road running along the beach and followed it until it merged with the main road we had been on before. Along that road we found out what looked to be a local dump, even more trash piled in one section off to the road. Brian found a bike that he took for a little spin around the area but decided it wasn’t worth keeping. There was also a perfectly good albeit a little beat up Playschool house for toddlers just sitting there for the taking. Hey Brittany, Isla has a birthday coming up, right? Maybe there’s room for a play house on Asante? (just kidding) Heading back to the body shop we did find someone there, but it was not the guy in charge and he could not tell us how much it would be to fix our bracket or when we’d have it back. Since we didn’t want to just hand it over and have it come back with a ridiculous price tag we told the guy we be back later when his boss was there.

Walking north this time on the main road on the island we found another path out to another beach and relaxed in the sand while letting the time pass. We did run into another group of people, one woman who owned a vacation home on the northern end of the island and a few friends that were visiting her. They mentioned a few must see things on the island, such as Dean’s Blue Hole, but everything was out of walking distance. We had discussed renting a car for the day, but with the daily rental price of $65 plus fuel, we figured we’d rather save a car rental for Jamaica where we could see and do more. The woman also mentioned that hitchhiking was popular on the island, and if we were willing to split into groups of two we could get anywhere we wanted. Keeping that in the back of our mind we set off on foot one more time to the body shop to find it was closed down for the day at 3:00. Looks like we’d be here until at least Saturday waiting for someone to even talk to about getting it fixed. A little discouraged, we made our way back to Island Breeze to spend a few minutes cooling off in the shade and getting a little more information about the fish fry going on tomorrow. As long as we’re stuck here, we may as well participate in some of the local festivities.

(Above two photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

As promised, a photo of my black eye.

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Rough Riders

Wednesday March 27, 2013

I’ll try to keep this post brief since I know I’ve been writing novels lately.

Remember how I said it was almost impossible to tell wave size by photos?  These should help you judge.

(above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

‘Oh, so this is how far my leash goes…’

Delicious pan fried snapper.

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What’s SUP?

Tuesday March 26, 2013

(photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

So that sleep that I desperately needed after ladies night last night? I didn’t get it. Around 5:30 am some nasty thunderstorms rolled through with high winds, but what woke me up was at 7 am when I could hear Matt pacing around the salon. With the storm came a big wind shift of close to 180 degrees and now we were uncomfortably close to the catamaran next to us. Just like the time we got too close to a cat in Beaufort (or more accurately, they got way too close to us) someone now had to be on constant watch in case winds shifted even more and immediate action needed to be taken. After thirty minutes of watching and checking the weather to find out that these were the direction that winds would be hanging out in all day, we had the engine on and were all ready to re-anchor when we started following the line of our chain and realized it led to directly under the cat. So now there was no way we could even re-anchor unless they were to move out of our way. It was still early in the morning and we didn’t see any movement on board, so we thought we’d wait awhile before hailing them. Matt let out a little extra chain just to be safe and went back to bed while I stayed up to keep watch.

We still hadn’t seen any movement on board the cat after Matt got up and we ate breakfast, so we called our chauffeurs on Rode Trip to come over and help us figure out the situation since we needed to go into town but didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat the way it was. As they were coming to our boat, the owner of the cat called them over, apparently having hailed us on 68 just after we talked to Brian and Stephanie (does no one use 16 here?). Brian explained the situation a little but said that he wasn’t the boat owner and would have us call them once he could pass on the message. Giving a ring over to the cat, Insatiable, I talked to the owner and relayed that we did in fact want to move so we wouldn’t be so close, but that because our anchor was now under them there was no way to do it without causing a collision. I asked if he could pull in his chain for a few minutes while we got our anchor and got out of their way. We all agreed on this, and I was behind the wheel ready to bring us forward while Matt was at the bow. In the end though we never did have to move, because while Insatiable was bringing up their chain they decided it would be easier for them to just move and let us keep our spot. Have I mentioned lately how great cruisers are?

Now we were free to leave and roam around town without crashing into another boat, and the sky even started to clear up and let the sun come out. The four of us made the long ride from Stocking Island over to George Town, and after getting rid of all our trash at the dumpster, Stephanie and I went to a little restaurant in search of internet while the guys tried to track down a welder. They found us a little later with no luck on their part, the guy wasn’t even around, so we continued to sit outside at a shaded picnic table catching up on all the things we didn’t have access to before. Let me just say that trying to work from the touch pad on the boat is not the same as being able to do it on my laptop, and sometimes when I try to get things up on the website they go a little…wonky. I spent the next hour just trying to go back and fix all those mistakes, as well as get one pre-written post up. The Bahamas may be beautiful, but they are definitely not conducive to work. When I was at the point where even my now slow moving laptop was about to make a trip over the railing and on to the ground below, we decided it was time to move on with our day. This led us to our first provisioning trip in the Bahamas, and leaving the grocery store with only about 3-4 items at the cost of $18. ($5 for a half gallon of milk?!) A quick stop at the hardware store gave us a jerryrig solution to the davits until we can get them properly fixed, although I’m pretty sure the dink will just stay on deck until we can actually find a welder.

The ride back across the harbor had us facing directly into the wind and waves, which meant they were constantly splashing over the side and leaving us just as wet as if we had decided to swim back instead. We figured why not spend the rest of the afternoon in the water anyway since now the sun was out in full force and there were plenty of water based activities to take advantage of. The guys went their own way in the dinghy, in search of a little snorkeling and a tour of a blue hole. Stephanie and I were going to take advantage of some leisurely ‘on top’ of the water sports, which meant kayaking for her, and after getting permission, the use of Asante’s stand up paddle board for me. I had never been on one before so I had no idea what to expect, and part of me just wanted to see what all the fuss was about since over the past few years it has now become ‘the water sport’ to do. Having a quick convo with Brittany and Scott as they passed us on Rode Trip in their dinghy, on their way to do a little exploring of the windward side of the island, Scott said he made sure the board was completely inflated, the paddle was sitting in the cockpit, and to have a great time with it.

When they left, Stephanie and I were now sitting on Rode Trip with the kayaks as transportation. Asante was sitting right next door, so my initial plan was to swim over and get the SUP that way, but then I had a bright idea. “Hey Steph, you think I could sit on the front of your kayak and you could paddle me over?”. Matt and I used to do this all the time with our kayaks in Lake Michigan when I wanted a quick effortless ride, and I didn’t see any reason that it wouldn’t work today. Getting it positioned in the water, Stephanie hopped into the seat and I gently lowered myself onto it’s bow. Straddling each side caused a little bit of wobbling at first, but then we were on our way. Making it the few hundred feet over to Asante I was determined to now get on board to grab the paddle and then onto the SUP without ever getting into the water. Not because I was afraid of getting wet, but because it was an impossible feat for graceless me, and I wanted to see if it could be done. Coming up to the stern that I was going to make sure to properly use this time, I was excited to see a small knotted rope hanging from the davits, probably placed just for the purpose of steadying yourself on one of their three water crafts, and I grabbed it to pull myself up. Upper body strength is not a strong trait of mine, so there was lots swinging back and forth and almost tipping Stephanie over, but somehow I was able to get myself upright and get both feet on the transom. Grabbing the paddle, I placed it on top of the board and while still on the stern, untied it from the davits. Getting on my hands and knees I crawled onto the surprisingly steady board and stood up. All without ever taking a dip in the drink. Success!

Making our way over to the hurricane hole, I paddled my way face first into 15-20 knot winds. I’ve heard paddle boarding can be a fantastic exercise, and let me just say that no one was lying about that. There was a point where Stephanie even stopped to talk to another boater for 10 minutes while I continued on, and it took her less than three minutes to catch up with me. Once we were close to shore the winds died down and I was able to paddle with much more ease, actually feeling progress with my strokes. It actually turned out to be a really fun activity, giving you the feeling like you were walking on water. When we did find the guys in the far reaches of the hurricane hole, I did a quick switch with Matt so he could also try the paddle board, and while in the dinghy I used his mask to stick my head underwater to view the blue hole. It was an amazing sight, an underwater cave that let from one side of the island and out the other. There were also plenty of colorful fish swimming around, but a large No Fishing sign posted just above. Guess our easy target practice will just have to wait for the good fishing waters of the Jumentos.

Later that evening we met back up on Rode Trip to plan our next day’s departure to Long Island. It was pretty straight forward, so after glancing at the charts the boys were off to play poker while Stephanie and I hung around Rode Trip, ready to dive into a bottle of Sauv Blanc I had brought over, except, we’ll let’s just say their corkscrew is a little less than desirable and neither of us could get the bottle open. That’s ok, there were still Sands laying around the boat to drink. We hadn’t even gotten through one bottle when the guys were already back. At first they tried to put us on, telling us that they were out after only two hands, but then the truth came out that the game was booked and they just didn’t feel like sitting around to watch others play. Remembering that Scott said he caught a few fish right off the side of his boat the other night with his hand reel, Matt went to grab ours in the hopes that we might actually catch something too. For a long time his line lay still while Brian would catch little snappers that weren’t worth the effort to clean or cook and kept getting tossed back in the water. It wasn’t until one had swallowed a hook and was on death row anyway that I asked for fish cleaning lessons.

Getting out all his tools, Brian showed us how to stab them in the brain with a pick to finish them off, scale their skin, gut them, and finally fillet them. After about 5-10 minutes of work, there were two nice little fillets sitting in a Ziploc bag for the two of us to take home. It was right after I was told, “You get to clean the rest of them” that both lines started jumping to life. All the fish we caught were small to ok size snappers, but there were a few worth keeping and a few more that just happened to swallow the hook. I went to work scaling and gutting, and coming out with very pathetic size fillets since I wasn’t getting close enough to the bone. But the fish kept coming and there was no end to my practice. While we still had 3-4 in the bucket, Brian and Steph had to run away to grab some new charts from a boat they had been talking to on the net, and assuming they’d only be gone an hour, we told them we’d stay and continue fishing and cleaning.

By my fourth fish I was getting a little tired of my practice and needed a nice distracting break. It happened to come in the form of Scott, who was on the way back from the poker game and stopped to talk to us. While him and Matt went on about water makers and boat bits, I grudgingly kept cleaning the fish, tossing guts into the open water next to where Scott was standing in his dink (Sorry Scott!). Deciding I really needed a break from it, I put all the tools down and washed my hands, finally filling up my glass of wine that had been opened once Brian and Matt had come back from poker. It was a beautiful night to sit outside and chat, and once I got back we changed the topic to more Jessica friendly things like touring Long Island and what it had to offer. When the sun went down and all the cruisers were blowing their conch shells, Scott made his way back to Asante and I went back to the fish. Cleaning in the dark wasn’t as enjoyable and I finished as quickly as possible, not even caring much how my fillets turned out anymore. Our Ziploc was filling up and there was definitely enough for a meal the next night. Washing down all the tools and the deck, the wind had picked up to where it was now too chilly outside and we waited for Brian and Steph to come back while hanging out below. Our days must be really starting to fill up with sun and fun, because by the time they did come back to get us, both Matt and I were passed out on the settees below.

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Ladie’s Night, George Town Style

Monday March 25, 2013

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High and low tide change just a little bit every day, and this morning’s high tide was scheduled to be somewhere around quarter after 7.  Setting the alarm to go off when it was still dark out, we waited for just the faintest hint of light in the sky before raising the anchor to make the ½ mile trip up to Dotham cut.  Everything looked calm as we approached it and I just followed the magenta line on our chart plotter, avoiding the shoals on the southern end.  Everything was so calm in fact that while we were just entering the cut I turned to Matt and asked him if I should bump up the speed a little since it felt like we were moving quite slowly and I wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.  I hadn’t even looked at our speed up to that point, and both of us now glancing down, found that we were moving at over seven knots, with the last bit of current pushing us from behind.  The transition through the cut was smooth and without any kind of incident.  Soon we were into the Exuma Sound, with depth dropping off to over 1,000 feet in a matter of minutes.  Just as predicted, the winds were blowing from the east and as soon as we felt we were far enough from shore, we turned the boat south and let out the sails.  Moving on a nice broad reach, we coasted down the sound averaging 6.5-7 knots the entire way.  Although spending most of the trip heeled over around 15 degrees, it was well worth the wait for the right winds.

Making great time and coming up to the entrance to George Town and Stocking Island around 3 in the afternoon, we entered all the waypoints that would guide us around the coral that littered the entrance.  When we were safe of that and in the main channel I hailed Rode Trip to see where they were anchored since there are nearly 15 different coves and beaches to anchor in this harbor.  Finding out they were at Volleyball Beach, we searched for their yellow kayaks on deck during our approach, and found a somewhat open spot a few boats down from them.  The guidebooks were not joking when they said this was a crowded area, and probably our most stressful anchoring yet, maneuvering through others sardined into the anchorage, hoping that we didn’t nick anyone as we claimed our own little spot.  After a small argument on board of where to actually drop hook among the chaos,  we had the anchor securely down and Brain and Stephanie were already in their dinghy and on their way over to greet us.  Taking a few minutes to catch up and Stephanie bringing up right away, “What’s up with the black eye?”, it wasn’t long before we all decided that the beach and a beer at the Chat n’ Chill were looking pretty good.  Hopping into their dink since we didn’t want to take ours down until the davits have been fixed, we beached ourselves and walked barefoot through the sand until we got to the bar to order ourselves a cold beer.

Back on the beach we were wading through the water when Stephanie saw a familiar face in the crowd and brought me over for introductions.  The person I was going to meet was Brittany from s/v Asante, although her and I had actually talked numerous times online, usually me bugging her with questions about the cruising lifestyle since her and her husband Scott left from Lake Michigan to go cruising two years earlier.  It was nice to finally meet in person and we spent a few minutes on the beach chatting before she had to relieve her mother who was visiting, from keeping an eye on her daughter Isla.  Continuing down the beach a little further, Brian brought us to a spot where there were a few local stingrays that would come up near shore and let you touch them.  We took turns sticking our hands in the water and let them skim across the neoprene like surface of the stingrays as they swam by.  Shortly after that we were joined by Scott who also wanted to take a turn playing with the stingrays, and that gave me an opportunity to take Isla, who had just been given to him, off his hands for a few minutes to play with her on my own.  She’s an adorable little girl that’s just learning to walk and talk, and would squeal and point her finger to the water where everyone was playing, while babbling in her own little baby talk.

Eventually she was passed back to Brittany and everyone started making their way back to their dinghies and their boats to prepare dinner.  Getting dropped off at Serendipity, it was just a quick costume change and grabbing a bottle of wine and a few beers before we hopped back in with Brian and Stephanie to go have dinner on Rode Trip.  Brian makes an amazing pizza crust that I still need to steal the recipe from at some point, and the four of us hung around in the cockpit as the sky turned black, each grabbing a few slices of pizza as they’d come out of the oven.  It was so great to be among the company of friends again, but even better in beautiful and warm surroundings.  When we had our fill of pizza and beer/wine, the boys and girls split ways for the night.  Stephanie and I were headed to the beach where we were meeting Brittany and a few other girls, and Matt and Brian were going to be picked up by Scott to spend the evening on Asante.  Taking my remaining half bottle of wine plus a few Lime-a-Rita’s and two single serve wine bottles, we jumped into the dinghy to make our way to the beach even though we couldn’t see or hear a soul there.

Beaching the dink we started to wander around in the sand thinking that maybe we had missed it all already when there were faint voices accompanied by a candle at a little table a few hundred feet from us.  Sure enough, the other girls were already there and already a few glasses into their own wine.  One of the first things they asked as we came up was “How loud are we being?”.  When we answered that we couldn’t even hear them as we first got up to the beach, a huge wave of relief washed over the three of them, certain that their most personal information was being broadcast around the harbor.  Now knowing that being loud wouldn’t disturb anyone, Stephanie and I jumped right in, with loud and drunk being one of our specialties.  I was introduced to the two other women at the beach, Genevieve and Karina, who were also cruisers, but also like Brittany, had small children with them.  We all shared stories of our cruising lives up to that point and future plans.  Then just as the doctor ordered since I’ve been stuck with only Matt for the past few weeks, we talked everything ‘girl’ under the sun.  Before I knew it, the half bottle of wine was empty, the Lime-a-Ritas were gone, and we were now dipping into the box of wine brought by the other girls.

Although I don’t think any of us were ready for the night to end, we realized it was after 1:00 and husbands might start to wonder what’s become of us.  Stephanie and I dragged our dinghy back out to the water, and assuming the guys would need a ride back from Asante, headed in that direction.  By this point we were by no means quiet in any way and came up to the blue hulled boat in full ruckus.  I can tell my mind wasn’t working properly by the next two things that happened.  1.  The boat was completely dark and it was obvious that no one was awake on board.  That did not stop me from climbing right on to check it out.  2.  In my mind at the time, I thought it would be hilarious to begin speaking my limited Spanish.  This was me climbing over the netted lifelines and stumbling into the cockpit:  “Hola!!  Busco Matteo.  Esta aqui?”.  Yeah…..no bueno.  So as I’m doing this and Steph is hanging back in the dinghy, we see a flashlight shinning from Serendipity meaning that the guys had obviously already gone back and we should leave before we woke Scott.

Too late on that count.  Even though I’m sure he was in a nice deep slumber he graciously came above deck in his PJ’s to tell us that yes, the guys had already been brought back.  At the same time though, Brittany was now being shuttled back by Karina and now climbing over the lifelines on the other side of the boat.  Just as she’s trying to make her way up and I’m trying to make my way back down we both have Scott looking at us saying “There’s an open transom, why is no one using the step on the transom?”  Half straddling the lines now I have no idea what to do since Stephanie is trying to pull me down on one side and Captain Scott is trying to get me to use the proper exit on the other side.  It was literally a dance I did about five times where Stephanie would loudly exclaim, “Climb down here!”, so I’d put a leg over the lifeline, and then Scott would call, “No, use the transom step!”, and I’d go back into the cockpit.  Finally sure I was about to lose my balance and go for a swim at any moment I jumped inside the cockpit and ran to the back telling Stephanie to move the dink and pick me up back there while yelling, “Sorry, Captain’s orders!”.  Getting back to my boat and climbing on was much easier since I was just able to throw a leg up on deck, and it wasn’t minutes before I was passed out in bed.  Good times always followed by a little chaos.  I love ladies nights……

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“Too shallow, that’s ok guys, I got it!!’

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Black Point Settlement

Sunday March 24, 2013

 

One of the first things I did once we got into the Bahamas last week was to send a message to our friends Brian and Stephanie on Rode Trip and let them know that we had finally arrived.  There had always been plans for us to meet up in the Bahamas at some point and do a little traveling together, but after our accident we expected them to be long gone by the time we ever entered the country.  We knew they were sending his brother off from Staniel Cay around St. Patrick’s Day, and after that was just waiting for a weather window to then make the crossing to the Dominican Republic.  Luckily for them and us, their plans change as much as ours do and they were willing to hang around George Town Exumas to wait for us if we could make it there within a week from when we got to Nassau.  Still keeping a Panama Canal crossing in the back of our minds for this season, we were already rushing and figured that meeting back up with them, even if for only a day or two, would be icing on the cake.  The plan was to make it from Staniel to George Town as quickly as possible, but this also meant finding a place to get from the West side of the island chain on the Bahama Bank side to the much deeper and mostly clear of coral Exuma Sound side.  Along the Exuma chain of islands are a few cuts which allow you to transit between the two sides, but some can be tricky and even downright dangerous.  We opted to try the Dotham Cut, but still being green to the Bahamas, wanted to go at high slack tide so we didn’t get caught in a rage where the wind and current are opposing and not only create steep waves, but can also leave you moving at a measly two knots while trying to force your way through them.

The Dotham Cut is located between Bitter Guana Cay and Great Guana Cay, right next to Black Point Settlement, a ‘not to miss place’ in the Exumas, so we hear.  Mainly we’ve heard it has the best laundry facilities in the Exumas, but I was also interested in the rum punches that everyone seems to get from the neighboring bar while their clothes tumbled and dried.  Checking the tide charts for that day, high tide was at 7 am and 6:30 pm.  Winds were forecast at 15-20 from the S-SE, exactly the direction we would need to head, of course.  We’d also heard that getting into the harbor at George Town can be quite tricky due to lots of coral blocking both entrances, and there was no way we’d want to chance getting there in the dark.  The run itself is around 50 miles from Staniel to GT, so it was looking like the 7 am departure was out.  That left us with 6:30 pm, which was fine by me because then we could do an overnight sail, tacking across the sound and getting there hopefully just a few hours after the sun had risen.  To position ourselves though, we’d want to make the 8 mile run from Staniel to Black Point first, and then we’d be able to run into town, do laundry, cook supper, and be ready to go at high tide that night.

Upping anchor in the late morning, we made our way out into the banks and past the few mega yachts that were anchored far out in isolation, and started to turn south.  The dinghy was up on davits as usual, but unlike usual, we had our 9.9 hp engine on the dink instead of our 3.3.  I don’t know if it was the extra 30 lbs or so hanging off the starboard side of the davits, although it really shouldn’t have made a difference, but just like the last time we had the 9.9 up, something went wrong.  Matt fortunately noticed it right away, but the stainless steel bracket that holds the davits to our stern split down the middle.  If we were sitting at anchor where there was little to no extra pressure on the davits, a little jerry rigging would have been fine until we could find a proper solution, but with the wind and waves we were bouncing into, the dinghy had to be brought down immediately.  Throwing the boat into neutral we lowered the dinghy into the water, and Matt jumped in and wrapped it around the stern cleat. It looks like we’ll now have to add finding a welder to our list of things to do.  Continuing on to Black Point under engine, we bashed into the wind and waves that were right on our nose at a measly 2.5 knots.  The 8 mile trip ended up taking us 3.5 hours, and we finally dropped hook at 1:00 in the afternoon.

Gathering up our laundry we took the dinghy to the government dock and made our way up the road to Rockside Laundry.  Not only were these some of the best facilities in the Exumas I’m sure, but they also looked to be some of the best laundry facilities we’ve ever seen.  The room was white and airy, lined with rows of washers and dryers, and the entire area was spotless.  But the best part of all were the amazing views just outside the door.  A bright white picnic table sat overlooking the bay filled with Kool-aid blue waters and dotted with boats.  I don’t think there’s a more beautiful spot to do laundry in the entire world, I can see why it’s so popular among all the cruisers.  It was too bad I didn’t bring a book with me to be able to sit out at the picnic table to enjoy the scenery, and since we had missed happy hour (they only offer it on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays), I also wasn’t about to pay the regular $8 price for a rum punch while I waited for my clothes.  So we sat in the plastic chairs inside and I pounded out some writing, on an office doc without wifi, until our clothes were done.

When everything was clean and folded and stuffed back into our bag we were making our way back to the docks to get everything ready to leave in a few hours when we ran into a guy that had been anchored next to us a few nights before in Sampson Cay.  We told him of our plans to leave that evening to be to George Town by the following morning.  Asking why we’d want to put ourselves through that rough weather to get there, he mentioned an East wind coming through on Monday that would be a perfect beam reach for us to ride and mentioned that he was going to be using that window to get from Black Point to GT.  Getting back to the boat and checking a few grib files, we did begin to wonder why we would be beating ourselves up just to get there the following day.  If it had taken us over three hours just to make it eight miles, we could only imagine what 42 miles would be like.  Talking it over a little more, we knew Rode Trip wasn’t expecting us until Tuesday and we did have a little time to wait for a more preferable window.  Throwing in the towel for an overnight trip, we got ourselves out of preparation mode, and knowing that we had another full day ahead of us before leaving, let ourselves really relax for the first time since getting to the Bahamas.

Today we took one more trip into Black Point, planning on visiting the Garden of Eden which from what we’ve heard is an interesting and worthy stop on the island.  One of the local residents has turned his yard into a sculpture garden, full of rocks and driftwood placed into shapes that resembled all kind of things from people to animals.  Being a Sunday, we had wondered if the island basically shut down while everyone was at mass, and didn’t know if we’d even get the chance to see it anyway.  During our two hour excursion to the island, we never did find it because we were intercepted by a few other cruisers that kept us in a very long conversation, and by the time we parted ways we only had 30 or so minutes to get back to Serendipity since the water maker was running in our absence and we needed to get back to shut it off.  I’m sure the island had a lot more to offer that we ended up missing, which was sad, but even an afternoon spent lounging in the cockpit here is perfection, so I’ll take what I can get.

Back on the boat we turned the water maker off and started the process of lifting the dinghy on deck since we didn’t want it trailing behind us for the run down to George Town.  Attaching a halyard to the front, I took the job of winching the dinghy up while Matt stood guiding it over the lifelines and onto the deck.  The first few rotation of the winch were very easy, but after the dink was fully hanging out of the water they became a lot more difficult.  I began to throw all my weight behind my turns just to get one clockwise rotation out of the winch.  Little did I know, Matt was trying to lift up the dink as best he could to give the line a little slack and make the winching easier on me.  Still getting ready to heave with all the force I could, the new extra slack sent my body flying forward and me face-planting into a little hook we have stationed on the mast that we attach our spinnaker pole to.  I’m a pretty pain tolerant person so the blow itself didn’t bother me too much, but I could tell it was going to leave me with a nasty black eye the next day, just when we’d probably be scheduled to meet a lot of new people.  A few minutes later we had the dink up on deck and secured down to the cleats, and I spent the rest of my afternoon trying to think of ways to how best explain what was obvious to look like a beating, and that, no, I was not just waiting to be told twice.*

*No, I do not find physical (or any kind of) abuse funny, but since in this case my black eye was related to my own stupidity, (and the kindness of my husband) I felt it was ok to make a joke.  I hope no one has taken offense by it.

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That’ll Do Pig

Friday March 22, 2013

So the winds did shift during our night at Allen’s Cay, but luckily it was only enough that the questionable boat had it’s beam to our beam and they only thing they’d do damage to was the iguanas behind them. There was a thunderstorm that woke us up at 2:30 am and we quickly ran around closing all the hatches and keeping an eye on the winds for 30 minutes until we were too drowsy to keep our eyes open any longer. When we woke up again at 7:00 we weren’t even sure if we wanted to leave the anchorage, everything outside looked pretty nasty and we weren’t even sure if we could make it outside of the little cut without being able to read the water or smashing up against some rocks. But while standing with my head sticking out of the companionway I watched three other boats leave with ease, including the questionable boat next to us. If they were competent enough to get out, so were we. Getting our anchor up was only slightly nerve wrecking since it was almost under a boat next to us and I was almost positive we’d run into them while trying to haul it. The winds were in our favor though, and we were pushed back as soon as the anchor was up and a decent amount of distance was put between us. Getting put behind the wheel I made our way back out into the banks, although at a speed of just over two knots due to the high winds and waves pushing against our bow. What were those wind speeds? I have no idea. We haven’t yet bothered to re-wire our anemometer, there’s been too many other interesting things to do and see.

 

Once we had gotten far enough east and were out of the way of the coral spread out near the islands, we turned south and cut the engine. It was a very comfortable and fast sail south, averaging close to 6.5 knot the whole time. When the islands cut east we had to cut in with them, which meant that we were now on a dead downwind course. Using our whisker pole to go wing n’ wing with our sails, we were still going pretty decent at 5 knots for awhile, but as we got later into the day the winds began to die out and we were slowing down and struggling just to keep three. Our intended anchorage for the night was Staniel Cay, but since it was over 40 miles, we agreed that if we were to come in there too late in the afternoon, that we would settle for Sampson key which was literally just a few miles north of it. It did end up coming down to this and we pointed into the little cove with just over an hour of daylight left. Wedging our way into a secluded area in the back, we once more dropped in 10 feet of the clearest water either of us has ever seen.

Doing the usual evening chores, we put the boat back together and enjoyed dinner while watching some Law & Order SVU. Once it got dark out we went out on deck to check on the cat, which we hadn’t heard in awhile. Finding that she had somehow gotten herself into the small area on top of our bimini but under the solar panels, we batted at the underside of the fabric until she made a manic leap back into the cockpit and then up to the front of the deck. Following her up there we looked around the beautiful cove we were in, and then the water below us and became instantly mesmerized. I don’t know if I could describe it, or if we’ll ever see anything like it again, but what we saw looked like something that was constructed for a movie. Surrounding us were small rock bluffs and stone cottages. The half full moon shone bright in a cloudless sky into the water which reflected on the sandy bottom like a swimming pool. It almost didn’t look real. It was one of those perfect moments where everything was calm and still, and if we had to stop cruising tomorrow I’d be satisfied just from this one moment.

Getting to sleep in until one full hour after the sun has risen today, it was time to move ourselves over to Staniel Cay. We had to go out about a mile to round a small cay before making our way back in, but even then the trip was only an hour. Reading that Staniel Cay anchorages can be a little difficult, and then looking at all the masts crowding Big Major’s Cay next door, we decided to go with simplicity and follow the flock. It wasn’t a bad situation since Big Majors did happen to hold something that we were desperate to see. Getting the dinghy lowered as soon as the anchor was set, we jumped in it and headed toward the beach. We hadn’t even gotten to shore yet when we had a visitor coming to greet us in the water. What we were looking at was a swimming pig. There’s a few different stories on how the pigs got there in the first place, but you can bet that they expect to be fed by you. As soon as they see your dinghy coming up to shore, at least one or two of them will come out to the water to check you out and see what kind of goodies you’ve brought them. We only had orange peels which we had heard were among their favorites, but they shunned the peels floating in the water next to them. I jumped out once we were shallow enough, dragging us the rest of the way to shore, and one of the very large pigs tried to make it’s way into the dinghy with Matt to see what else we might be hiding from it. From the looks of a deflated and run down inflatable on shore, we were lucky it’s sharp hooves didn’t do any damage on it’s conquest.  

When they realized we had nothing else for them they left us alone and went back to burrowing for a comfortable spot in the sand. We explored the beach a little, but with all the thick brush and sharp coral around we didn’t get far. Realizing that we had done all there was to do on this little beach, we got back in the dinghy where all of our snorkel gear was waiting and went around the corner to the Thunderball Grotto. Featured in a James Bond movie, it’s a hollowed out island where rain has eroded in a few skylights and is a favorite hangout for multiple kinds of fish. Going near low tide, we didn’t have to dive under much water to get inside the cave, but there was only still an inch or two above our heads as our snorkels cleared through. The grotto was very crowded with not only plenty of fish, but plenty of tourists as well. Trying to keep our eyes on the bright colored fish below, we’d constantly bump into the 15 other people crowded into the small space. Making our way to a secluded corner the best we could, we opened up a ziploc bag we brought full of corn to make the fish swarm our way. This definitely sent the fish in a frenzy, clouding around you trying to eat the kernels, but it also sent all the other snorkelers our way too. Spending another 10-15 minutes in the grotto and realizing the tide was slowly beginning to rise up, we went back to the dinghy to throw on clothes and take a tour of Staniel Cay.

Pulling our dinghy into a little basin by the yacht club, we grabbed our trash and began to make our way inland where we heard we could dispose of it for free instead of paying the $2/bag at the yacht club. Anything to save a penny! Getting ourselves completely lost on the sweltering hot paved roads, we eventually flagged down a local riding around in a golf cart to ask for directions. Instead of pointing out the right place to us, he told us to hop on and he’d take us there. It was such a nice thing for him to do since he was only on his lunch break from work, but we’re already beginning to notice the friendliness and hospitality of every Bahamian we encounter. Bringing us back into town after it was dropped off, we walked the main street and poked our heads inside a few of the buildings. We checked out the local grocery store, even though we were fully stocked, and commented on how nice an ice cream would taste at that moment except we had left all of our money back on the boat. Walking through the streets a few more times, we felt we had pretty sufficiently seen Staniel Cay and now it was time to see something new.

Dropping all our gear off back at the boat, we grabbed our money in case there was actually something we’d want or need to spend it on, and got back in the dinghy for a tour of the other near by islands. Running low on gasoline, we found the only place to get it was Sampson Cay, where we had anchored the previous night. Zipping through the ‘back roads’ in the dink we went back to fill up our jerrycan, and spent the rest of the afternoon slowly making our way back to the boat, circling each island on the way and comparing the Great Bahama Banks on one side to the Exuma Sound on the other. On the way back to Serendip there was one more brief stop at Big Majors to see the pigs, but it was mostly to try and salvage a pad-eye from the delapatated dinghy on shore. Try as we might with our screwdriver and lots of force, that thing was back bolted and waaay to secure to even begin to come out. Guess we’ll still have to wait for our first salvage. Anyone know of an abandoned boat with good winches?

 

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The Happy Hour Anchor Show

Wednesday March 20, 2013

Getting ourselves up before the crack of dawn once more, the goal was to make it across the Great Bahama Bank and over to the Exumas. Making sure to fill up with fuel on our way out, we did not want to make the journey out of civilization on just fumes. We were a little surprised when the bill came, it was close to $6.50 a gallon! I was still willing to pay it though, knowing that we had to navigate our way out of the East Harbor at Nassau, and I was not going to do that under sail power alone. Even before we got into the harbor I had looked at the East and West entrances, just to check them out. We were coming in from the West where all the cruise ships and commercial traffic do, so it was wide and deep and easy to navigate. Looking on our charts at the east side, all I could see were red dots with X’s on them, marking rocks and coral. It may have well just had a skull and crossbones on that side, since that’s what it looked like in my mind. It had been done by many people before us though, so we knew it was possible and very common to use that side to exit. Armed with two sets of charts (both electronic), we put Matt behind the wheel while I went up to the bow for visual navigation.

The water here is so unbelieveably clear that even in 15-20 feet you can see every spec of sand on the bottom. This meant that I’d be able to see any rocks or coral that we’d be coming up on, and guide Matt around them. I’m sure it’s normally a good practice in theory, but we were leaving just after the sun rose and it was right in our eyes. With the reflection off the water, I could barely make out more than 10 ft in front of the boat. (Or should I say 3 meters, now that we’re not in the states anymore?) For the most part it was just grass and sand, but there were two times when our sides just cut across those coral and I wasn’t able to see them until we were right on top. Luckily the water was deep enough that we didn’t come close to touching them, and behind the wheel, Matt was in ignorant bliss to what we had just passed over. Once that feat was over and we were out of the harbor, I was allowed back to the shade of the cockpit and out of the sun, which at 9:30 am, was already burning into my skin. Our next challenge for the day would be getting through an area known as the Yellow Bank. The charts and guide books label it as an area that’s littered with coral in 7 ft of water. If you happen to accidentally float over one of the corals this time, chances are it’s going to stop you dead in your tracks. The good news is that both our books and stories from friends that have made this crossing say it’s almost impossible not to make out the coral before you’re well in advance of it, and there’s plenty of time to move yourself around it. I hoped they were right.

Seated at the bow once more, this time armed with a wide brim hat, I told Matt to let me know when our depth was under 10 feet. At the moment we were still in the 17-20 ft range and had enough water below us to pass over every piece of coral if we felt like it (although I wouldn’t). While sitting and waiting, I could see what the guide books were talking about with the coral areas very easy to spot from a distance. Even in this deep of water, the bright aqua colors in front of us would be tainted by an almost black spot that you could see from a few hundred feet away. I figured that once the depth dropped and we needed to navigate around them, they’d be even easier to spot. So I sat and waited, and waited. Finally after an hour, Matt came up to the bow to join me. “What are you doing?!”, I gasped, “You’re supposed to be ready to steer us around the coral!”. “Yeah, we’re already through it”, he replied. What? Not only did our depth never get below 15 ft, but we never even passed close to a piece of coral. All this build up and anticipation for nothing.

With the Yellow Bank behind us, we were able to keep on our course for Allen’s Cay (pronounced ‘key’) which was to be our anchorage that night. The reason we chose this spot, although it’s at the very top of the Exumas, is that there are endangered iguanas roaming the island that we wanted to see. ETA had us getting there just after 3:00, and I figured that would still be plenty of time to hop in the dinghy and check them out. Getting ourselves into the sheltered anchorage between the few small islands there, I was under the assumption that we’d probably have the area to ourselves since it was so late in the season. Although the anchorage wasn’t packed, there were still about 6-7 other masts in the tiny area. Still learning how to read the colors of the water since this was our first day at it, we didn’t know if some of the dark areas meant ‘deep’ or ‘rocks’, so we quickly swung ourselves into 8 ft sandy bottom. Maybe a little closer to another boat than we’d prefer, but we heard anchorages in the Caribbean can be tight.

Dropping the dinghy down, we could see the the areas with the iguanas right across from us. Partly because it was only 200 feet away, but mostly because of all the other people hoarded in the area. I guess that in Nassau you can pay to have a speed-ferry boat race you out here for the day, and we happened to come at the time that two of these overcrowded monsters were already at the beach. Being later in the afternoon though, it didn’t take them long to leave and then we had the place to ourselves. Reading in our guide books that these iguanas aren’t the friendliest of creatures and may actually bite, I supposed I should have been wise in keeping my distance from them, but instead I chased them down the beach for a photo-op. None of them wanted to seem to pose for me, and each time I’d crouch down and get within a few feet they’d always scurry away. Once I had my fill of trying to photograph them, but definitely keeping my hands away, we tried to hike the island a little which proved almost impossible. The dense brush and trees did not let us get very far and we moved back to the dinghy.

Not ready to end our afternoon just yet, we thought we’d take a stab at snorkeling. This was high on both of our list of things to do as soon as we were in water that permitted it. The only time I’d ever done it in my life was when my parents had taken me to the Bahamas on vacation 18 years ago, and Matt’s actually never been in his entire life. We were both excited to break out our new snorkel gear and get in the water. Holding hands like a couple of high school girlfriends, we took the plunge together into the clear refreshing water. Both of us managed to get in the water without a huge mouthful of salt water, which was a giant plus. Sticking our heads under water, we began swimming and scanning the sand for anything interesting. For 20 minutes we swam with only seeing a few beer bottles and one fish on the bottom. The current began cutting through quicker than I had been anticipating so it wasn’t long before I was seeking the shelter of Serendipity and taking of my gear, while Matt continued around through the little islands. I was just about ready to crack open a cold beverage when he began waving and came back to tell me that the coral lining the islands was full of fish and I really needed to get back in the water to check them out.

Since it was quite a swim and the current had already tired me out we took the dinghy and dropped anchor. Putting on my gear once more I was surprised at all the underwater life surrounding me. Everywhere I looked were little fish, darting in and out of coral heads. The current in this area was also not as strong, so we were able to just float above and watch. Taking turns, we’d dive under the water and try to brush against them and check out their little hiding spots. As far as activity was concerned we could have stayed there for hours watching, but even 78 degree water gets chilly after a bit and we found our way back to the dinghy. Wrapping myself up in a towel I went back to my chilled margarita in a can. We both sat up there enjoying the late afternoon and our arrival in paradise. Getting buzzed on Margaritaville and sunlight, we watched as a new boat came into the already crowded area to anchor. I don’t know why anyone thinks this is a good idea, as we’ve seen it done a few times before, but this boat allowed their anchor to drop as they were still going full speed ahead, basically running over any chain that was being laid down. It made us nervous to have them anchoring improperly so close to us, but they must have realized it wasn’t working because they circled back around to grab it and left the anchorage.

While they were leaving a mega yacht in the 160 ft range happened to be on it’s way in. Wondering where they would drop and how much swing room they’d allow themselves before we’d all start playing bumper boats, they did the same thing as the first boat where they were still moving forward while the anchor went down. What was even more disturbing was that they were headed right for an area of coral that was sticking out of the water. We figured they had to be professionals since there was obvious paid crew on deck, but we still didn’t know how they were going to pull it off. Pulling some kind of Houdini maneuver, they were able to swing the aft end of the boat around and steer clear of the coral. In essence it was almost like the Captain Ron docking of where you see it coming and you’re waiting for the train wreck, but they pull it off perfectly. We just sat there in awe and wondered how we could learn how to do it. I’m sure it had a lot to do with bow thrusters which is definitely not happening on our boat, so maybe we’ll just have to settle for watching it. Just as we finished watching that show, the boat that had tried anchoring earlier was on it’s way back in for a second attempt. Dropping the anchor down in the same style as the first time they still didn’t look like they were doing it in any way that seemed correct in our mind, but this time they were far enough away that it wasn’t as much cause for concern. Their bow was pointed at our stern, so if they were going to drag, at least it wasn’t going to be into us. Let’s just hope that the winds don’t shift overnight.

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