Archive for » May, 2013 «

All Good Things Must Come To An End!

It was hard to believe, but we had been in The Bahamas for over five weeks.  It was time to start to head back to the U.S.  We had been carefully reading Chris Parker’s daily weather emails, looking for a good weather window to get us back across the Tongue of the Ocean, the Great Bahama Bank and the gulfstream.  We had planned one last day of snorkeling at Hawksbill Cay, but the weather was not going to cooperate.  We woke up to grey and overcast, with thunderstorms and squalls predicted for the entire day.   So up came the anchor and we headed for West Bay at the far west end of New Providence Island.

While underway, the generator (genny) temp started to climb a bit.  We checked everything we could check, not finding a cause.  Once anchored, I put on my wetsuit and instead of snorkeling to look at pretty fish, I was diving under LILI to see if the sea water intake was covered in algae or barnacles.

I REALLY DON’T LIKE DIVING UNDER LILI!!  It ranks right up there with snakes, and big iguanas.  Once I stopped hyperventilating, I tried maybe 15 times to go under and scrub away what little “stuff” was there.  I would like to think that all my flopping around underneath the boat would have made a different, but nfortunately, the next day the genny temp was still a bit high.   (Betty would come to find out, once back in Stuart that the genny impeller was down to two blades!)

Friday morning May 10th, the anchor was up by 8 am and we were on our way home.  Coming over to The Bahamas, our non-stop trip from Marathon to Nassau had worked so well that we planned our trip home, non-stop from West Bay to Stuart, FL.  We had a good weather window, the wind was light and the seas were calm.  Squalls and thunderstorms were predicted, but nothing that we felt  we couldn’t handle.

Exuma Land & Sea Park

“The Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park is famous for it’s pristine beauty, outstanding anchorages and breathtaking marine environment.”  Betty and I love the snorkeling here, beacause  The Park provides info sheets with all of the best sites identified, with a few having dinghy mooring buoys.  We spent three days in and out of our wetsuits, and in and out of the dinghy checking out every location on the info sheets

. Cruising from Cambridge Cay to Warderick Wells, we popped out into the Exuma Sound.  It was a rare day with no wind.  We were amazed to be able to clearly see the bottom in overr 50 feet of water!

Our favorite snorkel spot is behind a tiny cay, off of O’Brien’s Cay, called  the Sea Aquarium.   A large school of Sargent Majors were waiting for us as we slipped (more like kerplopped) over the side into the water and then surrounded us looking for handouts.  The variety of brightly colored fish were plentiful and the coral was somewhat healthy.


At Warderick Wells, we climbed to the top of Boo Boo Hill.  Three years ago, we left “our sign” in the pile with all the others.  Last year the park took a direct hit from hurricane Sandy, so we weren’t sure if we could find it.  But after much searching Betty, pulled it out of the bottom of the pile.  We carved out and painted “13” to update it and then carefully buried it in the bottom again.  Hopefully, it will be there when we come back the next time.

LILIPAD to the Rescue!

Our mornings start out quiet, sitting on the back deck in our jammies with a cup of coffee.  All of a sudden the VHF radio comes alive that there is a dinghy loose and floating away.  We look to the boat next door and sure enough, it is his dinghy.  I also look around and see that none of the other boats have their dinghy’s in the water.  LILIPAD is tied off the stern and ready to go and I am a firm believer in “Pay it Forward”.  So I quick change into my bathing suit and before I know it I am heading off to Y-NOT, to pick up the owner.

In the mean time, the owner of a sailboat three back has gotten his dinghy in the water and is heading toward the wayward one, now drifted into the rocky shore of Little Major Spot.  I drop off the owner at his dinghy and as the other rescuerer heads back, his dinghy runs out of fuel.  I now throw a tow line to him and before I can get him back home, the first wayward dinghy is stranded again!  So back again to pick up Dave (we are on a first name basis now) and tow him back to his boat.

That afternoon, a mysterious bottle of Myers Dark Rum ended up in LILI’s cockpit from Dave (we presume).  That evening, Bill stopped by with a chilled bottle of Chardonnay.


Meeting up With Friends

Talk with anyone who has visited the Exuma Cays and they have all been to Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  The building is nothing fancy, just a small screened-in casual bar and restaurant, that draws cruisers to it, like a magnet.  Besides having “cheeseburgers in paradise”, watching big screen TV’s with news from the U.S., they also sell internet access – $15 for 100 MB or 24 hours, whichever comes first.   Everywhere you look, someone is hooked up to their computer, iPad or smartphone getting their email from home.  Granted the majority of the world has internet at 4G speed, but in this area it is slower than dial up.  A great amount of patience is needed while you wait, wait and wait for a connection.

Betty and I packed up our laptops into plastic garbage bags, piled into the dinghy and headed into SCYC  to get connected back to the real world, check out our email and post our blogs to family and friends.  While waiting for a connection, three different couples that Betty knew from Marathon came up and said hi.  Within 15 minutes, we had an invitation to dinner from Mary and Howard on NAZDAR.

That evening we had a wonderful dinner with Mary and Howard and their guests onboard, Sally and Gary.  They had towed their Jupiter 31, behind NAZDAR from Marathon.  With their guests leaving on Saturday, plans were made to snorkel Thunderball at low tide on Sunday.

Thunderball Grotto is just off SCYC.  It is a cave under a small cay that became famous with the 007 movie, Thunderball.   Betty and I had yet to be snorkeling, so even though we had done it before, we were excited.  The best time to snorkel is at low tide, because you can swim right in.  Once inside, there are two large holes that let sunshine inside.  Normally, the cave is crowded with cruisers dinghy’s and fast tour boats bringing guests down from Nassau for the day, but today there were only the four of us.  With the blow out of the west, the water was cloudy, but the fish were still there to greet us.

After lunch back onboard, Mary and Howard took us for a ride in the Jupiter 31.  We ran inbetween the cays to stay out of the 2-4 footers coming off the bank, to Sampson Cay.  We were just in time to watch the fuel tanker come in to refuel the marina.

We meandered up Pipe Creek weaving in and out of the small islands and cays for over five miles.  Most of the way we were reading the color of the water to avoid sandbars and coral heads.  We headed out Cambridge Cay Cut and came back down the deep blue Exuma Sound side.

That evening Mary and Howard were invited to LILI for a light supper.  Mary and Howard were just starting their Bahama Adventure, while we were winding ours down.

Looking for a Hidey-Hole in the Exuma Cays!

From Calabash Bay, we had a 64 mile run up the Exuma Sound to Dotham Cut.  Within a couple miles of leaving the shallow turquoise water of the bay, the water color changed to a dark royal blue as the depth dropped quickly to 3,000 feet and then on to over 6,000 feet deep.  We had a comfortable run with 3-4’ rollers, 12 seconds apart on our port stern quarter.  However, we got to Dotham an hour after high tide.  The current was rushing out the cut.  Our 7.5 knot speed, dropped to 3.6 knots as we slowly made our way through the narrow rocky cut.  Pulling into the Black Point anchorage, it was the first time in over 30 days (since Nassau) to be anchoring someplace we had been before and familiar.   We were looking forward to going into Lorraine’s Café, for free WiFi and possibly doing laundry at the Rockside Laundromat, the best one in The Bahamas!


We had been watching Chris Parker’s weather forecasts closely and each day, he was predicting unsettled weather for The Bahamas.  On Thursday, he came out with three different forecasts for the Exuma Cays.  The last one said the wind would be changing from the SE to the SW, then the NW, 15-20 knots.  Once the wind picked up and moved from the westerly direction, we would get 2-4’ wind waves.  Most of the Exuma anchorages give good protection from the SE tradewinds.  When a cold front blows through and the wind clocks around there are not many hidey-holes for west or north winds.  That evening we sat down with the charts and tried to find as many good hidey-holes as possible in case they filled up quickly.  That night the heavens let loose with about 3” of rain and LILI got a good rinse.


First thing Friday morning, even though the wind hadn’t clocked around yet, the anchor was up and we headed out in search of a protected anchorage.  Arriving at our first choice we were only the second boat there.  We tucked in nicely between Little Majors Spot and Big Majors Spot.  We were just a three-mile dinghy ride to Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  We couldn’t do laundry there, but we could get WiFi.  By late Saturday afternoon, there were at least 40 other boats anchored between us and the yacht club, including at least 5 mega-yachts.

Calabash Bay

Calabash Bay is what you dream about, the perfect remote beach fringed with palm trees and casaurinas.  The two-mile long “to die for” beach is tucked just around the most northern end of Long Island, Cape Santa Maria.  The water has so many colors of blue, from the Bombay Gin blue close to shore to the dark royal blue of the deep Exuma Sound.  The chart notes that there is a surge here, but once anchored, it seemed very manageable.  Best part is there is a small resort here welcoming cruisers to their dining room.


It was Jill’s night to cook, so dinner reservations were made at Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort for 6:30 pm!  We had heard that the meals were great, so why not?  Only one problem, no dinghy dock!  Now in the past, Jill had difficulty beaching LILIPAD and getting her stuck.  So in the afternoon we scoped out the beach for a landing site.  After taking showers and putting on nice shorts and shirts, I opted for my bathing suit underneath.  We checked out that low tide was at 6 pm, so we could anchor the dinghy really close to shore and not worry about getting her stuck…  Yea, easier said than done.  Betty got to shore without getting her shorts and shirt wet, but I gave up and it was a good thing I had my bathing suit on.  Off came the clothes and into the water I went to get the bow anchor in the right place.  Good thing I brought a towel and the nearest cottage had a fresh water spigot.  I rinsed off, got dressed and sat my wet butt on the towel in the lovely second floor screened-in dining room.  Diner was wonderful!  I had cracked conch and Betty had flounder and we both had rum cake with ice cream for dessert – our first dessert in over a month!


Wednesday morning, we took a long dinghy ride looking for a beach to go shelling.  We did venture over to Hog Cay and up Joe Sound Creek.  Betty then spent the day in heaven – on the beach all by herself, looking out at the blue water, listening to the waves hit the shore.  Jill on the other hand spent her time working on this journal.

South of the Tropic of Cancer!

Is the Tropic of Cancer Latitude N 23° 30.000’, 23° 27.000’ or 23° 26.152?  For 2013, the answer is the last one.  It is as far north as the summer sun travels above the equator in the Northern Hemisphere.  Below this line, you are in the Tropics where it does not experience seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall), as the sun is always high in the sky.  The sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer at noon on the summer solstice, June 21.  We made it below the Tropic of Cancer.


Most cruisers never make it south of here, as you are exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.  There are legendary passages to negotiate.  There are not many all-weather anchorages, hardly any settlements and few sources of fuel.  The direct paths to and from the Caribbean crisscross this area.  While typing this on May 1st, I overheard on the VHF radio, a small group of sailors that had left George Town this morning.  They were discussing the weather conditions as they rounded Cape Santa Maria on their way non-stop to Lupron, Puerto Rico.


The ladies on LILI made it as far south as 23° 21.540’ and that is as far as we are going.  It is time to turn around and start heading north.

Long Island

Saturday morning, anchor was up early and we head out of Elizabeth Harbour and over to Long Island.  The wind was blowing 20 knots and most of the waves were on the beam, as we wove our way through the reefs and shallows to Thompson Bay, on the west side of the island.  Eighty miles long and rarely more than four miles wide, Long Island seems to go on forever.  The town of Salt Pond is homeport to a small fishing fleet.  Long Island Breeze Resort located next to the government dock is the “in” spot for cruisers.  They offer a daily Cruisers Net, free WiFi, a dinghy dock, showers, a swimming pool and laundry facility.  Unfortunately, they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.  There were only three other sailboats anchored in Thompson Bay, but fortunately Will from VARUA next to us, came over and fill us in on all the local knowledge.


On Monday, Betty rented a car and we were off to see the sights.  Jill was driving, always trying to remember left, left, left, stay on the left side of the road.  As we headed south, we were both struck by how clean Long Island is compared to other islands in The Bahamas.  There was no roadside litter, the grass along the edge was neatly mowed and the trees at the side were all trimmed back.  The homes we passed were neat and fairly tidy; with a trash bin at the end of each the driveway for garbage pickup.  They were very few abandoned houses and even though we saw lots of liquor stores, we saw no one standing around drinking.


Our first stop was at the Long Island Museum in Buckleys.  The young docent had a soft voice, but shared so much about life on Long Island.  Long Island is 80 miles in length, but only 4 miles wide at the widest part.  With a population of 3,000, Long Island has the most fertile soil of The Bahamas.  When the first resettled American Loyalists came in 1790, more than 4,000 acres were put in cotton alone, while stock raising and farming flourished.  With the abolition of slavery in The Bahamas in 1837, the plantations were abandoned.  Now “pothole” farming method is throughout the island, involving either blasting fertile potholes out of the rocky soil, or using natural holes.  Driving through Deadmans Cay, we saw hundreds of banana stands, and some corn planted using this method.


The most unbelievable fact about Long Island was it didn’t get electricity until 1992!  Prior to that, most homes had their own generator or went without.  Long Island is known for their excellent straw work.  There are over 120 different patterns used to make baskets, hats, purses, placemats, and floor cloths.


Next stop was Clarence Town, which is halfway down Long Island.  It sits on twin hills overlooking a beautiful Atlantic Ocean harbour.  We ate lunch at Flying Fish Marina, where we got to speak with three different sailboats who had just made their way north from the Caribbean.  Two were families (each with 3 boys) who had taken the year off for a sailing adventure.


After lunch, we visited passed by the two churches that Father Jerome from Cat Island built, one on each hill – St Paul’s Anglican Church (built earlier) and St Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church (built after he converted to Catholicism).


As we turned the car around and headed back north, we stopped at Dean’s Blue Hole.  It sits in the northern curve of rock in the cliff along a remote Atlantic Ocean beach.  The blue hole, used for the Free Diving World Championships, is 202 meters deep (663 feet).  60 Minutes/CBS News did an expose about it that aired on Jan. 14, 2013.  I remember watching it at home this past winter, while I looked out the window at the snow.  For $24 million, you can buy the 180-acre plot of land that includes this gorgeous seawater blue hole.  Local government officials are trying to keep the property in the hands of the Bahamian people.


After a stop at the BTC store to active my next data card, we went back to Salt Pond, fueled up the car, stopped at the local grocery store to pick up a some fresh fruit and green vegetables, before heading back to LILI.

National Family Island Regatta

The National Family Island Regatta started out as a race among Bahamian workboats from the various islands, sort of bragging rights.  Now, 60 years later, the rules try to retain the traditional grace and beauty of the hull and rig, while retaining the building method to allow any Bahamian builder to construct an entry.  All vessels must be Bahamian designed, built, owned, skippered and crewed.  Amateurs, without much sophistication or expense, built traditional Bahamian boats with a single keel, which could be constructed on the beach by simple means.


They race Class A thorough Class E, but the big Class A boats are the ones I fell in love with.   A Class A boat has wooden mast 60’ in length, a wooden boom 32’ in length and sails of Egyptian cotton.  The length of the boat shall be no more than 28’3”, beam may not exceed 10’6” or less than 8’ and midships keel depth of 24 inches.  No bowsprits, no spreaders, no spars, no winches, no wind instruments and no tell tales.


All the boats line up at the starting line, dropping an anchor and their sails.  At the start of the race, they must retrieve their anchor, pull up the sails and start on a starboard tack, except the number one boat can start on port.  If they fail to retrieve their anchor they are penalized 3 points.  If a man falls overboard, the boat must stop to retrieve him.  (Our experience has been that most Bahamians don’t know how to swim.)


These boats have huge sails and very small keels, so they use multiple pry boards with as many crew as the skipper would like, to keep the boat from heeling over.  As the boats tack back and forth, the crew scramble off the pry, sliding it from one side to the other and then climbing back on.  If a pry falls overboard, the skipper is allowed to leave it without incurring a penalty.  But loosing a pry board would put a boat at a great disadvantage, because the crew wouldn’t be able to get their weigh overboard.  In the following photo, can you see the guy hanging on the end of the boom trying to make a repair?


On Wednesday, the first day of racing, Betty and I walked around Regatta Point.  We stopped by the grandstand to watch a Class B race, where I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who is crew on one of the boats.  Marvin Mayhew is crew on a Class A boat, COURAGEOUS, from The Ragged Islands.  Marvin lived in Nassau, but was born and raised in the Ragged’s.  He shared the specifications of the boats and what it was like to be a part of the crew.  He asked if I might take some photos of the boat while it was racing.  It was fun to know someone on one of the boats and be able to cheer them on.


The National Family Regatta is a big event in The Bahamas and George Town was packed to the gills, not with cruisers, but with Bahamians.  I would guess that there were no more than 150 boats in the harbour, but I counted three ferries and at least five Bahamian cargo ships tied up at the government dock.  One local likened the Regatta to Carnival in New Orleans!


By Friday, there were over 75 spectator boats watching the Class A race of 15 boats.  I had taken Betty’s dinghy out to try to get some more photos.  After the start, the spectator boats were all racing to get to the first mark and the bigger center consoles with 2-3 outboards, were driving like maniacs.  They were watching the race and not the other boats around them.  After almost getting swamped I decided I had seen enough.  The craziness was only going to get worse.  It was time to get out of Dodge!

George Town, Great Exuma

Tuesday morning, the anchor was up early and we headed across the Exuma Sound for George Town. Cruising the past two April’s in the Exuma islands, Betty and I have never been interested in seeing George Town. Its claim to fame is having the highest annual visiting cruiser totals in The Bahamas. During the winter months, anywhere between 400-600 cruisers are anchored in Elizabeth Harbour. In March, during the Cruisers Regatta, add another 100 boats.

This is a boater friendly town with good anchorages, a convenient airport and some of the best-stocked stores in the southern Bahamas. Inside little Lake Victoria, the local grocery store, Exuma Market, has a large dinghy dock right behind the store and they provide a spigot with free potable water. Across the lake is a large garbage dumpster for cruiser to use, free of charge.

The harbor is nine miles long by one mile wide and lies between the mainland of Great Exuma and barrier islands, Stocking and Elizabeth. Within these waters, there is shelter, one side or the other. The majority of boats, once they drop their anchors, never move until it is time to migrate north for the summer.

Every morning at 8 am on VHF channel 68 is the Cruisers Net. A friendly voice gives the Chris Parker weather report, time of tides, safety information, list of community social events, recreational programs (volleyball, yoga, etc.), community assistance, welcome to cruisers new to the area and goodby to those that are leaving.

My concern with George Town is the years of holding tank abuse by hundreds and hundreds of vessels. Along with the grey water from too many dishes, and showers with anti-bacterial soap, it has taken its toll on this harbor. We heard there was a pump-out boat, but never saw it.

All of this aside, both Betty and I were pleasantly surprised by George Town. It is not a place I would want to stay for the winter, but for 5 days, it was just right. So, why did we come to George Town? The 60th Anniversary of the National Family Island Regatta, April 24-27th.