Saturday, May 31, 2008

Long Island Rocks

The tenth of May, we left safe, comfortable, and convenient Georgetown behind. For most cruisers to the Exumas this is their last stop and turn around point. Few people venture further south(east) and when we met one of these “brave” souls, any information was more than welcome. Soon enough we felt as if we were leaving civilization and with that the congregation of other cruisers. We also realized that safe, all protected harbours became inexistent. Irie would be mostly heading into the winds from now on, so weather forecasts became even more important.

The day we left Georgetown and its Elizabeth Harbour, it was dead calm. The Sound was as flat as it could be, showing the bottom of the ocean for a long time. No ripple on the water, just a trail behind the boat, created by one of our engines. The sun was extremely hot and soon enough, we missed the breeze to cool us and the dogs off. The only solution we came up with during these uncomfortable six hours, was to throw a bucket on a line overboard, fill it up with seawater and rinse dogs and humans off with the refreshing water. And repeat. It helped some. Seawater does come in handy once in a while. At least that’s something we have an unending supply off! Don’t try to cook pasta in it, though… Waaaaaaaay too salty!

During this trip, we also had our most wonderful and special experience so far. Mark spotted a few dolphins in the distance. After a while they seemed to swim towards us. They came closer and closer, stopped in front of one of the hulls, waiting for their friends. Then, all six of them, in formation, glided in between our hulls and swam barely in front of the catamaran. Because of the flatness and clearness of the water, we could see every single detail on their bodies, and their big smiles. Only common sense told us that they were indeed in the water and not above it. It was as if we were watching these beautiful creatures on top of an aquarium. It was just awesome! I still regret not grabbing the camera before we walked on our trampoline. The dogs sensed our excitement and joined in the fun. That must have been too much for our show animals. They left as quickly as they arrived.

Salt Pond in Thompson Bay became our anchoring place and base in Long Island. The island runs mostly north-south, but by moving around, it is possible to find protection from west and northwest winds, just not from the southwest. And where did the wind come from a couple of days later? Yes, the southwest. Of course we regretted not coming down from the Exumas that day, since we could have actually benefited from it and sailed… What a concept. Our friends Cindy and Gray were wiser. We tried to sit the bouncing and rocking out for a day and a night, before we decided to move to the north of the bay. It was still pretty uncomfortable over there, and taking the dogs to shore in the waves was a whole feat, but at least there was a beach closer by. Not too much later, the wind turned more to the west, giving us all some relief.

Salt Pond has two good supermarkets with a lot of fresh produce, quite a pleasant surprise. Fox Auto rents cars and that was one of the main reasons we staged out of there. Together with our friends from Cindy’s Island, we rented a car for the day. This way, we got to see Clarence Town, the highlight of the island. Here we found two beautiful churches (one of which we climbed for a great view) and a couple of blue holes, right off the beach. After lunch, we swam in one of them –supposedly the deepest blue hole in the world (660ft). The area was very beautiful, with a white sand beach, shallow, warm sea water with waves crashing on the reefs in the distance, a picturesque rock wall rising along the water’s edge, and in the midst of it all, a big dark blue spot, where the water was cold and seemed bottomless. Very pretty!

We also stopped in Simms, with its tiny, outdated government complex consisting of a court, a post office, and “Her Majesty’s Jail”. Then, we decided to drive the whole way, to the Columbus Monument, with it’s contradictory plaque that honours the cruel explorer as well as his victims, the into extinction driven Lucayan Indians. We had a great view from the top of the hill. Our last stop was Calabash Bay, where we wanted to see for ourselves how big the renowned swell in the anchorage was. Pretty big…

Long Island has a good vibe to it and we liked it a lot. Not very touristy, but also not too remote or boring with quite a few things to see and do. We didn’t feel inspired enough to check out the real estate offices, though. Instead, the day before we left Salt Pond, Mark and I washed the dogs, some clothes and ourselves at a well on the main land. Talking about primitive living!

When we arrived in Calabash Bay, the wind came out of the southwest again, with a north easterly swell rounding the point. We decided to be uncomfortable in a new place, and uncomfortable it was… Taking the dogs to shore was a great and wet challenge, since we had to surf the braking waves onto the beach. Getting everybody safely back to the boat added to the adventure. Irie rocked all over the place (a catamaran produces very jerky movements) and by the time we had prepared dinner (freshly made tortillas which took forever to make round and flat; not recommended!), I felt too sick to eat. The bumpy motion did rock us to sleep in a soothing manner.

By first light on May 17th, we rounded the north of Long Island, keeping the white cliffs of Cape Santa Maria to our stern, and headed to the last islands of the Bahamas. Now we were really getting out of the “comfort zone”…

Long Island Rocks (Pictures)

Flat seas and hot weather on the trip from the Exumas to Long Island.

Clarence Town's most picturesque church, built by "Father Jerome". We climbed the narrow stairs of the left tower.

Mark and I in front of Dean's blue hole.

Panoramic view over Dean's blue hole and surroundings.

The "contradictory" plaque on Columbus Monument.

Beautiful view from the hill at Columbus Monument.

Salt Pond, Thompson Bay: Getting water out of the well to do some laundry.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Down the Exumas

Two weeks in Nassau was enough. Mark and I were pretty excited to head back to the Exumas and start part two of our voyage through the islands of the Bahamas. We kind of started where we left off with my parents, anchoring at Shroud Cay, one island down from Norman’s Cay, after crossing the Exuma Banks. The island appeared very quiet and peaceful after the hustle and bustle of the capital, and we were all smiles. The dogs loved the remote beaches and calm waters. This was our introduction to the Exuma Land and Sea Park. All of us went onshore to check out a well. The water looked a bit too dark to try it, though…

The Exuma Land and Sea Park is the highlight of the Exumas. We picked up a mooring in the North Anchorage of Warderick Wells and were ready for more exploration. The trails were off limit for the dogs, but there was a huge, shallow sand bank right next to our boat, where Darwin and Kali could splash, play and do their business. They were also allowed on the beaches (on leash). Mark and I got there just in time for the Saturday happy hour, where we met some new people and caught up with Cindy and Gray who we hadn’t seen in a “long” time. We walked a trail up Boo Boo Hill and checked out the blowholes. The view from the top was pretty nice. Since it was low tide, no water spouted out the blowholes, but we could hear the ocean rumble underneath and could feel the wind being pushed out of them.

For the first time, we actually did some real snorkelling. It was worth waiting for… The dinghy got tied onto a little mooring, while we slipped into the cool water with our gear. Soon enough, we were part of the underwater world of big fish, huge lobsters (everything is protected in the park!), live coral, and tropical fish. Lobsters were chasing each other and different dinner forms swam by many times, while we just watched in peace and sighted. When the current got a bit too strong and our bodies too cold, we took a little break in the sunshine. We finished the snorkelling adventure in a cut with other nice sea life. It was awesome to fly through the water with the ebbing tide. Getting back to shore was another story… We had to use all our strength, breath, and body parts to work our way through the unbelievably strong current. Next time, we’ll tow the dinghy!

I figured out a fun way to float in the current with our orange ring buoy, while Mark continued our hurricane insurance process. Being faced into the current and not the wind, made it pretty hot at night. The surroundings were beautiful and reminded us a little bit of Double Breasted Cays in the Abacos, where white sand banks appeared in the turquoise waters at low tide.

After three nights, we moved to the peaceful and pretty South Anchorage with Cindy’s Island. The water was clear and refreshing, with teasing fish under our boat. We spent some time on the empty beach and hiked a couple of trails with our friends. Then it was time to move on again, this time to the southern edge of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

We'd hoped to finally anchor again at Cambridge Cay, but the crowdedness, funky current, and big depth, made us pick up a mooring once more. This area has a lot of great sights, but we hoped to do them all within 24 hours to save some money on all these nightly fees. The Park needed some volunteers to manage the mooring field and we would have loved to do this if it weren’t for our need to keep moving south. Hurricane season is already peeking around the corner and we want to get all the way to the Dominican Republic by July 1.

At low tide, that afternoon, we picked up Gray and motored in our little dinghy to start exploring. We visited two interesting caves, in which we managed to squeeze the dinghy. This way we didn’t have to snorkel in and stayed dry! One of the caves had a skylight and a little shelf on which we could walk. There was even a tiny beach in the corner. We then crossed a big amount of sea to arrive at Compass Cay. A short walk led us to Rachel’s bath, a nice pool of lukewarm seawater next to the rocks. At high tide, waves crash over the rocks, feeding the pool and producing bubbles. Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience that. Instead, we pounded the long way back, into the waves, taking water over our bodies and into the dinghy, about every three seconds.

The next morning, Mark and I zipped to “the Aquarium” for some great snorkelling. From the moment we entered the water, we got surrounded by colourful fish. Some of them almost touched our masks. A few coral heads were very pretty, attracting the most beautiful of fish. This place was definitely our favourite snorkelling spot so far. There was also a submerged plane wreck nearby, but it was a bit too rough out to venture in the middle of that bay.

Our next stop was Staniel Cay, a sleepy village with a popular marina. The reason to stop here is Thunderball Grotto. At low tide, you can snorkel in the cave, where sunlight beams through the ceiling, making the colourful fish underneath you even brighter. Some of the entrances to the cave are underwater, what makes for an interesting experience. The swimming pigs are another attraction. Mark and I took the dinghy to the beach of Big Major, around the corner. Our first attempt to see these curious animals was unsuccessful, but the following morning, we managed to get the interest of one pink pig. He walked all the way to our dinghy for some cabbage, but refused to swim. We will call them the “wading pigs” from now. If it were to be high tide, they might still swim. Who knows? On shore, the Staniel Cay Yacht Club provides free wireless internet. Another reason to check out this well organized marina is the presence of many sharks and rays near the docks.

After a brief stop in Black Point and Lee Stocking Island, we finally arrived in Georgetown, the focus point of Bahamian cruising. Since “the season” is coming to an end, most of the boats already left, making Georgetown a quite pleasant place to be. None of the anchorages were too crowded and we counted less than a hundred boats. A big difference with the 400+ boats during the winter. For us, Georgetown was another one of these chore and provisioning stops. We stocked up on water (free!!), diesel, gas, and groceries. The fuel prices keep going up and diesel is now already $5.70 a gallon!

Mark found a problem with the outboard engine of the dinghy. After some thinking, considering, weighing the pros and cons, talking to an expert, and lots of stressing, we decided to temporarily fix the problem with a “band-aid” and deal with it all in Puerto Rico, instead of losing a lot of precious time, and money, now. Hopefully we get there without the motor falling apart. This was also the place where we needed to figure out our insurance for hurricane season in less than three weeks. On Thursday, May 8th, after more than a week in Georgetown, everything seemed to be figured out. One more day here to decompress and then … time for the next leg!

Down the Exumas (pictures)

The well on Shroud Cay.

Warderick Wells North Anchorage from the top of Boo Boo Hill.

A curly tail lizard. We see lots of them on walks.

Warderick Wells South Anchorage.

View from one of the trails in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.

View from the hill on Cambridge Cay.

Rachel's Bath on Compass Cay.

Shark in the shallows of Staniel Cay.

Tropical fish in Thunderball Grotto. (Photo by Cindy Loveless)

One of the underwater entrances to Thunderball Grotto. (Photo by Cindy Loveless)

Wading pig at Big Major Cay near Staniel Cay.

Dinghy entrance to Lake Victoria in Georgetown.

The anchorage at Monument Beach in Georgetown. Irie is in this picture somewhere.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Nassau as a Cruiser

We had heard and read a lot of negative things about Nassau. Just recently, a few boats got broken into, in the harbour as well as in a marina. The anchorages looked frightening: bad holding, lots of wake from passing boats, a lot of current, big ships everywhere, all kinds of debris on the bottom, and no full protection from the winds. Then, there was, of course, all the other city crime, the noise from bridges, traffic, and night clubs, and the overflow of tourists from three to four cruise ships, every day!

Nassau couldn’t be avoided, though. My parents were flying out of there, and so was Mark, to go to his brother’s wedding. We also needed to fix and obtain some important things, and being back to civilization wouldn’t hurt for a little while. By the time we arrived in Nassau, we were actually looking forward to some good food, fresh produce and meat, reliable internet, Chinese food, solving some annoying boat problems and stocking up on all kind of things.

When my parents left, Mark and I moved Irie to an anchorage closer to town, at the eastern end of the harbour. We made sure the anchor was set well. Of course we would totally turn around every six hours, because of the current. With the wind coming out of the same direction most of the time that meant no breeze would come inside and we would be rocking all the time. The current was stronger than the wind. A lot of jet skis and other pleasure craft zoomed by constantly, creating even bigger boat motions.

One evening, a nice boat dropped its anchor right in the middle of three other boats, without checking whether it got set. Moments later, the boat started dragging and almost hit our neighbour. The crew decided to move and wanted to pick up one of the mooring balls around us. They almost mistook our trip line for a mooring, but luckily realized their error in time. They would have pulled out our anchor just like that! Of course we needed to keep an eye on these guys, meaning we were stuck on the boat until they left…

Another evening, the wind turned. We turned as well, but noticed that we had barely moved or fallen back on the anchor chain. Closer inspection showed that our anchor chain was wrapped around something big and heavy on the bottom of the harbour. Three times! Mark stood at the bow giving directions, while I mastered the wheel and the engines to carefully drive Irie around the thing on the bottom. Three times! Then we fell back so far, that we ended up on top of a mooring ball. Not good. So, we had to move once again and re-anchor. Of course we hadn’t planned all this and soon it was dark as well. With his thoughts still on the anchoring chaos, Mark forgot to hook the grill up to the propane tank. Seconds later, propane gas was spewing all over the cockpit. When the grill finally and correctly started, there was so much left over grease on it, that the whole thing caught on fire. Flames surrounded the grill and we got lucky that the cushion in front of it, which we use to block the wind, survived without any stains. The two of us used the last of our energy to blow the fire out. We then had some canned food for dinner and went to bed…

The good part of our Nassau stay (other than a fun afternoon in Atlantis with Cindy and Gray, see their blog was that we got a lot done. It was a little hectic at times, but we managed to obtain propane, diesel, and gas, lots of groceries, liquor, and overly expensive dog food. I applied for and received an extension for my Bahamian visa (Mark got a new one when coming back from Boston), mailed some postcards, and met some new people. We cleaned, rinsed and filled our whole water tank and sun showers. The mainsail got taken down (hard work), brought to the sail maker (heavy walk), fixed, and put back where it belongs (harder work). Mark bought spare and needed parts for the boat. He had a good time at Tim’s wedding in Boston and enjoyed being with his family for the short three day trip. In the mean time, the dogs, Irie, and I stayed in a marina, rocking along in wind, current, and wake while the fenders didn’t stop creaking. I tried to run as many errands as I possibly could and at the same time spend some valuable time with Darwin and Kali. We also managed to find good internet connections for the price of a drink. One was at Mc Donald's in the town center, the other was at a gas station.

Our stay in Nassau turned out to be a productive one, as short as possible. With full boat and bellies, and our fill of Chinese food (for now), we left the capital of the Bahamas. We stopped a few days in Rose Island, to fix the steering problem, and the thru-hull, before heading out for part two of our sailing trip.

Nassau as a Cruiser (pictures)

Old and new: A Haitian sailboat sails along a cruise ship.

Irie in the rolly, but nice Harbour Club Marina in Nassau.

The best place to take the dogs is in the park with a beach, at the point.

More re-provisioning for the trip to the Exumas and further down.