Monthly Archives: March 2013

Friends, arrive, leave and the cruising life slows down…to a crawl.

It’s Saturday morning and we are on a mooring in Wardrick Wells, a national park and wildlife refuge here in the Bahamas.  As we headed south a few months ago we passed through here on our way to George Town to meet up with our boys, Rob, Chris and friend Kandice.   While we had stopped here already, we only stayed for one night as we were still in “delivery mode” and in a hurry to get to George Town.    We didn’t have the luxury of stopping for long as we had a deadline and we were going to make it.  Stopping was more about ticking off a list of destinations while waiting for weather.  We were in a rush and while it was fun to visit, we really didn’t have time to relax.  Deadline of not, we were not in the “cruising mode”.

Now, after three months we are moving a lot less and looking around a lot more.  Yes, the weather continues to be a major consideration as to where and when we move but there have been plenty of days when we have stayed put because we wanted to even if the weather said “sure, you can go”.  And when the weather isn’t cooperating we feel virtually no pressure to move.  That’s nice.   In the interest of total transparency, I may never be completely comfortable with staying put, but I have made great progress, that’s for sure.

However, I’d say that we have reached a state, or certainly Brenda has, where staying put is not a terrible thing.  I can’t recall when I have spent more time reading than I have in the last three months.  Excluding the hours spent on planes that were delayed buy snow or on some sort of mechanical gate hold back in my travel days.   Now it’s different and while I haven’t kept track, I’ll bet that I have read a dozen books, perhaps twenty since leaving home.

When we were preparing for this trip a question that we were often asked was “what do you do all day on the boat?”.    Folks that have not sent long periods aboard just can’t imagine what one could possibly do to keep occupied for days, weeks and months on a small boat.  It’s funny, but we are never bored.

Today it was dark when I got up and actually a bit chilly by Bahamas standards, in the high sixties.    Since the wee hours of today I finished a terrific novel,  Black Cross by Greg Iles.  While it is fictional, it is a gripping account of life in a Nazi concentration camp.  I won’t say more but I recommend it highly.   The whole breakfast and lunch thing, some housekeeping and some maintenance on the water maker and other piddly items plus a walk on the beach kept me busy.

You’d be amazed how much time can be taken up with shopping for groceries.  Going shopping?  Forget making a list, when you go into one of the pint sized little stores in the Bahamas, some little bigger than a small bedroom, you have to buy what they have and if the mail boat hasn’t been there in a few days there’s not likely to be much selection at all.  Produce is usually limited to onions, potatoes, carrots and perhaps green peppers.   About a month ago we spied something exotic,  a avocado, the only one we have seen in perhaps two months.  Without hesitation, we bought it.  Not quite like shopping in the states.  Actually, it’s been more than a week since we have been anywhere with any sort of settlement, much less a store.    The good news is that we will likely be somewhere by mid week where there is at least a little grocery.   Not a lot of “running out for a few things” here.

Here in the park, a 25 mile stretch of islands that are protected,  there is no fishing or taking of wildlife.  The water is clear and blue and the snorkeling is first rate.  Unfortunately,  while I had my underwater camera with me yesterday it malfunctioned and none of my photos came out.  I’ll be going again before we leave here so I am sure that I expect that I will have plenty of photos to share.   While I have not seen a single lobster in the months in the Bahamas,  there are plenty here and I am sure that I will take some great photos, again.   Yesterday when I was snorkeling I spied a large lobster, perhaps 3’ in length sitting on the sand near a coral head.   I looked at him and approached.  He did the same until we were nose to nose.  When he touched me with his antenna we both jumped and he backed down.  I was amazed by how aggressive or more likely, curious he was.  I guess that even lobsters know when they are safe.  The fish were also pretty relaxed and seemed to be more curious than afraid.

Well, how do we fill our days?  I too am amazed at how quickly the days go by but they do.  Yes, one does blur into the next and the weeks go by, but it’s a pleasant blur and I feel blessed to be able to experience this.    Generally the mornings are consumed with chores and the afternoons with exploring.

The other day, in Compass Cay, a bit south of here, I did a little fishing and caught a little fish.  Don’t worry, I threw him back.  Alas, nothing “table worthy” for Bob the mighty fisherman.  Nice looking fish.

As I sit here the view in the harbor, which is protected from nearly all directions, is one of shades of blue.  At low tide there are huge sand bars that cut across the harbor separated by deep blue channels where the park has placed moorings.  The boats are lined up with the current and if you watch you can see huge rays glide by every so often.

The strong tidal current keeps the water very clear and limits the time you can snorkel to about a half hour at low and high tides.   Swimming against the tide is tougher than you ‘d imagine so it has to be slack water.

Last night we had our friends Miles and Loreen from Ariel over for dinner.  We have been sailing with them for the last few weeks and now they are headed back to Florida and we will heading further up the Exuma chain and then on to the Abacos.  We will see them again this summer in Essex, perhaps in Maine and certainly here in the Bahamas next winter.   We have enjoyed our time together but now we will each go our separate ways.

I heard our friend Harry and Melinda on Sea Schell, another couple we spent time with, on the SSB radio this morning.  They are in the Dominican Republic, headed to Panama.  I doubt that our paths will cross again for quite some time, but we will stay in touch.   We’ll have a terrific reunion when we do see them again though.   The community of cruisers is sort of “virtual”.  While we normally define a community as a place.  With cruisers, the community is movable.  It’s great when our paths cross with old friends and a bit sad when they leave.   However, in a way, that’s one of the best parts of cruising.    Greeting, hanging out and eventually saying goodbye until the next time our paths cross.

As we have so often enjoyed on this trip, tonight, Saturday evening, will be marked by a pot luck on the beach here at the park.  I know that we  will see fellow cruisers we know and make new friends.   Tomorrow is Easter and we are a little sad that we won’t be with family.   While it’s not the same, we will be with another sort of family, cruisers here in Wardrick Wells.  The park ranger is cooking a turkey and ham and everyone will bring something to share for an informal Easter Dinner on the beach.   Yes, it would be great to be able to “blink” ourselves back to CT and family but this will be great fun as we head ashore to share food, drink and stories with others who are here and enjoying the beauty of the Bahamas.    I understand that on Easter morning at 06:00 there will be a sunrise service with some of the other cruisers on the hill overlooking the ocean.   I’d love to go.  We’ll see if we can get out of bed, to shore in the dink, up the beach and hike up to the hill, and all in time.  Not sure about that.

Yesterday was a landmark for Brenda who took off in the dink by herself to return a friend to her boat who had been visiting for a bread making lesson.  Brenda started the motor, delivered her charge and returned to Pandora.  I was so thrilled, I had to take a picture.  What next?   Blasting around the harbor at speed with a bougenvelia branch, thorns and all, clamped between her teeth?   Who knows?

So, as we say goodbye to friends, others arrive and we  continue to poke along on our way from island to island enjoying the warm blue waters of the Bahamas.     We are enjoying this chapter of our lives and it’s nice to take the time to collect such great experiences, s.l.o.w.l.y…

Another day, another beautiful Exuma beach

We have been here in Compass Cay for a few days now.   I guess that not knowing the exact number of days is a sign that I am now getting into the “cruising mode”.    I am also becoming more comfortable with the SSB and am now testing the waters with “traffic” on the Cruiseheimers net in the morning.   This “net” is designed to keep boats in touch with each other and to facilitate help with problems.   I generally check in on a fairly regular basis to let folks know where Pandora is.

Another advantage of the net is that when others check in I can request “traffic” and make contact with a particular boat that is monitoring the net.  Unlike VHF, where most boats monitor channel 16 when they are aboard, SSBs are generally not left on all of the time, at least not aboard Pandora.  Unlike VHF radios, SSBs use a good deal of power, even in the standby mode and there are dozens of channels with no dominant hailing channel unlike 16 with the VHF.

My first experience with requesting traffic with another boat was several days ago when I spoke with Sea Schell, a boat that we spent a good deal of time with in the first month aboard in the Bahamas.  Harry and Melinda, liveaboards, are headed to the western Caribbien and are currently in the Dominican Republic.  It was fun to catch up with Harry on the SSB yesterday and share stories.  In spite of their being so far from us, we were able to hear each other perfectly.

Some folks I spoke to when I was considering whether or not to purchase an SSB suggested that the technology was not “modern” and that with a sat phone you didn’t need a long range radio.  Perhaps that’s true, but being able to easily speak with someone who is very far away is a great thing and I am enjoying using the radio more often.   I’d like to get my HAM license and will likely work on that this summer.  Being a “Ham” offers some additional benefits and is certainly sets you apart from others on the sideband.  An important benefit is that you have greater knowledge about these radios that are certainly pretty complex.  More to come on that.

Yesterday Brenda and I took our dink for a tour into the mangrove swamps nearby here at Compass Cay.  There was a winding channel into the swamp and we were able to navigate quite a way in in spite of it being low tide.  Along the way we spied a good number of bone fish, a highly prized game fish here.   I understand that they give a great fight for their modest size.  We also saw a massive ray, perhaps as much as 6′ across.  While we have seen plenty of rays on this trip, none have come close to being that large.  It was impressive to see such a large fish in a narrow creek that was only a few feet deep.  I understand that rays eat conch which are abundant in these creeks.

We stopped on yet another beautiful deserted beach to look for shells.  It’s interesting that each beach that we have visited has it’s own characteristic and the sorts of shells that we find vary tremendously.  Some beaches have a wide variety and others lots of one or two types.  The slope of the beach along with the sorts of coral heads or reefs that are off of it has a lot to do with what we find.  It’s fun to visit a new beach as you never know what you will find.

This beach was particularly pretty but alas, not a single shell.

We were greeted by this curly tail lizard.  There are lots of lizards in the islands but this particular type is uniquely curious and often run up to greet you.    Most lizards run away but these guys, about a foot long, seem fearless.  It’s pretty funny to see how close you can get.  In this case, it was about four feet away when he finally took off.

We expect to be here for another day while we wait for the fairly strong north winds to shift more to the east which will make heading up the chain easier.  I don’t particularly like motoring into the wind but perhaps that won’t be too bad if the wind is light.  Perhaps that means I am not totally into the cruising thing yet.  Hmm…

Fingers crossed for more easterly winds.   Ever hopeful…

Pinned down in paradise by north winds in Compass Cay Bahamas.

It’s Monday morning and we are anchored in a lovely spot in Compass Cay for the third day.   We arrived from Staniel Cay where we left to avoid the coming west winds that would have made anchorage uncomfortable given the exposure there.  This harbor offers much better protection from nearly all directions than most harbors in the Exumas.

Staniel Cay is a very popular stop and was particularly appealing to the big boy yachting set given a planned James Bond Casino Royal charity event.  Staniel Cay is home of Thunderball Cave, of the James Bond film of the same name.  Attendees of this charity event were encouraged to come dressed the Bond part.  There were plenty that would fit that mold and a number of “bond girls” too.  Unfortunately, we had to leave due to the weather and missed the big event.  There were at least a dozen big yachts in town with the largest at 220′.  That one had an enclosed launch, actually referred to as a “limo launch” to get the guests to the event.  These mega dinks, cost as much as several, no make that a half dozen, Pandora’s. I can’t imagine the cost of keeping these babies on the move. ” If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”, they say.  OK, got it.

Since my last post we have begun our run north through the Exumas with the goal of stopping at some of the spots that we missed on our way south in January.  This time of the year we are supposed to be seeing more easterly trade winds which make travel north and south easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not looking like we will see much other than northerlies for much of the week.   Given the fact that all the islands we want to visit are north of here, we won’t be sailing there any time soon.  Perhaps, if the winds cut down a bit, even if they remain from the north, we will motor somewhere in a day or so, depending on the strength of the wind.  The good news is that the islands are very close together in this area so we wouldn’t have very far to go.

Happily, this spot, Compass Cay,  is very well protected and quite pretty with long sandy beaches and mangrove swamps that you can take a dink into at high tide.  I expect that we will enjoy doing some beach combing and sightseeing for the next few days here.  There’s even a small marina nearby where we will be able to have a lunch out.

Speaking of spending money,  we are running short of cash as there aren’t any banks in this area.  Having said that, there’s not much to spend money on anyway as only a few of the islands have any sort of settlements.  The good news is that most places, where there are inhabited “places”,  take credit cards although they charge an extra  5% for the privilege.   Oh well,  we have to keep our strength up so an extra  5% it will have to be…

The spot where we are anchored is about 20′ deep and is surrounded by flats that nearly dry out at low tide.   The water color ranges from nearly white in the shallow flats to a deep blue in the deeper spots.  It’s quite dramatic.  The tide really rips through the deeper areas so we tend to point toward the current, not the wind.  That can make for Pandora laying at some odd angles to the wind but keeps things interesting.  The views are beautiful and you can walk for several miles, on the flats, in water that is less than 1′ deep at low tide.   It’s still pretty shallow at high tide as the range is only a few feet here.   All over the flats, there are loads of sand dollars and really interesting starfish.    Brenda and I enjoyed posing with some of our new “friends”.  (Editor:  No starfish were harmed taking this photograph.  Traumatized yes, killed, no.)   And yes, the water was very warm.

We are still buddy boating with our friends Loreen and Miles of Ariel and one daily activity for us is to find a shallow spot near the beach to sit and enjoy staying cool in the water.  Me?  I have trouble sitting still for very long so I tend to abandon the “sitters” and walk along in the shallow water with my glass bottomed bucket looking for shells.  I have also been successful in finding palm fronds for Brenda so she can continue to make her baskets which are getting better and better every day.Conch and discarded conch shells are everywhere here in the Bahamas but this is the first, and certainly largest and most colorful, hermit crab that I have found.   Actually, I have never ever found a hermit crab even close to this size.   I guess that if there are big shells, there will be big hermit crabs.

With about six weeks left for our visit to the Bahamas, our thoughts have turned to logistics for our return to Essex.   Brenda will be flying out of Marsh Harbor Abaco on or about the 9th of May.    A good friend of mine, Craig, will be flying down to spend a week sailing with me after Brenda’s departure and after that I’ll have crew coming down for the run back to CT.

My good friend Chris from CT will be joining me for the run north and perhaps one other.   Logistics are always an issue when it comes to moving Pandora but I am used to that after years of practice in getting from points A to B.  I am hopeful that the weather will cooperate for our run north to the Abacos, Brenda’s departure, crew arrival and the run to CT.   Details, details…

Enjoying Little Farmer’s Cay Bahamas where it’s good to be blue.

Early in our trip to the Bahamas we visited Little Farmer’s Cay to participate in the Bahamas sloop regatta.  I wrote about this in a previous post and really had a blast sailing on one of the sloops.    It’s been several months since we were last here so it’s fun to be back in “town”.

One thing that is very different this time than during our last visit is the state of the wind.  While there is a small cold front coming through this morning, bringing fairly strong NW winds, it’s not expected to last long and to blow through by later this afternoon, bringing moderate winds with it’s departure. Earlier in the season, we had similar weather but the strong winds persisted for several days and it was a lot windier.    As the season progresses (ie: closer to summer weather) the fronts are not as strong.  That’s good.  A number of folks have told us that this season has been the toughest with regards to weather in years.   To us the weather has been challenging but we have nothing to compare it to.

However, while it’s windy right now, yesterday was very different with near perfect weather for hanging around and enjoying the beaches and sights of Little Farmer’s Cay.

It’s hard to describe how clear and blue the waters here are when the winds are settled.  To stand on board Pandora and look down into crystal clear 15′ deep water and see schools of blue tangs swimming by is just amazing.  I have a glass bottom bucket that makes it easy to see everything, but yesterday you hardly needed it as the surface was just so still.

I really tried hard to find a way to photograph the water to give and idea of what this really looks like.  I hope that the following photos provide some context to what we saw.  Amazing.

I climbed up on Pandora’s radar arch and took this shot directly down into the water.  Can you say blue sparkly?This is what it looked like forward.  Up ahead, that’s Ariel, the Aerodyne 47 we have been sailing with for the last few days.   Ariel, home to our friends Miles and Loreen, is a remarkable boat and one that can always beat me, even if she is only a bit faster.  Having said that, she is in different league and is perhaps the only boat I’d trade Pandora for.  Unfortunately, I’d have to have two of Pandora to make the trade about equal.    She’s fast and elegant.  I always look for ways to photograph Pandora looking lovely in her native environment.  This view is a particularly fetching one.    Even Pandora appeared to be a lovely blue. And just off of our starboard beam, the Little Farm’s Cay Yacht Club.   The proprietor has a great name, Roosevelt Nixon.  He’s a very nice guy.   I love the colors that buildings here are painted.  Very bright and fun.  In our little New England town,  the “decorum police” would burn the place down overnight if we painted our home this bright a color.   Here, it works.To get the most out of the day we spent several hours looking for shells on nearby beaches and came back with a spectacular haul.   After that Brenda and I toured the harbor enjoying the sights.  The community fish cleaning station was pretty busy.  These guys had speared a few large groupers and were happy to show off their catch.

Some large rays were happy to pick up the scraps.  Interestingly, unlike Rum Cay, where the cleaning station attracted all manner of sharks,  rays were the only “locals” eager to clean up.  These rays don’t look that big in this shot but they are up to 4′ across.This cute little guy seemed to be enthralled by the action in the water below. 

Everyone turned out it seems to see the catch of the day.  It was fun checking out the action.
When the weather is perfect, there’s no place more enchanting than the Bahamas.  When it’s blowing like stink, which it does with regularity, a little less  but still better than snowy and blowing.    I am liking the whole winter warm thing.  Easy to get used to.

I am  beginning to think about plans for next summer which will probably include a visit to Maine again, our 16th visit.  Pandora’s sheep mascots have been thinking about it too it seems.   Hmm…Oh yea, I should note that Brenda’s doing great with her basket making and has now finished three, each better than the last.  Some photos to come soon.

Speaking of baskets, we have been told that there is some sort of craft show in town today.  Not sure what “town” is here but we’ll probably check it out.

Perhaps I’ll close with a shot, taken 5 minutes ago, of some impressive clouds.  Notice the beached fishing boat on shore.  It’s been there for years and is a solid reminder that we go forth here with the grace of God.    Things can go badly, even in paradise and we shouldn’t forget it.  So far, so good…  And, I remain an optimist and “ever hopeful”.  What a great day!

Cat Island and a touch of civilization.

One of the things that you get in the Bahamas is the ability to avoid civilization.  Even the “resorts” are pretty basic.  However, we are now visiting a little cove with a lovely resort “Fernandez Bay Village“.   Even though it’s pretty much alone on this stretch of island, you can count on being pampered.   There is a lovely open air dining room and cute little cottages along the beach.  The main dining room has a thatched roof and a high peak that goes so well with the surroundings.   Yesterday, after a short sail around the point we anchored just in front of the resort and enjoyed a late lunch.   This is a shot taken of Pandora from inside the dining room.  Pretty nice spot.Here’s what the resort looks like from the deck of Pandora.  Nice from both views.Earlier yesterday, prior to heading over to Fernandez Bay we went for a hike up to the Hermitage, where Father Jerome lived out his retirement.    Father Jerome was responsible for designing and building many of the Catholic churches here in the Bahamas.  As both a priest and architect  he was multi-talented and in spite of all that he found time to be a hermit alone after her retired here. The Hermitage can be seen from the water and looks quite imposing up on the hill. As you approach it you feel like you are headed up to a monastery somewhere in Europe as it is silhouetted against the sky.   It sure looks like a long walk.Along the way, and it’s not a very long way, we passed a few “farms” these were really just patches of rocky land where the scrub has been burned off and some plants are started in holes between the rocks.  This sort of farming, typical of the Bahamas, is called “pot farming” when small holes are cut into the limestone and lined with dirt to hold moisture.  The crops are pretty limited and seem to consist of cabbage, corn, tomatoes and bananas.  While there is very little rain here in the winter, there are pockets where things will grow, usually in small depressions.  These bananas are doing very well in an area that was sunken some ten feet below the surrounding fields. We could see the remains of some tomato plants intermingled with cabbages. This is pretty rough farming as you can see with this guy digging in a recently burned patch.  He was digging holes in the ground with  a pick ax.  Think about this guy the next time you have to go to work.  It is probably not as bad as this. As we continued up the road and got closer to the Hermitage, we came upon a sort of welcome area. This sign proudly proclaims that this is the highest point in the Bahamas.   I w0nder if they use high tide or low for this measurement.  New moon tide perhaps?  Global warming will wipe out much of the islands as many are only 20′ high or less.  Let’s get Al Gore on the case PDQ!!! A nice shot of us with our friends Miles and Loreen from Ariel. Along the rocky path to the summit are the Stations of the Cross.   Just before you reach the summit you come upon the tomb of Christ with the stone rolled aside. Father Jerome’s chapel was very touching with a guest book to sign and a pew for one.   Every detail, in an ascetic way, was worked out, in miniature. Once you arrive at the Hermitage you realize that Father Jerome was talented in another way.  He managed to site and design his home to look far larger than it is.   It’s actually very small and there isn’t a room that’s even 8′ wide.  This guy lived a very simple life, that’s for sure.   Perhaps when he sent the construction bill to the Vatican, they were pleased when it seemed to cost about 1/4 of what they might have expected.  I wonder if they knew that it was only about 1/4 of the size that you’d expect?   Hmm… You get a good feel for just how small the place is when we posed for pictures looking out of the windows.  Perhaps it’s blasphemy to say this but to me but these windows reminded me of the old TV show Laugh In, with the celebrity characters in the opening doors.  Strike me down Father Jerome, but that’s what I thought.  It does look a lot larger than it is.  Here’s Brenda in the arch.  Wow, I didn’t know that she was that tall.  The building is a sweet testimony to a man devoted to the Bahamas and it was very nice to have an opportunity to visit.

We were planning to spend a few days in Fernandez Bay but today, when I listened to Chris Parker, he reported that the weather would have westerly winds on Wednesday evening, not good at all for where we were.  This meant that we beat a hasty retreat some 55 miles over to the Exuma chain and Little Farmer’s Cay today that offers better protection than Cat Island.  That’s where we are now.

Tonight we had a nice dinner with Miles and Lorreenfrom Ariel at the Little Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club and reconnected with the proprietor Roosevelt Nixon, whom we’d seen some six weeks ago when we last passed this way.

We’ll be here for a few days.  I hope to do a bit of snorkeling and shelling over the next few days.



Heading North and a perfect day of sailing. Destination Cat Island

At 14:00 on Sunday and we were a dozen miles from land in any direction and crossing the ocean between Long Island and Cat Island.  The water was about 6,000 feet deep and a dark rich indigo.  That’s really deep.  What’s most amazing is that the bottom drops off from about 50′ to thousands in just 1/4 mile.  It’s  a cliff, for sure.   We were fishing using a mesh cast net and caught what was probably a Mahi-Mahi, great eating, but lost it.  Perhaps the most impressive is that bringing in a fish that weighs perhaps a dozen pounds while racing along at 7kts is a challenge.  In order to bring the fish in I rounded up the boat into the wind to slow the but that made us really bounce around, which Brenda didn’t appreciate.  I guess that’s enough fishing for one day.   

The wind today is about perfect with the apparent wind in the 10-15kt range directly on the beam.  We are sailing today with Ariel, an Aerodyne 47, a boat that is much larger than we are.  However, Pandora held her own and most of the time we kept up.  We did loose over a mile on her when we rounded up to try and boat the fish.  However, after seeing how Brenda, who had been doing fine up until the “fish episode”, began to feel poorly while I tried to reel in the fish, I decided that having fish for dinner tonight wasn’t as important as keeping Brenda from becoming ill. 

We had a great week at Thompson Bay Long Island and enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones.  As luck would have it, a group of some 25 to 30 boats decided to have a rally from George Town to Thompson Bay, something that I am told happens each winter.  As part of the festivities there were parties on the beach and dinners at the local eatery, the Long Island Breeze.  We participated in a number of the activities and enjoyed ourselves a great deal.  This rally was an opportunity for the folks that hang out in Georgetown for months at a time to get out of town for a few days.   The cocktail party on the beach was great fun.  That’s only a part of the dink “fleet” at the beach.  That’s a lot of dinks.   If you are wondering, ours is the grey one with the 15hp outboard.  Yeah, really unique.After two months in the Bahamas we decided that it was high time to begin a leisurely run north beginning with Cat Island.   As Miles and Laureen, aboard Ariel, had done this run before, we decided that we would “buddy boat” with them for a while.  We don’t know how much time we will spend on Cat as we also would like to take in some of the islands in the Exumas chain that we missed on our run down to George Town to meet up with the boys. 

Yesterday we took a hike out to one of the ocean beaches where we hoped to find some nice shells.   Yes, we have tons now but we hoped to find some varieties that we had not seen yet.  We also hoped to find some “sea beans”, small brown nuts that are about 1-3” inches around.  These floating beans come all the way from South America, I am told, and wash up on the ocean facing beaches of the Bahamas.  To date we have only found one but were rewarded by finding two yesterday.  Good thing that we found the beans as the beach didn’t have many shells.  It’s funny how some beaches have loads of shells and others don’t.

Here’s a sample of some that we found on Rum Cay last week.  You never know which beach will be chock full of discoveries.   Yes, you guessed it, Brenda loves little shells. Unfortunately, the beach was littered with plastic trash, everything from soda bottles to discarded fishing floats and nets.  Just about anything that will float and is not bio-degrade seemed to have ended up on the beach.  While most of the trash was high and dry, a remarkable amount of garbage was sloshing around in the waves off of the beach including a large tangle of lines and floats, clearly a discarded or lost fishing net.  It’s unfortunate to see a beautiful beach defiled by massive amounts of trash.  Garbage disposal on the islands is a problem and I can’t imagine what can be done to solve this.  Perhaps piling up the debris and setting fire to it is about the only option.   

In spite of the trash, the beach was quite scenic with craggy outcroppings off shore looking dramatic in the sunlight against the deep blue waters.We sat on a rock at the end of the beach and had a picnic lunch. 

A friend off of another boat taught Brenda how to weave baskets from palm fronds so I was hot on the trail to harvest some materials for her to work her magic on.  Happily, we were successful and harvested a number of compact fronds. You only pick the ones that look like a green spear and have not yet opened up to weave baskets. Brenda’s first basket looks great but to her discerning eye, she feels that it’s a bit rough.  Me, I am really impressed with her first effort and am certain that she will be turning out magnificent pieces very soon.  It’s worth noting that this shot of Brenda weaving her first basket was taken as we sailed up the western coast of Long Island today. Along the way to the beach we came across some “wild” goats.  The mothers and kids were quite cute.  I also spied this little lizard on a palm frond.  These little guys are everywhere.We are looking forward to seeing the sights on Cat Island and are excited about being shown the ropes by Miles and Laureen.

The trip today was over 60 miles.  Let me assure you that that’s a long way to sail in a day.  We did the run with only one hour of motoring in 10 hours.  Not  bad.   Ariel beat us by half an hour. 

Well, after a great day of sailing I was pretty pooped but not so tired that I couldn’t make a few rum punches.  Now, that’s a perfect way to cap off a great day of sailing.

How about closing with tonight’s equally perfect sunset?  Actually, that’s a similar color to a rum punch.  Accidental? I don’t think so.  

Touring Long Island Bahamas, by car! How novel!!!

It’s Thursday morning, the sun is up and the wind has gone away. I am sitting on the deck of a local “resort” looking out at the bay and working on my blog post.  Very nice, sunny and warm.  Brenda’s doing the wash.  I am prohibited by law from touching laundry.  It seems I can’t be trusted.  I mix white and dark, dry things that are not to be dried etc.   Isn’t that OK?   Help me on this…

This is the view from where we are sitting doing our blogs, and laundry.  Pretty nice.  Speaking of no wind, and I was earlier in this post if you have lost track, I almost have.  It’s interesting how the wind goes light and variable ahead of a cold front.  Tonight as the front passes, the wind will quickly build from the north and gust to 25kts or more for a day or so.  So, today we will enjoy the calm conditions.  After the front passes and the winds return to the east, we will probably be sailing to Cat Island our first move in a northerly direction since coming to the Bahamas two months ago.

The two month milestone was particularly important given the fact that  we had only been given that amount of time on our visa when we arrived and it will expire on Monday.  One doesn’t want to have an expired visa, ever, I am told.  Happily, we were able to renew our visas yesterday on Long Island from a very well dressed and pleasant officer here on the island.  All government officials dress really well.  The “government offices” here in Long Island are “modest”.  Actually, the “complex” of buildings were mostly unmarked save a sign at the road.The management of visas is taken very seriously here in the Bahamas.  We had heard a story yesterday about a guy who had lost their immigration card, given to him when they cleared in through customs. On top of that they were late, by one day, applying for an extension.  Because of this he was told to leave the Bahamas immediately, clear into another country and then they could reenter the country and get a new visa.  And, all of this was happening with an approaching cold front making leaving dangerous.  I understand that after much back and forth, he was given a stay of execution to remain in the Bahamas until the weather settles down next week.  Having heard about this we were a bit anxious about what sort of complications we might run into ourselves. Happily, all went well.

Getting to the offices without a car would be tough so it was timely that we had decided to rent a car with some friends to tour the island.  The customs office was not even close to any harbor that we can get into here on the island.

Having a car and driving down the road, after two months of sailing was quite a novel sensation.  To go fast in a car and not get splashed, as we do in the dink, was great.  However, the thrill was tempered somewhat by the $6.00 gas prices. 

Long Island is actually quite long, as the name suggests.  I say long and not large as while it’s 50 miles long, it’s only about a mile wide (or much less) at any point. Even though the main road is paved, it takes hours to drive from one end to the other, and on the wrong side of the road.  Having said that, we didn’t have to worry about getting lost as there is only one north south road that runs from one end to the other. 

Our plan for the day was to do a bit of sightseeing including a visit to Dean’s Blue Hole, billed as the deepest in the world at over 600 feet. To be able to walk out in water that is less than three feet deep and stand on the edge of a sheer drop off that plunges to that depth is an amazing sight to behold.  The hole is a deep blue but it doesn’t really show in this photo as the surf was up and the water a bit murky.

In the middle of the hole there is a raft moored for free divers to practice their “sport”.  This sport is to see how far down you can dive while holding your breath and return to the surface.  Divers come from all over the world to compete for the distinction of being able to dive the deepest.This guy was practicing.  He sat for what seemed like for ever prior to slowly diving down.  Some meditate and are able to slow down their heart rate to a point where they can go with less oxygen than mere mortals.  He wore a single flipper that looked like a mermaid fin and held both of his feet.  Notice the wire going straight down into the water from the float.  They clip to that wire to help guide them down and back.I understand that there is some hearty sole that actually reached the bottom and returned to the surface on a single breath.  Not sure I have that quite right as I have heard conflicting reports on what’s actually the deepest dive.  Those who practice the sport can hold their breath for up to four minutes.  I feel short of breath just writing about it. Yikes… 

This video is of some guy that did a free dive at Dean’s.  Take a deep breath and watch…

Around the corner from the bay where the blue hole the sea was raging.  Glad that we were not on that lee shore with Pandora.  We had sailed in those sorts of waves a few days ago and they don’t seem nearly that large when you are in water that’s 7,000 deep in the ocean.  However, when they pile up on shore…  Watch out!

Along the way we visited Clarencetown, near the southern tip of Long Island.  The harbor was rough but very pretty.

We visited a beautiful Catholic church. It looks like it belongs on the shore of the Aegean.We climbed up one of the towers.  It was very, very narrow with wooden ladders going from level to level. Once at the top, what a great view.  Along the way a view through a window.For dinner we visited a lovely spot Chez Pierre.   It’s funny that they have a website when their electricity has to come from a generator.  The road to visit is several miles from the main highway.  It was far and away the best meal we have had out in the Bahamas to date.  A great way to finish a terrific day.

Tonight we will be gathering on the beach with other cruisers for cocktails and a pot luck.  We won’t forget to bring the bug spray.   Such are the compromises of the cruising life.  Such pain…

Thompson Bay, Bahamas, the half way point.

Well, it’s Monday March 11th and we have been in the Bahamas for nearly two months.   I have to say that it has been nice to avoid all of the snow and cold weather of the north.  Having said that, the Bahamas in January and February have weather that is challenging in it’s own way, with cold fronts (a relative term as it relates to “cold”) coming through one after the other, twice a week or so.

Cold fronts drop the temperature only perhaps 5 degrees while the winds clock counter clockwise from east to south through to the north.  While the full clocking isn’t that common in the central Bahamas, the George Town and Exumas area, where we have spent much of our time, it’s very evident in the northern Bahamas, the Abacos, where frontal winds will often clock nearly 360 degrees with the passage of a front and very often with quite strong winds.

With most harbors in the Bahamas only protected from a very limited number of wind directions, perhaps from ENE-E-ESE, this means that we have to be very aware of forecasted winds and make our way to an appropriately sheltered anchorage when change is in the forecast.

In our first two months we have only really had difficulty with clocking winds, and worrying about where to go to remain sheltered, one time, and that was a few weeks ago when we headed to Rum Cay to ride out a particularly strong front.  Prior to going to Rum, we were in Conception Island which is quite isolated and is subject to wrap around swell from the ocean, even in the best of conditions.  Complicating the situation is the lack of good shelter within a day sail from there and it is certainly not protected from the northerly winds associated with a cold front.

As a result, from Conception, we really didn’t have many options, beyond George Town, where we had already spent too much time, to position ourselves to avoid unfavorable winds.  While a harbor that is sheltered from the prevailing easterlies, is a great spot during “normal” weather, it can be downright dangerous when a front passes, bringing winds that are from an unprotected direction.  In the example of Conception Island, the harbor is protected from easterly winds.  However, you would quickly find yourself on a lee shore (not a good thing) if the winds pick up from the west as is often the case in advance of the passage of a front.

It is because of the passage of a front that we found our way to Rum Cay, certainly one of the most interesting islands that we have visited to date.  I have already written a good deal about our visit there but I should include a photo of the sculpture that Bobby, the marina owner and local artist, did for us.  Bobby is known for his sculptures carved from found objects, mostly coral heads.  These pieces of coral, some quite large, were found washed up on the beach or were dredged from the harbor when the marina was constructed.  He told us that these pieces of coral are from a time when the seas were at a very different level, around the last ice age, some 15,000 years ago.  While the coral pieces come out of the ground looking pretty nasty, all black and stained, they bleach in the sun and after Bobby is done with his carving they look all fresh and new.

Here’s a photo of the raw piece of coral that Brenda selected.

Here’s the same piece after Bobby did his magic.  We are thrilled with his work and certainly will be back to him for another piece if we find our way back there next winter.  He really does great work.

So, what’s next as we think about the next two plus months of our trip?  We are now in Thompson Bay Long Island where we have been for the last two nights after our sail from Rum Cay, a 50+ mile day, which we did, happily, under sail.  I spent much of yesterday cleaning the boat and polishing all of the stainless, something that I have not done in months.  316 stainless, while it’s designed for the marine environment, does get mild surface rust, perhaps better described as a patina, that has to be removed with a mild abrasive such as Soft Scrub.  This is pretty easy to do but does take time.  Pandora had gotten pretty scruffy but now she looks great.  I still have to spend a few hours cleaning some grey streaks off of the hull which I will tackle over the next few days.  The bottom needs cleaning but I am note quite ready to handle that job.

With our trip nearly half over, we will soon begin heading toward the northern part of the Bahamas and will likely visit some of the islands of the Exuma chain that we missed on our way down to George Town.  We also hope to spend some time on Cat Island and Eleuthra on our way to the Abacos, the most northern part of the Bahamas.  The northern portions are best visited in the spring when the fronts are less powerful.

At some point in May we will head back to Florida, probably Ft Pierce.  Brenda will head home by plane and I’ll bring Pandora back to CT with crew.  I’ll have Pandora hauled, probably for two months for some upgrades and maintenance.  After re launching her we will probably take her to Maine for a month or two.  After that we may do some local sailing prior to taking her, again with crew, to Annapolis for the boat show in October and then on to Florida where she will be stored for several months prior to heading back to the Bahamas for part of the winter.   While we are spending nearly 5 months here this winter, I expect that we will come here for three months next winter and split our time with a few months of sailing in Maine too, and area that we love and have spent a lot of time over the years.  Frankly, Brenda and I like the idea of splitting up our time aboard as being away from home for such a long stretch away from family has been tough.

For now, with a much shorter time horizon in mind, we are thinking about what to do in the next week. We are debating if we will stay here in Thompson Bay Long Island through the passage of the next cold front, which will arrive in a few days.  While the bay is very well protected from the sort of northerly winds, 20-25 kts, that will come through with the front mid week, we will be stuck here until the prevailing easterlies return.  That’s probably ok as we were hoping to spend a few days exploring the island with a rental car.

Having said that, Long Island is large, nearly 75 miles long, with miles of beaches to explore and some of the deepest blue holes in the world.  Blue holes are common here as the islands limestone rock is sometimes dissolved by the salt water over time creating caves that run for miles under the island.  These holes, a sort of sink-hole where a piece of land collapses, can be in the middle of an island or out in the water.  You can see them as they show up as a dark blue hole, a few hundred feet across, against a ring of white sand in shallow water.  Often these holes are in the middle of an island and look like a small pond that is a deep indigo color.  Interestingly, a sport of free diving has evolved in these holes, where swimmers will dive down, sometimes hundreds of feet while they hold their breath. The sport is to see who can go down the farthest and come back up while holding their breath.  I understand that some of the best free divers in the world live here on Long Island.  I get out of breath just thinking of this.  If you search for “free diving Bahamas” on You Tube, you will see these guys strutting their stuff.  Not for me…

We will have to see if we’ll leave soon or stay for the week. I’m betting staying will be the word.  Besides, we’re in the Bahamas mon, and we can always put off a decision until tomorrow.

Deep sea fishing in Rum Cay and some beach combing

It’s Thursday afternoon and the wind has died down from the front that came through last evening.  Chris Parker, the weather router, says that he expects that this will be the last of the major fronts to come to this part of the Bahamas for this season.  That’s good so the winds should be more moderate going forward.  The strongest winds are in the early winter, just like up north but not nearly as cold and strong. 

With some luck we will be on our way to Thompson Bay Long Island in a few days.  After that we will begin heading north to Cat Island and then Eleuthra prior to heading to the Abacos.  

While the winds last night strong, nearly 20kts, they are nothing like those north off of Cape Hatteras, where there are gales.  I understand that the constant wind will lessen as the season passes and that in the summer the winds in the Bahamas are in the 5-10kt range.  Of course, that doesn’t take into account the hurricanes that blast through.  Minor detail.

A few days ago Brenda and I rented a golf cart to do some beach exploring along with our friends Dick and Anne.  It was great fun and we enjoyed spending some time on the shore.  The beach went on for miles and there wasn’t a sole to be seen.  Good thing that the golf cart didn’t break down. Things aren’t maintained here at the same high level as in the states, it seems.  As we were motoring down the road we approached a hill only to learn that the cart doesn’t seem to have breaks.   That was a bit breathtaking, I’d say.  No loss of life though.

The beach was quite magnificent with large breakers hitting the shore.  Pretty dramatic. Brenda and Anne aboard the “noble steed”.   Pretty big tires for a golf cart.On our way to the beach we passed the airport.  There were a total of four planes in residence.  However, these two don’t look like they are leaving any time soon.   I understand that the one upside down was flipped by Sandy and the other was owned by a drug guy years ago.  It seems that when stuff breaks down her it is just left and never picked up.  Too bad as it does junk up the island and much of it isn’t this interesting.  Yesterday I spent some time spearfishing and bagged one small fish but not enough to make a meal out of.  I should have spent more time with my camera as I spied a fabulous spotted ray that swam gracefully by and a small turtle.  The water was really amazingly clear.  I expect that the visibility was well in excess of 100’.

These photos don’t begin to do justice to the beauty of the reef.There wasn’t  a massive number of fish but what was there was really beautiful.

This little guy, a cow fish,  is one of my favorites.Angel fish are great too and come in a variety of colors.
And, of course, the blue tangs.  They swim in schools of dozens.   Pretty impressive.
Last evening, Brenda and I walked down town, such as it is, to enjoy a beer on the beach overlooking the government pier while the sun set.  What a view.On our way back we spied this lovely sunset as we got close to the marina.  If this was a painting, you’d likely say that it looked fake.  Nice fake, if you ask me.Yesterday I was invited to go deep fishing with one of the locals.  Ben, who is the paid captain of this massive sports fish boat, watches it for a wealthy lawyer from the states who almost never uses the boat.  Quite a vessel.  Ben and I went out on his boat, the one on the left.  I doubt that we could have afforded the fuel for the big one.  Yikes.  Actually, with fuel here on Rum Cay at $8 a gallon, I can’t afford it here either.  It has to be brought to the island in 50 gal drums, I am told.  Not very efficient.    Ben captains the boat on the right.  Alas, we fished on the one to the left.  I doubt that I could have even afforded the fuel to get the big one out of the marina.  We had a great day of fishing and bagged a Mahi Mahi, and a big King Mackerel.  The Mahi Mahi gave quite a fight including some spirited leaps into the air.

The King was like reeling in a big log that pulled like mad.  The one that got away must have been huge as it seemed much more powerful than either one that we boated.Ben did a masterful job of cleaning the fish.  His knife was sharper than anything I have ever used.  I doubt that I have a knife aboard Pandora that could have tackled something as large as the King.The sharks appeared out of nowhere as if in cue to pick up the scraps.  I counted eight at the peak of the cleaning process.  I’d hate to land in the water and be mistaken for a piece of bait.  Compared to these monsters, that’s all I’d be.   The biggest run over 8′ long. Fish cleaning is a very public affair attracting all sorts of attention both on and below the dock.Last night we had sauteed Mahi Mahi for dinner and Mahi Mahi fish burgers for lunch today.   Brenda did a great job on both.   And, we have 4 huge King steaks in the freezer.  Good thing as our freezer isn’t totally packed any longer.   Tonight we will have grouper as I went spearfishing with a guy from the marina today and he speared two.

A nice couple of days on Rum Cay.  Friday we will be exploring a few more beaches with that nifty golf cart.  Let’s hope that the hills aren’t too steep.

Now that most of the boats have left the marina and the new crop of cruisers haven’t yet arrived, we have the place to ourselves.   This shot of Pandora really shows how beautiful the place is.  What a spectacular spot.   I expect that this will be one of the highlights of our trip but then I have said that before.  I wonder what awaits…  Hmm… 

Not just another day in Rum Cay. The mail boat visits!!!

It’s Monday and we are enjoying our 6th day at the marina at Rum Cay.  Perhaps the most puzzling fact of all is that we haven’t really done much since arriving except enjoy the marina, sit aboard Pandora and go for a few walks.  Perhaps I am finally getting into the “cruising ting” where there’s always tomorrow to do what you don’t want to tackle today.  One thing that I need to tackle is the persistent water leak in the pressure water system. I have torn the boat all apart and can’t find it.  Very frustrating. Ugh…

This is a view of the marina from one of the surrounding “hills”. You can see that this harbor was carved out of the coral rock.  Pandora is the one with the double head stay. That large sand dune is a result of the ongoing attempt to keep the channel open which fills in after each major storm.Friday was an action packed day here in Rum Cay when the weekly mail boat came to the island.  The boat, perhaps better described as a small tramp freighter, visits the island about once a week from Nassau.  Pretty much anything that comes to the island comes on that boat.  That includes groceries which are sold at one of the two “grocery” stores including my favorite The Last Chance Grocery.   This “grocery” is really more of a small cute shack and the selection is limited, at best. Based on the selection we saw when we visited prior to the mail boat’s arrival, we had clearly missed our last chance for fresh produce.  

There isn’t a very protected harbor that can accommodate the mail boat so the government maintains a pier that juts out from the “town”.  It’s pretty heavily built and in spite of that is often destroyed during hurricanes.  I understand that the pier was heavily damaged by Sandy and was recently rebuilt. 

The arrival of the mail boat is a major social event with just about everyone on the island coming down to greet it.  As you can see, “boat” may be a better a better description than ship.  Having said that, it’s pretty heavy and when they came up alongside the pier, they gave it a pretty hefty nudge that made the pier shift several inches under my feet.   I just had to be in the thick of it and walked out onto the pier for its arrival along with everyone else.The mail boat includes a freezer and refrigerated section as well as a cargo hold down below in the bow.  There is a crane on deck that lifts out pallets of goods all wrapped up with the name of the recipient stamped on a label.  The boat also takes passengers who boarded the boat on Wednesday night for the 36 hour passage. Things move slowly here in the Bahamas and the cost of passage on the ship is a lot less than a flight by plane, if you could get one to come here at all.It’s amazing to see all of the goods that come ashore including major appliances.  I doubt that freight costs he can compete with trucking in the US however, where else would you have the opportunity to take delivery of a washer or dryer with a salt film all over it?   Rum Cay, that’s one place, for sure.  We were particularly amused by the package of dry cleaning picked up by the local police officer.   His vehicle is one of the nicest on the island.    We had been wondering about his perfectly pressed uniform. 

Here’s the goods that were destined for Last Chance Grocery unloading.  So, what’s with the coconut palm babies on the truck?  Sort of seems like selling ice to Eskimos.  We learned that the owner, a women, takes the goods into her store and gets everything into place only to open for business the following day at noon.  I expect that the delay is more about crowd control and less about taking inventory.  I expect that there will be quite a mob waiting when she opened up on Saturday at the magic hour.  And, the famous Last Chance Grocery being stocked with the latest “imports”. When Brenda and I walked the mile into town we spied this osprey who gave us a great show as he flew off.  I wonder if they commute from Essex to here?  Hmm…Another highlight of perhaps better described as a “grand finale” of the day was the party celebrating the marina owner Bobby’s birthday.  Bobby has lived here off and on much of his life and has been here full time since the mid 80s.  As such a central figure here, Bobby’s birthday was cause for quite a celebration.  Bobby ordered in a mess of ribs and cooked them on the grill for everyone in attendance.

Some of the visiting fisherman had a good day of spear fishing and brought in two terrific lobsters, a 20lb Nassau Grouper, some smaller fish and a good size octopus.  We were going to contribute a pork tenderloin but there was so much food that it was politely declined.  However, Brenda’s onion foccacia bread was much appreciated and didn’t even last until dinner was served.

The birthday boy, Bobby thinking about how to prepare the octopus for the grill.   And, a really fresh octopus isn’t something that shows up in our Essex kitchen often.Bobby and others in the kitchen preparing the feast.

How about those lobster tails?  Just a few hours earlier they were in the deep blue.

We enjoyed meeting some of the locals. Anyone who’s anyone in Rum Cay, it seemed, was there.  What fun.One of Brenda’s new friends.  We weren’t the only ones hanging around the kitchen looking for handouts, and getting them.

The dining room is in what was once a restaurant that closed after one of the hurricanes a few years back.  Pretty eclectic decorating.  Works for me and looks totally in sync with the feel of this place.Everyone contributed something including this load of drift wood for the after dinner bonfire collected by one of the visiting boaters. Prior to cocktails and dinner in the dining room, we were treated to a fabulous sunset, one of the best so far.  All and all, a banner day. So, what next?   We have a rental golf cart, a sort of mini off-road cart, for two days and I hope to do a bit of deep sea fishing on one of the local boats in the next day or so.  We were going to head to Long Island on Tuesday as it’s the only weather window for much of the next week.  However…

We feel that we haven’t yet done enough here so we have decided to stay another week.  As someone probably once said,  “relax, don’t worry. Tomorrow is another day in paradise”.    So, what’s the rush, indeed.