Saturday, December 12, 2009

Green Turtle Cay

Friday, December 4 - Saturday, December 12, 2009
Welcome to Green Turtle Cay! We arrived in White Sound at Green Turtle Cay on Friday, having left Spanish Cay on Thursday and overnighting at nearby Manjack (pronounced "Munjack" or even "Nunjack") Cay. The weather gurus warned of a cold front bringing strong (20-30+ knot) winds on Friday and Saturday, so we wanted to get to a well-protected anchorage. White Sound fit the bill perfectly. The only tricky part of the journey was actually leaving Spanish Cay marina. 20kt winds were blowing us up against the dock, so we had to get creative about leaving. To give you a frame of reference, we were in a 50' slip that had a dock to port and three pilings to starboard between our slip and the slip next to us. Behind the portside dock were two additional pilings in case someone wanted to put a really big boat in the slip. Somehow we needed to get Pipe off the dock and out of the slip without hitting either the dock or any of the five surrounding pilings. After a couple of hours of brainstorming, we finally had a plan. Rene got a dock line and swam to the center piling between our slip and the one next to us, then used a boat hook to get the dock line over the piling's cleat 10' above the water line. That done, we were able to winch the dock line tight enough to pull Pipe's stern away from the dock. The plan was to bow-thrust to starboard while releasing the port bow line, then ease the boat back out of the slip. The line on the center piling was supposed to keep the boat from being pushed back into the dock, or worse, into either of the two pilings behind the dock. We would, of course, release the line on the center piling as we crept out of the slip. Good plan, right? Well, it ALMOST worked. Bow-thrusting to starboard worked like a charm, and the boat was centered for the first few seconds that we backed out of the slip. Unfortunately, a combination of the wind and the pivot from the center piling line caused Pipe to turn diagonally in the slip; suddenly, we had the bow to port against the dock and the stern backing towards the starboard piling! Stacy is running from one side of the boat to the other pulling lines out of the water and trying to push us off of the pilings. Rene is at the helm trying to straighten out the boat and keep us from hitting anything more. Our plan was to back out of the slip to port into the mini turning basin, but somehow we ended up doing a counter-clockwise doughnut out of the slip. Thank god the marina was nearly empty! There wasn't anyone to hit, and our only witnesses were the caretakers of the mega-yacht and a couple who had just brought their boat in for repairs. Not that we mind being the source of entertainment, but we really don't want to do any major damage!

We finally get the boat turned towards the exit, manage not to hit any of the boulders that make up the marina's breakwater, and are on our way to our next destination. We're only 15-20nm from Green Turtle Cay, but the entrance channel is 4.5-5' at MLW and high tide isn't until 9pm. Rather than risk entering an unfamiliar channel on a rising tide in the dark, we opt for a gorgeous anchorage at Manjack Cay, which is less than 5nm from Green Turtle. This way we can leave early in the morning and get to White Sound in plenty of time for high tide at 9am. We get to Manjack before sunset, and are greeted by our neighbor boat, Baroda. Baroda calls us on the VHF with an offer of a fresh fish ("on a bun!") dinner, but Rene isn't in the mood to lower the dinghy. We promise to meet up with them in Green Turtle Cay, which is their destination as well.
Friday morning we're up with the sun, only to find that Baroda has already left. We make the hour-long trip to White Sound, and have plenty of water to make it through the channel to the anchorage. Who do we see as we enter the anchorage? Baroda, of course! We meet up with the guys later in the day in the bar at the Green Turtle Club. It turns out that they left at 10:30pm the night before, having gotten tired of the heat and mosquitoes in the Manjack anchorage. We have a lot of fun chatting with Al, Bob, and Gary, who are nephew/uncle and father/son-in-law traveling together. Don't try to keep it straight - we couldn't! We all decide that we're ready for a night without cooking and agree to meet up for drinks on Pipe Muh Bligh, followed by dinner together at the Green Turtle Club's buffet. Coconut-encrusted grouper, mango chicken, ribs, homemade bread, Bahamian mac n cheese, rice & peas, and pineapple upside-down cake...good stuff!

The next morning, Stacy wakes up at 6:30am (yuck) for Chris Parker's weather forecast. The cold front is finally coming through, and we're supposed to get 20-30kt winds with gusts up to 40kts. So much for our plans to dinghy into town. We would need to dinghy out of White Sound, go a few hundred yards in open water, and tuck into Settlement Sound to get to New Plymouth. It's supposed to be a quaint little town, but it'll be there tomorrow. We don't want to deal with 3' seas in our dinghy, even if it is only a mile or two. Talk about a wet ride! Wouldn't you know, Sunday ends up looking a lot like Saturday. The winds are a bit calmer, but dark clouds threaten rain all day. This means day 2 on the more of these, and Stacy's going to start throwing things! ( gives me a chance to work on the blog. Now if only I can get internet access to publish the darned thing...)

Monday we finally make our way to New Plymouth, the one and only "downtown" area on Green Turtle. It's as quaint and lovely as the guidebooks say, and we spend the morning wandering up and down the streets and stopping in a few shops to talk to the locals. The owners of Sid's Grocery show us a schedule of events happening every weekend between now and Christmas, and tell us about Green Turtle's "Junkanoo" festival that's held on New Year's Day. We don't know the history of the festival yet, but it sounds like a heck of a party! Up the street from Sid's, we find the recently renovated home of Admiral Roberts, which has been turned into a museum and marine/reef awareness and educational center. It has some great photos of New Plymouth from 1951 and 2006 (not much has changed), as well as some gorgeous shots of nearby dive sites. We also meet a 6-months-out-of-the-year local in the Roberts home who tells us about a boater's happy hour that takes place on Fridays from 6-8pm in a nearby watering hole/liquor store. It sounds like a good way to meet other boaters, and we figure we'll stick around through the weekend. In the meantime, Rene has been itching to go diving, and we've decided that we'll go out with a local guide this week to get a feel for the conditions before working our way to the reef in our dinghy.

After trying to get hooked up to a local internet service (still no luck), we head to Brendal's Dive Center on Tuesday to set up a dive. Rene wants to do a two-tank dive, but the folks at the shop are touting their "Adventure Tour" on Wednesday that includes a one-tank dive plus a beach BBQ of lobster that will be caught en route and fresh grouper bought ahead of time (our guides tell us they're okay spearing the cockroach-like lobsters, but can't bring themselves to spear groupers that often follow divers around like tame puppy dogs). Rene, being the dive purist that he is, really doesn't want to sacrifice a dive for lunch, but he finally relents and signs us up for the full-day event. What a fantastic time we have! The dive shop is conveniently located at the Green Turtle Club, which is a 3-minute dinghy ride from our boat. After checking in at 8:45am, we load our gear onto the dive boat, pick up another couple from the Bluff House Resort on the other side of the anchorage, and our on our way. This is definitely a slow time in the Bahamas, and there are only 7 of us on the boat: 3 guides (Brendal, Jack, and Tasha) plus 4 guests, and only 2 of the guests (us) are diving. Talk about personal service! We stop at the Coral Caverns, where Jack tells us to expect reef sharks, groupers, tarpon, and plenty of tropical fish. As the name suggests, there are also plenty of caverns or "swim-throughs" to enjoy. Fortunately, the swim-throughs are open at the top and allow for plenty of sunlight - we aren't ready to do true cave diving yet! It's also a fairly shallow dive - 40' at its deepest - so we'll get to stay down for an hour or more. What a magnificent spot. The first thing we see when we get to the bottom is a trio of reef sharks. These puppies are each 6-8' with plenty of teeth. Stacy's heart skips a beat at first; they come within 20' of us before turning away, but we're obviously not a part of their food chain. We also see massive silver tarpons, big jacks, groupers, spiny lobsters (although we can't touch them - spearfishing with SCUBA gear is a no-no in the Bahamas), and tons of smaller, colorful fish. We maneuver through the caverns and enjoy the healthy corals, and spend the latter part of the dive over the reef in 15' of water below the boat. While we've been diving, Brendal and Tasha have been snorkeling with Scott and Nicole, hunting for lobsters (called "crawfish" in the Bahamas) for the BBQ pit. They've speared a few big ones, and we get a lesson on removing the lobster's tail with most of the meat intact. We also get our first glass of rum punch...let the party begin! Anchor up, we head for a nearby beach on the north side of Manjack Cay. It's like something out of a travel brochure: crystal blue water, golden sand, a lone pier, and a couple of picnic tables. Jack and Tasha get the BBQ going and Brendal preps the lobster tails. He tosses a couple of pieces of grouper into the surf, which attracts the attention of our first marine visitor - a 3-4' tiger shark. Compared to the reef sharks on our dive, this little guy seems harmless. Rene immediately jumps in the water and splashes the surface to get his attention, and the shark swims back and forth among our group. Once in awhile the shark swims so near the beach that its dorsal is out of the water, and we begin to understand how people get bitten in knee-deep water. We finally tear ourselves away from the entertainment to have lunch (not to mention a few more rum punches), and what a fantastic feast it is. The grouper has been cooked in Mojo marinade with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, and the steamed lobster tails are served with a garlic-butter sauce. The tails have an almost smoky flavor, and even Stacy (not a lobster fan) loves them. After lunch, we get yet another visitor - a resident stingray who has come to get a few pieces of raw grouper that Brendal saved for it. We all take turns holding pieces of grouper underwater, fingers and thumbs protectively tucked into fists, as the stingray nibbles up its treats. We've fed stingrays in the Caymans before, but you never get tired of petting these velvety creatures. It's been an amazing day, and we hate to leave our little patch of paradise. Fortunatley we know we'll be back - there's more diving to be done!

Having had way too many rum punches on Manjack (we didn't realize they were mixed with 151), Thursday ends up being a mostly wasted day. Neither of us feels very productive, but we manage to get second winds in time for our guests to arrive. We'd invited everyone from the dive trip over to the boat for happy hour, and Brendal, Scott, and Nicole arrive with goodies in hand. What a bunch of sweethearts! Rene had told Scott and Nicole how much he was going to miss having fresh milk on board, so they show up with a half gallon of 2% as a boat gift. Brendal brings a cooler full of ice ("you never go to a boat party without ice!"), as well as his guitar to sing us a few tunes. A fun happy hour gets even better when Brendal suggests we all go out. Since Scott and Nicole are leaving the island in the morning, how can we say no? We hop into Brendal's boat and motor down the nearly pitch-black channel out of White Sound. The first thing we notice are the stars: the sky is so clear and bright that you can see the milky way along with the constellations. You just don't get skies like this in the city! Ten minutes later, Brendal pulls up to a dock at the end of New Plymouth. We have no idea where we are until we see a sign made of Christmas lights: Sundowners. Ah-ha! We saw a sign for this place at Brendal's dive shop, and it's supposed to be one of the best bars on the island. It's full of locals and visitors alike, and EVERYONE knows Brendal. Having been in business here for 25 years, he's definitely a local celebrity, and people are just drawn to his charm and kindness. We have a fantastic time at Sundowners, and finally crawl back to the boat around midnight. We hate saying goodbye to Scott and Nicole, but we know we'll see Brendal again soon. He's supposed to be playing at another local hot spot, Pineapples, on Friday night. He also holds an annual Christmas Day potluck dinner at the dive shop. We'll be there!

Friday we're on the hunt again. We STILL don't have internet access, and our families are probably beginning to worry about us. We even got the passwords from Green Turtle Club to access their Wi-Fi service, but it doesn't work from the boat. There's a local company that covers most of the Abacos for $100/month, but the site bombs out every time Rene tries to enter his credit card info. Wouldn't you know, you can only sign up online - Rene called the company, but they can't sign us up over the phone. Arrrrggggghhhhh! Three hours, two phone calls, and a thousand keystrokes later, we still have no internet access. We went to the Green Turtle Club but couldn't access their system even from on site. Rene called the local company again, but they can't tell us why we aren't able to sign up for service. We can get a free trial of their system for about 5 minutes, but we can't access e-mail, Facebook, or anything else with a login page that would allow us to send a message ("we're okay!") to our families. The 3-5 other "unsecured" networks in the area will let us connect, but nothing happens once we do. This has gotten ridiculous, and we don't know what else to do. We're pretty close to breaking down and making a few really expensive phone calls home! We finally give up on the internet saga and jump in the dinghy back to town. We're off to the boater's happy hour at David's bar/liquor store, and hopefully to Pineapples to hear Brendal play after that. He was told last night that it might not happen since there's a Christmas caroling event in town. We haven't quite figured out the logic to it...whether that means Pineapples thinks they'd have no one at their place to listen, or there would be some other reason for canceling Brendal's gig, we aren't sure. We aren't giving up yet, and figure we'll swing by Pineapples after the happy hour to see what's up. We arrive at David's at 6pm, and walk into what used to be the living room of an old house. Bookshelves have been set up around the perimeter and filled with liquor and wine bottles for sale, and a long bar runs from one end of the room to the other. The lighting is subdued to better show off the Christmas tree and lights hung from the rafters, and we immediately like the place. Just one thing...this isn't really a boater's happy hour. It's a local's happy hour, and conversation grounds to a halt as all eyes turn to us when we walk through the front door. Hmmm... As we get a few hellos and people return to their discussion, we learn from the bartender that you can buy a bottle of wine to drink there (nothing is sold by the glass), or get a beer from their large selection in the cooler. Wine glasses in hand, we begin to look around for someone to talk to. The place isn't too busy yet, and everyone (except us) is sitting at the bar while we stand behind them. We must look awkward enough checking out the bottles on the shelves, because someone finally takes pity on us and comes over to say hello. We learn that she and her friends are from Texas (something in common!), and she introduces us to a few others at the bar. Now we're getting somewhere! The place fills up soon afterwards, and we have a good time meeting a few people. It turns out that while some have (or had) boats, most of them live on the island six months out of the year or more. They aren't cruisers as we had expected, and this is more of a neighborly get-together. Although we get one question of "so how did you find out about the local's happy hour?", everyone is really friendly. We even meet Lana who works at the library and tells us we can access the internet on their computers for $0.50/minute. (Yessss...maybe we can FINALLY call home and publish this damn blog before it becomes as long as a Tom Clancy novel!) As we leave the bar, another couple we've met tells us that it doesn't look good for Pineapples tonight. You can see Pineapples's dock from where we stand, and it's dark and quiet. "Usually you can hear the band from here." Uh-oh. It turns out that tonight was the town's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, and Pineapples has closed for the festivities. No Brendal tonight. Oh, well...back to the boat we go.

You're not going to believe's Saturday morning, we've gone into town to use the computers at the library, and their internet is down! Rene tries to connect using Wi-Fi on his laptop, but no luck. Lana tells us about a Caldwell Banker office around the corner that also has internet. We go there, are able to connect using their computers, but we still can't sign up for the local service. You've got to be kidding!!! We've transferred the blog notes and pictures to a jump drive to copy onto the Caldwell Banker PCs, so we're finally up to date (and yes, we're still fine, Moms!) At this point, we may have to wait to sign up (or at least try to) in Great Guana Cay or Marsh Harbor. Till next time!

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