Monday, February 21, 2011

Hanging Out with the Texas Navy: Black Point & Little Farmer’s Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

Monday, February 14 – Monday, February 21, 2011

Welcome to another beautiful day in paradise! We’ve spent the past week with our friends from Kemah, who have joined up with 3-5 other boats (depending on the day). Given that at least six boats (we’re #7) are from the Kemah, TX, vicinity, the armada has begun calling itself the “Texas Navy” in one popular VHF hail: “Texas Navy, Texas Navy…please switch and answer channel 17 for an important happy hour announcement.” (Should we be concerned that a BASRA boat – the Bahamas version of the Coast Guard – was anchored near the group when we arrived??) Three of the boats are catamarans, and we’ve had the opportunity to spend time on two of them. Talk about luxury! When you can comfortably fit 15-20 people on a boat, there’s rarely a question about where happy hour will be held.

Our trip down from Eleuthera was absolutely gorgeous. As much as we hated to leave Genesis, we were excited to get back to the Exumas (and we know we’ll see Genesis again in Staniel Cay next week). Our original plan was to sail 45 miles to Bell Island, and make the 15-20 mile trip to Black Point the next day. Thanks to some good winds on the beam, we were able to average 7+ knots motor-sailing. Three hours into the trip, we realized that Bell Island was 30 miles away while Black Point was 35 miles away. Because of the curvature of the Exumas chain, we could add an hour to the trip and meet up with our friends a day early. Rest day on Tuesday! We arrived in Black Point around 4pm and dropped the hook near the “navy”. Within minutes we saw a band of familiar dinghies come zooming around the point; Steve, Matt, and Christie stopped by the boat and invited us to a get-together on one of the cats, Guiding Light. We joined the multitude of dinghies later that evening, and got to meet Guiding Light’s owner, Shane, as well as Linda and Rusty on Sea Yawl Later and Ted and Millie on Morning Glory. Adding Storyville, Anchor Management, and Kaleo to the mix, we had a terrific evening as usual!

Tuesday afternoon we decided to try our hand at lobster hunting. After a brief stop at a stalactite-filled cave that Shane knew about, we made our way south to a small cove dotted with coral heads. Hawaiian sling in hand, Rene jumped into the water to hunt for dinner. Shane managed to catch the first lobster, and Steve was soon bringing up a two-foot long grand-daddy. Deana was next, while Rene’s prey continued to elude him. Deana pointed out a cluster of rocks where she had seen something scurrying about, and both Shane and Rene began searching under the coral. Rene readied his spear, and…bingo! Only one problem…the poor little guy was tiny! Rene tried another spot up the coast while the others went back to warm up on their boats; sadly, no lobsters. We all agreed to share our spoils over dinner, and Stacy was nominated as chef. She cooked the lobsters a la Brendal (mojo marinade, sour orange, butter, and hot sauce), Deana brought Bahamian mac and cheese, and Shane brought banana bread for dessert. Steve opened up a precious bottle of Zaya rum for after-dinner sipping, and we all felt thoroughly spoiled after a night of good food and friends. Have we mentioned lately how much we love our life?

After spending Wednesday in town taking advantage of internet at Lorraine’s CafĂ© and lunch at DeShaMon’s, we planned to move down to Little Farmers Cay with the rest of the group. Rene raised the dinghy in preparation for our departure, and we waited for the first boat to pull anchor...and waited…and waited. Shame on us for not checking in with anyone; we would’ve quickly found out that we weren’t going anywhere for another day! A few boats had come up with the idea for a full-moon potluck party on the beach, and who were we to pass up the opportunity for a get-together? Better yet, Rusty on Sea Yawl Later had returned from Staniel Cay and offered to play ferry boat. There’s nothing quite like watching a monster catamaran raft up to your boat! Shane got the fenders ready, and Rusty brought SYL alongside Storyville like a pro. The rest of us used Storyville as a dinghy dock and hopped aboard SYL. Once everyone arrived, we tossed the lines and motored to the party at Regatta Point. A crowd of locals and other cruisers had already gathered, and potluck dishes lined the counter. After dinner, Rusty raised a sail and projected Captain Ron onto the canvas; “dockside cinema” was a first for many of us, and everyone loved it.

Friday morning we sailed – yes, motor off and everything! – 10 miles to Little Farmer’s Cay. Pipe and Storyville decided to forgo the difficult and shallow channel into the town anchorage and dropped the hook on the west side of the island; just as we were ready to dinghy over to the others, the heavens opened and a series of squalls passed through the area. The storms lasted until sunset, keeping us all on our boats. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our new friends on the catamarans, who all set sail for Georgetown the following morning. Hopefully we’ll get to see them in GT when we make it down there next month.

Saturday we went ashore to Little Farmer’s Cay and were instantly enchanted by the locals we met. We first saw a man standing in the middle of the harbor, seeming to swirl his arms through the water. We soon realized that he was harvesting conchs, and watched as he used a machete to remove the meat from the shells before cleaning the…uh…less edible parts. After offering up the gorgeous shells to the group, he told us that his wife had tomatoes and green peppers for sale in the nearby green house. Produce! A little boy came out as we approached the steps to take our “order”; we got two peppers and four tomatoes for $3, the best deal we’ve had since arriving in the Bahamas! Our next stop was the local grocery store, where Tasha greeted us as the door and offered fresh papaya and a pomegranate-like fruit from her garden. We gathered a few staples while Tasha wrote out her recipe for Bahamian peas & rice (“peas” being brown pigeon peas, not the familiar sweet green ones). Her secret was using half coconut milk, half water, when making the rice. It gave it a creamier texture than water alone and was delicious.

We followed up our shopping trip with a walk up the hill to Ocean Cabin, where Jim and Nancy from Solitaire were manning the bar. They’ve been coming to Little Farmer’s for years, and were able to share some of the history of the island and its residents. They also offered to lead us to a cave that Shane had told us about, filled with stalactites and stalagmites and a clear pool for swimming. What an incredible experience! We met at Oven Rock after lunch and hiked along the iron shore to the cave opening. Thank goodness someone had told us to bring flashlights, because the cave was pitch black even in the middle of the day. We had to watch our footing along the loose stones as we walked down to the pool, but it was well worth it. The pool was shallow at first, but the bottom dropped out as we rounded the boulders. It led around the back of the cave to a series of smaller under-water tunnels. None of us chanced going through them – we didn’t know whether we’d find breathable air on the other side!

After our refreshing swim in the cave, Jim and Nancy led us to a beach on the Atlantic side where we waded in the surf and looked for shells. We ended the night with a happy hour and star-gazing aboard Storyville, and again marveled at how lucky we are to be doing this. We’ll spend the next couple of days in Little Farmer’s before heading back north to Black Point and Staniel Cay. We’re looking forward to seeing LA and Susan on Genesis again, and can’t wait to welcome Skip and Betsy aboard Pipe on the 26th. We know we’ll have a great time with them, and should have plenty of good stories and pictures for the next blog. Cheers!

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Detour to Eleuthera, Bahamas

Saturday, February 5 - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Welcome to the lovely island of Eleuthera! Eleuthera is the third largest island in the Bahamas, and is only 30 miles away from Nassau and the Exumas at its closest point. Most cruisers only see Eleuthera if they pass through while traveling from the Abacos to the Exumas; we decided to join Genesis for a few days away from the relative isolation of the Exumas…and, of course, for shopping!

We arrived in Rock Sound at the southern end of the island after an easy 45-mile motor-sail from Warderick Wells. You can anchor right off of the main dock, and can dinghy in for a short walk to groceries, a liquor store, restaurants, laundry, hardware, etc. Rock Sound is a relatively sleepy town, especially on Sundays when, as it turns out, everything is closed. Oops! We were directed to Sammy’s Place, pretty much the only place in town that was open for lunch on Sunday. They served a great cheeseburger, and their prices were better than anything we’d seen in the Exumas. Sammy’s also had fliers advertising a Super Bowl party a local club; it sounded great in theory, but an after-dark dinghy ride and a walk to the club proved to be more than we could manage. Instead, we opted for dinner for four aboard Pipe, and got the final score from a local three days later. Aren’t we a bunch of party animals?

Tuesday we rented a car so we could explore the rest of the island. (When you cruise at an average of 5-6mph, a 100-plus mile long island can be a bit daunting!) A brief stop at Eleuthera's "Glass Window" bridge presented us with a view of the shallow, turquoise waters of Exuma Sound to the west of the road, and the deep blue of the Atlantic to the east. Our two-hour drive to the island’s north ferry dock was followed by a 10-minute water taxi (400HP, thank you) to Dunmore Town on Harbour Island. We rented a golf cart to explore the picturesque island, with its colorful historic buildings and “pink sand” beaches. Lunch was from a take-away shack on the waterfront, and we found a magnificent beach lined with posh resorts on the Atlantic side. FYI…a few of the Atlantic beaches on Eleuthera really do have a light pink hue thanks to the coral and shells that make up the sand. It really was gorgeous, and we could see why Harbour Island is known as a world-class resort destination.

Wednesday we went shopping in Governor’s Harbour, known as the first capital of the Bahamas. While many locals feel that Rock Sound offers the best grocery store on the island, Governor’s Harbour is the place to be if you want freshly-baked breads, pastries, and Bahamian empanadas, or a great (and affordable) wine selection at the local Bristol’s Wine & Spirits. And have we mentioned how friendly the people are here? Susan was asking someone for directions to a local restaurant we’d read about, and it turned out he (Michael) owned a resort/restaurant five miles up the road. Cocodimama is a charming resort on Alabaster Bay, just north of Governor’s Harbour. The original owners, a Sicilian couple, opened the resort in 2000; Michael’s family bought the place and re-opened in 2009, and have been running it ever since. The main building has a “Mediterranean oasis” feel to it, while the three cottages (with four guest rooms in each) are painted in lively Caribbean colors. We enjoyed lunch on the outside patio overlooking the bay, and the food was spectacular. The chef is Michelin-rated and comes from Milan, and all of the base ingredients are imported from Italy. There were some unusual takes on Bahamian staples (grouper and tuna, for instance), and some dishes were just plain Old World style…like the platter of Italian meats and cheeses that we shared. We absolutely loved our afternoon at Cocodimama, and wish Michael and his family continued success. They certainly deserve it!

After lunch we drove down the street to an abandoned US Navy base. The property now belongs to Cocodimama, and is as yet undeveloped. The barracks still exist, and you have to weave through some overgrown pathways to reach another gorgeous pink sand beach. We now have some on the boat to show our guests…hopefully it’ll even dry out by the time they get here! From there, we made a few stops along the way home. Stacy was on the hunt for cilantro to make Rick’s Sojourner salsa (no luck), and Rene tried six different hardware/plumbing shops looking for a replacement part for the water-maker. (You’d think you could find a 3/8” pipe fitting somewhere on the island – you’d be wrong.) We had quite the productive day and made it back to the boat by sunset. LA and Susan loaned us their baggie of spare plumbing parts and donated a jerry can of water in case we couldn’t get the water maker up and running. Rene managed to rig a couple of pieces together well enough to make 30 gallons, and we’ll ask Skip and Betsy to bring us the replacement parts later this month.

Thursday was a big day for us – the supply boat arrived! That’s one thing you need to remember if you’re ever cruising in the islands. If you want anything beyond onions, potatoes, and maybe even green peppers and tomatoes if you’re lucky, you have to get to the store right after the supply boat arrives to get the best selection. The people at the grocery store told us that the dry goods boat would come on Tuesday, and the cold boat (produce, dairy, meat, etc.) would arrive on Thursday. Woo hoo! Right on schedule, the Tuesday boat was at the dock when we woke up; we got a little concerned when Thursday morning came around and none of us had seen or heard it arrive overnight or that morning. By 3pm, we began to wonder if something had gone wrong. We finally decided to go ashore and check it out; after a dinghy run to the Four Points Marina dinghy dock, we wandered down the road to the store. What a difference a day makes! The produce aisle was filled with avocados, mangos, plantains, fresh spinach, asparagus, seedless cucumbers, snow peas, parsley…everything except cilantro! Hey, we’re not complaining. We can always use the dried stuff. (Sorry, Rick!)

We have another blow coming through Saturday night…20-22 knot winds from the north, which means we’ll stay hunkered down here in Rock Sound for a few extra days. We have a long list of boat projects to work on (repairing the cockpit enclosure, changing the gen-set oil, varnishing the companionway stairs, etc.), so no worries about staying busy. Susan and LA are going to explore a few anchorages north of here, so we’ll be on our own for a couple of weeks before Skip and Betsy arrive. It’ll be strange not seeing Genesis off our beam…fortunately we’ll see them again soon in Staniel Cay.

Other than that, we hope Stacy's Aunt Sue and Uncle Don have a fabulous 23rd anniversary, and that the rest of you enjoy a romantic Valentine's Day. Weather permitting, we'll be sailing back to Bell Island on V-Day, and will meet up with Storyville and Anchor Management in Black Point later this week. Til next time...

Pictures with this Blog chapter:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kemah Reunion Time: Norman’s, Shroud, Hawksbill, & Warderick Wells Cays, Exumas, Bahamas

Saturday, January 29 – Friday, February 4, 2011

Drum roll please…and help us welcome Storyville and Anchor Management to the Bahamas! Our Kemah friends, Deana, Troy, and Steve, have made it to the Exumas, and we finally got to meet up with them in Shroud Cay on Sunday. We intended to get to Shroud on Saturday, but a gorgeous offshore run from Bell Island ended with a bouncy trip through the inlet and a rolling anchorage courtesy of some strong north-westerly winds. LA and Susan recommended a last-minute detour to Norman’s Cay; it meant for an extra miserable hour on the water, but gave us a much calmer night’s sleep. Great call, guys! Our VHF still doesn’t transmit beyond about two miles, but Susan was able to reach Steve on Anchor Management to determine that he, Deana, and Troy were all still in Allan’s Cay and would arrive in Shroud the next day. We made it to Shroud around lunchtime, and quickly spotted Anchor Management and Storyville on mooring balls. We hopped in the dinghy and had a Kemah reunion on Storyville, along with their buddy boaters, Christie and Matt, on Kaleo.

Not wanting to waste the afternoon, we all rode up to the northern end of Shroud for a dinghy trip through the mangroves to Driftwood Beach. The cut wasn’t ripping like a water-slide as it had the last time we were there, but the views were as gorgeous as ever. We hiked back up to Camp Driftwood for some photo ops (much easier in Teva's than flip flops), and made our way back to the boats in time for sunset. Genesis had arrived while we’d been on the north side, and we all joined up for happy hour aboard Pipe Muh Bligh. It’s great to be surrounded by good friends!

Sunday we took the kayaks into the central creek on Shroud to play explorer. Motorized vessels aren’t allowed in the mangroves in the central and northern creeks, and we quickly understood why – depths are anywhere from zero to six inches at low tide, and it’s easy to ground in a kayak (let alone with an outboard motor). We towed the kayaks behind the dinghy to a beach near the mouth of the creek and set up camp. Deana and Troy joined us in their kayaks for a trip up the lazy river, and we were blown away by the gorgeous scenery. We saw small fish, sea birds, and even a small shark. (The creek dead-ends in the mangroves before it reaches the ocean, so we’re guessing the shark must’ve come from either the north or south end of the island. Quite a trek for the little guy!) We spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the beach, while Steve, Christie, and Matt took their own tour in the kayaks. We had a fantastic afternoon, and will definitely go back when we have boat guests.

On Monday, the Kemah crew headed south to Warderick Wells while we and Genesis made our way to Hawksbill Cay. It looked like a perfect day for sailing, and we saw ten sailboats in front of us – all with canvas out. Since Hawksbill was only three miles from Shroud, we didn’t even bother raising a sail. Talk about a downer…it’s just not right motoring when you have 15 knots of wind on the beam! Still, the stop in Hawksbill Cay was entirely worth it. We and Genesis were the only boats in the anchorage, and we enjoyed a beautiful walk along a sand bar at the cay’s north end during low tide. We also hiked up to the Loyalist ruins, only to see a snake warming itself on the rocks. Yuck!

We met up with the other boats at Warderick Wells on Tuesday afternoon. Warderick is a lot like summer camp – or at least how you imagine summer camp should be. There are four miles of hiking trails, plenty of snorkeling spots, blow holes, sandy beaches, and even a hammock near what used to be a "pirate’s lair". Of course, a visit to Warderick isn’t complete without a trip to Boo Boo Hill, where people leave pieces of driftwood painted with their boat names as they pass through. We hadn’t come prepared on our first visit to Warderick, but made sure to add our own sign when we reached Boo Boo Hill this time. We continued on to Boo Boo Beach, along the rocky shoreline, and across the causeway “bridge” (rocks) until we completed the loop back at the park HQ. Another day was spent snorkeling at Malabar Cays and Emerald Rock, where Rene spotted a HUGE lobster hiding under a ledge (sorry – it’s protected. No fishing!). The wildlife didn’t end at the snorkeling site; we watched a beautiful spotted eagle ray swim right past our stern, hiked with birds who would land on your palm looking for a hand-out, and saw a nurse shark and a stingray near the park HQ. Our most adventurous day was spent hiking a longer loop, starting at a sandy beach near Emerald Rock, up to the Davis Plantation ruins, along a rock wall to the Atlantic side, south along the rocky coastline to Pirate’s Lair near the southern mooring field, across the island to the western side, and back up along the beach and interior trails back to our starting point. Did we mention that 90% of this involved walking on jagged limestone?? Falling was definitely not an option! We were rewarded with spectacular views at every turn, along with a cold beer back at the beach. Add a few dinners and happy hours aboard different boats, plus an after-dinner concert courtesy of Troy and his guitar, and we absolutely loved our time in Warderick Wells.

Our next trip is a tour of the island of Eleuthera, which is a 42nm sail from Warderick Wells. LA and Susan read that Rock Sound, Eleuthera, is a good place for US-like provisioning, so we're excited about getting some "real" produce. We've been able to get onions, tomatoes, and green peppers in Staniel Cay, but haven't seen any mangoes, avocados, or anything more "fragile" (shipping-wise) since Nassau. Our friends, Skip and Betsy, are coming down from Annapolis for a visit at the end of February, so this is also a good opportunity to find a few extra provisioning items before they get here. In the meantime, we’re working diligently to clear out the guest room so they’ll have a place to sleep… guess we’ll just have to drink more so we can get those wine boxes off the bed! :-)


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Under da Sea…Staniel Cay, Bell Island, & Cambridge Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

Saturday, January 22 – Friday, January 28, 2011

Author’s note (Feb. 2): Happy Groundhog Day! We hear that Phil is under so much snow and ice that he refuses to make an appearance. We’ve seen the reports of record snowfalls and cold temps in the States, and hope everyone is keeping warm and safe. We’re currently in Warderick Wells, headquarters of the Exumas Cays Land & Sea Park, and one of maybe three spots that offers internet access between Nassau and George Town. We’ve had a chance to Skype our families and update the blog. We’re now trying to catch up with e-mails (yep, especially the ones that have been sitting in our in-boxes for over a week)…such is life without internet!

We stayed in Staniel Cay for a few extra days after taking Geoie to the airport, mainly to watch the NFL playoffs at the Yacht Club’s bar. Hey, it’s not often we get to watch cable television – we’re feeling spoiled! We crossed back over to the west side of Big Major’s through the tiny cut in the coral (this time at slack tide), and grabbed an anchorage spot ahead of the pack near shore. We spent Monday morning exploring Staniel’s grocery options, having better luck at the “blue store” (as opposed to the pink one) than at the larger Isles General. Apparently the delivery boat comes on Fridays – a good thing to know for next time. We left Big Major’s at 2pm for the 2-hour trip up to Bell Island, known for its proximity to some fantastic snorkeling sites. Bell is a private island (as are most of the cays in the Exumas park), but there are a number of protected anchorages around the perimeter. Our spot on Bell’s eastern shore worked fine the first night, but rolling waves knocked us about the second night. Chris Parker’s weather-net warned of a front (possibly with 30-50kt squalls) coming through on Wednesday, and we knew we had to find a better anchorage. We decided to go exploring on Tuesday with the idea of checking out anchorages near Compass Cay. Not so fast… the waves began beating us up as soon as we rounded the northern side of Bell Island, and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we got to the southern tip of Cambridge Cay. We managed a quick dinghy run past Little Halls Pond Cay (Johnny Depp’s Bahamian hideaway) and a cruise past the new mooring field off Cambridge; we just couldn’t safely get all the way to Compass, and decided Cambridge Cay would work well enough. Wednesday morning we meandered around the Bell Island shoreline to Cambridge Cay. There was plenty of room between the moored boats and the tiny cays to the west, and we prepared to drop the hook next to LA and Susan on Genesis. Rene barely got up to the anchor pulpit before a couple in a dinghy came racing towards us: “don’t even waste your anchor. You CANNOT anchor here!” Huh?! The park rules say that you can anchor near a mooring field as long as you don’t interfere with someone using the mooring ball. We were nearly 200’ from the field, but this couple – who were acting as volunteer “hosts”, collecting mooring fees and providing park information – apparently decided to change the rules. The “hosts” were even ruder to LA and Susan when they reached Genesis, threatening to call the warden if they didn’t move immediately. The single remaining mooring ball was unprotected and directly in the path of the coming squalls, so we and Genesis back-tracked to a cove on Bell Island’s eastern shore and settled in for the night. As much as we tried to forget about the experience at the mooring field, the “mooring Nazis” really left a bad taste in our mouths. Moorings became available later that day, but we weren’t about to give them the satisfaction!

We took advantage of calmer winds on Thursday and donned our snorkel gear for a trip down to the Rocky Dundas. The Dundas are two massive rocks southwest of Cambridge Cay, one of which has two caves that can be explored in calm weather (preferably at slack low tide). We had an easy dinghy ride from Bell to the Rocky Dundas, but really didn’t like what awaited us there: high water had covered the cave entrances, and waves that would’ve pushed us against the iron shore. Not giving up on our snorkeling adventure, we headed for the southwestern shore of Cambridge Cay. The Exumas park guide said there was good snorkeling in the protected cove, but we decided to investigate the reefs nearer the inlet via a sandy path that crossed the island. After weaving through brush and palm trees, we found ourselves on a secluded beach. A shallow reef began just feet from the beach, and a larger reef filled with stag-horn coral stands lay a few hundred yards northward in the crescent bay. A few small fish greeted us on the shallow reef, but the real treat came once we swam over to the stag-horn coral reef. We saw tons of parrot-fish, wrasse, blue tangs, and even a barracuda, and the coral formations were impressive. After lunch we jumped back in the dinghies and headed north to the Sea Aquarium near Soldier Cay. Amazing! The Sea Aquarium is like being in a giant fish bowl, where sergeant majors and tangs wait just under the surface for you to join (or maybe feed) them. We saw a family of queen angels, grey angels, parrots of various colors, and a multitude of other fish. We stayed until our fingers got numb (even with our wetsuits, it got cold!), and promised ourselves a return visit on the southbound trip.

For now, we’re heading north again on an outside run to Shroud Cay. The last thing we heard from our friends on Storyville and Anchor Management was that both boats were headed for Allan’s Cay at the top of the Exumas chain. Since we haven’t had internet access for nearly a week and the weather hasn’t exactly been great for cruising, we’re guessing that they’re still somewhere in the vicinity. Hopefully we’ll get in VHF range soon!

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