Tuesday, February 12, 2008

February 10, 2008.

It’s already been a couple of days since we got here. Times flying. On our first full day here we decided to head into Georgetown to walk around a bit and maybe buy some vegetables and bread among other necessities.

That involved a dinghy ride across Elizabeth Harbor from our anchorage near Stocking Island over to Great Exhuma. It’s more than a mile across open water, there was no wind so the water was pretty flat so it should have been a dry ride. Our dinghy motor is a little undersized so it was going to be at least twenty minutes each way.

Upon arriving at Georgetown you have to dinghy through a small tunnel into a little lake.
As soon as you enter the pond there’s a large dinghy dock right at the Exhuma Market. The Exhuma Market is the local grocery. It was surprisingly well stocked, I mean they don’t really have much of a selection but they do have the staples. We could choose from several different types of bread along with our choice of some good looking vegetables. Then a few odds and ends and we were out of there after having spent $61. The same stuff back in the states would have probably cost us around $35-$40 or so dollars. So all in all, not too bad.

I’m not sure why we shopped first, because then we decided to walk around and see the town. Thankfully the “town” is tiny so lugging the groceries wasn’t a big deal.

We were really surprised how little there is here. We’ve been hearing long time cruisers complaining about how things have changed. How everyplace is growing and becoming more commercial. Couldn’t prove it by me, I mean again, the majority of these people have nothing. There’s some money splashed around but most of the businesses here seem to just survive.

We spent the evening at a get together on the beach with the crews from the majority of the boats anchored off Sand Dollar. It was a nice time and we got to catch up with a lot of people that we’ve been leap frogging for a thousand miles or more.
The anchorage has started to fill in after us and there will probably be 60 boats in our neck of the woods by the time the front arrives.

Today we went snorkeling and shelling and that pretty much killed the day. It’s now Sunday evening and the wind has picked up as the front has arrived. It’s blowing 20 knots, raining hard and supposed to reach 30 couple in the next 48 hours so we’ll probably be staying on the boat for the next 2 days, we’ll see.
February 8, 2008.

We set out this morning at 0730. It was the first early start we’ve made in ages. We were so close to Georgetown, the sailors Mecca, that our mindset was “to hell with it, lets get there”. The trip back out through the cut was very pleasant in the calm seas.

The trip south was an affair of motoring with almost no breeze at all. However there was a side bet placed between the four of us traveling together. These are notoriously good fishing grounds. The boat that caught the largest edible fish was to be given a buck apiece by the other three boats.

We caught the first fish, a small Bonito (I think) but unfortunately a Barracuda chewed it up pretty good before we could reel it into the boat. It was alive just long enough to spray blood all over the deck while in its death throws. It was pretty much a butchered waste so we dropped his body back into the deep. That was the only fish we were able to land, so no winners here.

Gary on Packet Inn was able to catch 2 Barracuda. Judging by the size of the head, the first one was a monster that was until something bit the entire body off leaving only the head dangling from his hook. Probably, a shark. His second fish met pretty much the same fate. So in regard to the big picture there was no winner so we all got to keep our dollar.

After 3 hours we arrived at the Conch Cay Cut which is the entrance to Georgetown, the cruisers Mecca. The channel in is a wandering convoluted affair. The cut appears to be wide open but there is a series of reefs and rocks strategically scattered about. This is no place to relax until the anchor is safely down. So you have to pay close attention to your exact latitude and longitude as you travel from one waypoint to the next.

When you arrive at your first waypoint you have to turn to 192 degrees true for .67 nautical miles. Then it’s a turn to port to 131 degrees for .58 nautical miles and so on and so forth for 6 marks. Blindly following marks through an unfamiliar reef system is a little disconcerting so water reading is very important as well.

Once inside there are a series of anchorages along the shoreline of Stocking Island. There’s Hamburger Beach, Volleyball Beach, Holes #1, #2, #3 among others. We’re expecting a violent northerly blow this weekend so we’ve chosen Sand Dollar Beach as it offers excellent protection from the north through east.

The other beaches are more popular as they’re close to the trendy “island” bars so they’re already crowded with close to 200 boats. It looks like Tices Shoal on Memorial Day weekend, not the place we want to be especially with a blow coming. When we arrived at Sand Dollar we were pleasantly surprised to find only a dozen well spaced boats present. We wormed our way in as close to the north shore as we could and dropped the hook in 15 feet of water.

Sand Dollar Beach itself is pristine and remote from the maddening crowd. If we were the only boat here it would still be our chosen anchorage. Theres a couple of nice trails to walk leading to the ocean side of the island. The swimming is good and so should be the shelling, its going to be a nice place to spend some time.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

February 7, 2008.

Yesterday we ended up snorkeling again. There were 4 couples all with their dinghy’s anchored along the edge of the coral. Christy and I were swimming along when we heard our names being called out.

We looked up and saw that the other 3 couples were all in their dinghies. Part of me already knew why…….SHARK! We both put it into overdrive and reboarded the dinghy in record time. A couple of the other people saw the same shark again so we were done snorkeling this area for the day. We never saw him, but we don’t really feel the need to.

We went back down to the beach nearest our boat and snorkeled there for a while before calling it a day.

Today the wind was still from the wrong direction but it abated a bit, so we decided to head south. We were to leave with 3 other boats and had decided to wait until 0930 to let the seas lay down and to see if the winds would diminish even more.

In New Jersey you enter the ocean through inlets. Inlets are lined by jetties in an effort to control erosion and to limit the unpleasantness one might encounter while traversing the inlet. Not here, no inlets. They’re called “cuts” and are little more than gaps between cays that allow you to get out to the ocean side and deeper water.

We were anchored a quarter mile from the Cave Cay Cut and it was to be the beginning of our day. As we were pulling our anchor our friends the Freedoms arrived and dropped their anchor almost in the same spot we had just spent the last couple of days. Then we had to circle for 2 minutes because when we got to the corner and could see out the cut, the mail boat was coming in.

The mail boat is a small shoal draft freighter that ply’s the waters of the Bahamas working as a supply boat. It could be bringing anything from vegetables to propane, it even brings the mail. Oh yeah, and they won’t think twice about running you the hell over.

After allowing the mail boat to come in the cut the 4 of us headed out. Every cut is different; some have great reputations while others are only for locals in small high powered fishing boats. The Cave Cay Cut is one of the better straight forward cuts, or so they tell me.

Again back to Jersey, whenever the wind and the tide oppose each other in an inlet its going to be a sloppy and maybe even dangerous affair. Short standings waves that are set close together, it can be quite treacherous. Here in the Exhumas they have a name for this condition, it’s called a “rage”. Quite the visual name, it almost paints a picture and there are no butterflies or bluebirds in the picture.

I’m not sure if it was a blessing or a curse, but since we were going out with the tide, we were flying. This meant that you were going to get your ass royally kicked, but it would be over quickly. We were the third of four boats to go out so we got to watch as the 2 boats ahead of us were “raged” upon.

The first boat was Packet Inn an Island Packet that’s a little smaller than we are and while they got thrashed around a bit it looked manageable so we were encouraged. But then the second boat went through. It is a 37 foot trawler named Meermin (Dutch for mermaid) and since it’s a trawler they have no heavy keel to mute the violence of their pitching and yawing. All Christy could say was “holy shit, look at that!” It looked like 2 hits of acid and a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl.

While our ride was a bit boisterous we only had one huge wave that was really unpleasant. The thing just kept rising and rising as we headed up and over it and then there was nothing. No more wave, it just passed under us and dropped us straight down into the base of the next wave. I can’t begin to describe the violence or the amount of water we displaced as we completely crushed the next wave. The explosion of water from each side of the bow had to extend easily 50 feet on both sides of the bow. It was the most violent boat to wave collision we’ve ever experienced. As our bow crushed down into the wave, the water was forced out both sides and the bow plunged straight through the center and scooped the wave up and over. The side decks were filled to capacity and drained quickly through the scuppers. Then just a little more roughness and we were through and our breathing returned to normal.

The fourth boat through is named Unchained, it’s a Beneteau 38. She’s about 9,000 pounds lighter than we are so I was pretty sure they were in for an ass kicking. I never turned around to look because I wasn’t sure if our beating was over yet. But since Packet Inn was out past the turbulence they looked back in time to see almost all of Unchained’s keel out of the water. See, its not just cocktails and sunsets………

The ride down to Adderly Cut was only 12 miles but it was to be a long slow motor dead to windward. The wind wasn’t that bad but the wind had been blowing briskly for several days from the same direction so the sea state was pretty rough.

We ended up getting to Adderly Cut first so we led the way in. There’s no jetty, no navigation markers just a stone pile on a nearby cay to indicate that you’re in the right place or that what you’re seeing is what you think the chart is showing you. After the entire crew carefully checked and rechecked the charts and GPS we carefully turned and headed into the cut. Waves breaking to port and starboard are our only indication of the boundaries of the cut. Small surf good, big surf bad.

The tide was still ebbing and being opposed by the breeze. This time however we were fighting the tide as we entered the cut. The tide cut our Speed Over Ground to less than 4 knots at times as we alternately surfed waves and then sat through the troughs. The ride was tense because of our slow SOG; it just seemed to take forever to get inside.

The trip in although long was uneventful for the four of us and turned into a peaceful meandering ride to our chosen anchorage for the night. The trip in did require a bit of water reading to find the deep water to safely avoid the shallows. The anchorage for the night was a small pocket of deep water on the northwest side of Normans Pond Cay. The current is ripping through the anchorage but the surface of the water is calm, it’s very deceiving. It’s a lot more dangerous than it seems, fall off the boat and there’s no way you could swim back to it.

After lunch a complete asshole who happens to be a pilot decided pull some hot dog bullshit in the anchorage. I happen to be holding the camera when I heard him coming. It’s a seaplane coming low and hard, he’s going to do a touch and go, because with his tiny penis this is evidently the only way he can impress us. I can’t begin to describe how close he was to Packet Inn, you can just catch the tail of the plane in the left part of the picture. In the other picture you can see how close he came to Meermin.

60 seconds earlier Art had snorkeled out to check his anchors set and would probably been killed had he spent another minute out in front of his boat.

Then there were the Kayakers. Ten minutes before a group of 9 kayakers had passed through our anchored boats. They were from the states and had come down to kayak through the lower cays. They were loaded down with all their stuff and were stopping and camping every night before continuing on the next day. We asked one woman where they were headed and she told us Georgetown, that’s where we’re headed, still 20 miles away. We asked how far they travel each day and she didn’t know, we asked where they had set out from and she wasn’t sure of that either. I’m pretty sure her brain had died and her arms were still just paddling away.
The kayakers were spread out pretty far so their guide called them into the beach 400 yards ahead of us to take a break.

The people on the beach saw the plane bearing down behind the last kayaker on the water. They started screaming at him to turn and paddle hard for shore. He turned left and paddled furiously while the plane had to veer to the right to avoid killing him. No wonder there’s so many plane wrecks here to explore.

After the excitement slack tide arrived so Christy and I were able to snorkel for an hour or so. While floating about I came across a conch like I had never seen before. It was round, about 9 inches across with a triangular flange along the bottom edge. It was about 10 feet down so I dove down and when I picked it up and turned it over I almost shit myself. The bottom face was a giant mouth with 2 rows of flashing white teeth; I dropped it like it was hot and bolted for the surface. It landed on its back with its snarling teeth obvious from the surface.

I called Christy over to see what she thought of it. I explained what I had seen while she swam towards me. She was laughing right up to the moment she poked her face below the surface to see the snarling beast just a few feet below us. Even she had to do a triple take before she decided it was just an illusion on the shells surface. So I went back down and retrieved it, no it didn’t bite me, turns out she was right, just a really creepy shell. Don’t laugh; somebody’s getting it for Christmas.

After that it was back to the boat for a Mexican feast and then an early bedtime.

February 5, 2008.

It’s been a couple of days and we’re still in the lee of Cave Cay. Since our last post I’ve speared another snapper to add to our diet. Christy has also found 3 Marine Hermit Crabs.

The Marine Hermit Crabs are much bigger than their dirt dwelling counterparts. They live in abandoned conch shells so you don’t realize you’ve found one until you pick up the conch shell and find something unusual inside. They have 2 large claws and a tiny little body that hides inside the huge shell. The book says that they are better than lobster so they’ve been added to the menu as well.

Once the Marine Hermit Crabs are out of their shell they’re a sight to see. They have big ole’ crab claws, then there’s 2 sets of spider-like walking legs and then a long soft tail. The soft tail resembles a lobster’s tail except that it has no shell. Kinda gross, but we’ll see how it goes…..

We’ve decided to take the day off from snorkeling as some other folks were run out of the water by an 8 foot shark earlier today. He was cruising through the best spear fishing grounds that we’ve found near the cay so we’ll give him some time to leave before we jump in there again.

Christy and her friends Elly and Mary decided to use the time to go beachcombing on the northern beach.
They spent about 2 hours finding interesting, beautiful shells, while I farted around on the boat.

Afterwards we headed in to a very shallow beach and Christy and her friend Sue did a little shelling by snorkeling the shallow flats that run around the southern end of the cay.

Update. Its now a little later in the day and lunch and dinner are over. The crabs were a very tasty lunch and the fish combined with some rice and carrots was an outstanding dinner.

We’re probably going to be here for another day so tomorrow we’ll spend some time putting some more fish in the fridge.:)
February 3, 2008.

We left Little Farmers Cay this morning and after an 8 mile day of motoring we’re now at Cave Cay.

Our original thought was to stop at Galliot Cay. When we got to Galliot we found a healthy amount of surge running through the anchorage. So even if you’re protected from wind driven chop you can have a problem with surge.

Surge is a rolling swell that finds its way into an anchorage; it’s often driven by your proximity to an inlet or “cut” as they’re known here. There’s a cut every few miles, they’re everywhere, some are navigable, some are not, but they all matter. It can be independent of the wind and can make getting a good nights sleep very difficult to get, or so I’m told.

We pressed on for another 2 miles and arrived at Cave Cay. It was a totally different story once we arrived here. The breeze was about 12 knots, the water was flat and the scenery is as beautiful as can be. We are anchored in the lee of the cay and ready to explore.

Cave Cay is being developed as a marina/hotel resort complex. There is a narrow channel that leads into the most protected natural anchorage in all the Bahamas. It’s like a quarry pit with tall stone walls and one narrow entrance into the basin. Inside the basin is a large fuel dock adjacent to a modern, clean marina with concrete floating docks complete with fresh water and electric. The surrounding hillsides are speckled with fabulous guest cottages. There’s a restaurant and small store for provisioning.

We were running low on gasoline for the dink so I motored into the marina for some fuel. It was kind of eerie as I soon realized that that the owner’s boat and my dinghy were the only vessels in the entire marina. The place could hold at least 30 large boats and there was nobody there. No boats, no cottage guests, nothing. It took 15 minutes just to find somebody to sell me some fuel as the place was practically deserted.

The north and south ends of the cay both have cuts with ferocious current running out to the ocean. For that reason we decided to snorkel the northwest coast this afternoon. Christy and I spent a couple of hours really exploring a 200 yard section of the coral studded area. We also did a little hunting and gathering. I floated along waiting for the perfect fish to find its way in front of my spear.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about which fish are edible and which aren’t. There’s a lot to choose from but waiting for a target of sufficient size was difficult. After an hour or so my incredible patience was rewarded with a nice Cuban Snapper. The book says that they are good eating so we’re pretty happy with it. While I was hunting, Christy was doing a little hunting of her own. She was able to harvest 2 adult conchs. She actually saw several but 2 were plenty so that was all she took.

I’m thinkin’ there’s a seafood extravaganza in our immediate future. Another fish tomorrow and we should be set.

There are 7 boats that are anchored behind the cay with us so we all got together for sundowners on the beach. We also dug a small pit and burned all our garbage at the same time. Kind of a happy hour/ recycling get together.

We’ll end up staying here for a few days as the winds are going to be up and from the wrong direction for us to do any traveling. Things could be worse though, as this place is awesome.
February 2, 2008.

We’re here in Little Farmers Cay for the Five F’s Festival. It’s something like First Friday in February Little Farmers Cay Festival. But first let’s recount getting here.

We upped anchor in Black Point saying good bye to free Wifi, great pizza and the cleanest laundromat we’ve ever seen, anywhere. We were up and underway by 0930 for a seven mile day to a spot called Hetty’s Land. Hetty’s Land is just a small cove cut into the west side of Great Guana Cay. There are several similar spots along this shore; it’s just that this one holds the promise of abundant coral heads and good snorkeling.

We were in the company of 4 other boats as we head south. We all dropped the hook in the secluded cove and after some lunch we were off to go snorkeling. The “abundance” of coral heads was a little disappointing but when we did find some, the sea creatures were beautiful to see.

We ended the day by having a great happy hour on the beach with the crews of all 5 boats present.

The next morning we were on our way for the 6 mile trip down to Little Farmers Cay. There are spots to anchor all around the cay. We chose the western side of the island as the winds are forecast to be from the east for the duration of our stay. This means we will have to land our dinghies on the west side and walk across the island to the “Festival”. Its okay though, as the island is only a quarter of a mile wide and a pleasant walk.

There is however a slight complication. There’s an airstrip that runs across the island. The charts denote an area where it would be prudent not to drop the hook. We’re safely anchored outside the approach but several boats have filled in behind us and are being used as a slalom course by the incoming planes.

I couldn’t believe the number of boats that were content to sit in the flight path of 20 or so small planes a day. The planes came screaming in below mast height and the cruisers just sat and watched. A couple of the planes took off, and circled back to buzz the boats in an effort to intimidate them. Finally on Saturday, BASRA, the Bahamanian Air Sea Rescue Association sent out a boat to shoo boats out of harms way.

We’re in a safe spot so it’s off to the “Festival” for us. Evidently festival means different things in different places. “Getting ready” or “being prepared” are not things that strike anyone here as being important. There was last minute construction every where, food shacks being built, jury rigged electric being run, it was bizarre. This was hours into the “festival”. We watched as a guy set up a table to demonstrate how to clean conch and make conch salad. Thirty people gathered around to watch as he laid out conch, peppers, onions, limes, his knife and a hammer and all of a sudden he left! He walked down the beach, hopped in his skiff and blasted out of sight. WTF? He must have forgotten something, I dunno, like us, everyone pretty much left.

The overall theme seemed to be “Give me 3 dollars, I’ll give you a beer and play music so loud it will make your individual cells hurt.” There’s only about a dozen cars on the cay, these people have so little and live so simply, yet we heard a least 6 sound systems that would make Pink Floyd jealous. Hell, the sound even drowned out the planes.

We walked about and decided where and what to eat and did a little “window(less) shopping”. The “stores” here are one room of someone’s house set up as a “store”. All you need are some shelves and a cash register and you have a store. Open a door and you are in their bedroom.

When we made our way back to our chosen eatery we stepped up to the door, gave our order and waited…..and waited. There were a dozen people milling about all waiting for food for the better part of an hour. Ok let me explain food here in the Bahamas, you get chicken, ribs (but nobody really knows from what animal) mutton, fish or conch, with rice & peas and a side, could be cole slaw, french fries, or mac & cheese. The mac & cheese is to die for……so we highly recommend it! It’s kinda like pasta that’s baked after it became Mac & Cheese.

While we were standing there it got dark, so we stood some more, then the power to the community went out and it really became dark. You see “dark” like “festival” was another one of those words we really didn’t understand before we got here. It was so dark it was like being in a cave inside a closet. We finally got our food which we ate under the glow of a flashlight, Thank God because the red snapper we ordered was literally a whole fish (head to tail) battered and fried. We think they cleaned the guts out. The food was good but the portion was tiny, which has not been our experience so far here in the islands. Then again we were starving after having waited for a piece of fried fish for over an hour.

After that it was a very dark walk back to the boat. Everyone carried a flashlight so it went well, but it was good to be home.

The festival was a big dud for me but we’ll see how the second day goes.

Yeah, pretty much the same. Christy and I walked across to the northeast corner to the Farmers Cay Yacht Club for lunch. With lunch you get free internet access. Lunch was great and timely too ($39.10 for 2 lunches and one drink each) but as soon as we were done the power went out again, so no internet. F#*k me.

We then walked back to town to see the entertainment lined up for the day. There was to be a Men’s Best Legs contest along with a Men’s Best Butt contest. Then there was supposed to be a wet t-shirt contest for the ladies. We got there just as the Legs portion of the entertainment was wrapping up.

It was just about then that it all started to piss me off. I was just standing back watching, when it struck me how lopsided this whole “festival” was. The cruisers come here, and some volunteer to organize the events. There was a scavenger hunt, children’s treasure hunt, men’s legs contest, men’s butts and then the ladies wet t-shirt. There was even a flea market for cruisers to sell the extra crap from their boat. The catch was that the seller got to keep 80 percent of the profit as the “house” generously skimmed 20 percent. All of it organized and run by the cruisers. All the participants are cruisers. Talk about suckers, the locals are all on the periphery making money here and there selling beers, rum drinks and conch fritters. It seemed that most of the locals were content to sit on the sidelines and collect what they could without doing any of the real work. While I’m sure some do work hard, it’s no wonder most have very little.

Then we found a listing of other popular events here at Little Farmers Cay. It seems that there’s a “festival” here about once a month. There was the Beer Festival and the ever popular Camouflage Festival. Are they kidding, the Camo Festival? I’m thinking they need a “Get up off your ass and work hard festival”.

On the bright side, everyone we’ve met here was very friendly. So as far as that goes, the Bahamas have been consistent, the people are awesome. But of all the cays we’ve visited so far this is the first one we really haven’t enjoyed except of course, the racing.