Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 16, 2009.

After several days of hiking and hunting at Raccoon Cay it was time to move on. We had a 10 mile day to Hog Cay scheduled. The wind was supposed to be down in the 15 knot range and once again we were subjected to winds in the high twenties.

At 1000 hours Christy and I sailed off the anchor and headed out towards our first waypoint. We had about 4 miles of running downwind, then a mile and a bit of beam reaching before we were forced to turn pretty much dead into the wind for the last 5 miles of the day.

There are a lot of reefs, coral heads and shallows to deal with so tacking up wind to our destination was pretty much out of the question. With the wind whipping the surface of the water it was all but impossible to read the water depths, so we were relegated to following the suggested route on the charts.

We had never been south of Raccoon Cay before so this was to be our first visit to Hog Cay. A 4 mile dinghy ride from Hog to the south will bring us to Duncan Town, which is the only settlement (town) in the entire Ragged Islands. The population there is under a hundred people and this is the end of the trail as far as the Jumentos goes. We’d heard rumors of internet being available there for the first time ever. (So, if you received this email, the rumors are true!) There was none here last year, plus we were running out of gasoline for the dinghy and water, so we didn’t bother with a trip here. Cuba is less than 60 miles to the south.

Once in the lee of Hog Cay the sea state calmed down and we entered yet another lovely anchorage. After lunch we headed out to walk some of the extensive network of trails that crisscross the cay. We ended up doing a lot more walking than we thought we would, including a bit a searching for Molly.

We had been walking along a trail and came across a small herd of wild goats. They saw us and took off through the tangle of dense underbrush. Unfortunately, Molly saw them and was off in a flash, in pursuit. After 20 minutes she decided to once again grace us with her presence. We were lucky that she decided to come back because there was just no way to effectively search for her in the dense scrub that covers the cay. This place is a couple of miles long by more than a half mile wide. I already had visions of walking the trails in the evening shaking her food bowl, in an effort to find her.

After dinner we were invited to the Hog Island Club & Resort. A small group of cruisers spend most of the cruising season anchored here and as a result they’ve put together a pretty impressive camp site.

Under some trees near the mouth of a cave they’ve put together a social club of sorts. The trees are decorated with flotsam of all types. There is seating for over a dozen people on various chunks of driftwood and floating debris, around a fire pit. It’s very reminiscent of a set from “Survivor”.

They’re very organized and have put a lot of work into this gathering place. They’re not like the mondo organized Nazis of Georgetown; here the focus seems to be to have a nice place to relax. Another big difference is that in Georgetown there are 300 boats, while there are just a half dozen here.

Today we spent the morning walking some different trails. We found a fairly large set of ruins that were a lot newer than I had expected them to be. There was a date scrawled into the foundation of 7/29/81. It’s just more proof that these islands are a pretty tough place to live. In less than 30 years there’s nothing left but a few foundations and some extensive stone fences. We were able to gather a few coconuts which was fun, except for the part where you have a machete them……open.

After lunch we did a bit of snorkeling and were a little disappointed by the lack of underwater structure that the fish and
lobsters depend on to survive. I did however bag a very large snapper known as a Schoolmaster. We might come back to the states with more food them we left with……?
March 13, 2009.

Before I get started I need to relay a story about something new that we’ve learned. Tucker evidently suffers from some type of separation anxiety. Usually when we leave the boat he howls like a wolf for a few minutes and then gets bored and mellows out. If we’re in a crowded anchorage I feel like the “bad pet owner” so it kinda drives me crazy. The other night we were about 300 yards away on Far Niente and Tucker started his howling. Ooooooooooooo, Oooooooo. We had left our VHF on so I picked up Jay’s mic and selected our channel and said “Tucker, shut up” as sternly as I could. He heard me, recognized my voice and thought I must be somewhere on the boat with him. He stopped in mid howl and shut up. It was a long distance behavioral adjustment.

Yesterday I spent the morning replacing the solenoid for the propane supply to the stove. That propane solenoid is a pain in the ass, they just don’t seem to last as long as they should. After that we had a big lunch of lobster tacos and headed out for a little spearfishing.

The day before, I had seen a lobster that I was unable to get an angle on for a shot. So we headed down to the same coral head and found him waiting for me. There was a boat anchored nearby and if they were watching it must have been a pretty incredible sight. We pulled up in the dinghy, I slipped into the water, went down speared the lobster, swung him into the dinghy, climbed in after him and zoomed away. Two minutes, start to finish and we were gone with lobster in hand. Easy peasy.

After that we worked our way home through the anchorage going from coral patch to patch. I found 2 more lobsters, I took 1 while the other one was too small. I was also able to take a nice grouper.

Today we took the dogs for a long walk across the cay to the windward shore. The walk included sections of scrub, hills and a dry salt marsh. Once there we scavenged through some of the innumerable treasures that have washed ashore. We also found a pretty cool series of blowholes.

After getting back to the boat we had lunch and decided to head north for some hunting. We found an area of coral heads and rocky ledges that seemed to go on forever. As soon as I hit the water I scored a nice sized lobster, shortly followed by a smallish grouper.

On the grouper I was victim to a classic “bait and switch” scam. I was swimming along and saw a large grouper hiding next to a large brain coral. He ducked behind it and I went the other way to position myself for a quick shot when we met face to face. As soon as he came into view I put my spear right through his face. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t the same grouper. It was a much smaller grouper that had been behind the coral and the large grouper rocketed away to safety.

After that I nailed 2 good sized grouper and another lobster. We were headed home when we came across a series of small coral heads. They were kind of off the beaten path so I dropped into the water for a quick look see.

One of the heads had a perfect lair for a lobster and I couldn’t believe there wouldn’t be a lobster in there but alas….nothing. That was until I glimpsed the tiniest tip of a feeler. I was looking down into this shaft and it did appear that there just might be a lobster in a “room” off to the side of the shaft. I swam around the coral looking into every tiny opening for a way to catch more than just a glimpse of this lobster. Finally, through a 3 inch hole I could plainly make out a single leg.

It was a good sized leg so I felt as if I had a big lobster in front of me. I needed to “goose” him towards the shaft so I could get a shot at him. So I had Christy remove the tip from her spear and give me the spear. By looking at the leg I tried to figure out where the tail end of the lobster was. I slipped Christy’s spear in the tiny hole at an angle in an attempt to move him towards the shaft. He scurried away from the spear, wheeled about to face it and presented me with a target of sorts.

I could now plainly see 3 large legs and one big feeler. I couldn’t see his body at all but I could sort of triangulate where they all would come together. I was sure he was big enough, so I worked my spear down into the hole, got the angle I needed and drilled him. Bingo, he turned out to be bigger than average, coming in at about 4 pounds.
March 12, 2009.

Yesterday morning we took our machete’s and cut a new trail from one beach to another on the windward side of the island. We spent an hour looking at all the junk that has washed up over the years.

On the way back to the boat we stopped to do a little spearfishing. We came up empty, but our friends Greg & Judy took home a nice lobster. After stopping at the boat for lunch and a few chores we once again headed out with our spears.

This time we headed north and it was Christy’s turn to be the first one into the water. We found a promising looking coral head and after donning her gear she slipped into the water. She immediately looked up and said “You just dropped me off into the middle of a school of Barracuda”. They were smaller fish so they swam away and left her to the coral head.

She swam the 10 yards to the coral patch and surfaced again said “There are 2 sharks in the coral head”. They turned out to be Nurse sharks, which are very docile sharks, as far as sharks go. They’re said to be harmless unless provoked. I’m just not sure what constitutes provoking. In Jersey, if you look at someone too long you’ve provoked them…..so we decided to move on to another patch of reef. Better safe than chewed upon.

We ended up spending 2 hours going from small coral head to coral head. We did end up taking our 7th lobster of the season but we were chased from the water on several occasions by a very large Sand Tiger shark. I was 20 feet away from and paralleling the iron shore in about 8 feet of water, to my right the water was only 3 or 4 feet deep. Out of my peripheral vision I saw the movement of a large fish. It turned out to be the Sand Tiger, he had come up behind me and overtaken me on the shallow side without me being aware of him until he was passing me. I got back in the dinghy and we called it a day. Christy had lobster to clean and I had to scrub my wetsuit.
March 10, 2009.

We got underway from Jamaica Cay after a rolly night at anchor. Jamaica was a nice respite from the pounding we had been absorbing but left a bit to be desired as an anchorage.

What a difference a day makes. We headed out with our double reef in, as a precaution, due to a series of squall lines coming out of the east. The seas had abated during the night and we were down to a very reasonable 15 knots of breeze.

We covered the 23 miles to the anchorage at Raccoon Cay by noon. The cay makes for an excellent anchorage with plenty of room, we are anchored a half mile from our nearest neighbor and there were 5 boats here when we arrived. We spent the rest of the day dealing with a head issue.

When I took my morning visit to the head there seemed to be a problem. Now that we were safely at anchor, it was time to deal with it. The whole ordeal was pretty disgusting so I’ll spare you the details but things are once again disappearing when the magic handle is pulled.

When we woke after a wonderfully calm night Christy headed to shore for a little hiking across the cay with some friends. They were gone for a few hours and found a windward shore full of interesting debris.

After lunch Christy and I decided to do a little hunting. We decided to limit what we might harvest; we would hunt for hogfish, grouper or lobster. We took the dinghy to the southern end of the cay where the chart shows an area that looked promising so we wanted to check it out.

We found some nice coral heads and rock ledges and during the course of the afternoon we were able to spear 3 lobsters. It was 1800 hours before we knew it and we had just enough time to meet the others for sundowners on the beach, where we were treated to a glorious sunset with our second consecutive green flash in a row.
March 9, 2009.

It’s been a while since I have written and a lot has happened. When I wrote last we were anchored in the lee of Flamingo Cay. The wind had been steady from the east-northeast in the 20 to 28 knot range so we stayed at Flamingo for 5 days.

We really wanted to spearfish the northeast side of the island but the big winds were driving a ferocious sea and the danger was just too great. So Christy and I decided to try a new spot along the northwest tip of the cay. It turned out to be a great decision. The water was dead calm and full of life. I was able to spear a huge Hogfish and another lobster.

Of course, our week spent hiding from the weather was the week that the weather guru, Chris Parker took off on vacation. There was supposed to be a replacement, but nobody was able to hear him on the SSB. So we pooled our weather information with the boats we were traveling with and decided to head out on Sunday for the 35 mile trip down to Raccoon Cay.

The wind was supposed to be in the 16 to 22 knot range which is doable. The point of concern was the sea state. The seas were big and from the east, the tide would be ebbing from the west, the wind was still strong from the east so we were going to be dealing with that whole “tide versus wind” thing again. But instead of going in or out a cut and getting beat up for a few minutes we would be traveling parallel to this sea state for about 20 miles of our trip. Compounding the situation is the fact that 2 miles to the east, the water is over a thousand feet deep while our route of travel will have us in 25 feet of water. So we’ll have big seas running up onto the shallow bank and breaking into the ebbing tide. READ: This could be a recipe for an ass kicking. We did wait an extra day before we finally decided to stick our noses out and check it out. We double reefed the main and put out a slice of jib and headed out. We’d just take a look…….

Hey look, we’re getting our asses kicked. The first 6 miles were fairly protected behind a series of small cays and our course had us broad reaching along, under shortened sails at 7 knots. Things looked pretty good until we reached the waypoint at 6 miles out and turned to a course of 180° which put us abeam to the big seas on a beam reach. Coincidentally, this is about where our island protection ran out. Fortunately, we were only skirting a series of reefs for a mile and a half and our new course would have us close reaching. Unfortunately, we were on this new course through nasty seas for about another hour.

At this point, it had become an official ass kicking. The wind was up over 25 knots and the waves were in the 8 to 10 foot range and very close together. Wave after wave, bash after bash, seawater over the top…we’ve definitely seen much worse, but this wasn’t any fun. Our 3 options were: 1 We could keep going with the worst definitely still in front of us, 2 We could turn around, which wasn’t a very attractive option at all, or 3 We could try to hide until tomorrow at Jamaica Cay.

Pop quiz….who knows the difference between a Cay and an Island? The difference between an island and a cay is that an island has its own source of fresh water, and a cay does not. FYI, Cay is almost always pronounced, “Key” not “Kay”.

Christy called back to My Destiny and Far Niente to propose the stop at Jamaica Cay and they jumped all over it like fleas on a dog.

We sailed right up to the calm in the lee of the spit, started the engine and dropped the sails. We motored into the inner harbor, found a suitable spot and dropped the hook. The wind was still cranking but it was fairly comfortable and we all had hooks down before noon. Welcome to Jamaica, mon!

Jamaica Cay was, at one time, going to be a resort of sorts. To say that it was an ambitious undertaking is an understatement. The area is a series of small cays with the largest being too small for a runway. How guests were to arrive, is anyone’s guess. The nearest runway that I know of is at least 50 miles away. Land there and hop in a fast boat and its still a half day trip by motorboat. That’s “if” the sea state permits the trip at all. Anything like the conditions we had today and the guests could end up sitting at the airstrip for days waiting for an opportunity to get here by boat. I dunno, maybe they were planning to use helicopters or seaplanes, sounds expensive just to get here. So, not so surprisingly, the resort sits there uncompleted and abandoned.

While the crews of Far Niente and My Destiny did a little beach exploring, Christy and I decided to check out the spearfishing.

When the wind is strong it’s too hard to swim and pull the dinghy along. We can’t anchor the dinghy because when you take a fish you have to get the speared fish out of the water as quickly as possible so the blood doesn’t draw sharks. So on very windy days we take turns driving the dinghy while the other one hunts nearby.

Christy was in the water first while I floated, idling, a hundred feet away. I heard her squeal with delight through her snorkel so I was already on my way when she surfaced and signaled that she had speared her very first fish.

Last year we only had one spear and Christy and I always worked as a team and searched together, but I did all the spearing. She decided that this year she wanted a spear of her own. The fish she killed wasn’t in any of our books but had nice white fillets when I cleaned it so we figured we would give it a try. The area turned out to be a spearfisherman’s paradise. We took 3 grouper, 2 huge triggerfish and Christy’s phantom Moo Goo.
March 5, 2009.

Before I get started let me say that its good to be back in touch but it will only be for today. We ran into a new wifi source that will only be available to us while we're in the Jumentos.

We’ve made it to Flamingo Cay in the Jumentos. It’s one of my favorite cays of the Bahamas. Flamingo possesses 3 of the essentials that we enjoy most, beautiful beaches, some hiking trails and a bit of snorkeling.

We hauled anchor at 0600 in Thompson Bay and headed out. We left at first light so we could transit the skinniest water of our day on a rising tide. There was a calm breeze out of the north so we covered the ten miles to the Comers East waypoint at about 6 knots.

The Comer Channel is about 11 miles of fairly shallow water. The bottom is all sand so running aground after low tide would be nothing more than an inconvenience. We draw about 5 ½ feet and we never saw less than 9 inches under our keel. The Far Niente’s were a little closer to the bottom dragging their 6 foot keel with them, but all went well.

The rest of the trip was spent alternating between sailing and motorsailing. The forecast had been for 10 to 12 knots all day but Jay on Far Niente got too generous and gave all our wind away. He had been talking on the VHF to another boat that was becalmed several miles away. He was amazed that we were able to sail as he had practically no wind. While signing off, Jay promised the guy some wind and next thing I knew we were starting the engine as our entire forecasted breeze was gone.

We arrived at the 2 Palms Anchorage in Flamingo Cay around 1500 hours. The wind was from the north so we had some protection from the breeze, but the northwest swell was still rolling into the anchorage.

Our first night the anchorage was a rolling mess. The wind had come around to the northeast so it was getting better, but it was still not great. Our first full day at Flamingo was spent hiking and snorkeling. We spent the morning walking over to the northern anchorage where we once again came across the wreckage of our friend Gary’s plane. The past years hurricane season has eroded some of the familiar beaches and has added a bit of sand in other places. Part of the plane that once sat atop the beach is now practically buried.

After getting back to the dinghy we decided to go down to the next beach and climb to the light tower at the top of the island. Just like last year the view from the tower was outstanding.

After lunch at the boat we headed down to the southern end of the cay to do some spearfishing. My favorite reef had no fish of intriguing size so I headed over to an area I like to call “The Bowl”. The Bowl is about the size of a football field, and it drops off to about 20 feet deep from a surrounding depth of only 4 feet. The vertical sides are home to several schools of fish, including some of good size.

At the bowl I was able to take a pair of large Triggerfish. After that Christy followed me in the dink as I swam the backside of the cay on the way back to our boat. While swimming the backside of the cays I often find random smaller coral heads that are home to some good sized fish. It was on one of these small non descript knobs of coral that I was able to spear our second lobster of the year.

To be able to cover more area Christy will often tow me behind the dinghy. I lay face down holding the tow rope while she drags me homeward. If I see anything that looks like a good opportunity I just let go of the line and she circles back to collect me and hopefully our catch.

In the evening we decided to get together on the beach for cocktails and a little garbage burning. When the tide is low you can dig a fire pit, stack some driftwood, build a roaring fire and burn all of your boat garbage. Down island it’s a necessity so it’s only natural that it becomes a social event.

There were 2 other boats in the anchorage so I dinghied over to invite them to join us. The first boat declined as they were tired from just having arrived. When I arrived at the second boat, a large power cat, they accepted our invitation and upped the ante.

Instead of meeting at the beach they asked us all to come over to their very large boat. Ummmm….okay. So we spent the evening aboard the power cat Magic. We had a great time, made new friends and no, we didn’t bring our garbage. There’s always tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 1, 2009.

We hauled anchor in Georgetown at 0830 on Saturday morning. Sunday would have offered a better opportunity for sailing but we wanted to be sure to be well set before the weather goes to hell on Sunday night.

By leaving at 0830 we would be transiting the Middle Rocks Channel at about high slack tide. The water depth wasn’t the issue it was the fact that we were trying to avoid a wind versus tide situation.

The wind was coming from pretty much where we wanted to go so we spent the day motorsailing to our destination of Thompson Bay on Long Island. The trip was a slow affair into a small head sea. The only fish we were able to land was another Barracuda. We passed about 15 sailboats headed to Georgetown so we were confident that we would pretty much have the huge anchorage practically to ourselves.

Once we had the hook down we quickly gathered our laundry, hopped in the dink and blasted down to the Long Island Breeze resort. Here in the lower Bahamas the businesses can’t really afford to turn away a buck. So this brand new resort lets cruisers do their laundry in the resorts laundry room.

We had our laundry done in short order and just got back to the boat in time to head to Trifina’s for dinner. Trifina’s is the place we went to last year with the crews from 22 other boats for dinner. It was a little less crowded as there were only a dozen or so cruisers and a handful of locals in the place. Again we had a great meal at Trifina’s buffet, all for only 15 dollars.

On Sunday Jay from Far Niente rented a van and we took a tour of the island. It seems there is a church of one denomination or another every couple of miles. We stopped to see several including one that had been built in the early 1700’s but now sits abandoned.

We stopped for lunch in a small place called the Outer Edge Grill in Clarencetown. A couple of Grouper sandwiches with fries and a couple of cokes was only 20 bucks. Good deal.

We stopped at several beaches during the day. One beach called the Compass Rose was as picturesque as they come with crystal clear, calm water with a narrow gap for the sea to enter. Another beach was flanked by unforgiving shoals and was littered with wrecks.

We also stopped in to see the islands most famous blue hole. Its 660 feet deep and sits right next to the edge of the island. You can literally walk in knee deep water into a 600 foot abyss. They hold yearly world free diving championships here.

The weather should present us an opportunity to head south into the Jumentos on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Once we head out it could be as much as a month before we get internet and are able to post an update. Until then…..be well.