Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 21, 2011.

We spent several days in the lee of Hog Cay hiding from 20 to 25 knot winds. It’s dead flat in the lee of the cay so its comfortable. When the wind is up that high the trip over to Duncan Town is unadvisable unless you enjoy arriving somewhere completely wet.

Theres not much hunting to the west of Hog so that only leaves the cuts to the north and south of the cay. As the wind angle varied we went south one day and then to the northern cut a few days later. One day we took 4 lobsters, including a speckled Spanish Lobster and a pair of Hogfish while the other day we got our asses pounded in rough conditions and came home empty handed. So we’ve spent our time playing Bocce, dominoes, reading and hiking but enough’s enough.

Far Niente, My Destiny, First Edition and Savage Son, heretofore known as Le Entourage, all set sail for Thompson Bay, Long Island. We’ve decided to stay down here another couple of weeks before we head back to renew our immigration bullshit as well. We took advantage of a wind shift to sail the dozen miles back up to Raccoon Cay.

Theres 2 other boats here with the nearest being ¾ of a mile to the north of us. We spent the morning walking the cay looking for evidence of Danny. Danny’s people spent 2 weeks here searching and praying for his return. They sat out a spat of horrendous weather while hoping Danny would turn up. They finally had to give up and return north and back towards the states.

The difference between a cay and an island is that an island has a source of fresh water. Since this is Raccoon Cay, after almost 3 weeks, Danny’s survival is doubtful. We saw no evidence of him but even when sitting out on the boat we always have one eye on the shoreline. You never know.

After lunch we made a quick run to the north end of the cay and came home with 3 bugs and another large Hogfish.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 14, 2011.

Happy Valentines Day everyone. Before I explain how we spent our day let me say that the fishing has been phenomenal.

We took 15 lobster and a few Hogfish over the course of 2 days down at the southern end of Little Ragged Island.
The brain shot.

We gave some away to friends but kept several as we were heading up to Hog Cay for the big Valentines Day party and I didn’t expect to be able to do much hunting.

Once at Hog we did find ourselves with a 1 afternoon opportunity to hunt one of the cuts before several days of excessive easterlies would be keeping us out of the water. So hunt we did….

There are dozens of boats here congregating for the big party so with the competition I wasn’t expecting much when we went into the water. I found several lobster but something unexpected happened. I turned into all 3 Stooges. That’s right Moe, Larry and Curly. I missed shots, dorked shots, over planned simple shots and pretty much frustrated the hell outta myself for the first 45 minutes. I don’t know what the problem was but after a bit I had myself sorted out and had 4 decent bugs and a nice Slipper Lobster in the dink.

I was swimming in with the last of the flood tide when a big Hogfish crossed my path. We played a quick couple of hands of “around the rock” where he would let me get not quite close enough to take a shot before moving away. Then he decided he was done playing with me and turned away from the chance at concealment and headed out across the cut. He didn’t seem overly concerned when I decided that the game wasn’t over and pursued him.

He was 20 feet in front of me but I was gaining an inch or 2 for every ten feet we covered. After a hundred quickly paced yards my legs were ready to explode and I was breathing hard but I was just about over him. He had never veered left or right but the water was now in excess of 20 feet. I dove down at him but as I descended he kept on truckin’ and I leveled out 6 feet behind him. Just not close enough for a shot and when he matched my quick burst of speed I had to surface without shooting. Scaly bastard.

When using a snorkel you really become conscious of your breathing. So I spent the next hundred yards getting control of my respirations while I did my best to ignore my aching legs. I found myself once again overtaking him and swam hard to actually get ahead of him a bit. He continued on, dead straight, even as I edged ahead of him. My breathing was as good as it was gonna get when I dove down towards him. We arrived at a smattering of sea fans at the same time and he seemed surprised when I matched his quick burst with one of my own. When my spear point ripped through his body I was completely done and headed immediately for the surface dragging him up with me.

Usually I try to finesse the fish above me as I rise so he can’t use the pull of my body rising towards the surface against me. I was spent and finesse wasn’t to be an option. I swam hard for the surface as I felt him fighting to tear himself from my spear below me.

Christy pulled up in the dink just as I broke the surface with him. As I swung him above me to get him into the dink he just flipped free of the spear and into the water. I grabbed a half gulp of air and headed down after him. His wound was mortal and he was moving slowly when I speared him again about 15 feet down. My accent this time was more like Polaris than man. I needed air….NOW.

Evidently during his fight after the first time I speared him he had just about unscrewed my spear point. When he slipped off the spear I had no time to check the tip before I had to go down and shoot him again. As I broke the surface he did one last death spin and it was enough to unscrew the tip and set him free. Crap.

I watched as he swam straight to the bottom and settled among the sea fans to die. At this point I was on the backside of a serious adrenalin rush and I was sucking air like a fat guy running up the down escalator.

I spent at least 2 minutes hanging on the side of the dink staring down at him while I tried to get my breathing back under control. He was 25 feet down lying dead in the open. I just gotta go down, shoot him again and drag him back up here. My best spear tip was still in him, theres blood in the water and if I don’t get this over with its gonna be shark central soon. All these little mounting pressures were doing nothing for my Gandhi-like attempt at relaxing. I took the extra spear from Christy and successfully recovered my fish. Whew. Honey, take me home.

Since I survived my encounter with the demon Hogfish we were able to attend today’s Valentines Day party. Maxine who runs Ragged Islands tiny grocery store hosts this mega event for everyone in the area. She organizes several island women and they cook 2 turkeys and a pair of large hams complimented by all the traditional Bahamanian side dishes. Then they ferry the meal the couple of miles across to Hog Cay where all the cruisers are waiting with even more food of their own to add to the feast.

This years entertainment included some Junkanoo practice including costumes and music. The cruisers donated possessions to be auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting the Ragged Island All Age School.
Steve from Fine Lion acted as auctioneer and added quite a bit to the afternoons entertainment. I challenged Steve to sell the hat he was wearing and he countered by asking me to sell the shorts I was wearing. Several “helpful” people in the crowd offered me options for keeping my modesty sans shorts. A tiny internal voice reminded me that “one doesn’t remove one’s shorts at a charity event for the students of an elementary school”.

The third annual Hog Cay Valentines Day party was a huge success, with the crews from 35 boats in the anchorage attending and at least 40 locals descending on Hog Cay and adding to the well fed crowd. The people here are extraordinary…..and who says I can't work a skirt?
February 12, 2011.

Its been a solid week and Danny is still unaccounted for. Things aren’t looking too good for Dannys survival and as his chances dim boats are once again drifting away to other anchorages. As hard as it was for us with Molly’s passing, I can’t imagine what these people are dealing with in not knowing if he’ll show up on the beach the day after they leave.

We sailed down and anchored between Hog Cay and Ragged Island. We wanted to be as close to town as we could because it was Superbowl weekend. Once again Fichael offered to come out into the anchorage and collect boaters who wanted to come in for the game. There wasn’t room enough for everyone in his small fishing boat so several boatloads of us decided to take our own dinks into town.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but with the game ending near 2300 hours this meant that we’d be headed home through the narrow mangrove lined channel on a moonless, dark as hell night. I have the route entered into our handheld GPS so I was pretty sure getting home wouldn’t be a problem so “don’t worry honey, we’ll go in ourselves”.

We grabbed our laptops and headed in early to grab a little internet before the game. This allowed us to have ringside seats for the arrival of the rest of the group. While we dinghied all the way into town, Fichael had dropped everyone a mile and a half away at Gun Point. Once there he piled them all in his pick up truck for the ride to his lodge. When they first arrived I thought I was witnessing the arrival of a Bedouin caravan as the back of the truck was packed with 14 riders. That is until the doors popped open and another half dozen grey heads appeared. Then my impression went right to ….clown car.

The Bonefish Lodge is by far the most modern building within a hundred miles. 2 flat screen televisions, stocked bar and nonstop food coming out of the kitchen made this years Superbowl experience special for everyone who attended.

So after an entertaining game and several beers it was time to head home. We fired up the handheld and found that the screen was so bright that it destroyed our night vision. So Christy hunched over the screen and called out directions while I steered to her commands without looking down. The night was literally pitch black so we were relegated to moving out of the harbor at a crawl. This was pretty much as we had expected but an issue came up. F@#king mosquitoes.

There were 2 other dinghies behind us with handhelds also. By the time we had made it the one hundred yards across the harbor the mosquitoes were after us….bigtime. The narrow channel through the mangroves is over a mile long and at a safe pace we would probably be drained of blood before reaching the open water at the far end. So screw the plan honey, we’re gonna improvise.

After 200 yards of negotiating the channel theres a choice to be made. Stick to the channel at this speed and probably die or take the short cut and possibly die. We’ll take Possible Death for two hundred Alex.

The short cut can only be done the few hours before or after high tide. We were an hour after high tide so we were goin’ for it. The short cut is an acquired skill and we’ve done it successfully before but always in daylight. The water in the short cut is hundreds of yards wide but traversed by only a narrow channel of navigable water. On either side of the channel the water is only a few inches deep; certainly not enough for the dink or its outboard. So if you leave the channel you have to get out and push until you refind the deeper water.

The others opted to stay in the mangrove channel while we veered off into the darkness. We had the course in the GPS and I steered as Christy called out “left, left, more, okay straight, right, left, steady, etc.” We were able to double our speed and soon outdistanced the mosquitoes.

After 15 minutes we were in deep water and within sight of the Veranda. An entertaining game, wonderful company, some adventure on the way home and some new teamwork mastered. Another day to be treasured…..
February 8, 2011.

While we were enjoying ourselves in the lee of Hog Cay there was a bit of drama unfolding 10 miles to the north at Raccoon Cay.

Danny, a Husky/ Border Collie mix had run off from his people while on the beach at Raccoon. His people and some friends had spent the last 48 hours searching for him. Danny has that urge to “herd” and unfortunately for them Raccoon Cay is home to a few hundred wild goats. Dannys out running with the goats. Oh, and as a bonus, Danny is deaf…..

Jay on Far Niente was celebrating a birthday and for his birthday he proposed sailing up to Raccoon to bolster the search party’s efforts. So at the crack of dawn 5 of us pulled the hooks and headed north. We arrived by 0830 to discover that boaters were headed in from every direction. We ended up with the crews from at least 20 boats scouring the cay as best we could. The cay is a mile wide by 3 miles long. Its entirely covered with dense scrub brush with a few salt ponds scattered about. There’s only one path that crosses the cay to the ocean side.

Christy & I are pretty familiar with the southern end of the cay as we’ve spent more time at Raccoon than most people. Christy walked the circumference of several salt ponds in the hopes of spotting Danny’s track amongst the goat tracks. I used a machete and bushwhacked a winding path across the cay.

I was able to creep upwind upon at least a dozen different groups of goats lolling in the shade hiding from the blistering sun. I would get within 30 feet and then make a little noise and they would jump to alert and then start to melt away into the thick brush. As each group crept away I was hoping to see Danny traveling with them. No luck.

In the dinghy on our way home for lunch we came upon a distressing sight. Our friend Lynn had taken a pretty good fall and had just gotten back to the beach covered in blood. We grabbed her into the dink and headed out towards the Savage Son. We arrived at the boat just as Dr. Bob did. We left Lynn in the Dr’s care and headed home to rehydrate for the afternoon session. Getting a fresh head of lettuce can be a challenge here in the Jumentos but…Lynn needs a doctor and Bob on Savage Son and the husband and wife team of physicians on Brio were here looking for Danny. Lynn was medicated, stitched and given sound medical advice within minutes and all without an administrator or insurance form in sight.

One of the search parties had found fresh dog tracks on the north end of the cay so after lunch Christy & I headed north with 2 other couples. We found the fresh tracks in a small patch of sand on the iron shore. We searched for 3 hours to no avail. As we walked home along the shoreline of the salt pond closest to our dinghies Christy made a discovery. There in our muddy footprints we had left earlier as we crossed the cay was a perfect set of paw prints…..on top of our footprints. Danny had crossed our trail in the last 3 hours. Talk about frustrating.

We hailed his people on the VHF and when they arrived they searched as best they could. We left them with the suggestion that they stop searching because when they spook the goats, Danny chases after them. I suggested they use a pile of dry dog food to bait the edge of the salt pond, hide downwind and observe as the goats wander in. Hopefully, Danny’s goats will be drawn to the food and he might be trailing behind.

After an exhausting day we all went in to the beach at 1800 hours to celebrate Jay’s birthday and compare wounds from the days endeavor. A good time was drunk by all.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 5, 2011.

Here in the lower Jumentos we can order vegetables at Maxine’s grocery store. So once a week we head back down to Duncan Town to pick up our vegetables and do a little interneting at the school. As soon as we have our Romaine it’s a short day sail to one of the more remote cays for some beachcombing and some spearfishing.

As promised this weeks blog post will be a hunting/ gathering pictorial spread. On Thursday Christy and I went out to hunt one of the cuts on a falling tide.
In less than an hour we were headed home with 5 lobsters and a pair of Hogfish.

So on Friday there was no way we were gonna need any other seafood for a while. With no pressure on us we opted to follow several of our friends with the camera as they hunted in the lee of Raccoon Cay. After a quick 1 ½ mile dinghy ride down to the southern end of the cay and they were ready to hit the water.

Our friend Greg is nursing a sore toe and didn’t want to put on a swim fin so he acted as tugboat captain and
towed all of the dinks along behind him so everyone could just swim in one direction without ever having to come back to their dink. Christy and I took turns towing our dink behind us as we swam so we would have it handy whenever someone caught something.
Judy, Lynn, Beverly and Christy swam along shelling while Bob and Pete checked every crevice in search of the elusive lobster.

Heres a quick video of Bob spearing a lobster. At barely a pound the bug was legal although a little small but you get the idea. The technique was textbook and his aim was true.

This next series of pictures has Peter checking crevices, finding and harvesting a nice 2 pounder.

Usually the guys do the bulk of the hunting and their wives stick close by in the dink to ward off sharks and collect the fish and lobster. This system allows the guys to cover a lot more ground than constantly having to swim back to an anchored dink. Because of Greg being on injured reserve but still opting to come along, everyone got to be in the water for as long as they liked.

A couple of lobster, a few cool shells and pictorial proof of a good time had by all. It was a really nice day.

We rose this morning and left Raccoon headed back to Hog Cay. As the anchorage came into view I was shocked to see that the circus had set up a brightly colored tent with pennants flapping in the breeze. As we got closer I was a bit disappointed to discover that it was only laundry day on the Far Niente. No calliope, no elephants and no lions, crap.

In the afternoon while I honed my marginal Bocce skills Christy & Di snorkeled for shells along the beach.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2, 2011.

I’ve been hearing about the horrible weather being endured by the eastern half of the country. All I’m gonna say is that February here is a little different…….I highly recommend it.

Our friends on First Edition had a bit of an accident. Everyone is fine but their camera is now dead. Lynn dropped the camera into that little bit of water that sloshes around in the back of the dinghy. The unfortunate death of their camera had an unexpected upside for us.

We own the exact same camera and they had one of those miracle clear plastic enclosures that allows your average digital camera to become an underwater camera. We had considered buying one but since our camera is several years old I was afraid to drop the cash on an enclosure for a camera that might be on its last legs. And a good bit o’ cash it is. The enclosure costs slightly more than our camera so we opted to go without. Bottom line; we didn’t even know the First Editions had this marvelous plastic box and they graciously offered to let us borrow it to use with our camera since it won’t fit their back up camera.

So with the wind honking out of the east Christy & I slipped into the water to practice our underwater photography technique. Here on the western side of Hog Cay there is some smallish structure along with some smaller fish so we snorkeled around taking pictures of this and that.

I’ve seen what Sean Penn will do to paparazzi so even though we had no intentions of killing anything I dragged a spear along for protection. Christy was able to get a quick picture of a good sized Hogfish that crossed our path just before I chased him down and transformed him into lunch.

There were a few colorful fish and some starfish here and there.
We learned a bit about using the camera underwater and we look forward to being able to share pictures of our next underwater hunting expedition. Stay tuned, it’ll be better than shoveling snow…..
January 31, 2011.

After a few really perfect nights at Raccoon we headed back down south to Hog Cay. We had to get down there to pick up our vegetables when the mailboat came in. The winds were forecast to be from the northwest at 10 to 12 knots. The anchorage at Hog is open to the west but 10 to 12 isn’t a big deal so we decided to head there with 4 other boats.

I’m usually pretty opposed to the whole “group mentality” thing but tonight was Greg on My Destiny’s birthday and there was a party planned for the beach tonight. I really wanted to be at his party but in the back of my mind I was worried that the 10 to 12 knots could easily morph into something more. In spite of my better judgment we headed in to Hog for the night rather than an anchorage further south that would offer us better protection.

After dropping the hook on a perfect, sunny, calm day we hopped in the dink and covered the 3 ½ miles into town. We picked up our vegetables and headed over to the school to do a little interneting. While we were sitting there the temperature dropped and some ominus clouds appeared. Crap. The front was here sooner than expected and of course, there was a solid 20 knots outta the west northwest. We’ll just say that the dinghy ride home sucked, bigtime. Once safely home hoisting the dink was no party either but it had to be done. We had solid 3 footers rolling through the anchorage and everyone’s stern was facing the breakers behind us on the beach. Needless to say, there was no party. We now have the “Never anchor with your heart rather than your brain” rule.

Once safe with the dinghy raised things weren’t too bad as the onslaught of waves passed under the boat. Unfortunately, the wind veered at about 0200 hours. We turned to face the breeze while the seas were now on our beam. We laid there wide awake as we rolled side to side until we raised the sails and got out of there at dawn.

A ten mile downwind sail took us to the anchorage at Southside Bay which offers mondo protection from north winds. After dropping the hook in the flat ass calm anchorage we headed into town to the school. They were having a fundraiser for the student body (all 11 of them). They charge you 10 bucks a head for what boils down to a Bahamas style home cooked meal. There was baked and fried chicken, fried fish and ribs accompanied by sides of cole slaw, peas and rice, curried rice, conch and rice and everyone’s favorite……macaroni and cheese. This stuff ain’t nothing like your Mommas Mac & Cheese. I don’t know what the hells in it but god damn it’s good.

On Sunday morning we woke to light wind from the north north east. This made for a perfect day for some spear fishing on the extreme tip of little Ragged Island. I’ve only hunted there once before and it was phenomenal so I was psyched as we headed out. There were 5 dinghies from various boats in the anchorage headed for some terrific reef.

The reef here is so vast that it’s actually a bit difficult to hunt. I like to be methodical and really cover pretty much every inch of a reef as I come across them. It’s almost impossible to do that here. You’ll be swimming along checking the reef when across a patch of sand you’ll see some thing that looks even more promising, its hard not to get sidetracked.

In less than 2 hours the five dinks were headed home with 30 lobster and several nice fish. There were neophyte spear fishermen and more experienced guys. Everyone took multiple lobsters home. We took 10 bugs anywhere from 1 pound up to a 5 and 6 pounder along with another nice Hogfish.

While we were out diving my friend Jay was walking with some friends and came across a 4 1/2 pound lobster walking through a foot of water right next to the beach. During the ensuing melee Jay pretty much knocked off most of the bugs legs and one antennae while managing to avoid injury to himself. Jay is actually the first person that I've met who has harvested a lobster with a machete.