Monthly Archives: December 2013

You Never Forget Your First

At last year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I got to meet the members of one of my favorite bands, Better Than Ezra, after their show.  As we chit-chatted, I mentioned that I’d also seen them at my first Jazz Fest in the 90s, which had also been one of their earliest (if not first) Jazz Fest appearances.  When bassist Tom Drummond asked me which was better, I replied, “Oh, you never forget your first.”

And so it is with me and my very first Out Island – Eleuthera – which Rick and I visited in 1990 as young marrieds, while I was still in law school.  It made for a heck of a spring break, and was an eye-opening experience.  We may not have loved Eleuthera enough to return until now, but it taught us a lot about the Out Islands in general.

From visiting Eleuthera, I learned that:

–          There are still places on this planet where the people are trustworthy enough that your hotel room won’t have a key.  And you won’t need one.

–          There are places where people are trusting enough that if you haven’t thought to make a rental car reservation, the rental car company owner will lend you his personal wheels until he can get another one.  And he’ll give it to you without a credit card or cash deposit, but will find you later.

–          There are places where you can find yourself the only person on a glorious miles-long pink sand beach utterly alone.

–          Picking up hitchhikers is the polite thing to do.

–          It’s worth the trouble to seek out and get to places like this.

And getting here has not been easy.  Back in 1990, we found a now-defunct commuter airline to get us here in a tiny plane.  Getting to Cape Eleuthera yesterday took 2 long days of sailing.

From Lynyard Cay in the Abacos, we left around 6:30 – just after the sunrise, and the first time I’ve had to set an alarm in weeks – and rode 6 foot swells for 63 miles (over 8 hours), motor-sailing.  We led a small pack of 9 boats from the Abacos, but all but us and a boat named Lucia peeled off and headed for safe harbor in either Spanish Wells or Royal Island at the north end of Eleuthera.  We stopped next to Current Cut, off a pretty beach, and rode out a swell-y night.  (Alas, not beach time for us, since we’d deflated and stowed our dinghy and all of our water toys for these passages.)

Current Settlement Anchorage

We may not have been able to enjoy this beach, but the sand bottom made our anchor happy.  And when our anchor is happy — especially in strong breeze and a swell — we’re very happy.

Yesterday, we had a shorter trip (40 miles), but it took longer as we sailed upwind.  We started just as early again, at just about sunrise.

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Sunrise from where we anchored off the Current Settlement on Eleuthera.

Our first step was negotiating the aptly named Current Cut, which has tidal flows at times which are strong enough to impede a boat’s progress; we only battled 3 knots of current at the end of the tide.

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This is sunrise over Current Cut.  These are the very few sunrise photos which you’ll be seeing, because I don’t have much interest in waking up early enough to take them….

The sea inside the crook of Eleuthera is shallow, and the 18-22 knot winds had kicked up a chop that was as steep and nasty as the Chesapeake when it is feeling surly.  Except the water is turquoise.  (We discovered new leaks on the boat, but at least found the ones Rick had sealed from our last rough sail had stayed dry.)  The last 7 miles of the trip were in a channel through vast sand flats, until we finally entered Exuma Sound and the marina at Cape Eleuthera.

Last night, we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, then drinks and dinner at the marina’s Conch House café with Paul and Kathy from Lucia.

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Sunsets I can do again and again.

We’re using today to do some boat chores (Rick is changing engine oil and belts as I write, and I’m about to do laundry) before heading off to the Exumas tomorrow.  But not before some quality ‘Lutran beach time.

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Actually, the beach at Cape Eleuthera is not that great.  But a little judicious framing of photos makes it look good.

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Like many Bahamian beaches, this one is bordered by ironshore.  But interestingly, it also has an ocean hole, or “blue hole” — where sinkholes in the limestone collapse and create a hole of great depth — just off the beach.  Note the darker water in the upper right photo.

Cairn Builder Rick

Finally, what is a beach day without Rick building one of his cairns?

Analyzing Heads

At the moment, we are staying at Cape Eleuthera Yacht Club and Resort – a fancy way of saying we’re staying in a marina.  It’s likely to be our last marina stay for weeks, even months.

We’re not making this trip to stay in marinas, but sometimes they’re convenient or even necessary.  There is really no other place to stay at the southern tip of Eleuthera other than a marina.  Once here, we get to indulge in what most people take for granted when not living on a boat: unlimited water to shower in, and flush toilets that don’t require you to hand pump your output into a tank.

For those few who are interested (and for everyone else, I’m planning on a more normal blog post later today), I’m providing this blog post to provide my ratings of marina shower facilities.  These ratings are not qualitative – they don’t analyze the décor, for example – they merely address the basic features of marina bathing facilities at the marinas I’ve stayed at.

Here goes:

LOGGERHEAD MARINA, VERO BEACH, FLORIDA

Security: No keys, but marina in gated community

Air-Conditioned: Yes

Space to Put Your Stuff: Yes, if you get the large shower stall; a single hook outside the curtain if you get the small one.

Water Pressure: Good

Water Temperature: Full range

OLD BAHAMA BAY, WEST END, GRAND BAHAMA

Security: No keys

Air-Conditioned: Small air-conditioner in the restroom, but you have to know to turn it on; feeble chilling power

Space to Put Your Stuff: No; hooks outside the curtain of the shower stall

Water Pressure: Weak

Water Temperature: Full range

GREEN TURTLE CLUB, GREEN TURTLE CAY, ABACOS

Security: Bath house access with key only

Air-Conditioned: No

Space to Put Your Stuff: Yes, hooks and towel rod

Water Pressure: Acceptable

Water Temperature: Full range

HARBOUR VIEW MARINA, MARSH HARBOUR, ABACO

Security: Key access, in a gated marina

Air-Conditioned: Yes

Space to Put Your Stuff: Yes; a full bathroom suite

Water Pressure: Good

Water Temperature: Full range (except that H and C might be reversed, so be sure to check)

CAPE ELEUTHERA, ELEUTHERA

Security: Individual bathroom suites lock from the inside

Air-Conditioned: Yes

Space to Put Your Stuff: Yes; a full bathroom suitE

Water Pressure: Good

Water Temperature: Cold only

So far, the pluses far outweigh any minuses, and I haven’t been driven to use my boat shower instead.  But at the same time, don’t go fantasizing about a hot shower after a long passage unless you know you’re going to a marina that will have it.

Memory Lane

Happy Boxing Day!

Yes, that’s a holiday here in the Bahamas.  Government offices are CLOSED.  And we have left Marsh Harbour and are anchored off Lynyard Cay, with the hope of making what will likely be the longest passage of our adventure, to Eleuthera, tomorrow.

As we leave the Abacos behind, at least until we head back north, I find that most of our visit to these charming cays has been a walk down Memory Lane.  Of all of the Out Islands, we’ve visited the Abacos most often; they are a sailor’s paradise, heaven for beach-lovers; isolated enough for seekers of solitude, yet convenient enough for those who don’t want to leave all of the comforts of home behind.

Even though it had been 8 years since our last visit, little has changed in these timeless islands.  The Cruiser’s Net still comes on at 8:15 at VHF 68 (though, sadly, without the friendly voice of recently-deceased Patty Toler); the bread and key lime pie from Vernon’s Grocery in Hopetown are still knee-buckling delicious; and George is still selling his famous conch salad on the waterfront in Marsh Harbour.

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While it’s not really my preference to stay in marinas, price and circumstances had us staying at Harbour View Marina for 4 nights.  Christmas is a surprisingly slow time here, so we had the run of the place — not only is it well-priced, it’s convenient, clean and well-equipped (pool, laundry, showers).

IE Imports actually imported the boat parts we needed as and when promised (ahem, West Marine and FedEx … you could learn a lesson here) — no package rage here!  We found the rest of what we needed in town, or were able to make do (at least for the short run) with automotive equivalents.

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Rick went up the stick to install a VHF antenna; turns out ours had been missing for some time.  It’s amazing how much radio chatter we can hear now….

For the work better left to experts, Brown Tip brought his dive tanks and got underwater.  His many talents also include rake-n-scrape music and fishing.

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7 fresh-caught lobster tails for $8.  Wow!  Brought right to our slip.  Dinner tonight (and lunches the next few days) will be amazing!

The new (since my last visit) Maxwell’s supermarket in Marsh Harbour was simply amazing as island supermarkets go.  I found things on my list that not even Publix in Florida had.  And the liquor store across the street from our marina sold a case of Sands beer for a mere $35 — the going rate is over $50.  The larders are full.

We had dinner at next-door Mangoes on Christmas Eve.  They were hosting a “block party” with a fixed price menu and DJ music (hope you like your Christmas tunes island-style, with a lot … a real lot … of bass).  At the bar, we met some other cruisers (evidently Mangoes Marina is the place to stay; we always seem to be a step ahead or behind or just off) and ended up inviting some of them to dinner on Christmas Day.  Thanks to Rob and Kate on Adagio for sharing the holiday with us, as well as providing a delicious entree.

I took advantage of some downtime before Christmas dinner to do some cleaning.  Alas, when I took my rugs out to the dock to shake them out, the ugly winds caught one of them and swept it right in the harbour.

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I lost the rug shown on the bottom, my favorite.  I’ll consider it an offering to Neptune and hope it pays off.

We may be out of WiFi range for some time after today, so I’ll wish everyone a happy new year now.  Wishing everyone the best in 2014!

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From Gillam Bay.

Going to the Bank

After one night in Hopetown, we decided to take advantage of favorable winds and weather and head to the Bank.  In particular, Tilloo Bank.

The Bahamas are riddled with sand banks, gigantic and not-so.  The white sand is part of what gives Bahamian waters their characteristic blue color.  Tilloo Bank is located, not so surprisingly, just off Tilloo Cay.  Tilloo is a lightly populated cay (with a handful of residences) just south of Elbow Cay (where Hopetown is located).  Just past the midpoint of the cay, is a typical beach — white sand, clear water, casuarinas, a few artifacts.

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But beyond the sand lies a swath of vegetation, and beyond that, a large, shifting sandbank that feels like a giant swimming pool.  At low tide, the water is as shallow as 1 foot, even a hundred or more yards off the shore.

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You can see clearly where the bank ends and the regular bottom begins, by the change in water color.  We can’t anchor on the bank because it’s too shallow.

The boundary between grass and water provides ripe pickings for treasures such as sand dollars, sea biscuits and sea urchins.

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A good-sized sea biscuit, about the size of the front of my foot, in about 3 feet of water.

Apparently, you’re not supposed to take any goodies from the Bank, so we left empty-handed.

However, other denizens of the sea grass seem to be conditioned to look for handouts, attracted as they were to the sound of our outboard, our wading, and even the sound of my kayak paddle.

Stingray Tilloo Stingray Tilloo 3

The stingrays aren’t as skittish at Tilloo Bank as other places I’ve seen them.  One even passed under my kayak.  As soon as the tide turns from high to low, they come out.

Even though we didn’t get to bring home any sand dollars from the Bank, it’s sheer pleasure to just bob around in its clear, silky waters.  We took the dinghy out into the middle of the Bank, anchored it in about 18 inches of water, and swam until we got pruny.

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Ripples in the sand.

We spent 2 nights at Tilloo Bank, until the wind turned more southerly.  The second night, we rocked and rolled and slept little.  It was time to move somewhere more protected, so we sailed to Marsh Harbour, the “metropolis” of the Abacos.

We’re in Marsh Harbour for a few days — picking up (fingers crossed) some parts from the importer, filling our tanks and larders, and getting ready for the next weather window (fingers crossed even more), which will take us to Eleuthera and on down to the Exumas.

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We haven’t forgotten the season.  Without TV and shopping malls, we are enjoying a more simple holiday season.

One Particular Harbour

Although I’m not as much of a Parrothead as I used to be, I’ll always stop to listen to my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, One Particular Harbor.  He never names the harbor, though I suspect Jimmy’s favorite is somewhere in the South Pacific.

Mine is much closer to home.  Ever since I laid eyes on Hopetown in the Abacos in the mid-90s, I knew it was my particular harbor.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about this tiny harbor that calls my heart home, but its charms are many.

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You spot the stalwart little Elbow Reef Lighthouse from a far distance.  When we first visited here, we’d see it from the ferry taking us from Marsh Harbour to Elbow Cay.  Often, flights out of the Abacos passed over the cays, so you couldn’t miss the candy-striped beacon.  From sailboats, it was a landmark that helped direct us into the harbor.  Everywhere you walk in Hopetown – and walk you will, because motorized vehicles are very limited in the village, and the “streets” aren’t wide enough anyway – you spot the tower from between houses and trees.

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Once you reach the harbor, through shoaly waters, you find protection from almost all directions – saving you from the seas and the winds.  It’s snug and safe.

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When you come ashore, you find Hopetown, which is saved from being Disney-precious by the fact that real people live and work here; there are such intrusions of reality as trashcans, liquor stores, and peeling paint.  Nevertheless, the Cape Code styled houses sport gingerbread and the colors of a child’s paint box, and the picket fences are festooned with bougainvillea, hibiscus and allamanda.

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If the human-sized houses don’t tickle your fancy, little Lizard Lodge, a replica of the “big” house in whose yard it sits, will.

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As just about every other Abaco cay, it’s never a long walk to get to the ocean, though here, you may find a picket fence or a memorial garden overlooking the beach.

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We bought the first of our three Sabre sailboats in 1999, the first year we sailed in the Abacos (as opposed to visiting by land).  When in Hopetown that year, we spied another Sabre named Watermark (hi Joyce!) and began hatching our plan to go cruising on our own boat in the Bahamas.  Now it’s our own Calypso which is hanging out in that One Particular Harbour.

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Calypso is the bottom blue boat, snug in Hopetown.

Packaging Rage — Part 3, and Then Nipper’s

To continue with a theme from earlier, about what I call Packaging Rage, I’m reminded of a 6th grade science project I had.  All the kids in our class were to attempt to package a raw egg to withstand being tossed from our 2-story school building.  My solution was to suspend the egg in a box with rubber bands; it worked.  If I had known Rick back then – who has been known to fix a cabin fan with dental floss —  I would have loved to see what his MacGyver-esque mind would have thought up.

As we’ve been exploring the Abaco cays, we’ve been collecting objects we’ve found on the beaches.  We’re trying to limit our collection, because we already have tons of stuff at home – sea beans, sea glass, shells, sand dollars.  Some, we just give up on, because we just don’t think they will make the trip home.  Enter Rick.

On Monday, we were anchored in Baker’s Bay, off Great Guana Cay, and took a dinghy ride to what is officially known as Spoil Bank Cay, but unofficially known as Shell Island.  The cay was built up from the dredging spoil from a cruise ship channel that was dug – for cruise ship business that didn’t last very long.  The result is a cay that is basically a giant heap of sand and shells, which has over the years been overgrown with sea grape and casuarinas.

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Just an island made of shells, with a few casuarinas and sea grapes.

Most of the best shells on the island were already occupied:

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Hermit crabs choose the best available packages to call home.

But I found a few items worth trying to take home, including a tiny sea urchin with delicate lavender coloring.  Since I doubted that it would make the trip home, I merely took a photo of it.

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But Rick would not be daunted.  Inspired by clamshell packaging, he found a pair of shells, and among some of the flotsam on the beach, also found some towel fibers and the neck of a plastic jug.  Altogether, he made a tidy little package to transport the sea urchin.

MacGyvered Clamshell

MacGyver couldn’t have done it better.

The amount of junk – lots of it packaging – that washes up on some of the beaches in the islands is appalling.  Most of it doesn’t come from the Bahamas (thought they have their own issues with waste disposal), and most of it will take decades to bio-degrade.  But every now and then, there is a use for a little bit of it.

Baker’s Bay used to be one of my favorite spots in the Bahamas.  But since we’ve been here last, a huge new development has taken over the northern tip of Great Guana Cay – intended for the the uber wealthy and not the disreputable likes of us.  So after spending a really roll-y night at anchor, we moved on to Settlement Harbour, the most famous attraction of which is Nipper’s.

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Have to admit watching the Weather Channel predicting doom and gloom from a beach bar is kind of a kick.

We had lunch here – really great grouper sandwiches – as well as the obligatory Nipper cocktail.

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Of course, decent food and potent drinks are hardly necessary when you’re looking out on a gorgeous beach.  Though the surf was rolling and tumbling today, and the breeze had a bit of edge to it, the water was surprisingly warm, and I couldn’t resist taking a dip in the surf.

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Not wanting to play favorites, we walked over to Fisher’s Bay and had the obligatory Guana Grabber rum punch, which is distinguishable from a Nipper by the fact of its coconutty-ness.

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As far as taste goes, the Nipper and Grabber come close; but the Nipper has a better view.

We’ll be in the Abacos for another week, give or take, as we wait for not-especially-expensive but nevertheless essential boat parts here.  It ain’t as simple as punching up Amazon, involving customs and duties and the usual snafus.  I’m sure there will be a blog post in it.

Conch’d Out

We’re back to (relative) civilization today, with a 2-day stay at the Green Turtle Club Marina.  They’ve got a great deal going right now – all marina fees are applied towards club expenses – dinner, bar tab, etc.  So, depending on how you look at it, either your marina costs are free if you have dinner at the club, or part of your dinner is free if you stay at the marina.

Right now, the place is empty, but come December 26, it fills up.  We were perfectly content to have a couple of Tipsy Turtles at the bar, and a terrific dinner (lobster ravioli, grouper with red curry noodles) which started with some of the best conch fritters I’ve ever had.

Everywhere you go in the Bahamas, you’ll find various preparations of conch on the menus.  The most typical preparations are the almost-obligatory conch fritters, as well as conch chowder.  The chowder takes various forms, the most common being the red (tomato-based) version, but Green Turtle Club’s special Saturday night was a white version, which includes potatoes and has a dairy base.  Other conch preparations include conch salad (sort of a conch ceviche), conch burgers, cracked conch (fried) and grilled conch.

Conch meat comes from the beautiful conch shell.  They are everywhere in these islands:

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If you don’t like seeing where your food comes from, you probably don’t want to know what the creature inside that pretty shell looks like.  It’s got a single claw, which it uses for locomotion, and a not-very-handsome face.  Even after it’s been cleaned, it doesn’t look very pretty.

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I hate to be left out of the action, so whenever I’m in the Bahamas and have access to a galley, I make conch chowder.  Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to be able to buy ground or minced conch.  If I’m not, I personally have to pound the bejesus out of this dense mass of protein.  I score the conch with a sharp knife, put it in a plastic bag, and go to town with whatever instrument of blunt force I have handy in order to break down the meat.  Rick’s ball peen hammer is a little much, so I’ve been using my muddler – since I don’t have any fresh mint around to make mojitos, I’m putting it to alternative use.  Then I take the semi-pulverized meat and mince it for use in the chowder.

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The result is a classic Bahamian meal.  Accompanied by fresh Bahamian bread and beer (lately, I’ve been buying Sands beer, because it’s Bahamian-owned, as opposed to Kalik, which is owned by Heineken), it just doesn’t get any better.  My last batch lasted for dinner and two lunches.

Of course, sometimes conch conch conch gets boring.  Maybe it’s not boring if you come down to the Bahamas once a year or so, but if you’re here for weeks or months at a time, as we will be, creativity is key.  I put on my chef’s hat the other day, and make teriyaki conch in lettuce cups for an appetizer.

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It was surprisingly delicious (Rick wanted to lick the bowl, a sure sign of my success).  While fully conch-like in texture and flavor, it was nevertheless a different take on a classic.

I’m sure I’ll be called on to take different approaches to conch in the coming weeks.  All ideas or suggestions are welcome.  Not that the classic chowder is a bad thing….