Monthly Archives: January 2014

From Calypso’s Galley

There are many challenges to cooking on board in the Bahamas, and I’m doing my best to tackle them because a well-fed crew is a happy crew.  Some of my objectives in cooking address some of the challenges: (a) use of ingredients that have a long shelf life, many of which I’ve brought with me from the US (and yes, I have a spreadsheet tracking all the food on the boat and where it is stashed); (b) combining those ingredients with those which can be found in the meagerly stocked shops of the Bahamas; and (c) using cooking methods which preserve fuel and/or keep the galley cool.

I’m not normally the kind of cook who likes to open a lot of cans and dump them together, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.  So here are some of the recipes/methods I’ve recently developed to keep me and my crew happy.  All quantities are approximate; season and prepare to your own taste.

Chicken Vegetable Curry

This is something between a soup and a stew; I serve it in bowls.

1.5 -2 lbs. chicken parts

1 onion, chopped

1 russet potato, chopped

4 chicken bouillon cubes

6 cups water

1 large can sweet potatoes (drained and rinsed)

1 can mixed vegetables

1 can coconut milk (I use the “lite” kind)

Curry (I use Sukhi’s Classic Indian Curry Sauce, or 2 tablespoons of Patak’s curry paste, or 4 tablespoons of Caribbee Curry)

4 tablespoons flour, made into a slurry with about ½ cup of water

Sauté the onion and potatoes in about 2 tbsp. vegetable oil until the onion is translucent.  Add  the water, bouillon cubes and chicken parts and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook until the chicken is fully cooked.  Let cool, remove the chicken and remove it from the bones, chopping into chunks.  (I throw away the skin.)  Return the chicken to the pot.  Cut the sweet potatoes into bite sized chunks, and add to the liquid with the mixed vegetables, coconut milk and curry.  Bring to a simmer.  Add the flour slurry and simmer until the flour is cooked through.  It’s now ready to serve.

Wasabi Salmon Spread

I made this up using canned salmon, since I’ve not found smoked salmon here.  It’s great for happy hour, served with crackers.  Combine the following ingredients:

½ lb. cream cheese (half a brick)

1 can salmon (the salmon I’ve found here comes in a 10-12 ounce can)

1 small onion or 1 shallot, minced finely (about 2 tbsp.)

1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 – 2 tbsp. prepared wasabi (I use the kind in a tube)

1 – 2 tbsp. fish sauce

Pizzadillas

I made up this word, as a cross between pizza and quesadilla.  At home, I often make “pizzas” with flatbread using random but oddly compatible ingredients.  While I have many of those ingredients here (and lots of little jars of artisan gourmet ingredients that now come in handy), I’ve found using the galley oven makes too much heat, and using the grill results in a charred product.  Instead, I fold the flatbreads in half – with ingredients inside – and heat them on a dry skillet until crisp and the cheese inside melts.  They make a good appetizer sliced in pieces, or dinner.

Basic ingredients:

Flatbread (comes in a bag – in the grocery store section with tortillas and pitas – and keeps forever until opened)

To spread on the flatbread: anything that strikes your fancy.  I have used barbecue sauce, garlic/sundried tomato spread, caramelized onion balsamic spread, fig preserves.  Or you can use tomato sauce.

Cheese: pick whatever you like.  It needn’t melt, and don’t use much or else it will make the pizzadilla too heavy.  I have used bleu cheese, swiss cheese, provolone, or shredded mozzarella.  Whatever is handy.

Proteins: again, a little will go a long way.  Prosciutto, dried salami, sausage, pepperoni.  In a pinch, I used sliced hot dogs (because the chicken sausage I wanted to use had gone funky).  You can skip this if you want to go vegetarian.

Fruits/vegetables: chop these in little bits.  Chewy ones seem to work well.  Try sun-dried tomatoes, figs, olives, mushrooms.

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We are headed to a Super Bowl party at Compass Cay Marina on Sunday.  Will have to figure out what to bring….

Lions and Tigers and … Hutia?

I’ve been alluding to the various sorts of interesting critters one encounters in the Bahamas, without actually devoting an entire blog post to them.  And that really isn’t fair to them, is it?  Because there are many of them that are unique to these islands, either by species or behavior.

There are, of course, the aquatic creatures.  The reefs in the Bahamas, especially those in Exuma Park, are rich with sea life and corals.  The ones that attract the most attention, if for no reason other than their ill-deserved reputation for ferocity, are the sharks and stingrays.  The ones in Exuma Park behave fairly “normally” – they don’t “flock,” they don’t hang out together.

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An encounter with a shark in the Sea Aquarium snorkel spot in Exuma Park.  These guys are harmless.

But in spots where there is human contact, especially feeding, they become conditioned to being fed by people and respond to certain stimuli.  The rays and sharks at Manjack Cay in the Abacos respond to the sound of an outboard engine – that’s their dinner gong.

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When Lincoln Jones’ boat arrives, the rays know they’re going to get fed.

At Compass Cay and Staniel Cay in the Exumas, it’s usually a few sharp raps on a fish cleaning table.  There the sharks and some rays veritably crowd together, looking for food in the form of fish or conch scraps or even leftovers.

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The sharks at Compass Cay (left) are enough of an attraction that the marina charges a docking fee.  At Staniel Cay, the sharks are bigger and more numerous, but you don’t get as close to them.

At Big Major’s Spot on the Exumas, it’s the swimming pigs that come trotting down the beach and swimming out to the boats at the sound of an outboard approaching the beach.  There are many them, in a range of sizes, but it always seems that we attract the 300 pound porkers looking for brunch.  I can’t help but laugh at their swimming and snorting as they approach us.  Boaters are cautioned to stay in water so deep that the pigs can’t touch the bottom; otherwise, they are known to push off the sand and vault themselves into a dinghy.  A few popped inflatables sit on the beach as testament to anxious hooves looking for food.

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You couldn’t make these piggies up!

Reptiles are also part of the crowd looking for a handout.  At Bitter Guana Cay and South Gaulin Cay in the Exumas (among others), there are colonies of the endangered Exuma iguana.  When we approach the beaches in our dinghy, these guys – some of whom are up to 3 feet long – swagger out of the brush.  Although visitors aren’t supposed to feed them, they clearly to, because the iguanas are clearly looking for handouts.  (We’ve chatted with cruisers who reported that the excursion boats come bearing crowds of tourists with snacks for the iguanas.)   When shelling, a tossed shell will get an iguana’s attention, then a baleful glare when it discovers it’s not edible.

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More than a dozen iguanas will come out to greet you on the beach.

Then there is the creepy little hutia, which I’ve mentioned before.  It’s the only mammal native to the Bahamas, and had just about gone extinct when the Bahamian government decided to reintroduce it to Warderick Wells Cay and protect it.  It’s an ugly little thing: part cat, part rat, part possum.  It looks like it got evolution lessons from the strange creatures of Australia.  The nocturnal beasties came out of the woodwork (or what little of it they hadn’t already decimated) when we had a happy hour on the beach.  Now, without predators, hutia are breeding amok, and inexorably consuming most of the greenery on the island.

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This stuffed hutia is an exhibit at Exuma Park headquarters.  This is about as much of them as I like to see.

Finally, there is a human sort of creature which I’ll call the Honey Badger (or HB) – from the famous YouTube videos and the tagline “Honey Badger don’t care; Honey Badger don’t give a sh!t.”  Sadly, this creature is endemic to the Exumas; it is recognizable not so much by appearance as by behavior.  They have a certain insouciance; an utter disregard for any rule, custom or person other than him or herself.  Their habitat is sometimes (though not always) a charter boat.

We’ve had many a run-in with Honey Badgers.  They’ve climbed over us at a dinghy dock in a rush to get to theirs first; they’ve strewn their gear all over marinas, forcing hapless others to climb over it; they’ve played their music so loud everyone else in an anchorage can hear it.  They leave mooring fields without paying their fees.  They refuse to tie their boats to moorings in the prescribed manner, regardless of the risk to the mooring or to other vessels.  They Skype when the shared internet pipeline provider says not to.  You’ll know them when you see them act.

Most recently, we had made a reservation at the Emerald Rock mooring field at Exuma Park, and been assigned ball E22.  Upon arrival, we drove up and down the mooring field, looking for our ball.  Not seeing it, we temporarily tied up to ball E7, while Rick launched the dink and went looking for ours.  Wouldn’t you know it, a charter catamaran occupied by HBs was on it.  When Rick asked them whether they’d been assigned the ball, they acted ignorant; Rick explained that one had to call Exuma Park headquarters on the radio to get an assignment.  Of course, HB had not done so, but agreed to call right then and there.  When Cherie at the Park told him that E22 was assigned to Calypso, HB demanded to know what was available for him (I heard the conversation; even though Rick was out in the field with HB, I was on the boat listening on VHF 09).  When HB was told to move to E26, HB said, “OK, I tell Calypso to take 26.”  As Rick scoped out E26, another boat came to claim it, as it had been assigned to them.  Then, Cherie told us to keep E7, then, but as she did so, Slice of Life arrived to claim it.  Luckily, Slice of Life were as accommodating as we were, and landed on E11.  A complicated game of Musical Moorings, precipitated by a wilfully clueless HB….

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Look around you in a mooring field.  You may have Honey Badgers as your neighbors.

Cabin Fever

We’d escaped most of December and a part of January without having to ride out many strong cold fronts rolling in from continental North America, but lately they’ve become a part of our routine.  A cold front requires us to hide from the west winds until they clock around, and can require us to spend several following days enduring rough seas and strong winds.

After one recent front, we took advantage of a weather window and motored to Black Point to do our laundry.  We managed that much without too much damage to freshly laundered clothes.  But the following day, a Sunday, we were stuck aboard – the wind was howling, it was chilly (trust me, 72 degrees with 20 knots of wind leaves much to be desired — I actually wore pants, cropped though they were) and the boat was bouncing around.  In the afternoon, we tried to go ashore for a hike, but the waves crashing into the government dock made a dinghy landing impossible.  We turned around.

Having to hide from the next front, we headed to Cambridge Cay in Exuma Park.  The day we went over, the seas were (finally) flat calm.  It was mesmerizing to be looking down through 15, 20, 30 feet of water and be able to count the starfish on the bottom.  (I don’t know why they call such waters “gin clear.”  If anything, they are the color of the glass of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, which is as close as that gets….)

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Calypso at Cambridge Cay on another occasion (left), while at right is what I call the “Swimming Hole” at Cambridge — just steps from the sand, a blue hole with depths I’m not willing to explore.

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An Exuma Sound-side beach on Cambridge Cay, with boisterous surf when the wind is from the east.  Meanwhile, sand dollars and shells tempt beachcombers, but Exuma Park is a no-take zone.  Not even for shells.

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At low tide, a little patch of dry sand that is as about as close as I will ever get to affording a private island (unless you count Calypso).

It was entertaining to watch the sharks checking us out once we’d picked up a mooring (though not nearly so entertaining when I flipped my kayak trying to get in, since that shark was a 6-footer).  We took advantage of the relative calm and took a long paddle (me in kayak, Rick on SUP) throughout the area, all the while being able to watch the stingrays ghost past us and turtles paddle by.

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These sharks are everywhere (this one hanging out at the Sea Aquarium, a remarkable snorkel spot within Exuma Park).  Meanwhile, remoras are constantly checking out our hull.

But, as advertised, the weather rolled in that night.  More wind, more chop.  While the next day dawned sunny, it was still blowing hard and chilly.  One look at the seas convinced us that outings on the dinghy or our other watercraft would not be pleasant, so we hunkered down for the day with boat projects and reading as well as that diabolically addicting game Candy Crush.

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Snorkeling at the Sea Aquarium just isn’t an option on a blustery day; the dinghy ride alone is treacherous, and the wind makes it too cold to want to go in the water.  

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Another nearby snorkel site features a crashed plane.  Disconcertingly, there are LOTS of these in the Exumas, many dating back to days of illicit drug-running on the dozens of un-monitored landing strips in the Bahamas.

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On a calm day, you can head to the north end of O’Briens Cay, which at low tide features a labyrinth of beaches, sand flats and shallows.

Just before 5, a pair from Nova Scotia swung by in their dinghy, announcing an impromptu gathering on the beach to have a beer or two.  We hadn’t been cooped up that long, but long enough to make the prospect of company enticing.  We weren’t alone; In a matter of minutes, there were close to 20 people on the beach – most of the boats in the mooring field were represented.  Boat cards and chips and nuts were passed, and we hung out on the beach until after dark, sipping wine from our classy water bottles.

It got to be pretty cool as the sun went down, and most of us had dressed for the chill – I was wearing a long-sleeved top, a scarf, and a foul weather jacket as a concession to the cold, but still wearing shorts while barefoot.  Luckily, since we’d all had to wade ashore because the low tide made riding our tenders all the way to the beach an impossibility, the water and sand were quite warm.

The temperatures aren’t expected to get any warmer any time soon, and more cold fronts are inevitable.  But it’s nice to know that there is usually a cure for cabin fever: Happy Hour!

Going to Town

We’ve spent most of our time in the Bahamas on the anchor, in some uninhabited or sparsely inhabited place.  Our ability to stay “out there” is limited by our self-sufficiency.  When we run out of water, fuel or food, or max out on dirty laundry or trash, we have to find somewhere to deal with those shortages or excesses.  This time, it was the need to do laundry that drove us to town.

“Town” in this case means the second largest settlement in the Exumas, after Georgetown:  Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay.

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Cottages on a low ridge overlooking the harbor.

The draws here are many – an anchorage with good holding, a “laundermat” [sic] where you can also get a haircut, a small supermarket, and a handful of restaurants.  Many of these establishments offer something that is sure to draw cruisers:  FREE WiFi!!  (For some people, it’s the word “free” that is attractive, while for others, it is “WiFi.”)

We hadn’t planned to arrive here when we did – which was Saturday.  I had visions of staying at Bitter Guana Cay, which is beautiful and uninhabited, its sole population being that of the endangered Exuma lizards.

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Bitter Guana’s beach and cliffs.

But once we got there, the seas were so roll-y that Rick prevailed on me to continue to Black Point after having lunch.  Unfortunately, the sea condition was not better at Black Point.  At least we could do laundry.

Laundry is a community experience.  Ida’s fine establishment is located at water’s edge.   Once we got our wash going, I picked a spot at a waterfront picnic table and fired up the computer.  There is so much demand for the internet pipeline, however, that it was all I could do to pay bills and do some rudimentary (and slooooowww – even for this slowed-down beach bum) web business.  There were town people doing laundry, as well as other cruisers on their iPads and laptops, and friendly conversation.

While Rick watched the laundry, I scouted out the supermarket (which wouldn’t be open the next day, Sunday) to see what I might hope to buy.  But lacking cash, I could only look until Monday.

To understand what the “supermarket” is like here, imagine a building no larger than 20×20 feet, and stocked like a half-empty 7-11.  There are maybe 2 glass-fronted refrigerators, and 2 chest freezers.  I go in with my “wish” list, expecting to find maybe half of the items; in this case, I did better because I’d seen what was in the store on Saturday and added to the list items I knew would be in there (but which I wouldn’t otherwise have listed – like ground beef, canned corned beef hash, and eggs).  The meat freezer contains Ziploc-bagged items, frozen hard (sometimes freezer-burned), and not always recognizable.  When I see something I recognize, I grab it, even if I’m not sure what I’ll do with it.  The stores are invariably run by elderly Bahamian ladies, and few of them accept anything other than cash.

The restaurants require reservations for dinner – not because there is so much competition to get a table, but because they want to know whether they should open.  After we made our grocery run, we stopped by Lorraine’s Café (which, of course, has free WiFi!), made our dinner reservation, and also ordered our dinner.  But, better yet, Lorraine said something about fresh bread (have I mentioned how good Bahamian bread is?).  When I said I would like some, Lorraine walked me over to her mother’s house – she was baking in her kitchen – and I got a precious loaf.

Black Point is a tiny community, but it’s tidy in the way of most Bahamian settlements, and everyone is friendly.  Even the little kids zooming around on bikes greet us with a “Good Afternoon” or “Good Morning.”  There is not much of an economy on these tiny cays, and tourism – such as it is – is about all there is.  In Black Point, the residents recognize that cruisers are a large source of income, and they make an effort to demonstrate their appreciation.  In turn, I think the cruisers return the favor.

Cruiser Stress: Stormy Weather

Cruiser Stress: Stormy Weather

No matter how well-prepared you think you are, no matter how prudent your actions might be, sometimes there is no place you can hide.  And then, there is not much you can do other than trust in your boat and crew.

This week, we’ve been dealing with a pair of issues: an engine that appears to be running hot, and a forecast cold front.  The engine issue could have been major, since it not only drives the boat when we can’t sail (which has been often), but also charges our batteries and chills our refrigeration.  The cold front means we need shelter from the forecast west and north winds, which takes some planning around here; most anchorages provide protection from the prevailing trade winds (easterly), but not necessarily north and west.

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It was hard to leave this behind.  Big Majors Spot features swimming pigs, pretty beaches, and great holding (and, yes, water spots on my camera lens).

This issues coalesced and led us to plan on taking a slip at Staniel Cay Yacht Club on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  As it was, after several conversations with our worth-his-weight-in-gold diesel mechanic in Annapolis, it turned out the engine problem was manageable.  That meant we could chill at the docks, enjoy drinks and/or lunch and dinner, pick up some groceries, visit the Batelco store for a WiFi solution (so far, no joy), and rest easy tied to a piling.

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The cottages at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (above, left), where were we’d stayed on a land-based visit — in the 2-story blue one.  Sharks come whenever there are leftovers or fish scraps.  And, of course, we had to leave our mark on the CBSA burgee hanging in the clubhouse.

However, any sense of protection from the storm at SCYC is illusory.  As we knew, the docks are exposed to the west, and the marina kicks boats off the docks if the forecast weather is supposed to be bad enough.  So far, they hadn’t kicked us off.  But having spent one night at the dock – with lines creaking, fenders squeaking, waves slapping, and wind whining – this before the storm even arrived – we decided independently to cut our stay short.

On Wednesday morning, we checked out and motored to our Plan B anchorage (Plan A, behind the famous Thunderball grotto of James Bond fame, was already crowded).  Plan B was an almost fjord-like notch between Big Major’s Spot (home of beautiful beaches and the swimming pigs) and Little Major’s.  In brilliant sunlight and crystal clear water, we dropped the anchor; I could see that it didn’t sit right and when Rick backed down on it, it was clearly dragging.  We tried again, and this time the Rocna stuck in white sand.   In the meantime, SCYC had cleared their docks, and we were joined in the anchorage by a beautiful approximately 70-foot poweryacht that had been with us on the docks.

As the afternoon progressed, we decided that we were too close to the shallows for when Calypso would inevitably swing to face west, so we picked another spot in deeper water.  Before doing so, Rick dinghied over to the poweryacht and told them what we were doing, and made sure they were OK with our new position.  We dropped again on a field of starfish-studded sand and grass, and stuck hard.  Just to be sure, Rick snorkeled over the anchor while I put the engine in reverse, and it didn’t budge.

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Our safe anchorage looked pretty nice when the sun was still out.

Our new location was subject to surge, which would mean a bad night of sleeping even in good weather.  But expecting bad, I passed on the sleeping pills I sometimes take, just to be alert if I needed to be.  I couldn’t get comfortable, and couldn’t sleep.

At one point, the anchor alarm went off (we sent the GPS when we anchor, and if the boat goes more than a set distance away from where we initially anchored, an alarm goes off).  We checked our surroundings, and though we’d swung, the anchor hadn’t moved.  The alarm needed a more liberal setting for the swinging.

At about 2 a.m., the front roared in, like a switch had been flipped.  These suckers seem to have some affection for the number “40,” because the wind meter read exactly 40.0 knots to start the show (as it did for the front we rode out at Compass Cay).  The rain, which had started before, now became torrential, and with the wind howling through the rigging and the tide surging through the anchorage, it was very loud.

Not being able to sleep, and wanting to make sure we were safe, I joined Rick up in the companionway to see what was going on.  While we were still secure in our spot, the poweryacht appeared to be on the move.  And it wasn’t clear whether there was someone awake and in command of the vessel, because it was moving erratically.  Clearly they’d dragged anchor.  And now, they were bearing down on us, on a collision course with either us or our anchor line.  Rick turned on the engine, in case we needed to move quickly.  We turned on radio, but were at a loss as to how to communicate with them.

The poweryacht veered away from us, and then made a second, similar pass.  This had the earmarks of a very bad situation, but we felt helpless to do anything in the dark, wind, and rain, and could only wait to see what happened.  Finally, it looked like the poweryacht’s crew had gained control, although it looked like they were dragging two anchors, fouled on each other, neither of which they could raise so as to be able to re-anchor more securely.

They moved some distance away from us to deal with their issues, while the storm continued.  Even though the risk of a collision had abated, the possibility of our own, or someone else’s, anchor dragging had not passed.  Judging from the traffic on Channel 16, this scenario was being played out in other anchorages as well.  We decided to keep an anchor watch – with me taking the shift from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m.  The wind was holding in the 25+ range, with gusts in the upper 30s, and the seas in the anchorage were breaking.  By 6 a.m., the wind was down to 15 knots, and I finally collapsed in my bunk.

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This is what our chart plotter showed after our night of mayhem in the anchorage.

The morning after, it was cold and dreary.  A good day to recover from the adrenaline hangover and take stock of what we did right, and what we might do better next time.  Because I am certain there will be a next time.

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We’ve now moved on to Black Point Settlement, at Great Guana Cay.  It’s still rocking and rolling, and sleep is elusive, but the sunset was stunning.

Pirates of the Caribbean

OK, we’re not really in the Caribbean here.  We’re in the Atlantic Ocean.  But, culturally, the Bahamas are West Indian in many ways, like the islands further south.  Where Afro-Caribbean culture meets European ancestry and North American influences.

The footprints of historical and modern-day pirates are everywhere here.  And, of course, the fictional or self-styled pirates.  Jimmy Buffett’s tracks can be found everywhere from the Gulf Coast to the Bahamas to deep down island in the Caribbean.

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On the donor honor board at Exuma Park, where tales of Jimmy Buffett’s generosity are legion.

To a lesser extent, “Captain Jack Sparrow” has a presence here.  As I wrote this post from Cambridge Cay in Exuma Park, Johnny Depp’s private island wa in sight.  And the very few bars and restaurants in the area have the obligatory “Johnny Was Here” photos on their walls.

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At Compass Cay Marina.

It’s not too surprising that modern day pirates – in the form of millionaires and billionaires – look for seclusion in the Exumas.  There are over 350 islands in this subset of the Bahamas, and many of them have been purchased.  Even as we were in Warderick Wells, and in Cambridge Cay, both of which are in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, we watch megayachts ply the waters, and float planes and helicopters deliver owners and guests far more quickly than mere mortals like us can move between the cays and the “mainland”.

In between our current stay at Cambridge Cay and our prior stay at Warderick Wells, Calypso left the park to hang out at some of the other islands.  My principal focus was to get somewhere that I could have someone other than me make a meal.  And, for this neck of the woods, that meant Compass Cay.

We couldn’t get there at first.  Rough weather made navigating the narrow channels amidst sand bores daunting.  So we found a snug spot between Pipe Cay and some rocks to take shelter – and in which Rick could do the inevitable engine troubleshooting….

Not a bad spot for a pit stop.  While poor Rick dove into the bowels of the engine, I kayaked to the inevitable beaches.  But it turned out to be a miserable, rolly, swelly spot to try to sleep and live – as beautiful as it was, and as happily as our anchor had dug into the sand.  When the chart says “SURGE,” they’re not kidding.

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So, the next day, we decided to take our chances with those narrow channels to get closer to Compass Cay, choosing a narrow spot between Pipe Cay’s northern shore and the sand bank.  Again, a gorgeous spot to anchor.  From here, we took the dinghy over to Compass Cay Marina and – hallelujah! – had a burger grilled by Tucker Rolle (the proprietor of the marina and the island) himself.  While waiting for the burgers, we hung out with the handful of people around the marina, and the pet sharks.

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That’s me, with my feet on the sharks’ backs.  They are pretty tame, though you’re warned not to pull their tails or put your hands in/near their mouths.

It wasn’t just the burger.  Rick and I both felt the friendly, welcoming vibe of Compass Cay, and decided we wanted more time here.  With a strong cold front forecast and a need to find shelter, we reserved a marina night or two.  (People complain about Compass Cay’s high prices, but considering that they have to make their own electricity and water, and that the staff and other guests are so friendly, I have no issue.  Plus, it’s cheaper than our marina at home, so….)

It’s not just the marina here.  The island is very pretty as well.  A short walk from the marina is a beautiful crescent beach on Exuma Sound (which feels like the ocean, since the nearest land to the east is 30 miles distant and the water is deep).

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On a calm day, the swimming here is delicious, with almost effervescing waves.  

When the weather turned ugly, we were safe in a slip.  But that didn’t stop us from some foul weather exploration.  Even if you don’t want to swim in it, the drama of an angry sea is a sight to behold.  The North Cliff trail we followed might have been a better scramble for a goat, but the views were stunning.

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Where people mix in the Exuma cays, there seems to be an equalizing effect, and we’ve loved meeting people here.  There’s a whole range, from the most modest to the grandest, as well as the pirates.  And you might never find out which is which.  The woman with the self-inflicted haircut giving herself a shark pedicure might just be a law firm partner.  The barefoot guy drinking a Kalik can just as easily own a megayacht or an island, or he might be here on a small sailboat which constitutes all of his worldly goods.

One thing in common that I have discovered is that everyone loves to leave their mark here, be it a footprint or some other artifact.  Rick is constantly building, or adding on to cairns.  And driftwood and other beach flotsam inspires all sorts of artwork, including our own.

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Compass Cay is covered with souvenirs and artifacts, many updated from year-to-year.  We added our own; I only wish I’d brought art supplies with me!

I guess we’re probably all pirates at heart.  It’s just that no a single one of us is looking for (or hiding) the same kind of treasure.

 

Exum-ahhhh

It took us 25 days from our arrival in the Bahamas (not without wonderful stops en route, of course) to reach the spot I’ve been dreaming about ever since we left it: Warderick Wells, in the Exumas, and the headquarters of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.  Even the wind and seas were cooperative, since we sailed almost all the way from Cape Eleuthera.  And once in radio range, we were lucky enough to snag the last available mooring (no anchoring permitted where we were going).

(It was only our arrival day for which there was a shortage of moorings; the mooring field has since emptied, with only a handful of boats left.)

It started to drizzle as we approached the cut, but the sun shone through as we entered the mooring field, and I had to take my sunglasses off to make sure I wasn’t just imagining the crystalline purity of the water and sand.  The mooring field can best be described as a giant sand bar between Warderick Wells Cay and neighboring cays and rocks, covered in varying (but mostly very shallow) depths of water.

Through the sand bar runs a fishhook-shaped river of deeper water, and that’s where the moorings are.  To call it a river isn’t an exaggeration; the current runs so briskly through here that you constantly hear running water, like rapids.

Except for where the moorings are, at low tide, some of the sand bars dry – although that’s deceptive, since we found ourselves sinking knee-deep in some of the sand as we tried to explore some of the exposed bars.

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As we cruised slowly to our mooring, a southern ray lazily crossed our path, and further along, a huge manta ray leisurely made its way out of the basin.  They can do that here; the Exuma Park is a “no-take” zone, so none of the sea creatures have any human predators or threats.

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On shore, there is a ranger station, a residence for the ranger, and some picnic tables for beach parties.  No other facilities, other than pay-per-use WiFi.

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Calypso moored in Exuma Park (left), and a view from Park headquarters.  A symphony in blues, and Calypso is dressed to match.

The Park threw a New Year’s Eve party at – get this – 11:00 p.m.!  We heard some cruisers ask them to schedule it for 8:00 p.m. – which is one hour before “Cruiser Midnight,” or 9 p.m., which I’ve concluded is a more-than-respectable hour to go to bed when your life is governed by the elements, including the rising and setting sun.  Rick and I had every intention to make it to the festivities, and even set an alarm, but ultimately decided (at 8:30) that there was no way we could stay up that late.  We opened a bottle of Prosecco, each drank a glass, and called it a night.

We did a bit better the following Thursday night, when an impromptu happy hour was convened on the main beach at 4:30.  Some of the Park staff joined us, as well as – after dark – lots of the creepy little cat/rat/possum-like mammals called a HUTIA that have overrun the island.  Evidently, these little guys are the only mammals native to the Bahamas, went nearly extinct, and then were re-introduced to Warderick Wells.  Unfortunately, lacking any predators, they are everywhere and don’t fear humans.  Luckily, they are herbivores, so they don’t bite.

Aside from enjoying libations on the main beach, there are many interconnecting trails all over the island.  One of them leads to Boo Boo Hill, one of the highest points in the Exumas which offers a commanding view of the mooring field.  Also, over the years, it has become a spot for cruisers to leave mementos – which may only be made of driftwood.  Of course, we left ours – crafted of highly-sophisticated materials: driftwood found at Cape Eleuthera, Sharpie, and nail polish.  One other notable feature of Boo Boo Hill is that it’s the only place in the entire area that we can get a cell signal.

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Wonder how long our artifact will last?

We also encountered lots of curly-tailed lizards during our hikes.  They don’t spook easily, and are happy to pose for photos.

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I wonder of the Geico advertising team has been to the Exumas?  I mean, geckos and pigs….

The Exumas being the paradise they are for beach-lovers, there are many, many beaches on Warderick Wells Cay, as well as the other cays within a short dinghy ride.  Certainly enough beaches that the only beach we shared was Powerful Beach – adjacent to Park headquarters, where a whale skeleton makes its home.

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The sands a Tabebuia beach make patterns as the tide recedes.   Meanwhile, tide waters rush through tree branches.

We spent 5 consecutive nights here.   And we’ll likely be back.