Monthly Archives: February 2014

Paddling Upstream

Sunday, we anchored at Big Major’s Spot – just off the famous Pig Beach.  The bottom here is anchor-loving deep sand, the water is that crazy Bahamian blue, and it’s a relatively quick dinghy ride to the “civilization” of Staniel Cay, so it’s a popular spot.

019

 

Yup, that’s the water we’re anchoring in.

Rick and I went paddling – away from the pigs, and away from the other pretty beaches because there were other people on them.  Instead, we rode the tide out of the narrow cut between Big Major’s and Fowl Cays – it’s about 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep – and landed for a while on a more private beach on the other side.

011

 

One of the beaches on Big Major’s; the one we claimed for part of an afternoon.

Before heading back, we watched a small sailboat shoot out of the cut.

014

 

This cut is so narrow that you can’t even see it as the sailboat (the mast of which you see) prepares to pass through it.

Having paddled successfully through the cut before, in both directions, I was unprepared for how fast the tide was running on this day.  In fact, every time I tried to paddle through to get back to our boat, I was shot back out as if by a slingshot.  I tried it 3 times, then retreated to a calm spot, prepared to wait for the turn of the tide if necessary.  As it turned out, I was able to land the kayak on the beach, and Rick and I carried it over a small ridge to the other side.  I certainly got more of a workout than I’d planned.

As I post these missives on our blog, I note that there is a preponderance of photos of gorgeous scenery and tales of the great adventures we’re having.  Judging from the comments and emails we’re getting, we’re inspiring no small amount of envy from the people back home, as they are suffering from an unusually miserable winter.  So, this post is intended to provide some balance – to provide some perspective of how much paddling upstream is involved to getting to those idyllic spots and halcyon days.

Just physically getting ourselves back to the Exumas from Cat Island on Friday was a challenge.  Rick was exhilarated by the sail back – it was a beam reach for almost the entire 50 miles, and Calypso was in her glory, making 7-8 knots the entire way.  She was built for this.   I, however, was not enjoying the 4-foot seas on our beam.  In addition to needing seasickness pills, I hated listening to all of our stuff banging and clanging down below, falling off shelves and out of bins (one positive: the chop shook out a wine glass I thought I’d lost).  Entering the Dotham Cut, between South Gaulin and Great Guana Cays, was even less fun, since it seemed to be wind against tide against current – resulting in a frothy washing machine of 4 foot waves tossing us around like a cork in different directions.  Luckily, it was a short ride and nothing the boat couldn’t handle.  But it had me dreaming of home, where the floors don’t tilt away from you with every step.

It’s a constant battle against the elements here.  For neat-and-clean freaks like me and Rick, this is tough to handle.

003 - Calypso at Black Point

 

Yes, it’s a pretty view (Calypso is the blue one).  But this photo was taken from the laundromat.  It’s not all glamorous.

Salt gets everywhere – in some places, I have no idea how.  I have found corroded spots on my Henckel’s chef’s knife – which is tucked away in a protective sheath in a drawer in the galley and never goes more than 3 feet beyond that spot.  How????

020

 

Rust stains on my “stainless” steel chef’s knife.

Once you get saltwater on any item of clothing, unless it’s thoroughly rinsed with fresh water (of which we carry a mere 100 gallons), it will NEVER dry.  So we re-wear damp swimsuits and sequester damp clothes lest they infect clean and dry gear.  Rick’s collection of hats is giving way to mildew, as is my boat tote.  And the boat is just crusty with salt; we are seldom in places where we can spare the fresh water to give Calypso a thorough rinse.  And even then, it’s a Sisyphean task, because she’s just going to get covered in salt again.

And getting ourselves clean?  Well, let’s just say we’ve learned to live with a certain ripeness.  Even when we splurge on long showers to rinse off the salt, sweat, dirt and sunscreen, it’s only a matter of minutes before we’re sweaty again.

018

 

The water certainly is beautiful; but the salt content is lethal!

When dealing with fresh food, it’s a race against spoilage and mold on the one hand, and the next time fresh ingredients can be found at the nearest market.  I’m becoming somewhat expert in buying tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness (right on down to hard and green), and ripening them myself so that there’s the hope of a good tomato once a week or so.  But once you cut into it, it’s pretty much gone.  For that reason, a crisp iceberg lettuce salad – the most banal of salads – sometimes sounds soooo goooood!

021

Tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness.  (The dark green ones are limes; we put them in our drinks to avoid scurvy.)

Poor Rick sometimes just throws his hands up in frustration.  It’s said that cruising is merely “fixing your boat in exotic places,” and Rick can attest to that.  In the early days of our adventure, he hoped for just a single day that he didn’t have to fix something.  It’s the nature of the beast, because of the environmental and operational stresses we put on a vessel that is, by its very nature, a compromise.  But you just can’t help but wish for things to go smoothly.

007

 

Rick, wishing for a drama-free day.

While it may seem that Rick and I are on an extended vacation, it takes work to get here, and work to be here.  So far, most days, I am glad to be here.  But there are times when I’m paddling upstream.

 

Welcome to the OC

And by “OC” I don’t mean Orange County, or even Ocean City.  I’m talking about Orange Creek, Cat Island. 

005

Sometimes I think there are more welcome signs on Cat Island than there are people.

Probably no one has ever heard of it.  It’s pretty remote, even for Cat Island (which is included in the chart book for the “Far Bahamas”).  There’s a beautiful mangrove creek, and an Exuma Sound side beach great for beachcombing.  A few fishermen keep their boats in the creek, and there’s a handful of houses and business built alongside the Queen’s Highway.  That’s about it.

001 - Orange Creek, Cat Island

 Orange Creek, as seen from the road.

Cat Island is a pretty rugged place outside of the resorts.  It was hard for us to leave our Bahamian home at Fernandez Bay.  Home, even though we didn’t even actually stay at the resort this time, just anchoring in the bay for 3 nights.  Aside from the beautiful setting, Fernandez Bay Village is a community of like-minded travelers, and the honor bar and pre-dinner appetizers there make it easy to meet each other.  Even people traveling in groups seem to make the walls around them porous – we found ourselves at the edges of a fly-in group there for the wedding of one of the couples, and never felt like interlopers, instead getting to know some of them and observing part of their festivities.

But leave we must, as we need to be back in the Exumas in a few days and can’t afford to be stranded by weather.  In the world of Cat Island outside of Fernandez Bay, and the other resorts which punctuate some of the prime beaches on the shoreline, life is a bit rougher.

Consider the effort it takes to reach one of our favorite ocean beaches, Conch Bay (or Conch Cove).  It takes about 45 minutes to drive up the Queen’s Highway from Fernandez Bay to Bennett’s Harbour.  (I note that the road, especially along the water, had been beat up along the edges, but looks like it’s getting spruced up.)  The road is lined with homes, ruins of homes, and homes-in-progress.  There a many small businesses, often featuring an unlikely combination of goods and services – like bread and barber.  And there are churches.  Lots of churches.  As hardscrabble an existence as it appears to be, every passing car’s driver honks in greeting; every person along the road waves “hello” and smiles. 

Before going off-road, we stop at Yardie’s for lunch.

023 - Yardie's, Bennett's Harbour, Cat Island

Yardie’s, like most other establishments, doubles as a gas station.

It’s very much a local establishment, and looks also to be the owner’s home.  Fuel up at the restaurant, or fuel up at the gas pumps.  We were the only customers, but Yardie’s 2 ½ year old daughter Samantha was toddling around, Clyde – who was totally in the bag last time we came, and played dominoes with us for ages – was sweeping up and picking up, and another lady kept an eye on Samantha.  I never bother to look at the menu, for like business hours, it’s merely a guideline; just ask what she has and take it from there.

Conch fritters, jerk chicken and ribs, and we were good to tackle the next 45 minute segment of our journey.   This means going off-road.  There is a “Recycling and Reuse” center alongside.  It doesn’t look like the recycling efforts reached critical mass, because there are piles of cans and bottles alongside the road, until you reach a salt pond and a fork in the road.

022 021 - Road to and from Conch Cove

The “road” leaves much to be desired.  It takes about 30 minutes to travel the less-than-2-mile distance.  It’s a double sand track in places, with boulders and rocks poking out, especially when going uphill.  Our rental Honda CRV was barely up to the task.  The foliage closes in, and the road is so narrow, we’re glad it’s not likely we’ll run into other traffic.

018 006 - Road to Conch Cove

At the end, the road opens and you reach the ocean.

008

At least you have something to look forward to at the end of the “road.”

Then it’s 10-15 minutes of walking to a pristine cove of pink sand and clear blue waters, with a sand-bordered islet off the beach.  No one but us.  Absolutely worth the effort.

013 016

We’ve been to this beach many times, and have yet to encounter another human being for miles and miles.

Once we broke ourselves from Fernandez Bay’s gravitational pull, we sailed the 25 miles to Orange Creek.  We had east winds – brisk ones – which allowed us to sail almost the entire distance under shortened jib alone.  The chart book and chart plotter said that Orange Creek was an ideal anchorage in east winds.  Boy, were they WRONG.  Even as we approached the appointed anchoring spot, we saw that the chop and swell would make for trouble.  It reduced us to lurching around belowdeck like drunks, made the night a sleepless one, and drove me to seasickness pills.

This morning found us cross and cranky, despite the allure of having Orange Creek and its beach to explore.

008 010

This squadron of stingrays in Orange Creek this morning helped ease the pain of our night anchored in the chop.

019 020

Orange Creek’s beach offers interesting beachcombing.

After having done so, we sought a calmer harbor – so we went the half dozen miles to Bennett’s Harbour.  It’s windy, but the sea here is flat.  The anchored buried itself in the sand off a pretty beach bordered by rental villas.   A good night’s sleep is in our future, I hope.

024

Of Hermits, Recluses and Pink Sand

Once the stormy weather had passed, we quickly made our way out of Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma Island.  We weren’t alone; there was a mass exodus.  As pleasant as marina life was, it wasn’t what we were here for, and the cost added up.  But while everyone else was headed to Georgetown, we were looking east.  We headed north to Lee Stocking Island to hide from continuing westerly winds, planning to use the weather window to go to Cat Island.

017

This beach on Lee Stocking Island, with a hill behind it and palms bordering it, barely looks Bahamian; it looks more down island.

I certainly understand the lure of Georgetown for the hundreds of crews who will spend time there.  If you’ve made cruising your life, and you’ve visited the islands again and again, Georgetown offers parties, activities, supplies and services.  We weren’t looking for that.  I suppose if we were retired, it might be good to have the structure that beach volleyball matches, basket-weaving and sushi-making classes and beach church offer.  Admittedly, we’ve enjoyed meeting people at the various potlucks and happy hours we’ve attended; but at this stage, we prefer more one-on-one interaction.  And we still haven’t killed each other, so our own company is satisfying.

On Saturday, we started out early for our trip to Cat Island, to the east of the Exumas.  At nearly 50 miles, this was one of the longest passages we would make in the Bahamas.  There was still some west in the wind, so we got to sail for several hours of it, including a screaming beam reach that saw Calypso clock speeds as high as 9.1 knots (that was while surfing down waves).  After a long day, we anchored in New Bight, then moved on to Fernandez Bay the next day.

Ahhhh, Fernandez Bay.  The resort here, Fernandez Bay Village, is truly one of my “happy places.”  We’ve stayed here as land-based visitors 4 times in the last 10 years, so it was mildly surreal to approach the beach from the sea.  When we went ashore, long-time manager Donna was on duty, and with a little prompting, remembered us from past visits; when we told her we’d arrived on our own boat, she was thrilled for us (she and her husband had also been cruisers, ending up at FBV 25 years ago).  Though we’d hoped for a room – I haven’t slept in a proper bed in 3 months! – there were none to be had.  Nevertheless, we were welcomed to enjoy the resort’s public areas and avail ourselves of the honor bar.

005 012

Calypso anchored in Fernandez Bay.  To the right, the clubhouse and tiki bar on the pretty white beach.

The beach at Fernandez Bay is a lovely one – one of the loveliest in the Bahamas.  But one of the great lures for me has been the mangrove creek starting at the south end of the beach, winding for some distance, and exiting into Exuma Sound further south.  We paddled it at low tide; while this offers somewhat better views of the wildlife (sea turtles, baby sharks, bonefish), I hit bottom a few times, having to portage the last stretch of the creek through squidgy sand.

013 - Fernandez Creek 016

Fernandez Creek and Bonefish Creek combine to meander through acres of mangroves.

And yes, there are beaches on the Exuma Sound shore.  Totally undeveloped and un-peopled.

022 026

Left, a beach at the outlet of Bonefish Creek.  And, as usual, Rick leaves behind one of his trademark cairns.

Cat Island’s second best-known resident (after Sidney Poitier) was the famed hermit, Father Jerome.  His handiwork as an architect is evident in churches built in Cat Island, Long Island and Nassau.  His final work was The Hermitage, crowning the Bahamas’ highest peak – variously known as Mt. Alvernia, Comer Hill, or Como Hill.  All 206 feet of it.

006 - The Hermitage 007

Have I mentioned how flat the Bahamian islands are?

Perhaps it’s my own tendencies to keep to myself that attract me to this site every time we visit Cat Island.  The site is approached by climbing through the Stations of the Cross, and past a replica of Jesus’ tomb, on tiny crumbling steps.  At the top is a miniature replica of an Italian monastery, where Jerome spent his last days.  The campanile is surrounded by scaffolding, and the structures appear to be undergoing some sprucing up.  But as usual, we were alone here, surrounding only by the buzz of insects and the wind soughing through the trees.  Atop the hill, we were afforded a view of the hills of the island, Exuma Sound to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

012 015

All of the structures of the Hermitage were hand-built by Father Jerome.

018 021 029

The site offers beautiful views of Cat Island.

After walking the empty beach at Old Bight, Rick and I went in search of lunch.

035

Yet another empty beach on Cat Island, this one at Old Bight.

The Bluebird restaurant we usually visit was closed, so we drove to the site of the annual regatta, which has a number of food shacks and bars, a few of which were open for business.  We sat down with a group of Cat Islanders, who were friendly but initially wary of us.  But eventually they opened up and we had a fun conversation and a lot of laughs, with topics ranging from cross country skiing to snake handling preachers.  When we started to go “look for a beach,” and I told them the beach there was a bit too crowded for me, one of the ladies teased: “Ooh, she wanna shed her clothes!”

038 - Regatta New Bight

At New Bight, the site of the annual regatta, taking place at the end of April.

It was a little chilly for that ….  But we certainly had seclusion on Fine Bay, with not a soul in sight for miles and miles.  Here, the Atlantic crashes ashore on a pink sand beach (I liken it to the color of milk after Crunch Berries).  It’s the first time we’ve seen the Atlantic Ocean since we’d left the Abacos.

044 046 049

The pink sand and seclusion of Fine Bay.

Cat Island doesn’t attract many cruising boats, because there aren’t many safe harbors here.  It doesn’t attract many visitors, period.  Not that it lacks charm.  Those that do visit, for the most part, are happy with the seclusion they find here.

Cruiser Q&A — My Exciting Answers

Thanks, all, for the questions.  My responses are below, interspersed with some photos that didn’t make it to prime time (though some have been on Facebook).  I take between 20 – 50 photos a day (most utterly expendable), and don’t know what I’ll do with them once this adventure is over.

Without further ado:

How many bottles of rum are left?

All of the bottles are left, but they are not all full.   That’s actually true.  We’ve sort of been rationing the rum we brought with us, because we’re rationing the mixers that we can’t get here – like diet ginger beer and diet tonic water.  We’re drinking the rum that we can easily replace and/or easily get mixers for.  Lately, that’s been Ron Ricardo coconut rum.  We drink that on the rocks alone, or with pineapple juice.

002 - Pipe Creek Sand Dollars

We found a ton of sand dollars on one of the sandbars on Pipe Creek.  Since we’d paddled there, it took a concerted effort to get them back to the boat.  And, of course, we were going up-current and upwind.

Any skinny-dipping or naked sailing yet?

 Nope.  In the Abacos, where we had enough solitude, the water was a bit too chilly.  In the Exumas, we haven’t had enough privacy.  (FYI, Bahamians are very traditional and conservative people, so we’d only behave that way if we knew we wouldn’t be offending anyone.)

007

More of the pigs, and piglets, at Big Major’s Spot.

What are you craving?

 Ice cream.  And roasted suckling pig.

034

I think this is an egret.  It’s prancing around on a drying sand flat east of Norman’s Cay.  We really haven’t seen much bird life around here.

What do you miss most?

 My dishwasher.

036

The same bird, but I asked it to pose against a higher-contrast background.

What do you miss least?

 Cold weather.

037

Itty bitty snails on a dry sand flat, leaving their curlicue trails.

What’s your favorite feature on the boat?

The chart plotter and the Rocna anchor.  How people got around the Bahamas – with its shoals and shallows and sand banks – before GPS and chart plotters amazes me!  And when the Rocna sets, it means business.

038 - Tiny Cay East of Normans

A lone palm on a tiny islet.  

What do you do when you’re feeling cramped on the boat and can’t leave for a while?

 Luckily, that hasn’t happened too often so far, as we’ve had decent weather.  But when we’ve been stuck, we have lots of DVDs, books (on Kindle) and a newfound obsession with Candy Crush on our iPhones.  Barring that, I can always scrub the head.

029

 Where a mangrove creek ends on Shroud Cay.  This beach will inhabit my dreams long after we leave.

What’s your favorite seasick remedy?

 I stick my pinkie in my left ear and take 3 deep breaths.  Seriously.  I used to be so susceptible to seasickness that I never got on the boat without taking a meclizine tablet (Bonine, Dramamine 2).  I even brought along a bottle of 1000 pills.  But right about the time we started this journey, I read in Spinsheet about putting an earplug in your non-dominant ear (i.e. your left ear if you’re right handed) to quell seasickness, even after it’s started.  I tried that on my first leg down the ICW, from Melbourne to Vero Beach, Florida; I didn’t get seasick.

As I became more confident, I skipped the earplug altogether.  I’m not a fool, though; took a full dose of meclizine when making the passage across the Gulf Stream, and also when crossing the Whale Cay Channel in the Abacos.  But aside from those instances, I haven’t taken a pill since mid-December, and am able even to read and cook and do chores below underway.  If I do sense a bit of nausea coming on, I just stick my finger in my ear.

030

More of Shroud Cay.

Is there such a thing as too much conch salad and Kalik beer?

 I’m willing to study this for you; is there a grant application I should submit?  I have not found “too much” yet.

031

More Shroud Cay.

Do you worry about projects you left behind at work?

 What is this “work” you speak of?

007

Sunset from Bitter Guana Cay.

Do you enjoy making up recipes?

It’s fun for me.  It was fun before I became a cruiser, and now the challenges are different, but equally fun.

005

Calypso at Black Point.

Will you pitch a special “Cruisers” Chopped to the Food Channel?

 That would be a blast!  Let’s image what I’d put in that basket….  A can of pigeon peas; a Bounty candy bar [why, oh why, can’t they have Kit Kats in the stores?]; a freezer-burned bag of chicken wings; and evaporated milk.

CBSA Burgee Staniel Cay

The CBSA burgee hanging from the rafters at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  Naturally, we left our mark.

Any foods you miss terribly/can’t find substitutes for?

 Sashimi grade tuna and avocados.

Sunset Black Point 4

Sunset at Black Point.

What is the strangest thing you’ve eaten?

 Conch salad isn’t all that strange to me, since I often eat raw seafood and/or ceviche.  But I recently ate a conch salad that included chopped apple and pineapple.  Strange, but really quite delicious.

Also, curried goat is a favorite food of mine, but I suspect many people would find that strange.

008

Underwater scenery in the Exuma Park’s Sea Aquarium snorkel site.

In the beginning you had some boat engine issues. Have they settled down or become manageable?

 Our engine issues were apparent overheating, though the alarm never went off.  One of our visitors brought an infrared thermometer, a new gauge, and a sender from the thermostat, so that we could check on the actual temperature and fix the problems.  According to the infrared thermometer, we’re running within the acceptable range, but the new sender and gauge continue to show temps warmer that the infrared.  We’ll have to be vigilant and cope.

Aquarium 5

More from the Sea Aquarium.  You barely have to go in the water to get a crowd of these guys; they come swimming up to a hand dangled off a dinghy.

I know you’re part of the master planning society. What are some of the unexpected items that have occurred?

 Am I that obvious?

We haven’t had that many surprises, but some of them include:

–       Me no longer needing seasickness remedies;

–       We haven’t killed each other yet;

–       We are socializing less than I’d expected, so I’m not using as much of the appetizer ingredients I thought I would need;

–       When we do socialize, how many really nice encounters we’ve had with power boaters (surprising largely because there seems to be quite a division back home);

–       I am drinking more white wine than I prepared for;

–       How we never ever seem to be able to rinse any saltwater away;

–       How annoyed we get when we can’t get broadband whenever we want it (I got up one night at 2:30 a.m. to upload photos, and by 4 a.m. had only uploaded TWO – I was going bonkers!);

–       Me surviving without a Diet Coke 3 times a day (now I’m down to about 1 a week);

–       How comfortable and self-contained we’ve mostly been;

–       How much work it takes just to sustain our existence.

Ghost Crab Shadow

The ghost crab’s shadow is more substantial than the crab itself.

I was wondering if you are losing weight from all the exercise and local ingredients.

I think we’ve each lost a little weight from exercise, but the local ingredients are not exactly better for us.  At home, I’d use ground bison; here, it’s ground chuck.  When we do go out – and it’s not that often – a lot of Bahamian food is fried.

067

The crescent beach at Compass Cay.

Do you get tired of too much sun and what, if any, precautions are you taking for your skin?

We are religious about sunscreen, and so far, neither of us has gotten so much as a sliver of sunburn.  We are not nearly as tan as people would expect us to be.  We hide under the bimini, and wear hats and sunshirts at times.

But, ugh, sunscreen is so messy.  It makes you feel like a greaseball, ruins your clothes, clogs your pores (packaging claims notwithstanding), and forces you to stay off the furniture until you’ve bathed.

024

A sand dollar at Cambridge Cay.  Since the Exuma Park is a no-take zone, all we could do with our beach-combing finds was take pictures.

Do you think you could retire and live on Calypso full time?

I think we could live on Calypso part-time, but not full time.  Our friend Joe on Onward compared living aboard to being in AA: everything takes 12 steps.

For example, even if we were in the U.S. and could get everything on our shopping list, it still takes forever to do groceries.  Loading them on the boat; removing them from the bags; removing all of the packaging (lest we get roaches); marking everything so that we know what it is without the packaging; inventorying it and putting it on a list or spreadsheet; stowing it in the various hidey-holes we have for everything.

What?  That wasn’t 12 steps?  Well, you get the gist.  And it applies to just about every task.  Year-round of this would drive me batty.  It’s so nice to have solid ground to return to from time to time, so I wouldn’t be prepared to give it up completely.

006

We got these 7 lobster tails for $8 in Marsh Harbour.

 

 

Emeralds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

After the relative excitement of the 5Fs, and in order to avoid the mass exodus from Little Farmer’s Cay to Georgetown, Rick and I laid low for a day – refueling at deserted Cave Cay marina, and anchoring between Big Farmer’s and Big Galliot Cays.

009 015

We explored a mangrove creek off one of the beaches on Big Farmer’s Cay, and found ourselves in the company of a stingray and a baby shark.

But with fuel tanks full and wine supplies alarmingly low, we began the run down to Georgetown on Monday morning.  The weather was cooperative; we exited the Galliot Cut with little fanfare and a few knots of current against us, but were soon in the open Exuma Sound on our way south.  Our depth sounder got a break; the depths here are in the 1500 – 2500 foot range, so we don’t even get a reading.

Georgetown is the capital of the Exumas, and also Cruiser Central.  At times, there are hundreds of boats anchored in Elizabeth Harbour.  Lots of chatter on the radio (VHF 68), dinghies zooming back and forth, yoga on the beach, softball games, volleyball, book clubs, happy hours – you name it.  As well, if you need something, Georgetown is the place to get it.

As we neared Georgetown, with a fleet of boats ahead of us and behind us, I balked.  We certainly needed stuff, but I didn’t feel like running the gauntlet; Little Farmer’s was action enough for me.  Also, I was hankering a little luxury.  So, we cut our journey short by 13 miles and pulled into Emerald Bay Marina on the east side of Great Exuma.  Here, we’d get floating docks (i.e. no need to climb down 3 feet from the dock to the boat when the tide is low), showers (haven’t had a shower on land this year), free (ahem … included) laundry, WiFi, electricity and water.

Emerald Bay also has a beautiful clubhouse available to all guests.  On Mondays, they host a “Happier Hour” (because every hour is happy; 5:30 on Monday is just happier) for marina guests featuring rum punch and appetizers.  (True to form, we watched many of the visitors load up on appetizers, and refill drinks several times, living up to the reputation that some cruisers have of being unable to resist “free” anything.)

While I’m a happy, happy girl to be here for a couple of nights, we’ve used Emerald Bay as a base of operations for many chores on our list, which we’ve accomplished with the use of a rental car.  So it hasn’t been all play and no work.  We made a grocery run in Georgetown, stopped at the BTC (aka Batelco) office to top up our MiFi data plan (the staff there are friendly and efficient – are you sure that’s the phone company?), a liquor store stop, and all of our laundry.  On Tuesday, we went to the electric company’s power plant to refill a propane tank (again, super-friendly and efficient), and stopped at a bakery and a butcher shop. 

Our work done, and with wheels at our disposal, we went exploring on Little Exuma, connected to Great Exuma by a petite one-lane causeway.  The goal was to reach the Tropic of Cancer beach, so named for obvious reason, as well as being legendarily lovely.  But in true Bahamian fashion, nothing so basic as a tourist attraction is well-marked (or marked at all).  So we rattled and ground across unpaved roads, stressing out the car’s already strained suspension.

015 - Random Little Exuma Beach

A “Beach Access” sign led us to this gem.  Lovely, but it wasn’t the beach we were looking for.

On one unpaved road, we found ourselves at an intersection with a truck with a dumpster.  We were both lost!  But they were able to give us enough info to reach our goal.  Really, the pictures tell it all.

017 - Tropic of Cancer Monument 019

A monument marks the Tropic of Cancer, as well as a painted line.  I’ve got one foot in the tropics, and one foot in the temperate zone.

027 036 038 042

Crystal clear water, pinky-white sand — what else do you need?

But it was a bit crowded.  There were at least 10 people on this stretch of beach, so we didn’t stay too long.

Since it was lunchtime, we headed to Santana’s Grill Pit, located on the beach in Williams Town.

045 050

We’d eaten there before with Skip and Harriet on a past visit, and the food was remarkable. Rick had the lobster, which was sublime; and I had the grouper.  While it was deep fried, it was done with a light touch – each morsel of fish was delicate and pearly-white, with the texture of backfin Maryland crab meat.  To gild the lily, the fish was covered with sweet caramelized onion, and coupled with peas and rice, coleslaw, and corn.

046 - Santana's Grouper 047 - Santana's Lobster

It’s not healthy, and it’s not preciously pretty, but Santana’s food is to die for.

There was rum punch, too.  Which may have kept me from correcting the people around me who pronounced cay the way it’s spelled, and not the proper way (“key”), ordered Kay-lick beer (Kalik is pronounced kuh-lick) and wanted to have conch (as opposed to “konk”).

044 - Santana's Rum Punch

With our chores done today, we are finally going to get a chance to enjoy the luxury of Emerald Bay.  And with some nasty weather in our future, we might just stay a bit longer.

Cruiser Q & A

By popular demand (OK, one person has asked for it), I’ll be happy to do a Q&A post in the coming days.

If you have any questions you’d like answered, please ask them either in the comments to this post, or by sending me an email to eva_hill@hotmail.com.  Look for responses soon (depending on WiFi availability).

Fair winds!

Soused at the 5Fs – Bahamian Style Fun

As has become my habit, whenever we are in a location with a store, I pop in and try to buy whatever I can find that is on my ongoing wish list (or, frankly, anything I might be able to find a use for).  So when we were in Staniel Cay a week ago, I stuck my head in the chest freezer at Isles General Store and tried to make out what was lurking in there – the meat is usually re-packaged, and frozen so solid that I can’t always recognize it.   The proprietress was business-as-usual as I was checking out, and asked me if I realized that one of my bags of frozen mystery meat was turkey parts.  I thought for a second, and told her, “No problem; I’ll just make souse.”  That broke the ice.  She immediately warmed up to me, and my entire shopping experience became much friendlier.

Souse is a traditional Bahamian dish.  It starts out much like chicken soup, with chicken (or, in my case,  turkey) broth. But then you add potatoes, bay leaves, allspice berries, hot peppers and lime juice.  It can also be made to showcase pig’s feet or mutton or even fish – in which case it’s called “boiled fish.”  I’d eaten plenty during my Out Island travels, but never made it myself.  In a moment of inspiration at the 5Fs, I walked barefoot across the airport runway on Little Farmer’s Cay and invited our friends Ed and Tina of Merlin and Joe of Onward over for a souse dinner aboard Calypso.

As it turned out, those turkey parts were mostly turkey knuckles – if there is such a thing; long on bones and cartilage, short on meat.  The broth was fine, and luckily I had some chicken I could add to the mix to make a decent meal.  We didn’t need much, as there had been plenty of food at the 5Fs, and with Tina’s contribution of artichoke/shrimp dip and Joe’s biscotti, we had a great dinner.

We’d all found ourselves at Little Farmer’s Cay.  Ours and about 100 other boats in the general vicinity – the largest collection of boats I’ve seen since we got to the Bahamas, and one which dispersed shortly after the festival.  The 5Fs is the First Friday in February Farmer’s Cay Festival.  It’s referred to as Farmer’s Cay, but the festival is held on Little Farmer’s Cay, not the neighboring Farmer’s Cay.  And the “yacht club” here is also called the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club.

017 - Farmers Cay Yacht Club

Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club; we were anchored right across from it.

I don’t know why, and it hardly matters; it’s not like there are confusingly many alternatives.  This area of the Exumas is sparsely populated, with even fewer amenities.  But the welcome they roll out here is a big one.

We arrived here on Wednesday in order to scope out a good spot to anchor, as well as a chance to explore before the “crowds” arrived.  Rick and I had dinner that night at the FCYC, making reservations and selecting our meals over the VHF.  Before eating, I discussed the finer points of souse with owner Roosevelt Nixon, and then we moved on to grilled whole snapper.  Yum – the first whole fish I’d gotten since we’ve been in the Bahamas, though I’d neglected to ask them to leave the head on.

Exploration of the cay didn’t take long, especially since none of the tiny shops were open and Hallan Rolle, who does many things on the cay, was out of propane (and we’d hoped to fill one of our tanks). 

018

These signs point to EVERY possible site of interest on the cay.

019 020 - Farmers Cay Airport

As is often the case, the “airport” here is nothing more than a paved landing strip with no tower and no buildings.  The sign is made of the same kind of letters we used to put the numbers on our dinghy; ours lasted about 20 minutes.

 The centerpiece of the 5Fs is the regatta, here a race among Bahamian C-class sailboats.  Some of the boats are local, but many arrive on the mailboat the day of the race.  Since we were anchored in front of the yacht club where the boats arrived, we got a front seat view of how they are unloaded.

003

First the mailboat — the Captain C — offloads higher priority cargo.  Like a minivan.

005 006

Then, one of the race boats is hoisted off the mailboat and into the water.

The boats are crafted mostly of wood, and have a full but shallow keel.  The mast is stepped nearly at the bow of the boat, and the boom extends well past the stern.  There is a single sail.  With such shallow draft and so much sail, some of the crew sit on boards called “pries” to keep the boat from heeling too far.  Unlike the racing we are accustomed to, these boats start anchored, and when the starting flag waves, they simultaneously raise anchors and raise sails.

031

The starting line, with all the race boats at anchor.

036 042 014

Race action.

In the meantime, festival-goers line the beach with dinghies, and fill Ty’s Sunset Bar & Grill (located on the beach, next to the runway).  Bahamian music pumps from the DJ’s speakers, Kalik flows, conch salad is crafted, and fish grilled.  The mood is part beach party, part Jimmy Buffett concert, but there is a much more diverse crowd – Bahamians and cruisers – that mixes easily.

035 058

At left, the view of the beach, from Sunset’s, before the regatta.  On the right, early Friday, with dinghies and anchored boats and race boats.  Good weather ensured a good turnout.

For the Out Islands, this is a big crowd.  On Saturday, the second day of the festival, Rick and I hoofed it to Ocean Cabin for lunch, instead of negotiating the line at Sunset.

022 023

At Ocean Cabin, we found the burgee of Moondance’s sailing club, the CSC.  And I got to have one of my favorite island meals, goat curry.

We also skipped the third race, instead watching the distinctive C-class boats race while we had paddled to the beach across from Little Farmer’s on Great Guana Cay, and beach-combed through shoals of tiny shells and sand that looks like white candy sprinkles.

028

White sprinkles interspersed among shells.

And the party went on, well into the night, without us.

Perhaps this is good preparation for our next stop.  We have a good weather window that should allow us to get to Georgetown, where 100 anchored boats is not many….