Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dazed and Confused

I laid awake most of Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, listening to the wind howling.  I wasn’t where I thought I’d be, and wasn’t sure where I was going.

I was supposed to be waking up aboard Calypso at Bluff House Inn and Marina in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay.  In fact, I’d reserved a slip there on Sunday, knowing the weather would be lousy and not wanting to give up a secure mooring in Black Sound unless I had a safe place to go.  We’d chosen to stay at Bluff House because we hadn’t visited there before and were interested to check it out.  As we crossed over from Black Sound on Tuesday in the chop and wind, Rick called them on the radio to claim our slip.  But they had no record of us, and no room.  They also had no remorse, regret, or alternatives.  (See you on Trip Advisor, Bluff House…..)  Very un-Abaco attitude.

So, we called Green Turtle Club.  Dockmaster Wesley set us up, and helped us into our slip.  Then, after showers and cleaning up, we turned ourselves over to the kind ministrations of the bartender, the dining room staff, and the chef of the Club and enjoyed what could be our last night in the Abacos.  Thanks gang – we’ll miss you!

But on Wednesday morning, the wind wasn’t laying down as forecast (as Rick always says, “It’s a forecast, not a promise.”).  Instead of a 7 a.m. departure, we put it off until 9 a.m.  The wind didn’t let up any, but we’d psychologically made the cut, so we decided to proceed.  And we pounded and pounded into seas that went over our bow and wind that was cranking.  An ugly day, and a chilly one.  I was decked out in long pants, a t-shirt, a fleece, and a foul weather jacket.  And, get this, socks with my Keens.  That’s a felony in the Maritime Republic of Eastport (Calypso’s homeport, where Sox after the Equinox is criminal), and a crime against fashion everywhere else.

006

That isn’t frost on the lifeline; it’s a crust of salt.  The entire boat was covered with salt after Wednesday’s passage.

We pulled into Great Sale Cay at sunset; it had been a long day.  There were only 2 other boats in the anchorage, and our trusty anchor dug happily into the sand.  And we dug happily into bowls of souse (my batch having been enhanced with recipe tips from the ladies at the Green Turtle Club), and johnnycake from the Club.  A night like that called for warm soup.

Thursday was a bit easier on us, as we left Great Sale at 7 a.m. and made for Grand Bahama’s Old Bahama Bay marina.  It was a brilliant day for a sail, and we zoomed across sparkling water, arriving at the marina well before we thought we would.  But we had a dilemma.  Rick checked various weather sources, and it was unclear whether we should proceed on the last leg of our journey back to the US.  Most forecasts suggested it might be rough to start, but conditions would moderate.  Since we had 14 hours of travel from West End to Ft. Pierce, we needed some comfort.  Since it appeared that we’d be able to sail (as opposed to motor), we cautiously decided to go for it, checking out of the marina and out of the country with just 5 days to spare on our entry permit.

031

We reluctantly lowered our Bahamian courtesy flag.  Compare the one we flew (the lower) against the spare to see the wear and tear of the environment.

But conditions did not moderate.  In fact, they were worse than the forecast and stayed that way.  We left Old Bahama Bay well before sunrise.

016 024

Sunrise on Friday morning.  Are these skies red enough for sailors to have taken warning?

We fought with winds in the 30 knot range (luckily, on our beam – so we flew under shortened jib alone) and following seas in the 6 foot range, with shorter periods than forecast, and periodic cross seas reaching as high as 8-10 feet.  Rick took each wave patiently, stoically, methodically; I fought with fear (irrational) and borderline seasickness.  We’d go up and down, bow to stern, and on cross-seas, side to side.  I listened to all of our stuff rattling and clanging down below, thinking “Please don’t let the Hendrick’s bottle break!”

007

Rick is always enviably cool and calm at the helm.  Even if he’s forced to wear long sleeves in the Bahamian spring.

Rick apologized for dragging me out into these conditions.  He didn’t have to.  I was miserable, but we weren’t in danger.  And besides, it’s a forecast, not a promise.  We made an educated decision; even though conditions were worse than forecast, we made it across the Gulf Stream and through the inlet at Ft. Pierce in just 12.5 hours, only motoring for 3.

But, whoa, the culture shock!  Tall buildings (over 2 stories!) and cars (not golf carts) everywhere.  I saw a beach, with cars parked alongside it, with people all over it, and wondered why anyone would want to go there.  As we dropped the anchor alongside the ICW, I was faintly annoyed that I couldn’t see it land on the bottom, or see every grain of sand displaced by its landing.  At anchor, we heard traffic noise, trains passing.  I could see traffic lights, and ambient light that wasn’t coming from the moon.  What is this place?

Luckily, our re-entry into the US will be staged.  We won’t be home finally until June.  We have much of the ICW to traverse, and other travels, so stay tuned.

Little Pink Houses

We’re still in the bustling metropolis that is Green Turtle Cay.  As a point of reference, it’s got 5 times the population of Staniel Cay in the Exumas (450 residents vs. 90), and it shows.  Each cay has 3 grocery stores, but the ones on Green Turtle are actually open during posted hours, and the shelves don’t look like the day before a blizzard in Maryland.  There is a liquor store here (that has Gosling’s, thank goodness), and many restaurants.  The marinas here don’t kick you off the docks when there is to be a west wind – which will become very important to us next week.

(We are currently on a mooring in Black Sound, but we can only get in and out of Black Sound at high tide, which does not coincide with an early morning departure next Wednesday – which we have to do in order to time our journey back to Florida during the next available weather window.  So we are planning to move to a marina in White Sound Tuesday night.  White Sound has a dredged channel which allows to move regardless of the tide.)

By the time we leave Green Turtle Cay, we will have spent a total of more than a week here between our southbound stay and the current one.  And it’s truly a delightful and convenient – yet laid-back – place to hang for a while.  Although it has many amenities that appeal to us, Green Turtle nevertheless retains a timeless charm.

003 011

Be sure to look both ways, lest you get run over by a turtle (left).  As for all those helmets, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who has noticed that plastic helmets seem to be a popular item of flotsam on the ocean beaches.

One manifestation of that is the playful colors of the cottages and bungalows all over the island.

019 020 016   001 - Green Turtle Cay Houses

Of course, that is not just a Green Turtle thing.  Governor’s Harbour (Eleuthera) has its fair share of pretty pastel houses.

027 029

And Hopetown on Elbow Cay (Abacos) might be the champion.

020 023 028 036 045 051 065057

In Hopetown, even the interior of the lighthouse is a cotton candy pink.

067

Just had to slip in a beauty shot of Calypso while I’m at it….

However, I daresay Hopetown has gotten a bit too crowded for me, while Green Turtle retains a slow pace (it’s a little harder to reach, as well, which may have something to do with it).

While we wait for some potent weather to pass through, the weather has been tantalizingly fair.  So we have taken advantage of it to do some exploring by dinghy.  After my intense study of the charts, I identified a beach on the west side of Green Turtle as a likely spot for my relentless hunt for sand dollars.

003 005

I don’t imagine anyone will give me a grant to study what makes a beach good for shelling or treasure hunting.  It’s too bad, really, because I’d be very good at doing it professionally.

While I may have miscalculated as far as sand dollars go, it turned out to be a rich hunting ground for other treasures of the beach.

018 - Today's Haul 025

Yesterday’s shell, sand dollar and sea biscuit take.  As with cottages, I’m especially taken with the littlest ones, like those itty bitty sea biscuits.

We’ve also done some running (Rick), paddling (me) and hiking, finding our way to a pretty ocean beach this morning.

025

The water is much chillier now than it was in December, when we were here last.  But it’s still eye candy.

For entertainment, we’ve had dinner with Berwick and Alexis of the trawler Moondance – the food at the Green Turtle Club has risen to a level where it would pass muster in a good-sized US city (I had a tuna sashimi and watermelon appetizer that knocked my socks off).  And this afternoon, Rick and I went to the Leeward Yacht Club for lunch and a performance by Brown Tip.

Brown Tip exemplifies a sort of island entrepreneur we’ve seen much of in the Bahamas, as he fills many roles.  We first met him because he was our diver, installing doo-dads under the boat for us.  He also served as our lobster purveyor.  And today, he wore his hat as a rake-and-scrape musician.

046

Brown Tip, playing his saw and singing at the Leeward Yacht Club.

This afternoon had the Bahamian vibe I will miss greatly once we leave.  A lazy Sunday afternoon, on the water, under a blue sky with a refreshing breeze.  Comings and goings, Abaconians and visitors (both boat people and land-based), black and white, mingling easily.  A little girl dancing to the music and splashing around in the pool.  Local music as a background to local food, vying with the deranged crowing of those damn roosters.

After nearly 4 months in the Bahamas, I have hardly had my fill.

Tickle My Fancy

It’s the first day of spring.  Suprisingly, there is a edge to the breeze today.  And the forecast is calling for wintry weather patterns — cold fronts crowding together, at shorter intervals than we’ve seen since we’ve been in the Bahamas.  We are yet again in a safe harbor — Black Sound, at Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos — waiting for the next window before we can safely move again.  Because of the duration of this coming spell of west winds, we may be here until we start the 3-hop trip back to Florida.

So, although there is much of our journey yet to come, these are among the last days we will be spending in the Bahamas.  Which makes this an ideal time to reflect back on some of the quirky, unusual, and just plain funny things we’ve found in our travels here.  The Bahamians are such gentle and warm people, so without artifice, that there is much about these islands that bring a smile to my face.

Dis and Dat and Other Tings

There is, among those Bahamians who don’t have New England accents that come from Loyalist times, an island inflection that pronounces “th” as “d” or “t.”  Making Kalik beer a distinctly Bahamian ting.

032

Where’d Your Car Come From?

In all of our Bahamian travels over the last quarter century, we’ve rented many a car.  And not one of those cars has ever been a new one.  Lately, the cars are coming from Japan, but sometimes it’s plain that the car came from somewhere along the I-95 corridor.

033

Or You’ll Be Dead Wrong

Speaking of rental cars… lest one forget that they drive English-style here, there is usually a handy speaker on the windshield to remind you.  Especially when the car is a left-hand drive.

057

It’s Just an Unusually Tall Palm Tree

Royal palms are not native to the Bahamas.  And certainly ones that are 60 feet tall.  This is a not-so-well camouflaged cell tower.  About as convincing as the 100-foot pine tree set alongside the Intercounty Connector in Maryland.

001 - Bahamian Cell Tower

Michael’s Must Have Had a Sale

Bahamians honor their dead with ornate grave markers.  But that’s not enough; plastic and silk flowers adorn the graves as well.  But here, at Spanish Wells, they’ve really gone wild.

031

Any Bag Will Do

The nearest Wal-Mart is at least 100 miles away.   But that doesn’t stop the owner of a store in Eleuthera from using their bags.  Even less likely was a shop in Georgetown (Exumas) that was using bags from Giordano’s Pizzeria.  Which is in Chicago.

046 - Walmart Bag Ha

One Man’s Trash

Junk on the beach happens.  And on some cays, there’s nowhere to put it even if there is a will to collect it.  So why not make art out of it.  Cruiser shrines dot the islands.  Add a sense of humor and whimsy, and you have something appealing instead of an eyesore.

025 035

Tickled Pink

The old jail is simply not that ominous when it’s painted pink.  I’m not sure the inmates would have agreed, though.

009 011

Mini Me

Crew’s Nest house is charming enough all by itself.  But when you add it’s miniature mirror image in the form of Lizard Lodge, it’s irresistible.

041 042

Chow Time

It’s probably upsetting the natural balance of things, and in case of the iguanas, it’s against the law.  But for these normally threatening critters, the sound of the dinner bell can’t be ignored — be it an outboard’s buzz or the banging of a knife on a fish cleaning table.

Stingray Tilloo 3 Compass Cay Sharks 13 005

Geckos and Pigs

Did Geico’s ad agency come to the Exumas?  Some of the islands’ most iconic creatures — curly-tailed lizards and swimming pigs — seem to have inspired their ads as well.  Except the Bahamian ones are way funnier.

080 012

Plane Wrecks Are NOT Funny

But the people who brought you those swimming pigs have also figured out a way to make crashed planes attractive to visitors.

054 012

So Many Dollars

Can you ever have enough?  Probably, but I haven’t found my limit.  This afternoon, I was studying the charts to find another likely spot to go hunting for sand dollars.

005 - Pipe Creek Motherlode

Look Both Ways Before Crossing

While the “international” airports are a bit more protected against unauthorized visitors, the local landing strips are far more bare bones.  We’ve walked and driven across several of them, including Farmer’s Cay, Hawksnest (Cat Island) and Arthur’s Town (Cat Island).

019 020 - Farmers Cay Airport

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I guess it’s becoming an urban thing to keep chickens, but for me, one of the sounds of the islands will always be crowing cocks.  Except I think these guys have been drinking, because they are liable to start their demented crowing at 2 a.m., and they continue all day.  Sunrise is a concept that is unknown to them.

024

Leave Your Mark

Rick is not the only one who feels compelled to build a cairn on every single beach we stop on.  Some beaches have collections of cairns, like this one at Farmer’s Cay in the Exumas.

021

Quicksand

Some of those sand flats which I can’t resist are deceptive.  I put my foot down and find myself mid-calf deep in the wet-cement-like sand.  It takes some effort to get out of them, but I keep looking for more.

049

We’ve Still Got It

Rick and I have been co-habiting in very tight quarters since November.  And we still like each other.  Most of the time.

020

Layin’ Low In Abaco

I woke up this morning – I won’t say exactly when – and noted a distinct chill in the air.  And it was coupled with the smell of wood smoke.  Those are not exactly the sensations one expects in March in the Bahamas.  And, indeed, they were deceptive.  The chill was attributable to the passage of a cold front yesterday, which changed a warm and humid day into a crisp one.

003 023

A squall passes over Little Harbour, while heavy seas pound the ocean beach outside of the harbor.

And the wood smoke is from a forest fire on Great Abaco Island that’s been burning with varying intensity since at least Sunday, when we arrived in the Abacos.

005

Smoke from the forest fire hangs over the Bight of Old Robinson.

Nevertheless, we are facing the fact that we are now northbound, making our way back to Florida.

We had spent 4 nights at Cape Eleuthera, fueling up both physically and mentally, while riding out a cold front.  We and the couples with whom we’ve become friendly (aboard Silver Maple and Jazzebelle) are making our way home and back to “reality.”  But before that, we had a fairly short window to get from Eleuthera to the Abacos as we hop across the sea to ultimately cross back over the Gulf Stream.

For us, it meant a 57 mile passage from Cape Eleuthera to Royal Island.  The next day, in a similarly long crossing, we went from Royal Island to Great Abaco.  Both legs featured what Rick called some of the best sailing of our journey; but on the second leg, I would have been much happier without 4 foot seas on the beam.  Ugh.

Knowing that the next front was coming, we planned to tuck into Little Harbour.  But that protected anchorage has a 3.5 foot entrance bar.  Since Calypso draws at least 4’11”, we’d have to wait for the tide carry us over, which wouldn’t happen until late Sunday – after dark. So we had to wait and instead, we spent a really rocky night in a bay just north of Little Harbour called Spencer’s Bight.  We eased some of our pain somewhat by hanging out with our friends aboard the trawler Moondance, who shared their replenished stock of wine with us.

On Monday morning, at the next high tide, we skedaddled into Little Harbour, snagged a mooring, and tucked in for the duration.  This is a spot that is not new to us – indeed, we spent at least one infamous night here several years ago, the details of which are fuzzy.  To blame is the well-known Pete’s Pub.

009

Pete’s Pub is a classic beach bar, with sand floors and lots of flotsam and jetsam adorning the walls and ceilings.

In particular, the deceptively lethal Blaster is responsible for the destruction of inhibitions and brain cells.  Suffice it to say that there is a reason that I have a bar alias….

025 013 - Blaster

It looks so innocent and fruity and cool….

This time around, we’re much tamer, enjoying Pete’s for the great lunches they serve, as well as the company of the varied visitors it attracts – including today’s lunch visit from Barefoot Man, a Cayman Islands performer who vacations in the Abacos and has written songs about them (including Laying Low in Abaco).

As well, there is plenty to enjoy in Little Harbour aside from Pete’s Pub.  Pete himself is a sculptor of some renown who maintains a gallery and foundry here.  On Monday night (St. Patrick’s Day), we were invited to a happy hour on the beach – a weekly event hosted by the residents of this area who were kind and friendly enough to include us itinerant sailors.  This morning, we were delighted by the antics of the bay’s resident dolphins and turtles.

After today’s lunch, the seas had settled somewhat outside of the harbor, so we took the dinghy out to explore the Bight of Old Robinson.  We were, of course, chasing the rumor of sand dollars on the sands at low tide.  It took some cruising around, as well as exploring of mangroves, but we finally found some productive flats.

010 012 014

Mangroves and sand flats — a classic Bahamian combination.

026

We found about 3 dozen sand dollars today, but my favorite one was this itty bitty one, smaller than a U.S. dime.

As well as other finds of interest.

024

This type of shell is known as a Bleeding Tooth.  Quite an image.  Kind of makes you want to floss RIGHT NOW.

020

This little sand crab was not at all intimidated by Rick’s big foot.

At this point, the weather forecast for the last week of March is looking ominous, so we’re still formulating our plans to cross back to Florida.  But for now, we’re enjoying the pleasures of the Abacos.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

We’ve been battened up here at Cape Eleuthera for 3 nights now, riding out the latest cold front and waiting for a 2-day window that will allow us to cross to the Abacos.

005 - Choppy West Side

The normally placid west side of the island is all chopped up due to westerly winds.

Cape Eleuthera is a perfectly nice and comfortable marina, with decent amenities and fair prices.  What’s interesting here is not what is, but what isn’t.  The developers certainly had grand ambitions.

005

The marina is largely empty — we’re hanging out here with just 3 other transient boats.

The marina slips are high quality, yet no one really stays here.  The resort buildings are new and attractive, yet only a fraction of them are built out.  Foundations for homes have been poured, and roads built, but they’ve been languishing.

077

The developers have posted a highly optimistic plan for the area.  Yet, after years and years, most of it is “Coming Soon.”

076

Dozens of foundations for residences have been poured all over the Cape Eleuthera property.

A satellite image of the site shows that the marina basin currently in use is just one of the channels dredged, at likely great expense.

Cape Eleuthera

Only the top left basin is in use.  The others have been dredged in hopes of what?

It’s not just Cape Eleuthera.  All over the island, there is evidence of development thwarted.

007 006 006 - Road to Nowhere

Everywhere, there are “For Sale” signs for what might be attractive waterfront — even beachfront — properties.  Yet gridded roads lead to nowhere, or at most, sparse residential development.

And it’s certainly not just Eleuthera.  All over the Out Islands that we’ve visited, there are tantalizing artist’s renderings of high-end communities, marina basins dug, roads laid out, power lines installed, and airport runways built.  Even though these projects have big money and big (often celebrity) names backing them, most seem to go nowhere.

It’s not as if these islands don’t have much to offer.  In the days that Rick and I have been in Eleuthera, we’ve rented a car and explored the 80-mile long island from top to bottom, including one of its tiny satellites, Spanish Wells.  Compared to many Out Islands, Eleuthera has some decent infrastructure.  We’ve been reveling in cell and WiFi, and a supermarket that had decent selection — including the first avocados I’ve seen since we left the U.S. (yes, this is the kind of stuff that thrills cruisers….).

We spent some quality time in Governor’s Harbour, established in the 17th century, and it maintains its charm.

013 014

Our tour of Eleuthera has been part-exploration, and part trip down Memory Lane.  In Governor’s Harbour, we had lunch at the Buccaneer Club, where our friends Mary and Dick Cowley stood us lunch when we visited here 24 years ago.  (I think the menu hasn’t changed since then.)

020 031

The narrow streets cascade down to the harbour, and are lined with white block and picket fences, festooned with flowers.

026 027 029

Attractive homes line the streets, and are available for purchase and for rent by vacationers.

Nowhere on Eleuthera are you far from it’s biggest attraction — the sea.

053 052

The ocean beaches on Eleuthera are not just your run-of-the-mill amazing Bahamian beaches; they are truly pink.

At the northern end of the Eleuthera, there is a spot where the island has eroded to a point where a tiny strip of rock separates Exuma Sound from the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s called Glass Window, and it highlights the contrast between the bodies of water.

011 - Glass Window East 012 - Glass Window West 013

The Atlantic Ocean on the left, and Exuma Sound on the right, with an aerial image below showing the entire site.  Even on a stormy day, the two bodies of water couldn’t be more different.

And, of course, the sunsets can be stunning.

074

I can’t help but do a bit of comparing of mainland Eleuthera to Spanish Wells — which we reached after a 2.5 hour drive and 7 minute ferry ride.  There are many similarities.

021 026 033 017

Spanish Wells has the same charming cottages lining the similarly flower-festooned streets.

032

And, yes, Spanish Wells’ beaches are pink as well.

But Spanish Wells (and I imagine its tonier sister, Harbour Island) has a level of sophistication, and higher per-acre level of tourism, that exceeds the “mainland.”

018 - Shipyard Stone Crab Claw

We had our first “modern” meal since leaving the Abacos at the Shipyard in Spanish Wells.  This delicious stone crab claw — as big as my hand — was enough of an appetizer for both of us.

Perhaps it’s Spanish Well’s development of non-tourism industry that paradoxically makes it more attractive to tourism and development.

039 - Workboats Spanish Wells

Spanish Wells accounts for 70% of the Bahamas’ exported fishing product, as a result of which it is one of the wealthier communities in the entire island nation.  At one time, most if not all of Spanish Wells’ lobster catch was sold to Red Lobster.

Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying that second marriages are “[t]he triumph of hope over experience.”  That much can probably be also said about every would-be developer in the Bahamas.

Farewell to the Exumas

After more than 3 days without leaving the boat while we hunkered down between Big Major’s and Little Major’s to wait out the weather, the winds finally moderated and we bolted out of there Saturday morning.  We are beginning the long trip home — our visitor’s permit has but 3 weeks left on it, and while we’d likely be able to extend it, we need to be back in Florida by the first week of April.  We decided to end our time in the Exumas by spending it in Exuma Park.

On Saturday afternoon, we arrived at the Emerald Rock anchorage of Warderick Wells.  While there have been times we’ve had to jockey for position here (once, when our mooring was taken by a Honey Badger), this time we were the only boat in the entire mooring field.

019

Such a pity that we had no one to share Cockle and Loyalist beaches with….

We paid a visit to Cherie at Park Headquarters, not just to pay our mooring fees, but to say “goodbye” and “thank you.”

Sunday morning, we rolled out of Warderick Wells to visit Hawksbill Cay, also in the Park. We’d not visited here before.  And again, we were the only boat taking advantage of a Park mooring.

010 - Calypso at Hawksbill

Calypso, all alone, on a still and quiet day at Hawksbill Cay.

Hawksbill Cay has many trails.  Though they start fairly flat and sandy, they become hilly and rocky, and at times we found ourselves scrambling along ironshore ledges lining the shore.   The views were worth the trouble.

016 - Hawksbill Cay Exuma Sound Side 025

Exuma Sound views from Hawksbill Cay trails.

Although we did it in a roundabout way, we finally found our way to Loyalist ruins overrun with vegetation in the interior of the island.  As I’ve written before, during the American Revolutionary era, the British crown deeded plots of land in the Bahamas to Loyalists, who tried to make a go of agriculture here.  Even though the Bahamas were then more heavily wooded than they are now, sparse rainfall and topsoil ultimately prevented success.   Many of the families, and their slaves, continued in the islands, but there was no hope of plantation agriculture for the long term.  (A good fictionalized account of this era, set in the Exumas, is Jonathan Wilder’s Wind from the Carolinas.)

026 033

Vegetation and ruin have taken over the buildings that once housed a Loyalist family.

039

Judging from the remaining plants, it looks like sisal was grown here.  We’ve also seen remains of cotton plants on Staniel Cay and other places.

Of course, we’re not just about history.  Quality beach time was required as well.

056

Another beautiful beach at the north end of Hawksbill Cay (Exuma Sound side).

Monday morning, we made the quick jaunt to the northernmost cay in Exuma Park — and my personal favorite — Shroud Cay.  Shroud Cay seems like a miniature version of another Bahamian island, the largest, Andros, which we’d visited in 2009 (http://islandtime.homestead.com/ExumaAndros09.html).

Shroud Cay, like Andros, is riddled with mangrove creeks and swamps.

009 010

Our dinghy’s wake through the only mangrove creek on Shroud that goes all the way through to Exuma Sound looks like satin ribbons.  The sand/white mud bottom of the swamps makes the water look like it’s glowing.

In the morning, after arriving at Shroud, we took the dinghy ride to my favorite Exuma beach through the mangrove creek.

014 - Creek Exiting into Exuma Sound Shroud Cay 032 048

This will be the beach I’ll dream of once our Bahamian adventure ends.

In the afternoon, we headed for one of the creeks that doesn’t accommodate dinghies, and instead kayaked and SUPed to and through every branch of the creek.   The mangroves serve many functions, not least of which is as a nursery for juvenile sea creatures.

063 - Chasing a Shark 075

I’m chasing a baby shark through the creek on the left.  On the right, tiny shells, which are mounded in piles throughout the creek.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a beach at the end?

070

Of course, all of that beach time has taken a toll on my swimwear.

001

The saltwater has eaten right through the metal hooks on my swimsuit straps.

This morning, Rick got an early start.  I was still sleeping at sunrise (we stayed up “late” to watch the last episode of Downton Abbey — we’d gotten Season 4 from a pirate….), but the water was so calm Rick was able to get us off single-handed.

003

Rick got up early to this view.  He works harder than I do at this cruising stuff — he’s changing the oil as I write.

For a change, the seas were calm as we made a passage, and we were accompanied by pods of dolphins.  We made it to Eleuthera by just after noon, and we’ll hang out here for a few days to ride out the next front.

005

Here’s one of the dolphins that was riding our bow wave this morning.  Maddeningly, they don’t pose for photos.

Dark and Stormy

Actually, I’m not even talking about the cocktail, although I certainly wouldn’t turn one down.  Although our supply of Gosling’s Black Rum is running dangerously low, our supply of ginger beer is still healthy.  We may have to substitute a pale alternative for the Gosling’s.

GetAttachment (1)

The drink even looks like a dark and stormy sky.

We saw Skip and Harriet off on Tuesday morning, Mardi Gras day.  We had observed Lundi Gras the night before with a progressive dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club docks with our (coincidentally, but fittingly) Louisiana-born friends Berwick and Alexis aboard the other Moondance and Chris and Herb aboard Easy Going.  But it was now time to move.  Weather was coming.  So sayeth Chris Parker, weather guru to cruisers.

With a few days of advance warning of the coming front, Rick and I made what was likely our last run to Black Point to do laundry before seeking shelter.  We did 4 loads, Rick didn’t get a haircut from Ida (he’s going feral), ate what passes for pizza in this part of the universe at DeShaMon’s (satisfying the craving for gooey cheese), and scoring some tail.

Ahem.  Got your attention, didn’t I?  By tail I mean gigantic lobster tails, as well as some fish.  Curiously, though the waters of the Exumas teem with delicious edible swimming creatures, and every restaurant menu features them, you will not find seafood in the stores around here.   One must have a source for it. 

003

That’s one big lobster tail!  My iPhone is next to it to provide some perspective.

A lot of cruisers fish – your cruising permit in the Bahamas is coupled with a fishing permit.  But we don’t, lacking equipment, skill, and will to clean fish on our boat (since we don’t have enough fresh water to spare to clean up the inevitable mess).  So, finding seafood is catch-as-catch-can.  And on Tuesday, we got lucky, as a fisherman was cleaning his catch at the government dock.  I turned my wallet inside-out and bought all I could with my paper money.  (With the change, I embarrassed Rick by paying for trash disposal at Staniel Cay, emptying my pockets of money that jingles.)

019 018

Gotta love coinage that features sea creatures.

Anyway, a cold front was forecast to arrive sometime Thursday, and continuing through Friday overnight.  Naturally, a frenzy ensured on the VHF, with all sorts of semi-frantic calls beginning on Wednesday morning.  It wasn’t long before every mooring in Exuma Park, and every slip at Compass Cay was spoken for (Staniel Cay clears the docks in a westerly blow, as they are too exposed).  Roosevelt Nixon from Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club went on the radio to remind everyone that FCYC had some dock space, moorings, and was generally protected.

Cold fronts and west winds are serious business around here.  When a front passes through, the prevailing easterly winds clock south, then west, and then north – circling around low pressure.  Though the fronts tend to be preceded by a deceptive calm, the frontal winds are often significantly stronger than normal, can continue for an extended period, and can be accompanied by squalls that have even stronger winds. 

007

A beautiful sunset before the winds kick up.

While most anchorages provide protection against easterly winds, safe and comfortable spots to ride out a cold front are much fewer, explaining the jockeying for position.

Although we’d planned to ride this one out in Pipe Creek, it was clear from the radio chatter that there probably wouldn’t be room for us.  So we high-tailed it Wednesday morning to the channel between Big Major’s and Little Major’s.  It’s not my favorite spot.  The current runs through here ferociously at times, with certain stages of the tide providing a sound rocking and rolling.  But it served us well before.

014

Even a less-than-favorite anchorage features a pretty beach.  But this particular one is on a private island.

Of course, that previous front was early in the Exuma cruising season, so there were only 3 or 4 boats in this space.  By the time the weather hit, there were well over 20, some a bit too close to us for comfort.

GetAttachment

This inept panoramic image shows a partial view of how many boats are here.

While I was primed for wild weather Thursday night, having a foul weather jacket handy and veins full of adrenaline (preventing sleep – argh!), it night was fairly uneventful.  Piping winds, and a strong rain, but nothing unusual to worry about.  Aside from the lack of sleep, “uneventful” is optimal for a cold front!

It was blowing hard Friday, but it was doing so in DAYLIGHT (you have no idea how comforting it is to be able to see what’s happening around you – cold fronts seem always to arrive at 2 a.m.)  And the sky was mostly clear and sunny.  Overnight, it blew even more consistently and strongly, but generally the front  passed without incident.

Unfortunately, weather guru Parker predicts a 7-day cycle for more fronts, coinciding with the beginning of our measured progress back north.  We are plotting our route carefully to take into account potential weather disruptions and avoiding being stuck by weather which would make unable to pass through an intended cut or making a planned passage.

That being the case, I need to get my hands on some Gosling’s!