Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sharks, Caves and Swimming Pigs…Oh My!

30 miles south of Warderick Wells is Staniel Cay, home to the famous Thunderball Cave featured in the movies Thunderball (James Bond) and Splash. It’s a great snorkeling site where we swam into a cave full of colorful fish. We also saw some hermit crabs that are the size of softballs. The ones we are used to in New England are about the size of a nickel. I guess the heat and clear waters must agree with them.

We took the dingy from our anchorage over to the local Yacht Club to ask about the currents at the cave and other logistical issues and Emily and Kim remained in the dingy, while I went inside the clubhouse. When I returned, I saw about 5 or 6 nurse sharks swimming around and under the dingys in the 5 foot deep water. My ladies did not seem too concerned since Kim had recognized this species of shark from previous SCUBA trips we have taken and knew that they were relatively harmless. Emily was not too sure since all of the sharks were bigger than her!

We took the dingy over to Thunderball Cave and tied up to a mooring ball placed there by the cruisers. Once inside the cave, it opened into a cathedral sized room with holes in the roof allowing sunlight to beam down the 20 feet to illuminate the water below. I wished that I could have brought my camera into the cave, but some images will have to just be remembered. We all enjoyed the dive and raced back towards the mother ship.

Still in our wetsuits, we motored by the white sand beach next to the anchorage and were greeted by the other famous feature of Staniel Cay…swimming pigs. That’s right, about a dozen pigs were released here years ago and they have gotten accustomed to handouts from the cruisers. They get so excited they swim out to greet the dingys before they even get to the beach. We had watermelon rinds to feed them since we had also read about these beggars in the cruising guides. We fed the most industrious ones which included a mother and her two babies, which indicates to me that they should be here for many years to come.

Kim is also getting accustomed to feeding the crew in her pint-sized galley. The other morning, she made pecan cinnamon buns for breakfast from scratch. The dough had to rise twice and the engine room proved to be just the right temperature after running the genset. Emily and Dad had trouble doing math while the smells wafted from the oven. We were rewarded with all we could eat and I'm ashamed to say there were no leftovers!


Bananaquits and Boo Boo Hill

Our next stop south was Norman’s Cay which was famous for its cocaine smuggling operation in the 70s and early 80s. In the main harbor there is a half submerged plane left by a few of the smugglers that didn’t quite make their get-a-way. We dingyed over to see the wreck and were disappointed since most of it has now corroded away. We saw another Nordhavn (South by West) anchored nearby and were invited to late afternoon cocktails on their boat. It was 11 feet longer than Emily Grace and a decade newer with loads more storage and freezer space. I guess everything is a trade-off. If I had needed to save enough to buy their boat, I would still be working today!

After Norman’s we moved further south and entered a 22 mile area known as the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There are no commercial developments and the taking of any fish, lobsters and conch is prohibited. Our first stop was in Warderick Wells which was so named since it has a precious fresh water well that was prized by early sailors. We piloted in near Emerald Rock and took one of the many moorings placed there to protect the fragile reefs.

Once ashore, we were captivated by small Bananaquit birds that were tame enough to eat sugar, seeds and orange slices right from our hands. This was mesmerizing for Emily and brought back memories of her Great Uncle Joe feeding birds and chipmunks at their Cape Cod home. We enjoyed some of their 4 miles of trails and climbed Boo Boo Hill and saw some blow holes on the windward coast. At the top of Boo Boo Hill we were rewarded with sweeping views of the island and cruisers leave mementos there with their boat names. We did not add to this particular scrap heap but recorded our time there in the guest log at the ranger’s station.

We did have one scary moment after our arrival. We launched the dingy with our electric winches and after the boat was in the water, proceeded to clip the harness onto the boat before unplugging the handheld control units. The winches began to operate by themselves pulling the lifting lines taught. The captain raced to unplug the units but not before the winches bent a ¼” stainless bracket and began ripping it out of the fiberglass. With my multimeter and the little bit of investigative work, I found some corrosion and some electrical tape covering up some shoddy work done by a previous owner. Luckily, I had plenty of parts to fix the electric problems (correctly this time). I bent the bracket back into shape with a vice at the rangers station and repaired the minor fiberglass damage and before nightfall, the boat was better than new!

Cruising is truly just doing boat repairs in exotic locations.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Iguanas and Playmates

We had a rough ride from Port Lucaya down to the Berry Islands, but found protection from strong North winds that continued to blow for 5 days. We kayaked to shore and watched several cruise ships coming to the other (windward) side of the island. Emily found our first conch and after some reading, Daddy surgically removed him from his home. After some cleaning, Kim chopped it up and served it (raw) with chopped onion, tomato, pepper, parsley and lime juice. The conch salad was great and Emily was fighting for seconds.

We hopped to a more southerly island (Little Harbor) and then made the junp to Nassau (Paradise Island) where we stayed at a marina. We saw the straw market and several more cruise ships, but the highlight of the trip was Jennifer Gay, an 11 year old. She is cruising on Opal with her parents and we enjoyed visiting with them while Emily played leggos (thanks again Mom & Aunt Sally) and compared home schooling torture stories for 3 days. Kim spent several hours by the pool chatting with Jennifer’s Mom, Linda, comparing cruising and home schooling experiences and just enjoying some adult female companionship.

We left and had a wonderful calm ride across the yellow banks to Allan’s Cay (pronounced “key”) in the Exhumas. The entire trip was in waters about 15 to 20 feet deep and the yellow banks are a series of coral heads that come near the surface for about 30 minutes of the 5 hour trip. In the yellow banks, I stood on the bow and learned to read the water colors to pick our way through while Kim handled the helm. We started out late and behind about 10 sailboats, but because of the light winds (3-6 knots), we passed all of them except one by the time we reached Allan’s Cay. Since we had arrived early, I picked (what I thought was) a sweet spot about 150 feet off a white sand beach. We went ashore and were greeted by several large iguanas that scurried out of the brush to greet us. Since we had read about them, we had brought scraps of cabbage and lettuce to feed them. It was great fun.

Since the island is uninhabited, we took the dingy around to explore another beach and found something more precious than iguanas….a nine year old girl named Emma. They played all afternoon on the beach while we chatted with their parents who are cruising on Independencia and hail from Alaska. We visited with them for two days. They are still working and thinking of selling it all and retiring early to cruise full-time. I tried to tell them that only fools would do that, but the smile on my face seemed to provide him with some motivation to really do it.

Because of the swift currents threading through the islands, we were pushed, against the wind, into shallower water near shore. The captain noticed too late to re-anchor and we spent about 2 hours at low tide around midnight resting on the sand bottom. In the morning, we set a second anchor for the first time and thereafter remained in the deeper water. All-in-all it seemed to go fairly smoothly with no damage to our home. Having a second anchor at the bow was one of the modifications we had done that proved to be a good idea.

Just as we were saying goodbye to the crew of Independencia, Opal had arrived from Nassau and Jennifer was running across the beach to hug Emily. And so it goes. With every door that closes, Dear reader, another seems to open.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Bahamas at Last

Ahhh... those clear blue waters were patiently waiting for us. We made it safely across the Gulf Stream leaving Lake Worth, Florida around 10:00 PM and tied up in the dock in Port Lucaya, on Grand Bahama Island at about 12:45 PM the next day. The 13 hour crossing was uneventful except for that nasty Gulf Stream that slowed our progress to around 3 to 3.5 knots for a few hours. The seas were low (2 to 4 feet) but the wind was on our nose and it was a bumpy ride. We made 100 gallons of fresh water with the new watermaker on the trip over.

The boat was salty and enjoyed the rinsing and rubbing administered by the Admiral while the captain processed a small mountain of Customs and Immigration paperwork to officially clear into the Bahamas. The quarantine flag was soon lowered and our hand-made Bahamas flag was raised on the starboard spreader where it will remain until we leave this beautiful group of islands.

Emily and Kim enjoyed the large heated pool and white powdery beaches and we managed to surprise Emily with a personal Dolphin Encounter. This finally feels like the destination we have been longing for.

Tomorrow, at daybreak, we depart for the Berry Islands, some 60 miles to our Southeast. There we will find protected harbors where we can anchor for a week or so and enjoy some solitude. Tom will get out the SCUBA gear and change some underwater zincs and clean off some bottom growth (on the hull). We are both anxious to introduce Emily to Parrot fish and some of the colorful reef friends that we have missed.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christmas 2008 with Family

Living on a boat, we are challenged to match the holiday traditions that we used to keep in New England. Every year we would go to a local tree farm and cut the perfect Frazier Fir tree that was just tall enough to kiss the 8 foot ceilings and the pine smell would fill the house. Although our tree was artificial and about 12” and one set of LED Christmas bulbs and a Nativity set completed our decorations this year, we were not lacking. The main reason for our happy Christmas was the two angels in the picture below.

My cousins, Barbara and Nancy invited us into their home and treated us like royalty. They fed us wonderful meals, showed us around Disney and the Space Center and gave Emily entirely too many gifts. Barbara runs the house smoothly while having fun with Emily and Nancy sewed enough doll clothes to fill up a small duffel bag. Somehow a large box of gifts from my Mother arrived in Florida from Maryland and we all felt her long-distance love. Santa even knew that Emily needed a bigger bicycle. It was nice seeing my Aunt Lorraine and I really enjoyed talking with my cousin Barry who also lives nearby. He was a great rock climber in younger days and I think he would come with us to the islands if he could.

Barbara’s daughter Connie (I think she’s my second cousin) lives nearby and they let us stay in their spacious home where they have a nice complete apartment downstairs. It was really nice to have a rental car for 9 days and be mobile too. Kim and Emily spent some extra time with all my relatives while I got the boat ready to go into the shipyard. The watermaker was installed and most other boat projects were completed successfully in about a week. Some electronics remain to be installed and we are waiting for the contractor to come out of his holiday break on January 5th before we can get them up and running and head for the Bahamas.

We are spending the days completing small jobs, swimming in the 71 degree water and enjoying the abundant sunshine and warmth. With daytime temperatures around 78 and nighttime temperatures around 60, it’s not a bad place to spend an extra week. Emily enjoyed the break from homeschool, but has gotten back in the groove. We have now completed half the school year and she aced another math exam this week. Kim has been provisioning the boat with food and we need to leave soon while we can still float. I will fill up again with fuel the day before we depart and we will make fresh water from seawater on our passage, so we will be fully loaded as we enter the Bahamas. I must say I’m looking forward to eating my way through all those yummy provisions.

The next Blog entry, Dear reader, should come from clear, bluer island waters.