Monday, April 21, 2014

The Abacos

We had a smooth passage north towards the Abacos and our first stop was at Spanish Wells in northern Eleuthera.  The winds were west so we tucked on the east side of Meeks patch and the next day as the winds went North we anchored just south of Russell Island.  From here it was an easy dingy ride into Spanish Wells.

Spanish Wells is a very unique island. It is almost all white and very prosperous. It is also dry so no alcohol is sold or served in restaurants. The main industry is fishing and the major catch is crayfish or Bahamian Lobster. Spanish Wells supplies over half of the lobsters for all of the Bahamas and the fisherman make a very good living.  We saw several of the mother boats returning to harbor with their catch.  They towed the small boats used by divers hunting for lobster and conch.  Most mother ships had at least 3 and sometimes as many as 6 of the small boats.

We went in and filled a propane gas tank, did some food shopping and had a nice lunch.  Kim suffered without her normal Kalik beer but somehow survived.  These kids were jumping of the bridge and agreed to perform for us.  We bought some grouper directly from a fisherman but the lobster prices were too dear for us.

After a quiet night we made the 10 hour passage to the Abacos and anchored just inside Lynyard Cay where we found a calm spot to drop the hook in about 8ft over white sand.  The next day we took a 2 mile dingy ride into Little Harbor.

Our guidebooks say Little Harbor "comes close to anyone's dream of a Bahamian hideaway". It is a much protected bay with a mixed shoreline of high rock cliffs and caves, a smattering of cottages, and a sandy beach. 

We were enticed ashore by the aromas wafting from Pete's pub. The pub has a roof, but no walls or floor, a small bar area and large eating area with heavy wood tables and benches that sit on the sand. You could wiggle your toes in the warm sand floor and read the signed tee shirts hanging from the ceiling. The pub served burgers, conch and a variety of fresh caught fish...grouper, snapper, wahoo, and Kim had trigger fish...excellent. After lunch at the pub we wandered to the Gallery where bronze works were displayed and for sale.


This is the Gallery, Studio and Forge of the late Randolph Johnstone, well known artist of bronze sculptures. His sculptures became famous and ultimately lucrative. One of his large works, titled "St. Peter: Fisher of Men," rests in the Vatican's museum in Rome. It is now his son Pete Johnston, himself an acclaimed bronze & wood sculptor, who operates the facility. 


There were some pieces done by the late Randolph Johnstone but most of the pieces were done by his son Pete (hence 'Pete's Pub'). Emily bought a nice leather belt with a cast turtle buckle.  Further along the path we came to the Studio and Foundry, where the bronzes are cast. We were unable to see the casting process, which is done only a few times during the summer season.

We met a nice couple cruising on Mud Puddle Rose, a Grand Banks, and we went north with them for a snorkel on Sandy Cay.  The snorkeling was good but the swell made it a little rolly.  After the snorkel both boats moved north just outside Hopetown for calmer waters where Joe and Susan joined us on Emily Grace for dinner with Kim’s nasi goreng. Joe was full of cruising tips for the few remaining cays to my northwest and it was a nice evening.  They brought their poodle Bocci and Emily enjoyed playing with her.


Next we motored north to Hopetown.  Hope Town was settled by British Loyalists who were seeking safe refuge after the American Revolution.  Many of the settlers came from the Carolinas, by way of East Florida, after that area was turned over to Spain in the Peace of Paris (1783).  The same treaty called for the evacuation of New York by the loyalists.  Many people moved back to England, Canada, or south to the British Caribbean.  The initial settlements were at Carleton (near the current Treasure Cay) and Marsh Harbour.  By 1785, there were over 1,000 refugees in Abaco who were distributed in five or six settlements.  The settlement at Hope Town was founded in 1785, in part, by a widow from South Carolina named Wyannie Malone.  Wyannie, along with her children, started a dynasty in Hope Town that spread the Malone name throughout the Bahamas, over to Florida, and outwards from there.

Every magazine picture of the Bahamas includes a photograph of one very historic lighthouse. After making our arrival at Hope Town Marina, we proceeded to the end of the island to the lighthouse steps. After a short walk to the entrance to the lighthouse, you enter, and then work your way up six levels to the top. You get great views of the Abacos in almost every direction.



This lighthouse is the only kerosene fueled lighthouse remaining in the Bahamas. There once were three, but technology and cost of ownership, has seen two of the remaining three converted. This lighthouse has been added to the UNESCO trust.

The candy striped tower rises 124 steps above the mound upon which it stands. The mechanism that rotates the light is a clockwork mechanism that is powered by a huge weight and must be rewound every two hours. The 8000 pound burner and its Fresnel lens rotate on a pool of mercury that reduces friction. A light push of the hand is enough to turn it. Construction of the lighthouse was opposed by inhabitants of Hope Town who made their living salvaging valuable cargo from ships that wrecked in the shallow waters. In one incident, salvers rescued the cargo of a ship en route to Cuba—slaves. They took the human cargo to Nassau where they were set free.

It is a picturesque little town with small, colorful houses, lots of flowers and narrow streets and lanes.  There is only one real street that forks into two branches for a short distance. That street is navigable by small cars and trucks but the most common form of transportation is the golf cart. The lanes are so narrow that they are accessible only to pedestrians and bicycles.

We were walking along looking at the pastel painted houses when we came across a small tree being devoured by about a dozen of these enormous colorful caterpillars.  We looked them up when we got back and found that they become a large but very dull looking moth.

Pseudosphinx tetrio is a species of moth in the family Sphingidae. Its common names include tetrio sphinx, giant gray sphinx, frangipani hornworm, and plumeria caterpillar. It is native to the tropical and subtropical Americas from the southern and southwestern United States to Brazil. The occasional individual has been recorded as far north as the northeastern United States so we must be getting close to home.

After Hopetown, we anchored in Marsh Harbor which is a good size town with a US style grocery store.  We got a few provisions to hold us until we reach Florida.  After the winds clocked around east again, we visited Great Guana Cay.  We first anchored in Bakers bay that was created by a cruise ship company.  They dredged out a deep water bay and actually created an island with the dredged sand.  The cruise ship company has long abandoned this harbor but the island was great for collecting shells.  After 2 days we moved just outside Settlement harbor for lunch at Nippers Bar.

Next stop was Green Turtle Cay and we anchored outside the harbor for the first night.  Tom took the dingy into Black Sound with the depth sounder and made sure Emily Grace would not run aground going in the narrow, shallow channel.  The next morning at high tide we entered without any drama with 8 inches under the keel…plenty of depth!  Inside we found deeper water and grabbed a mooring ball at $15 per night at Donny’s Dock.

Originally settled in 1783 by the "Loyalists" escaping the revolutionary war, Green Turtle Cay is one of the most historical of the out islands. New Plymouth, Green Turtle’s main settlement with its brightly painted clapboard and gingerbread adorned houses and narrow picket fence lined streets is reminiscent of a quaint New England town. 


The town offers several historical sites including its 200 year old cemetery, the Cays original jail (now painted pink) a model schooner museum, Albert Lowe Museum, a Sculpture Garden with bronze busts of famous Bahamian historical figures along with many historical homes. 


We rented a golf cart for two days and Emily really enjoyed driving around.  The Captain took over in the narrow concrete streets of New Plymouth but Emily did pretty good elsewhere.   

We enjoyed lunches ashore and bought some local coconut bread warm from the oven.  We are now officially famous since we were recognized by some strangers who have been reading our blog.  They nervously approached us at a restaurant and asked if we were that famous circumnavigator family.  News quickly spread around the dock and soon other cruisers were coming by to ask about favorite places, best equipment to have on a cruising boat, how much it all cost, etc.  The captain handed out wisdom and stories while Emily folded and handed out origami birds and dragons.  It was all pretty cool and yes, we now all have swelled heads.  

After Green Turtle Cay we moved to an uninhabited island called Powell Cay.  It was recommended by Aries II as a nice place to relax in front of a white sand beach.  It was just that and Kim and Emily snorkeled and collected more shells there.  We stayed 2 days until the winds shifted and drove us into the protected shores of Coopers Town.  There we walked the small working town and found a restaurant to serve us cracked conch fritters.  

We stopped once more at Crab Cay to collect the weather while we were within range of the cell towers.  Since we now have a good forecast we will head off tomorrow.  Tomorrows’ run will be a 7 hour run to Great Sale Cay and will take us out of cell phone/internet range .  This is other uninhabited island with a white sand beach.  We will spend the night there and leave Wednesday morning for the 160 mile passage across the Gulf Stream and into Cape Canaveral. The key here is to avoid any north winds that would oppose the swift north flowing current and build big waves.  With any luck our last tricky passage will go well.  

Stay tuned Dear reader to see how we did.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Camouflage in the Underwater World – By Emily

Gaze at a reef and you’ll see a vivid habitat- tan fire coral, purple gorgonians, red lacy-looking lionfish, and millions of other colors and corals. But what is more interesting is what you can’t see… and what’s in clear view telling you “don’t touch me”. In reefs all animals drape themselves in color or camouflage to entice mates, catch prey, or even hide in plain sight. 

Butterfly Fish (Ref 5)
There are many types of camouflage, many of which we have seen in our travels. The most common is coloring that resembles surroundings. Many wrasses and parrotfish are blue or brown to mimic the color of the water or coral. Most young parrotfish look a lot like coral, so that when they move it seems like the coral has come to life. The most amazing example is the frogfish, a creature even I have not seen, but still hope to. One that we have seen is the devil scorpion fish. 

Scorpianfish (Ref 10)
Most of the angelfish and butterfly fish use disruptive coloring to break up their distinct shape and become more like the reef. Non-repetitive designs like spots or stripes may stand out in open water, but they become part of the menagerie of shapes in a reef. Queen and Emperor Angelfish are blue and yellow striped to blend in, and Threespot Flounder have eyes on their body to confuse predators.

Yet other creatures find different ways to hide. Toad fish, stargazers, and rays lie close to the bottom to eliminate their shadow, making them almost invisible to predators; they’re just a lump in the sand. Fish like lizardfishes and garden eels even bury themselves or dig holes. One rare fish that we have seen is the shortnose batfish that looks basically like a pancake with two legs, a tail, and a snoot. Many shells bury themselves in sand; the only giveaway is their track that weaves through the ripples of sand. Wobbegongs are flat and colored to the bottom, and they’re so confident in their camouflage they won’t move unless touched.  

Long Nose Batfish (Ref 4)
The most breathtaking form of camouflage is self-decoration. Hermit crabs carry a heavy shell, Decorator Crabs load themselves with massive amounts of debris, and Carrier Shells glue on shell fragments in a spiral pattern. Many shells are smooth to repel such growths, but others, like the Atlantic Thorny Oyster give lots of protrusions to attract algae and coral. 

Carrier Shell (Ref 6)
Trumpet fish and seahorses display cryptic behavior, mimicking the reef, whether that may be swaying soft corals or waving grasses. Razorfish and trumpetfish are long and skinny to look like a floating branch. Groupers and many other fish stay very still, relying on their coloring to stay inconspicuous. Trumpet fish are the funniest, for when they are approached, they stay very still, only moving to sway back and forth. Suddenly they start to change color and dart away to safety.

Trumpetfish (Ref 8)
What I think of as the best camouflage is changing color; the octopus, flounder, and squid do it well. Octopi not only use it to camouflage, they also use it to hunt. They drift over a patch of coral when they’re dark brown, and then stop and make their webbing white. Fish in the rocks think it’s an opening and dart into the octopus’s hungry mouth. When they’re still they change color rapidly to suit the coral, which is impressive considering they’re colorblind. Once we saw an octopus eating a conch, a few tentacles in and around it, but when he saw us he stopped and hastily changed color, not moving even when we were a few inches away, as if to say, “it’s mine, go away!”

Octopus Eating Conch, can you spot him? (Ref 9)
Open-ocean fish are often silvery or transparent to color themselves like the sea. Moon jellyfish are almost entirely clear; the only giveaway is their faint outline and slight shimmer. Fish like tuna are silvery to reflect light and appear blue from a distance. Some squid illuminate their underside with sparkles so as not to appear as a dark shape when viewed from below.  

Squid (Ref 7)
Some animals have light-colored underbellies because they are "counter-shaded." They are darkest on their backs, which are most often in direct sunlight, and lightest on their undersides, where a predator would see against the sun. An effectively camouflaged prey may appear flat and insubstantial.

Some sea creatures use motion dazzle. Motion dazzle may degrade predators' ability to estimate the prey's speed and direction accurately, giving the prey an improved chance of escape. Motion dazzle distorts speed perception, and is most effective at high speeds; stripes can also distort perception of size (and so, perceived range to the target). One example is a school of moving striped fish, such as razor fish and striped catfish.

Striped Catfish (Ref 13)
Underwater, the most complicated disguise is the art of using depth and color. As you may know, colors disappear with the reds and oranges fading first. Longer wavelengths of reds and oranges are quickly absorbed by the water. Damselfish, angelfish, and wrasses decorate themselves with these colors so that their color fades and blends, with depth, into the colors of the background, blue, green, and yellow dominating. Clouds of angelfish, and damselfish would blend their colors into a collage of multi shaded masses, stripes and spots helping to weave the pattern of the busy reef habitat.  The more fish, the merrier, with such an excess of pattern and color, no one creature stands out. You can easily imagine how a predator would have trouble picking a single fish from a school of similar color, constantly moving.

Anthias Normal (Ref 11)
But, the color so useful in fading away can also be used to stand out. Fish use vivid displays of color to communicate their love to mates… or to warn away unwanted guests. Masters of beauty, Athias, appear drab normally, but erect their dorsal fins and blare their colors to attract a mate. The show doesn’t last for long though, the colorful performance exposing them to great risk from predators. The ability to change color is a class of skin cells
called chromatophores that show color through light manipulation or pigmentation. Chromatophores can instantly mark their bearer as terrifying, invisible, or irresistible.

Anthias Courting (Ref 12)

Some other colorful examples are Stonefish, who use their brown exterior to be invisible, but when frightened, open their colorful pectoral fins to warn off predators, “Stay away, I’m poisonous!”, and cleaner shrimp, who are not only colorful, but at a depth seem black and white, where red turns black.

In the underwater world, those who stand out and stay still clearly have a meaning. Bold colors can advertise danger. Clown fish sit in stinging anemones, lionfish are poisonous, and scorpion fish are too. 

Fire urchins are red, yellow, purple and blue, able to stand out at any depth, and blast the message: toxic. One day I saw a ray that was unfamiliar to me. It was sitting on the bottom innocently covered with sand, and stupid me wanted to see what color it was. I dove down to the bottom and touched it to make it move, since it clearly wasn’t afraid- bad mistake. Zzzzzzt!  I received an electric shock; I later learned it was a lesser electric ray. I never did see its color, but lesson learned, and I didn’t try to touch it again. Just yesterday, we saw an Atlantic Torpedo, able to produce enough electricity to stop a man’s heart. 

Torpedo Ray (Ref 14)
But, if a fish wanted to attract a mate without being seen, how would he do it? To solve this problem Damselfish use reflectors to flash UV signals to communicate with others, and predators can’t see it. A male Squarespot Anthias is red and orange in normal light, at eighty feet is blue and purple, but in UV light is dark with a brilliant white spot, an easily seen signal to others of his kind, but not predators.  

Every creature is exceptional in its own way, a majority amazing in camouflage. Others have found a way to stand out, extraordinary and bathed in color.


2. National Geographic  Vol. 209     NO. 5    May 2005
3. Reef Fish Identification, Tropical Pacific
7. a-z