Tuesday, January 28, 2014

G Spot

George Town Exuma is also known as “chicken harbour” in that it is where the majority of cruisers' navigation south ends for the winter because venturing further represents increased level of remoteness and risk. At its peak, during the George Town Cruisers Regatta (Feb 21-27), there are around four hundred boats in the harbour. This represents 30% of the entire island's population! Now there are about two hundred boats and more arrive everyday. The George Town cruising community is very organized. There is beach yoga, beach church, beach art, daily volleyball games, regular parties, ARG – the Alcohol Research Group meetings., etc. Heck we just got back from our second Trivial Pursuit night in a week, first prize is two bottles of rum! (we cam within half a point of third place tonight... blah!). Every morning at 8:00 there is cruisers net (VHF channel 72) on which a net controller gives emergency info, weather info, local businesses call in to highlight specials, boaters general where anybody can pipe in with a question, offer or interesting information. The VHF radio channels here are very active and everyone overhears conversations, to the extent that we get to know particular people and boats. It's an interesting study in voyeurism and makes for good dinner conversation “did you hear what that british lady said to Mr. X today?” “I did, too funny!”

On this past Friday's net we were surprised to hear Funny Things offer a Shabbat celebration that evening. We took them up on the offer and stopped in for freshly baked challah and snacks. Eric, Betsy and their children Franklin (13) and Imogen (6) are from Washington DC. And we thought we were the only jewish cruisers in the western hemisphere! We had a typically peaceful shabbat with this laid back family. Eric and Betsy had been homeschooling the kids over the previous three months but now in George Town have enrolled them in the local school for a month.

One of the reasons George Town is so popular is that is is the biggest population center south of Nassau and thus has some infrastructure catering to cruisers. Most importantly there is a free water spout at the town dinghy dock. Fuel is readilly available, as well as some spare parts. Groceries, booze and beer. There are several nightspots with “Rake & Scrape” music nights.

That being said a few of our disappointments with G-Town is the lack of a free garbage disposal, the lack of a functioning waste pump out facility and the generally high price for many things.

We are anchored in front of the Chat 'n Chill on Volley Ball beach and have been quickly refreshing our volley ball skills (1996 High School Champions ya!!).

All that being said we have been warned many times not to fall into the George Town trap, staying here in relative comfort and safety much too long (cause who wants that?). Fear not, we are planning a departure to Long Island in the coming days.

Where to next?

I drank all this

And then had a long nap

The girls petting a ray

Bump, set, spike

Dinghy decked our with balloons for Cassandra's birthday

Fancy birthday dinner. Who doesn't love trick candles ;-)

Topanga at the back of the propane line. Actually the truck came in from the other side so we were first

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What a Drag

We arrived through the cut at Rudder Cut Cay about two hours before sunset. Determined to see the underwater statue that magician David Copperfield commissioned we selected an anchoring spot and dropped anchor. Unfortunately after we let our about sixty feet of anchor chain and settled into the spot where the wind and currents ordained we were in only about 6.5 feet of water. We knew that when the tide dropped by two feet later that night we would be in four and a half feet and likely touch bottom. We should have re-anchored in deeper water but didn't. We were determined to see this mermaid and daylight was a wastin'. Our rational was the following: (1)we had touched bottom before in sand at Staniel Cay with no issue, (2) in the previous days we had entered Farmers Cay and slowly passed through 4.6ft of water with no issue so maybe our depths sounder had a small margin of safety and we might not ever touch bottom and (3)the wind was supposed to shift overnight and swing us into deeper water. The sun is setting let's get the outboard onto the dinghy and go diving.

We dingied over to the area the statue is reportedly located and began searching. When finally we spotted it we dropped the dinghy anchor and jumped in. It was actually quite remarkable. Cool idea Mr. Copperfield! He has a private island nearby. It's about 20 feet deep, so quite a dive for us as we are till developing our breath holding capabilities. But we made it down there. A bit surreal.

Once we had our fill we returned aboard just as the sun set. Dinner, a movie and tucked into bed. About 1:00am (low tide) the wind and rain pick up... and up. Waves start rocking the boat. The boat starts making irregular noises and soon we hear and feel a bumping. It worsens and we get up, groggy, to evaluate the situation. The bumping turns into banging and gets even worse. It was as if there was a rock or coral head directrly behind the keel. With every wave it was on the backwards motion of the boat that an impact shook the vessel with a violence I have never experienced. It was this repeated banging that motivated us to try and move the boat and re-anchor a little further ahead. Cassy got her foul weather gear on. I put shoes on. Even as she put the engine in forward gear with all the wind (gust of 35kts) waves and rain I am unable to pull the anchor up by hand (we don't have a electric windlass). I hook another rope into the chain and run it to the winches at the mast. I can winch it up only about ten feet at a time before I have to repeat the attachment process. All this in the driving wind & rain. Adrenalin pumping. The issue was that as we slowly raised the anchor we reduced the scope (length) of the anchor rode. This reduction in scope allowed the wind and rain to loosen the anchor and allow us to drag back into even shallower water. Exactly the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish. Of course as this was all happening in the blackness of night we didn't realize we were actually slowly working backwards until we finally got the anchor up. Now we were in such shallow water that we were stuck and couldn't power forward under motor. The wind and wave action continued to slowly work us backwards. I should mention here that behind us is a small beach and right next to it a rock cliff face. We were well away from it but were inching towards them. Our confreres on Brin de Folie and Oceane were themselves awake from the strong wind and waves. During their checks they noticed our situation and expressed concern on the radio. We said we'd keep them informed if things got really urgent. We couldn't go forward (we'd have to wait for high tide) but we didn't want to drift much further backwards. The only thing to do was to drop our anchor, which we had just spent a herculean effort raising. Of course dropping an anchor doesn't immediately stop you. You have to let our enough anchor rode and back-up quite a bit. So we continued to drift. Back. And back. And back. We were in a vicious cycle that was turning one inch at a time. An hour later were within 150 feet of the rock cliff. I really started to think this was the end of the adventure. How it creeps up on you. The situation was dire. We had to do something. We radioed our confreres and indicated that the situation was now urgent. The agreed and were standing by to provide any assistance they could although it would have been very difficult to launch their dingues in these conditions. We again started the engine and pulled up the anchor. Still stuck on the bottom, this time by some miracle (and the tide being slightly higher and a wind shift, but a miracle nonetheless) we were somehow able to wiggle loose. Instead of returning the way we came we slipped by parallel to the cliff face. We repositioned way over on the other side of the anchorage in deeper water and let our a lot of chain. At this point another boat in the anchorage must have been dragging also because they started re-positioning too. All this went on from 1:00am to about 4:30am. We were exhausted but our planned departure to Georgetown was early the next morning with a 6:30am revellie.

Even though we were very tired and shaken up, the next morning we were happy to get the heck out of there. Ultimately we had a great fast downwind sail al the way to Georgetown.

Lessons learned:
Don't anchor in too shallow water.
If already stuck in too shallow water and rough weather don't raise anchor, just wait it out.

Of all the 

Playing the Exuma Cays

Did she curse us?

Moonrise. You can see the beginnings of the cliff on the right

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Where Sky Meets Sand and Sea

On Little Farmers Cay
Smiling in the turquoise sea,
Lazing in the sun at noon,
Dreaming safe beneath the moon.
Where sky meets land and sea -
my precious island Farmers Cay.
This is home to me and it will always be.

This is the refrain in the song about Little Farmers Cay we group sang at Ocean Cabin restaurant following the lead vocals of propietors Terry and Ernestine Bain. Sums it up pretty well I'd say. This cay has a unique community (founded by a freed slave and second smallest isolated community in the Bahamas) and particular brand (the only cay in the Exumas with their own flag). 

Little Farmers Cay anchorage has an extremely shallow entry route. Once we made it in we were still very tentative about actually anchor spots until Ian from Stormy Weather (Ontario) came planning over at high speed, standing in his dinghy and gave us the lay if the land (sea?). Within five minutes we were all sorted out and safely anchored.

The following morning Ian was kite surfing all around the anchorage. Jumps and flips in the air, coming within mere feet of boats and masts. The currents in the anchorage had us spinning slowly round 'n round so  we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with the most beautiful scenery streaming by our field of view and a crazy kite surfer flying through every now and again. A truly remarkable breakfast! (I made it too!)

Later we landed our dinghies the Farmers Cay Yacht Club owned & operated by Roosevelt Nixon. As he was literally pointing out points of interest to us (including his daughter's home where we should knock on the front door to see some woven basket for sale) he noticed one of his mooring balls floating past. JP & I jumped in my dinghy and zoomed out to retrieve it for him. We walked the island almost from end to end under a blazing sun exploring and finding the most interesting things along the way. An hour in though we were already in need of some cool rehydration and relief. We had heard about Ocean Cabin bar & restaurant and when we finally found it (of course right near to where we started) we stopped in for some cold sodas. We got to talking with Terry and Ernestine, politics, culture, religion, history. Menus were reviewed and we decided to stay for lunch. Jokes were shared, songs were sung and a great time was had by all. Terry even showed Cassandra a special stretch for back pain.

Later that day dinghied (my new favourite verb btw) further to an adjacent key to explore a secluded grotto. Impressive.

We weighed anchor the next morning and thus missed Ocean Cabin's Wednesday hermit crab races. Apparently there is strict enforcement and testing against performance enhancing substances, but these days who knows. We'll put the races on the Way Back Up List

Hanging Out

Right, Left , Center... I think we have a new font justification setting...  Addendum!

Pics of uniformed school children and Dexter... my blog statistics better shoot up after this!

Preaching to the choir man

Stalactites & Stalagmites... just kidding not stalagmites

Yes we re-enacted the scene from Lion King

Guess whose dinghy was FULL of water when we got back. Stupid valet parking

Swimming lessons
Swimming towards chicks in bikinis is his motivation

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Man on the Moon

To see the shadow of your boat beneath ten feet of gin clear water by moonlight is so ah...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Goings On

So much activity over the last few days. At Staniel Cay we swam in the Bond movie Thunderball grotto. Check out our video. Visited split hoove beach where wild swine swim out to (and sometimes into) your dinghy for food. Dexter almost got a bit taken out of him. He's also learning to swim. Check out the video.

Now in Black Point we have been enjoying the local community and services. Happier Hour at Scorpio's bar followed by a 9pm run on the small grocery store to get fresh supplies just just unloaded off the Mailboat. Musical church services Sunday

While our initial attempt at spear fishing for fish and lobster proved fruitless it did provide some excellent up close views of colourful fish and coral. All that swimming works up an appetite though so with Brin de Folie we succumbed to temptation and bought fresh giant lobster off the dock ($15 each - big enough to feed two). A little bit of garlic butter and a few minutes on the grill, I think it was the best tasting lobster I have ever had. Imagine how it will taste when we catch them ourselves!

There are forty boats here in Blackpoint. We've made new friends with Mathieu & Caro on Croix du Sud and reconnected with old friends Maxime 
& Karine (and their two young children) on Angelica.

Ida's shoreside laundraumat with dinghy dock likely provides the best view of any laundraumat anywhere. Ida also offers six conch fritters for $1, free wifi, a little hardware section and even haircuts.

In only five days since getting a Bahamian data plan in Nassau we exhausted our 1gig allowance! We just purchased two more gigs for $30 (the Batelco office is easily located directly under the Batelco antenna tower) but we will have to watch our usage more closely.

Hanging out at the bar

Black Point Anchorage

Face Off

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wishing Wells

Founded in large part by very recently deceased conservationist Peggy Hall, Warderick Wells, part of the protected Exumas Land and SeaPark is about as pristine as it gets. To protect the reefs anchoring is not allowed but there are about twenty mooring balls available for $15/night. Fishing of any kind is also forbidden. No trash drop-off. “Take only picture, leave only footprints” is the park's moto.

On the eastern cliffs there are some blow holes in the rock, when wave crash into the cliffs below air is blown up natural holes in the rock and bursts out at the top. We lay a good sized rock over one of the holes and it was blown aside by the force of the air. At the top of BooBoo hill there is a pile of wood pieces with boat names inscribed. This is the only thing you are allowed to leave on Warderick Wells.

Unfortunately we decided to cut short our stay on Warderick Wells. With some pretty nasty north blows coming in two days we decided to take the one day weather window and progress south to Staniel Cay and ride it out there.

This sperm whale allegedly died of ingesting too much plastic. Ya right and the planet is warming too. 

Bahamas are actually quite barren. So salty!

Not where you want your boat

Look how happy we look...

... until the cameras not looking.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Capital Crew

The sail from Chub Cay to Nassau was probably our best sail yet, made all the more  pleasant with our new crew member Ray Charles. Ray doesn't eat, sleep or take up much space. Doesn't kvetch. Doesn't drink my rum. Yes our autopilot is finally working!! This makes long passage sailing so much more enjoyable. Now we can leave the wheel briefly, sit in more places & more comfortable positions. Now we can mentally focus on additional things while underway. Oh how this would have come in handy so many times throughout our journey.
Testing is still underway as we get to know our new crew but it seems Ray can at least hold a compass course in light winds. Next step will be to see if he can follow a defined route with waypoints & turns transmitted from the GPS Chartplotter.

Nassau is just how we remembered it from last February. Atlantis, cruise ships, kitsch. This time at least we had our bearings and knew where to get supplies & eat and where not to. We've anchored in the Nassau Harbour right by all the marinas.

We spent New Year's Eve with some of our cruising compatriots at a marina. Midnight fireworks from a passing barge marked the beginning of a new year.

We also now have a Bahamian SIM card in our smart phone so now theoretically we can call, text and get internet. I say theoretically because service in the islands and cays we're headed to will be very sparse. We've had reports from other cruisers saying theirs never worked. Got to at least try right? It's important to stay in touch but more critically to be able to get weather reports. Weather now rules our life.

Finally some shots of Topanga on the go. Isn't she beautiful?

And back on board for a nightcap.