Sunday, April 26, 2009

Boo Boo Hill

We continue to enjoy our stay at Warderick Wells and managed two Skype calls with Willow, a hike to Boo Boo Hill, scrabble with Bev on Cloverleaf, and learning how to play Mexican train dominoes with Bev and Dave. Very fun. I came in last but plan to improve once we get our own set.
Our placard on Boo Boo Hill was very faded and we plan to add another when Beth arrives to commemorate her visit.
Here, Peter pauses after our hike in front of Cloverleaf.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Warderick Wells

With Beth’s trip delayed and the prospects of being stuck in the same location for a prolonged visit ahead of us, we moved on to Warderick Wells and took a mooring at Exuma Land and Sea Park. Here you can find all around protection, a good social life, good snorkeling, and fine hiking. These two pictures show the environs before the blow arrived, and after.

On the calm day we snorkeled Judy’s Reef and saw a wide variety of fish and coral.
The next day we hiked up to Boo Boo Hill and answered Cloverleaf’s call to cocktails aboard their beautiful trawler with some other nice folks on Cecil and Innu. We had been invited by Bev and Dave for happy hour last year at Big Major’s while Beth was visiting. Bev and David are a credit to the boating world, ready to lend a hand, share their glorious boat for sundowners, and always leaving a clean wake as commodores of the Seven Seas Cruising Association. Bev told a story about anchoring here at Warderick Wells to run from a hurricane before the park was opened in 1958. They have been at this a while.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pipe Creek

There are a bunch of rocks and cays that are collectively referred to as Pipe Creek within an hour of Sampson, and which we have never visited. Our dear friends on Celebrian, being more adventurous than I, frequent Pipe, especially during those winter storms that blow hard from various directions. In Pipe, you get protection from just about any direction. But, here's the catch: you have to be willing to enter and leave near high tide in order to get the depth you need, and when you anchor you may find good water, but shallows nearby and possibly under you during a wind shift. But you are rewarded with solitude and fantastic shelling, as at low the flats are exposed and sand dollars and immature conch are stranded.

So, we tried it. There are several different ways to enter the various hidey holes, and we chose the most conservative, between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe. At high tide we saw no less than 11 feet (with a 3 foot range), and the entry is a very clear dark blue path surrounded by lots of white shallow water. We found the holding to be good and although the current was swift in the anchorage, we seemed to be fine with one anchor. In the morning we listened to the weather, which continues to bode 25 knots of wind gusting higher, and now, several days of squalls. So we contacted Beth, and postponed her trip. This of course will surely change the forecast.

We walked the flats and found many murex shells and tiny sand dollars. With the big weather coming I begged the captain to head to Warderick Wells where we will be able to hike and have internet during our confinement. So, following a grounding while trying to haul anchor, three hours later we picked up mooring ball # 16 in the North mooring field. As the weather guru said this morning, whereever you are today you will be for awhile so I think we made the right call with Beth.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sampson Cay

After loafing around Big Major's we decided to trek the six miles or so to Sampson to pick up fuel but found the fuel dock closed, as it was after 1200 on Sunday. So we just dropped the hook and found Troubadour anchored alongside, and accepted their invitation for happy hour. We decided to spring for the $10 internet connection which last year was free, but we can pick it up in the anchorage and it is pretty strong. Beth is due in on Thursday and of course a huge high pressure system is bringing 25 knots of NE winds in for at least 3 days straight, likely to kill our plans to get to Warderick Wells.

Black Point and Big Majors Spot

We opted to choose today’s big winds and seas over potential for squalls predicted for tomorrow and had a romping sail in 23 knots of wind and 4-6 foot seat, all dropping by the time we reached Dotham Cut on our trip from Cat. One of the tricky parts of cruising in the Bahamas is that there is no information about the currents, and when you are running a cut, this sure would be helpful. The closest tide station, about 25 miles away, was predicted to have a low tide one half hour after we entered the cut. Expecting near slack conditions, we had 2 knots against us. We had no trouble with the cut at 1630, although at least 2 boats which tried to enter at 1500 turned around and chose another entry.
We spent the next day doing laundry, which after a month and a half had really piled up. At Rockside Laundry (the best in the Bahamas) we paid $3.50 for the washer and the same for the dryer. You need to buy tokens, and it is wise to buy them the day before if you plan to arrive early, as you may find the proprietor unavailable, but the Laundromat open. We had a nice chat with PJ on Conched Out, which is ending a five year cruise. We had a glorious time on the internet at Lorraine’s Café, where I pulled emails and once all the cruisers had left, managed some blog updates with pictures so I did not grind the server to a halt. Lorraine no longer permits Skype use, as it drains the system. We enjoyed a nice meal with Nancy and Ed on Troubadour at Lorraine’s.
The following day we headed to Big Major’s Spot, just around the bend. Those of you who followed our trip last year will recall this is the home of the piggies. The population seems to have mushroomed! We dinghied over to the Isles General Store on Staniel for provisions; the mailboat usually arrives on Wednesday but the schedule is frequently modified. We hiked up over the small beach at Thunderball to the Sound side, no beaches here. Along with PJ and Tom on Conchd Out we tried happy hour at Thunderball, $3 beers, shots and drinks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cat Island

We spent Easter Sunday at Cat Island and visited Father Jerome’s Heritage. Father Jerome , a Catholic convert, reconstructed several Anglican and Catholic churches following hurricane destruction at several Bahamian islands. He finished out his years here as a hermit. A 15 minute climb takes you to the entrance to the Heritage by walking up the steep stations of the cross. Several other folks had visited this site today, as evidenced by floral remembrances and a group of teenagers from Nassau visiting their grandparents here on Cat.
We then took a walk into the settlement of New Bight. Along the way we found what appears to have been a farm, with signs of a recent fire. It did not stop the tomatoes from self-seeding, so we will have a very fresh side dish with dinner!
Along our walk every car that passed beeped and waved, some asking “everything all right?” or “do you need directions?”. We found our first stop tomorrow morning, Olive’s Bakery, as our friends tell us not to miss the pineapple bread.
Unfortunately the following morning we found Olive’s to be closed. Many shops were not open, as Easter Monday appears to be widely celebrated here. We rented a car at Gilberts, for $85; they picked us up at the dock, a great convenience. We headed for the Deveaux ruins, suggested by the guidebooks. Not much to see. It is sort of sad to see how the history of this country is not being protected; there is no money. We drove up and down the one road that runs through this island, had a beer at Greenwood Resort and then lunch at Fernandez Village Resort, apparently the place to stay here. Nice lunch and terrific looking surroundings. The anchorage in front of the resort seems very protecting except from west winds, and less rolly than where we are at New Bight. The market here is OK and well priced. That means you can buy a bunch of broccoli for less than $5.

My Personal Fishmonger

As predicted by Don on Zucchini, Peter finally caught a fish on the way from Conception to Cat Island. In fact, he caught two fish, the second bigger but the same species, unidentifiable from our reference materials. We welcome someone’s thoughts on what kind of fish these are. The meat was white and tasty, and the next day we still had all the feelings in our extremities!

Conception Island

We had another great sailing experience getting to Conception Island, which is protected by the Bahamas National Trust. Nothing may be taken from this island, which is a nesting site for turtles and numerous birds. I had planned a lovely pot roast dinner for the first night of Passover, until Don and Diane on Zucchini offered some mahi-mahi that they had caught on the way over from Rum. Peter and I had a peaceful service, recalling last year’s Passover Seder around the table with Celebrian and Fine Lion.
The following day we dinghied into the mangrove creeks as suggested in the guide books, looking for turtles. As elusive as the flamingoes, none were seen. The tides here are difficult to predict, and although we thought we had arrived at high tide, one hour later Diane and Don entered the creek as we were turning around, and advised us that there was not much water over the bar, and waves were breaking over them. So we both exited. Instead we hiked over to the eastern side of the island where we found the usual vast array of shoes that had washed ashore, collected them, and lined the path from the west side with them. We came upon the hiking rope we had read about and rock-climbed to the panoramic view; it is steeper than it looks but totally not scary at all.
Later Peter and I snorkeled the reefs north of the anchorage, and found plentiful fish and reefs in the process of rejuvenation. We were eventually chased out of the water by sharks who sure know how to spoil a party. In the evening we shared cocktail hour with Zucchini, and I shared my shell book with Diane who also had a slight addiction. Zucchini is a trawler that hails from Connecticut and cruises 4 months out of the year.

Rum Cay

For some reason, Rum Cay has always had an attraction to us, so this was our choice upon leaving Clarence Town. The predicted wind direction and the arrival of a cold front suggested we take a slip instead of anchoring out. When I phoned in the reservation, the dock master volunteered pilot services to enter the marina, which is bordered by numerous reefs and slightly above the surface coral heads.
As we approached, I listened to Sumner Point verbally guide in a boat, who continually said he could not see the buoys and despite the marina talk-through, ran aground. The next boat in also complained about missing markers, but got in only “with indigestion” according to the captain.
So, I requested the previously offered pilot and after an initial indication that no one was available, we were contacted by two guys in a dinghy who safely led us in. Had we followed the waypoints that I had set up along the Explorer suggested route, we would have been fine. Hindsight is perfect, as they say.
The first night we dined at the marina restaurant, which we had read had 4 star meals. We had a decent repast of wahoo, rice, and mixed veggies; it was OK for $15 each.
The following day we walked into town (what there is of it), checked out the grocery store (as would be expected), posted some mail, and visited with Batelco to reinstate my prepaid minutes, which on my Bahamas phone expire after 90 days of purchase. We use this phone to speak with Aunt Dar and Beth, and leave messages for Lisa, Dave and Willow, who are never home.
We had planned to eat at Kaye’s Restaurant, cited by Pavlides as the very best native food in the Bahamas, bar none. At noon, we found a few folks at the bar and joined them for a liquid lunch. Elenor, the proprietor, came out to speak with us. She is a gracious lady perhaps in her 80’s, and she shared a bit of Rum’s history with us. Kaye, her daughter, runs the grocery store and we were referred to her to make a reservation for dinner. Back to Last Chance Grocery where Kaye informed us she did not have time to cook today. But we bought a loaf of coconut bread, as recommended by Junior, her cousin.
We sat out our first thunderstorm in two years in the Bahamas. One loud crack of thunder, no lightning, and glorious rain as the front passed.
The following day we anchored out to wait for the northeast swell to diminish, so that anchoring at Conception Island, our next destination, would not be an unpleasant experience.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More Fish Cay, or, Don't Make Me Leave

On March 31st we had a walking tour of Fish Cay where we found abundant wildlife, including a little plover (I think) that walked with us most of the way. These waters are full of rays and sharks that seem very curious as you excavate the numerous sand dollars exposed on the flats. Sea biscuits abound and seem to be a different variety than those found elsewhere. The iguanas seem to be expecting to be fed, as they rush out from the interior upon your approach, a little scary.
This is just a beautiful spot and although you swing with the current we found it well protected in SE winds of 15.
We dined on Rob’s famous spaghetti and meat sauce and counted down the days we have left to share with them. We have abandoned our plans to head with Celebrian to the Jumentos as we are feeling rushed and need to head North to gear up for Beth’s arrival into Staniel. Beth! Mail! Junk magazines! Can’t wait!

Fish Cay at Crooked and Acklins

One of the great things about travelling with Celebrian is that Rob suggests we do things we would not otherwise undertake. For instance, he suggested we anchor between Fish and Guana Cays for the night. These cays are little more than sand spits and would seem to provide very little protection from waves and wind. With both expected to be moderate, we said “oh what the hell” and agreed.
Less than 10 miles from Long Cay, the excursion here is promised to yield copious amount of fish dinners (thus, the name). As soon as we pulled away from Long Cay the water jumped from eight feet to over 1000 feet in minutes, with the drop vividly defined by the color difference from aqua to deep blue. Fish continue to allude us but we were so distracted by the natural beauty of this spot we did not care.
We followed Celebrian and their Explorer software in between the cays, watching the water drop to seven feet at high tide but gradually rebuild to over 12 as we got closer to the Southeast end of Fish Cay. We laid anchor and dinghied about a mile and a half to Guana Cay for shelling and exploration. Rays swam all around us as we passed over the shallow banks.

As the day progressed we watched the shoals become exposed less than 100 yards from where we were anchored although we continued to have sufficient depths. Perfect spot for skinny dipping, bird watching, and a peaceful sunset. A new favorite spot in the Bahamas.

Long Cay

After spending 11 days anchored in the Bight of Acklins the winds abated and we joyously hauled anchor to get to Long Cay, about a 20 mile trip. With winds continuing from the southeast, we knew we would not get any protection, but with 10 knots we expected we could ride it out.
As soon as we anchored, we headed for shore and found pretty incredible shelling but once again, no flamingos which are said to nest here. Our best finds were two hawkwing conch shells, my first (brown in color, about 3 inches long with very flared lips). Around cocktail hour a shark came perilously close to us and had a hissy fit when he realized the water was too shallow to reach us. So we now know we need to use care when swimming or in the shallows.
Once we returned to the boat, we found we had a fair amount of surge even with the light winds, and we moved to anchor by the sand bores nearby and found improvement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Grocery Shopping in the Bahamas

The optimal time to grocery shop in the Bahamas is right after the mail boat arrives, which happens once a week on different days at different locations. After completing our customs checkin process we found Rob and Christine headed by foot to the grocery store, a three mile one way walk, and we joined them. Upon arrival we found the store closed. A neighbor told us that the proprietor had to pick her kids up from school. We decided to wait.
About 45 minutes later she returned. But, we found that the supplies from the mail boat had not yet arrived, so we decided to wait, again. After about an hour, a van pulled up and the drivers began unloading about 10 cardboard boxes; it was like Christmas, although not quite like the DR vegetable stand. Oranges! Apples! Onions! Bananas! What, no carrots, cabbage, or lettuce? Christine and I rummaged through the old rotten carrots trying to put together a “healthy” one pound bag, to no avail.
Oh well, we will have to eat canned veggies while exploring the Jumentos, where there are NO groceries and NO restaurants.
We bought 6 oranges, 6 apples, 4 potatoes, 4 onions, one pound of grapes, a bunch of bananas, a $4.50 jar of spaghetti sauce and a $2 can of corn, all for $32. At the gas station we snagged a small bag of green peppers for $3. We tucked all of this into our back packs and hit the dusty road.
Fortunately a van stopped and the four of us hopped in the back where we jostled along with the tools and propane tanks on the pot holed road back to Spring Point.

So next time you head off to Shoprite or Kings, think about how we have to shop. And this is why we don’t have time to read books! Oh, I’m really not complaining.

Clearing Customs at Acklins

Checking out of the Bahamas is required, and is easy, even if you expect to return. You can either visit a Customs office, or return your cruising permit by mail. The latter is a little bit scary if you plan to return, although you will have your receipt for your cruising permit payment. You may clear back in once in 90 days without needing a new cruising permit (which cost us $300 annually). Many boats do not bother checking out. Bear in mind that if you return and then need an extension on your cruising permit, you will need to provide your passport to Bahamas customs, and your other ports of call will be obvious.
Having been turned away at Great Inagua, and with less than 30 days left on our cruising permit, we decided to try to get to the island’s administrator. The Explorer charts list Spring Point as a port of entry although no detail about a customs office was provided. On Thursday when the mail boat arrived we dinked over to Spring Point and were lucky enough to find the administrator, who drove us to his office at Mason’s Bay, turned us over to his assistant Antoinette and promised to return.
Although it is planned, Acklins is not yet a port of entry, but the office communicated with Nassau and was able to create some paperwork to accomplish our re-entry. On his return, Mr. Wilson gave us a ride to Spring Point.
The forms to clear boats in for customs are “on the way” to the administrator, so if you decide to check in here it should be easily accomplished. The charts do not indicate sufficient water for us to get close in to Mason’s Bay, but it appears easy to hitch a ride there and back from Spring Point. The folks at this office could not have been nicer or more accommodating.

The Bight of Acklins

After a solid night of sleep at Jamaica Bay we ventured further into the Bight of Acklins. The Bight is tailor made for boats drawing about 4 ½ feet. Since we draw 5 ½ we were prepared for things to get interesting. Celebrian is fortunate enough to have the Explorer software on their chartplotter and we urged them on as First Edition followed with our lousy Raymarine/ Navionics charts. Although to be clear about this, another boat, Shamal arrived at the skinny water at the same time we did and took the lead. Rob did not know that Shamal drew 5’9”, so he still deserves the credit. The depths from Jamaica Bay to Cotton Bay were more than ample for everyone at mid tide rising, we saw no less than 7 feet of water.
We awoke to winds piping up in to the 20’s, which were not expected until later in the day. So we quickly pulled ourselves together to move on while the tide was high, as today’s route was expected to be significantly more shallow. Our destination appears to be the only suitable anchorage for NE winds in the Bight, and winds from this direction at 20-25 gusting higher in squalls are expected for many days. Shamal had called us the prior evening to let us know they hit something hard on the route from the Binnacle Hill to the Jamaica Cay (not to be confused with Jamaica Bay) waypoints, so we had a fair bit of concern. We had a very slow journey to reach Delectable Bay, saw loads of shallow water, but did not bump once. (When our uncalibrated depthsounder reads 3’2” we historically have run aground; we saw many 3’1”, and less than 3” for many uncomfortable seconds. Why we did not go aground at multiple observations of 2 ½ feet remains a mystery. So, use caution, go slow, but go. Shamal made it.) We are anchored here South of Camel Point and are much closer to the shore than the charts would lead you to believe possible, and therefore have escaped the surge.
We had naps, the first we can remember since we started cruising! After our rests we dinked over to shore by the Tan Beach to find a modest, abandoned resort, virtually no shells, but a road to no where and a mail box! I wish I could trust it as I haven’t been able to mail anything for about a month. There is also a cemetery with tombstones shaped like torpedos but no inscriptions.
The following day we borrowed Celebrian’s inflatable kayak and the four of us kayaked and walked through the mangroves when the water went shallow. We saw a sting ray with its tail pointing towards the heavens as it approached us and we figured this was not a sign of friendship. A shark was also observed, but little other marine life. Christine and I had a field day collecting tulip shells.
The next day we invited Sheri and Bob from Shamal on board for happy hour. They have been cruising full time for about 10 years, and have spent the last 30 days around the Acklins and were able to give us a lot of info about the area. Shamal is a middle eastern word for some kind of wind; they had spent some time in The Emirates working before taking off to cruise (when they retired in their late 30’s!).

On March 24th we dinghied over to Pompey Bay to walk the ruins with Shamal. We ran into a few goats, some tethered to trees, but no humans around. I moved some buckets that contained rain water closer to the goats, and they were more concerned with getting away from me than the water. I saw my first flamingo but unfortunately this one was hurt and appears to have been abandoned by the flock. Another quiet night aboard with the wind still howling.

Great Inagua

We left Luperon on March 17 in the early morning, meeting ugly rolling seas on our departure from the harbor. By mid day the seas had settled and the winds had turned to the ENE at 9-14 knots, perfect for sailing. By 1 pm the next day we were at anchor at Great Inagua in the southeast Bahamas. A US coast guard plane buzzed us twice as we approached, as they added our photo to their collection of possible terrorists or druggies.
Peter and Rob dinghied ashore with the intention of checking in. Oh no, says the customs guy who does not appear to have any interest in us, you must bring your boat into the government basin, which is approximately the size of a small closet with concrete walls which are unprotected . He insisted that unless we move the boat into the concrete closet we would have to check in at the next port. So we decided to do that. The boys at least were able to pick up diesel in jerry cans at the gas station near the basin. Bottom line: don’t check in here.
We had intended to spend the night but decided to haul anchor and our butts to Acklins Island to avoid the surge here and hopefully to beat the squalls forecast by Chris Parker. So, another consecutive night at sea. We raised anchor at 5:30 and once we cleared the lee of the land found 17 knots gusting 20 on the nose. Fortunately we had reefed before departing; it was a romping ride until 2 in the morning when the winds died and the clouds began to fill in.
We reached Jamaica Bay in the Bight of Acklins by 9:30 the next morning, beating the squalls, and happily exhausted. There is a slight surge here but we are too tired to notice.

Leaving the DR

We have really enjoyed this country and cannot recommend it more highly to the boating community. We have found the country to be safe, although in several locations out of Luperon you can see occasional guards with guns patrolling the shopping centers and hotel areas. (On the weekend net two boats here reported items stolen while they were away, an anchor, and an autopilot. It is crummy to think that maybe a cruiser was the culprit.)
We will leave at first light to get to Great Inagua (great iguana, as Peter says, not joking), where we should arrive midday the next day after. As we prepare to depart, I am thinking of the things we will miss but crave the clean blue waters of the Bahamas.
Things We Love about the DR:
1. The people (the bakery girl nearly broke into tears when we hand-communicated we were leaving. The fact that we ordered 4 breads was probably the give-away.)
2. The bakery, with its Yorkshire pudding-like bread and shortbread cookies
3. The fresh fruits and veggies for very little pesos, especially the pineapples
4. The protection of the harbor here in Luperon
5. The cheapy cheapy restaurants
6. The sea glass on Playa Grande
7. The countryside with random roaming goats, sheep, cows, horses, mules, bulls and chickens
8. The history
9. The beer
10. The fried cheese
11. The trade winds keeping the wind generator pumping amps
Things We Wish We Could Change:
1. Less fried and more variety of food
2. Water quality
3. Lack of green vegetables
4. The reliability of internet especially the inability to Skype most times
5. The hours of the post office (4 times we went to post mail to find it closed when it was advertised to be open)
So, we are off and will spend my birthday at sea.

Back in the Bahamas

Thank you all for your emails wondering where we are. We have not had an internet signal since March 16, as we travelled the very remote islands of the Bahamas. We are back to civilization and I hope to get a sustained signal in order to be able to update. We are well.