Sunday, February 28, 2010

Exuma Land and Sea Park

Follow the deeper, darker water is what the Park person will tell you as you enter the Park at Warderick Wells. You have to be a believer. Just do it. Ignore the absolutely dry land 50 feet off to your port when you enter at low tide. Pick up your mooring and settle in to ride out the storm.

Getting into the Park around the time of fronts is nearly impossible. There are maybe 20 moorings in the North Anchorage, another 6 in the South, and endless ones at Emerald Rock, which is the last place you want to be in any winds with a westerly component. Like when a front comes. You can move yourself up the list, and actually trump a lot of folks who have previously asked for a mooring, if you join the Bahamas National Trust, which you can do during your first visit here. By contributing $60 towards the maintenance of all things natural in the Bahamas, you will receive one night mooring for free ($20 for a boat our size), and that $40 left over will go along way to helping to keep the beauty in the Bahamas. And get you trumping rights for a mooring.

While still in Nassau we phoned our friends on Celebrian whom we knew to be in an anchorage near the Park so they could participate for us in the 9 am call during which you request a mooring on VHF Ch09. Because we had made that donation, we got the only mooring available that day, since demand was up with big winds forecast for two days hence. That gave us one day of settled weather in which to take advantage of the Park after our ten hour trip getting here.

We opted to snorkel and were disappointed to find the reefs were no way near as vibrant as they had been at Pipe Creek this year. I think a lot of the reef has died off since last year. Disappointing and scary for our future generations. Here are some shots Peter took during our exploration:

And here is a shot of one of our stowaways. We kept chasing these guys out of the cockpit, and then they got brave and began showing up below decks. Cute, but not when they are pecking at your bananas.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Back to the States, and Back Again

I quickly took my seat in the shuttle van from Nassau Harbour Club to the airport and exchanged hellos and where-ya-goings with the already seated occupants. I am already sweating in my winter clothes (which incidentally I had to purchase here when my brown trousers came out of the washer tie-dyed pink)but my schvitzing goes into overdrive when I am told all the NY airports are closed. Arrive at Nassau airport. Bad information. Long half hour drive and soaked armpits for no reason.

I reach NJ to snow showers of course and have a very long drive home to Donna and Alan's, where a cosmo awaits me. Donna has served up dinner with friend Betty and Alan and we had a great relaxing night catching up.

The next day I spend way too long in the dentist's chair while she cements, pries off, recements, pries off, and repeats one-more-time for the gipper. I finally give up and say the crown fits fine while it still feels like Pike's Peak and I am gnawing away on the inside of my cheek where the ill-fitted crown hits. I will deal with this when my regular dentist is back during my summer visit. My appointment with the rheumatologist, also a stand-in as My Guy Dr. Kramer is having surgery and jury duty, is a non event. All is well. In between appointments I run around picking up Entemann's crumb cake, mixed nuts, the NY Times, Challah, and other items to make the Captain adore me even more. My most important acquisition is a 90 day supply of my medications which daughter Beth has arranged for me. It took me months to get approved for greater than a 30 day supply before we left---Beth has accomplished this with short notice but I am sure multiple phone calls and pleadings. So thank you dear Beth.

The weather forecast for the next day when I fly back is bleak. Yet another storm of the century. Fortunately, I have an 8:30 am flight, and the snow is not expected to start until midday. I awake to the snow falling and one of the news channels telling me all flights out of Newark have been cancelled. I am now a non-believer in this type of information and check the internet--my flight is on time so they say. And They were correct.

I arrive back at Nassau to a squeaky clean boat and a husband with a too-short haircut. One of the boats in the marina is a future neighbor from Virginia. We keep finding out just how small the world is.

Protect Ya Ting

Monday, February 22, 2010


We arrived at Nassau Harbor Club and Peter ran the outboard over to Lightbourne Marine. Within two hours they called to let us know the motor was fixed! So we cannot say enough good things about Lightbourne, including their charges: $52.25 for this repair. We celebrated with dinner at the Poop Deck where the fare was typical Bahamian and the very courteous waiters have learned the art of turning the tables.

The next day we walked around Nassau, hitting the straw market where I picked up some things for the kids. Nearly every vendor has the same stuff, asks the same prices, and when you haggle, are willing to come down to the same discount. Cruise ships were in town so things were really bustling.

We had lunch at Café Matisse; this is NOT to be missed. Located at Parliament and Bank Streets, it is off the beaten path and not for the bargain minded. You will not find cracked conch here, or anything fried for that matter. We dined al fresco on homemade pasta, yum. A real find.

More sightseeing after lunch. Peter found his Johnny Walker Black Label for $25 a bottle so we had a happy Captain. Alcohol is duty free and since we did not have to clear any customs we stocked up for the rest of the trip with as many bottles as we could carry.

The next day we hooked up with the folks on Que Vida Boa (Stew and Mary), Oscar and Suzy from Nautilus, and Deni and Stephen from Charisma, whom we had met in Georgetown. We had a fantastic Chinese meal at Villa East near the marina. Peter will be in good hands while I travel back to NJ, although I may have to dry him out upon my return.

I love the signage in the Bahamas. Look carefully at the top picture…remember to protect your ting!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

South Table at Normans Cay

We arrived at the South Table anchorage at Norman’s to find Celebrian and a few other boats anchored here. The water is so crystal clear that you think you are about to run aground---it can’t possibly be 10 feet deep! There are some coral heads to avoid, but these are very obvious, and at mid tide, we did not have any problem.

With transportation provided by Goldberry, we hiked over to Volcano, drug lord Carlos Lehder’s now run down enclave. Lehder was the head of the Colombian cartel and ran a very successful cocaine operation out of Norman’s, flying in the raw material in cargo planes (one of which is ditched in the Norman’s South anchorage) and the finished product out in small private airplanes. All went well for quite some time, and Lehder was raking in a couple of mil a day in profit, until some grown up dropout researching hammerhead sharks here got involved. Soon, the US DEA snagged Lehder, and he was sent to a Federal Prison for the rest of his life. The saga is recorded in Turning of the Tides by Sidney Kirkpatrick, out of print but worth looking for on the used book market.

It looks like the several buildings that Carlos and his gang used to inhabit have been abandoned, although there is some sign of attempts to refurbish in the not too distant past. I gathered a floral arrangement for my dinner party this evening and thank Carlos for his generosity.

The South Table anchorage is perfect with Northwest winds, but with North winds we found that we rolled. Our buddy boat Celebrian moved on, so we decided to transit to the South anchorage. We ventured through the Norman Cut from the Sound, which looks very scary on the chart (we avoided it for 2 years) but the route is simple and the anchorage is a lot bigger than you would think. So we wait for weather to settle for our trip to Nassau.

Friday, February 19, 2010

No AAA Here!

Well, Mack the Merc outboard has finally given up. He will no longer turn over, not even a feeble cough. So imagine yourself stuck in your house with your food supply dwindling and mounds of sea glass waiting to be harvested. But your car won’t start and there are no gas stations or AAA service. Fortunately, Mr. Johnson, Goldberry’s Little Engine that Could, saved the day and towed us back home.

Hoping we can get some help at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club we left Celebrian who would explore a new location on Normans Island that we had intended to share with them and head instead to Staniel to find “Chubby” whom we are told can help us. The Yacht Club is slow to answer our VHF call, promises to get ahold of Chubby, then stops responding to us. Our frustration level grows with each call we hear them having with other boats, or even worse, with Chubby (whose alternative call sign is Why Worry, I can tell you why). Mack the Merc is not even a tiny dot on their radar screen.

In a week I need to fly to NJ, so our solutions here are limited. (As you may have noticed, weather tends to keep us frequently immobile.) We finally decide to head to Normans Cay, which is a good jumping off spot for Nassau, the center of the commerce in the Bahamas and a day’s sail away. But only after the winds settle down.

Happy Valentines Day

“Take my hand and walk with me from where we are to where we’ll be. Love is a mystery.
We’ll learn what life is as we go---no map, no answers. All I know is this: I love you so.”

From the Valentine’s Day card chosen by the Captain for the Admiral and vice versa, 2010, Pipe Creek, still waiting for the wind to subside.

The gifts made aboard First Edition to celebrate this day are pictured: one sea glass decorated stone heart and one small pocket sized stone heart for the Captain’s curious rock collection, and my heart sea bean necklace, found, shined, and drilled by the love of my life. Cord compliments of Ida from the Rockside Laundry at Black Point.

Pipe Creek Again

Pipe Creek Yacht Club was formed years ago by sailors stranded there while waiting for the winds to subside in order to move on. With the exception of our one day escapade to Fowl Cay in between cold fronts, we have been here 15 days straight. So, while you are have been shoveling snow, we’ve been pinned down in one of the glorious locations in the Bahamas, wearing sweats, usually unheard of in these parts. And we think we now qualify to be yacht club members.Pipe Creek Yacht Club was formed years ago by sailors stranded there while waiting for the winds to subside in order to move on. With the exception of our one day escapade to Fowl Cay in between cold fronts, we have been here 15 days straight. So, while you are have been shoveling snow, we’ve been pinned down in one of the glorious locations in the Bahamas, wearing sweats, usually unheard of in these parts. And we think we now qualify to be yacht club members.

Although the wind is blowing like crazy we can still dinghy over to the beach and hunt for sea glass on the Exuma Sound side. The best timing seems to be an hour after low tide. You can pick off the nuggets washed ashore while tiny wavelets gently lap at your ankles foretelling the rising tide and bringing more treasures up with each wave.

Significant Weather Event

For the last few days I have been hoping that Chris Parker of Caribbean Weather Center will change his mind about the winter storm of the decade. At 6:20 am each day one of us jumps out of the bunk and runs to the single side band radio, hoping that propagation will be sufficient for us to hear Chris telling us he was only kidding.

But he hasn’t. As a matter of fact, he continues to forecast the high velocity winds and squalls and now tells us that all the models agree.

It is Friday, February 12th, and Chris’s Significant Weather Event is forecast to escalate at sunset, about an hour away. Winds are predicted to blow 30 gusting 38 with squalls 15 knots over the gradient (38 plus 15 equals a bucket load of wind). It is howling at about 25 knots now, with First Edition continuing to sit with the current, while the wind is beating us on the beam.

A five knot increase from 25 knots to 30 is not a leap of 20%. I don’t understand the physics to it, but it is a hell of a lot more than 20%. That carunching coral reef hasn’t moved, although we did, picking up anchor to reset to get another 20 feet out to improve the scope. Hang in there Buster.

At 8 pm we turn in hoping to get some shuteye before the squalls hit around midnight. Peter sets the alarm for then in order to start an anchor watch, but really does not need to as the wind and rain arrive as predictably as the tax forms in January. We are monitoring channel 16, and some complacent cruiser with three big anchors set is telling how he picked up satellite weather, and the winds ran 70 knots in Miami. We don’t really want to know this.

Later, same fellow tells us the squalls have hit Bimini, and they are in a narrow band moving at 52 mph. This doesn’t mean anything to me (I dropped my weather course, twice) but sure sounds like I should continue worrying. Next I know it is 4:30 am, and the Captain is crawling into the bunk after his four and a half hour survey of the anchorage. He has decided the dangerous part of the storm has blown itself out, or gone North, or merged with some fancy pants system away from us. I don’t get it, but I wrap myself around my husband and I am thankful for Buster the oversized Spade Anchor, the best anniversary present I ever received.

Sometimes Things Go Fowl


We left Pipe for a short trip to Fowl Cay (also known as Chicken Cay), where our destination mirrored my mood. Several days prior I lifted a dental crown off while enthusiastically flossing and numerous efforts to reattach the cap with my onboard “cement” failed. So did my efforts to reach my dentist for advice, as cell service was kaput.

Eventually I was able to speak with my dentist’s office (the vagaries of Bahamian cell service continue to elude me) , and set an appointment for repair when I return to NJ in a few weeks to see my rheumatologist. However, assistant Carol said a fix would not be possible unless I quickly attached the crown before the gum grew, thereby rendering it useless. When I told Carol that the Cavit I had aboard did not hold, she suggested I visit the ship’s clinic or a local pharmacy for alternatives.

No Carol, I am not on a cruiseship, and no Carol, there is no CVS or Walgreens conveniently located around the corner, only a poorly stocked combination auto parts, fishing equipment, and “drug store” maybe within a three day’s sail. So, I took to the marine airwaves, calling out on the boat’s radio asking the nearby cruisers to dig deep into their own first aid bounty to see if any Dent Temp, as recommended by my dentist, had made their kit. Lucky for me, Rainbow’s End quickly replied with an affirmative. We dinghied over with a thank-you bottle of wine and picked up the hoped-for solution.

Unfortunately, that brand failed as well. Our friends on Our Turn measure the cost of any expenditure in Boat Units, where one Boat Unit is exactly equal to one thousand dollars; anything you need for a boat is this amount, or multiples. I roughly estimated that a new crown necessitated by the soon-to-be gargantuan gum growth would well exceed One Unit, and my two day visit back “home” would have to be extended, requiring another boat Unit in higher airfares for two flights, and punitive change fees.

With yet another cold front approaching, we could not take that three day sail to the pretend neighborhood drug store, but headed back to Pipe for refuge. While there, things really went fowl.

1. The outboard motor became spastic, intermittently stalling and not restarting without a significant delay, and multiple attempts. This means you can get somewhere off of the boat, but not necessarily back to it. Not a healthy condition.
2. While cleaning the switches on the electronics panel (like dusting electrical outlets at home, a one a season effort), I flipped off the refrigeration, which failed to “reboot”. After several hours of reading manuals while pondering how I was going to maintain the required temperature on my very expensive Chinese Hamster Juice medication, a ridiculous touch of a button seemingly unrelated to the problem restarted the frig.
3. At 2 am in the morning a carunching scraping noise turned out not to be a nightmare, but a real life introduction of First Edition’s rudder to a coral reef, after the boat turned to a new wind or current direction. Shortening of the scope on the anchor (reducing the length of chain attached to Buster) pulled us out of harm’s way. Not a terrific solution since the more scope you have out, the better your ability to withstand storm conditions.
4. Our weatherman’s update revealed yet another nasty front to arrive in a few days, this one “unlike any I have ever seen” he says. Winds are forecast to approach 35-40 knots sustained, and 50 knots in squalls. Just great. I would rather be home with all that snow.

I will very likely gnaw through my dental nightguard, which I am wearing 24/7 (OK, I slip it out for meals) in order to secure my dental crown until it can be professionally reattached.

Sometimes this cruising life is no fun at all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Staniel Cay

Staniel Cay is the home of the rich and famous, with huge yachts, tenders bigger than First Edition, plastic smiles, and always, a woman sitting on the aft deck sunbathing with a huge frigging straw hat, while her daughter tans on the foredeck in a tiny black swimsuit with her boobs hanging out.

At Staniel you will find the Yacht Club, which is actually quite nice but not a yacht club at all, but a local restaurant and bar that serves very decent food at a some what reasonable price. Dinner is one seating, and for about $30 or so you may have decent conch chowder, a salad, a main course, and dessert. The YC also has a few waterside cottages for rent that look adorable. We are sitting off Staniel now and I am able to pick up their internet, for ten dollars a day.

But the main reason we come to Staniel is to provision for groceries. Generally, the mail boat arrives on Wednesday. Sometimes not. It is best to hail Isles General, the largest of the stores, on the VHF to see if the shelves have been stocked.

Isles seems to have the best prices here, but some times, they don't have everything you need, like grapefruit or hamburger meat.

Homemade bread is another stop. Here a loaf will run you $6 and be sure to shut the door before the flies come in will be your greeeting.

Then you need final stops at The Pink Store and The Blue Store. The Pink Store owner is lovely and moody, and some times get confused about the calculator, so you need to check her. Her prices are much better than the Blue Store.

At the Blue Store, if the owner tells you the oranges are $2 each, say, that's too much for me, and the price could drop to a dollar.

Christmas at Sampson Cay

We followed Celebrian, who is fearless, over the coral reefs out of Pipe into Sampson Cay in order to pick up internet at $10 a day from the marina. (Here, you can buy a pint of ice cream for $4.30, so stock up!). One of the treats at Sampson is low tide, when you can dinghy in behind the marina and walk the flats, where tellin and white drills (?) are abundant. We came across Wendy from Windermere, and she displayed a beautiful helmet that she had found snorkeling nearby.

That evening we celebrated Christmas with Celebrian, as we missed the holiday we had hoped to share with them on that day. Christine came aboard jingling her bells and we played Christmas carols on the Ipod, possibly to the confusion of our neighbors. Lots of good laughs, a lovely rib roast, and more water the color of Windex surrounding us. Rob and Christine especially liked the shot we got of them last year while following them in The Bight of the Acklins. And they barely noticed our taking it!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Pipe Cay

The King of the Ocean earned a demotion to the Prince of the Ocean, managing a 12 inch Little Tunny. I did not make this name up---after searching through several of our fishing reference books we both agreed that this was the recent catch. After filleting and removing the dark meat (as recommended by one of our books) there would be enough fish for a few bites, or an banquet for the Captain.

Heading for Black Point, we were contacted by our dear friends on Celebrian, suggesting we choose Pipe Cay instead. As conditions were favorable for a ride through Dotham Cut and into the cut at Pipe, we decided that would be a grand idea. Except that I chose the wrong cut, and we ran hard, I mean hard, aground, but fortunately on a rising tide. Despite a channel with sufficient charted depths to carry our 5 ½ foot draft at low tide, Joe Cay Cut is not to be trusted. A dredge parked right where we ran aground has probably silted in the channel as he digs out a new home for a future mega-yacht. Rob and Christine dinghied up to us to provide assistance. After a half hour or so we managed to free ourselves and left the same way we came in, with Celebrian’s Admiral aboard as pilot, and we headed into Thomas Cay Cut. This cut appears on the chart as very narrow and scary, but without reason; it was deep and the chart was dead-on.

We shared hugs and hors d’ouevres and talked about our short and long term sailing plans. We will see how life unfolds as we now travel with Celebrian.

The next day we hiked over to the Sound and found some good sea glass for future projects. We snorkeled on a small reef adjacent to the boats and found remarkable coral, healthier than ever seen in the Bahamas, and the gorgeous but venomous lion fish. Walking the flats here at low tide usually results in a bountiful catch of sand dollars and small conch; we were not disappointed on this visit.

Pipe is a haven from just about all winds. We came here last year, and once with Beth, but always taking the more conservative bank route into one of the smaller anchorages. We are happy to finally have hit the eastern section especially since Celebrian will lead us out of here.

Galliot and Little Farmers

We left Georgetown with a brisk wind and had a good sail up to Galliot Cut. We entered the Cut with a 10 knot east wind at low tide at Exuma Harbor plus 1 hr 30 min, and rode the flood current running less than one knot in without any difficulty. We anchored off of Galliot Cay and explored the caves around Little Galliot, hoping to spot some lobster, which continue to evade us. After dark we swung uncomfortably close to another boat , riding to the 20 knots of wind while we sat to the current, and we both fretted that we were dragging. We let out more rode and while our angle to Amyrick continued to dismay us, determined that Buster continued to hold us in place. We had a somewhat fitful night hoping he continued to do his job.

The next morning we said the hell with everything and took a short ride into Farmers to take a $10 mooring from Ocean Cabin to ride the west winds and assure a good night’s sleep. We had met Nancy and Jim on Solitaire our last visit here, and entertained them at Happy Hour, swapping stories. Nancy and Jim have had varied careers working in animal husbandry, one as a CPA, both working for the FAA as safety examiners, and in charter air service. They hang around Farmers until its 5F party (First Friday in February Farmers Festival), helping Terry and Ernestine from Ocean Cabin prepare, and this year spearheading a fund raising effort to build a little league field for the community. (The local waters appear to have been carefully harvested of all sand dollars which will be decorated by the local children and sold during the festival to support this effort. Last year I must have collected over 25 large specimens, this year, nada, but obviously due to a good cause.)

Ocean Cabin has a small market and there is another grocery available. But the best provisioning opportunity is right at the dock. We had hoped to stock up on lobster here, purchased from the local divers, but the pickings were slim this time. We did buy a two pound tail for $15 (purchased last visit for $10, but our group did buy a huge supply and probably benefitted from a quantity discount). There was a large quantity of fish available, but the King of the Ocean promised to deliver during our next leg.

My Black Ayed Pea

Despite the significant peer pressure to remain at Long Island, we hauled anchor and headed back to Georgetown, leaving Savage Son in the good hands of Far Niente, both of whom will head to the Jumentos at the next window. We met again with Nancy and Dick on Blue Bay, who last year gave us all the details about the Dominican Republic, as they had rented from the thorny path guru, Bruce Van Sant the prior year for a month and land cruised. We arranged happy hour with them and George and Penny from Star Shot and Sheila and Chris from Never Bored, who are headed to the DR this year, and we shared details and stories. Sheila and Chris bought their catamaran in South Africa and sailed it (with a hired captain) back to the US, so had their own tales to tell.

Although some of the family will be convinced the Captain and I finally achieved their expectations aboard First Edition,Peter had an argument with First Edition and lost. He has had a delightful time, though, accusing me of spousal abuse. And Lisa has dubbed him a Black Ayed Pea (Willow calls Peter Aye-Aye).