Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Onward to the Abacos

We had been closely following the weather each morning, seeking advice from Chris Parker on when to make the 55 mile trip from Harbour Island to Little Harbor in the Abacos. This may not sound like much of a journey, but it is an open water trip, and when the seas kick up, it can be bedlam.

It was so lumpy that we decided not to fish. It was great sailing, about 20 knots on a broad reach. Six foot seas, with an occasional rogue to 8, were not the problem. Adding the 9 foot, ten second north east swell made things very interesting and uncomfortable. Only one of us threw up, but we had reports of upchucking from most of the boats we were travelling with.

It was about 14 knots of easterlies at the time we approached Little Harbor, which can be impassable in extreme conditions. My heart rate increased markedly each time another cruiser tried to reach out for a condition report, and lacking information, one persistent seeker of knowledge thought he might head to North Bar Channel, or even consider Man-o-War, 20 miles away. Checking one of our old logs, I found comfort in having recorded a good passage under similar characteristics, and as we approached today, the seas fell down a bit, perhaps to 4 to 5 feet. So, if you can ignore the breakers on the reefs along side of you, it is not too melodramatic.

We passed by the hordes of those that had made the passage that day, all anchored off of Lynyard Cay, in favor of finding a good spot to ride out the next cold front and its westerlies arriving the next day. We tried behind Wilson City, only to find the surge coming in from North Bar, but proceeded on to Black Point Cay by Iron Cay, with protection from the South through North West. It took a little work to get Buster to set on the hard bottom, but we think we have found a good spot for Michel to catch fish should he come this way and for First Edition and Celebrian to ride out the storm.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fishing Lessons

The ubiquitous westerlies drove us down to Bottom Harbor below Harbour Island, where we were invited aboard Emotion for dinner. Emotion is a Carver 36, a virtual floating condo complete with a standup refrigerator/freezer, huge living room, two cabins and heads, and an enclosed deck.

Offered this evening was a variety of freshly speared fish caught and cooked by Michel (rolled in none other than frosted flakes!), and key lime pie by Carole. The food was almost as good as the company.

Michel, of the daylight savings time fame, really cracks me up. This evening he told us that he had observed that at 6:10 two nights in a row at Rock Sound, a horn was being sounded ashore, and then again last night around the same time here. He wondered about the purpose (of course, this was Peter and others blowing their conch). We explained the Bahamian tradition of honoring the sunset, and also pointed out this would have been about 7:10 with the time adjustment! The following evening when Peter and Christine gave it their best, Michel melodically answered with a serenade on Emotion’s mechanical horn.

Having been treated to the bounty of the sea, Peter requested spearfishing lessons from Michel, and the next day was rewarded with an incredible demonstration of skill. Michel and Peter donned their snorkel gear, spears in hand. Carole and I circled with the dinghies, ready to hold out the pail for the catch. Michel caught.

And caught.

Peter would still be out there seeking if we didn't have to leave.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Harbour Island

Harbour Island, the land of the rich and famous. And then there is the rest of us...
We took a walking tour to find many shops selling very expensive clothing and souvenirs, along with a straw market selling the same ole stuff. Roosters run around haphazardly, in fact, they adorn overpriced tee shirts and ceramic mugs so appear to have been appointed the official trademark.

We hiked around with Luke and Bobbie from Attitudes and stumbled across The Haunted House which was nothing more than an abandoned mansion. Eventually we got around to the beach, which many describe as the world's most beautiful. It looked like Naples to us.

Bandit and just about every one else that we asked recommended Ma Ruby's for dinner, and the crowd enjoyed a well priced scrumptious meal, including a cheeseburger in paradise. Purportedly, Jimmy Buffet chose his famous moniker right here at Ruby's.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Off to "Briland" with Bandit

Three years ago while visiting Spanish Wells we began to feel the pull of Harbour Island, accessible with the services of a pilot boat to lead you through the aptly-named Devil’s Backbone or by the foolhardy. Here the reefs flirt dangerously with your keel, as you thread the needle through the sand bars and the coral heads. Finally, we decided to satisfy this longing to transit to Briland, the slang abbreviation of this resort town frequented by the likes of Elle McPherson.

We had a chat with Jock on Bandit, who collects the mooring fees on behalf of Cinnabar, but more importantly, serves as one of the two recognized pilot boats in the area (the other, Little Woody, seems oddly named). The fee for leading one boat on the two hour journey is $70; with our caravan of five boats we negotiated the tariff down to $50 per vessel. First Edition was lucky enough to have Jock aboard for the security of the master at the helm, as well as listening to his stories of growing up on Spanish Wells, captaining vessels, crewing on the lobster boats, and seemingly being coached in life by his sweetheart, Carolyn, wife of 44 years.

Jock had warned that he would not do the trip with strong NW winds, which (duh) were predicted. Fortunately, the next day the wind was less than 15, so around 10:15 Jock came aboard and assigned the boats a position in line: First Edition in the lead, followed by Celebrian, Latitudes, Pegasus, and bringing up the rear, Emotion, the power boat. Except for the company of Jock on First Edition, the trip was a big ho-hum. Perhaps it was a little bit more thrilling on the boats behind us as we came close to shore to avoid the sand bars, and zipped around the reefs. Two hours after we had gotten underway Bandit dropped us off in the anchorage between the two marinas, with a promise of freshly baked bread to be delivered in the morning, compliments of Mrs.Bandit.

That evening Bobbie and Luke on Latitudes hosted us for a celebratory happy hour where we met Martie and Charlie on Pegasus, from Solomons, MD. It was an especially happy happy hour, with one of those “you had to be there” moments. When Michel from Emotion debated the current time with Peter, we all discovered that Michel and Carole had missed the change to daylight savings time, nearly two weeks ago. We had wondered why these guys were often late, and he wondered why we all were always gathering well ahead of schedule!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spanish Wells

We had a long day, leaving Rock Sound at 7:15 and arriving at Spanish Wells at 5:30. This required a passage through Current Cut, and as the name suggests, the water surges through the opening from Exuma Sound to the Banks. Slack current is some where around two hours after the high and low tide at Nassau, with the ebb setting west. So, with high tide at 1130 at Nassau, slack before the ebb would have been about 1300 or so at the Cut. We rocketed through at 1520, seeing nearly 10 knots of speed with the current pushing us. We were extremely lucky to find a mooring available and picked up one of the six in total. Moorings here are $15 a night, and a 40 foot boat cannot get on mooring #1. We picked up a sporadic internet signal as well. Spanish Wells is a mostly white community of lobster fisherman, who spend their time at sea while the women tend to beautiful gardens.. It is a somewhat religious community, where no alcohol is served, and the crayfish is revered. Their Christian faith does not stop them, however, from hanging up their "bonkers" to ward off the evil spiritsIt is also the home to a few dolphin who swim in the harbor, and Rita, the manatee who is a sucker for Romaine lettuce.

Rose's on Eleuthera

Before we left Rock Sound we had a wonderful dinner experience at Rose’s, coordinated by Nancy on Solitaire, who contacted Dingles to make the arrangements. About 15 of us were picked up by Rose and transported to her hilltop restaurant. Handed a Kalik, we walked her miles of beach while dinner was being prepared.

Dinner is ordered by noon the day of your reservation; this evening she had offered grouper, cracked conch, chops, and chicken, with the usual sides of mac n cheese, coleslaw, peas and rice, and fried plantain.

Including gratuity, which is added to your bill, our total came to $37, two beers included, along with beautiful views and good company.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Birthday Burger Blast

Rob and Christine hosted me for a grand birthday burger blast, complete with a cake decorated with a sailboat and a heart bean. Craftsman Rob designed a jewelry/carrot/machine screw dish out of a conch shell as a gift, depriving Christine of the right to run the auto pilot while saving the amps to power the conch grinder. A very close look might reveal the new charm for my bracelet that the Captain found in Nassau.

And thank you all for your cards (to you folk that plan ahead),calls and emails. It is great to be tapping into the Social Security pool!

What to do at Rock Sound When You Can't Leave

With more strong winds from the northwest in the cards, our plans to head to North were stymied. Before returning to the Rock Sound West anchorage for shelter yet one more time, we decided to take a walk in town. This time we headed South, salmon against the current. We shlepped a long time before deciding this hike finally had a purpose: we stumbled upon a Bahamas Heritage Site. We had no idea what this stone lined path would lead to.

After climbing down a long ladder leading into a hole seemingly carved into the rocks, we embarked upon a great exploration into caves sprouting tendrils from above ground trees. Creeping deeper into its depths, the caves shared their magic and their eerie magnificence.

This was a lovely spot worth seeking out should you find yourselves with time on your hands and legs needing a good shakeout.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rock Sound, Eleuthera

We had a rip-roaring sail from Normans to Rock Sound on Eleuthera and hunkered down for yet another big blow, anchoring on the West side by Sound Point. Holding here is not fantastic, it took a bit of work to set Buster but we held nevertheless in the 20plus knots of gusting wind. We attempted to motor over to the settlement to do some provisioning, but had to turn around when conditions proved intolerable. So we spent the day walking around the Point looking for shells, without any great success. We did have a nice chat with Michel and Carole from Emotion, and I must note here that not all French Canadians are stuck up. Emotion is a power boat on sabbatical, doing the Great Loop, enjoying life, with a French flair.

We were first here with Celebrian and Lynn and George from Ketch N Dreams. Gee, I miss those guys who are back home filling the cruising kitty.

When we were finally able to cross the mile and a half to get to the town, we had a day packed with activities. We did our provisioning at the well stocked grocery store ($10 for a half gallon of ice cream is a bargain!) and bought some white wine for the larder. Christine and I had our hearts set on getting some craft supplies now that we both have discovered epoxy, without success. We had a good walk around town and finished the evening with dinner at Sammy’s, where for $20 you can get lobster, mac and cheese (the Bahamian equivalent of French fries), fried plaintains, and corn on the cob. And bring leftovers home!

More wonderful Bahamian signage:

And who says there is no tide in the Bahamas?!!

We love Eleuthera!

Black Point and Normans, Again

Following Lee Stocking we spent a night at Black Point, preceded by a rewarding sea glass walk and that longed-for conch pizza. Deshamons has wi-fi now so that was a bonus. The anchorage was quite full and I was happy to think that the local merchants were finally doing some business.

The next morning we enjoyed a vigorous sail to anchor by the Malabar Cays near Emerald Rock, where it was a bit rock and rolly. Then, off once again to Normans Cay to seek shelter and yes, another cold front bringing in strong winds with westerly components. While there we had a few good walks enjoying the crystal clear waters and a good haul of sand dollars on the beaches of the Sound.

I once again confirmed that French Canadians have quite the disillusion of entitlement when Mamselle, a small sailboat anchored smack-dab in the middle of the channel refused to move when asked by the locals. While we had unintentionally blocked the supply boat from docking at Lee Stocking, this boat knew it was coming, answered the call, but did not budge. Further aggravating was the fact that it picked up its anchor later that morning. Quelle domage.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lee Stocking Island

We travelled a couple of hours down to Black Point to do laundry and stop in to say hello to Lorraine. The next day we headed South in the Sound bound for Lee Stocking Island. Celebrian had anchored off of Galliot and we picked them up along the way. It was a spirited sail all the way, with winds in the 20’s and 5-7 foot seas subsiding eventually to 10 and 3 respectively. We anchored off of Lee Stocking near the channel in about 10 feet of water. The Research Center had previously advised only boats drawing 5 or less should proceed to the anchorage off of the Center. The moorings have been removed.

Peter, Rob and Christine walked while I tried to nap. The Research Center began hailing Celebrian, while the freighter Ocean Energy entered the channel, honking away. Apparently we had anchored in the deeper water that they need to reach the docks, and they had to turn around with promises that they would be back in a few weeks. Hopefully there is no shortage of fuel on the Island.

Besides the Perry Institute for Marine Research, there is nothing else here. We toured the facility and enjoyed hearing about the research into coral reefs and the impact of climate change upon them. Apparently the endowment that funds the Center is running dry. It would be sad to see the Institute shut due to lack of funding.

We had an absolutely stupid and miserable 3 hour walk along the razor rock after summiting the hill claimed to be the highest spot in the Exumas. Everyone returned with bleeding scratches, sunburn, and headaches. After lunch we fulfilled Peter’s quest of visiting the canal leading to the salt pond on Normans Pond, only to find that we had missed the high tide and could not enter.

The next morning Chris Parker announced a change in the weather that would eliminate our possibility of reaching Cat Island, which had been our plan to end the season here. So we decided to head North, back eventually to Normans, for yet another front. We enjoyed a great sail up, and Peter snagged a mahi-mahi over 2 feet long, but we lost him as we were hauling him in. Mahi-mahi is the gold prize of fishing here, so we were both disappointed. We will have to settle for conch pizza tonight at Deshamons.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Beach Party at Fowl Cay

Finally we were able to leave Warderick Wells after seven nights on the mooring, and headed to Big Majors. We arrived at noon and dinghied over to Staniel for provisions, but Isles General was nearly picked dry. We lunched at the Yacht Club and ran into Mad Cap, who told us there was a beach party planned near Fowl Cay for that evening organized by Murray and Heather on Windswept IV. This gave us the opportunity to reconnect with Celebrian, and we met after the party to plan our next adventure. It was harrowing leaving there and heading back to First Edition, as it was pitch black and we had to find the narrow opening to get over to the Majors. It would have been simple if we remembered that the Fowl Cay building was directly on the cut, but it took us about a half hour of scary searching, finding only a rock wall for what seemed like decades.

Fowl Cay is noteworthy as it was upgraded by our architect, Bill Prillaman, we think just before being sold to Sandals. Fowl Cay also serves a $100 a person dinner with unlimited cocktails and wine, which might have been worth a visit back in my drinking days for a special occasion, but, as an almost tea-totaller, we took a pass.