Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Days 108- Norman's Cay

Days 108 to 111 Normans Cay and MacDuff’s Beach Club

Friday, March 18 to Monday, March 23, 2009

After our wild sailing “whichever way the wind blows” day on the Exuma Banks, we were mighty happy to anchor up behind Normans Cay where we had been about a month before. It all looked very familiar and we knew that it was a good place to anchor. Also, this is the very place that the giant spiny lobster came out of its hole to greet John during our previous visit. Of course, nothing is ever the same. The wind was from a different direction than before and it caused the waves to pound us all night so we decided to move the boat to anchor west of the cay the next day. But before we moved away from that lobster hole, John had to go visit. We don’t think that ospreys catch lobsters, but this osprey and his mate glowered at us as John snorkeled around trying to find his lost lobster. Guess we were just disturbing their little windswept island.

Having found no lobsters, we were really hoping to find the one restaurant at Normans open this time. The new anchorage was very close to the restaurant—just a short dinghy ride to the beach and a short hike up the path through the trees. The restaurant—MacDuff’s—was our best discovery here—a delightful place. We hung out in Norman’s Cay for four days hiding from the strong winds and waiting to sail to Eleuthera eventually. Time spent on the boat was very bouncy—even in our second anchorage—so we were mostly at MacDuff’s. Hopefully, you can tell from these pictures that it was a very pleasant place to be as the food was excellent, it had free internet connection, and we got to watch some of the early March Madness games on their TV.

Many of the restaurant customers fly in from Nassau or nearby islands. The air strip was right beside MacDuff’s and was always busy. Pictured below is a float plane that almost landed on top of us as we dinghied over for Sunday brunch. No kidding—we were just motoring from our boat to the beach when this guy swooped down and landed right beside us. Then the pilot climbed out on the pontoon shouting something to us. I thought it was perhaps an apology, but it turned out that a couple of his passengers weren’t good swimmers and did not want to wade through the chest-high water to the shore. Funny, huh? I stayed on the beach and John motored out to the plane to bring the grandparents ashore. The other folks waded ashore with their kids riding on their shoulders and pocketbooks on their heads. The pilot later explained that he had planned on landing on the airstrip, but had blown a tire—good thing he also had pontoons! Then he had not realized that the shore was so rocky that he could not motor the plane right up to the beach. We must tell you, all his passengers seem happy to have this unexpected adventure as they had on bathing suits and water sandals. It seemed like a lot of trouble for brunch, but when we thought about it we had to admit that it was much less effort than sailing to MacDuff’s!

The rest of our MacDuff’s pictures are below. We have featured the unique bathroom at MacDuff’s. It was not one of several bathrooms or just the men’s room—no-this was the ONLY bathroom. We think you can figure out what’s what in all the pictures!

Next we’re going to back to Warderick Well (Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park) and get in a good position to head north to Eleuthera when the wind direction becomes favorable.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 107- Sailing Whichever Way the Wind Blows

Day 107--- Sailing Whichever Way the Wind Blows in a Ship of Fools

On Thursday, March 17, 2009 our plans to explore Eleuthera have been put on hold until the new cold front winds calm down a bit and start blowing from the south or at least southeast. Getting to Eleuthera from the Exuma Cays is about a 30 nautical mile sail north across the deep dark blue waters of Exuma Sound. Since our average sail speed (on a good, breezy day) is 6 knots at best, you can see that the crossing to Eleuthera will take at least 5 hours and getting to a good anchorage will take a couple of hours more. If everything works according to plan, it is a full day of ocean sailing. We definitely will be blogging more about that when we get to a good weather window. Until then, we have no firm plans except to relax and continue to enjoy the Exuma Cays. So with that in mind we headed out from Warderick Wells Cay to “whichever way the wind blows.”

And, where would the wind blow us on this lovely day? We decided to let the Caribbean Soul decide which way she wanted to go, but she seemed to be confused.
To give her more time to decide, we sailed west out into the light blue waters of the Exuma Banks away from the Exuma Cays. Once we got out on the Banks, we thought sailing “whichever way the wind blows” would be obvious. Yes, well, at first we thought we should sail north (northwest) up the Exumas to Norman’s Cay with the wind right behind us. The wind was light and our efforts to sail downwind with both the jib and main got us about 2 knots of boat speed and a constant fight to keep both sails filled. Caribbean Soul did not seem too happy with that.
Well, maybe we missed the obvious. Maybe CS wanted to sail south (southeast) down the Exumas back to Staniel Cay again. So, we turned CS around and sailed as close into the wind as possible in the opposite direction. After about a half hour, we realized that CS would need to constantly tack back and forth in order to sail in this direction and the winds were just too light to make much headway in this direction.
Now is the “Ship of Fools part” that we knew you were waiting for. We turned CS around one more time and returned to the very slow downwind sail to Norman’s Cay. The folks on shore must have gotten a good chuckle out of watching this crazy sail boat sail back and forth for two or three hours!
Suddenly, we both knew what needed to be done—CS obviously wanted to fly her spinnaker—why didn’t we realize that earlier? So captain and crew dived into the project. We dug up the spinnaker from its hiding place below the v-berth, rolled up the jib, dumped the spinnaker out on the foredeck, attached halyard to head, tied sheets to clew, led sheets back to cockpit through the special snatch block on rail, ran tack line to the cockpit, lowered spinnaker pole and attached it to clew, raised pole’s topping lift, hoisted spinnaker while controlling sheet, trimmed sheet, raised snuffer sleeve, said a prayer, and poof the sail inflated. It’s a sailing miracle! And, of course, we performed this task like a well-oiled machine, with grace and aplomb—NOT!
The spinnaker turned out to be a great help as it increased our boat speed to 4-4.5 knots and it looked great—honest! The spinnaker ride lasted for about 1 ½ hours and the wind/weather began to change. Down came the spinnaker (oh, all that hard work!) and what was once a slow downwind sail became a fast broad reach in the same direction. The sky clouded up and threatened to rain. Then, suddenly, the wind stopped—nothing—no wind—totally becalmed! Capt. John insisted that we wait it out and resist the urge to crank up the engine. Finally, the wind did come back and we sailed on to Norman’s Cay arriving around 6:30 pm. This 20 mile trip ended up taking about 8 hours, but we sure got to do a lot of different kinds of sailing! A fun day—no kidding! Next time, however, we will be less cavalier about sailing “whichever way the wind blows!”
*Sorry, no pictures. We were busy!

Day 106- Warderick Wells

Day 106- Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park

Wednesday, March 16
Yay! We got a great mooring at Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park on Warderick Wells Cay—it was close enough to the Park Office that we were able to get the wireless internet right on our boat! After we tied up to mooring #12 as assigned by the park lady on the VHF, we went ashore to pay for the mooring and the 24 hours of wireless internet. The park office was filled with lots of other things we needed as well. There was a good book exchange and many plant, bird, and fish identification books. Nancy and Tom had already fixed us up with a good West Indies bird book and the trails around the island labeled lots of plants, so our real need was a fish and coral identification book. We found a great one that not only identified fish but asterisked ones that were edible! Sweet—just what we needed—and the pages were waterproof too!

The wireless internet ended up fairly useless as it came and went—mostly went. My plan had been to stay up most of the night and get caught up on the blogging and emailing-oh well. As it turned out, I got a good night’s sleep which is certainly a good thing.
Exploring on Warderick Wells Cay was fun. We took the 15 minute hike to the top of Boo Boo Hill and read all the plant identification signs along the way. Boo Boo Hill is topped with a messy collection of drift wood signs. It must be some kind of tradition or something, but boats carve elaborate (and some not-too-elaborate) signs with their boat names, capt. & crew names, and dates to post for posterity. We enjoyed reading the names—recognizing a few. It seems that they don’t last longer than a season or two up there on the top of that windy hill. Pictures are below.

In addition, there were beach and bird explorations. The main beach on Warderick Wells can be seen below. There is a re-constructed 52 foot sperm whale skeleton on the beach posted with signs telling us that the whale died because it ingested plastic items—bags and such. It was a warning to all of us to avoid careless garbage bag tossing!

The birds are bananaquits who love sugar. At the park office folks are allowed to feed them (see picture of several birds in hand at park office), but all the brochures warned that feeding birds and other wild life is forbidden as it’s not good for them and makes them dependent beggars.

So, if you think you recognize our cockpit and my hand in some of the pictures, we claim total innocence—we were not feeding that bird! It swooped down on us and stole that sweet stuff from us—honest! Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Days 104 & 105 Fowl Cay and Rocky Dundas

Days 104 & 105- Fowl Cay, Compass Cay and Rocky Dundas

This is the blog for Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17
Leaving Staniel Cay was hard, but there is so much to explore and time’s a wasting! Our sail up to the edge of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) was sunny and pleasant. As you may know or suspect, spear fishing is not allowed in the Park and John was still looking for that lobster that wants to be our dinner!
We stopped and anchored in the lee of a privately owned cay called Fowl Cay (one of several Fowl Cays in the Bahamas). The anchorage provided good protection from the strong winds, but the current was so strong we worried that we might get pushed into the sharp limestone bank in the middle of the night while we weren’t looking. So on the second day we moved the anchor a little farther out away from the shore. Here are pictures of the limestone shore and me fixin’ lunch in the cockpit.

On our way to spear fish/lobsters in the nearby reefs we discovered a beautiful white-sand beach on Compass Cay. There is a resort on Compass and several large motor yachts were hanging there. Here are the pictures from Compass Cay—nice, huh?

We also discovered that we could dinghy over into Exuma Park area and visit some caves famous for their stalagmites and stalactites in Rocky Dundas. The Park placed several mooring balls for dinghy parking right outside the caves. We left the fishing spear on the big boat—lest someone official think we were violating Park rules—and snorkeled into the caves from our dinghy. Again, we have no pictures for you, but the caves were impressive. They were smaller than Thunderball Grotto, but lit similarly with the hole in the center of the ceiling. I thought it looked a bit like a miniature cathedral with a loft of pipe organs (the stalagmites and stalactites). Also, similar to Thunderball, the surrounding reef was home to many beautiful tropical fish.
Tomorrow we will be heading to a mooring in Exuma Park—hopefully. We called on the VHF two days ago and are patiently waiting to be assigned a Park mooring. Can’t wait to see what all the Park has to offer.

Days 99-103- Staniel Cay

Days 99-103 Staniel Cay

This is the blog for Wednesday, March 11th to Sunday, March 15th.
How lucky can we get—Wednesday was our third leisurely sail in three days! On the way to Staniel, we stopped at some coral reefs. John was certain that there were lobsters down there on those reefs waiting for him to come spear them. So at about noon we diverted off our course and threw out the anchor for a while. As it turned out, the lobsters were not quite ready to be speared, but John had a nice snorkel and I had a nice nap in the dinghy while he searched the reefs.
We made it to Staniel Cay in time for happy hour and pizza at Club Thunderball. Here are a collection of Club Thunderball pictures for you. They include (not necessarily in this order) the following: 1. the interior, 2. the patio, 3. the dinghy dock, and 4. Miss P.V. our favorite bartender.

Our time in Staniel was not all fun and games and hanging out in Club Thunderball. Our dinghy met with minor crisis as the rising tide pinned it under Club Thunderball’s dock. It was taking on water over the gunwales when we discovered it! The good news is that the dinghy did not sink or puncture. The bad news is that water got in the fuel disabling the outboard motor. So, John used our backup propulsion (rowing oars) to get us back to the big boat. He spent the next couple of days taking apart the outboard and drying out the parts. I got busy doing a major hand-wash-the-laundry-aboard-the-boat project. After all that, we motored the big boat over to Staniel Yacht Club Marina to purchase new gasoline for the outboard and to fill up our fresh water tanks. We found a general store in town that filled up the propane tank and had eggs, milk and butter—WOW! Documented in pictures below are the outboard repair and the boat laundry day.

On Saturday afternoon at low tide, John and I went snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto that was in the James Bond movie. Unfortunately, we don’t have a waterproof camera so we have no pictures of the Grotto. It was, however, impressive both above the water in the Grotto and below the water on the reef. The huge limestone cave-like grotto has a big hole in the ceiling (like the pantheon) so there’s plenty of light inside. The underwater part is full of beautiful, tropical fish—queen angelfish, blue headed wrasses, sergeant majors, and lots of big blue parrotfish. The best we could do with pictures for you is this picture of the outside of Thunderball Grotto below.

Sunday morning, we decided to take advantage of the internet connection at Club Thunderball and complete our state and federal income taxes online! Yes, a bit of the REAL WORLD invaded our day in paradise. The Club was closed but we sat on the porch and hooked up to the internet anyway. It was nice and quiet. And, we got the job done!

Later Sunday, we took a hike to a lovely lagoon located on the banks side of Staniel Cay. In these pictures you can see the dark blue ocean (Sound side) roaring just beyond the peaceful little light blue lagoon. John and I climbed the limestone cliff that forms part of the divide between banks water and sound water. Wow! What a place. Staniel may be our favorite Exuma Cay.

Get to the Point and Stick to the Point

Day 98- Black Point Settlement

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The wind was gentle and the sun was shining—just right for a leisurely sail to the next anchorage. Although Black Point Settlement was just an hour away, we decided to stop there for the night. So, we anchored and headed ashore for lunch in Black Point.
This little village was charming! The first sight was a welcome-to-Black-Point sign along the sea wall that said: “Get to the Point and Stick to the Point.” The cruising guide said that there were 300 people in the Settlement, but it seemed that there were really only 30 or so and they all were outside doing stuff. The school kids were walking home for lunch, the women sat under shade trees along the road weaving straw baskets, and everyone spoke as we walked past. Lunch was at Lorraine’s CafĂ© and Lorraine had freshly baked bread and free internet! And then, if all that weren’t pleasant enough, Black Point has FREE Drinkable Water! The settlement has its own RO (reverse osmosis) plant and everyone is welcome to help themselves to any of the RO spigots along the street. This may not sound like much, but in The Bahamas fresh water is a valuable commodity. We have spent as much as 50 cents a gallon and in many places you can’t get fresh water at all! Caribbean Soul can store about 80 gallons of water and we like to fill up all at once when possible, but we are happy to haul water out to the boat 5 gallons at a time when the tanks get low.

Other supplies—eggs, milk, butter—were not available today. The nice lady who ran the grocery store said that she would have those items as soon as the supply boat arrived (whenever that might happen!). A fellow boater in the store offered to give us some of the eggs off his boat because he was flying home soon. It turned out that this was the same guy who helped us with boat bumpers the day we were pinned to the Exuma Dock about a week ago—nice guy!
And, while we are sharing all of our house keeping tasks, you will be glad to know that Black Point allows cruisers to leave their bagged garbage in a bin at the dock. Yay hooray! This is real civilization!What a nice day.