Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Piece of Cake!

I conquered two fears today, and have learned to blow a conch shell successfully, after practicing for a week. J

One of the fears was the result of having overturned our dinghy (with me in it) last year, when I tried to stop behind someone else’s boat. I’ve been a little nervous about driving Small Change since then. But today, we needed food, and Jeff was too busy with other tasks to leave the boat. So off I went on my own to Little Farmer’s Cay – a fair dinghy ride away on a slightly rough sea.

I landed the boat successfully at the dock, and was rewarded by sighting stingrays, sharks, sea turtles, small fish and larger grouper – all around the boat! And the best part was meeting a local fisherman, who had been attracting these creatures with the remains of red snapper that he was cleaning, two of which he sold to me for our dinner tonight (see pic below). That trip ended with another successful docking at our boat on the way back – so now I trust my ability with the dink!

The second fear conquered was related to our miserable experience in crossing a cut the other day. Both of us took that wake-up call very seriously, and have been researching cut crossings since. Today we negotiated two different ones – leaving Little Farmer’s Cay, and entering Rat Cay – both a piece of cake, because we planned for the right timing of wind and tide.

In between, we had a delightful sail, and then motored for about 4 fours on fairly big waves to our current anchorage – where I managed to get a decent sound out of a conch shell (like blowing a trumpet – which I’ve never done). The tradition here is to blow your conch at sunset every night – resulting in a cacophony of somewhat eerie sounds bouncing around the harbor.

All in all, a very successful day, which ended with a gorgeous dinner of whole fried red snapper and a glorious sunset – what more could anyone want?

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Navigating Through a "Rage"

Well – today was one to remember, and learn from! We had spent four days resting up in Staniel Cay, as Jeff recuperated from a bout of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Yesterday, I rented a rickety bike, and toured the Island on my own, and then bought fresh grouper from the returning fishermen for our dinner.

Today, Jeff was feeling well enough that he suggested we sail north to Black Point – only about five miles away. The wind was on our nose, so we tacked, close-hauled (for non-sailors, zigzagging back and forth to keep the wind in our sails) in about 15 knots of wind – a wonderful 2.5 hour trip!

Wonderful, that is, until we entered the “cut” that takes us from the Exuma Sound on the Atlantic side, where we were, to the shallow Bahama Bank, where we wanted to anchor.

Bad idea! Before we knew it, we were in what felt like a washing machine of 10-15 foot waves, churning in all directions, splashing water over the side of the boat into the cockpit, and scaring both of us to death L.

My captain held the boat steady through it all, while I held on to the boat – both of us terrified. We made it through, but agreed that in 25 years of sailing together, this had been the scariest experience we’ve had. And we also agreed that we need to learn much more about navigating these cuts safely – a good wake-up call. The pic below of the inside of the boat shows the devastation created by all the rolling around we did.

I spent the rest of the afternoon calming down in the laundry, while Jeff rested. Another day in Paradise.

Thursday, 24 March 2016


007 we’re not – but today we finally snorkeled the Thunderball Grotto (where Thunderball with James Bond was filmed, in Staniel Cay) – after three years of trying! The conditions need to be perfect – low, slack tide, no wind, lots of sun to provide enough light to see the gorgeously coloured large and small fish, and the overhead dome pierced with dramatic shafts of sunlight slicing down into the water. Otherwise, the tidal current can be very strong inside the cave, and each year we’ve tried, that’s been the case, until today J.

On Monday, our NB guests left, and since then we’ve been hunkering down, waiting out the cold front that just passed through. It’s a bit like a rainy week at the cottage – cloudy skies, cool, continuous, too-strong wind – keeping us mostly below decks.

But we entertained ourselves with photography and reading (Jeff), painting, baking and practicing choir music (Marilyn), and generally “kicking back”.

Now that the sun is shining, we’re provisioned, and our tanks are full of diesel and water – so tomorrow we’re off again, this time to Black Point to do laundry and maybe find some gluten-free bread from the bakery there for Jeff.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Made it to the Exuma Land and Sea Park!

This will get posted a little later than I’m writing it, as we’re now sitting in a pretty, though rolly anchorage in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, with no connection for the next few days L. We’ve been trying to make it back here to the park since we by-passed it on the way from Florida three years ago!

We’ve spent the last week steadily making our way up here in gorgeous, calm, turquoise water, with no wind (unfortunately). But we’ve anchored in some amazing places along the way, including Rat Cay, Little Farmers Cay – a wonderful little settlement where we had breakfast at their tiny perfect “yacht club”, and Staniel Cay, where we wandered the roads and trails, ate a great lunch at a local spot, and bought fresh fish from the fisherman at the Yacht Club dock. As they cleaned the fish, they threw the waste back into the water, to be quickly gobbled up by the nurse sharks and stingrays, who come for “dinner” every day at 3:00 pm.

Then we motored for three hours to the Exuma park, which is a conservation area, known for its snorkeling and hiking grounds. For the last few days, various parts of the boat have been giving up – our anchor light, GPS, autopilot – all necessary, though we were managing without them. Then today, everything started working again (except the anchor light) – yeah!!

That was great – but then we were surprised, towards the end of our trip today, by a rogue wind that blew (on our nose) up to 24 knots, unexpectedly (not predicted until next Tuesday!). We bashed our way through 3-foot rollers and anchored in a spot that was so rolly our stuff was flying around below at anchor L.

Not great, we agreed – let’s move. So we moved to the Park’s mooring field and with lots of difficulty because of the heavy wind, managed to pick up a mooring on the third try and tied ourselves up in a more protected place, close to the beach, for easy dinghy access tomorrow. Much better – we relaxed and congratulated ourselves with gins and tonic, and are looking forward to exploring the park tomorrow. More anon.

(Written the next day …)

Today we took a treacherous hike over a marked coral head trail (cairns of rock piled as markers) – exciting and exhausting. Our guests hiked for three hours to reach the admin. building in the Park, where they paid for our mooring and got a weather forecast. Jeff and I decided to turn back halfway, and went back to our dinghy on the beach to wait for our friends. They arrived back with the news that two storms were on their way – so we all boarded Sea Change and high-tailed it back to a safe, quiet harbor at Staniel Cay. Looks like we’ll need to try another year to snorkel in the Exuma Park.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Cruising the Beautiful Bahama Bank

Hope all is well at your end, as you head into wonderful Spring. We are also having better weather - warm, sunny though windless days - perfect for puttering up the Bahama Bank from Cay to Cay. Paul and Beth have decided to stay with us until the end of Easter weekend  - so we're having lots of adventures with them.

Yesterday, after a beautiful swim and snorkel off the boat at Rat's Cay (no rats :) - we moved to a better snorkelling ground and met someone who had just caught two huge lobsters. Jeff almost fell out of the dinghy with excitement (it barely held the four of us and all our snorkel gear as it was). But, although Jeff has a Hawaiian sling for catching lobster, we didn't fish or snorkel in the end, as the current was so strong we would have ended up out to sea within minutes of trying. Not sure how those other guys managed it.

Instead we went back to the big boat and got in the water holding the safety ring, and with our masks could see quite a lot of coral and fish right under the boat. But that meant it was getting pretty shallow - so we high-tailed it out of there to the next anchorage at Salt Pond, where a crazy current had boats floating in weird directions. We were comfortable for the night though, so after a lovely pasta dinner and watching the stars on the deck, we all fell into bed at 9:30 - big day in the Bahamas!