Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sorry, no beach pictures this time around.

I'm here in Nova Scotia with the rest of you bluenosers, freezing and collecting salt on my shoes instead of sand on my bare feet. Flew home to surprise my dad and help him celebrate his 80th birthday. There are some things that are well worth a trip to Nova Scotia in February.

Spent a week in Yarmouth with family, and now I've got a few days with Anna, Laura and Tom. Friends are wining and dining me, which is great, but I'm looking forward to heading back to Nassau in a couple of days, but sans Tom this time. His job at the bike shop will be starting up soon, and he's looking for digs. Randy's son has been on board and they've been exploring new stuff while I've been gone.

Next post, I'll be back to shorts and flip flops!!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Marsh Harbour to Nassau photos to go with the update I posted earlier.

Marsh Harbour to Nassau

No connection here at Royal Island, but I'll use a lazy afternoon to try to remember where we've been. Days of the week and dates are continuing to be a problem because there's so little to distinguish them, beyond changes in the weather. Lots of soul music, big choirs this morning, but religious programming is a daily thing on the local radio stations, so it's no clue that it might be Sunday. We heard an ad for church services where the pitchman made it sound more like an ad for a monster truck rally or a live show with a pile of country music stars - "Make your plans and BE THERE!" Then back to big soulful choirs until the 8 o'clock news and weather. Local news: "Little Bobbie Sawyer has risen to the challenge set by his fourth grade teacher and has received an award from the Literacy Council for reading 20 books and submitting books reports on each one. Most of the boys in his grade only read one or two books. Congratulations, Bobbie Sawyer." We bet that Bobbie Sawyer has trouble in the playground for the next little while.

Weather reports are crucial (do we move, or do we hang out?). The Cruisers' Net comes on the VHF from Marsh Harbour every morning at 8:15, and you can hear it in surround sound from all the boats at anchor. Patty gives the weather, the top news, messages, new arrivals, departures, stock report, trivia question, open mike, then a recap of the weather. Patty is so cheerful it's hard to bear some mornings, but everybody listens. There's a Canadian, can't remember his name, gives a weather report in the evening, also on VHF, and one night before a cold front he put out a "cuddle alert." We also get Chris Parker on the SSB, and he gives a very comprehensive forecast. The Bahamian radio forecasts are sort of what you could figure by looking out the window, but all in all, there's lots of information.

We stayed a couple of days in Marsh Harbour, enjoying the cosmopolitan benefits of the grocery store and the shops where women can go and look at things that might interest women who might have been feeling cooped up on a boat, and perhaps wanting to buy a few small trinkets for all the poor loved ones who are freezing their butts off at home. Takes the edge off the homesickness when you think of it that way.

The NS ladies patted ourselves on the back for finding a really nice laundromat where the washers were only $2 a load, so the morning after we got in to Marsh Harbour, we find ourselves gaily stuffing washing machines full of sheets, salty towels and sweaty tshirts, only to find that the dryers were 25 cents for TWO minutes. Twenty bucks later, I had four loads of clean laundry and a bag of damp jeans and towels to hang on the lifelines. It was very choppy getting back to the boat in the dinghy and I told Tom there was a cold beer in it for him if he got us and the laundry back to the boat dry. Good man, that Tom.

We ended up doing a day trip to Guana Cay, but the anchoring and shelter didn't look right to the captain, so we came about and sailed back via Man O War. Two of the other NS boats went in and jigged around, but there wasn't space to anchor there - lots of boats - so we sailed back to Marsh Harbour. Nobody minded - we had a great sail. On Friday, February 3 (I know because it says so in the log), we sailed up to Treasure Cay, another nice sail, another shallow entrance, another small harbour with lots of boats. Treasure Cay is a resort area, with a golf course attached that we never did bother to get a look at. Lots of small town-house-like units painted pink and blue and green, a restaurant, pool bar, pool that never had anyone in it, beach bar, and stupendous beach. The beach is about three and a half miles long. There's some new construction happening, as well as some small beach condo or hotel spots, but for the most part, it's pretty deserted this time of year. Bahamian construction sites are odd - there's never very much going on.

Tom and I did the big beach walk (Randy is still suffering with a bad knee), all the way to the end where we found the trail through the jungly bits that brought us out to the very end of the island and a plaque explaining about the Loyalist settlers (didn't make a real successful go of it and went elsewhere after a while), and another bit of white sand beach with plastic garbage.

Garbage, have I mentioned this?, is a regular feature on the beaches everywhere. It comes in with the tide, it goes out, in, out, but mostly it just gets blown up on the beach and stays there. Beach glass is also ubiquitous, only it's not smooth little pieces of green and blue glass, it's sharp hunks of liquor and beer bottles. Still, Tom and I had a great walk at Treasure Cay - it took about two hours or more, and my calf muscles were sore the next day from all the walking in the soft sand. A Treasure Island pedicure. Sat out a cold front at Treasure Cay and watched the squall approach. You can feel the temperature drop dramatically just before the rain hits and the wind starts to really honk. Then the afternoon's entertainment is watching to see who is dragging and what they do about it, if anything. Things cleared overnight, there were no collisions, just enough drama to make it interesting. (The fella with two anchors out on rope instead of chain, him? He dragged.)

We got some supplies at the Solomon's grocery store - eggs at $1.69, a hefty brick of cheese for 3 bucks. If you wanted cranberry juice, a litre would set you back 8 bucks. Tortilla chips were six dollars (we passed). At the cash register where you'd usually find candy and magazines, they offered beach novels and condoms. We did find the blackstrap rum we really like, only $12.30, so you win, you lose, no trouble. Before we left Treasure Cay, Tom filled the water tank, jerry canning from the tap at the fish dock. No one was there, no one seemed to care, so all the NS boats filled up. We sat and watched a couple of small barracuda hanging about under the dock. Superbowl was also on apparently.

We left half of the NS fleet in Treasure Cay - Voyageur C and Sea Holly are starting to think about turning around for home - so Vixen and the Nancy Dawson said our goodbyes to them, and sailed off to Lynyard Island, anchored and Tom rowed me into shore where I collected little shells for about 10 minutes until a cloud of little bugs discovered us and followed us back out to the boat. Tom found us a plastic milk crate for the dinghy, so I'm not always trying to crawl over the anchor and the line and the bailer and the life jackets when I get in. It's the little things that matter.

Small world: just after we left Treasure Cay, I had a chat by radio with another boat sailing past flying a Nova Scotia flag. Turns out they run the campground in Annapolis Royal and they know my dad.

A long day to Royal Island on real ocean the next day. What a switch to go from pale green water, seven feet deep, to big blue water where the depth sounder reads "- -", meaning something over 600 feet deep. I try not to think too hard about it. A couple of times we saw groups of pilot whales, once they were just lolling about on the surface. Flying fish really fly - 15, 20 seconds - just scooting like little hopped-up silver fairies. Wind was on the nose, flat water with a bit of a swell, warm and sunny, so we hauled the main up to steady things, but had to motor all day. Coming in, we could see everything on the bottom in about 17 - 20 feet of water. Amazing to fly slowly over big starfish, coral heads, rocks, rays, grass, urchins, sand (and occasional tires, concrete blocks, bottles, a car axle, fiberglass panels...).

Fishing is a regular pastime, not that there's much to show for it most days. On the passage to Royal Island, Paul (on Vixen) had a five foot long mahi mahi on the line at one point, but the line broke and he lost the fish and the $25 lure. (The VHF is great - we get instant updates about all this excitement). We didn't get a bite to report all day, in spite of switching from one tempting looking lure to another. We've seen lots of turtles here, or the same turtle many times, and at intervals there will be a small commotion near the boat, with small fish leaping out of the water chased by something rather larger.

Tom was the first to dinghy ashore and explore Royal Island, but he was back to report that the skiff tied up at the decrepit dock had empty gun cases aboard. They were back again in the morning - three guys in full camouflage. They didn't tie up their dinghy properly, and were hanging about on the shore watching it float away, so Tom rescued it (dinghy rescue is his part-time job) and found out that they're from Spanish Wells, over "huntin wild hawg." One was wearing bright white skater shoes along with his camo gear. Ma and Pa showed up later with guns, again in camo gear, though Ma also wore blue polyester pants. Isn't camouflage gear sort of all or nothing? We never did hear any shots.

The island has some interesting ruins from a large plantation - several buildings that have been used by the local youth to hone their spray-painting skills (among other pastimes). The vegetation has also taken over wherever bits have collapsed or been blown off, and the whole place hasn't quite reverted to dense woods. We were startled (okay, I was startled) by a black thing flying out of one of the buildings. At first I thought it was a bat, or a bird, but it was a black butterfly about the size of my hand. We wandered across the island to the other side, and Paul and Tom did some snorkelling, Denise slipped and broke her toe (she's a stoic and didn't mention it until later). We found several conch, but they were just a bit too small to be legal food. Just as well. I'm not sure I'm ready for the drama of excavating conch from their shells. The guys scouted some more fishing spots and speared a bunch of small fish which we ate for dinner, but I must say, I'm looking for them to bring back another one of those big snappers. Tom also caught a foot-long barracuda, which was added to our bait bag in the freezer. Barracuda have their own special stink, which this guy spread around the cockpit until I stood on him with my flip flop and Tom sedated him with alcohol to the gills. Ziplock bags are good for so many things.

Friday - Royal Island to Rose Cay. There's weather a-coming, so we headed south and tucked in behind Rose Cay, which will only be okay for tonight and tomorrow, before the front comes through we'll have to shift over to Nassau harbour. No breeze this morning, so it was the usual motorsail.

Just when we were getting into the snooze groove, Tom spotted some porpoises up ahead, and for the next 10 minutes, we watched 24 of them ride our bow wave. Crazy fun. I'm hanging on with one hand and taking pictures as fast as I can with the other, which is why the pictures are so lame. It was really cool though. Vixen was a mile or so behind us and they got the same show.

Minor fishing excitement: We were dragging a line, alternating the red and black and green fancy dress lures, then Tom picked up the rod and let out a pile of line with a big silver flashy thing (there's a name for these, it's a secret), and one minute later, I look up from my book (Nick Hornby columns, really good), to see a two foot fish leaping out of the water. Good move, because he got away. So Tom hooks the same lure up to the trolling line, and two minutes later, the lure has been eaten by something and we haul the line in again. Tom rigs a better tooth-proof leader and puts a smaller lure out which spends a boring afternoons bouncing about behind the boat. I predict lure shopping in Nassau. Sailing and fishing: long hours of boredom punctuated by
occasional bursts of adrenalin.

Rose Cay is a wee bit rolly, but interesting. We had a bit of difficulty anchoring, dragging a bit in the turtle grass, and when Tom hauled it up before resetting, there was a conch shell balanced on the anchor. Really. And there was a big trigger fish circling the boat. Later, waiting for the macaroni and cheese to cook (no fish), I looked up from my book (see above) to see a ray leaping out of the water doing flips. So distracting.

Sunday: Friday night, Rose Cay got rollier and rollier as the tide came up, and by about 11pm we were doing the rocking-horse boogie. Very little sleep for anyone. Randy got up at around 4 and by that time, we had started to drag - just a couple of boat lengths - but there was this nasty lee shore right behind us. So on goes the engine and the capt keeps her in position until the sun comes up and we can up anchor and go.

Upping the anchor was, of course, not easy. We were hung up on a big piece of metal. Tom did a great job of anchor-handling.There's a tricky balance between extricating the chain from the debris, and making sure that it's not too tight so that the next swell hauls the bowsprit off the boat. Between the boat handling and the anchor hauling, we were finally loose just after sunrise, but without good light to read the water, Randy got us out of there between two underwater rocky bits with the aid of the gps and Tom on the bow watching for coral heads.

After a full night of rolling, I was feeling pretty lousy at this point, and it didn't help to look forward and see Tom going up and down about 20 feet with the bowsprit every few seconds. But the sun came up, we motored into Nassau, ate pancakes, and got a slip at a marina (sounds easy, right? two knots of current up the bum, wind blowing us off, and a slip that's ten feet too short for the boat. Within seconds, there were six or eight other cruisers on the dock providing able assistance, and the capt landed us with very little drama. Except for the appearance of a power boat whose engines quit right behind us and crashed into our dinghy on the davits while we were manoevering. As my sister would say, "I think it's time for a Pussers").

We spent the rest of the day wandering downtown with the seething masses of monied flesh that poured off of two monster cruise ships. You just don't want to be sharing a small town with that many people on the way to buy jewellery and Cuban cigars and souvenir spoons. The people watching was amazingly varied and entertaining, and they were all around us all the time. We stopped at Hammerheads on the way back and had a beer and some conch fritters to soothe our frazzled nerves. On our way back to the boat, somebody on another boat hollered "Randy!" Here comes today's small world episode: It was Norm Raine from Halifax. He put the engine in our boat last year. He and his wife Sarah Jane and the people they were visiting, Mike and Bonnie, came over later to visit, and we got some good advice about places to visit from Mike and Bonnie, and a good Halifax gossip with Norm and Sarah Jane.

Today, the promised front is going through. It's pouring rain (freshwater wash for the boat!) and we'll hang about and do some boat jobs and maybe laundry here at the marina. We have fairly reliable wifi, so send an email. I'll post a bunch of pictures later today.

Friday, February 03, 2006

New photos - Green Turtle Cay to Marsh Harbour

Thursday, February 02, 2006

It's just after 8 am and I'm sitting in the cockpit with a coffee. Light breeze whuffling the green water of Marsh Harbour. The neighbours are moving around, the ferry is coming in (wake to follow and slosh my coffee around), and Randy is cooking bacon and toasting coconut bread. I have a slight headache. We were out until all hours (9 pm) with the NS cruisers, and we started on our boat with a tasting session of all the various rums we've picked up in the Bahamas. Ray and Heather brought "Fire in de hole" which spawned a lot of nudge-nudge/wink, wink type jokes. Bill bought a couple of bottles that he wasn't particularly impressed with, so he poured them together. By the time they leave the Bahamas, he'll have a fabulous and unique new blend.

They all go down pretty easily with fruit juice, ginger beer or tonic.

No serious damage to report (although it was low tide and with the cockpit full of people we were aground by the second round of drinks), and we did manage to eat a meal ashore.

Marsh Harbour is a neat little town, a couple of big grocery stores, liquor (relatively cheap), wine (about like at home) and the all important electronics and hardware stores. We got all our propane bottles filled here, even the Canadian bottles, so we're good for about 3 months of good home cooking.

Speaking of which, we got good fishing advice from a gentleman in New Providence. After much teasing about our lack of skills, he sold Ray some Ballyhoo for bait, told us to cut it up in thirds, put it on a hook and throw it overboard. "You can't do that, can you?"

So we did, and Tom's patience was rewarded at about sunset. I'm below cooking mundane spaghetti sauce, and I hear an urgent call: "Get up here and grab the gaff!" I look up, and the rod he's clutching is bent waaay over and the fish has run under the boat. Randy grabbed the gaff, and a minute or so later, they landed a big gray snapper. I made them eat the spaghetti dinner anyway, and we had fish the next night. It was delicious.

The next day, Paul caught a big serro while trolling a line on the trip from Green Turtle to Marsh Harbour.

Green Turtle Cay was a nice stop for lots of reasons: Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar and Goombay Smashes, the cracked conch at the Wrecking Tree, the fresh-baked coconut bread at Sid's Grocery, and the beautiful beaches. We did lots of walking. Randy and I chose to walk left when we got to the beach, but subsequent walks were always to the right after we met up with a large Rottweiler patrolling a section of beach. Man, we backed out of there fast, and picked up the first big sticks we could find. Didn't need them, but it helped to still the pounding of my heart.

We coped with the typical telecommunications problems on Green Turtle Cay. We could sometimes get a wifi connection, depending on which way the boat was swinging. Calling home was a challenge. Bill asked the Kevin the Dockmaster (aka "Special K", frontman for the Gully Roosters, number one band in the land) if he could use his phone card in the payphone on the dock. "Man, you'd have more luck pointing that card at the stars."

So those who had to make calls bought island phone cards, and walked to the payphone up the hill at the Batelco office.

We had a nice trip through Whale Cay passage, calm and flat, and we've had two days to reprovision and explore Marsh Harbour. Today we're heading out to Great Guana, then maybe Man O War. I'll check in again and post a pile of photos when we get a better connection.

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