Saturday, March 25, 2006

This is why the updates are so boring (see below for update).

We're still in the Georgetown area, but we've moved around to Red Shanks -- a very protected anchorage about a mile south of town. Much quieter than the Volleyball Beach or Hamburger Beach scenes. There's only about 10 boats here compared to several hundred in the main harbour, and we can sit out wind from any direction here and not have to re-anchor.

We did enjoy a few days of the Georgetown cruisers' experience. Yes, they do play volleyball at Volleyball beach every day. There's even a kids' court for the under 15s, and a list of rules on the bulletin board so there's no squabbling. There's lots of wooden tables for the scheduled afternoon bridge games and lessons, and for Beach Church on Sundays, not to mention the watercolour classes, basketweaving classes and afternoon beer drinking (no classes offered). Pedro's Conch Shack on the beach has great conch salad if you don't mind waiting in the hot sun for 20 minutes while he whips up a new batch, and the Chat n' Chill is good for beers, margueritas and bbq'd food. That's if you can get over the powerful surlyness of the big Bahamian woman behind the bar. Lots of the cruisers seemed to be on a first-name basis with her, so I guess they sort out some kind of working relationship that involves her giving them beer. She must get sick of this all-white crowd that never goes to work, and won't go home.

We've been doing our email at Balsound Electronics, a small music and electronics store that also has folding tv trays and chairs and cruisers seated all over the store checking their email. Don't get there at opening time, cause buddy is always at least a half-hour late for work in the morning. After checking the email, you can go round the corner and pick up a cold can of Guinness (for St Patrick's day) and walk back along the dusty road to town, stopping at the van marked "Mom's Bakery" to pick up bread and goodies. There's a hardware store, a couple of gift shops, a Scotiabank, a couple of small restaurants, a straw market and a food store. We're not spending much money, cause there's not that much to buy. I stopped at the market the other day and bought three cans of juice and a grapefruit, just cause I felt the need to go shopping. Yesterday, we spent $2.50 on 25 gallons of water, which Randy jerry-canned from Georgetown Marina.

The local people are nice, particularly "Mom" at Mom's Bakery, and the ones that are a bit abrupt can be forgiven. The population of their town is forever more than doubled with the relatively affluent boaters who land here and stay and stay and stay. They spend money, but it must be irritating to have your town full of tourist/traveller-types that are making themselves at home. Like us.

It's a very wet dinghy ride to town from here, so we only go when we really need to (beer), and we covet those big, hard-bottom dinghies that go roaring by. But we were sort of relieved to leave the main harbour with all the dinghy traffic, not to mention the very yappy dog about three boats away from us. But when we anchored at Red Shanks, with about seven or eight other boats in view, sure enough, we were greeted by a very yappy little dog. Why, I ask, why? This is balanced by a wonderful thrush of some sort that sings its little heart out a couple of times a day on shore just behind our boat. There's also a pair of osprey that we see and hear now and again, and a local turtle, and the usual ballyhoo that try to jump into the dinghy, or like last night, just thunked straight into us as we were coming back from movie night on Vixen.

This is supposed to be a work period for us. I've put together a canvas canopy for the cockpit, which is not particularly elegant, but we had the canvas, and hand sewing is rather soothing, and it keeps the sun off. Randy's changed the oil, slung the hammock -- a dangerous disincentive for work -- and run the wires and connections for the SSB. Varnishing keeps getting bumped to the bottom of the list. Maybe next week. We've also worked our way through the mahi-mahi: pan fried, barbequed, pan fried, barbequed, and then we shared the rest of it with Paul and Denise, cause they only had serro and snapper. We'll probably be here another week, then when and as the weather dictates, to Conception Island, Rum Cay, then either Samana or Acklands, then Mayaguana, Turks and Caicos, and on to Luperon in the Dominican Republic. We're probably looking at about two weeks for this next stretch of island hopping once we get on the way. Most of those islands are deserted, but I'll post again when I can.

(and a note from Tom: "Anywho I think you should liven up the blog a bit, nobody reads the whole thing they say they lose intrest half way through. You could make it shorter? See what happens when i'm not around!?" )

Friday, March 17, 2006

Nassau to Staniel Cay - March 2 to March 12

Lovely to be back on board after an excellent visit in NS. Weather there was balmy and calm the first day I was home, after that, it turned cold, nasty and every day that I needed to drive somewhere, the snow came down thick and fast. I was giddy by the time I got off the plane in Nassau, and Randy and I had a great day or two until I came down with the cold that I picked up courtesy of American Airlines.

We stocked up before we left Nassau, and headed for Allan's Cay. Very pretty white beach with a couple dozen big iguanas dozing in the sun. Several times during our stay, a speedy tour boat arrived from Nassau and a load of sunburnt bikinis got off and fed the iguanas lumps of something, took pictures, then roared off again. Ergo, whenever a boat or dinghy hits the beach, the iguanas all skitter over, hunker their crotches back into the sand and wait for the grub to arrive on the end of a stick. Some of them look fit to bust, they're so fat.

Next day the germs caught up, and the next week was given over to cruising with a cold. Felt like crap, but at least I could bake my sinuses and achey bones in the hot sun. We headed to Norman's Cay, and spent one hellish rolly night bobbing around. Woke up to hear via the VHF that the neighbours had rescued a boat with an elderly single-hander aboard. He'd fallen asleep with his autopilot on and ended up on the rocks. He was okay, but he'd lost his bobstay, and a few other bits and pieces were seriously dinged. That day, a bunch of us moved out of the swell to the inner anchorage at Norman's, and we waited out a mild cold front and the bad head cold there for a few days. We ran into another Halifax boat there - Prion, which we knew from its previous home at South Shore Marine, and had a few great chats with Norris and Marina about how it feels to abandon your mostly grown children to their own devices.

Location, location, location. In the 70s and 80s, Norman's Island was a major drug transfer point for Colombian cocaine. Billions of dollars going through. We heard one story about a man on a houseboat who anchored and was very pointedly told to move on. He said he like it, and was going to stay as long as he pleased. He went off on his dinghy the next day, and came back to find that a helicopter had lifted his boat and deposited it on a nearby hill, where you can still see the remains. "Now, you go," was the command. Don't know how he got out of there, but you can bet he did. There's also the remains of a wrecked DC3 in the inner harbour. No cocaine around, but there's a dump of shocking proportions with everything from refrigerators to airplanes to boats to surfboards. Several abandoned resort-type buildings with excellent examples of wallpaper from the 1970s.

Sailed to Warderick Wells and the Exuma Park Headquarters on March 8. I hate to keep saying stuff like this, but wow, eh? The water is just shockingly gorgeous, and the view anywhere you looked was beautiful. The islands are very dry and rocky, and the water all round is, like I said, wow. I didn't snorkel cause I was still so stuffed up, but we had a great hike over some very rough terrain, visited BooBoo Hill and Brown Dog Beach, where we opened up the knapsack and drank cold Kalik and ate crackers and cheese and apples. Tough life. (They're looking for new wardens for the park headquarters if anyone's interested.)

Two days in Warderick Wells, then we sailed (motored, short chop, wind on the nose, 25-30 knots) to Big Major. The beach there has three pigs that come down to greet dinghies. Same deal as the iguanas, I guess. Lots of free food.

Round the bend to Staniel Cay, and Thunderball Cave, where one of the early James Bond films was made. Bits of it, at least. Snorkelled there this afternoon, and it was, like, wow. More live coral in more incredible colours than I've seen anywhere, and lots of fish (saw a slippery dick, Tom!). First real snorkelling I've done in the Exumas, and I wasn't put off at all by the three foot barracuda that's taken up residence under our boat, or the dozen nurse sharks and rays that hang out at the yacht club when they're cleaning the day's catch.

There's a friendly little community here, and a pink grocery store and a blue grocery store. One is rather untidy and eclectic, and the other is extremely well ordered. Nothing much to buy in either store, but the conversation at the pink store is lively. The lady behind the counter told us about a Canadian fella that races the local boats and beats them regularly. "Dat one fast nigga," said the lady at the store. We bought juice and water from the pink store, and pink kleenex from the blue store. The only box they had. I've never purchased pink kleenex before, but since Randy inherited the head cold, we were very glad to get it and didn't mind paying $2.25. Capt and crew were feeling much better by happy hour, and headed for the yacht club. It's loaded with cruisers and their laptops since the wifi is free, the drinks are half price and there's free conch fritters.

Staniel Cay to Black Point. One of our favourite Bahamian communities so far, and the best laundromat in fourteen states and umpteen islands. Clean, reasonable, and the best view ever. Had lunch at Lorraine's while we waited for the laundry. Actually, lunch at Lorraine's Cafe takes a lot longer than the laundry. Five or six tables full of cruisers, but first she has to feed her kids that arrive at noon from the school next door, then she starts cooking lunch, table by table. You serve your own drinks and write down what you drank, and everybody pitches in to set the tables. We got there just before noon, and were finished by 2:30. While we were waiting for lunch, I walked back to the laundromat and folded all the clothes. Then we came back in the afternoon to pick up bread we'd ordered from Lorraine's mum. Had to wander around a bit until it came out of the oven, and watched a large group of little kids run races and zoom by on their bikes. They all said hello, and one five-year-old told me my watch was beautiful. Back to the boat, skipped supper, slept 12 hours.

Black Point to Little Farmers. Another nice anchorage, hot, hot day, friendly folks ashore. Met Willa Mae who showed us the shortcut to the Batelco office, bought a new phone card and called home,left messages for family members who are never home when we're ashore, then watched the conch man clean some conch for another cruiser. Man, those things is UGLY. Every time he hauled another one out of the shell, he passed the spinal thingy over to his four-year-old son to eat. Looks like a piece of clear spaghetti, and it's supposed to put Viagra to shame. The little guy just twirled them around and played with them. I'm not sure he wanted to eat them either.

Little Farmers Cay to Georgetown. Long day motoring, very hot, no breeze, a bit rolly. I was feeling a bit blah and sweaty, so I went below about midday and had a shower, and then Randy went below to do the same. I was driving, he was just finishing up his shower, and I turned around to check line we were trolling, and had to holler FISH and cut the engine. Randy pops up on deck, starkers, while I'm pulling the line in. Earlier we'd picked up a two foot barracuda and threw it back, but as I got this fish closer to the boat, all we could see was bright, bright blue, a bit of yellow and some red marks. Randy was feeling a bit exposed, so he went below for some shorts while I kept hauling the fish in (put up something of a fight, ran back and forth, and splashed around a fair bit), and a few minutes later, we had a three and a half foot dolphin aboard. At least some of the splashing and dashing back and forth it was doing was because a shark was chasing it and took a couple of hunks out of its back while I was hauling it in. That was the red that we saw. God. It was a very fraught couple of minutes, but very exciting. So now we have about eight really big fillets of the freshest fish we've ever seen sitting in the freezer. (Randy cleaned the fish. Not me. Gorey mess in the cockpit.)

Georgetown has lots of boats. Lots and lots. About 400 maybe. We plan to be here for a week or so to work on the boat. Randy keeps making noises about the varnish, but we'll sort out the SSB and a few other things first, then we'll go for the cosmetic stuff (and haircuts). Fish for dinner. See below for new photos.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nassau to Black Point and return: men only trip, Feb 15 - Mar 1

RMS here. Picked up Ian at the Nassau airport on February 15th, after having ditched the female crew member that morning. Got him settled aboard, complete with Transderm patch to combat the fierce motion at the Yacht Haven Marina. It worked. Next morning, a final trip ashore for a case of Kalik before departing. Tide was already running strong, and it took two attempts to clear the berth, and we left with a nasty gouge in the topsides from a nail sticking out of a pile. Wind was a little far ahead, so we motorsailed with the main up, winds 20-25 ESE, which meant that the boat was completely drenched by the time we arrived at Highbourne Cay. (White sand beach, walk, visited by ruddy turnstone bird doing the round of the anchored boats looking for snacks. He preferred potato sticks.)

From Highbourne to Norman's Cay next day, and anchored off yet another gorgeous white sand beach. Interesting exploration ashore of the ruined drug-smugglers' houses and other buildings, where millions of dollars worth of cocaine were transhipped in the 1980s. No signs of the reported bullet holes in houses from the DEA raids that eventually shut the operation down.

Highbourne to Shroud Cay, which has really cool mangrove swamps for exploring by dinghy, which we did, and kept running out of water since we were on a falling tide. You can get over to the other side of the island if you go on a rising tide.

Shroud Cay to Warderick Wells and the Exuma Land and Sea Park, where you have to book a mooring in advance because of its popularity. Paul and Denise found a beautiful anchorage off Emerald Rock, since all the moorings were full. The island is maintained by a park ranger and volunteers from the yachts, and has numerous hiking trails, and the famous BooBoo Hill, where cruisers leave mementos from their boats. Basically, it looks like a junk heap. We explored a couple of trails and fed the bananaquits.

Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay, outside in Exuma Sound. We were hoping to catch a fish once we cleared the park boundaries, since there's no fishing in the park. Also, no fish outside the park, as far as we could tell. Paul trailed a line and caught a small albacore and lost something else. Anchored off Thunderball Cay but the holding was bad, it was like anchoring in a parking lot. We shifted around to Staniel Cay Yacht Club (really a bar and marina) and found good holding there. Staniel Cay is an interesting community: three grocery stores - the Pink Store, the Blue Store, and the other store by the airport where you can take your dinghy right up to the store's dock. There was also a little kid roaring around on a minibike who did nothing but blast around town and honk and grin as he passed. Ian went snorkelling at Thunderball Cave and saw all sorts of fabulous fish up close, but no Sean Connery. Conch fritters and Kalik at the bar.

From Staniel, we shifted to Black Point, which is a pretty, non-touristy Bahamian community. Real friendly people, free water at the town taps, and Lorraine's Restaurant, where you can get the best coconut bread, baked by her mum. Also the best laundry that we've found anywhere in our travels. Spotless, everything works, and it's reasonably priced. Benches outside with a great view of the harbour. Best view from a laundermat that you'll ever find. Great grouper at Lorraine's for lunch. School kids were out in force since it was mid-term break - riding their bikes, jumping in the water, generally having a good time. Everybody stopped to chat. The ladies sat under the trees weaving straw, men too, with their cell phones beside them.
Sailed from Black Point straight back to Highbourne Cay, to avoid a front. Tried for a berth at Highbourne Cay Marina -- we were #6 on the list, and didn't hold much hope, but just as we altered course to go to Norman's, they called and said they had a berth. Highbourne for two days (waiting out the wind - SW 25-30 knots, then NW 25-30 knots). Highbourne has a great beach, excellent roads, funny signs, and a flock of birds that invaded the boat looking for handouts and leaving deposits. On Tuesday, Feb 28th, we headed back to Nassau for a crew change. Good sail, quartering wind, made good time under full sail, and promptly ran aground about 10 feet off the dock at the Nassau Harbour Club. Seems there's a shallow ridge there that the dockmaster knew about but didn't mention. We arrived at dead low tide, so we sat for an hour and a half and finally tied up at a slip on the other side with deeper water where we should have gone in the first place. No harm done, we had lunch, put on the sail covers and tidied up. Saw Ian off the next afternoon after we walked over to Atlantis in the morning and latched on to a guided tour and got a free tour of the entire aquarium and casino and learned all kinds of interesting facts. Paradise Island is so far removed from Nassau it might as well be on a different planet, even though it's just over the bridge. Sterilized for tourists - no garbage, traffic jams, bars on windows, smelly sewers, or otherwise typical features of a tropical city.

Sue returned on March 2nd, so it's back to the laundry and shopping reports. This connection is very bad and very slow, so watch for pictures at our next stop.

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