Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Exumas, Bahamas

(2/13/14) Dreary, day follows our busy night. Swells have all the boats rocking side to side. Since we put the dinghy up in the davits yesterday in anticipation of the overnight weather, we leave it up and spend the day on the boat working and reading.

The next day we head to Normans Cay a couple hours sail to the south. Since I had updated our blog on the previous boat bound day I was looking to do an upload, since there was no WIFI at Allen Cay. Once we get near the northern end of Normans I turn on our WIFI booster to see if we can pickup an open WIFI signal. Not seeing many buildings on Normans from the water I thought chances were slim to none, but I was bored and looking for entertainment. Son of a gun, I picked up an open WIFI, slow, but fast enough to upload without pictures.

An hour later we are anchored in the harbor on the south end of Normans. Again, always the optimist, the first thing I do after anchoring is to check for open WIFI spots. Again I get lucky and find another open connection, that is even slower, but fast enough to grab our email. Reading through my email, I read an email from Mike, a buddy of our good friend Jay Menninger, who was Jay's best man at his wedding a couple years ago. 

Sturdy Logic
We knew Mike was on a two year trip in the Caribbean and the east coast. Last we had heard, he had spent a few months in Jamaica. Anyways, his email says I just read your latest blog post (the one I up loaded an hour ago) and I'm anchored in Normans and hopefully we can meet up at some point. The last blog post did not mention we were heading to Normans. So I stick my head up out of the companionway and look at all the boats anchored in the harbor. There are only two without Canadian flags and one of them is us. As soon as we have the dink in the water we motor over to say hi. We have Mike over for dinner that evening. We mention “Mistress Quickley Too” and Mike said that they were at Norman's. We are thankful they are going north and we are going south.

East side of Normans, Mike & Linda

The next morning we pickup Mike and go for a hike to checkout all the construction activity we have been observing from the anchorage. There is a new dock, but we pull the dink up on the beach. We start walking. A construction foreman stops his passenger vehicle and offers us a ride over to the runway area. He tells us that a Greek investor is expanding the runway and planning on building a new resort. There are ruins of the former Normans Cay Club on the Harbor side. At the runway are a number of new buildings to house the construction workers. They are doubling the width of the runway and nearly doubling the length. McDuff's restaurant on the west shore, is currently closed from accounts I have read. There does seem to be some activity so I walk in and ask. They plan on officially reopening in three weeks, but will serve if you call ahead to make a reservation. McDuff's was sold to the resort company and has been closed for a while. There are some complaints on Active Captain about $18 hamburgers back in 2012, but later talked to someone who went there a day after we were there and paid $25 for a hamburger. The hamburgers must be getting better.

We hike along the beach and then hike on the road north, which is surprisingly paved, but slowly becoming un-paved. It is getting rather warm in the now noonday sun so we head back to the harbor. 

DC3 remains, from a 1970's water landing
In the harbor the remains of a DC3 airplane still pokes out of the water. The plane was a drug running plane of Carlos Lehder Rivas who was moving Columbian drugs to the US. Rivas closed the island to visitors, shut down the hotel and bar and restricted flights to protect his smuggling operation. One mistake he made was chasing off Walter Conkrite, a sailor and frequent visitor to the restaurant and bar on the island. In December 1978 Conkrite noticed the Harbor was empty and was told they could not come ashore or anchor. Later in 1981 after the Bahamian and US authorities shut down the drug operations Conkrite testified at Rivas trial in Los Angeles.

The DC3 crashed surprisingly, with a load of sod that was being delivered prior to picking up drugs. Apparently the pilot was doing a number of touch and goes on the runway and lost lift on his last turn around over the harbor. From old pictures the plane landed intact without any injuries. They just left it there and bought another one. I wonder if Rivas, ever got his grass delivered.

The next morning we take the dink north to Normans Pond, a fully protected pond with a very shallow inlet.  I am not sure I would even try to get in there at high tide with our 4' 8” draft. There were a few trawlers and catamarans in there, but no mono-hull sailboats. We stopped by a reef on the way out for some snorkeling. Later stopped by to visit with Mike and then left around 2:00 PM for Shroud Cay about 5 miles south, hard day of sailing.

Spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the boat. Early the next morning our Canadian friends Jock and Val dinghied over for a short visit and asked if we were listening yesterday on channel 16. For some reason we had turned off the VHF after we were anchored and were totally oblivious to the emergency going on a couple boats over from us. The owner of a large trawler had severed his thumb off. I assumed he got it caught in the windlass. Two days later we found out that he picked up a mooring line and got his thumb caught in the rope trying to hang onto the line. It was a windy day and I assume his partner did not keep the boat engine in forward until the line was secured and he got his thumb pinched between the rope and cleat. Sometimes you just have to let go and try again. Also found out he was new to boating and his partner even less so. Fortunately, some smart cruisers with their radios on came to the rescue. A ranger in Warderick Wells arranged a flight from Normans to Nassau on a plane that was parked there, once they located a pilot. The thumb was re-attached in Nassau.
Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, protected area, take nothing.

Shroud Cay has a lot of mangroves and creeks which you can navigate in a dinghy or kayak (no jet skis allowed) in its interior. The first creek we motor into has a path to a well, that we checkout. Don't think I would want to drink the water in the main well. Lots of stuff growing in it. One of the other unofficial wells looks much clearer. One creek on the north end crosses the island all the way to the east side. Most people with dinghies try to go through at high tide, but we start a mid-tide and have the whole place to ourselves. Pretty cool slowly motoring through the mangrove lined creek up to the exit on the eastern shore, where the trade winds are kicking up some surf. We pull the dinghy up on a protected beach out of the current flowing out into the ocean. What a gorgeous place, if we brought a beach umbrella and a cooler I could of spent the day here. We take a short hike up a trail to “Camp Driftwood”, apparently some beach bum lived here back in the 60's. It was a DEA look out spot to monitor Carlos Lehder Rivas up on Norman in the 70's. Anyways, full 360 degree views, could of stayed there all day turning in circles, but with concerns about the approaching low tide, we decide to head back to the west side of the island.

 View from Camp Driftwood

 Two happy sailors, interestingly, with all this sun I think my wife is becoming a blond.

Creek exit to the Atlantic side

In the afternoon we do another long 1 hour, 15 minute sail further south to Hawksbill Cay. We hike up to another 360 degree vantage point. I notice directly in from us a small stream flowing down the beach as low tide is approaching. We pull up the dinghy and walk up to another mangrove area. Late that afternoon I put on my snorkeling gear and replace our shaft zinc which I noticed a few days ago had completely disappeared or fallen off. I was waiting for an anchorage without any current to attach a new one.

Typical Mega-yacht with play toys. 

Both our boats
No Green Flash
In the morning I notice that the beach with the small stream is completely covered in water at high tide. We hop in the dinghy and find the water is deep enough to motor over the beach, which is now a shallow sandbar, into the mangrove creek. We motor up the creek for about 30 minutes. Don't want to get stuck here so we head back out. Interestingly, this creek is not shown on the charts. Maybe I should get naming rights, hmm, any ideas for a good name, for a not so long river ?
Dinghy dock at Warderick Wells
Wednesday (2/19) morning we head to Warderick Wells, Exuma Park Head quarters. We get lucky and get the last mooring in the very protected North mooring field. Linda kept nagging me to call, score one for the nagger, zero for the naggie. The north mooring field at Warderick Wells is in a very narrow channel with a fast moving current, but has good protection from waves in all directions. After we pay up for our mooring I try our cell phone to connect to the internet. Standing on the west side of the porch at the office I am able to download a couple emails. Of course I write a reply and can not get a connection to send it back out. We go for a hike and an hour later at another high point with a view I get a brief connection and send out my reply.

The next day we hike up to Boo-Boo Hill where cruisers leave drift wood with the names and dates of their boats. I thought we would look for John and Genie's which they left back in 2006 or so. The oldest sign I can find is 2009, but we do find another “Island Time”. Later I asked the ranger how often they clear the stuff out of there. He claimed they don't, the storms do it for them. I assume once the signs get blown off the pile they get removed for good.

Boo-Boo Hill, mooring field in background

Walking back to our mooring on the sand bar
Friday (2/21) we went snorkeling, but there was a lot of wind and current which made it rather difficult. As I said the channel with the moorings is very narrow, but the bay is quite wide, most of it being very shallow sand bars and much of it exposed at low tide. At low tide this becomes a play ground. Some people will be sitting in waist deep water drinking a beer 2 or 3 boat lengths away from their boats on the mooring. Late in the afternoon, we get out of our dinghy near the Head quarters building and walk it about 1/2 a mile back, adjacent to the channel, to our mooring, in one or two feet of water. Every moored boat we walk by offers to tow us back to our boat, assuming we are out of gas. I say thanks, but we are just out for a walk.

Mooring field, Manana on the end
Later at Head Quarters we catch up with Sea Major, Natalie and Mitchell from Columbus, Ohio on a multi-year adventure. We first met them at Bimini and they left the same day we planned on leaving before I decided to do my fuel and water separation project. They got well across the Banks and dropped anchor for the night. By late in the evening the winds picked up enough that there would be no sleeping, so they pulled up the anchor and sailed into the next morning towards the northern Berrys where they finally got a little relief from the waves to anchor. Not all that different than our transit of that area.
Thunderball Grotto
Manana from Thunderball Grotto at low tide.
Left the next morning, Sunday (2/13) for Staniel Cay. As we were motoring in on the last leg, we see Val and Jock, “Dutchess”, come up behind us. We get chatting on the radio and find out that their GPS is not working and they would like to follow us in. I feel like such a wuss, but I don't know how I would get into some of these harbors without a chart plotter. Even worst having a chart plotter app on the iPad makes navigation even lazier, I just point with my finger to layout a course. Anyways, we lead Jock and Val in and we anchor just east of “Thunderball Grotto”. As we were coming in Gertie hails us, they are anchored on the other side of the Thunderball Grotto. We haven't seen them since Nassau. We head in to town for some grocery’s. Heard the mail boat was just in so stores are restocked. Apparently there was some long lines at the largest of the three stores on Staniel. By the time we get in the crowds have left and we go to the “Green” and “Pink” stores, the smaller two. No name on the buildings they are named by their color. We find everything we needed at reasonable prices. We buy a chocolate covered ice cream bar just before we leave to split. First bite and the very soft ice cream inside nearly runs out. It has obviously been refrozen many times, yuck!

Late in the afternoon near low tide we snorkel in Thunderball Grotto, it was a film location for some action movie back in the 60's, can't seem to remember the name. We discover that the Grotto can be entered from both sides of the island. At high tide you have to dive under to get into the east entrance. The top of the Grotto is open to the sky, so noontime is the best time to be in there for maximum light. It is a pretty cool place.

We shower off and head into the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for dinner with Gertie and Walter Mitty (Glenn and Barbara). We are getting smarter now, every time we leave the boat in the afternoon we turn on the mast light. We always get back later than we think we will. Sometimes it can be very hard to find our boat in the dark.

The next morning we snorkel Thunderball Grotto again from our boat, since we are anchored so close to it. That afternoon we head into Staniel Cay Yacht Club to play dominoes with Dutchess, Gertie and “Inspiration”, Tony and Liza from Toronto. In the background we get to watch some of the last day of the winter Olympics. Monday morning we head over to the Big Major to Piggy Beach to visit with some of it citizens. There are numerous Hog Cays in the Bahamas, but this is the first Cay with actual hogs. They come swimming out expecting to be fed. The secret is to keep the dinghy out far enough so they can not get their feet on the bottom, because they can climb into your dinghy. The're such pigs ! If you go ashore do not take food with you, unless you want a 300 pound hog chasing you down the beach as we witnessed with one sailor running for the water.

Manana and dink

We head to Black Point in the afternoon, another short sail. Black Point has a well known laundromat, “Rockside Laundry” with it's own dock. A very popular place. Cleaner that any laundromat in the States. The owner is working there the whole time it is open. Very busy place. We have lunch at Desmonto.

Landry at Black Point
 Later that evening we go to Happy hour at Scorpios and end up having dinner and playing dominoes, with the same cast of sailing characters. Many other boaters that we have met before are there.
Dominos, Dan, Dawn (Gertie), Lisa (Inspiration), Barbara & Glenn (Walter Mitty), Linda

The next day we go for a long walk to the eastern side of Black Point and have dinner at Lorraine's, another restaurant. We plan to head to Little Farmers Cay the next day. We wake up at 6:00 AM and close the hatches when a squall comes through. By 8:00 AM the bay at Black Point which is exposed to the now west wind is rock'in and roll'in. The place is clearing out fast. Getting the dinghy and motor up to go is a bit of work under these conditions.
Ocean Cabin with Terry Bain
We get into Little Farmers Cay around noontime with Gertie and grab moorings. After lunch we head in to pay for our moorings. We get a soda at Ocean Cabin and talk with owner, Terry Bain. a well educated character who loves to engage visitors in political discussions. If you don't like debating or defending your views, some people can get rather uncomfortable engaging with Terry. I always like a good debate and different substantiated views. We get to learn about Bahamian politics.

Friday, Chris Parker's forecast calls for potential squalls so we decide to stay another day. The wind swings to the north and we take a very wet dinghy ride into Little Harbor. We are all soaked. We stop by to pay Terry for another day and lets us hose off with fresh water. We go for a long walk to the west side of the island. Farmer Cay is very different from Black Point. There is a fair amount of top soil on Little Farmers and actual grassy lawns, Black Point is mostly gravelly limestone. We head back to Ocean Cabin for a late lunch and more verbal interplay with Terry. I love the sign on the side of Ocean Cabin.

Hours of operation

Most days about 9 or 10
occasionally as early as 7 but some
days as late of 12 or 1
we close about 5 or 6
or maybe about 4 or 5
some days or afternoons
we aren't here at all
and lately we've been here about all
the time, except when we're
someplace else.......
but we might be here then, too

He loves our boat name – Manana

The next morning I have too climb up our backstay and tighten up our radar, before we leave for Georgetown. We leave Farmer Cut. We the current opposing the Northeast wind the cut is rather rough. Once we clear the cut we are on a running reach with head sail only. The rolling motion was bothering Linda and she pulled out the heavier duty sea sickness medicine. We run with the engine off for much of the trip. Gertie pulls away from us because they are motor sailing, because Dan is fishing. Terry gave Dan some tips on fishing and one of them was to move at least 6 knots to fish for Wahoo, using a jig that bounces along the surface. We get a call that Dan has a hit, but the fish throws the hook.

At one point Linda tells me that the electronic wind gauge is not correct. I look up and see that our VHF antenna appears to be bent over blocking the wind pointer. Later we look up and the antenna is no longer there. Well, I guess that is going to limit our radio range. I guess that is why we have not heard much activity on the VHF radio. We go to the hand held radio.
Sign post at the Chat'in Chill
Volley ball beach
Sunday we sleep in. Chris Parkers day off, ours too. French toast for breakfast. We later go ashore to Volleyball Beach and the Chat and Chill. We play dominoes and partake in the Sunday Pig roast for lunch. Busy place with dinghies lined up on the beach.

Monday morning I go to a seminar at volleyball beach on batteries, solar panels, etc. Very informative.

I head back out to the boat, Linda is chatting with Sea Major. When they get ready to leave, their engine will not start, so I start to tow them back to their boat, halfway there they get their engine started.

Every morning at 8:00 AM is the morning cruisers net on VHF channel 72. Local business advertise, activities for the day are mentioned, arriving boats introduce themselves, items for “sale”, help needed, etc. It can be quite entertaining and someone ends with the thought of the day. So far my favorite is;

Bridge is like Sex
If you don't have a good partner
You better have a good hand

Then back to Channel 68 so people can connect up with help or items needed or available. I love it when they have a vegetarian potluck announcement, meeting at Hamburger Beach. After our second day I inquired about where I can find a 3 foot whip antenna. One boat, Triad, comes back and says he has a spare 3 foot whip and another boat, Journey, has a complete antenna. I connect up with Triad, Tom Cox on a Trimaran from Gloucester, Mass. The whip is a 3 foot long stainless steel rod about 1/16 of an inch in diameter, exactly what I need. He won't take any money for it and says pay it forward. I leave his wife with a bottle of wine. In the afternoon I go up the mast and take down the base of the antenna to fix and also take off the wind speed indicator which has stopped working, again.

We run into Sea Major at the dinghy dock in town when we go in for water. They have trouble starting their engine again. He is getting some good advice from another fellow and after he puts in a new spark plug (the old one is fouled) and cleans out the carburetor bowl it runs great. The next day they are heading south. They are planning on getting to Grenada or Trinidad for hurricane season.
Sea Major
Electronic work bench
I fix the antenna and work on the speed indicator. After much testing it seems to be working correctly. I clean the contacts on the connector. The next morning I climb back up the mast and replace both items. Linda turns on the instruments and the wind speed is working. Before I start back down I hand tighten the connector some more. When I get back down and check the wind speed it is no longer giving a reading. The VHF works fine. Must be a problem with the other end of the connector. I will go up this weekend with a drill and clean out the connector receptacle.
Sturdy Logic at Georgetown, from our Mast
That afternoon we attend an ARG meeting. ARG ? Alcohol Research Group or in pirate talk Arg.
Actually, it is really an appetizer potluck beach party. I bake brownies and have none to take back, good. I would of eaten them all.
ARG meeting
The next day after another morning of an electrical seminar and dominoes we head in town for lunch and WIFI. Not fast enough for Skype, but good enough for everything else. We stop at BTC to add more data to the cell phone. I was hoping to get access to their WIFI, but no luck. They do have a laptop for customers to use. I connect to my Skype account and quietly talk to my mother for 25 minutes at 10 cents a minute versus 1 dollar a minute using my cell phone. They don't toss me out, good.

Today the winds are blowing pretty good and swings from southwest to northwest. It is fairly rough so we hangout on the boat avoiding the wet sloppy dinghy ride. We make an appointment with the pump out boat, but in true Bahamian fashion he never shows up. I guess that is somewhat unfair, since we had the same problem at Vero Beach with the pump out boat. Annapolis, had the only reliable pump out boat that we have seen. Well, tomorrow we may go for a sail and do the “3 mile” pump out. I suspect there are a number of boats that pump out into the harbor. I know in the British Virgin Islands, when we charter, the boats do not have holding tanks, so the “affluent get to swim with the effluent”.

Saturday morning is my chance to “pay it forward”. On the morning net, Will on a West Sail needs some watch type batteries for his tester for his water maker. I had bought an assorted pack of watch batteries at Harbor Freight at some point and have a couple that he needs. Will tells us the story about what happened to a boat "Raven" that went up on a reef coming into the harbor late afternoon, yesterday. We had just gone ashore for dinner and did not hear what happened on the radio. The boat which we have seem many times on our trip down here, apparently, got off course, and hit the reef hard and was sinking. Once they got on the radio a whole bunch of cruisers ran out with pumps, hoses, generators, ropes ,etc. They managed to get the boat off the reef with the help of some local Bahamians and kept the boat afloat until they could drive it up on the beach. We will be hiking by there this afternoon to see how they are doing.