Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tess!

January 27, 2011

We started this morning at 8:00 am with a snorkel into (drum roll please) Thunderball Grotto – as in ‘Bond, James Bond 007’ fame.  We arrived at a perfect slack tide (no ripping currents to terrify me) with a very flat sea (easy viewing, no wind to give a chill, no surprises) and with 5 other dinghies of boats from this anchorage (safety in numbers, remember I wouldn’t let Tony in to Rocky Dundas because it was only the two of us).  Let’s put the icing on this birthday cake:  one of the boats with us (Flying Fish) has a certified dive instructor/Marine Biologist/RIW (Really Interesting Woman) (Janet) who was awesome before, but she said she’d go and ‘spot’ me since she knew I was a certified Nervous Nellie and her husband who could be Bond himself but he really does some of the stuff – like, used to own and run a crab boat in British Columbia – yeah, like The Deadliest Catch Guy.   

The snorkel was great.  Michelle and Vern of Enchantment; Dawn and Randy (our actual snorkel organizer) of Nirvana Now, Beth and Scott of Painkiller; Flying Fish and Endurance were all there and had great viewing.  I need to get the movie again to prove to Tony I’m just like Pussy Galore!

After the snorkel, we headed back to our boats and learned that Painkiller had a starter problem.  While I came to Endurance, Tony and a small village of guys worked with Scott to diagnose and plan repairs to Painkiller.  Returning to Endurance, Tony set right to work on my birthday present:  my Lookee Bucket!  Previously we took a walk to the landfill to dispose of our on-board trash, and scavenged a ‘new’, well-used but serviceable 5 gallon bucket.  Tony scrubbed it up, cut out the bottom, screwed in a piece of plexi-glass (thanks to Enchantment!) and did a final seal with silicone goop.  Works like a charm!  Think: glass bottom boat, or telescope to the underwater from the dinghy.  We can watch fish, coral, sea bottom, and of course, our anchor!  

The Lookee Bucket.

Well, after hearing about our day today over the radio, Messenger coyly said, “well today was a pretty special day wasn’t it?  Anything else special about today?”  So, I told him about it being Mozart’s birthday…and MY birthday, too!  Forthwith, I was regaled with a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday to me.  The sentiment was so very sweet.  But, dear readers, there have been a few other versions of the song I’ve heard todayJ

After all the extensive clean up of “5200”used on the Lookee Bucket (from lips, to bathing suit, to cockpit floor) we went over to Painkiller for our sundowner cocktail and a chat.  After a pleasant evening, Scott ducked below, popped up a moment later and said “I bet you’ve never had Happy Birthday played to you on a bagpipe” and he launched into a Highland rendition!  Stunned is not sufficient a word.  After Happy Birthday we had a taste of the traditional Highland fight song and he closed with Amazing Grace.  Simply tremendous.   

THEN, Beth comes up with a full-size beautifully frosted chocolate cake!  Those of you on land cannot necessarily appreciate how difficult it can be to ‘whip up’, especially when your boat’s been full of all the neighborhood men talking about broken boat parts, repair nightmares, and conjecturing about duty fees!  And, of course, the practice sessions of Happy Birthday which Scott learned special for today!

After having our fill of cake, we gave a shout-out in the dark to Dream Catcher behind us asking if they wanted some chocolate cake…a 5 second pause and then a bellowing of “Chocolate Cake?!?  YESSSSS” so off we scrambled (the 4 of us) with cake and another cocktail to join them in another celebration among boaters.  We wrapped up the night quickly seeing lightening in the offing…just enough to entertain our eyes, not anywhere near enough to give concern.

54.  It’s obviously going to be another great year!

A week at the Majors!

January 22 we go South...

We left Cambridge Cay to weather out a front near a Bahama Tel (Batelco) tower.  We had a short but  fairly ’snotty’ ride down, current and wind opposing, right on our nose.  We cut through Big Rock Cut from Exuma Sound…not at the recommended time or tide and felt the power of the current which could have been disastrous in a lighter boat.  Man of Steel at the helm, we made it through, but next time we’ll pause an hour or two to open the office if it means running a cut like that again!

Once inside, we nestled into a spot to ride out the front; we were the only boat in the bight, while we watched a steady parade of boats fill a channel between Little Majors Spot and Big Majors Spot.  By 3:00 there were easily 40 boats in this cut which had room for 20…with strong current, surges, and variable holding.  The night before the front arrived, three boats dragged anchor.  More went in the next day, one or two left.  We spent the evening of the front in our bight with perhaps 4 other boats.  The front came with some strong clocking wind and we found ourselves hanging further in to the rocky ledge than felt comfortable, with 6 feet of water beneath us (we need 5).  So, at 3 a.m. Tony and I upped anchor and moved into the belly of the bight away from the edge and kept one eye open to watch and an ear on the anchor alarm until the morning’s light.

Once again, breaking the rule of no anchor work in the dark.  Less damage than anxiety and no blood this time.

After a hearty if late breakfast, we moved Endurance through the southern channel in front of Staniel Cay and set up housekeeping in the large, good holding, on the west beach of Big Majors Spot, now safely out of the wind.  After a quick clean up we headed in to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (sort of like what you’d find at the Weare, NH Yacht Club) for happy hour and the NFC Championship game to rendezvous with PainKiller and have a more formal introduction to FlyingFish, Sam and Janet. 

Monday offered us a wet dinghy ride to town to walk to the landfill and then explore the island’s shops. Later in the afternoon we took a ride over to the shore at Big Majors to toss some veggies to the wild pigs.  There are a few pigs who listen for dinghy motors and come swimming out to retrieve carrots, apples, lettuce cores and what-have-you.  Word to the wise, though:  they can be aggressive if you’re slow with the handout and rumor has it a woman needed 40 stitches in her breast because her Ziploc bag wouldn’t open quickly enough!   

Sundowner cocktails with PainKiller, and then an evening with Messenger to talk internet connection and possibly a few games.

Tuesday, more internet with Messenger while Elizabeth came to Endurance for a game of SET and 24; Beth & Scott joined us for a round of “Such a Thing?” by the time Tony returned and Elizabeth headed out.  We met Mike & Susan from the lovely catamaran Last Dance yesterday and were invited for our evening’s cocktails aboard their boat.  Mike gave Tony a year’s worth of cruising Miami Beach area anchorages and some good tips on safe harbors in the Jacksonville area.  We had a wonderful evening with them and hope to cross paths again, somehow…. they’re headed to Trinidad!

Wednesday brought news of another front coming through; not one we intend to worry about but others here thinking it through.  Lots of boats in the anchorage today, so Tess announced a cruisers BYOB on the NOT PIG beach.  Fun to meet and greet and hear the variations on a theme of how long people have been cruising, where they’ve been, where they’re headed, …. Less fun, the little biting gnats!  Thunderball grotto snorkel was planned for Thursday…….

Monday, January 24, 2011

Could George be wrong?

Could our winner of the first "What is this?" Contest be wrong?  The Judges thought not until he claimed that the Skipjack Tuna detailed in an earlier entry was in fact an Atlantic Bonito.  Not so, I says.  Vic Dunaway's "Sport Fish of the Atlantic" confirms the catch as a Skipjack Tuna (stripes along the bottom) rather than a Bonito (stripes on top).  George's glaring mistake made us curious about previous piscatorial claims made by the master of all things fish in South Florida.  Further investigation ensued.

Janet (the marine biologist on Flyingfish - a sail boat, not a real flyingfish), loaned us a copy of Paul Humann & Ned Deloach's "Reef Fish Identification, Volume 1 of 3, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas", where we learned that the answer to our first "What is this?" Contest is NOT Sea Robin.  It is in fact a Flying Gurnard (see pictures and description below - especially bottom, right hand side picture!).

As a result, the Judges have revoked George's prize and have decided to award it to the first person or couple who calls from the George Town, Exumas airport and says "I'm here.  Pick me up."  George remains a qualified entrant in this revised prize award program.

In the future, we will require scientific evidence of "What this is".

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cambridge Cay, Exuma Park

Cambridge Cay was great!  It’s been a little too hot (I can hear the empathy sighs from here) so we’ve had to organize our activities to avoid the heat of the midday sun.  A morning snorkel in the “Aquarium of the Sea” was pretty great.  The current runs a little strong, so I sat in the dinghy with my mask on and oogled and aaahhhed over the side of the boat while Tony hopped in holding the anchorline tied to the boat and clenched in my fist!  When we pulled up to tie to the mooring at the ‘seaquarium’ easily 3 dozen Sergeant Majors (the cute little yellow/black striped ones) came schooling over.  They come right up to you, and if you hold still they’ll given gentle, tiny pecks on your arm…totally adorable.  This was the coolest snorkeling site I’ve seen, ever.  It had a good variety of types of fish, and it was chocked full!  We checked out a few of the other snorkeling sites in the area, and headed back to the boat to pause for the next tide for more exploring.

After lunch, and a re-application of sunscreen, we headed out to Rocky Dundas and Rachel’s Bubble Bath.  Rocky Dundas is a magnificent cave to rival or best the more renowned Thunderhole Cave.  Unfortunately, Tony and I cannot attest to that.  It is best explored at slack low tide…we were just a wee bit too early and there was no way I’d go in listening to the surf slam from outside the undercut mountain of rock….so Tony was going to go, alone.  Not on my life!  We turned around, and headed to Bertha’s Bubble Bath! 

What a spot!  Across the Cut to Compass Cay we dragged our dinghy ashore and walked in about ¼ mile along the channel which drains the basin.  The walking surface varies between sand the consistency of Dreamwhip and what feels like asphalt…they call it hardscour.  Just so different from our experience.  Anyway, we walked in through this low-tide drying area and come upon a big pool, closed in on our side by the built up hardscour and being intermittently filled by splash-over from the Exuma Sound side crashing through a window in the bank.  The pool was just over our heads in the deepest part, mostly just comfortably chest deep; perfect for swimming, floating, looking for baby conch and marveling at the cliffs surrounding us.  It’s called Rachel’s Bubble Bath from the seafoam which accumulates there from the force of the wave action.  (Luckily, it was low tide so no foam to work our way through.)   Again, we were completely alone in this wonderland.

The rays and a few nurse sharks were back in the evening, silently sliding by minding their serious business as we sat above decks sipping a cocktail.  We’re expecting ‘some weather’ so we’ll head out tomorrow to find a tucked in spot with cell and internet access for Tony to be able to do some work.  Until then,

Tomorrow we head south……..

Cambridge Cay Underwater

Wednesday, January 19,2011

 Time has gotten a little slippery out here…days come and go with seemingly no defining edges.  We awake with the sun, (or a little before for the best weather reports), we ready ourselves for the day ahead, then execute with never a rise in blood pressure or angst.  It’s a pretty great way to run a life…maybe a little worse for communicating.

So, we left you with Tony’s brief mention of his TUNA!  Let me backtrack, it was incredible!  The damn thing was way too big too eat for the two of us, so we’re especially grateful to our pals on Painkiller and Messenger.  Their potluck additions rounded out a table fit for a king, and they seemed to enjoy partaking of the bounty as much as we enjoyed having them.  The day leading up to “the Fish” was idyllic, but the bloodbath that ensued after the Hemingway-esque battle was dramatic to say the least.  We’re still finding splotches of blood in little corners of the cockpit!  It was something.  As soon as the bedlam was mostly over, I took a stugeron – first in a while…guts and sailing didn’t fair so well for my tender stomach!

Endurance spent an extra day at Highbourne Cay, planning to snorkel Octopus’ Garden again and dilly-dally on shore.  However, Tony had a day of work to catch up with, and the wind kicked up enough to keep Tess in the cockpit with a book.  That’s all that got done that day.  After a rolly night, we ditched the notion of snorkeling and lifted anchor to head south into the Exuma Park.

We traveled 16 miles and hooked a mooring in Hawksbill Cay.  Tawny, pinkish sandy beaches, rock outhangs undercut by the constant ebb and flow of the ocean, mangrove, scrub bush, palm trees covering the hills, and a large cairn overlooking it all.  We tucked in at 1:30ish, spent two hours diagnosing and fixing an electrical problem with our stove [actually the circuit breaker was kaput, swapped out with a spare from the AC side of the panel – then had to put the bad one in the AC spot to complete its circuit the next morning – not being an electrician, I just hope we get hot food until I can find a new breaker] (what a capable Captain!), and headed ashore for a little hike to the top of the cairn and some swimming/snorkeling.  We ended up being the ONLY boat at this cay – Gilligan’s Island with just the Professor and Ginger!  We played a bit on the beach, explored a bit in the dinghy, and feasted on homemade pizza and chicken fingers to the rising of a beautiful full moon.  (We’d had a few full moons earlier in the day, but at dinner it was strictly astrological). 

Today, Wednesday, we hauled anchor to explore more of the Park.  We’ve just grabbed another mooring in Cambridge Cay, also referred to as Little Bell Island.  We’re told there’s a pod of eagle rays who gather just behind our boat; sharks run in and out of the cut with the tides; ospreys nest of the nearby cay with great hiking trails to more beautiful beaches, and all around are great snorkel grounds.  First, a simple swim to cool off; then a plan……… 

Before I sign off, please remember how much we love you all.  Jeanne, I missed your birthday and I’ll call as soon as I have a reliable signal!  Alison, Happy Birthday tomorrow – may it be as wonderful for you as it was for us the day we first met you ‘on the outside’!  Drop us a line, call on the house phone, leave a comment on the blog.  We miss you.  I know we have to do this island thing to save you the bother, and I don’t mind really, but we do miss our family, our friends, our friends who are our family.  And, if you’re a complete stranger reading this, we’d probably like you well enough to share the next tuna with, too! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What a Great Day!!

Forget the great day of sailing across Exuma Sound from Eleuthera to Allen’s Cay in the Exumas!  Three miles from Allen’s the pole goes “whizzzzzz”!  Under full sail, no stopping, but lo and behold we raise a 22” Skipjack Tuna out of the 1000 foot depths of Exuma Sound.  Kept on to Allen’s, but on finding that our friends aboard Painkiller and Messenger were staying on the west beach of Highborne Cay, we upped anchor and moved South to share the Ocean’s Bounty.  Fresh fish.  Tuna on the grill.  A magical day and a wonderful night.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eleuthera's Blue Holes

Enjoying Rock Sound

Nice sail down from Governor’s Harbour to Rock Sound on Thursday.  No worse for wear in Wednesday Night’s frontal passage as we held fast in the notoriously (so we are told) poor holding in Governor’s.  I seem to have lost track of the days and had convinced myself that the front was the next night in coming.  Wednesday?  Thursday?  Who cares? 

Headed out early Thursday into 20 to 24 knots from the Northeast.  Perfect sailing for us, essentially behind and on the stern quarter the whole 27 nautical miles.  And windy enough to move a 30,000 pound Island Packet.  We averaged 6 knots the whole way in winds from 20 to 27 all morning.  The engine was on all of 15 minutes just to get us out of the harbor.

Arrived Rock Sound at 1230 (that’s 12:30 for you non-nautical types) to the welcoming “Hello!”s of Painless and Messenger.  Good to see familiar faces and anchored within hailing distance (that’s yelling distance to you non-nautical types).  Went boat-to-boat to touch base and ended a quite nice day with a Game Night aboard Endurance.  Played “Golf” but only Elizabeth and Aidan were real competitors (read, Winners…we were all competing!) and then a game of “Last Word” which had no intelligible way to keep score or keep order.  Home-made cookies and watermelon made it feel like home.  The cold wind helped there as well, but no snow here (and you?).  Dominoes and Pictionary have been saved, and promised, for another match.

Friday was an adventure!  Dinghied over to the two in-water “Blue Holes” here in Rock Sound Harbour.  Though we were in chest deep water surrounding the holes, the holes themselves are charted as more than 60 feet deep and connected to the Atlantic Ocean through a series of tunnels and caves.  Pictures from this snorkeling foray don’t do justice to the place.  See the August 2010 National Geographic for a great story on Bahamas Blue Holes (likely available at  (Truth in advertising:  we’d just had nice hot showers, it’s a little chilly here today.  Two “inspirational” Dads jumped in the holes with snorkels and masks while the rest of us sat warmly in the dinghy eager to see the pictures!)

Lunch was at the Nort’ Side Restaurant on the Atlantic side of Eleuthera.  Arranged by Beth of Painkiller, restauranteur Rose picked us up in her 1993 Honda Accord (two trips since there were eight of us) and served us lunch. She’s a one-woman operation, offering us a lovely walk on the shore of the Atlantic (we’re on the protected Eleuthera Bank); entertainment by Teddy the dog and all sorts of artifacts of shore living assembled on tables throughout the porch; and then feeding us a real Bahamian feast family style.  Cracked Conch, Fried Grouper, Stewed Grunt, Jerk Chicken, Rice & Peas, Fried Plantains, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw.  More than our group could eat (and at $12 per person, including beverages).  Rose’s place sits high above the Atlantic and a sandy beach that seems to go on forever.  She is a next door neighbor to Simon Pearce (yeah; the glass guy from Vermont) and often cooks for him and his guests on the island.  A real treat for us.

At the end of lunch, Rose drove us back toward the harbor, dropping us off at Ocean Hole Park where there is a huge land-based Blue Hole (did you read the National Geographic article yet?  You would know this.).  Jacques Cousteau’s team has explored this hole but never found the bottom or any connection to the sea.  Though it is filled with fish and rays and is visited by sea turtles.  It rises and falls with the tide.  So somewhere….

Thanks to Painless there is a tinkle in my glass of Johnnie Walker again.  Apparently, there are still some civilized people in this world who believe that ice may be just as important as food in a sail boat freezer.  God bless them every one!

Tomorrow we hope to enjoy more of Rock Sound and Eleuthera.  To those of you stuck in the snows of January (and that seems to be all of you except those in Florida), all we can say is try to stay warm and stay dry.  And just think how much fun you would be having if you were here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Elusive Eleuthera

Yesterday, we had a calm, calm day and motored from Spanish Wells through Current Cut and along the western coast of Eleuthera to Hatchet Bay.  These photos of the pool clear water, sunny skies and puffy clouds can not do justice to how beautiful it was.

Current Cut is a notorious place with a 90 foot wide channel from the bottom edge of the Northeast Providence Channel into the Eleuthera Bank.  The guidebooks warn that the current can really set you back, so a slack tide is preferred.  Based on Nassau tides, we expected to arrive just before High Slack.  Are we an hour ahead or an hour behind Nassau?  Clearly an hour ahead.  We arrived at the beginning of a flood tide into the Eleuthera Bank.  We picked up about two knots of speed and whizzed through at about 9 knots.  Slowing down to make a 90ยบ turn to starboard, we slowly hugged Current island until we were free of the shifting sand and shoals on the inside of the Cut.  From there, well you can see the pictures.

We soon met a fellow traveler in the form of a large porpoise (in excess of 12 feet).  Unlike the bow riders we are used to, this fellow rode under the hull at the stern.  He came up for air, first port then starboard, right at the aft end of the cockpit.  Close enough to touch.

Arriving at Hatchet Bay about 1500 (dear God, 3:00, okay?!?), we toured both the North and South arms of the harbor, picking a mooring inside of a beautiful wooden boat from Rockport, Maine (s/v Three Belles), a well kept ketch.   Making their acquaintance by dinghy, we learned that moorings here were recently serviced, safe and free.  A walking tour of Alice Town cost us $4.00 in donations to the elementary school’s new air conditioner.  We were solicited by a 5th grade boy and a 6th grade girl who are apparently neck-in-next competitors to raise the most money.  The prize we were told by the younger is (though its hard to believe), a trip to America.  On a hot, hot day like we had, I hope the winner doesn’t get dropped off in New England.

Our day ended with cocktails (BYOB) at the terrace of the Front Porch; closed for some reason, but still an oft utilized hang out spot for cruisers.  There, Carl from Three Belles regaled us with stories of the caves and smugglers (known and unknown) making Hatchet Bay and Alice Town their home.

Though the lure of the caves was enticing, we decided to head South in the morning in order to reach Rock Sound before an expected Thursday evening front.  The favorable wind and calm Eleuthera Sound made sailing irresistible, and we were content to sail at 4 to 5 knots on a 10 knot beam reach just as far as Governor’s Harbor.  Here, at least, we could get our visas extended (an additional 120 days, giving us to May 15) and plan on heading to Rock Sound in the morning.  Not known for great holding, but okay in the Northeast winds expected this evening, we are likely to worry much about dragging  anchor this evening, but I hope that our first Bahamian lobster dinner will allay any unwarranted concern.  (about to go into the oven, two lobster tails, seasoned, a little finely chopped onion, drawn butter and fresh lime juice squeezed atop; sides:  rice and garlic spinach!)

P.S.  Sorry about all that snow, y’all!