Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Bubbly Pool

With our guests Jim & Maryann Sanders now comfortably settled in and somewhat used to tropical breezes, warm sunshine, and clear turquoise water we were ready to do some sailing. As mentioned earlier, the Sanders are long time friends we first met during our T-bird racing days over 35 years ago. With their previous sailing experience we could relax a little more and let them share some of the sailing duties. Jim took the helm as we sailed back north to Cambridge Cay in a SSE 10-15 knot- wind. Initially, he tried sailing downwind wing & wing, which is next to impossible without gybing, but once the preventer was attached he held course and we zoomed up towards Cambridge. Jim loves sailing and had a big smile on his face when he was at the helm.

Jim Sanders happily steering us towards Cambridge Cay in The Exumas.
As we entered the mooring field at Cambridge Cay we discovered every mooring ball was taken and several boats were anchored along the perimeter. A cold front was due in a couple days and anchorages with protection from all wind directions are hard to come by in The Bahamas. We found some space just south of the field and dropped our hook, as did a number of later arriving boats, and soon all of us were laying to our anchors in totally different directions. As usual, we were lying to the current instead of the wind. We eventually stopped worrying and relaxed in the cockpit with some nice "Kool Kaliks". (a very good local brew).

I hustled up some dinner with Maryann, chef-assistant-extraordinaire, and later played our favorite card game, Screw your Buddy. Much to Walter's dismay Jim and Maryann caught on very quickly and proceeded to dump the bad cards with masterful finesse on poor Walter. Maryann had the best bluffing technique of picking up the rules sheet and pretending she didn't know something and then playing her two last cards to win the game. Lots of laughs and lots of expletives!

With the boat still shimmying around, we decided to move to an area with less current the next morning. Then, just as we finished anchoring, the Park warden motors over and tells us we can't anchor there because it's the channel for the mooring field. Well, he could have told us a little earlier before we anchored. We finally gave up and pounced on the next available mooring ball, which was just fine.

We needed to get a little exercise so we dingied over to the beach for a wonderful hike up the hill to an overlook of the harbor on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. We love getting in a hike and or walk along a beach as exercise is always a challenge to find on a boat.

Jim and Mary Ann Sanders on hill overlooking Cambridge Cay.
Our other favorite exercise is to go snorkeling. Cambridge has a number of great snorkeling areas and so we headed out at slack water for the Rocky Dundas, two fairly large islands with multiple caves and lots of fish. You have to be very careful here as the current can get ripping along at a swift pace. We always try and go at slack water but sometimes you try and do two different sites and then your timing doesn't work out.

Last year, we were here with our boat buddies Sharon & Kevin on Timaru and decided to snorkel the Rocky Dundas after snorkeling at the nearby Elkhorn Gardens. We were a little late on the tide but we explored for a while and then three of us got back into our dinghies. Walter kept exploring around the side of the island alone (a no-no) and got caught in a tricky current that swept him out of sight. He realized the situation and swam hard against the current to get our attention so we could rescue him in the dingy. Another lesson learned: you need to constantly be aware of the currents. The best way is to watch which way the soft corals on the bottom are flowing.

Today the water was fairly calm with very little current so we meandered around looking at the caves, the beautiful fish and variety of coral life. Rocky Dundas is famous for a hidden little cave that Walter went into with the video camera. Last time we were here we almost got wiped out in this cave as some big waves rolled in and smashed Walter up against the rocks. He was able to get up on the inner floor of the cave before the next set rolled in. This time the sea was calm which made for perfect snorkeling conditions. The small cave has the most incredible light that filters down from two holes in the roof and dances on the sea floor. Makes for an amazing light show as you are snorkeling inside the cave. Just get out before the waves come.

We then headed over to the south end of Cambridge Cay to a dive site called Elkhorn Gardens. The Elkhorn coral beds are beautiful and the abundance of fish is much appreciated. We have come to love snorkeling in The Bahamas because you can see everything so clearly and it's nice not to haul around SCUBA tanks on your back. Needless to say I think we were ready for a little afternoon siesta back at the boat following all that activity.

The plan the next day was to finally get the stainless steel rub rails back on the starboard side of the cap rails that we had been varnishing. Thank goodness the cap rails were done after 8 coats! Jim helped Walter clean the rub rails and screw them back on with about 50 screws thus ending the month long varnishing saga of the starboard side (still have to do the same thing on the port side). The good news, it looks spectacular. Jim, the consummate engineer, also helped Walter repair a recalcitrant fan he was about to throw away (broken connection in the wires) and fix a light switch on one of the saloon lights. Thanks for your help Jim!

Jim and Walter use 100 screws to attach 45 ft. of stainless rub rail to the cap rail.
It was our last day at Cambridge and we wanted to show Jim & Maryann the Bubbly Pool (we're sure it has some official name but we don't know it) just off the north end of Compass Cay. Sharon and Kevin had shown it to us last year but we weren't sure of its exact location. We looked on the charts and saw some topography that looked like it had to be the spot. Once we approached the area we saw a small tidal creek flowing out and walked up the creek bed about an eighth of a mile to the pool.

The long walk up the dry creek bed to The Bubbly Pool. The water cascades over the small gap in the center of the photo.

A rocky ridge borders the Atlantic ocean side and as waves crash against it they overflow the ridge and flow into the 5- to 7-foot deep pool, filling it with wonderful refreshing bubbly water. It's the closest thing you'll come to a jacuzzi in the ocean. We spent a couple of hours laughing and playing in the waves like a bunch of young kids, laughing and squealing (doesn't take much at this age). We'd stand with our backs to the waves and as the tide came in the waves continued to get bigger and bigger and we never knew how far the splashes would go before we'd be drenched.

Surfs up!
I have to say I haven't had that much fun in the water since I was a kid. We took lots of photos and movies and just as we were leaving a large armada of boats and jet skis came ashore off a megayacht, disgorging about twenty people who were all heading toward the pool. We certainly lucked out with the timing to have it all to ourselves.

We headed back to Flying Cloud for some showers and Sundowners and decided that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip thus far and something we will remember years from now. Thanks Jim & Maryann for visiting us and helping us with some boat projects too. (*Posted by Meryl)

Friday, February 22, 2013

James Bond and the Sargent Majors

With another northerly on its way, we decided to sail south to Staniel Cay to get in a protected anchorage. We left Cambridge at the gentlemanly hour of 1:00 pm and had a spirited sail on the Atlantic side of the Exumas down to Staniel Cay. Since both Cambridge and Staniel have easy ocean side entrances it made more sense to just tough it out for a couple hours in the southerly wind rather than taking the much longer inside passage down Exuma Banks. We anchored right behind the famous Thunderball Grotto, a well protected area but one with 4-5 knots of current running though it. With that much current and wind, anchoring was one of those "let's guess where everyone else's anchors are and drop ours in the middle." As the current shifted you got to know your neighbors very well, despite their glaring looks.

We spent Saturday putting on the 8th and last coat of varnish (which was interesting considering the 5- knot current that kept sweeping me, the dingy, and the varnish brush away from the boat with every stroke). After that we went through the ritual of preparing the boat for guests, which means moving the bikes off the guest berth and up on the deck, luggage to the aft berth, and rearranging all the other miscellaneous stuff that ends up on the guest bed. We then went into town (a misnomer since there are only a handful of stores at best) to the Isles Store to get our laundry done, but she said she wouldn't be doing another load until next week. We then literally went door-to-door to find someone, eventually ending up at the yellow house (bakery) initially she said she'd do it for $20, only to be charged $40 (for two loads) by another woman when we came to pick it up. Such is island life. A couple of $4 beers at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club tempered our mood for the rest of the day.

On Sunday we again took the dingy up the shallow creek to Isles General Store, walked across the bridge and turned right to enter "Staniel Cay International Airport," which is essentially a hut next to the tarmac runway. Along with various locals and others waiting for small planes to take them to primarily Nassau, we watched each plane that landed to see if that was the Watermaker Airways flight from Ft. Lauderdale.

Security is tight here at the Staniel Cay International Airport.

Finally, the 10-place plane landed and Jim and Mary Ann bound down the steps with big smiles on their faces. Jim used to crew on Phoenix, my 26-ft. Thunderbird that we raced for about 15 years. He's a great sailor and a brilliant tactician, a skill I was sorely lacking. We have known them for over 35 years and this was a great chance to get reacquainted. I'm sure they were amazed when we walked down the short dirt road and hopped in the dingy for the ride back to the boat, not your typical "airport arrival" scenario.

I kidded Meryl about her telling Mary Ann that we were going into the "yacht club" for dinner and Mary Ann worrying about what to wear for such an auspicious dining experience.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Very posh.
My comment that "you would be over dressed in shorts and a t-shirt" fell on deaf ears. Anyway we had a great dinner and opportunity to get caught up on each other's lives.

On Monday morning we headed back into Staniel Cay to the local BaTelCo office to try and get our cell phones hooked up to the Bahamian phone system. Trying to describe this adventure is worth multiple blog entries, but after an hour and $107 my iPhone still wasn't getting emails. We experimented a little and got some advice from a local techie (even after you are signed up, paid your money, and are entered into the BatelCo computer system you still need to send a message into BatelCo's system to "activate" your service). Naturally the nice BatelCo lady didn't know anything about this.

We then made the rounds of the yellow house (bakery) for wheat and coconut bread, the blue house (the local grocery store) for eggs and other food items (the one thing we needed was milk but it typically sells out the day the delivery boat [Wed] arrives), and the pink house (another small grocery). All of this certainly gave Jim and Mary Ann a taste of what island life is like and how hard it is to get anything done. After packing all the groceries away on the boat, Jim, Meryl and I took a short dingy ride over to Thunderball Grotto, located on an small island just west of where we were anchored. The cave was featured briefly in the James Bond film, Thunderball. We tried to anchor just outside the cave but the mini Danforth anchor for the dingy couldn't get a bite on the hard limestone bottom. Jim finally dove down and built a little mound with rocks on top of the anchor to hold it.

Entrance to Thunderball Grotto through a narrow passage in the rocks.
You enter the grotto through a small, hidden opening that shows up at low tide. After a sharp right turn your breath is taken away by the high-domed ceiling with the shafts of light piecing the gin-clear water.

The next sensory overload is schools of Sargent Majors and other tropical fish jetting towards you in search of food. I finally had my underwater camera working and got some great shots of Jim and Meryl swimming though various underwater openings in the cave and cruising along the outside walls of the island.

The Staniel Cay area is very popular with the Hollywood set and you never know whom you'll run into at popular locations like the grotto. One of our friends a couple weeks before literally bumped into comedian Bill Engvall while snorkeling in the cave. Steven Spielberg's yacht Seven Seas was here last year when we visited Staniel Cay and John Cusak, one of my favorite actors, managed to get himself blackballed from the area's SCUBA diving service (long story). Interesting place.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When You Are A Rich Man

We left Norman's Cay at 9:00 am for the 29-mile sail south to Cambridge Cay. With an 18-knot southerly, we elected to sail on the more protected Exuma Sound side. We hoisted the main and genoa trying to squeak out enough of a close reach to reach our destination, but after awhile we decided to fall off (after having a Beneteau pass us to leeward) and take a wider course that allowed us to sail at a slightly faster speed (but longer distance).

Part of the Aga Kahn's complex on Bell Island.
After a 90-degree turn to the east we motor-sailed in shallower water along Bell Island, which is owned by the Aga Kahn, the world's third richest man. The island is in a state of perpetual construction with huge earth movers and ships docking and offloading construction materials for his numerous personal residences on the island. We rounded the top of Bell and then motored along a typically convoluted course trying to stay in deeper water and avoiding the numerous reefs that protect the anchorage at Cambridge Cay.

Cambridge is a wonderful protected moorage and we found a mooring ball near the eastern edge of the mooring field along with 10 other boats. As usual we got up early in the morning to get our 7th coat of varnish on the starboard side cap rails, then took off in the dingy for a short motor up to a snorkeling site called "the Sea Aquarium." The site is along the south side of a very small limestone island that has the typical "mushroom" shape with undercut edges. The minute you drop into the water you are surrounding by a zillion Sargent Major fish that are accustomed to being fed by the tourists. I had specifically bought an underwater camera at the end of last season to photograph this phenomenon, but realized upon reading the instructions just before this dive that you needed a MicroSD memory card to make the camera work. A quick iPhone message to our friends Jim and Mary Ann Sanders (our next set of guests) who were in Florida got the card added to the long list of stuff they were bringing for the boat.

The next day we tried to dingy south to the famous Rocky Dundas but it was just too rough for any safe snorkeling. With my new 15-hp Yamaha motor I naturally wanted to motor fast in the big waves but was quickly vetoed by my (now very wet) first mate. We stayed a few more days but the windy weather precluded any more snorkeling so we focused on getting the boat neat and tidy for our guests whom we would meet at Staniel Cay just south of Cambridge.

Just before we left a dingy motored over and we met Joe Rocchio, the publisher of The Bahamas Guide, and his guests Andrew and Caroline, who own a Taswell 43. We talked about the joys of Taswell sailboats and asked Joe some questions about his Catalina 47, a boat we considered buying at one point. Ironically, I had just finished Dick Dressler's book, Manning up in Alaska, about his struggles with throat cancer and adventures sailing his boat to Alaska. The book was on Joe's "must read" list so he was delighted when I gave him my signed copy.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The King of Conch

As mentioned in the previous blog, we ran into our friends Jeff and Kelli aboard their 56-ft. sailboat, Tiger Sea, as we entered Norman's Cay. They have been coming down to the Exumas for eons and seem to know everything and everybody. When we were here last year Jeff and Kelli's generosity was overwhelming: when we were having trouble with getting our batteries charged Jeff brought over his Honda 2000 generator; when we ran low on water they brought over 10 gallons from their onboard water maker, and our first night here they invited us over for freshly caught grouper and cracked conch (I'm not a big fish eater but I discovered I'd never had really fresh fish ... the grouper was incredible). 

Each morning Jeff and Kelli would hop in their inflatable dingy with wetsuits on and head off to the offshore reefs for spearfishing and conch collecting. Kelli liked to ride on the port side bow pontoon, bouncing up and down like a cowgirl on a bucking bronco. Jeff reminded me of Jacques Cousteau with a ponytail. They took us with them one day and showed us how to identify the conch lying on the bottom (their shell is the exact same color as the sand so you look for the telltale triangle shape and/or trails along the sand from when they move). While Meryl and I found 3 or 4 conchs, Jeff and Kelli would have 7 to 8.

The King of Conch.
Later that day Jeff took me into the beach and showed me how to clean a conch. You count down two "rings" from the top of the conical shell and poke a small hole with a hammer. Then you slide a slim knife in and cut the muscular attachment that anchors the conch to its shell. Next step is to reach inside the shell's main opening and grab the claw-like foot and pull the conch out of the shell. The conch don't like this and naturally resist. Next you trim off the eyestalks, then the orange fringe and internal organs, then you slit open the stomach similar to a fish, and finally trim off the very tough brown material on their body. All while you are holding this fist-sized, super slippery conch while trying not to slice through your hand with the knife. A conch is very tough and cutting the parts off is tricky. You are left with a piece of meat about the size of the palm of your hand that then needs to be sliced in half and pounded to death to tenderize it. You can cut it into small pieces and make a conch salad (like ceviche), coat it in flour, egg, and spices and pan fry (conch fritters), or add to hashed brown potatoes like a potato latke. As they say, it tastes a little like chicken.

That all happened during our first visit last March. This time Jeff and Kelli came over and invited us for a snorkel through Wax Cay Cut, an opening between two island separating Exuma Sound and Exuma Bank. We went at slack tide since the current can run up to 5 knots through the cuts. The technique down here is to do drift dives, where we tie a long rope to the dingy and pull it along (I felt like Jack LaLanne on his birthday) while watching the bottom for conch. That day we drifted the whole length of the cut and then went along the offshore reefs on the Exuma Sound side. It was the first snorkel for Meryl and I in a while and we were wiped out by the time we got back to the boat. We both slept for about two hours afterwards.

That night Jeff and Kelli came over and we taught them our favorite card game, Screw Your Buddy. As usual our guests caught on to the rules and strategy quickly and we ended the game with Jeff and I tied for the lead. It was a great evening as the card game always seems to generate a lot of conversation (and some trash talking).

Yesterday while I was sanding the teak cap rails to prepare for the 6th coat of varnish, the crew of Georgia, an Outbound 44 sailboat, came over to visit. Ironically Paul and Chris were from Seattle, of all places, and we had a nice chat getting caught up. They have been cruising for 2 ½ years and sailed their boat from Seattle through the Panama Canal, so we got lots of good tips for our eventual passage through the canal. As we were talking Jeff and Kelli zoomed over and invited us all to snorkel Wax Cut again. Since the weather was a little calmer, it promised to be a good day.

We had recently given away our 30-year-old snorkeling gear, including our huge black fins and straight barrel snorkels, for more modern equipment. We each got full-foot Mares fins that made kicking much easier and the newer design snorkels with the ball valve at the top so water doesn't flood into your mouth. I also got a mask that features diopter lenses (in the old days you had to special order prescription lenses that cost a fortune) so I could now actually see stuff underwater. What difference good equipment makes.

After spending a while trying to find the start of the drift dive, we all tethered ourselves to our dinghies and jumped in the water. For some reason, this time we saw way more fish than on the first snorkel (Wax Cay Cut is right on the border with the Exuma Land and Sea Park where fishing, conching, etc. are prohibited). Along with the plethora of small reef fish, we saw our first small (5 ft.) reef shark, a nurse shark, lots of big barracuda, Nassau grouper, and toward the end a huge turtle (what we believe was a Leatherback sea turtle, which is highly endangered). It was so big it had three remora fish attached to its back. Most of the snorkel was in about 20 ft. of water, but it got to about 4 ft. over the coral reef. I was surprised to see a reef shark passed right beneath us. We've got to learn to look backwards every once in a while. The amazing thing about Bahamian waters is the clarity ... they call it "gin-clear" water. You can essentially see as far as there are things to see. It's a little unnerving when you get to the edges of the reef and look out to the expanse of deep blue water of the ocean and wonder what's out there.

Again, after all that exercise a long nap was in order, but in our case too long a nap as we woke up to an increasingly howling wind. We knew from the morning weather report on the SSB (single sideband radio) that a big front was moving through later that day. When we got up all I could see was a wall of dark clouds quickly moving our direction. And I emphasize the word quickly. We scurried to the foredeck and secured the kayaks, took down the flags, checked the anchor rode and snubber, then hurried aft and secured the dingy up the davits. Just as we were tying down the dingy the first raindrops pelted us with ferocity.

We had anchored right behind a small hillock on the island knowing that during the front the wind would clock from the southwest to west to northwest and finally the north. The hillock was due north of us so we hoped we'd be adequately protected. The only rub was a lot of current runs through Norman's Cay Cut (so much so that many times we are caught in limbo between the current pushing us one direction and the wind pushing the other. It's unnerving to look directly below the boat and see your anchor, which means you are essentially hanging from the weight of your chain alone).

The "special island" where cruisers go to contemplate their navels, or is that navies?
As predicted the wind increased to 26 knots from the west, which meant larger waves were starting to enter the cut (which runs east/west with us at the western end) exacerbating the problem of whether we laid to the wind or current. Soon the driving horizontal rain blocked everything from view. Luckily the wind moderated down to 20 as the front passed and the wind clocked to the northeast and then finally at night, to the north. That night the wind continued to blow 25 to 30 out of the north, but with the exception of some bouncing around as the current and wind fought each other our only problem was to keep from rolling over each other in the aft berth.

Squall line blowing in, these things are never good.
One of the advantages/disadvantages of a Taswell yacht is that they are extremely well insulated, which means you can't hear much of what is going on outside. Sometimes this is a disadvantage if you need to respond to something happening outside. Neither of us slept much, as you always worry about the anchor holding, but I remembered an article I had just read that recommended a boat our size have a 40 lb. anchor. Ours is a 73 lb. Rocna with 300 ft. of 3/8" chain. That's a lot of weight just lying on the bottom. The wind will continue to blow 25 to 30 for the next several days so we'll probable stay hunkered down and began planning our passage south. I had commented this morning to Meryl on how cold it was outside. She smiled and said, "Yea, it's all the way down to 70 degrees."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Old Friends

After our dramatic crossing from The Abacos to Royal Island we decided to take a day off and get the boat dried out and better prepared for rough weather sailing. We put together a new pre departure checklist to remind us to rotate the dorade vents and close their air vents. One of the big issues we had was everything that came crashing down from the top of the guest berth (where it had sat religiously for a year in all sorts of heavy weather). Ironically we had both a dream last night about lee cloths for the guest berth. A lee cloth is essentially a piece of canvas shaped a little like a hammock that attaches lengthwise along the outside edge of a berth so you don't fall out in rough seas. That morning we searched the boat and sure enough we found the lee cloth for the guest berth and got it installed. Now everything on the berth is secure in all but the most violent weather.

The infamous Current Cut on the north side of Eleuthera.
That night we carefully calculated the tides for the next morning since we had to pass through the dreaded Current Cut, where a huge volume of water from the Atlantic Ocean passes through a narrow cut to Eleuthera Sound. You have to hit this at slack water unless you want a lot of excitement in your life. In addition to the current, once you are through the cut you have to take a quick 90 degree turn to the right and then sail about 20 feet off the jagged rock shore to stay in the deepest water (about 20 ft. deep) for about 1/8 mile. Since we'd been through Current Cut last May we had least knew what to expect. Conditions were great when we transited so it turned out to be a non-event.

The rest of the day was a wonderful sail on a close reach in about 10 to 15 knots with two-foot waves, ideal conditions for Flying Cloud. We sailed into Rock Sound on the southern end of Eleuthera and anchored off the city dock in about 8 ft. of water. All in all a great day of sailing.

On Feb 11th, our 41st wedding anniversary, we had plans to do some quick errands then go out for a celebratory dinner. We dingy'd into town and Meryl headed to the laundromat and I went searching for an auto parts store. All of a sudden it came back to me that Rock Sound is a great place to get things, relative to other Bahamian ports. We ended up taking the dingy up the bay to get closer to the shopping center. We tied up at the old Four Points Restaurant, now called Pascals, and walked about a ½ mile to the shopping center. My goals were to find a tip for my fishing rod, get a new switch for our light fixture (which got ruined when we took seawater into the cabin during the Abacos crossing), and finding a ¼ extension for my socket set (the original one is somewhere on the boat but I can't find it). No fishing rod tip, no toggle switch (even though they have a NAPA auto parts store), but I did score on the ¼ extension at the hardware store (which looked like they haven't added an inventory for the last 30 years). I did find some nifty Nerf type balls that we'll stuff in the dorade vents to keep the water out. Meryl did a lot better at the grocery store and I managed to sneak in some cookies and chocolates (they still had their Christmas Hersey Kisses). As usual we bought way more than we anticipated and when the Bahamian checkout lady gave me that "you aint' carrying all that back to your boat" look she closed her till and said "Come on, I'll give you a ride down to your boat." That happens more often then naught and is one of those things that make cruising such a memorable undertaking.

One side note: When we got back to Pascals we noticed a number of tour buses pulled up in front. It turned out a cruise ship had landed on the other side of the island and the passengers where off on a full day tour of the island. At Pascals a group of locals had on their Junkanoo gear (similar to Carnival in Brazil) and were dancing and singing. The thing to remember is Bahamians are really great dancers. It got real interesting as they invited the cruise ship passengers to join the dance. Let's just say there was a "rhythm deficit" amongst the cruise ship crowd. I had to remember that for most of these people this was the cruise of a lifetime and I had to laugh along with them imagining what I would have looked like if I was up there.

I loaded up the dingy and headed back to the boat while Meryl walked the one mile back to the laundry where she had two large bags ready to fold. By the time we got everything back on the boat we decided we were too tired to celebrate and put it off for another time. That also happens a lot when you are cruising.

The 75-ft custom sloop Geronimo from Newport, RI.
We left early the next morning (Tuesday) and motored out of the shallow bay, that while very wide in appearance had a somewhat restricted channel because of the depth. As we approached a turning point (on our GPS-enabled chart plotter) we saw a large boat sailing toward us. We have AIS (Automatic Identification System) on the chart plotter, which shows a symbol and name of other boats (who have AIS transmitters). The name Geronimo popped up on the screen and we laughed because it was the large sailboat that followed us south from The Abacos to Royal Island on the day we got trashed by the wind and waves. Geronimo, that day, seemed to handle the weather with no problem. Only when I hailed them on the VHF did I learn the beautiful blue-hulled sloop out of Newport, RI was a custom 75-footer that we had seen last season in The Bahamas. Never got the full info, but it was a single young guy with a bunch of college age girls. Had to be a story there somewhere.

They hung a hard right hand turn as we turned to the left and we sailed parallel to them for a while until we turned off to Cape Eleuthera Marina to fill up on gas, and more importantly, water. Had a nice chat with Leon, the Bahamian dockhand, who told me the almost empty, but luxurious marina was owned by the DeVoss family out of Michigan. Have you ever heard of Amway? Well that's them.

Had a great sail across the Exuma Sea in a 15-knot southeasterly that gave us just enough room to sail on a close reach. With smaller waves then our last crossing, it was a pleasant five-hour sail to one of our favorite Exuma islands: Norman's Cay.

One of our all time favorite anchorages, the Cut between Norman Island and Shroud Island.
It's always nice entering an anchorage that you've anchored in before; it reduces the drama and surprises that are normally part of anchoring in the shallow-water Exumas. Norman's Cay has a sort of inner bay bisected by a narrow channel of deeper water, from 8 to 15 ft. As we sailed towards the west side we both commented on the beautiful 56 ft. sailboat as we passed her. Seeing her name, we realized it was our friends Jeff and Kelli from Bellaire, Michigan with whom we spent a week here last March. Jeff is a builder who spends summers in the north woods working in construction and the rest of the year in The Bahamas on his Ted Brewer designed Tiger Sea. We joked with them that we didn't think it was them since the boat looked brand new, but then remembered they had just painted Tiger Sea the year before.

Two fun-lovin' people:  Kelli and Jeff on Tiger Sea.
Once we got anchored we jumped in the dingy and went over for a quick visit and to get caught up. Turns out they had just arrived a few days earlier. We had a wonderful time getting caught up with what they had been doing over the summer, current boat projects, new grandchildren, and life in general. I could do several pages on Jeff & Kelli but will save that for my next posting called "The King of Conch."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Wind Gods Give-ith and Take-it Away-ith

Open water crossings can be exhilarating sailing with blue skies, following seas, and wisps of sea spray gently caressing the boat. It's like a day up skiing with a foot of fresh powder. We always hope for these types of days for our passages. In our case we needed to sail 70 miles south from the Abacos across a chunk of the Atlantic Ocean to the north end of Eleuthera Island. To do this we needed a "good weather window."

Each morning at 6:30 am we worship at the altar of the wind god, Chris Parker of Marine Weather Center. Chris' voice crackles across the SSB radio with prognostications of highs, lows, troughs, ridges and all sorts of metrological stuff I still don't understand even though I've read six books on the subject. Bottom line is Chris said it would be "brisk sailing" today with 20 knots out of the east with 2 to 4 ft. waves. For a stout bluewater boat like Flying Cloud this sounded doable with the wind essentially coming from the side of boat (beam reach). It wouldn't be comfortable, but doable.

As we prepared to leave the anchorage the wind began howling as a squall line passed by with strong winds and pelting rain (remember, however, this is warm rain). Knowing that squalls are short lived, I proceeded to get soaking wet bringing the anchor up and getting underway (Meryl had the common sense to put on her offshore rain gear).

With each day's sail there are special problems that need to be overcome. In our case we had to transit from the protected waters behind the islands to the Atlantic Ocean (windward) side through a small pass called North Point Cut. We chose this pass since it was the better of the several passes we had to choose from, with a somewhat wide opening and not too many hidden rocks and reefs. The problem was the outgoing tide was running into the southeasterly wind and setting up what is locally known as a "rage." Think of a lot of water trying to get through a very small opening combined with lots of wind from the opposite direction trying to get through the same opening at the same time. The incoming wind hits the outgoing waves and amplifies their height, creating the dreaded "square waves" that sailors hate. A boat can ride up and down on ocean-type swells like a cork bobbing in the water. Square waves, however, are so tightly spaced that the boat raises up from one wave only to get smashed immediately from the next wave, and so on.

Back to the pass. It never looks that bad when you approach a pass; it's only when you're fully committed that the waves rear their ugly heads and nail you. In our case we ran into 6 to 8 ft. standing waves that were spaced very close together. The bow of the boat would rise toward the sky then come crashing down on the backside of the wave as the next wave buried the deck under tons of water, all of which came surfing down the decks back to where Meryl and I were huddled behind the protective dodger. It's like being inside a washing machine with all your stuff crashing around. To make things worse, we'd just reinstalled the foredeck dorado vent (and upside down L-shaped air vent that funnels air through a special "waterproof" fitting to below decks). We learned the hard way that the dorados on the foredeck need to be either removed or plugged with Nerf balls. Since we didn't anticipate these types of waves we hadn't do any of these things. More about that later.

Not a happy camper, but a great helmsman.
Once clear of the larger waves at the entrance we fell off (turned the boat more downwind) only to find that the predicted easterly was a full-on southerly blowing 22 to 28 knots. Again, our boat is very solid and able to handle these types of sea conditions; it was more about whether two 65+ year olds were up to the challenge.

I had to go down below to deal with a lot of unsecured items crashing around (again, we had anticipated beam winds which would have been much easier on the boat) and lots of water that had entered through the dorado vents. Forgetting my old rule about being down below very long in heavy weather, I started to feel queasy (again, hadn't thought we need seasick meds this day) and was soon hugging the companionway ladder with my head hanging over into the cockpit viewing a somewhat digested version of my breakfast. I wanted to die, but unfortunately was not given the option. The combination of the seasickness and the cold wet clothes had me shivering and curled up in a ball on the saloon seat. I've never been seasick in my life so this was a new and humbling experience. Poor Meryl, who had the common sense to put on her foul weather gear before we departed, had no choice but to hand steer (the autopilot had gone on strike) through heavy seas and 28 knot gusts for three hours while I tried to recover. I don't think I've ever been so proud of her hanging in during those very tough conditions, especially with me down below and not able to help.

Luckily I began to rally and while still very weak I was able to spell Meryl for a couple hours while she got some much needed rest. We basically just hung on and somewhat got used to the craziness ("wow, it's only 22 knots now, it seems so calm"). Again the issue is not so much the wind but the constant train of large waves hitting you head on every 10 seconds or so. It's like riding a bucking bronco for 10 hours.

There's no way we can cook in those conditions so we subsisted on animal crackers and water all day. Having lost most of my breakfast earlier I gained a new appreciation for animal crackers as a three-course meal.

With the boat totally trashed down below, with stuff strewn everywhere imaginable, we reconciled ourselves to just making our destination in one piece. We were about three-quarters of the way to our destination and had to make a decision about which way we would round Royal Island to gain entrance to the hidden harbor on the other side. Our choices were to sail through a very narrow pass called Egg Island Cut, or head further to starboard and round the outer reefs of the island, which would add about two hours to our passage time. It was now about 4:30 pm and we were fighting daylight to make our destination before dark. We made a command decision to go for it, hoping the southerly winds wouldn't be piling up huge waves in the pass like when we exited North Point Cut. To add some challenge to the task we also had to navigate between an unseen underwater rock about 20 ft. to our left and a mini island 20 ft. to our right. Luckily the conditions, while still very windy, were not too bad and we made it through the cut in one piece (breathe a sign of relief). The waves were much smaller on the windward side of Royal Island so we got a little break as we threaded our way though one last narrow opening into the harbor.

We never felt so relieved to get the anchor down and collapse on the settee seats. Walking over piles of debris inside the boat we voted to have a quick dinner of tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches before we literally fell into our bunk and went fast asleep.

I made a mental note to never leave protected waters again without the boat being fully prepared and us fully clothed in offshore weather gear. Also made a note to call Chris Parker about his prediction of easterly winds.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hope Town to Lynyard Cay and Little Harbor

Much as we loved Hope Town and the comforts of the marina (plus all the fun time spent varnishing) we are looking forward to being on our way once again. Flying Cloud is looking much better with a newly varnished cap rail on her starboard side (4 coats) and will be getting another 4 coats along the way, weather willing. Plans to get to the port side are in the making. See Walter's entry about "V-Day--Zen & The Art of Varnishing in Exotic Places."

As always, we continue to deal with a) the lack of storage space or b) the plethora of junk we've brought onto the boat. As we prepared for departure we decided to keep the kayaks (inflated) on our bow for easier access in the Bahamas. We normally store them deflated under the dingy on the bow. With our new davits for the dingy, we now have additional options with the kayaks and are hoping they will get more use. The collapsible bicycles are normally stored on the guest berth along with a sundry of other items that don't have a designated location.

We left Hope Town with the morning tide to maintain a 1- to 2-foot depth under the keel as we exited the narrow entrance to the harbor. The weather forecast called for a mild easterly of 10 knots and with only 19 miles to cover, we had all the time in the world. So with full sails we headed south and cruised at around 4 knots. We were as content as can be ... no heeling and little to no sail adjustments and no tight time constraints. Could not have had a more beautiful and relaxing day.

We anchored off Lynyard Cay with some other sailboats and soon a dingy stopped by with some friends we had met in Hope Town on the sailing vessel (s/v) October. They had plans to head to Little Harbor later that day, but we had decided to help break in our new outboard by motoring the longish distance to the harbor, getting thoroughly soaked by the waves in the process.

Little Harbor has an interesting history. It was founded by the Johnston family as an art colony back in the 1950's. They actually lived like Robinson Crusoe in a cave until they built some structures including a foundry where they cast bronze sculptures from wax.

The original studio of Pete's father.
Today, the gallery is run by son Pete, who creates life size marine bronzes and runs the famous "Pete's Pub" restaurant. We loved the gallery and were tempted to purchase some bronze turtle sculptures but would probably have to store them under the dingy with the kayaks or put them on the guest berth with the bikes.

Down at "Pete's Pub" Walter and I had a local brew and enjoyed the eclectic scenery, which included hundreds of sailing t-shirts hanging from everywhere imaginable.

Tradition has it that each yacht leaves a t-shirt at the pub.
Pete's Pub is the perfect place to just lie back and relax.

Later, as we headed back to Lynyard Cay, we were very thankful that we had brought along our waterproof jackets to attempt keeping dry from the waves. Should have done it naked as we were soaked by the time we reached the boat.