Saturday, May 31, 2008

Island Experiences

We left Black Point early afternoon on Thursday, May 22nd, for Staniel Cay where we again anchored on the west side of Big Majors. Todd swung by pig beach and then went to snorkel Thunderball Cave, taking several more underwater photos before going in to town to recapture some of the Staniel Cay photos we lost. Thunderball Cave was the site of an old James Bond movie (1969) entitled Thunderball and was apparently also used for the movie Splash.

The Big Majors anchorage is famous for its swimming pigs. Boaters take over scraps of bread and lettuce to feed them. It's quite a sight.

Thunderball Cave with its many beautiful fish.

Views of picturesque Staniel Cay. This is the cay most visitors fly in to if they are meeting up with people boating in the central Exumas.

When Todd returned, we went exploring in the dinghy and found some really neat areas to the north of Big Majors, most of which are only accessible by dinghy. That evening a shark paid us a visit so we fed him ham scraps and pizza off the bow.

Our dinner guest - a five-foot nurse shark.

Friday morning we took the VPR route west of Fowl Cay to Sampson Cay Club where we topped off with water (another 130 gallons) and got more dinghy fuel ($6 per gallon). VPR stands for Visual Piloting Rules and applies in areas on the charts where good weather, sunlight, bottom reading and piloting skills are required. Generally, VPR routes are shortcuts you can take through tight areas that may have less water depth than some boaters are comfortable with. We have found the charts to be conservative in their depth predictions, though, so VPR routes tend to have more water than you expect, especially if you go at or near high tide.

After leaving the marina, we anchored on the northwest corner of Pipe Cay, just south of Compass Cay, in a narrow channel bordered by jagged rock bluffs to the east and a shallow sandy area to the west. That afternoon we went exploring in the dinghy and found some neat conch shells and a large bay with huge, beautiful starfish. We also found a number of very nice, pristine beaches around Compass and Pipe Cays, some with enough water to anchor near, even though they are not marked as anchorages on the charts.

Beautiful areas around Pipe and Compass Cays.

The Admiral with her prize starfish, which she regretfully released.

We then stopped by Compass Cay Marina and met several of the marina guests who were enjoying happy hour swimming with the sharks, a common occurrence at Compass Cay. Saturday we went back to Compass Cay Marina for lunch. The marina doesn't actually have a restaurant, but Tucker, the owner, grills burgers and hot dogs on the dock and has shaded picnic tables set up for the guests. The burgers were great, if a bit expensive ($24 total), and the marina guests were very friendly.

Compass Cay Marina where you can swim with the sharks!

While we were there, the captain of a 100-foot yacht from Cancun was trying to find somewhere to get a birthday cake for his wife. Oddly enough, they had a chef on board the vessel but he didn't know how to bake! Tucker made some phone calls but wasn't able to come up with anything, and no one else was volunteering, so I offered to make the cake for him. Tucker had a yellow cake mix in his little store ($3.95) so I only had to make the icing from scratch. The chef even gave me the three eggs for the cake mix!

We had invited Jerry & Dotty, who we met a few weeks ago when we were anchored in the Pipe Creek area, to join us for happy hour late Saturday afternoon and enjoyed visiting with them again. Unfortunately, we had to cut our visit short so we could take the birthday cake to the marina early that evening. We even spelled out "Happy B-Day" with M&M's that Todd confiscated from a bag of trail mix we had on board!

Jerry & Dotty visit "Life's2Short."

Tucker, the owner of Compass Cay; the chef from "El Capricho;" and Admiral Betty Crocker showing off her edible work of art.

The chef and the captain were very appreciative and gave us a couple of visors and a golf shirt engraved with the boat's name, "El Capricho," along with $40 cash. We tried to decline the money but he insisted - captain's orders - and I guess you don't question the captain! We asked the chef the meaning of "El Capricho" and he told us it doesn't have a strict English translation but the gist of it is "something you really don't need or have a use for but you want it anyway; an extravagance." Fitting name for a 100-foot yacht, don't you think?

About midnight, a storm rolled through with 40-plus mile per hour winds from the northwest, the worst possible direction for where we were anchored. As I mentioned above, there was nothing but jagged rock bluffs behind us and the wind was blowing us toward them! Fortunately, the anchor held but we had a couple of very stressful and scary hours waiting for the worst of it to pass. We even put on our life jackets in case we had to abandon ship, but by 2:00 a.m. things had settled down enough that we were able to go back to bed.

Sunday morning Todd made a quick trip to the marina to get a bag of ice (an Exuma high of $8.00 per bag!) and then we moved to Cambridge and got on a mooring ball. The wind picked up again about noon and it got pretty rough, so we didn't stray from the boat. That afternoon, Doug, Paul and Monica stopped by and invited us to dinner on Paul's boat at Compass Cay Marina. We originally met Doug, briefly, Thursday afternoon when we were exploring in the dinghy north of Staniel Cay. We then met all three of them at Sampson Cay Club the next day when we were topping off with water and dinghy fuel. At any rate, they were in a nice offshore fishing boat with twin 225 horsepower outboards and offered to shuttle us back and forth to the marina.

Doug picked us up at 6:30 p.m. and took us to Paul's gorgeous 65-foot Pacific Mariner named "Off Island" for wonderful hors d'oeuvres and a marvelous dinner on the upper deck complete with dessert and an impressive array of wine, all prepared and served by Monica. Even though the marina is well protected, the wind had come up and none of us were looking forward to the ride back to "Life's2Short" after dark, so Paul graciously offered to let us spend the night and we proceeded to stay up until the wee hours of the morning enjoying our host's hospitality. Paul even brought out a fabulous bottle of Louis XIII cognac to share with his guests, definitely a unique experience!

Living LARGE on "Off Island!" Thanks all, it was a very special evening!

The next morning Monica treated us to a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, muffins and coffee before Doug took us back to "Life's2Short." Before we left, Paul also gave us some Mahi-Mahi they had in the freezer - another unexpected treat! Doug's airplane was at Staniel Cay and he and Paul were flying back to Florida around noon. Monica's husband was then flying in Monday afternoon to captain the boat back to Florida. It is unlikely that we will see any of them again, but we certainly enjoyed meeting them and very much appreciate being invited aboard the "Off Island" resort for a memorable evening.

Paul and the Admiral enjoying Monica's wonderful breakfast.

It was pretty breezy all day Monday so we spent a quiet day on the boat at Cambridge Cay. Chuck & Gayla aboard "Sun Tanner," a 44-foot Atlantic, stopped by in the dinghy to introduce themselves and we made plans to get together later for happy hour. Chuck knew of Todd from one of the boaters' list servs he monitors and we had been in touch on the VHF off and on over the past several days. We spent a few hours visiting with them before returning to "Life's2Short" and retiring for the evening.

The wind calmed down overnight and Todd took the dinghy over to Cambridge Cay Tuesday morning to search for "treasures" on the Sound side, returning with even more plastic and steel floats! He took one over to Gayla aboard "Sun Tanner" and told them we had decided to move to an anchorage on the southwest tip of Halls Pond Cay.

That afternoon we walked around to the Sound side of Halls Pond to a beach where the Captain was just positive there would be sea glass; unfortunately, the only thing we found was a lot of seaweed. We then dinghied west to Sandy Cay and sat on the beach in the sun for a while before checking out one of several beaches on the west side of Halls Pond Cay. We settled on the one that had a conveniently located shade tree near the water and decided we would come back the next afternoon with some rum punch and enjoy the afternoon.

A beautiful shady beach on Halls Pond Cay. It doesn't get much better than this!

Wednesday evening Todd grilled some of the Mahi-Mahi Paul gave us and it was delicious! We then took a sunset dinghy ride south to Snake Cay, which is really three cays connected by two incredibly nice sandbars that are totally exposed a low tide. If we hadn't been moving to the Warderick Wells south mooring field on Thursday, we would definitely have revisited this spot!

We were alone in the south mooring field on Thursday and decided to go back to one of our favorite beaches, east of Hog Cay. Originally, we didn't think the cay had a name, but the Exuma cruise guide calls it Pirate Retreat. It was a warm, beautiful afternoon, the water was a great temperature, the beer was cold and the sand was silky soft. You can't ask for much more than that!

Back on Pirate Retreat, one of our favorite areas to spend the afternoon.

Sugar sand toes.

Friday was bucket laundry day again and then we dinghied over to one of the small beaches on the west side of Hog Cay for a few hours that afternoon. Other than a few dinghies passing through doing a little exploring and snorkeling, we had the mooring field to ourselves again. After a very nice dinner we watched the sunset through the clouds and admired the beautiful colors.

Today is Saturday, May 31st, and we have moved to the Warderick Wells north mooring field. The closest and most direct route between the south and north mooring fields is via Exuma Sound, about three miles, but the east wind has been pretty strong and we didn't want to deal with the rough water, so we took the inside route, via Exuma Bank, and arrived a few hours later.

We will update the blog this afternoon and get caught up on e-mail and then hopefully spend tomorrow exploring and checking out some new beaches in the area. Our plan is to leave here on Monday and continue north. It is unlikely that we will have Internet access again before we reach Bimini since, at this point, we don't plan on going in to a marina at Nassau. We should reach Bimini between the 10th and 15th of June and will try to post another update at that time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Staniel Cay, Black Point Settlement and Little Farmers Cay

On Monday, May 12th, Jerry dropped by on his way to Sampson Cay to get some gas and Todd decided to ride along with him and pick up a bag of ice. Jerry's boat, "Watchout," is on a private mooring ball between Pipe Cay and Kemp Cay (Little Pipe) and we met he and his wife Dotty late Sunday afternoon when we went exploring in the dinghy.  We went back over to their boat that afternoon for happy hour and had a great time talking and sharing stories. Dotty is an accomplished photographer and many of her photos can be seen in the Explorer Chartbook, including the cover photo! We took a photo of them and had planned to post it, but the storage card in the camera went on the blink and we lost most of our pictures. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to take another one on the return trip.

More beautiful sunsets in the Exumas.

Tuesday we moved to an anchorage at the southwest corner of Big Majors near the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and took the computers to the club to update the blog and check e-mail. Tom & Jackie from "In Your Dreams" were also there and we met their friends, Jim & Sherel, aboard "Sandpiper." The Internet signal was very poor and after a couple of hours, I gave up on downloading the many photos I needed to download and just posted the blog update with a few photos. Todd didn't have much better luck with e-mail so we went back to the boat and decided to move to the west side of Big Majors where the other two boats were anchored.

The Admiral enjoying the evening on the bow of "Life's2Short."

We took off in the dinghy Wednesday morning in search of a beach to the south that Tom & Jackie told us they were going to, but it got pretty rough and we still had quite a distance to go, so we cut the trip short and spent some time walking around town instead. The photos we took at Staniel Cay were also lost so we'll take some on the return trip and include them in the next blog update.

Just one advantage of not owning a sailboat!

The supply boat from Nassau was due in that morning so we went to Isles General Store where we purchased a package of three hearts of romaine, a loaf of Roman Meal bread, two tomatoes and four bananas for a shocking total of $17.40! I knew it would be expensive but I had no idea it would be that expensive!!! I'm just glad we didn't need much.

That evening we went to dinner with Tom & Jackie and Jim & Sherel at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club where we enjoyed a nice meal and good company. We left for Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay on Thursday where we dinghied ashore and walked to Lorraine's Cafe to check out the Internet. For some reason I wasn't able to get our computer signed on, but Lorraine had several computers available for boaters to use so Todd was at least able to check e-mail. I decided that I would download our blog photos to a jump drive and bring it back over the next day to finish the previous blog update. Tom & Jackie stopped by while we were there and we decided to make reservations for dinner at Lorraine's Friday evening.

The dock and bay at Black Point.

Building boats for the Regatta is BIG business in the Bahamas; they race for "bragging rights."

Sunset in the bay at Black Point.

The world famous Lorraine from Lorraine's Cafe. Don't forget to purchase some of her mom's coconut bread while you are at Black Point!

Friday we took our laundry over to the "laundermat," which is probably the newest and most impressive structure on the entire island. It has twelve washers and ten dryers, all of which are like new. The price is $3.50 to wash and $3.50 to dry, but thanks to my bucket laundry we only had to do a couple of loads. The "laundermat" is just down the road from Lorraine's so I spent about three hours adding the remaining photos to the previous blog update while Todd caught up on e-mail. "Sandpiper" arrived at the anchorage early Friday afternoon and decided to join us for dinner.

It's the lunch hour for the kids attending school.

The Captain wants to adopt this young lady. What a smile!

Annie and Agnes, basket and mat weavers at Black Point.

We got back to the boat about 2:30 and decided to do a little exploring in the dinghy. We left the anchorage and went north to a very nice beach that was separated from the Sound by a thin line of jagged rocks. Several iguanas wandered out onto the beach to see if we had any food for them, but we didn't have anything with us. There was a "Do Not Feed the Iguanas" sign on the beach anyway, so I guess it's just as well.

Tom & Jackie had invited everyone over to their boat for happy hour before going to Lorraine's for dinner so we quickly showered and changed when we got back to the boat and then joined the others for a nice evening. The dinner at Lorraine's Cafe was nothing fancy but it was good, relatively inexpensive (by Bahamian standards) and I think everyone enjoyed it.

On Saturday we hiked to a beach on the Sound side with Tom & Jackie. Jackie had gone there the previous day and found some sea glass and a few other treasures along the way. We spent several hours collecting all the sea glass we could find and were literally worn out when we returned to the boat three hours later!

The next day we moved a few miles south to Isaac Bay, also on Great Guana Cay, in the hopes of finding some fish near the reefs there. Tom & Jackie arrived ahead of us and then decided to go on south to Little Farmers Cay a short time later; Jim & Sherel stayed at Isaac Bay with us. Todd did a little spearfishing that afternoon but only managed to get a couple of trigger fish. The anchorage was pretty rough most of the day and a good portion of the night, so we were more than ready to move on to Little Farmers early Monday morning.

We picked up a mooring ball near "In Your Dreams" for $10 per night at Little Farmers and a short time later went with Tom to the Sound side where he dropped me off on the beach with Jackie and he and Todd went fishing. Tom & Jackie have a very nice center console tender that is bigger and much more comfortable than ours. The boys caught six relatively small fish and the girls found only a few treasures while beach combing but we all had a good time anyway.

Some of the caves located on the Sound side of Farmers Cay.

"In Your Dreams" and "Life's2Short" out for some fishing and beach combing.

When we got back to our boats, we put a cooler together and went to the sand bar in the middle of the mooring field. It was somewhere in the vicinity of low tide and the sand bar had just a few feet of water covering it. Jim & Sherel joined us and Tom brought rum punch for all, which we proceeded to sample while enjoying the water. After we were shriveled (and pickled) enough, we left to take a quick shower and then took hors d'oeuvres over to "In Your Dreams."

Getting "rum-punched" on the sand bar at Little Farmers Cay. What a great afternoon!

Tom & Jackie took off for Georgetown Tuesday morning and, unfortunately, we probably will not see them again while in the Exumas. They have some guests flying in to Georgetown Thursday morning and will spend a couple of weeks there before heading north again. We will start heading north Wednesday and plan to gradually work our way back to Nassau over the next three weeks or so, so our paths likely will not cross again, at least not in the Exumas.

Moonrise over the anchorage at Little Farmers Cay.

Todd and I dinghied over to Little Farmers Tuesday morning to walk around. Little Farmers is one of those priceless little communities that one hopes to find in the Bahamas. All fifty-five of the population are typical Exumians - very warm, open and friendly. As we arrived at the town dock, there were a few young men cleaning fish and harvesting conch, a common sight in the Bahamas. The Ocean Cabin Restaurant & Bar, a small grocery store, a tiny liquor store, a post office and the Farmers Cay Yacht Club pretty much cover the "must-see" stops on the island.

A couple of locals cleaning conch in the bay.

Little Farmers bay, called Little Harbour.

Our last stop before heading back north.

If and when Todd ever goes back to work, these will be his operating hours!

Tuesday afternoon we took the dinghy out into the Sound, which was very calm, and went north a few miles to a horseshoe-shaped beach on Great Guana Cay that Todd had seen on the map and thought might be a good one for sea glass. As it turned out, there wasn't any sea glass at that location, but Todd hiked around on the rocks and searched through the sea debris and managed to locate several steel floats he just couldn't pass up! Jackie had found one for him the previous day but got tired of carrying it as we hiked over the rocks to yet another beach and decided to leave it behind. Todd doesn't know how old the steel floats are but hopes to find someone who knows their history.

Another secluded beach where we spent a few hours looking for treasures and enjoying the view.

Todd with his treasure trove of steel floats.

After leaving that beach, we hit a couple of others on the way back and managed to find some sea glass but nothing compared to what we found at the beach near Black Point. After joining Jim & Sherel for happy hour, we went to the Ocean Cabin Restaurant & Bar where we had a couple of beers and an order of cracked conch, which was very good! While we were there, we met Terry & Ernestine, the owners, and another local named Samuel. They are very proud of their little community and told us they were glad we had decided to pay them a visit.

Wednesday morning we wrote our boat name, our names and the month and year on a plastic float Todd found the previous day and he took it over to Ocean Cabin so Terry could hang it from the ceiling inside the restaurant. The wind picked up out of the southwest overnight and we had a bit of a rough trip back up to Black Point Wednesday morning. The anchorage was also a little on the rough side with no protection from the west, but at least it offers some protection from the south.

About mid-afternoon, at low tide, we walked back over to the sea glass beach to see what we could find and, much to our delight, we found plenty! We had just been there a few days ago and cleaned up, but there was a whole new batch waiting for us. We beachcombed until we were both exhausted and then made the trek back to the boat for a much needed shower and some rest.

Todd fried a mess of fish for dinner that included yellow tail snapper, grouper and trigger fish. He and Tom had caught the yellow tail snapper and grouper in the Sound off Little Farmers on Monday and Todd speared the trigger fish at Isaac Bay the day before. What a great meal! We both stuffed ourselves and finished all eight fish supplemented by fresh cole slaw (in our defense, most of the fish were pretty small)!

Today is Thursday, May 22nd, and our plan is to continue north to Staniel Cay after we go ashore and update the blog at Lorraine's Cafe. A late season cold front with some pretty strong north winds is supposed to be headed this way by Sunday and continue into early next week, so we hope to be on a mooring ball in Cambridge by then. After Cambridge we will probably go to the Exuma Park south mooring field and then on to the north mooring field where we will once again have Internet access and be able to update the blog.