Friday, April 17, 2009

Back in the Exumas - Allens Cay to Warderick Wells

Our last blog update was Sunday, April 5th, from Nassau. That afternoon we joined the crew from "Gypsies in the Palace" poolside at the Nassau Harbour Club and were later joined by Bob & Stephanie from "September Song." That evening we passed around Tammy's forgotten key lime pie from the previous evening's dinner (life's too short, eat dessert first!), and Todd walked across the street in search of food, returning with an unclaimed Hawaiian pizza from Dominoes that afforded us one piece each.

On Monday the Captain purchased and installed a new macerater pump that was twice as expensive as it would have been in the States, and then we walked to Potters Cay for a late lunch of conch salad and cracked conch. About 5:30 p.m. we again joined the gang poolside and sampled rum cake purchased by "September Song" earlier that day at the rum factory in downtown Nassau and then Doug and Bob made a food run to get a bucket of chicken from KFC, which we all shared.

About 9:00 p.m. the rest of the gang retired to their boats but John wanted to watch the NCAA Championship game so John & Colleen and Todd & I walked to nearby Club Waterloo and spent the next couple of hours watching John's team fall behind. But we had a good time and were able to spend some additional time with John who was flying back to Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday to finish up some business in the States.

The cold front that had been forecast moved in early Tuesday morning and we had a little rain followed by breezy and much cooler conditions. Colleen gave the Captain a hair cut and then they walked to the Batelco office to get a prepaid phone card while I did laundry. That afternoon we walked over to "September Song" to review the weather forecast and use their computer access to send a few e-mails. It looked like Wednesday was going to be the day to leave so we made a final produce run to City Market that evening and stopped in at the Dairy Queen for a hot fudge sundae.

Sunset at Nassau Harbour Club.

Colleen, the beautician.

We left the Nassau Harbour Club at 10:15 Wednesday morning followed by Dan & Carol aboard "Lucky Stars." "Gypsies in the Palace" was waiting for a new watermaker membrane to be delivered later that day and "September Song" elected to wait with them. We arrived at Allens Cay about 4-1/2 hours later after a somewhat rolly ride, but mostly the waves pushed us from behind. The Captain and I were on the beach by 3:30 enjoying a wonderful afternoon. "Gypsies in the Palace" and "September Song" arrived at the anchorage about 6:30 p.m. and managed to find a spot for the evening, even though the anchorage was quite crowded by then. Everyone made a brief appearance at the beach before retiring to their boats to make dinner.

It's soooooo good to be back in the Exumas!

Moonrise over Leaf Cay.

The setting moon over Allens Cay.

Thursday was another gorgeous day and Todd was up early taking sunrise photos. He then took Colleen exploring on Ship Channel Cay about 9:30 a.m. and didn't return until 1:30 p.m.! Apparently, they found a bar on the island and felt obliged to patronize it before returning to Allens Cay.

What a beautiful morning, the sun is rising in the east as the moon is setting in the west.

Some local Bahamian fishermen in the anchorage next to "Life's2Short."

That afternoon we picked Colleen up in the dinghy and went to the beach about 3:30. Just before leaving "Life's2Short" we heard Stephanie radio Bob, who was out in their tender, saying that she thought "September Song" was aground on the sandbar - and it was. Once the tide came up enough for them to float off, they moved "September Song" (for the third time that day!) and then joined us on the beach, as did Tammy & Doug. We all decided to break for dinner and then reconvene around 8:00 p.m. for a blazing campfire on the beach on a beautiful, fun full moon evening.

"September Song" "resting" on the bottom at low tide.

It just doesn't get any better than this!

Happy hour company on Iguana beach.

Good company and bad jokes around the campfire.

By Friday morning the wind had picked up and we decided to leave Allens Cay in search of a calmer anchorage. We settled on Long Cay, a few miles south, and spent a quiet couple of days doing a little exploring, snorkeling and hanging on the beach. "Lucky Stars" had left Allens Cay the previous morning and "September Song" and "Gypsies in the Palace" were going to wait at Allens for the arrival of "Tidehiker" and "Rickshaw" who were expected to arrive from Nassau on Saturday.

We left Long Cay on Easter Sunday about 9:30 a.m. and went out in the Sound where we met up with the four other boats from Allens and fished our way south to Normans Cay. Colleen was the only one who was successful that day, but she was very excited and proud to have caught a nice, 36-inch Mahi-mahi.

Colleen, the Mahi slayer, with boatmates Doug & Tammy.

Once "Life's2Short" was anchored we dinghied over to the Normans Cay Beach Club to check out their Easter brunch ($30 per person - no thanks!) and say hello to Stephan, one of the owners who we met last year. We then met up with "Gypsies in the Palace," "Tidehiker" and "Rickshaw" on the beach that afternoon and were all invited to dinner aboard "Gypsies in the Palace" that evening to share Colleen's catch of the day.

Sunset photos at Normans Cay, everybody is involved.

Colleen prepares the catch of the day - YUM, YUM!

The gang's all here for dinner.

About the time things were wrapping up on "Gypsies," we were invited over to a nearby boat where Mike from "Yamacraw" was hanging out with some friends. We met Mike last year when we were anchored at Normans Cay and took an impromptu afternoon ride with him and his crew to the northern tip of Normans Cay. "Yamacraw" is essentially a transport boat that makes runs between Nassau and some of the islands in the northern Exumas. At any rate, we took Colleen with us and had a great time listening to Mike play the guitar and sing old, familiar songs.

"Yamacraw" Mike entertains the group on "White Rat".

The tuna tower of "White Rat" with some serious fishing equipment. Can you tell they are here to fish?

We invited Mike over for a late breakfast on Monday and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the boat. Bob had made reservations for the group that evening at the Beach Club, so we joined them late Monday afternoon for happy hour drinks and dinner.

Americans and our Internet needs.

Dinner with the group at Normans Beach Club.

The wind picked up overnight and the anchorage became rolly and quite uncomfortable. Early Tuesday morning the Captain decided to move "Life's2Short" to the north of Skipjack Point, just a short distance away, where we were hoping the shallow point would help knock down the waves that were building from the south. The other boats quickly followed suit and we found somewhat calmer water. Vicki aboard "Tidehiker" and Linnie aboard "Rickshaw" volunteered to provide entrees for a potluck on the beach later that afternoon, so everyone gathered about 4:00 p.m. and we had a nice get-together on a protected beach near the anchorage.

Doug & Tammy use the looky-bucket to check the anchor.

Potluck on the beach.

Rick & Linnie aboard Rickshaw."

By the time we returned from the potluck, the anchorage was fairly calm and we were all looking forward to a restful night; unfortunately, the water got rough again overnight. With winds predicted to come out of the southwest and west during the day on Wednesday, and with a line of thunderstorms moving our way from Andros, we all decided to move to yet another anchorage at the southern tip of Normans Cay. Once there we had much better wind protection and blessedly calm water, and the storms either went north or dissipated before they reached us.

Todd and I took a dinghy ride to the north about mid-afternoon but we had waited too long past high tide to go as far as we wanted and had to go out into the Sound to get back to our anchorage. However, just as we entered Normans Cut from the Sound, we found a beautiful beach where we sat up our chairs and umbrella and spent the next couple of hours relaxing and reading. Bob came by in his tender with Cassie and Godiva and stopped for a short while to let the dogs run and play.

"September Song," "Gypsies in the Palace" and "Tidehiker" left early Thursday morning for Warderick Wells. "Rickshaw" decided to stay at Normans for a few more days, and we ended up leaving around 11:00 a.m., also headed for Warderick Wells. We arrived at the north mooring field via Exuma Sound a couple of hours later and found that the other three boats weren't able to get in to the north mooring field and had taken a mooring in the south mooring field. At the time, they were planning to move to the north mooring field the next day, space permitting, so we went ahead and took a mooring in the north field.

The view from our sundeck at the Exumas Land & Sea Park north mooring field.

Once situated, we dinghied over to Naked Beach, one of our favorite beaches from last year, where we found a boat on the beach and saw a couple of people snorkeling the nearby reefs. The man, Jed, came out of the water shortly after we arrived and we were chatting with him on the beach while his wife, Page, continued to snorkel. We were all keeping an eye on her, periodically checking to make sure she was still out there, because the water was rough and the outgoing current was quite strong. After a short while we weren't able to see her any longer, so Jed and Todd got in their boats and went searching for her around the corner.

Sure enough, she had gotten too close to the edge of the reef and was literally carried away by the current! Once on the other side of the cay, the current lessened and she was able to swim to the side, away from the current, and grab on to the rocks at the edge of the water. Todd spotted her first and had her hold on to the side of his dinghy while he towed her over to her husband. Needless to say, I was extremely relieved to see two people in Jed's boat when he came around the corner! Page was remarkably calm about the experience, but she knew to just "go with the flow" and to not fight the current. A valuable lesson for anyone who spends time in the ocean.

A short time later we noticed storms moving in from the west. They appeared to be staying west of us and were heading south, but there was a noticeable drop in temperature and we felt a few sprinkles, so we decided it would be prudent to get back to "Life's2Short" before we got caught in an unexpected downpour. Unfortunately, the rain did not come but we enjoyed a pleasantly cool, breezy evening aboard "Life's2Short."

Today is Friday, April 17th, and as I write this blog update, the Captain is hiking up to Boo Boo Hill to leave the "Life's2Short" boat sign he made and to see if the one from last year is still there.

A new year, a new sign.

Update: The Captain just returned and reports that last year's sign is still there and the new sign has been added to the "pile."

The boat sign pile on Boo-Boo Hill.

Our friend Lisa's troll poses with the new "Life's2Short" sign.

This afternoon we will dinghy over to Park Headquarters to update the blog and send a few e-mails. Tomorrow we plan to join the rest of the group at the south mooring field where we will probably spend a couple of days before moving further south to moorings at Cambridge. After that we will work our way to Staniel Cay where Colleen's husband, John, is flying into early next week. Once John is back on board, "Gypsies in the Palace" will likely separate from the group and continue their journey to South America while the rest of us continue to play in the Exumas.

We hope to be able to update the blog again from Staniel Cay, but their Internet access last year was very poor so that may or may not happen. If not, Blackpoint Settlement will be our next opportunity as we work our way south. We'll keep you posted to the extent possible!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Memorable Crossing - Rodriguez Key to Nassau

We said our goodbyes to Jack & Susan and headed to Rodriguez Key shortly after 3:00 p.m. on Monday, March 30th. The seas had calmed nicely and we were anchored within a couple of hours, along with "September Song," "Gypsies in the Palace," "Lucky Stars" and about twenty other boats, most of which were sailboats.  Our group of four decided to haul anchor at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning so we had a mellow evening and went to bed early.

At this point I should note that our group of four boats includes ten people. In addition to "Life's2Short," we have Bob & Stephanie aboard "September Song," Doug & Tammy and John & Colleen aboard "Gypsies in the Palace," and Dan & Carol aboard "Lucky Stars." The "Gypsies" are actually on a much longer journey than the rest of us and are planning to make their way to South America over the course of the next couple of years. Quite an adventurous foursome!

Todd and I got up at 4:20 a.m. Tuesday morning and by 5:15 we were following "September Song" out of the anchorage. "Gypsies in the Palace" fell in behind us and "Lucky Stars" brought up the rear. The seas varied during the eight-and-a-half hours it took us to reach the Bahama Bank and we experienced a fair amount of rolling motion, but mostly it was confused, unorganized turbulence.

The fearsome foursome heading across the Gulf Stream.

Everyone had at least one line out at some point as we crossed the Gulf Stream, but Don & Carol aboard "Lucky Stars" worked the hardest at it and were rewarded with a nice fourteen-pound Mahi-mahi. Todd also had a hit and brought in a Yellowfin tuna weighing about six pounds and "Gypsies in the Palace" hooked a barracuda, which they promptly released.

We were hoping that the water on the Bahama Bank would be calmer than what we had experienced in the Gulf Stream but it, too, was on the rough side. We decided to stop at 4:30 that afternoon and call it a day. Everyone was tired and looking forward to a restful night. The seas calmed down a bit over the next few hours and it was actually pretty nice when we went to bed at 8:00 p.m.

September Song arrives on the Bahama Bank with its beautiful blue water!

By 10:30 we were see-sawing badly in three- to four-foot waves that were slapping our swim platform so hard we were certain it was going to break off. Sleeping was virtually impossible and about 1:30 a.m. "Lucky Stars" came on the VHF radio and told us that they had, in fact, lost their swim platform. No one got much sleep that night!

Dan got in the water at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday to search for the swim platform but was unable to locate it. We hauled anchor at 8:00 a.m. (not an easy thing to do when you are see-sawing in four-foot waves!) and made a few passes in the vicinity to see if we could see the swim platform on the bottom, but it was nowhere to be found. Between the wind and the current, there is no telling where or how far it may have gone.

Once we were underway the water seemed much calmer than it had been at anchor - that is, until we neared the Northwest Channel of the Tongue of the Ocean. The seas got progressively worse and by the time we reached the Northwest Channel we were plowing bow-first through six- to eight-foot waves! We even took a few over the flybridge as we slammed into the troughs of the swells. Our original plan was to separate from the other three boats at this point and head south toward Andros, but when we attempted to turn that direction the waves rolled us from the side and we quickly decided that going to Andros was no longer a viable option.

"Lucky Stars" cruising on the Bank.

"September Song" and "Gypsies in the Palace" following "Life's2Short."

Heading into the powerful Tongue of the Ocean in less than desirable conditions!

Shortly after that "Lucky Stars" radioed to say that their dinghy had broken loose from one of its chocks and they were in danger of losing it overboard. A chock is essentially a cradle or brace that the dinghy sits on, and is strapped to, to hold it in place. Their dinghy, like ours, is mounted on top of their sundeck and the stern of the dinghy had come out of the cradle. Dan scrambled to secure it as best he could under the circumstances while Carol manned the helm, and we all braced for a rough sixteen-mile ride to Chub Cay.

Bob aboard "September Song" hailed Chub Cay marina to inquire about dockage for the night and was quoted a rate of $4.75 per foot, per night! We all decided that was also not a viable option and ended up anchoring outside the marina channel about 4:00 p.m. We had anchored there last year and found it to be uncomfortably rolly, but compared to what we had just gone through, it was heavenly!

We had prepared pretty well for the rough seas, moving things to safety that have never budged before, but we still had a few things to pick up and a lot of things to put back in place. After we were all settled at anchor, Dan swam some of their fresh Mahi-mahi over to each of the other boats and we gave him some of our Yellowfin tuna. That evening everyone enjoyed fresh fish for dinner and we were all grateful for the relative calm of our anchorage.

By 8:00 p.m. the Captain and I were in bed, exhausted after a gruelling day. Todd & Bob dinghied in to the marina Thursday morning to buy a bag of ice and to ask about clearing customs. They were told it would be $100 per boat, in addition to the standard $300 fee for cruising and fishing permits, so we elected to wait and clear customs in Nassau. Apparently the entire Chub Cay operation is going bankrupt, which is understandable based on their rude manners, dockage rates, and the additional customs fee. It's a wonder anyone goes in there at all!

Ice run for the Admiral who needs her cold cerveza.

Later that morning Todd was monitoring the VHF radio and heard some boaters talking about Chris Parker's weather forecast for the next few days. Unfortunately, what he heard was that the wind was going to clock around to the southwest by Friday morning, which would make the anchorage at Chub unbearable. We knew we had to go somewhere; we just didn't know where! Since the conditions hadn't changed in the Tongue of the Ocean, no one wanted to attempt the forty-mile trip to Nassau and we also were not interested in paying the marina's outrageous dockage fees, which they wouldn't budge from even though Tammy, our resident lawyer aboard "Gypsies in the Palace," did her best to negotiate with them.

We finally decided to leave Chub Cay and go around the corner to Frazer's Hog Cay, which is north and east of Chub, to take a mooring ball at the Berry Islands Club for an extremely reasonable $15 per night. Our only hesitation about going to the Berry Islands Club was that we would have to go back outside and face the dreaded seas to get there. But we didn't have a lot of options so we once again battened down the hatches and pulled anchor at 1:30 p.m.

The trip to the Berry Islands Club was shorter than anticipated, maybe five or six miles, and we were secure on a mooring ball an hour later. The seas were still quite rough, but they weren't as bad as the previous day and we weren't exposed for very long. All in all, it wasn't a bad trip and we were glad to be away from the surge at Chub Cay. "September Song," "Gypsies in the Palace" and "Lucky Stars" ended up tying up to the dock at the Berry Islands Club where the rate is a very respectable $2.00 per foot, per night, plus $25 for electricity.

A must-stop for cruisers headed to the Berry Islands.

That evening we all went to the Berry Islands Club and were waited on by Herbie, the owner/manager, who mixed a killer rum punch and made some tasty conch fritters. We ended up crashing on "September Song" until about 4:00 a.m. when we got up to help Bob & Stephanie add some fenders to keep their boat from rubbing on the dock. At that point we decided to dinghy back to "Life's2Short" for the remainder of the night.

Welcome to Frazer's Hog Cay.

Herbie, the man can cook AND mix rum punch all at the same time!

Having way too much fun!

You can take the Captain out of the kitchen but he always finds his way back.

Herbie & Eddie preparing Jerk pork.

Troy & Eddie, divers from Andros and just all-around great guys!

Todd took off in the dinghy mid-morning on Friday to go exploring. He later stopped by with Dan in Dan's dinghy to drop off some ice and then they were off to look at some wood he had found earlier that he thought might be usable to build a temporary swim platform for "Lucky Stars." The next time I saw him was about 1:30 p.m. when he stopped in long enough to eat a sandwich and then he was off again with a couple of locals (Bahamians) who were going diving for conch.

Heading out to find some conch.

Troy, the Conch Slayer!

Todd, the Rookie.

Coming in with a mess of conch!

The Bahamians dropped Todd off at "Life's2Short" about 3:30 and he promptly got in his dinghy and went to shore to help them clean the harvested conch. He finally returned shortly before 5:00 p.m. - with some fresh conch, I might add - and settled down long enough to have a couple of beers before taking a nap. A busy and fun day for the Captain - welcome to the islands, mon!

It ain't as easy as you think cleaning those conch.

That evening we dinghied over to "September Song" about 7:00 p.m. for a late happy hour and then walked up to the Berry Islands Club for dinner. Herbie had another large group to feed prior to us, so our "reservation" was for 8:30. The ten of us were served family-style and had salad, pigeon peas & rice, macaroni & cheese, corn on the cob, grouper fingers, cracked conch and lobster, all for $22 per person. Everything was wonderful and we all got more than enough to eat!

A feast fit for hungry cruisers.

Saturday morning we left Frazer's Hog Cay at 9:00 a.m. to make the forty-mile trip to Nassau. With a light and variable west wind, the water in the Tongue of the Ocean had calmed down beautifully, the fishing was good and everyone had a great trip. Todd caught another Yellowfin tuna; Bob, aboard "September Song," caught a thirty-six inch Mahi-mahi and a Yellowfin tuna; and John, who was traveling with Dan & Carol aboard "Lucky Stars" for the trip to Nassau, also reeled in a thirty-six inch Mahi-mahi. Way to go, guys!

The trolling trawlers, Nassau bound with fish on the line!

"You can tune a guitar but you can't tuna fish!"

After entering Nassau harbor, "Life's2Short" and "Lucky Stars" stopped at Brown's Boat Basin to top off with fuel. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the cash price for diesel was $2.42 per gallon, which is great considering we paid more than twice that when we were here in April last year and nearly as much ($2.35) when we topped off in Islamorada less than two weeks ago.

Once we were docked at the Nassau Harbor Yacht Club we took our tuna and joined "September Song" and "Gypsies in the Palace" at the fish cleaning stations. "Lucky Stars" also joined us with their catch of the day a short time later. Colleen wanted to learn how to clean a tuna and Todd was happy to oblige. With a little intermittent coaching, she did a fine job and we ended up with a nice bag of tuna fillets that we were happy to donate to dinner for the group.

Bob and Todd with their catches. It's gonna be another great dinner!

The entire gang, left to right: Colleen & John, Todd & Brenda, Tammy & Doug, Carol, then Bob & Stephanie, and Dan (Carol's husband) behind Stephanie. What a fun group!

We met on "September Song" at 6:00 p.m. for happy hour and appetizers, followed by grilled fresh Mahi-Mahi and Yellowfin tuna, macaroni & cheese and salad for dinner. The majority of the group was very enthsiastic about eating some of the tuna raw (Sashimi-style), but a couple of us preferred our fish cooked! Nonetheless, everyone was relieved to finally be in Nassau and a good time was had by all. Thanks for hosting us - again - "September Song" (a.k.a. Big Boat Bob - and Stephanie, too)!

Big Fish Bob with his Mahi-Mahi killer lure.

Enjoying our first evening in Nassau.

Sashimi anyone? It can't get any fresher!

Sunset on the way...

Bob & Stephanie blowing their conch horns at sunset.

Girls Gone Wild!

Big Barbecue Bob grilling the "Catch of the Day" with Dan alongside.

Today is Sunday, April 5th, and we plan to stay at the Nassau Harbor Yacht Club a few more days. Another front is supposed to be moving through by Monday so we will monitor the weather and make a decision on Tuesday as to when we are going to make the final jump to the Exumas. In the meantime, the Captain and I have some chores to take care of, both on and off "Life's2Short," and will make good use of our time at the marina.