Thursday, May 20, 2010
Hello one and all. We are slowly, very slowly working our way north and back to New Bern. Yes, we are still having fun and still speak to each other.
On April 28th our friend Richard Barr arrived at the Staniel Cay airport. He enjoyed the view flying to Staniel from Nassau, but like Julia and Josh, thought the small plane a bit of a risk. Bill picked Richard up and they did my shopping at the Isles General Store, the largest grocery store in the Central Exumas. I stayed on board Irish Eyes making a loaf of bread. Richard caught us up on all the Kingsport news over supper.
We left next morning and sailed north to the south anchorage at Hawskbill Cay. The wind was fair, so we used all three of our sails. It is good sometimes to look like the cutter we are. We picked up an Exuma Park mooring, launched our dinghy, and went ashore. The walk across the island was not long, but the terrain was something else. First the 100 yards of sand flat, next a quarter mile of bare sharp coral rock, then a small ankle deep stream, and finally up and over a sandy palm covered hill to reach the Atlantic side of the cay. The walk was worth it, but I still don’t like walking on the coral rocks in my bathing suit and flip flops. The risk of being cut to hamburger seems all too real. For my effort I found a perfect Cowrie shell. One of my books says they are a rare treasure. So far I have found three on this trip.
Friday, April 30th we sailed under genoa alone with the wind behind us to Shroud Cay. It was a short trip, so we had time to take the dinghy and go up a creek through the island to the Atlantic side of the island. As we were motoring along in our little dinghy we noticed a float plane. All three of us thought it was anchored. Bill decided to go closer to check it out. Well, the plane was actually moving. It taxied out past us, then it waited for us to slowly get out of his way. Our little 3.5 horsepower dinghy motor doesn’t let us make a hasty move in any direction. It was really neat to watch the float plane lift off in a cloud of spray from its propeller. The trip down the creek was beautiful. I believe that mangroves are the heartiest plants on earth. They grow in sand and salt water with roots reaching in all directions sprouting still more plants and growing where nothing else will grow. Richard thinks kudzu is even heartier. He could be right, but I don’t think so. The Atlantic-side beach was all pink sand and blue water backed by cave filled stone cliffs and sand hills. The tropic birds were nesting. They were swooping everywhere trying to keep us away from their nests - some in the rocks, some in caves, and some just in little holes in the rock.
The next morning we heard Irish Eyes being hailed on the VHF radio. Ray and Kath Boush from Piney Flats, like us members of the Johnson City Power Squadron, were close by on their motor catamaran. Richard knew the Bouchs from years past, but Bill and I had not met them. They came to Shroud Cay, and we spent the morning visiting first on our boat and then on theirs. It was a beautiful Exuma day with clear blue sky, clear water, and lots of sunshine. The Irish Eyes crew let go of our Shroud Cay mooring and sailed north the ten miles to Norman’s Cay. We anchored without any problems and went ashore for dinner at McDuff’s Beach Club. Bill and I like going to McDuff’s. The food is good and the staff even better. We watched the Kentucky Derby at the bar over cocktails on their satellite TV.
Sunday morning found us motor sailing south into the wind. It wasn’t that rough in the beginning just a little bouncy. I decided to make a batch of rolls, half regular and half sweet. I was doing fine until I leaned over to light the oven. That was enough for me! Bill had to finish the rolls with my instructions issued from the cockpit. I don’t often get seasick unless I stay below too long or keep my head below my belly. We picked up a mooring at Emerald Rock at the Exuma Park headquarters. Lots of other boats were on the way back to the US from farther south, so the mooring field was pretty full. The next morning Bill and Richard dinghied into the Park Office to pay our mooring fee and get a wifi password. We hung around till noon checking our e-mail before motoring the few miles south to Pipe Cay.
We explored the island on foot and by dinghy. The anchorage is subject to surge - waves rolling in from the Atlantic. And, it surged all night making us all uncomfortable as the boat rocked and rolled. In the morning Bill and I snorkeled around the nearby rocks where Bill saw a Lionfish. They are poisonous fish and are not native to the Bahamas. You are supposed to kill them, but with their fierce looking poisonous spines and with the spear in the boat, we just took a picture.
It was Tuesday, and Richard was to leave Wednesday on the morning Flamingo Air flight to Nassau. We motored first to Big Major’s Spot to show Richard the swimming pigs, then we went around the corner to anchor off the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for supper in their restaurant. It was again a very good meal.
We got Richard to the airport in time for his 8:45 flight. Without the US hassle of check-in and security, we did not have to be there early – just watch the plane land, walk up, hand the pilot your ticket and luggage, hop on, and leave. On our way back to the boat, Bill and I did some grocery shopping. It was a little tough finding what we needed. The mailboat had engine troubles and was still in Nassau days after its scheduled departure. We did find a (out of date) case of Diet Coke at the Blue Store, but no frozen orange juice anywhere. Bill got 25 gallons of drinking water and 15 gallons of diesel from the yacht club to top up our tanks. We were then ready for the long trip to Eleuthera and the Abacos.
The weather forecast for Thursday May 6th was for winds from the south; perfect for sailing the 30 miles across the Exuma Sound to Eleuthera. This was a 30 mile or so trip across open water. It was a beautiful day, and we sailed along happy as could be. Bill put out our fishing lines. We caught an 8 pound, 36 inch dolphin fish, dorado, mahi-mahi or whichever else you want to call it. We hooked another one about the same size, but it got away. Bill said the knot the factory tied in the lure failed. Probably just as well. We filleted the one we had and put most in the freezer. Supper was fresh fish while anchored in Rock Sound. Wonderful!
Our stay in Rock Sound lasted longer than we anticipated. The wind was at first too light to bother trying to sail and then it was to strong from the north and east, the direction we were headed. Rock Sound was a good place to wait for a week. There was a proper grocery store with aisles and shopping carts, several liquor stores, two good restaurants, and an Anglican Church. We bought groceries, some rum, ate in both restaurants, and went to church on Mother’s Day. I received a carnation corsage along with all the other mothers. In honor of all the mothers, the men in the congregation sang a hymn. Bill did not participate. If you have ever heard him sing, you know why. We sang the hymn ”Faith of Our Mothers”... same tune just different words. The service was very nice but long - two and a half hours! I had an enjoyable Mother’s Day.
Finally on Thursday 13th, we decided to bite the bullet and just sail into the wind. We first were going to go to Tarpum Bay to anchor, but when we got close enough to see the harbor, there were whitecaps everywhere, even under the Government Dock. It didn’t look at all like a comfortable spot to spend the night. On we went to Ten Bay. It was much calmer in this little harbor. There was a beach with several attractive houses in the trees along its edge. Bill and I found numerous sand dollars and several good shells on the wide sandy beach.
Friday morning we left to make the short hop to Governor’s Harbour, the original capital of the Bahamas. Governor’s Harbour is a pretty place. The houses are painted bright colors and many have beautiful flowers in their yards. I was almost out of clean underwear - a sure sign that it was time to do laundry. I looked after that task while Bill made a walking tour of the town. He found a bakery, shops, an art gallery, big houses with gardens, and little houses with chickens. He also found a sign nailed to a tree advertising a Friday Night Fish Fry. It sounded like fun, so we went.
The Fish Fry was held on the beach in the open. The guys in charge, all Bahamians, showed up about an hour after the advertised starting time. They unloaded booze, bags of fish, chicken, and pork chops along with all the fixings. They had a huge iron skillet that I would really liked to have. It probably held at least 10 lb of fish frying over a roaring wood fire in a 55 gal drum. The chicken and chops were cooked over another wood fire in a 55 gal drum. The signature drink for the evening was Rum Bubbas, Bubbas being…uh, well, you guess. I don’t have picture of the sign. They were served from a water fountain with an inverted 5 gallon blue water bottle of the mixture on top. What we found most interesting were the customers for the event. They were for the most part Americans. The area seems to do a big business in resort hotel and vacation home rentals. Bill and I were a novelty as we were the only boaters. There were only three boats in the harbor but maybe a hundred people at the party. One woman asked incredulously,”You just go from island to island in a sail boat?” She hadn’t a clue. We ate conch salad, fried fish, peas & rice, and potato salad, but left long before the party was over and the music stopped.
We did a little shopping on Saturday, and Bill took me on parts of his walking tour including the bakery and Haynes Library. Sunday morning we were ready for another short hop north; this time going to Alabaster Bay and its sand flat beach which we walked finding sand dollars and lots of milk conch shells. Early Monday morning we decided to walk over to the Atlantic side of the island where there once was a US naval base. Our chart also said there was a pink sand beach, and a Bahamian couple gave us walking directions. The female in the couple remembered me from the laundry in Governor’s Harbour. She had been very helpful. The beach was as advertised and beautiful. The base was overgrown with falling-in buildings. Bill found a jelly coconut, a green one, in the woods under a tree beside the road. It became the mixer for our gin and coconut water that evening. We left Alabaster Bay before noon and made our way to Hatchet Bay.
Hatchet Bay was once Hatchet Pond. Then someone decided to open the pond up to the sound and blasted an entrance through the rocks making a perfectly protected harbor. The guide books all say the entrance is 90 feet wide, but it sure looked narrower when we went through. I let Bill steer while I hid my eyes and the looming rocks went past my floating home and ticket back to North Carolina. Once inside we picked up a free government mooring ball for the night.
Next stop on the agenda was Royal Island, our last Eleuthera anchorage. To reach Royal Island we had to go through Current Cut. This cut has a shallow approach and a fierce current running through it, hence the name. We timed our arrival for slack high tide. All went well, and we were anchored at Royal Island by 4pm. It had been a hot day, so a nice swim was in order. Bill found several urchin cases and a six armed starfish. I looked in all my books but none of them talked about a six armed starfish. All starfish have five arms. We took its picture and put it back in the water.
The next leg of the trip, Eleuthera to Abaco is long. Bill dragged me out of bed at 6:30am, cooked biscuits for breakfast to appease me, and we were underway by 7:10am. Once clear of Eleuthera the water depth in the Northwest Providence Channel rapidly increases. We were only 500 feet off the shore of Egg Island when our depth sounder got to 55 meters and could no longer see the bottom, but that was only the beginning. The deepest charted depth along our route was 4300 meters – 14,200 ft. This is a shipping lane with ships bound from Gibraltar and Europe passing through on their way to Florida, the Gulf States or Central America. We had as many as four tankers in sight at one time. Bill put out the fishing lines. The first fish we hooked we never saw. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear the line singing. The fish got took almost all the line off the reel before it broke costing us both the line and the lure. Bill refilled the reel with 50 lb test line. The second fish we hooked was a Blue Marlin! I know you all think that is a fish tale but it is true. We saw it jump out of the water three times before again with the bare center of the reel spool showing through between the last wraps of line, the line broke. That was the second lure we lost. The next fish was a nice dolphin fish – maybe ten pounds. It jumped off the hook when it was maybe ten feet behind the boat. We then hooked another dolphin. Bill played with it for a long time trying to tire it out. While he was reeling it in, another dolphin fish kept swimming up beside the boat. I had read in one of my cookbooks that dolphin mate for life and sometimes if you catch one the mate will swim along. Bill got the played out fish up behind the boat, but I have never gaffed a fish and just couldn’t bring myself to poke that sharp hook in its skull. We lost that fish when the hook pulled out of its mouth as Bill was lifting it out of the water by the leader. When the lure fell back into the water it was immediately struck by the fish that was following us, but the hook never set. I plan to practice using the gaff before our next ocean passage.
It probably was a good thing we didn’t catch any fish. When we started the engine to go through Little Harbour Cut and enter the Sea of Abaco, both of us had noticed what we first thought was a lot of smoke coming from our engine. It turned out the smoke was really steam. We quickly shut down the engine, and Bill went to work. We were in sight of the cut and were being carried towards it by the wind and current. Bill pulled up the cockpit floor and removed the companionway steps to get to the engine. After cleaning the raw water strainer (and whatever else he did) he found that there was something stuck from outside the boat in the intake for the engine cooling water. He unhooked the hose, blew through it, and water poured from the hose and into the boat. He put the hose back and restarted the engine. With the fishing and the engine problem costing us a couple of hours, we did what we never do; we went through a cut without proper light to see the bottom and gauge the water depth. Once through Little Harbour Cut we turned north, anchored, and turned on our anchor light. This trip made up for all the short ones. It took us over 12 hours from anchor up to anchor down and had lots of excitement both good and bad.
We are anchored where we stopped off Lynard Cay in the Abacos surrounded now by charter boats that appeared this afternoon. We feel like a decoy that has attracted a flock of ducks. Bill spent the morning cleaning the engine cooling water system, and all seems well with it. We plan to spend some time cruising around the Abacos before heading back to the US in early June.
Hope you are all well and happy.
Posted by Adair Murdoch at 7:12 PM