There were tropic birds soaring overhead the entire time we were at Conception Island. They have the longest tails imaginable and their white wings at times take on the greenish blue color of the water below.
This 5 ft barracuda came out of the Conception Island reef to swim with Bill and me. We swam to the dinghy and got out of the water. He stayed in the water. We went elsewhere.
When we stopped, I stayed in the dinghy and used my glass bottomed bucket while Bill, who was braver, swam alone. We did not see the barracuda again.
This smooth trunkfish became Bill’s best friend posing over and over for pictures until Bill got a good one.
Almost inside the Cambridge Cay mooring field is a small rock island surrounded by coral and fish. This is a queen triggerfish.
This French angelfish would dart away every time Bill got close. Finally he posed for a picture.
Two spot fin butterfly fish chased each other round and round in a tight circle. They are the size of the bluegills at home.
Haynes and Laura, Bill’s brother and sister-in-law, relax on Big Major’s Spot’s Cocktail Beach after a hard afternoon of feeding the nearby pigs. The pigs were not too thrilled with our offerings.
We have been busy since my last writing. We left Georgetown early on Monday, April 11. The wind was light and almost straight ahead of us, so we motorsailed the 37 miles past Long Island’s Cape Santa Maria and onward to Conception Island. The trip took most of the day and was pretty boring. The depth of the water increased to as much as 2400 meters, far beyond the 50 meters that our depth sounder can measure. The water color was a deep dark navy blue. Bill towed a $10 lure behind the boat. We hooked something, but after a tough 20 minute fight, it chewed through the leader and took the lure. I had a feeling it was a large barracuda or shark. I’d rather the fish had the lure than I had the fish.
Conception Island is part of the Bahamas National Trust; no buildings, no roads, and no people; just beautiful sand, colorful coral, soaring tropic birds, and a creek full of sea turtles. We walked all the beaches several times. North of us was a small beach that had tons of shells. East of us was the long Exuma Sound side beach with rocks where the tropic birds were nesting. On the Atlantic Ocean side of the island were some very nice shallow coral heads. One afternoon, we took the dinghy there for a little snorkeling. The coral was fantastic with large elkhorn and brain coral heads soaring up from a white sand bottom all surrounded by colorful fish. Bill was swimming along the bottom twelve feet below and saw a five foot long barracuda emerge from its hole. I was floating on the top of the water and saw the fish at the same time. I decided to retreat to the dinghy. The barracuda followed me! Bill wasn’t far behind me, and we both met in the dinghy. The barracuda can keep its territory. We left and moved to another spot where Bill continued swimming. I stayed in the boat and just used the glass bottomed looky bucket to watch the goings-on below. Big fish with big teeth are not for me.
Later, we were chatting in our cockpit with Ann and Bob from Baloo (a boat from Oriental, NC) when two local fishermen came alongside. They wanted to know if we had any cigarettes that we would trade for fish. When I said no, they asked if I have any catsup or tomato sauce. I traded four small cans of tomato sauce, two cans of potatoes and two cans of corn for a fifteen pound grouper and a huge lobster tail! I don’t know how long the cans lasted them, but the fish and lobster fed us for three days. Bill got the bright idea of leaving a baited line out during the night. Just before he went to sleep, the reel started singing. In his underwear he reeled in a large (30”) horse eyed jack. Our freezer was full of grouper and lobster already. Our chart of which fish are good to eat gave the jack a low food score, so we tossed it back. I was glad to avoid cleaning a fish in the dark.
On our last morning at Conception Island, we took the two mile dinghy trip down to Turtle Creek. The shallow creek twisted and turned through the mangroves. The sun warmed gin clear water was full of sea turtles. We saw at least a hundred swimming around the dinghy. A turtle would first appear to be a rock, and then all of a sudden it would zoom off when we got too close. When we sat quietly drifting, the turtles would forget we were there and surface to breathe, holding their heads up to look at us. We saw a six foot long lemon shark cruising on the sandy bottom only two feet below us, and quickly motored away. On the way out of the creek, the rapidly outgoing tide flushed us over the rocky bar at the creek entrance banging the outboard motor propeller across the sharp rocks. It was pretty scary traveling sideways through the waves in our tiny out-of-control dinghy. Although no damage was done, I don’t want to do that again soon.
Sunday, we sailed from Conception Island to Calabash Bay, Long Island. Along the way we again passed by Cape Santa Maria. A monument at the very edge of the cliff marks the spot where Columbus is said to have lost the Santa Maria. From below it looks like a big storm could wipe the monument over the edge and into the sea.We had intended to cruise along Long Island for a day or two, but the wind went to the southeast, making that an upwind trip, so the next day we set sail instead for George Town. It was a lovely downwind sail to George Town with the mainsail on one side and the genoa poled out on the other. Two British boats were behind us most of the way finally passing us after we were in the George Town Harbour. One of them, the catamaran Amazing Grace, had an interesting spinnaker with a big smile shaped hole in its middle filled with a parasail. Three dolphins escorted us into Sand Dollar Beach. It was a nice sail; drinks were served all around for the captain and crew.
Our next two days were spent getting groceries, fuel, propane, and water. Food, fuel, and water were easily done. We had one empty propane tank and 7 lb in the other. Bill tried for two days, without success, to get the empty propane tank filled. In Exuma Markets, the largest grocery store in Georgetown, were a freshly arrived shipment of potted Easter lilies and potted tulips. The ladies who work in the market were not impressed with the lilies, better ones grow wild there, but they had only seen tulips in pictures. I had a good time chatting with them about tulips. Bill bought a hand of bananas from a farmer which later, of course, all ripened at once giving us bananas for every meal.
On Thursday, April 21, the weather forecast was for 15 to 20 knot northeast winds and 6 to 8 foot seas. We needed to be back in Staniel Cay on the 25th to pick up Bill’s brother Haynes and his wife Laura, so off we went in spite of the forecast. Before we got the anchor up, we had a phone call from our daughter Ann. She had given birth to our fourth grandchild (her third), Scarlett Ann Zangri, early that morning. I had lots to ponder as we sailed north. The wind stayed at about 15 knots, but the seas were rolling us around quite a bit for the 46 miles of the trip that we were in the Exuma Sound. We needed to go through Dotham Cut to get back on the more sheltered southwest or banks side of the islands. We had read the chart description of the cut’s extreme current and were trying to time our arrival for slack tide. We were within sight of the cut when a rain storm came up assaulting us with 22 knot winds and flying spray. Motoring around in a circle for a short while gave the rain time to go away and for the wind to die back down. The cut ended up being very easy, and once we were on the banks side the water was smooth as a lake. The anchor was down at Black Point in time for a much needed sundowner.
The next day was Good Friday. We weren’t sure what was planned for the Black Point Easter Festival. We went ashore only to discover that this year’s festivities were being overshadowed by a wedding. A local boy was marrying the daughter of the mailboat captain. While we were waiting for suppertime to roll around, we walked out to the ocean side of the island. The wind and waves of the day before were still there, but they did not look nearly as bad from the top of the 100 ft cliff as from the deck of our boat. We had supper at Lorraine’s Café and entertained ourselves by watching the local girls compare their just done wedding hairdos. Their hair was fancier than any clothing I had on board and really did not match the tee shirts and blue jeans they had on that evening.
Saturday morning Bill got in touch with Isles General Store at Staniel Cay. They had just enough propane to fill our empty tank. We pulled anchor and sailed the short distance to Staniel Cay where Bill dropped off the propane tank. The all age school was having a lunch time meal fund raiser at the public beach, so we went. The local ladies showed up with big pots, each pot full of conch chowder, fried fish, fried chicken, or chicken souse (chicken stew flavored with whole allspice) along with a pile of Johnny bread. I made instant friends with the ladies when I told them I cook in pots just like theirs for our church and sailing club. The food was excellent and plentiful. My $7 serving of souse was enough my lunch and later for supper for both of us. We talked to several boaters and some of the locals. Bill retrieved the full propane tank late in the afternoon.
We spent Sunday getting ready for Bill’s brother Haynes and his wife Laura’s arrival on Monday. The morning weather forecast was for scattered showers and strong winds from the south. Bill and I were up and at the airport waiting when they arrived. It rained a little on us as we were walking back to the dinghy but not really enough to get anything wet. As soon as they got aboard we headed north intending to go to Warderick Wells Cay. Because of the wind we decided to shorten the trip a bit and go instead to Cambridge Cay through the south entrance. That entrance is narrow, shallow, and winding. You have to be able to see the bottom to stay in the deeper water, the charted depth is 1.6m in one place and 1.7m in another (we draw 1.5m) , and there is a rock called (appropriately) Kiss Rock that you have to almost scrape by. It isn’t a hard thing to do when the tide is right and the light is good, but if you don’t… Just as we arrived a cloud appeared, it got dark, and the rain began. This time it really rained for a good hour as we slowly circled outside the entrance. Finally the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we breezed through the entrance and picked up a mooring. After we were safely moored another storm came up with lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. Bill caught twenty gallons of rainwater in our jugs which we used later in the week. Around sunset the clouds disappeared and except for the wind, it was beautiful.
Tuesday, April 26, was spent walking over to the sound side beach and up the hill to take in the view of Bell Rock. The wind was still strong and the surf was crashing against the beach. It was a pretty nice view. After lunch we took the dinghy to Two Bush Cay (as we christened the nearby small rock with two bushes growing on its top). This was a great place to snorkel. The water was clear, the little rock was small enough to easily swim around, and the fish were abundant. The four of us had a wonderful time playing Jacques Cousteau. There was some kind of coral I had never seen before that looked like purple rope. After a quick salt water soap-up and a fresh water rinse, we all went over to a sundowner party on the beach with the other cruisers moored at Cambridge Cay. The people we meet were as always interesting. One couple were farmers from Montana of all places, and we finally meet the crews from the two British boats that had sailed with us from Long Island to George Town several days before.
The next morning Haynes had a tooth that was hurting, so we headed back to Staniel Cay to the local clinic for some antibiotics. While we were waiting for the clinic to open, we lunched at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club which is always fun. Haynes got his amoxicillin, and we went back to Irish Eyes for a little rest. When we thought the tide would be slack, we headed to Thunderball Grotto for a little snorkeling. The current was not slack and the tide was high. I couldn’t get to the almost submerged cave entrance. The current swept me right past it and around the end of the island where the current was not quite as strong. I held onto a rock outcropping waiting for Bill to come out the back side of the cave. He didn’t come out. Instead, he went twice into the cave looking for me. Haynes next came bobbing around the end of the island and joined me holding onto the rock. Laura had stayed with the dinghy hanging onto the outboard motor, smart woman. Bill and Laura got into the dinghy, and came around to pick us up. I wasn’t afraid of drowning; I just wasn’t sure where the current would take me. We made a note in our cruising guide; “go to Thunderball Grotto when the tide is low and the current is slack”. Later back on Irish Eyes, Bill and I discovered the battery door on my underwater camera was open and the camera was flooded with sea water. The camera was dead. No more underwater pictures; it is cell phone photography from here on.Thursday we left Staniel Cay headed south to Bitter Guana Cay to see the iguanas. That did not work. The wind was from the southeast, the direction we wanted to go and fifteen knots or more. We made an attempt to stick to our plan, but changed our minds after about ten minutes of water washing over the boat. We turned 180°, put the wind and waves behind us, and sailed quietly north to Sampson Cay where we anchored off the Sampson Cay Club. We went ashore for lunch and walked the trails around the island. Afterwards, sitting in the bar for a little refreshment, we ran into the crews of two boats both named ‘Oasis’ which had been in Cambridge Cay with us a couple of days before. We solved the riddle of why the two boats had the same name painted in the same font on their sterns. After a quick swim at our boat, we were ready for a sundowner. Unfortunately, Bill’s ice crop had failed, and we only had enough for two drinks. Haynes saved the day, taking the dinghy back to the bar and getting a cooler full of ice. The ice in our drinks and a pork tenderloin Haynes brought and cooked on the grill made it a perfect evening.
Friday was Haynes and Laura’s last day with us. We made a short motor trip to anchor off Big Major’s Spot and its famous Pig Beach. We went to the feed the pigs. They didn’t like my rotten broccoli any more than I did, and they gave our banana peels a pass. They did let us scratch their ears, and one tasted the moldy bread before the birds carried it off. From there we toured the rocky cave ridden shore until we got to Cocktail Beach. It has a collection of abandoned and partly broken chairs and a plastic table. We were resting in the shade when Dave and Linda from the sailboat Sandpiper came over to the beach for a swim. Bill and I first met them last year in South Beach Miami. They were again there when we were in Miami Beach this year, but we did not see them then.
We were up by 6:30am on Saturday to motor around Big Major’s Spot to Staniel Cay. All four of us dinghied over to the public beach and walked the few blocks to the airport. Haynes and Laura flew Watermakers Air back to Fort Lauderdale. Believe it or not and strange for the Bahamas, the plane arrived and departed on time. Bill and I stopped at Isles General Store for a few groceries and at Emil’s Bakery (actually her kitchen) for fresh coconut bread. We took the boat back to the Pig Beach side of Big Major’s Spot where we are now. We have read, knitted, and piddled about all day. A couple from a boat anchored nearby came over for an afternoon beer and a chat. Sharing sea stories never gets old.
We are going to head south in a few days. Julia, Josh, and Isabella are due for a visit. We have a while before they come, so until then we will go wherever the wind blows us.