Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 2, 2012

The houses and buildings along the waterfront of Tarpum Bay are all brightly painted.  At the far right is the local office of the Free National Movement, losers in the just completed national elections.

These are some of the stone ruins at the abandoned town of Wilson City in the Abacos.  Bill crawled around in the bushes and thinks they are foundations for a steam engine, boiler, and saw.   There were lots more at other places along the shore.

We have been eating lobster in restaurants, but this fellow is safe from us.  The season ended March 31, and anyway he lives in the Sandy Cay Land and Sea Park.

This colorful fish is a damselfish.  I am not sure exactly what kind.  The guide books are full of different varieties.  All are strikingly colored.

Hello from Marsh Harbor, Abaco.  I wish I could say from sunny Marsh Harbor, but it has been raining and storming for the last 24 hours.  The Bahamas Met Office has announced that this has been the wettest May ever recorded in the Bahamas.

When I last wrote we were anchored at Bluff Settlement on Cat Island.  That night the wind switched to the southwest making most anchorages on the west coast of Cat Island very rolly.  That wasn’t bad during the day, but was very annoying at night.  We moved farther north on Cat Island anchoring off Bennett’s Settlement where the shore curves inward giving it good protection from waves coming from the southwest.  It was nice not to be rocked to sleep.

Windy weather was in the forecast, so it was time to leave Cat Island and head north to Rock Sound on Eleuthera where we would be well protected from wind and waves.  Our original plan was to break the 60 mile trip into two days by stopping at Little San Salvador.  Two things stopped us.  First, that island is now owned by Carnival Cruise Lines.  They operate it as Half Moon Bay with a fake Bahamian town for their guest to explore as a day trip.  We have been in real Bahamian towns, and anyway, Carnival would really rather us not anchor near their swimming and watersports area.  Second, the harbor is open to the south, and we were already tired of dealing with rolly anchorages.  We decided to make the long hop to Eleuthera in one day and bypass Little San Salvador.

We were up and away by 6am on May 15.  It was cloudy, but it was not raining, and the wind was good for sailing.  We would be underway for at least 12 hours.  To entertain ourselves along the way, we put out a fishing line.  It wasn’t long before we had a strike, and what a strike it was.  Bill worked with a large dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) for almost an hour before the fish shook off the hook and swam away.  The fish escaped by breaking the barb off the hook.  Somewhere in the Atlantic is a fish with a very sore lip.  The whole time Bill was fighting the fish I kept thinking, “Where in the world are we going to put this thing.”  Our freezer is small.  Bill changed from a black and red skirted lure to a green and yellow one.  In a matter of minutes we saw another dolphin fish race across the water surface from 100 yards away to take a bite.  This dolphin was much more manageable.  It was 42 inches long and weighed 11 pounds.  It gave us fish for 9 meals.

By afternoon the sun was out and the water off Cape Eleuthera was as clear as crystal.  A pod of dolphins (this time the mammals) came over to see what we were doing.  We could see their every move in the clear water, and we applauded when they jumped and flipped in the air.  They stayed with us for about 15 minutes before deciding we were boring and swimming away.  They put on a great show.  At suppertime we were anchored in Rock Sound and enjoying some FRESH fish.

We stayed in Rock Sound for a few days enjoying the calm anchorage and visiting the well stocked grocery store.  During most of our stay the weather was overcast and humid with little wind.  On May 18 we motored a few miles north to the artist town of Tarpum Bay.  The sun was out making it hot and humid.  We put up our sun awning and waited until it cooled down a bit (and it only cooled a bit) before walking around town and eating a restaurant dinner of fried conch and lobster.

Our next stop in Eleuthera was Governor’s Harbor.  We needed to extend our “leave to stay” in the Bahamas.  The Immigration Officer in Bimini had given us 90 days which would run out May 30.  Governor’s Harbor had an Immigration Office, grocery, laundry, and pretty much anything else we needed.  The Immigration Office was closed when we arrived on Saturday, May 19 so we settled in for a weekend anchored off the town. Sunday we decided to go to church.  After dressing in the best clothes we had, we dinghied to shore and walked to St. Patrick’s Anglican Church.  The service was a sung mass with lots of smells and bells but with something of a Bahamian rhythm.  It was a two hour service; long but nice.  We spent the rest of the day in our cockpit with the couple from a nearby anchored sailboat, Shadow.  We had beer and snacks all around.

Monday morning we went to the Immigration office and asked for a 21 day extension on our “leave to stay”.  They gave us 30 days.  We were good till June 30.  I did our laundry while Bill got water from the town faucet and some gasoline for the dinghy motor.  We stopped to eat at a tiny restaurant with three tables, tow fans to move the 90 degree air around, and a screened door to keep the flies inside.  But, the food was great.  On the way back to the dinghy, Bill bought a $10 bag of cleaned conch which fed us for four suppers with leftovers for a couple of lunches.  I made conch chowder and cracked (fried) conch.  Bill fixed cornbread muffins with diced conch in them.  He didn’t want me to try conch fritters.  He cleans the dishes, and he thinks frying makes too much of a mess.

During our third night in Governor’s Harbor, we had a wicked wind squall.  Our anchor drug about 60 feet, and the harbor filled with waves making for a worrisome and uncomfortable night.  We left Governor’s Harbor the next morning.  The weather forecast was for one day of showers and isolated thunderstorms followed by two days of continuous rain with thunderstorms.  We were headed for Royal Island at the northern tip of Eleuthera.  The harbor there is protected from winds from all directions.  We hoped to get there before the more exciting weather started.  To reach Royal Island we had to go through the aptly named Current Cut.  Current Cut is shallow in places, unmarked, and has a strong current that reverses at each tide change.  The helmsman needs to have good light see the bottom and gauge the water depth, and the current needs to be slack to pass safely through the narrow cut.  It did not turn out that way.  Six miles from the cut it became obvious that our timing was way off.  We had been in pouring rain for two hours, we could only see a hundred yards ahead of us, the wind was blowing 15 to 20 knots pushing us toward the cut, the cloud covered sky would keep us from seeing into the water, the tide was rapidly falling making it especially dangerous if we were to run aground, and the current was running 5 knots in the cut.  It was obviously time for a rethink.  We had already passed Hatchet Bay, arguably the best protected harbor in Eleuthera.  It takes a lot for Captain Bill to turn around, but this time it was his idea to turn back and head for Hatchet Bay even though we would have to motor upwind into the waves for 10 miles to reach it.

Hatchet Bay Pond is reached by going through a 90 foot wide hole blasted through the rock shore into an inland lake.  Irish Eyes is only 10 feet wide, but the rock walls looked very close as we started into the pond.  We made it through safely, picked up a free government owned mooring ball, and settled in for a few windy rainy days.  And rain it did -- Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with winds that reached 25 knots even down in our protected spot.  We were joined there by a large motor yacht and another sailboat.  A tanker, a freighter, and a ferry came and went from the government dock while we were there.  I watched them come and go.  How they made it through the gap in the rocks, I’ll never know.  From where we were on our mooring ball, they just seemed to appear from nowhere when they came into the pond and just as magically disappear when they left.  It kept me entertained as the rain came down on us.

Finally, on Saturday May 26 the rain stopped and the sun came out.  We sailed north again going through Current Cut without a hitch and anchoring at Royal Island by mid-afternoon.  It was hot, but a nice swim helped cool us down.  Sunday we left Royal Island for an all day sail to the Abacos.  We left early and had a rolly, wild, 12 hour motor sail to the North Bar Cut in Abaco.  Along the way we had to go two miles out of our way to avoid colliding with an oil tanker on its way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf coast.  As we approached Abaco the alternator belt on the engine broke making a horrible sound.  Bill had a spare and changed the belt while the boat bobbed like a cork in the waves.  I don’t know what we would do if Bill wasn’t so mechanically minded.  We anchored off the stone ruins of Wilson City.  It was a company town for a logging company that was abandoned in 1916 leaving behind the huge stone foundations for the docks and sawmill.  We spent the next few days walking the beaches, swimming on the reef at nearby Sandy Cay, and exploring the ruins.  All the while more things broke.  The alternator regulator grew green corrosion on its circuit board and quit, and I broke the foot pump that supplies drinking water in the head.  Bill had both a spare regulator tucked away to replace the corroded one, and he had the right kind of glue to stick the foot pump back together.  Way to go Bill!

We sailed north to Marsh Harbor on Wednesday May 30.  The sun was out, and we arrived in Marsh Harbor without incident.  The rain began again on Thursday afternoon. Fortunately, before the rain came we had already been to the grocery store, stopped by the liquor store, and gotten diesel fuel.  We have been reading, surfing the internet, and knitting for the last two days.  Bill has made several dinghy trips to town between rain storms.  Last night we had a terrific thunderstorm with lots of lightning and 35 knot winds.  The mast of the boat anchored next to us was struck by lightning showering their deck with the remains of their radio antenna.  The huge bang and flash make both Bill and me leap into the air.

All the rain means that we have not had to buy water this year.  In fact, we are running over with water.  Bill’s water catching has kept both our tanks and our collection of 5 gallon jugs full.  Lots of water means lots of baths!

We will head north as the weather clears.  Oh yes, Happy Beginning of Hurricane Season to you all.

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