Thursday, March 27, 2014

While swimming near the wrecked airplane at Normans Cay, these sergeant major fish came over to me hoping I had something for them to eat.

We caught this bull Mahi on our way from Staniel Cay to George Town.  It was 53” long and weighed 32 pounds.  I gaffed him and pulled him into the cockpit.  The autopilot steered the boat while we worked.

Kaelyn’s snorkel was found on the beach, and she quickly adopted it exploring the shallows along Stocking Island and the nearby reef in the harbor.

Hello from George Town, Exuma, The Bahamas.

It has been a long time since I have written anything for this blog.  Bill reminds me of that every day.  I have my excuses.  Our PC quit.  Its screen went blank.  The new PC is Window 8 with all new software, and the learning curve has been steep.  Free WiFi internet has become rare here in the Bahamas because people have abused it by using Skype and downloading movies.  I purchased a BTC SIM card with voice, text, and data for my phone only to discover (after many calls to the T-Mobile and BTC help desks) that my year old phone was outdated and could not be used on the BTC data network.  Those are my excuses for not writing, and I am sticking to them!

In my last blog entry I whined about the cold weather.  The day after I wrote it we got to Daytona Beach, and it finally got warm.  By the time we arrived in South Beach Miami, it was short sleeve shirt, shorts, and barefoot weather.  Bill wanted to go ashore for a Valentine’s Day restaurant dinner, so we launched the dinghy, but the motor would not run at idle speed.  Captain Bill spent several hours messing with it, but the motor still would not run at idle.  He was very cross and frustrated.  On Saturday morning he removed and cleaned the carburetor, and the motor ran just fine.  We went ashore for lunch and a little walking around.  I had my hair cut the next day.  My new shorter haircut is great!  I should have done it sooner.

Our week in South Beach was spent shopping for groceries, beer, wine, and all the extra stuff we needed.  Of course there was the mandatory trip to West Marine, and the trip became a good excuse to eat lunch in a nice restaurant in Coconut Grove.  We learned that the paper charts we use for the Exumas had just been updated, and Bill made a day long bus journey to Ft. Lauderdale to buy a new set.  Since we no longer needed our winter clothes, we packed them up and sent them to our daughter Julia.  Finally, we were ready to go.  The weather forecast was good for the next few days; in fact, it was perfect.  We picked up the dinghy, deflated it, and stowed it on deck, then we moved Irish Eyes to a spot outside No Name Harbor on Key Biscayne.

Early (3am) on February 22 we were on our way to the Bimini.  The moon went down and the sun came up, the sky turned blue, the sea was nearly calm, and the wind was just right for the crossing of the Gulf Stream.  We arrived in Bimini around 2pm tired but excited. 

At Weech’s Dock Kimini welcomed us back, tied up the boat, and handed us our customs and immigrations forms.  In a nearby shop we purchased a BTC SIM card for my phone hoping to enjoy lower voice and text charges and access to the 4G internet.  As I said before the data stuff did not work with my phone (and we blew $30 for service we could not use).  That evening two other boats which had also crossed that day, Amber Sea and Kamouraska, invited us to have dinner with them.  The food at the adjacent Big John’s was excellent.  Bill had lobster and a Kalik beer.  I had cracked conch and rum punch.  We tumbled into bed, and the live music from the restaurant lulled us to sleep.

In the morning we untied our lines from Weech’s Dock, said farewell to Kimini, and were on our way to Highbourne Cay.  The 170 nautical mile trip to Highbourne took 36 hours which meant sailing overnight. That was not my favorite thing to do, but it had to be done.  We could see Amber Sea and Kamouraska sailing along behind us during the day.  They both stopped and anchored for the night on the Great Bahama Bank.  After the sun went down, the lightning show from the storms behind us in the Gulf Stream was really spectacular.  I listened to the rain delayed Daytona 500 on Florida AM radio and heard about the severe storms.  I was glad we had decided to keep moving rather than anchoring.  I would not have slept at all wondering if the lightning was headed westward towards us.

As we were going around the south side of New Providence Island, the stainless steel pin that held the tiller pilot onto the tiller broke.  That was not good.  It meant we had to hand steer the boat.  We were both tired and still had at least eight hours to go before we reached Highbourne Cay.  Bill, with his Mr. Fixit knowledge, rigged up a temporary pin from a bolt, and a bulldog clip.  It worked!  I do not know how to fix much of anything on Irish Eyes, so I am really glad Bill does!  We arrived at Highbourne Cay in the late afternoon with the autopilot steering the boat.

The wind was to be from the south.  We decided to anchor on the north shore of Highbourne Cay hoping for a calmer anchorage than the usual west side of the island.  It was fine for the first few nights, but on Thursday, February 27 the wind changed direction to the southwest then to the west.  From the west we had no protection from the waves.  We were not too worried about the direction change because the wind was forecast to be light and variable.  The boat was rolling around so much that we put out a stern anchor to keep the boat pointed into the small waves and to calm things down.  That worked until dawn.  A squall with 30 knot winds woke us up.  Bill discovered our main anchor had dragged, but our smaller stern anchor was still holding.  We were being blown bow first toward the nearby rocky shore with the rapidly rising waves crashing over our stern.  We needed to leave that spot quickly.  We managed to get both anchors up and onboard.  We motored out of the roller coaster anchorage as fast as our engine could go.  It was a scary morning. 

Shroud Cay, to the south of Highbourne, had mooring balls and protection from the forecast NNE going NE winds, so we headed that way.  We picked up a ball and collapsed.  The winds stayed NW at about 15 knots all night.  It was another rolly night as the waves came in off the banks.  We watched a movie to keep us occupied.  I had to take a Dramamine we were rolling so much.

Shroud Cay has several creeks leading from the Exuma Banks side over to the Exuma Sound side of the island.  It was calmer on Friday when the wind finally went NE, so we took the dinghy up the southernmost creek and over to the sound side beach.  The tide was lower than normal due to the new moon.  We were forced to walk pulling the dinghy for much of the trip.  It was tiring trip, but well worth the effort.  Exuma Sound was a brilliant blue and the beach wide and sandy.  We only stayed on the sound side for about 45 minutes, but that was long enough to have the tide come in and float the boat.  We rode all the way back to Irish Eyes.

The next few days we sailed south through the rest of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, stopping at Hawksbill Cay and at Emerald Rock before anchoring at Staniel Cay.  Our first set of guests, Laura and Jeff Arnfield were due there in four days, and we wanted to make sure we would be there when they arrived.  In the winter months the Bahamas are hit by weekly cold fronts with strong wind and sometimes rain.  A front was expected to pass over us at Staniel Cay bringing west winds.  We anchored Irish Eyes between two small islands, Big Majors Spot and Little Majors Spot, for good protection from the wind.  Lots of other cruisers had the same idea.  We were anchored early but were soon closely surrounded by other boats.  The wind did blow for a couple of days, but we were just fine in our sheltered place.  One very enjoyable afternoon was spent in the cockpit of Irish Eyes having a beer and snack with Drina and JR from the nearby boat, Journey .

On March 8 the front was gone, and we made a quick move closer to Staniel Cay.  We collected Laura and Jeff from the airport, got their things stowed away, then went back to town for the All Age School cookout and fund raiser.  We had conch salad, fish fingers, and beer.  What a great way to raise money for the school.

Laura and Jeff were with us for a week.  Our plan was to head back north stopping along the way, hide from the expected cold front anchored in the Norans Cay Cut, then return south stopping at some of the places we missed on the way north.  That would take us completely through the park on our way north and again on our way south.  

Our first night was at Big Majors Spot where Jeff and Laura took a dinghy tour of the anchorage and fed the swimming pigs.  From there we motored to the Emerald Rock mooring field at Warderick Cay.  We put on masks and fins, then in the ebbing tide we drifted over the coral and tropical fish in the two cuts at the park office and finally took a look at the sunken boat near mooring #9.  In the morning we moved to the north end of Hawksbill Cay to explore the plantation ruins, look at the caves, walk on the vast sand flats, and walk the paths through the scrub brush.  On the fourth night we anchored in a 2 meter deep spot at the north end of Shroud Cay.  Jeff and Laura took the dinghy on a beach tour before all four of us made a circle trip up the north creek to the Camp Driftwood beach on the sound side, then across to the eastern sound side beach, and down the middle creek to the fresh water well, before coming back to the boat.  Quasar, a catamaran from Canada, gave us part of a wahoo they had caught an hour earlier.  It made a wonderful supper. 

On March 12 we arrived at Norman’s Cay and anchored in the cut to await the cold front.  At Norman’s Cay there is an airplane that crashed there many years ago.  It is slowly rotting away, but the fish love it.  We all went snorkeling around the plane, and the fish were really glad to see us.  While I made bread Laura, Jeff, and Bill went to tour the southern end of Norman’s Cay and the extensive construction going on there.  The Irish Eyes explorers stopped at the remodeled McDuff’s Beach Club which was not yet  open to serve food but did sell beer.  Laura and Jeff later took a box of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies to Quasar as a thank you for the fresh fish.

When we put down our anchor among the other boats that were anchored near a bend in the channel, our handy dandy laser range finder showed that we were 60 yards away from the nearest boat.  During the night the wind picked up and the tide changed.  Eddies in the current and the wind against the current set our boat and the nearby one charging at each other in the dark only to turn way at the last minute.  It was very scary to watch even though, given the length of our anchor chains, we could not hit.  Jeff and Bill kept anchor watches all night.  I was really glad Jeff was with us; I got to sleep.  At dawn we pulled up the anchor and moved away from the other boats.  In our new location Irish Eyes was much better behaved.  It was nice not to worry about hitting another boat.
Laura and Jeff tried to swim over the airplane again, but the wind picked up to 32 knots, and they cut their trip short.  The rest of the day the wind blew, and we were all just lazy killing time on the boat and watching the boats back at the bend charge at each other.

After two nights at Normans Cay, we sailed to the south end of Hawksbill Cay.  We took the dinghy to the beaches at the extreme southern end of the island and later walked around in the mangrove covered sand flats in the interior of the island.

On March 15 we motor sailed then sailed back to Staniel Cay.  We managed to get back in time to catch low tide at Thunderball Grotto.  I manned the dinghy while the others swam.  The swimmers saw lots of fish and marveled at the interior of the water filled cave with sunlight streaming in through the holes in its roof.  The cave has been featured in several movies, most famously Thunderball where James Bond escaped the agents of Spectre by being lifted through the holes in the cave roof by an airplane.  That night we had our final supper together at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club

After seeing Laura and Jeff off at the Staniel Cay airport, Bill and I moved Irish Eyes to the protected spot between the two Majors as another front was coming.  Our friends on the motor trawler, Oh My, came over for a beer one afternoon, and we went to their boat another.  A large motor yacht, Chocolate, hit the Crown of Thorns rock while going out Big Rock Cut at Staniel Cay.  We watched and listened to the radio for several hours while the boat was pulled off the rocks and then towed away by Overseas Salvage. Late in the afternoon, the crew from Chocolate asked the Staniel Cay Yacht Club if they could have 6 seats on the afternoon flight back to Florida. It was really pretty sad.

Early on March 19 we pulled up the anchor and went out Big Rock Cut and headed south to George Town.  Bill decided to put out a fishing lure.  The catch of the day was a 53 inch long, 31 pound mahi-mahi. I even managed to gaff the thing and drag it aboard, something I had never done before. After making a huge bloody mess in the cockpit, the fish was packaged and in the freezer.  The sun was just about to set when we anchored off Monument Beach in George Town.

Our daughter Ann and her family were to land at the George Town airport on Friday March 21.  We moved over to Kidds Cove to be closer to the town center.  Bill and I spent all day Thursday and Friday morning doing laundry, grocery shopping, getting water on Irish Eyes, and putting extra things away. We were a little worried about how the two of us plus Ann, Michael, Kaelyn, Eli and Scarlett were all going to fit on our 34 foot boat.

The Zangris arrived and we moved to Sand Dollar Beach.  Sand Dollar is a perfect kids place with beaches, sand flats, inland trails, and a cave.  Kaelyn and Eli went for their first swim while I fixed supper.

Saturday morning we all piled into the dinghy and went to the beach.  A couple from another boat told us they had found a child’s snorkel on the beach and left it on the picnic table.  It was a little dirty but cleaned up nicely.  Kaelyn already had a mask and took to snorkeling in a flash.  We spent the next five days swimming in the crashing surf on the sound side, swimming in the calm water of the harbor side beaches, swimming off the boat, and wading the sand flats looking for sand dollars and shells.  Kaelyn, Ann, and Bill went snorkeling off a reef.  Michael became the Shower Master; expert at rinsing the salt water off tired swimmers and hanging up bathing suits and towels to dry.  The boat looked like a Chinese laundry with all 50 clothes pins in constant use. 

Most evenings at sunset we had a neophyte conch horn symphony as the kids discovered how to blow the shell, and nearby boats proved they could do better - - or not.

Kaelyn said it was fabulous.  All seven of us did fit on Irish Eyes without any trouble, and everyone had a wonderful time.  Scarlett said, “These people are awesome.”  We hated to see the Zangris go home.

Bill and I moved Irish Eyes back to Sand Dollar Beach as another front was to go over us.  It was 73 degrees this morning and even though I know that is not cold, I was a little chilly.

Bill had bought a half a stalk of green bananas before the children came to visit.  The bananas really did not get ripe while the kids were here, but this morning…     All the bananas were ripe and falling off the stalk.  We had bananas and waffles for breakfast, bananas for a morning snack, banana and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, bananas for an afternoon snack, and chicken in banana sauce for supper.  I am going to have to come up more with banana recipes.

We are going to just be lazy boat people for a while doing nothing.  Our daughter Julia and her family will be here in George Town in a couple of weeks.

Stay well and warm.  We certainly are!

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