Woke up New Year Day with beautiful weather. The winds were starting to moderate---conditions for crossing the Gulfstream were looking good! Made an information announcement on the VHF radio saying we were pulling anchor at 11:00 AM--anyone wanting to go to the Bahamas with us can contact us on the radio. We "adopted" a boat, PASSE PORT III, from Montreal. It was their first crossing so they asked if they could follow us. Reminded them that we were still novices--only our second trip over to the Bahamas and the first time crossing from Miami---they were welcome to go with us. Eventually, we left Miami Beach with seventeen other boats. Getting out of the inlet was rough--had huge waves from the Atlantic rolling in the channel with an opposing current. The waves rolled us around until we finally were in deep water when they smoothed out. I ran a "Bahama Bound Cruiser Net" on the VHF radio. Basically, I called each boat in the group for their position and wind/sea state every 2-3 hours.
At the Bahama Banks just north of Bimini by sunset. Traveled over the banks during the night. The full moon made it possible to see the bottom (depths are 8-20 feet). It is very eerie to be motoring through water where the bottom is only 2-5 feet under the keel. PASSE PORT III followed us like a baby duckling following its Momma. If we changed course....they changed course. If we slowed down....they slowed down. Feel a little guilty because we were off course when we passed the North Channel Light taking them (and ourselves) into some pretty skinny water. During the night, two boats crossing with us developed problems with their fuel system which they solved so they could continue on. A third boat had an exhaust hose that started to leak which they also solved underway.
By sunrise, we reached the Tongue of the Ocean. Would love to be in a submarine to see this area of the ocean where the 20 foot depths of the Bahama Banks suddenly plunges down to the 6,000 to 12,000 foot depths of the Tongue of the Ocean. Arrived in Nassau, twenty four hours after leaving Miami Beach (great time). Went into a dock to clear Customs and Immigration. Filled out about 6 forms--seems like each form requested the same information! The most interesting form is the one that asks questions regarding "health"--any instances of specific diseases and how many rats have been killed! Once we cleared and paid the cruising fee we returned to the boat for a short nap. In the evening we went out for dinner with two other couples (PASSE PORT III and PEA SOUP) then crashed for the night.
Stayed in Nassau for a couple days waiting for weather that would allow us to sail or motor down the Exuma Chain. First destination was Normans Cay. Norman's Cay is best known for its history of drug smuggling. Carlos (Joe) Lehder, a unfriendly Columbian Drug Lord once owned the entire island. There is an airstrip and lots of buildings that are falling into ruins. Years ago, it was dangerous to be around this island. A few cruisers were killed when they innocently entered an anchorage where a drug transaction was underway! This year, we anchored on the west side of the island (last year we anchored just south of Normans Cay in the cut--an area where you can transit from the Great Bahamas Banks to the Exuma Sound). Attended a cocktail party on a boat, SEA DANCER, along with 5 other boats. The first night at anchor in the Exuma Chain was great---no wind, no wave and beautiful star-filled skies making for a restful sleep.
Next stop---Warderick Wells (Exuma Land and Sea Park) one of my favorite spots. Took a mooring for one day. Went to shore to head up to Boo Boo Hill. The story behind Boo Boo Hill is that a schooner wrecked off the island with all souls were lost. No remains were recovered for a Christian Burial so at night---ghosts walk and call out (boo boo boo). Cruisers leave "things or mementos" made a natural material (no glass or plastic) with the names of their boats and the year with optional messages. Last year, we left a wood board with DISCOVERY 2006 on one side, Pentwater, MI on the other side and a message of "Peace and Good Health" on the side of the board. BIG disappointment---our memento was gone. The Park Volunteers cleared Boo Boo of all mementos left prior to December 2006. A very unpleasant surprise for me. Next, we checked out the blow hole that entertained us so much last year. Another disappointment.....the waves weren't crashing into the cave below so no air was compressed to shoot out the blow hole. Someone once said "You can't go back". I was beginning to think that someone was correct! Oh well, the water is still as beautiful as it was last year.
The following picture was taken from the Park Station at Waderwick Wells. DISCOVERY is in the background . The picture is included to show the various colors of blue water. So beautiful.
Sailed to Pipe Cay where we met up with Bonnie and Roger on KOKOMO. Bonnie and Roger were tucked away between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe Cay in an area too shallow for us. The four of us went for a ride in the dinghies over to Sampson Cay Marina. Sampson Cay is one swanky place---probably the nicest marina in all of the Bahamas. There is a very protected anchorage close to the marina which is good to know about in case we ever have to hide from a storm when we are in the Exumas.
The next day we sailed to Big Majors Spot---looking for protection from strong northeast winds along with about 40 other boats! Big Majors Spot has three beaches--two are for humans while the third is the "Pig Beach" which is home for 5 pigs. The pigs swim out to meet cruisers approaching the beach by dinghy--they are looking for a snack! Took the dinghy from Big Majors to Staniel Cay (1-1/2 mile dinghy ride). Free internet access at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club if you order something. Had my first Kalik (Bahamian Beer) and ordered conch for lunch (fritters and cracked). While Carl used the internet, I walked into the settlement. At the grocery store, two little Bahamian kids (I'd say around 4 years old) brought a book over to me and asked me to read it to them. The three of us sat on the floor while I read a book they took off the shelf. When I left, they asked if I would come back again to read to them. It was so funny because they would repeat every sentence back to me and mimic my hand motions.
Pictured below is Carl using the internet at Staniel Cay Yacht Club
One afternoon while at Big Majors, Carl was listening to the single side band radio. A cruiser somewhere out in the Atlantic was abandoning their sailboat. They were in contact with the US Coast Guard via Herb the Weather Man. A freighter was diverting to their position that was marked by their EPIRB (device that sends a signal via satelites--the signal is assigned to a specific vessel). It was heartbreaking to listen to the couple who had 6 hours to gather up what personal belongings they wanted to take with them. Also, while in Big Majors we learned that a cruiser we met last year, Keith on AFTER YOU had hit a reef off the coast of Panama. Keith's boat sank but as far as we know---he is safe and sound.
Yes, it did blow when we were at Big Majors. The forecast was for gale force winds which we had and our anchor held the entire time. One cruiser reported a gust of 43 knots! When the wind started to go down, one of the boats, GE-WIL, organized a pig roast. No, we did not roast one of the pigs from the Pig Beach. The pig for the pig roast came from Black Point Settlement. The cost was $10 per person. In addition, everyone brought a dish to share. Over 80 people attended.
The following pictures are from the Pig Beach. The first picture shows two of the pigs sunning themselves and the second picture is of one of the pigs swimming to the dinghy for a treat! (1189 and 1185)
Enjoyed a great sail from Big Majors to Black Point Settlement. Winds were blowing 18 to 20 knots---DISCOVERY sailed 7-8 knots with only a head sail! Went into Lorraine's Cafe and Bar to watch the football playoffs. Lorraine was serving free appetizers (conch fritters) and had drink specials. At Lorraine's, you serve yourself at the bar and keep track of your own drinks. Carl tried to help her set up a router for the internet but he never did get it to work properly. While in Black Point, I did laundry--had at least 3 weeks of dirty laundry to do. Black Point has a nice laundry---new machines. However, there isn't enough water pressure to fill all the machines at one time. The owner brought in a garden hose for us to use to fill each machine for the wash cycle and a second time for the rinse. Basically, the entire morning was spent doing laundry. Oh well, met lots of cruisers! In the afternoon, I did some volunteer work. An American couple has set up an after school program to help the Bahamian children with phonics, reading and math. I helped kids with their reading. Rewarding for me and the kids just love the help and attention. After completing my reading group, I helped in the homework room. Many of the kids need adult supervision and assistance with their homework---they don't get it at home. I was surprised that many of the classes do not even have workbooks---the kids have bound notebooks to copy the homework off the blackboard. Carl also helped in the homework room---he said the kids responded differently to him. The kids seemed to think Carl was the room monitor while they would cozy up to me for help.
The following picture was taken at the Black Point Settlement after school program. The kids loved having their picture taken.
Sailed from Black Point Settlement to Galliot Cay. Crossed some skinny water (shallow) as we passed Little Farmers Cay--skinny enough that we were following the rumb line between waypoints with no deviation. The bottom was soft sand but we did not want to touch moving as fast as we were sailing. Anchored by Galliot Cay with plans to go to Georgetown the next day. Plans were changed when I heard our friends, Dave and Karen on FREEBIRD, talking to someone else on the VHF radio. FREEBIRD was anchored between Little Darby Island and Darby Island. As a result, we changed our destination. The next morning we exited the Bahama banks via the Galliot Cut to the Exuma Sound and did a short run down to Rudder Cut. I was apprehensive----traveling through cuts is a challenge due to depth, current and waves. Our exit through Galliot Cut was easier than it was last year----only a few rolling waves. Coming through the Rudder Cut looked scarier on the charts than it actually was----there are several huge rocks/small islands in the middle of the cut but the water is very deep in the actual cut. Anchored on the west side of Rudder Cut Cay is privately owned and it is absolutely beautiful.
Used the dinghy to check out where FREEBIRD was anchored. With FREEBIRD'S additional knowledge, we were able to move from Rudder Cut Cay to an anchorage close to FREEBIRD. Carl was looking forward to getting together with Dave---Dave is the master lobster and conch hunter. For 4-5 days we went snorkeling with Dave and Karen hunting for conch and lobster. We would snorkel close to Goat Cay--recently purchased by Faith Hill. Carl carried his pole spear and finally used it on Saturday, January 20 to kill his first lobster. Picking up conch is easy--they lay on the bottom in grassy areas. Carl would surface dive down to pick them up and I would carry them over to the dinghy! Carl learned how to clean conch but he left the tedious job of skinning the conch for me! Had conch salad, cracked conch, conch fritters and sauteed lobster. Living the good life.
The following are snorkeling pictures. In the first picture, Carl is towing the dinghy as he hunts for lobster. The second picture is the guests houses on Goat Cay (Faith Hill's new place). We did not see the main house which is under construction (you can see a crane in the picture).
Dave and Karen took us on a tour of Darby Island. There are some ruins on the island---home of a Nazi sympathizer. In addition to the "castle" there is a radio shack and airport. Supposedly, a channel was dredged from Rudder Cut to Darby Island so that German submarines could visit at Darby Island. The castle must have been very nice at one time. According to Dave, there have been squatters occupying the castle---most likely drug smugglers.
The following pictures were taken from the "castle" on Darby Island. The first picture is Dave and Carl standing on the steps to the main entrance. At one time, there were formal flower gardens in front of these steps. The second picture is of one of the bedrooms with some of the remaining furniture. The place is for sale---talk about a "fixer upper". The third picture is Dave, Karen and I on the second floor balcony--talk about happy people--you can see FREEBIRD at anchor in the background!
We would probably still be anchored at the Darby Islands if we had an endless supply of gas for the dinghy engine. Both FREEBIRD and DISCOVERY were running low on dinghy fuel so we had to pull anchor and leave. FREEBIRD headed north to Pipe Creek while DISCOVERY headed south to Georgetown. Hope to meet up with FREEBIRD later in Georgetown. Put out our fishing line for the first time this year---not even a nibble. Arrived in Georgetown in the early afternoon anchoring at Hamburger Beach close to where we were anchored last year. Our friends, Karen and Rockin Ron on SEA DANCER, were having their first dance for the season on the deck at Chat and Chill. Went in for a while--it was great to see cruisers that we met last year and fun to bogey down.
Stayed in Georgetown for about 5 days. Found an economical laundromat (not very many cruisers use it---mostly the locals). Good internet access in Georgetown but no signals at our anchorage. Left Georgetown and sailed to Thompson's Bay (Long Island) on January 29. The winds were brisk and from a favorable direction for a great sail to Long Island. Started with a double reef and a reefed headsail but later shook the reefs out and sailed with all canvas. It was a sleigh ride. Joined FERAL CAT (Rich and Nancy), KOKOMO (Bonnie and Roger), and MON AMI (Dave and Mary) for dinner at the Thompson Bay Inn. Dinner there is served family style---traditional Bahamian side dishes of macaroni & cheese, cole slaw, potato salad and plantains with main course of shrimp, fried chicken, ribs and conch. Fantastic home cooking. We organized a Beach Party our second night at Thompson's Bay---called boats on VHF to bring their own drinks and an appetizer for a gathering on the beach. Had a great bon fire and great attendance!
On January 31, we left Thompson's Bay for the Jimento Cays (also known as the Ragged Islands or "the fishing grounds"). Very light winds so we motored all the way. About 8-10 dolphins came to visit us---swimming off the bow. Carl put a fishing line out----after dragging that lure for hundreds of miles last year and about 40 miles this year, he finally caught something. The first catch was a stinking barracuda, the second catch was another stinking barracuda (saved this one for FERAL CAT's cat) and the third catch was a bigger yet but still stinking barracuda. Anchored at Water Cay where we shared the anchorage with KOKOMO, FERAL CAT and some commercial fisherman. The water in the Jimentos is pristine......no developments (the islands are uninhabited except for one settlement at the bottom of the chain that has less than 200 people). Plan to snorkel and hunt for lobsters tomorrow.
The following pictures are of Carl's fishing day. In the first picture, Carl is relaxed just waiting for a fish to bite. The second picture is of his second catch of the days (a stinking barracuda)
Last year, we spent 6 weeks at anchor in Georgetown participating in the social activities. We said we would not do that again this year. So far, we are true to our word. We have traveled to more cays and islands than last year and tried new things. Having such a good time. Almost every day it we have clear skies, temperatures in the lower 80's and a good breeze to keep us cool.
The last picture is to show off our new dinghy davits/radar arch and stack pak for the main sail.
Submitted by Marilyn Thoreson
February 5, 2007