JANUARY: Port Lucaya on the Grand Bahama Island to Georgetown on the Big Exuma Island

Arrived in Port Lucaya on the Grand Bahama Island on December 31. The Grand Bahama Island is the fourth largest island in the Bahamas. It is 65 miles in length (east to west) and 7 miles wide. Freeport is a large city with an extensive commercial port and very poor. It used to have a wonderful shopping district called The Internation Bazaar. Most of the shops at International Bazaar have been closed. Resorts are located just east of  Freeport (Xanadu, Running Mon, Ocean Reef and Lucaya). The Lucaya Marketplace located in Port Lucaya has luxury motels, casinos, restaurants and shopping (many of the shops from The International Bazaar have been relocated here). We along with TILT, HIGH STEPPER, PENDRAGON and KISMET took a dock at the Grand Bahamian Yacht Club--a first class marina! Too tired to participate in New Years Eve celebrations but fully rested for celebrating New Years Day! So we grabbed a water taxi along with Kris & Craig (TILT) and Connie & Doug (HIGH STEPPER) for a ride over to the Lucaya Marketplace for New Years Day Linner (combined lunch and dinner). After linner (conch or burgers and two rounds of   Kaliks--except of course ice tea for Carl) we walked around the Marketplace checking out the price of rum.

January 2  Kris, Craig, Carl and I walked to the Marketplace because not all the liquor stores were open at the Marketplace on New Years Day.  Did a complete comparison shopping of rum at every liquor store before making our purchase. Had lunch at the Marketplace again (two days in a row). Kris and I also shopped for wraps to wear over our swimsuits with great success.

A cold front arrived on January 3 forcing us to bring the sweatshirts and long pants out again. The winds were blowing north at 27 knots. The temperatures dropped like a rock--high of  60 degrees and a low of 40 degrees. Meanwhile, we listened every morning for Chris Parker's weather report plus Carl pulled up GRIB files on the computer to find the time when the winds and seas would diminish and change directions for a run to the Berry Islands. Biting at the bite to get away from the dock where we were spending $1.60 a foot and not able to enjoy the pool or decks because it was too cold.

The following three pictures were taken in Lucaya. The first picture was taken at our New Year Day Linner (Craig, Kris, Connie, Doug and Carl). The second picture is the sailing vessels TILT, DISCOVERY and HIGH STEPPER at dock with the marina buildings in the background.  Next you see Captain Carl reviewing GRIB files in search of that weather window when we could "Blow that Pop Stand" and get underway again! Winds still too strong so the third picture shows Kris, Craig and Carl at the lunch bar at the Lucaya Marketplace.

Finally on Saturday after spending 5 nights at the marina, TILT, DISCOVERY, HIGH STEPPER, PENDRAGON and KISMET left for the Berry Islands (we left Lake Worth/Palm Beach with these same vessels). There was more wind and the swells were much bigger than we expected. About 30 minutes out, KISMET decided to turn back while the rest of us continued. The biggest problem was the wind direction--east so we were on a very close reach. The waves were about 6 to 8 feet so we were taking water over the bow. TILT's mainsail gave way at the clew with a huge bang. They were lucky to be able to pull it in (a mast furling sail). Meanwhile back on DISCOVERY, I stayed in the cockpit to make sure I did not get seasick. Carl, who rarely is affected by rough seas, had a bad headache and his stomach felt queasy (he goes below to do the charting).

The Berry Islands consist of approximately 30 cays covering an area of about 380 square miles. Great Harbour Cay is the largest cay (7 miles long and 3/4 miles wide is some spots).  Bullocks Harbour Settlement is the largest settlement on Great Harbour with a Government Administration Office, Post Office, clinic, airport, marina and restaurants.

Finally arrived in Bullock's Harbour after being beat up on the high seas for almost 9 hours. Dropped our anchor in about 9 feet of water relieved to be protected from the east tradewinds. I was soaked through and through--too many waves breaking over the cockpit right on top of me. My sunglasses were coated with a salt film. My face was caked with salt. Told Carl--some people pay to have a saltwater facial but what the heck, mine was free!! When I finally caught my reflection in the mirror I started to laugh--saltwater dreadlocks. I wondered how Carl could look at me when we were underway without breaking out in laughter. Maybe he was just too queasy to notice what I looked like.

Stayed in Bullocks Harbour 3 nights. Ventured into the settlement. Walked to the Post Office to purchase stamps and mail postcards. Stopped in two of the local grocery stores to check out produce and dairy products. Surprised with the quality of the fruits and vegetables (very good---the supply ship arrived the day before). Cruise Ships anchor at Little Stirrup Cay about 7 miles north of Bullock so quite a few of the residents at Bullock work for the Cruise Ships. When we passed the town park we noticed about 50 lounge deck chairs and later a stack of  100 regular deck chairs. Apparently, the Cruise Line decided to replace their deck chairs giving the town the old ones!

Groceries/provisions can be found especially after the mailboat arrives. The following picture is a grocery store at Bullocks Harbour Settlement. The fruits and vegetables that were available were quite nice.

From Bullocks Harbor we had a great sail to Alders Cay--traveling with HIGH STEPPER and TILT. Originally planned to stop at Devils Hoffman but we saw 6 sailboat entering the anchorage ahead of us so we kept going to Alders Cay. Dropped anchor is about 8 feet of water. This cay is privately owned--we could see a beautiful beach but it was off limits to us! Because of  the strong east wind, there was a pretty strong surge for a rock-n-roll night.

The next morning we left for Rose Island which is a popular anchorage east of Nassau. . However, the winds were still blowing out of the east. We suspected the anchorage at Rose Island would be rolling like it did at Adlers Cay so we changed our destination to Nassau. Anchored just north of the cruise ship docks which are located on New Providence Island and south of Paradise Island close to the homes of Nicholas Cage and Richard Harris (deceased) , who payed the Headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. This bit of information was picked up from the tour boats that went by every hour or so. Shortly after dropping anchor, Kris on TILT was eating some trail mix when she broke a tooth. Kris suspected that Carl would be on the internet so she called on the VHF radio to see if he could find her a dentist. Kris was in luck--Carl actually knew where there was a good dentist (Carl had a tooth fixed there in 2006). Carl also used SKYPE to call a sailmaker to see if TILT could get the mainsail fixed while they were in Nassau.

The next two pictures were taken in Nassau. The first picture shows the colorful buildings on the waterfront near the Cruise Ship Dock. The second picture is the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.

HIGH STEPPER and DISCOVERY left Nassau the next morning. Kris had a dental appointment that morning and Craig was taking the sail in for a repair. Note: Many people criticize Bahamian businesses for their responsiveness or lack there of but Kris' tooth was fixed and TILT's sail repaired within 24 hours of arriving in Nassau. Anyway, DISCOVERY and HIGH STEPPER headed for Normans Cay. Winds were still out of the east around 15 knots. Lots of squalls around us--one squall passed over us giving us a brief showers and 25 knots of wind. Anchored in 7 feet of water on the west side of  Normans Cay. Our first stop in the Exuma Chain--finally in the Exumas the part of the Bahamas we love best.

The Exuma Chain of cays stretch a distance of over 90 miles. The cays vary in size--some are low and barren while others have rolling hills covered with dense vegetation and small trees. Almost all the cays have beautiful beaches and the water is so beautiful. Normans Cay is about 4 miles in length.

Went onshore the next day to have lunch at McDuffs--recently reopened, expanded and under new management. McDuffs is really nicely decorated with a good menu at typical prices for the northern Bahamas. I wish them success in their new business. After lunch we walked across the Normans Cay Airport Runway to cross the island to visit the inside anchorage and see the ruins of the 80's Drug Era.

A piece of history regarding Normans Cay. From 1978 to 1982 Carlos (Joe) Lehder operated one of the world's biggest cocaine rings from Norman's Cay in the Exumas. Lehder started out as a small-time car thief and pot dealer. But his notoriety as one of the founders of the Medellin Cartel, and his eventual megalomania, made him a legendary and feared figure much like Blackbeard - an earlier international rogue who once had free rein in the Bahamas. He bought as much property on Normans Cay as he could and then chased off the remaining residents. Armed guards patrolled the beaches day and night. In fact, a former Member of Parliament was once threatened at gunpoint on the beach  In the 80's, his airstrip at Norman's Cay was receiving cocaine flights from Colombia on a daily if not hourly basis, transferring the loads to smaller planes for distribution throughout the US. Lehder was responsible for 80 per cent of the Colombian cocaine reaching the United States, mostly through the Bahamas. Lehder's Bahamian empire collapsed in 1983, when NBC television broke the news that Bahamian officials were on the payroll of Colombian drug lords. Lehder moved back to Colombia in 1983 where he was eventually captured and extradited to the US. He and others were responsible for assassinating Colombia's justice minister in 1984; for the 1985 attack on Colombia's Supreme Court that killed 11 justices and 84 others; for assassinating two newspaper editors and 26 other journalists; for shooting the Colombian ambassador to Hungary; and for a long list of other murders. Oh, there are rumors going around that Lehder is out of his US prison and living on Paradise Island (Nassau)! Another tidbit, the movie "BLOW" with my favorite actor Johnny Depp is supposed to be based on Lehder's life (Lehder is one big, bad dude).

First stop in the Exuma Island Chain was Normans Cay. Stopped one day at the recently reopened, under new management restaurant, MCDUFFS. The second picture is Carl and I at the Airport welcome sign. The third picture is one of the smaller island just south of Normans Cay. You can see Shroud Cay in the background. The DEA set up a lookout post on the top of Shroud Island to keep an eye on Lehder.

Next stop in the Exuma chain---Cambridge Cay. On our way to Cambridge a Bahamas Defense Force Patrol Boat passed us. The Defense Force is generally out looking for illegal Haitians. To enter Cambridge Cay we left the Banks side of the Exuma Chain to the Sound side through Conch Cay Cut and then re-enter the bank side through O'Briens Cut. It was a relatively calm day so the cuts were smooth except for the current. Took a mooring ball at Cambridge (it is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park). While at Cambridge Cay, we snorkeled the caves of the Rocky Dundas with its impressive stalagmites and stalactites! I wish I had a waterproof camera that I could have taken with me into the caves but I don't so there are no pictures to share. There are holes (skylights) in the top of the caves so there is plenty of light and thousands of fish to see.  One day we took the dinghy over to the Sea Aquarium located at at O'Brien's Cay. The Sea Aquarium is a wall of coral (miniature wall dive) that is sheltered from the wave action of the sound and home to a billion fish (my personal estimate). I have never seen so many fish. Saw two Nassau Groupers (great eating but can't be hunted until March 1).  Of course, every time I came to the surface I would turn my head west to Little Hall Pond Cay where Johnny Depp has a place. In fact, he owns the entire island. I also kept an eye on the cay at night for any lights. No Johnny Depp sightings. Also snorkeled airplane reef (sunk drug smuggling plane).

The following three pictures were taken at Cambridge Cay. First, The Royal Bahamian Defense Force on patrol near Cambridge Cay. The second picture is Bell Rock on the Sound side of Cambridge Cay. The third picture is the "Laid Back Captain Carl"

Still traveling with HIGH STEPPER. TILT is a day behind us and will catch up with us at Big Majors. Carl put his fishing line out during our passage from Cambridge to Big Majors. I warned him "No barracuda!". The good news is he did not catch a barracuda but then the bad news is he didn't catch anything. Anchored in 12 feet of water close to the Pig Beach--home of the famous swimming pigs. Yes you read that right, swimming pigs! About four pigs have made this beach their home. The pigs associate humans (cruisers and tourists) with food. When a boat floats up to shore the pigs know it is time for a handout, so they will swim out to beg. Did not have my camera to capture this Kodak Moment---Doug (HIGH STEPPER) went over to feed the pigs. Two pigs approached his dinghy from the port side where he gave them all the food. A third pig approached from the starboard side--without food being tossed at him, this pig got rather belligerent and tried to get into the dinghy. Doug had to knock the pig on the head with his bucket to get the pig off the dinghy. After getting the pig's legs out of the dinghy, the pig continued to follow Doug as he speeded away.

Stayed at Big Majors for a week. Took the dinghy over to Staniel Cay Yacht Club almost every day to use the internet. While there, we would visit with other cruisers we have met in the past and meet new cruisers. TILT arrived the same day as the supply ship so Kris, Craig and I walked to Isles General Store for provisions while Carl used the computer. Kris found a package of 3 Romaine Lettuce heads for $7.50---she decided not to buy it. I bought a huge head of cabbage (the size of a soccer ball), green bell peppers, carrots, bananas, and bulk cheese. Walked back to the Yacht Club where Doug and Connie joined us for lunch. After lunch, Kris and I had to walk back to the General Store because we forgot something--bread. Both of us also forgot that most stores in the Bahamas close over the noon hour (90minutes to 2 hours). So...when we arrived the door was closed but neither of us knew what time it was. We sat around for a while when I remembered my new camera had a time setting but I didn't know how to look it up. Kris has a similar camera so she played with it--we had at least an hour before the store would open so we walked back stopping at one of the smaller stores "The Pink Store" for bread!

Every morning we tune into frequency 6227 on the single side band radio to listen to the Cruiseheimers Net. About 40 to 50 boats check in daily with current position and if the vessel is underway the destination is also reported. Over time, we have met most of the regulars who report into Cruiseheimers-- spending time with them at anchorages, seminars or Boat Shows. One morning when we were at Big Majors, RUM TUM TIGER announced that SALTY PAWS lost their mast in the Tongue of the Ocean. Immediately after the announcement the net went silent and then questions and concerns were expressed. All most everyone knows Jim and Bentley on SALTY PAWS along with their two Corgy dogs--Petrol and Ethyl (also known as the "Fuel Dogs"). Anyway, the mast broke away from the catamaran and no one was hurt (they have a hard dodger that provided lots of protection). Bentley (in his former life a general practice physician) is very innovative and inventive. In short order he rigged a temporary antenna for his single side band to stay in touch with everyone and get some help. SALTY PAWS is currently a motor cat. They will continue to cruise as a motor cat until the new mast is extruded and available back in Florida.

One afternoon, Kris, Craig and I went for a walk to the Staniel Cay dump to get rid of our trash and then we walked to the Sound side Beach and up to Club Thunderball (it wasn't open). Found a few pieces of sea glass at the beach. Oh guess where Carl was---yes at the Yacht Club on the internet!!! Friends Ron and Karen on SEA DANCER anchored in Big Majors for a couple nights--they invited us over for Happy Hour one night and dinner the next. Friday night was a beach party on the Human Beach (no pigs allowed). Excellent appetizers and conversation. On Saturday, the anchorage started to get hyped up about the next cold front that was due to blow through on Sunday. The "thing" about this cold front was the winds would clock through the west quadrant BUT they would be light until they clocked to NNW (330-340 degrees). Well....this anchorage is open to the west so many cruisers were concerned about waves and wind from the west. Chris Parker provided a detailed weather forecast down to the hour he expected the front to pass through. It was marketed as a "weather event" but turned out to be a non-event! As forecasted, the winds were light as they clocked southwest to west. When the winds were northwest, they picked up (we had some protection from this direction)--the skies looked wicked but the front continued to move pass us without any violent squalls. You can see the wind clouds in the picture.

The following 8 pictures were taken at Staniel Cay. The first picture is of the colorful rental cottages by the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The next picture is of Carl checking the internet at the Staniel Cay Yacht Cub. In the third picture you will see several nurse sharks swimming around the dinghy dock--don't fall in! The fourth picture is of COPASETIC--an old inter-island freighter converted into a yacht. The fifth picture is of the Thunderball Grotto taken from the deck of the Thunderball Club. The picturesque underwater cave, THUNDERBALL GROTTO, has been the site for scenes in major Hollywood productions including the James Bond movies "Thunderball" and "Never say Never," and Ron Howard's "Splash." Rays of light enter the cave through holes in the cave's ceiling to create a dazzling effect as the beams refract. Snorkel at low tide  and bring food for the fish!The sixth picture is the front door of the Thunderball Club and the seventh picture is the sign for the Thunderball Club. The last picture in this group is of Kris sitting in front of the Isles General Store wondering what time it was--the store closes over the noon hour!

The next three pictures were taken around our anchorage at Big Majors Spot. The first two were taken at a beach cocktail hour--the first one is of Carl, Craig (TILT), George (Island Star) and others shooting the bull. The second picture is some of the appetizers--on a beach blanket, portable table and a cooler that you can't see. The third picture is of the wind clouds that preceded the cold front we were waiting to pass--can you see those cigar shaped clouds?

Monday so we used the brisk north to northeast winds that followed the cold front to sail down to Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay. In Black Point Settlement you will find the most modern and clean laundromat in the Bahamas--Ida's. It cost $3.50 for a washer and $3.50 for a dryer. I had not done laundry since leaving Lucaya so it was 4 loads into those quarter sucking machines. When in Black Point, you must to order coconut bread from Mom--just call on VHF Radio Channel 16 ! That bread is to die for--order one day and pick up the next day. Another must do at Black Point is lunch or dinner or a just a Kalik at Lorraine's Cafe (By the way, the coconut bread Mom is Lorraine's Mom). Kris, Craig and I walked the beach on the Sound side of Great Guana Cay to collect beach glass. Found lots of beach glass around the blow hole.

The next set of pictures were taken at Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay. The first picture is Carl, Kris and Craig (TILT) and Lorraine, the owner of Lorraine's Cafe. The channel at Black Point is not marked on the charts but as you can see in the second picture--we were very close to M/V CAPTAIN C when it arrived. The third picture is the blow hole on the Sound side of the Cay. The waves were coming in from the Sound so the water was shooting out the hole along with various pieces of debris.

Next stop was Little Bay still on the Great Guana Cay--12 nautical miles south of Black Point. This was a quick trip under sail with 20 knot winds. Anchored with about 20 other boats along with SALTY PAWS! We (along with everyone in the anchorage) were invited onshore to Peg and Frank O'Briens for cocktails. Frank gave some of us tours of his project. Their home is 4 separate cottages connected by porches and walkways. The only finished space is the first floor of two of the cottages. It has been and will continue to be a challenge for them to finish their place because of the lack of dependable and skilled labor..

The following two pictures were taken at Little Bay on Great Guana Cay. In 2003, a resort and marina development was started but little progress has been made. In the first picture you can see one house that is being finished by the owners. In the foreground is the sailing catamaran, SALTY PAWS. SALTY PAWS lost its rigging in the Tongue of the Ocean about one week before this picture was taken. The second picture is of the second house in the development---it is called "The Sand Castle".

From Little Bay we had a fantastic sail to Big Galliot Cay where we staged for a run to Georgetown. Winds were E at 20 knots mostly on our beam. We anchored in 13 feet of water. Had dinner onboard TILT (Kris made lasagna). The next morning, the winds had diminished to less than 10 knots. The cut was flat---the current was running 3.5 knots against us. Really it was a perfect transit of a cut. Headed to Georgetown having to motor for the first 3 hours and then sailed for the next 3 hour. The winds picked up and we were boogying along at close to 8 knots (8.6 knot max). Before long, we were at the cut to enter Elizabeth Harbour! Sailed across the harbour right to the anchorage.

Anchored is our usual spot off Monument Beach (AKA Hamburger Beach) in 14 feet of water. While anchoring, the people on the boat in back of us got up on their bow (people typically do this if they think you are anchoring too close to them). Carl told me they didn't give us the bat wings (arms on hips spread out as wide as possible plus the face provides a heavy glare). Instead they waved. Come to find out the boat is Linda and Bill on JOIE de VIVRE (tied up next to them last December in Vero Beach) and they were glad to see us--thus the wave. About 5 minutes after dropping the anchor, Sally on IT's ABOUT TIME called on the VHF Radio to invite us over for dinner. A very warm welcome to Georgetown indeed!

So here we are in Georgetown for a week or so. Getting into the swing of life in Georgetown---take the dinghy into town for supplies, visit Volleyball Beach in the afternoon for the organized activities (volleyball games, dominos, bridge, basket weaving, visiting), attend cocktail parties, etc). Wednesday was the first meeting of the HAM Club at Hamburger Beach. I went with Carl for the lunch but then walked the beach while the HAM people covered their technical mumbo jumbo! It is fun to be here. While I appreciate all the effort it takes to organize a community of 300-500 boats---I want to participate and not be involved.

The next set of pictures were taken in Georgetown. In the first picture, Karen (SEA DANCER) is cutting hair on the beach--that day there were about 6 people in line.  The next three pictures were taken during a beach walk. Waves on the Sound side of Stocking Island.  The next picture shows DISCOVERY at anchor and the last picture is of the Monument on Stocking Island.

Submitted by:
Marilyn Thoreson
February 2, 2007