Tuesday, January 27, 2009



Warderick Wells to Cambridge Cay: 1/25/2009, 16 nm.

We left Warderick Wells on Sunday planning to go into Cambridge Cay for a few days. Getting there is a bit tricky. It was one of those damned if you do damned if you don't kind of things. Piloting is visual 100% (the charts in Raymarine stuff is poor and not based on the Explorer Charts like most are today - but that is no excuse for running aground).

For those of you considering the purchase of a chartplotter, some of the Navionics charts of the Exumas have way too much info (all contour lines so cluttered you can't tell what is where) and some have almost no info and just block out the island in sort of rough form. If the plotter you are considering uses Navionics Charts you might want to consider something different. The Raymarine charts for Cambridge / Bell Cays are like the latter (just an outline of the island, kind of thing).

To get into the anchorage at Cambridge, you have to snake your way thru the shallow water around Bell Island (East). Follow the deep blue water out the cut and back to Cambridge (west). The rub is you get good visibility either going east or west not both. We figured it was tighter around Bell (yep true - maybe a 50 foot wide cut of deep water) and then back into the sun for the short run back west to Cambridge Cay. With the sun in your face you can't see the bottom and tell where the deep water is.

Well Old Vic didn't hug the shore of Cambridge close enough. Bumped (read ran aground), spun the boat, got off, and waited for a dink off "Movin' On" to confirm that close to shore was right (lead us in). It took 1452 miles to run this bitch aground but I finally succeeded.

On Monday the Park Service arranged for Tucker, the owner of Compass Cay Marina, to pick us up and ferry us over to Compass Cay for lunch and a walk around. Tucker is a great guy and has spent the last few years improving his marina. It is quite unique. Tucker is considering having a "Stupid Bowl" party on his dock complete with transportation from the Cambridge anchorage to Compass and back and lobster appetizers. If he does we may just hang around here until Monday. There is plenty to do and see here and the water is truly "gin clear." There are some of the best snorkeling in the Bahamas with Rocky Dundas Grottos, Sea Aquarium, and Coral Garden. Not to mention, this is a good place to sit out the next westerly blow coming on Friday.

This post is via SSB email and therefore no pictures. Someone drop me a note and let me know if the post works.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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Saturday, January 24, 2009



Warderick Well, North Mooring Field, Exuma Land / Sea Park: 01/18-25/2009, 31nm
We grabbed a very narrow weather window on Sunday the 18th and sailed down (yes actually sailed for a change) to Warderick Wells in the rain. It was either wait at Highborne 3 to 4 more days or go...and it was getting expensive. Luckily we missed the waterspout that went thru Wardwick a couple of hours before we arrived.

By the way, the folk at Highborne have a rather twisted sense of humor. There is a sign at the top of the island that reads,"bus stop." Of course there is no bus, to stop. The island is only 3 miles long - who would need a bus. The map of the island also lists a "spring." There are signs along the paths that crisscross the island that actually lead you to said “spring.” When you get there it is an old bed spring tied in a tree. What a hoot!

I'm beginning to get used to reading the water and to trust my judgment a little more (read: my asshole ain't puckered near as tight entering tight channels between islands). Every where we go I say, "It can't get any prettier than this and it does” as the photos attest. Warderick Wells north mooring field (no anchoring this is a coral park after all) sits in a crescent of deep blue water between the island and the aqua and yellow of the sand flats. It is protected on the east by Warderick itself and west by numerous small Cays and sand flats. The next 2 days brought that “big blow” out of the west we were expecting. For those of you planning to pass this way this is a great spot to sit out a westerly blow.

The island is full of wild life and most of it quite tame. The Banana Quit (3" small bird) are so tame they will eat right of your hand. I never see friendly small birds that I don’t think of my Mom. She would have loved this place and especially the Banana Quit. G is beginning to get pissed with them coming into the cabin to “explore” and “evacuate” (their bowels). It has turned into sort of war of wills and I’m not sure who is winning.

The last few days have been “cool” for the Bahamas (mid-60s) and has really limited our search for good snorkeling spots. We finally found a small reef near Emerald Rock with an abundance of sea life including a school of Silver Snapper and couple of huge Nassau Grouper. I expected to see lobster the size of small tanks but am yet to see any of any size. The reefs around Alan’s and Highborne Cays were more diverse and healthier than the Warderick Wells area.

Warderick Wells is full of trails over pot-marked sandstone - sort of like walking on swiss cheese with the hole edges like turned up knife points. Good walking shoes are a must. The “trails” are marked by cairns (small piles of stone). Without them you would loose all sense of direction. For those of you familiar with the Tampa / St. Pete area of Florida you will remember the “Sunshine Causeway Bridge.” Tampa and St. Pete have nothing on Warderick Well. They have a “Sunshine Causeway Bridge” too (see photos).

At the top of “Boo Boo Hill” is a cairn built out of boat markers and of course we added ours to the list of folk that had made the climb. Boo Boo Hill got it’s name because it is haunted. Around the turn of the last century supposedly a ship load of “missionaries” were lost on the reef. Today, if you walk to the top of the hill on a rising full moon you can hear the ghosts of the missionaries singing hymns. Unfortunately we were not here around full moon. Maybe next year or on the way back North we’ll be able to verify the legend.

G was snorkeling around the boat a couple of days ago and noticed a tail extending in a vertical orientation down below “Islands” keel. We figured it was probably a Barracuda that was using the boat for protection, but we were wrong. It was Reginald, at least that is what we named him. “Regie-Mon” is a 4 foot Remora. You know the fish that attach themselves to sharks and live off the tidbits his shark strews about at dinner. Regie had found an alternate lifestyle. He hangs out under boats and lives off their “leftovers.” Regie is quite tame. I wonder if he will follow us when we leave Warderick Wells?

Tomorrow, after a beach pot luck here tonight, we will head down to Cambridge Cay (Little Bell Island) and spend a few days exploring and snorkeling. Cambridge is near an area called “the Sea Aquarium / Coral Garden.” Can’t wait. Until next time.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Allan's & Highborne Cays 2009

Nassau to Allan’s Cays & Highborne Cay:

Allan’s Cays: 1/10-13/2009, 35nm.

We finally got a “weather window” to cross the Yellow Banks to Allan’s Cays (not a good one but it would do - 10k on the nose...again). The Yellow Banks are called the “Dreaded Yellow Banks” for a reason, because for about 3 miles the water is shallow and strewed with coral heads. As it turned out it was not so bad - me on the bow “pointing” and Gigi steering. The heads are very visible and easy to dodge as long as the sun is high. I would not want to even think of doing this passage after dark.

By 3:30 we had the anchor down snuggled up to the west side of Alan’s Cay with a gentle East wind blowing. We were in the “real” Bahamas at last with Nassau, the dirty, busy, crime and politician filled Capitol in our wake. Allan’s is really a series of small Cays that run roughly North South with Allan’s to the East, Leaf to the West and SW Allan’s to the South with an anchorage in between Alan’s and Leaf and a very small anchorage almost in the cut between the Islands just North of SW Allan’s. The anchorage when we arrived was quite full so we just snuggled up to the Western shore of Alan’s instead of trying to worm our way into an already tight anchorage.

In settled weather this place is paradise. The water is crystal clear with plenty of beautiful healthy reefs for snorkeling. Leaf and SW Allan’s have two sugar sand beaches both white as bleached bone. And of course, they are the home of one of the few remaining colonies of native rock iguanas left in the Bahamas. They are quite tame. As soon as you land a dink on the beach they stream out of the bush expecting food (see photos). There is even a boat that brings tourist over from Nassau daily to feed them. It is a “sight”. The boat pulls into the lagoon, blows its horn and the iguana pour out of the bush even before they land.

The wind had picked up by the second day we were at Allan’s, 3 Canadian boats left the anchorage, and we moved inside the lagoon for better protection. Then we were off in Mule for a bit of snorkeling. The reefs are shallow so all you really have to do drift and look. It is like swimming in an aquarium. G filled 2 pages of her notebook when she got back with species of fish and coral we saw - she was in haven. We would probably be there still if a series of cold fronts not was moving in and we wanted a more protected place to hold up. Allan’s is a good place for settled weather but it is a “tight” anchorage and the boat in front of us by morning had already drug his anchor a bit. It was time to go.

Highborne Cay: 1/13/2009, 5.6 nm.

There are very few “all weather” anchorages in the Exumas and many of them are in the cuts between The Great Bahamas Banks and Exuma Sound. We elected to take a slip at Highborne Cay Marina and sit out the weather there.

A word about the “cuts”... First there is always current and they are narrow. I am going to try and describe entering Highborne Cay Marina to give you a feel for what navigating these cuts are like. The Marina is set in a small harbor on the south end of Highborne. You enter thru a narrow (verrrrry narrow - 100 feet or less) cut between Highborne Cay to the North and Oyster Cay to the South. Because of the current and the tiny opening the water stays churned up as if a hundred power boats had just crisscrossed the area. The water color varies from yellow (sand and shallow) to deep blue (20 feet or more) with in a few feet of each other. You literally have to almost put you starboard side on Oyster Cay to stay in deep water. Immediately on entering the lagoon you hang a hard right, line up a couple of range markers and throw the coal to the engine to keep the current from pushing you into a reef before you make the harbor’s breakwater. Once inside everything is calm. I suspect I’ll get use to “cuts” in time but for now, 3 days later my heart is still pounding.

Highborne is a gorgeous island, white sand beaches, healthy reefs, and peopled by helpful, friendly folk. It was one of the first islands inhabited by Loyalist after our “Civil War” (what they call our Revolution). There are still ruins of those early homes sprinkled all over the island. It is an Island to walk and explore. An island to sit and read. An island to snorkel and swim. An island with a few surprises and sites we would have missed entirely if the weather had not nudged us in here.

First the harbor has “pet” shark, snapper and rays and no fishing is allowed in the harbor. Yesterday we walked down to the fish cleaning station near the jetties and saw our first shark feeding frenzy. A group of approximately 20 nurse shark, lemon shark, and reef shark were dining on the leftovers from wahoo that were being cleaned. One of the fishermen put a wahoo carcass on a line and commenced to “tease” them with it (see photos) - the water was boiling with hungry shark. I saw one lemon shark literally clear the water to “sample” the wahoo.

Each morning we have had guests for coffee. When we move out into the cockpit ruddy turnstone (shore birds) and small black grassquit (verio type birds)come begging. They are so tame they even came, looked down in G’s coffee cup, and then give her the “this ain’t eatable” look.

On the western shore of Highborne Cay lies a reef that is quite unique and ancient. Stramatolites are some of the earliest forms of life on earth dating back over 3 billion years. Until the early 80s they were thought to be extinct. Since then living examples of these reefs have been found off the coast of Highborne and a few other Cays in the Exuma chain. They look sort of like flat top mushroom of enormous size. They are quite impressive (see photos).

Yesterday evening late, a Catalina 34 pulled into the slip next to the Island. I said to myself, self, that boat looks familiar. It was my New Zealand friends, Carl and Penny, that Mike and I met last year at Bimini and cruised with to Royal Island. Carl makes the best sangria I’ve ever put in my mouth. Friends come and go but the next anchorage may bring another reunion, cocktails, and time to catch up on each other’s lives since last our paths crossed. That’s cruising and one of the reasons I love this life.

Tomorrow is a pig roast on the beach and then (hopefully) we will be headed south to Warwick Wells, home of the Bahamas Land / Sea Park for some serious snorkeling.

Tell next time....

Fairwind and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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Friday, January 9, 2009

No Name Harbor to Nassau

Five to Ten, My Ass!

1/05-06/2009 - No Name Harbor to Nassau, Bahamas - 167nm, 27hours

After 3 “aborts” we got what we felt was a good (well acceptable) weather window for a crossing of the Gulf Stream to Nassau. Chris Parker (the weather guru) was calling for 5 to 10 knots out of the East. East would put the winds right in our face but there was no north in it to make for nasty seas in the Gulf Stream and it would be light enough Gigi’s Island could push into it with little problem. We calculated it would take us from 28 to 30 hours to reach Nassau and we wanted to hit both Great Bahama Banks just North of Bimini Island and the entrance to Nassau Harbor in daylight. Leaving No Name about 7:00 AM would give us what we wanted. As it turned out we did better than our predictions...but Chris did worse.

Luckily, our weather guru had it pretty much right for the Gulf Stream so, once off sounding, the seas settled down to a steady 2 to 4 foot chop that the Island handled well. We hit North Rock Light, just north of Bimini and came on the banks about 3 in the afternoon with plenty of light to be sure we were not going to hit any coral heads and settled in for a night crossing. The water color changes gradually as you come on soundings from the deep navy blue of the 2000 foot open ocean water to the 20 depths of beautiful aqua sprinkled with dark green in patches of grass. I wish I could describe it properly for those of you that have not had the experience but it is impossible to do it justice.

We were in 20 feet of water, no other boats in sight, and the water and cloud dotted sky are astoundingly beautiful. Gigi was in love. She wanted to stop at every patch of floating sargasso weed and jump in the water to see what was underneath - of course I wouldn’t let her (at this point I was a bit of a “party pooper” in her eyes).

By 11:00 PM we were just past Mackie Shoal about 2/3s of the way across the Banks. The three-quarter moon had just set with a burst of reds and oranges thru a western scattering of clouds. We were in a dark lit by stars alone. You would be surprised how bright that can be with the absence of light pollution from so called “civilization.” Gigi was on watch and noticed a power boat gradually over taking the Island. As she swung wide to give us a “more pleasant passing” we heard this distinctive Eastern North Carolina accent hail us on the VHF. The 94 foot yacht “Cimarron” was bound for Nassau just like us (and was quick to point out he would be there in a couple of hours). It’s captain was from Hertford, NC, and friends with Willie and Feather Philips old friends of mine. Willie used to fish crabs in the Bath area when I first met them before his family moved to Hertford. And Feather was a budding artist with the prettiest violet eyes I ever saw. It is truly a small world.

By 1:00 AM on the 6th, the winds had built to 15 to 20 out of the east, dead on the “pointy end” of Gigi’s Island and the Island was hitting the waves pretty hard. The Island was slammin’ and bangin’ as she dropped off the face of the waves - 5 to 10 my ass! For you non-sailors, these conditions are not a problem or life threatening in any way just uncomfortable, especially for 63 year old farts that don’t recover as quickly as we did in our younger days. Chris Parker blew this one. It was supposed to be 5 to 10 and an easy passage. By 10:00 AM, after pounding our way across the NW Providence Channel and acquiring permission to enter Nassau Harbor from Harbor Control we were tied up at Nassau Harbor Club with a “cold one” in hand - 27 hours, not bad for 167 miles.

This passage presented Gigi with a lot of firsts:
• First ocean passage
• First night passage
• First sunrise, sunset, and moonrise and moonset at sea
• First time to stand a watch on her own (she was nervous as the proverbial “whore in church” but she did great)
• First crossing of the Gulf Stream
• First time to the Bahamas in her own boat
• And not insignificant, first time to sleep underway

We plan on leaving here on Saturday headed for Alan’s Cay, home of the Bahamian iguanas. Until next time...

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks

Vic & Gigi

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Friday, January 2, 2009

No-Name Harbor - Bill Baggs State Park

It Was a Tight Anchorage But Doable....

No-Name-Harbor, Key Biscyne, FL - 12/31/2008 thru 1/3/2009:

Gigi’s Island sits in No-Name-Harbor, a small secluded anchorage inside Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne. When we made the decision to “abort” the passage to Nassau for the second time we noticed a couple of boats exit the harbor and decided to stick our noses in for a look see. It was tight by Marsh Harbor standards but still doable since the harbor offers all round protections from wind, swell and (most importantly) boat wakes.

Cuban machismo, is definitely alive and well in Miami. Don’t get me wrong the Cuban people (Miami) are wonderful one-on-one and their food is superb. But put a Cuban behind the wheel of a car or and boat and common courtesy goes out the window. There is no such thing as a “slow” and courteous pass, and a full throttle run thru a packed anchorage throwing a huge wake only feet off your stern is to be expected. No-Name-Harbor offered limited potential for “speed” and “wakes” and was very appealing after getting our butts waked off for couple of days.

We had been at anchor a couple of hours when the “Miami Crazies” or should I say “Cuban Crazies” showed up and added another 50 or so boats to an already crowded anchorage (most would not stay the night - thank god). It was New Years Eve after all and it was quite a show. Cuban rap blaring off go-fast boats. Dark skinned beauties strutting around in more than skin tight everything. Boats of all size and shape. Then there was this one 30' something go fast boat that pulled up to the waste pump out station, pumped his tank, and commenced to provide us with a real show.

He pumped the wrong tank - his gas tank! Opps! The pump out goes directly to the Key Biscayne sewer system - we have a real problem here.

The Coast Guard showed up. The local police showed up. The park security showed up. The park rangers showed up. And everyone went thru him like the proverbial “dose of the clap.” I expect whole forests of paper were clear cut and god knows how many pens disposed of before this show was over. After about 4 hours of continuous writing and questioning the boat left with one of the US Coasties finest driving the boat and the owner and mate aboard as passengers. I don’t know what happened to them but whatever it was I’m bettin’ it wasn’t gonna’ be pretty.

Speaking of pretty, Bill Baggs State Park is a gorgeous place. The park is open from 8:00 am until “sundown” and they mean “sundown.” Look at the photo of the sign on the website. The park closed the day we were there at 5:41 PM (they are precise if nothing else). Bill Baggs is within a 1.5 miles walk of shopping. There is a nice Cuban restaurant with dingy tie-ups at the end of the harbor. There are miles of nature trails complete with “critters.” Then there is Cape Florida Light. Cape Florida Light was (according to the ranger) the first permanent structure in the Miami area. If you read last years news letter it will give you the storied history of the Light. The Light is open to the public and the view from the top is spectacular. Don’t forget to look at the photos to get the real “picture.”

We are hoping to get a “weather window” to Nassau either tomorrow morning (Saturday) or Sunday morning. ‘Tell then... .

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi