Monday, March 23, 2009

Just Call Me Humphry....

Just Call Me Humphry...

3/18/2009: Sampson Cay to Shroud Cay - 30nm.

3/20/2009: Shroud Cay to Highborne Cay - 14nm.

Shroud Cay:

After a great sail up from Sampson we settled into the mooring field at Shroud Cay. Shroud is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park and has installed a mooring field to protect the sea floor from anchor damage...(and to make a little money to support the Park). Shroud is unique among the cays in the Exuma chain of islands. It is really a number of small cays laced together by mangrove creeks. It is also a nesting area for the White-Tailed Tropicbirds.

As per tradition, G and I settled into the cockpit for “sundowners,” a little music, and a beautiful sunset. A mega-yacht in the 150' range eased into the anchorage behind Gigi’s Island and went to anchor. G immediately became envious. No, not the boat. The treadmill on the foredeck. Poor G she now has “treadmill” envy (see photos).

We were awakened to the staccato “kips”of tropicbirds engaged in their mating dance (see photos). Tropicbirds rarely “talk” (mating is one of the few times) and just as rarely visit land. Mating is the only time they come ashore. What could be better than to start the morning over coffee in the cockpit with a “ballet of mating tropicbirds” to escort the day to life. The dancers are quite graceful with twirls, darts, and dips. The intertwined pairs soar thru the deep blue sky with sword like tails describing sensuous spirals. I never though I’d see this kind of beauty in my lifetime and count myself so lucky. If you are ever around Shroud Cay in the early spring take the time sit and enjoy the “Ballet.”

On the rising tide we were off to explorer one of the mangrove creeks that lead thru the cays that make up Shroud. People had told us about a particular creek near the North end of Shroud that leads all the way thru to the ocean side - everyone we talked to said it was a must see. The creek snakes it’s way thru sheer rock and mangrove, in water of yellow to aqua. We did the creek standing in the dink in true cruisers fashion to better distinguish between the yellow shallow water to the deeper aqua. Mangrove are where life begins - it is the start of the food chain and the key to most sea life. This creek was no exception and the creek was alive with small fry of all kind. We felt like Humphry Bogart & Katharine Hepburn in “African Queen” guiding Mule thru the shallow headed for god know whatever lay ahead. As we rounded a little bend, there in front was the deep blue waters of a cut less than 50 feet wide leading to the ocean. The pictures can not do it justice. This is one of the most beautiful places on god’s earth.

We took Mule thru the cut and there, spread out in front of us, was the deep deep blue of Exuma Sound (ocean), ringed by small cays and reefs, and set in an aqua blue green sea. I will say it again, this is one of the most beautiful places on god’s earth. The beach is of the finest white sand and not a footprint in sight. It was as if we were the only two people on earth and had just discovered “Eden.”

We eased Mule back thru the cut and beached her. Then walked the beach leaving all evidence of our existence to be erased by the incoming tide. The water was so beautiful G could not resist its call. She walked to the end of the sandbar extending across the mouth of the cut, jumped in, and was gently carried by the current back thru the deep blue swift moving waters of the cut into the shallow languid aqua of the creek (see photos). This, my friends, is a special place.

Shroud is one of those places where a month would not be enough time to explore it properly but unfortunately a blow was coming and it was time for us to move on in search of better shelter. We had intended to spend a day or so anchored off Normans Cay (X-home of the X-drug lord Carlos Lehder) and do a little snorkeling around some of the planes scattered around the waters south of Normans but as I said, a blow was coming. We decided to push on to Highborne Cay and go to anchor off the West side of the island. The Island had not been at a dock in close to 2 months, she needed a bath and we wanted a real standup shower with hot water. Not-to-mention, Highborne Cay marina is a great place to sit out a blow. The next morning we moved in to the lap of luxury Bahamian style - dock life.

We will be here until Wednesday morning and then move back out into the anchorage. It looks like Thursday or Friday will give us a weather window to move up to the Spanish Wells / Royal Island area to stage for the 50 mile jump off shore to Abacos.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Black Point / Big Major Spot / Sampson Cays

Laundry / Green Flash / Thunderball / & Flying Dog :

3/9 &10/2009 - Black Point Settlement.
3/11- 15/2009 - Big Major Spot (near Staniel Cay): 11 nm.
3/15 - 18/2009 - Sampson Cay: 5 nm.

Black Point Settlement:

Black Point was “Marathon Laundry Day,” note the capitol letters. It had been 5 weeks since we did laundry. Gigi spent most of the day at Ida’s Laundry Mat and Beauty Salon. Where else can you do laundry in a spotless coin operated laundry (unusual for the Bahamas) and get your hair done at the same time? And, it includes a view of the whole harbor. With a bar across the street with one of the best pizza’s in the Exumas and an internet cafĂ© next door. However, some “girlie” things just can’t be done in a conventional laundry as can be attested to by the photo.

After laundry G and I settled into sundowners and supper in the cockpit of the “Island.” Black Point anchorage is like Cave Cay it looks West to the open expanse of the Banks with nothing but water to the horizon. The sky was clear and we were again in green flash territory. We waited and held our breath. For the second time, we witnessed one of natures true phenomena, a green flash and all it’s glory.

Big Major Spot, Near Staniel Cay:

Big Major Spot is the home of “pig beach” and home of the famous swimming pigs of the Exumas. Gigi saved our leftovers and we headed for shore. The pigs are quite tame and do swim out to the boat but, unfortunately not ours. As you can see from the photos one of the pigs was quite taken with “Mule.” Mule immediately insisted we take her to deep water and safety. She escaped unharmed with “virginity” in tack.

Staniel Cay actually has 3 stores: Isles General, the Pink Store and the Blue Store. Thursdays are “Mailboat” days and fresh vegetables day. We needed both propane and vegies so off we went early Thursday to stand in line for groceries at Isles General. Grocery shopping can be quite competitive in the Bahamas - if you ain’t in line when the groceries arrive many times you have to wait until next week. There are traditions that must be upheld before you even lay eyes on the opportunity to purchase.

First, you wait for the boat to be unloaded (swap lies with fellow cruisers until it does). Second, wait for the truck to arrive from the boat loaded with groceries for Isles General (swap lies with fellow cruisers until it does). Third, help unload the truck. Forth, wait for the employees to stock the shelves (swap lies with fellow cruisers until they do). Fifth, remove said groceries from freshly stocked shelves in an absolute feeding frenzy. Then purchase your “prizes” at “island” prices” (about 30% more than US prices). It ain’t the US but is all part of the fun and charm of the Bahamas.

After competitive grocery shopping it was time for some fun. We treated our selves to lunch at Staniel Cay Yacht Club Restaurant (quite good) and then were off to snorkel Thunderball Grotto at low tide. Do you remember the underwater cave scenes from the James Bond movie Thunderball? Thunderball Grotto is where those scenes were filmed. Basically, Thunderball Grotto is a small cay located between Big Major Spot Cay and Staniel Cay. It is a hollow island that you can swim right thru, it is surrounded by reef and is touted as one of the best snorkeling spots in the Bahamas. It is best to snorkel it at slack low water to minimize the current and maximize the entrance.

The entrance to the Grotto has about 1 foot of clearance at low water. You ease yourself into the crystal clear water and are immediately surrounded by fish of all sizes, shapes and colors. A school of Sargent Major fish just adopts you into their school. As you swim under the entrance and under the dome of the island light filters in through a hole in the top of the grotto and gives the water an iridescent emerald green cast. All I can say is WOW! Then you slowly drift thru the island and out the other side and snorkel one of the most perfect reefs Gigi and I have seen with coral of all shapes and sizes. I was especially taken with the tube and vase sponges. There was one vase sponge that was a soft lilac and purple that almost had an inner glow of light - quite beautiful. On the way back around we met a needle fish that had bitten off more than it could chew. He was swimming on the surface with a fish about half his size in his beak and seem to be in a quandary about how to make dinner with what he had just caught.

Gigi and I drifted Thunderball twice and spent close to 2 hours in the water. Two hours is pushing the limit with no wetsuit to protect you from the cold. There is only one word that describes Thunderball Grotto...WOW! We will be back.

Sampson Cay:

We had a wonderful sail up from Big Major Spot to Sampson Cay. Sampson is one of the best spots to tuck in for a blow. It is a good spot to re-provision. It has a good restaurant and the fastest WiFi around. Plus we had a minor reunion with old friends - Shirley & Mac on “Cat’s Paw” and Lou, Allison, & Caroline on “Ally Cat”.

Gigi cleaned and I uploaded photos and finished the blog. Then we were off “conching” in Pipe Creek - much fun and a hammering of a dingy ride, not so much fun. On the way back we saw a flying dog. One of the dinks had a golden retriever named “Gunner.” When we rounded Pipe Creek Cay onto the banks the waves launched Gunner out of the dink - he looked like he had learned to fly (at least for a short while). Gunner took it in stride and his masters picked him up. Then it was back to Sampson and a conch cleaning frenzy. We all gathered at a friend’s cabin and Miss Shirley’s grilled conch. Mmmmmm!

After supper as we ambled back to the dock we saw the Space Shuttle entering the atmosphere. It was an eerie and spectacular sight. The shuttle actually makes it’s own “cloud” that seems to glow.

The next day took us back to Pipe Creek for a snorkel and a swim. Most of you have heard of “lobster walks.” Well G spotted a “conch walk.” There was a swath of young conch tightly packed about 20 feet wide and stretching for almost a hundred yards. They all were headed “somewhere” at a steady but slow conch pace.

This was also the first time I’ve ever swam with cuddle fish (squid). They were about a foot long with eyes the size of silver dollars. A male / female pair were swimming off to the side of the school and the female was “flashing” subtitle but unmistakable color changes at the male friend - guess I know what she had in mind.

Tomorrow we will leave Sampson and head for Shroud Cay for a few day and then on to Normans to tuck in for a blow. Then up to Royal to stage for the trip off shore to the Abacos. More than likely we will not have WiFi until we reach Little Harbor in the southern Abacos in early April.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

PS - I forgot to give credit for some of the photos in Georgetown to Maril Doster. Thanks Maril the photos are great.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Georgetown - "Slimey"


3/9/2009 - Georgetown to Black Point Settlement , 54 nm.

I have been wrestling with this, trying to figure out how to explain Georgetown ever since we arrived on Friday, February 13th ...and I still don’t know. My first impressions were mostly negative colored with a bit of dislike. That faded to miss understanding. By the time we hauled the Island’s anchor and headed back North to Black Point Settlement it had settled into “just not my cup of tea.”

“Georgetown” is really just a minor part of what is “Elizabeth Harbor” - a harbor approximately 10 miles long boarded on the West by Great Exuma Island and the East by Stocking Island, Elizabeth Island, and Fowl Cay. In an easterly blow all the boats snuggle up to the shore of Stocking and dingy ashore in relatively calm seas. When the winds blow out of the West they re-anchor on the Georgetown side for shelter from the wind and wave.

While we were in “Georgetown” the community of boats numbered almost 300 boats (a normal year will see 500 or more). The community here is very organized. There is yoga, volley ball, poker, swimming, classes in marine electronics, HAM classes, not to mention miles of trails an beaches to walk or dingy too. There is always something going on at Volley Ball Beach and Chat and Chill, a local bar. While we were in Georgetown everything was focused on “Regatta,” the 29th annual cruising boat regatta, with “happenings” for almost 2 weeks.

Opening ceremonies included a variety show (talent not required and actually discouraged), pet parade (see photos of the long haired dachshund that was “grand marshal”), a parade of boats, “coconut challenge” (700 coconuts dumped in a small bay with teams of 4 in dinks with 1 oar and 1 swim fin - object to collect the most coconuts) and of course sailboat races.

The highlight of the pet parade was two young girls that entered their new found “pets.” A little 3 year old had a conch on a lease named “Slimy” that she drug around the sand and her older sister with a hermit crab she paraded across the stage. They only took honorable mention...but should have won the whole damn thing in our opinion.

The highlight of our stay in Georgetown was a visit from Mike and Maril Doster. They were, are just plane fun to have around and great boat guests. I was worried that Maril might not be able to handle “dingy life” especially with the cold temps and East winds blowing a blustery 20 to 30 knots. She did great and even got to the point she stood in the dink holding on to the painter while we were underway (the mark of a true cruiser).

For Gigi and I perhaps the nicest thing that happened to us while in Georgetown was a new friend, Mr. Lermon, “The Dr. of Libation” at Peace and Plenty Hotel bar. The Doc is the uncle of Ida, the beautician that did Gigi’s hair at Black Point. Ida told us to look him up when we got to Georgetown and we did. I took him a photo of his niece and took a photo of him to give Ida when we returned to Black Point. If you are ever in the area be sure and have a drink with the Doc. He is one fine man with his head and heart in the right place.

Maril and Mike left on Saturday and (of course) the wind dropped out and it warmed up on Sunday - why is it always that way? We watered up the boat, took on a few provisions at Exuma Markets and prepared to head North for Black Point Settlement bright and early on Monday Morning.

I guess I better explain how water is taken on... It is all done by dink and 6 gallon jerry jugs. We have two so a trip brings 12 gallons to the Island. Georgetown is one of the few places where water is free. Exuma Markets provides both a dinky dock and water just in side Lake Victoria ( see photos of cut thru solid rock that is used to enter the lake). Here you do not even need to leave the dink for water, you just cue up, fill up, and make the mile run back to the boat to unload the water. We took on 48 gallons.

Monday provided an almost perfect sail up Exuma Sound and thru Dothum Cut off the end of Great Guana Cay and Black Point Settlement. Entering the cut reminded me of why I love the upper Exumas Cays North of Georgetown so much. The is a beautiful aqua, 30 feet deep, and so clear you could see red starfish on the bottom. We were back “home” where the water is fit to snorkel again. In the Georgetown area the waters are just not as clear and reefs are in poor shape with few fish. Maybe that was my biggest complaint about Georgetown other than the over organization is the lack of clear water with live reefs.

It’s good to be back North. Gigi has already gotten her hair cut at Ida’s and all is right with the world.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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