Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guana & Elbow Cays - 4/26/2009

Lucky & The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughters: 4/19 - 27/2009

4/19/2009 - Marsh Harbor to Great Guana Cay - 9nm.

4/20/2009 - Great Guana Cay to Hope Town, Elbow Cay - 15nm.

Great Guana Cay - Brown Tip’s Rake and Scrape:

It was a hard beat (into the wind) to Great Guana Cay. There is an old sailor’s saying, “Gentlemen do not cruise to weather.” But sometimes there is nothing like a hard beat into the wind to really get your blood going and today was one of those days. It was a great sail and a perfect set up for the rest of the day. The reason for the trip to Guana was “Brown Tip” and his “rake & scrape” group were playing at Grabbers on Guana Cay and both G and I enjoy “rake & scrape.” The second reason was to do some research. Grabbers was supposed to serve the best Mahi sandwich in the islands (they do, by-the-way).

How to describe “rake & scrape?” Well first it is truly a Bahamian invention, it is original. It is high energy with an islands type beat. In “rake and scrape” music percussion (drums, etc.) are replaced by the common ordinary carpenters saw. The teeth of the saw is “scraped” with the back edge of a butcher knife, and the blade is tapped in time as the blade is warped to produce different tones. It is surprising the amount and variations in sound that a common hand saw can produce in the hands of someone like Brown Tip.

Brown Tip and his crew got cranked about 2:30. Brown Tip by day is a diver (boat bottoms, change props that kind of thing) and in the evening he comes alive as an entertainer. He is a long, tall, black, drink of water, with a winning, smile full of brilliantly white Bahamian teeth (The women love him). Give him a little feed back and he turns into a blur of pure energy and music that will make even an old fuddy duddy like me start moving in places I didn’t think could move.

Once the “frozen Grabber’s” started flowing, Brown Tip swung into high gear (see photos). They were dancing on tables, ladies finding them selves mysteriously in the pool, and then Andrew from the Jib Room in Marsh Harbor, showed up wearing a T-shirt and pair of shorts with “peas & rice” written on the cheeks of his ass. Did you ever see those National Geographic specials about alligators where the old bull’s roar under water would cause the water to froth and boil? Well Andrew has a way of “shakin’” his bootie that will cause a T-shirt to do the same “ting.” Gigi was most fascinated. She just sat there and “giggled.” I ordered another “Grabber.”

After supper back on the boat Gigi and I sat watching the anchors lights across the anchorage in Fisher’s Bay wink on and the stars answer in kind set in a moon less sky. It was the perfect end to another great day in paradise.

Hope Town - Lucky and the Light House Keepers Daughters:

Hope Town on Elbow Cay is one of the pettiest of the Abaco islands. It has small narrow streets kept neat and clean, lined with colorful, wood frame homes, set against a back drop of the emerald green of the Sea of Abaco and the blue of the reef speckled Atlantic. The local people are decedents of the Loyalist that fled the States after the Revolution (although they call it a “civil war,” not a revolution). The island reminds me of my Ocracoke Island back home even the old English brogue of the islanders are very similar. They are friendly in nature and always helpful - can you tell I like it here.

One morning on the Cruiser Net, a gentleman named Dave came on during open mic and asked for help burying his neighbor’s dog. We figured that if he asked for help there was a reason. Gigi and I decided we should go - figured there would be a ton of cruisers respond, but as it turned out, no one except us did.

Dave was in his late 60s and his neighbor Mrs. Marie Pender, was in her late 70s. Dave and I dug the grave in her back yard over looking the blue Atlantic and Gigi put her arms around Marie and Miss Mary (her sister) and gave what consolation she could. Marie truly loved Lucky and was quite emotional - Lucky had been her companion for 11 years. Between tears Marie and Mary shared stories of their island with Gigi. Marie and Mary were the daughters of the lighthouse keeper for Elbow Reef Light in the 30s and they both remembered following their dad up the 101 steps to the top to wind the clock like mechanism that ran the light and set the kerosene light ablaze.

Gigi and I had climbed to the top of the lighthouse the day before and taken photos of course. The view is stunning (see pictures). The lighthouse is still lit by a kerosene lamp and still run by the same clock like mechanisms used by Marie and Mary’s dad so many years ago. Lucky was truly a lucky dog to have had Marie for a mistress and Gigi and I feel very lucky to have new friends on Elbow Cay.

That evening we sat in the cockpit having our sundowners and listening to the soothing strains of Pachabell’s Cannon as the lighthouse light was lit, clock wound, and she began her slow rotation with rhythmic flashes in perfect time to the music. I wonder? The sea held the key to all life did it also hold the origins of musical rhythm?

A special event:

On April 22, 2009, in Cary, NC, Gigi’s daughter-in-law, Kristen Perry gave birth to Taylor Faith Perry, 8 lbs,4 oz a healthy baby girl. Congratulations to: Christian, Kristen and Brennan Grace (big sister -2 years old)...and of course to the new “Grandma, Gigi.”

Lubbers Quarter / Tahiti Beach via Mule: 4/23/2009 - 11 nm.

It was a blustery day but it was out of the East. If we stayed in the lee of Elbow Cay we could easily make the run in the dink down to Cracker Ps on Lubber’s Quarters for lunch and do some exploring on the along the way. Cracker Ps is a local pub famous for it’s food and full moon parties (last year I lost my billfold on the way back from one). The Pub was named for a local character named Cracker Pender. Who, legend has it, immigrated in the 1920 to avoid prosecution because he had the misfortune of shooting the sheriff in Washington, GA.

We had a fine lunch. Then made the run back across from Lubber’s Quarters to Tahiti Beach and spent a few hours exploring the beautiful water and pink sand beaches. The shallows are filled with critters, urchins, bone fish, conch (too small to take), and all manner of life. We cruised White Sound, pickup some dingy fuel and started back up the coast hugging the shore of Elbow Cay. In a small cove we spotted a mangrove creek that looked inviting and slowly entered the shallow waters. Just inside the entrance to the cove it widened out to a beautiful, shallow lagoon. Turtles swam just beneath the surface, as if flying in air darting to an fro across Mule’s path. And strung out in front of us like a string of pearl were 4 of the most perfectly restored Winner Malone Abaco Dingys I’ve ever seen (see photos).

As we eased out of the cove on a little point, with steps carved out of the coral stood a bronze life size sculpture of little girl doing a cartwheel(see photo). There appeared to be no way to reach this remote place except by water. Why was is there? We may never know. That’s the thing about exploring if you go look, God or the Bahamas will deliver the surprises.

Monday we are headed for Man-A-War Cay, home of some of the best boat builders in the Bahamas and then back to Marsh Harbor to pick up John Grossenbacher, a friend of Gigi’s, for a week long, island hopping, pub crawl. As the Cracker P says, John, will “leave the rat race and join the conch crawl.”

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Marsh Harbor to Little Harbor

Of Blue Fish, Grouper & “*&^% #” Computers: 4/7-16/2009

4/9/2009 - Marsh Harbor to Sandy Cays / Wilson City Ruins: 21nm.

4/10/2009 - Sandy Cays to Little Harbor: 5nm.

4/12/2009 - Little Harbor to Marsh Harbor: 23nm.

Marsh Harbor - Sarah: 4/7/2009

We had been at anchor in Marsh Harbor for a couple of days when a rather water worn Pearson 424 eased into the anchorage. A man of about my age with graying hair set in a pony tail walked forward and eased her anchor over the bow and lay the chain in a very seaman like manner. He was single handing and obviously knew what he was doing. There was something familiar about the gentleman but I was not sure what...

All of a sudden I realize that anchored in front of the 424 was a 41 foot, Rhodes Bounty also built by Pearson. Pearson started building boats in the 1960s and went out of business in the 90s. I had a real opportunity for a great photo (at least from a sailor’s prospective). Here was a fine example of the first very generation of Pearson yachts and one of the last boats they ever produced to be had in one photo. And, Got it!

As G and I went ashore later in the day I gave a glance at the stern of the 424. Her name was “Sarah.” And I was pretty sure it was not just “a Sarah” but “the Sarah.” A few years ago Dale and Corie, friends of mine that had the slip next too me at Matthews Point, had given me a copy of a dvd titled “Sarah’s Atlantic Circle Cruise” - an excellent cruising video done by John Stevenson, the owner. Mule did an about face and we slid up to her stern. The gray haired gentleman came on deck and I asked, “Is this the famous Sarah and are you John.” John gave us a great big toothy smile, laughed and answered ...simply, “Yes.”

We had just made a big batch of chicken soup so naturally we invited him for drinks and supper. John brought wine, books to trade, and copies of his latest two videos. A good evening was had by all swapin’ lies and sippin’ rum. And Gigi and now knew a celebrity plus had a new friend.

Of Blue Fish & Grouper: Sandy Cays: 4/9/2009

We left Marsh Harbor on a mission. We finally had a day that we could snorkel the reefs off Sandy Cays about 21 miles south of Marsh Harbor. Sandy Cays face the mouth of North Bar Channel and are open to the Atlantic Ocean swells and for that reason you need days that are basically flat calm to snorkel their waters. In the Bahamas this time of year calm is rare as the proverbial “hen’s teeth.” Sandy Cays Reef is part of the Land Sea Park System and is protected from fishing or taking of anything but photos and memories. Thus it is as pristine as it gets.

By 2:30 we had anchored “Gigi’s Island” off the ruins of Wilson City in the Bight of Spencer, saddled “Mule” with her engine, and were tying her to a mooring ball off Sandy Cay’s reef. It was a beautiful sun drenched day with crystal clear water. You could see the reef just below the surface but nothing would prepare one for what we were about to experience. As we slid over the side of Mule into the water a forest of stag horn and coral of all variety just explodes into your vision. We were on the wall of a channel with coral, fish, and color as far as the eye can see.

That day we swam with an 8' eagle ray, 2 blue fish of about 80 pounds, a large grouper of yet undetermined specie and when I say large I mean the size of me (it felt like it anyway). Then there were schools of blue tang that just envelope and adopt you into their school. And there was the lone barracuda...we gave him “his” space. It was a day to remember. Gigi and I have been hoping for another calm day so we can sneak back down to Sandy Cays but to no avail.

Little Harbor - Pete’s Pub, Wild Pig, & Computers: 4/10/2009

The “Island” tiptoed her way into Little Harbor at high tide. Little Harbor is one of those places where we have to enter at high tide. The entrance at low water is only 3 feet deep and we draw 5.5 feet. Pete’s son Greg was having a wild pig roast on Saturday I wanted to see how the Bahamian’s do it.

Pete’s Pub is a true open air bar with beach sand for a floor, decorated by Tshirts from all over the world, and memorabilia of all shapes sizes (see photo of a customers cell phone nailed to a support). To boot there are great drinks, great sea food, and good fun. Pete’s dad came to the island in the mid-50s with his family. His dad was an artist working mostly in bronze sculpture. The island has natural limestone caves so he and his family moved into one of them lock stock and barrel and established his foundry above. Things now are a bit more conventional. Pete and his children live in a traditional houses but Pete inherited some of his father’s artistic talents and continues to produce bronzes in addition to running a fine bar.

Pete’s son Greg cooks a mean pig - best I’ve had in the islands. Back home we use hickory or oak to cook a traditional pig for a “pig-pickin’” in the islands they use “buttonwood” to produce the charcoal and add green leaves of the buttonwood tree to make smoke and add flavor, similar to how we add “bay” leaves for the same purpose Downeast. Greg’s sauce is a blend of traditional NC and Georgia kind of vinegar base with a touch of “Jerk” seasonings. The result is mmmmm good.

Sunday morning I switched on the computer to check and see if Gigi was a grandmother again - her daughter-in-law, Kristen, is due any second. The “hateful computer” went through the bios boot but refused to go on to boot the operating system. “Oh! Shuck!”, I said ...or words to that effect.

Would you believe it last year, at Little Harbor, the day before Easter, my computer went belly-up - same day, same time, same place one year later. Lighting (figuratively of course) does strike twice in the same place. We boogied back to Marsh Harbor (only place with a computer doctor) on Sunday and spent Monday running diagnostics and trying to figure out what to tell the “doctor” when Tuesday rolled around (Easter is a Friday and Monday holiday for the Bahamas). By Tuesday night my computer was alive and back in action. This is the second time Abaco Computers has saved my bacon.

Next up is a trip over to “Nipper” for a nip and “Grabber” on Guana Cay for a dose of “Brown Tip’s” rake and scrape.” Somebody’s gotta’ do it.

Fariwinds & Rum Drinks,


PS- I’ll explain “rake and scrape” next post.
PPS- Kristin is sill hangin’ in there - no grandbaby yet. News at 11:00...

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Fishing Cutter "Gigi's Island"

The Fishing Cutter “Gigi’s Island”: 4/6/2009

3/25/2009: Highborne Cay to Ships Channel Cay - 9nm.

3/26/2009: Ships Channel Cay to Royal Island - 45nm.

3/31/2009: Royal Island to Lynyard Cay (Abacos) - 61nm.

4/1/2009: Lynyard Cay to Marsh Harbor - 22nm.

Highborne Cay - Italian’s should Stick to Designing Shoes.

Gigi and I spent a few days cleaning the boat and giving her an all over fresh water bath (she had not had one since we left the States in January), finished our provisioning, and “kicked back” to wait weather for our 115 mile trip to the Abacos. Highborne has a number of nice reefs within protected waters so even with the wind howling (and it was) we were able to get in some nice snorkeling. But most of our wait was taken up by readin’, sippin’, and watchin’ the endless parade of Mega-yachts (80' or better) that visit Highborne Cay Marina.

We all know that this is a blog about our sailing adventure and you would not think that it would include any mention of NASCAR but while we were at Highbourne “Wheels” owned by Hendrick Marine Corporation which is a sister corporation of Hendrick Motor Sports, one of the first families of NASCAR, out of Charlotte, NC, was along side at the marina. “Wheels” is a classic Trinity motor yacht in the 150' range. I spoke with one of the ladies in the office at Highbourne and she told me that Wheels comes to Highbourne for one reason–“Grandmother” Hendricks can use Wheels anytime she wants to and her favorite place is Highbourne Cay. You could see “Grandmother” Hendricks sitting regally on the stern watching members of her family on the dock late in the afternoon waiting for the awesome sunsets that were visible at Highborne Cay.

There are Mega-Yachts like “Wheels” then there are mega-yachts... One day this glossy black Italian designed monstrosity named “Daddy’s Seado” came in through the cut, put out her black cloth covered fenders, and “warped” her way up to the dock with bow and stern thrusters. Italians should stick to designing shoes and leave mega-yachts to some one with a sense of propriety. This thing was butt ugly! After docking, her cavernous stern opened and she began unloading all manner of “boat toys” including two glossy black SeaDos. The owner and his son (we think) were off like bullets to jump waves in the cuts and current South of Highborne.

Highborne Cay cut is really a string of shallows with near surface rock strung together by deep channels. The current and waves can be quite “impressive” especially with NE winds at close to 25 knots, which we had. G and I snuggled into a chairs on the beach to watch the show. It became apparent real quick that these folk did not know what they were doing. They were jumping waves that were caused by rock just under the surface. Well it did not take long for the inevitable to happen. The “Owner” came down wrong on one of these “waves” and it threw him into the handlebars on the SeaDo cutting a gash on the inside of his thigh just inches from his artery. He was very lucky. Within an hour a seaplane from Naussa landed in the cut at Highborne and flew him back to Naussa for treatment.

I have nothing but respect for that pilot (see series of photos). He landed that plane in cross wind and current - made my “hynee” pucker just watching. It was quite a show. Gigi learned later that the “Owner” told the Dockmaster, “His hand slipped off the control.” Not! Ignorance and arrogance was what got him.

I don’t know why I have to tell you this tidbit of information but I do... While at Highborne Gigi picked up a trade paper that targeted mega-yacht captains and crew. In it was an article on new yacht construction. The article said that in 2009 the construction of new mega-yachts broke the 1000 barrier for the first time with 1018 yachts under contract a growth of 12% over last year. With the biggest grown in the 150' category (18%). These boats start at $15,000,000 and cost an additional 10 to 20% of the hull value to maintain and operate each year. It makes you wonder doesn’t it - Where Do The Money Come From? And it this is new construction how many of the damn thing are out there plowing the seas as we speak?

We left Highborne for the short sail up to Ships Channel Cay to stage for the run up to Royal Island the next day. We were supposed to have East wind at 15 to 20. We had the East alright but the sail was a little more lively than expected with winds of 25 to 30. By 12:00 Noon we were tucked in and anchor down in lee of Ships Channel Cay. G was headed for a swim - too cold for me after reminding me for the 40th time, “Tell me again why we left the clear warm waters of Sampson Cay?”

Royal Island and The Royal Rape:

Ships Channel Cay is the last of the major islands in the Exuma chain to the North. The sail to Royal would take us across the Yellow Banks, through Flemming Channel out into the Atlantic, and back onto the bank just North of Eleuthera and West of Spanish Wells. The sail north could not have been better - cold but a great sail. But there was a “but.” We would be leaving the Exumas behind and both G and I love the Exumas and already miss their warm gin clear waters.

The Yellow Banks has some of the most beautiful water G and I have experience on this trip. The water is a deep aqua dotted with back coral heads - sort of like black pearls scattered across the banks. We dodged and weaved our way thru the coral and hit Flemming Channel just at change of tide where the “Island” was spat out at 8.1 knots into the 2000 foot deep, navy blue, Atlantic waters. By 3:00 we were entering the cut into the Royal Island anchorage and ready for a “cold one.”

Royal is configured a lot like an “atoll” - a ring island with a lagoon in the middle (see photos). It is, or was, quite beautiful and provides a perfectly protected spot to wait weather for the off shore jump to the Abacos 60 miles to the north and to get in an occasional snorkel and a walk while you wait...or at least it did.

Last year Royal was a lush green island with swimming pool clear water complete with ruins of what had been a majestic old plantation to explore. This year the island had changed. For those of you that did not read my last year’s email on Royal Island, Roger Staback and Jack Nicolas had purchased the island with the intention of developing it. The development was to include an 18 hole golf course (how do you do that on an island you can throw a rock across?). The locals fought it but lost...of course. They were afraid it would kill the reef - the reef that was a major part of their livelihood.

This year the North side of the island had all but been completely denuded. The crystal clear waters were now a murky green from the run off and all construction had been stopped because of the economy down turn. G and I went ashore for a walkabout and found nothing but “rape” at every turn. Once narrow, vegetation lined, roads now were “4 lane” monstrosities that took up a third of the island’s width. The beautiful old ruins of the plantation houses had been dozed into piles of rubble. Royal looked like a rock desert. It made me want to cry.

How could someone do something like this to a beautiful island? Answer: GREED - and greed wins every time. These developers should be lynched by their needle dicks, flayed, covered with molasses, and peppered with red ants. After my first visit ashore I could not set foot on Royal again. It broke my heart.

We sat at Royal for 4 cold days waiting for weather. G’s questions every morning, “Tell me again why we left the clear warm waters of Sampson Cay?

Royal Island to Lynyard Cay (Abacos)
The Fishing Cutter “Gigi’s Island”:

We finally got our weather window for the off shore jump from Royal to the Abacos with SE wind of around 10k and seas of 2' it might not be a perfect sailing day but it would make for an easy passage. Anything out of the E will give great sailing even with 20ks or better but once you get to the Abacos you have to enter the Sea of Abaco thru one of the many cuts and all of which face “eastish.” Winds above 20k out of the N & E produce what are known as “rages” in the cuts and can make them almost impassable. I’ll take a motor/sail anytime if it means passable cuts.

We left at the crack of dawn with little wind and the prospect for no more. We didn’t know it at the time but it was to be a memorable day for Old Vic. By 8:00 the “Island” had made her turn to the N and was far enough off shore to start fishing and avoid catching barracuda. Barracuda like inshore waters but don’t venture far into deep Atlantic waters. So you wait until you reach deep water before setting you lines (sound like I know what I’m talking about doesn’t it...NOT).

I have been trying to catch a Mahi-Mahi (dolphin, the fish) for close to 20 years with not the first hint of even a hit. Today was to be different. Almost within minutes we had a hit that cleared the balloo from the hooks. For the next 4 hours all we did was clear “grass fish” from the lines. I figured if all I was going to do was catch grass I might as well do it on a lure and save the fresh balloo. I had an old lure that Doug Mumford had given me almost 20 years ago that Doug swore would catch Mahi. I tied that on and let it stream aft. At 12:30 about 10 miles off Hole-In-The-Wall on the southern tip of Great Abaco Island I was looking aft when a great whoosh of yellow / green struck Doug’s lure. I had my first Mahi.

I hooked him now what? I had no gaff. Didn’t even have a fillet knife aboard. I drug him to the boat hand over hand (I fish with hand lines) and stared down at him flopping against the side. For a moment, I looked at him and he looked back at me, sumpin’ had to give. Then with one yank, flipped him over the rail into the cockpit sole. I was lucky...but luck counts. Gigi doused him with tequila to “ease his pain” and I skinned him and filleted him with a 4" boning knife (any port in a storm, as they say). Don’t have a clue how big he was but he was a “4 meal fish for 2.” I’m gonna buy a gaff and fillet knife when I get to Marsh Harbor you can bet on that.

By 3:30 the “Island” had made her way thru Little Harbor Cut and were anchored off Lynyard Cay in the lee of the island. We had fish in the freezer and marinating for the evening meal and the traditional anchor’s down drink was in hand. For the first time in a long while Gigi did not ask, “Tell me again why we left Sampson Cay?”

Lynyard to Marsh Harbor:

We had planned to spend a few day in Little Harbor and then move the 23 miles N to Marsh Harbor but the weather gods changed that plan. We awoke to a 25 to 30k S wind. Little Harbor was South and Marsh Harbor was North. We set sail and jibed our way N up the Sea of Abaco to the safe and secure anchorage off the town of Marsh Harbor - Little Harbor will have to wait. By 2:00 we had the anchor down and had made reservation at the Jib Room for “rib night” and rake and scrape music.

Our plans are to hang out in Marsh Harbor until Thursday and then go out and do a little exploring around the Sea of Abaco. What were Gigi's first words to me today? “Tell me again why we left Sampson Cay?” ...And, I do see her point.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,

Vic & Gigi

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