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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