Exumas Bound January 14 2007
We left Nassau Yacht Haven the morning of Dec 29 waving goodbye to Bill and Louise but we hope to again cross paths further South. We needed engines in full forward to battle the current and wakes of the harbor to get off the dock - no half-way...oh drat, almost made a clean getaway...but then the stern anchor (simply stored outside the life line) caught on a post and bent from a straight line to a 90 degree angle...thankfully this is minor and pretty straight forward to remedy. The seas were rolling with 20 knots of wind from a direction that we could actually sail at 8 knots with the main and the jib - it felt good! A nice day of sailing and we anchored in Allan's Cay at 4:30pm. We are now in the Exuma Cays - an almost unbroken chain of islands stretching more than 90 miles in the Central Bahamas. Allan's Cay is a fairly remote spot and an uninhabited island...except for the iguanas. That's right - iguanas - we took Trouble to the beach and simply walked around...then out came one iguana, then four, then a dozen. They are prehistoric looking critters that are not aggressive - really just curious. People buzz over on half-day trips from Nassau just to see the iguanas which makes the daytime hours pretty hoppin' but the nights are quiet and star filled.
We stayed and hung out with the iguanas for a couple of days and then headed to Exuma Land and Sea Park in Warderick Wells on New Year's Eve. This is an amazing spot - we picked up a mooring ball in a narrow swath of deep water that is bordered by very shallow waters - the mooring swath is shaped like a horseshoe with room for approx 20 boats spaced in a single file line. Erin was at the wheel and Chris was at the bow with the boat hook - it was tight maneuvering but we tied onto the mooring without going aground (heard later that several others had gone aground while picking up mooring balls). We are moored in our own private aquarium - three yellow fin tuna hung out under the boat all day and two rays floating by daily at sunset - wow!! We wandered ashore with trouble and explored a bit. The ranger station was closed but an evening bonfire was scheduled - pot luck appetizers and byob - our contribution of artichoke cheese dip was again a real crowd pleaser (8oz cream cheese, container of shredded parmesan cheese, can of artichoke hearts in water (chopped) and 3/4 cup mayo - mixed well and placed in a pie dish and cooked for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees F). How Chris loves a campfire/beach bonfire - it is the closest to camping that we have been in a long time - and it was a nice camping "fix." We spent the New Year's Eve festivities with the Swedish bikini and men's ski team...okay, well, actually it was spent with a bunch of middle aged Canadians...kinda the same, right?!
The island and its waters of Warderick Wells are a national park with nearby reefs for scuba and snorkeling and four miles of walking paths ashore (www.thebahamasnationaltrust.org). We took Trouble for a quick ride outside the harbor to a reef, Emerald Rock, for scuba exploration. We tied to a mooring ball (placed by the rangers to make reef visiting easier) and worked at getting into the water from the dinghy with our scuba gear - it took a few tries but we finally got it all sorted out and were under the water...I suppose grace comes with time. This was a shallow dive with coral and a few fish...a nice, easy dive to get used to the equipment again. We also explored the paths ashore which are named after people responsible for their creation or with a bit of humor; Julie's Trail, Ian's Trail, Bush Basher and Wild Dilly. The trails are well marked - vegetation is scrubby with coral based soil. The animals seen along the way were lizards of varying sizes and a hutia (a native, nocturnal animal that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a rat). We happened to wake up a hutia as we wandered along and saw him dart below the brush and back to sleep - skittish little critter. The ruins of a small Loyalist plantation was also along the trails. Loyalists (Torys) moved to the Bahamas after receiving land grants from England in the late 1700s. A move out of the US was necessary after the rebels won the American Revolutionary War and the Loyalists found themselves out of favor (at best) or branded as traitors (at worst). The Loyalists attempted to recreate the lavish plantations they had owned in the Southern states but ultimately failed due to poor soil and lack of all resources. If you are interested in reading an excellent, fictional novel about this migration - check out the novel Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder.
After three relaxing days we departed Warderick Wells for a quick hop to Staniel Cay (1/4). We happily sailed the whole way (including tacking in order to make full use of the wind). This sailing thing is becoming more of a habit for us and gosh do we like it. We docked at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (www.stanielcay.com) and got the lay of the land before Chris's parents arrived the following day. The Yacht Club is a magnet for cruisers with free wifi and ample room to relax. We rented a golf cart for Hugh & Fran's arrival and were at the airport (comprised of an airstrip, a wind sock and a gazebo for waiting) when they arrived...thank goodness they were light packers and we all fit into the golf cart. Oh, do not forget that driving in the Bahamas is the English style - opposite of the US. This is not usually a problem for us because generally we are just walking...we will keep focused!
That first night we headed to Club Thunderball (yes, as in the James Bond movie - but more on that later) for sundowners with new friends on a neighboring boat. Their dinghy is bigger than Trouble and off we all went together...no car pooling this time (gosh did Chris have dinghy envy). The sunset was spectacular from this high spot on the island and the casual atmosphere was a great way to end the day...with quite the humorous signs in the ladies restroom (tee, hee, hee). Seems the men are a bit less creative and void of any memorabilia what so ever. Then back to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for dinner - just burgers and hot sandwiches because the cook is not feeling well enough to make more than twenty full dinners...and who will be cooking our meals?! No problem - burgers and french fries are always appreciated!
Dropped eggs on toast for sustenance and we were off! We spent a great day exploring the natural sights around Staniel Cay; the beach with swimming pigs and Thunderball Grotto. You see, there is this beach (oops, we needed to ask directions from beachcombers because we forgot to check the map first) with pigs that swim out to your dinghy when they hear you approach - no joke - these are swimming pigs!! We brought saltine crackers to reward their efforts and really had a kick of a time swimming with the pigs...it was something to see.
Thunderball Grotto was next. This experience was precisely timed because currents can race through the area and the tide can be so high that entrance into the grotto is not possible without a solely underwater approach. Chris, Fran and I donned masks while Hugh kept watch over the dinghy. The fish were amazingly colorful and not afraid of us at all. We had heard that the fish love cheese spread (the kind you spray from a can). Being sprayed from a can allows the cheese to hover in the water for amazing fish feeding viewing - alas, we did not have any cheese spread but were amazed none the less. A quick head duck and we were into the Thunderball Grotto.
Thunderball Grotto was the sight of movies such as the James Bond movie of the same name and Splash. It was pretty neat and since we hit it at the right time I was much less nervous than I thought I would be. A return back to Barefeet and a quick stop at the market for fresh potatoes for dinner. There are two options; the pink market or the blue market. They are side by side, family run affairs painted entirely (as you would imagine) pink or blue, respectfully. Our freezer has officially died and we are on the fast track of eating the food within. Tonight will be filet mignon on the grill with mashed potatoes (with butter and grilled, balsamic onions) and an avocado/tomato salad. The sunset was right on target - amazing!
We had a great time in Staniel Cay but we needed to move South. The weather windows continue to be short and rare so we headed out early 1/6 for a straight run to George Town. The spot we chose to get "outside" (that is - the ocean side of the Exumas) due to shallow depths and coral heads on the inside was Galliott Cut inlet...aagghhh...an inlet. We are all card carrying members of the "I Hate Inlets Club" and this was no exception. Seas were high, the cut was narrow and the sides of the cut were menacing coral walls. There is nothing for it except to charge through - and that we did. Once through the inlet the seas moderated but it was still a bumpy ride. Luckily, time was on our side and we entered George Town in daylight and got the anchor down just as the sun was setting. Yippee!! Initially we anchored off Volleyball Beach but moved to quieter Sand Dollar Beach the next day. George Town is also known as Chicken City...due to its organized cruisers with bridge lessons, daily volleyball, domino games and pot luck sundowners. We are okay with this structure for now and have reconnected with several friends met earlier in our trip; Nyack, Dismal Swamp and Palm Beach.
The center of cruiser activity is the Chat 'N' Chill (www.chatnchill.com) - a restaurant/bar with two tables inside but all else is outside; picnic tables, 3 volleyball courts, swings and ropes from trees for kids to play on and a beach for shelling or cooling down...and "parking" your dinghy. We relaxed on the sand at the picnic tables eating the weekly pig roast BBQ - again, are we in Texas or the Bahamas?! Very tasty with all the sides. Later we scooted over to George Town for some big city exploring. The dinghy dock is pristine and sponsored by the Exumas supermarket (also the supplier of a trash bin for cruisers - this is a luxury that should not be underestimated). Food selection was the best we had seen in several island stops - much appreciated. The town is all within walking distance of the dinghy dock and has all that you need; straw market for souvenirs, liquor store for sundowner supplies, internet spots (for a fee), public library and a couple of restaurants. Oh, and the most amazing store ever...Top to Bottom. The name says it all but they really have "Everyting for Everything" (their catchy jingle)...a combo marine store, hardware store, kitchen tools, toys for the kids and even fireworks (Chris was in heaven).
Hugh and Fran had an early morning flight so we bundled the luggage into garbage bags (to keep things dry) and headed to town under the light of the moon in Trouble. The cab was right on time and all went smoothly...but it is always tough to say goodbye.