Beautiful weather is no illusion

One of the tiny Pimlico Cays along the shallow draft route from Lee Stocking to Rudder

One of the tiny Pimlico Cays along the shallow draft route from Lee Stocking to Rudder

Rudder Cut Cay appears to be named after Rudder Cut which got its name either from the rudder shaped tiny cay that sits south of the cut or from the ship that lost its rudder after hitting a huge fish in Exuma Sound near the cut. Once again, you can choose the story you like best.

Rudder Cut Cay is privately owned; not sure by whom but whoever owns it is very determined to keep everyone off the island and the beaches.  A beach guard dog and sturdy, serious signs warn that trespassers will be prosecuted. Cameras in various places even appear real.

The dog is an effective way to keep you off the beach. Feel bad for the dog anyway.

The dog is an effective way to keep you off the beach. Feel bad for the dog anyway.

Fortunately we came to snorkel the stainless steel underwater sculpture firmly placed in sand in 12-15ft of clear water, compliments of David Copperfield, owner of Musha Cay (just north of Rudder) and several other small cays nearby. If our research is correct, he shelled out $50 million in 2006 and spends maybe 10 weeks/year here. Individuals and groups with mega bucks can visit the resort with its lovely curved beach, beautiful palms and a gorgeous all-mahogany dock with room for a few go-fast boats. Trained macaws pick up flotsam and debris and deposit their finds in a trash container; we saw this in action when we took Bunting around for a look-see.

Real mahogany docks at Musha Cay

Real mahogany docks at Musha Cay

As you know we are without an underwater camera so we borrowed a shot of the piano with mermaid sculpture for your viewing pleasure.

Worth donning mask and fins for

Worth donning mask and fins for

Around the corner from where we’d anchored was this very cool cave that you could walk or dinghy into at low tide; and that darn dog couldn’t chase you away! Complete with a teeny beach, the requisite skylights and interesting cracks and crevices, we also spied a juvenile conch making tracks for someplace to call home.

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

Very unusual for a cave to have a beach

Very unusual for a cave to have a beach

Looking out from the cave- I'm conch walk watching

Looking out from the cave- I’m conch walk watching

Around 2pm it was time for us to make tracks- all the way to Cave Cay, 3 miles north. Just far enough to make hot water and give the reasonably happy batteries an additional boost. With the sun getting higher in the sky, we‘ve noticed much better solar charging.

Tuesday (Jan 11) we headed out to our favorite sand bar which sits one mile west of Cave Cay. This was the site two years ago where we took the photo you see as our Gravatar, using the timer and setting the camera on top of the dinghy box which we set up on the seat. Today was another gorgeous low wind, clear, low humidity day; perfect for beach combing and feeling very lucky to be here.

Looking west away from land

Looking west away from land

Looking toward Cave Cay. This is the white stuff we love!

Looking east toward Cave Cay. This is the white stuff we love!

Sand bar treasures vary with the day, week and year. We came across several (living) deep orange sea stars, only a few young conch and I picked up a bunch of white sand dollars to add to my growing collection.

Would you call this a rock star? The song: Sea Star Love

Would you call this a rock star? The song: Sea Star Love

 

Russ had the camera- how could I refuse?

Russ had the camera- how could I refuse?

Around 2pm we headed 4nm north to the next cay, Big Farmers, where exactly two months ago we anchored to stage for heading down Exuma Sound to George Town. Although that feels like a fast two months, we’ve packed a whole bunch of activities and places into it. Today would be the last of the “do anything you want days” for who knows how long but we hadn’t counted on a repair project to top things off. While at the beach we noticed that the Hypalon strip that is glued to the dinghy below the rubrail, and is used to hold the bottom edge of the chaps down (remember how the water would find its way under the chaps until we Velcroed a strip of Hypalon to the chap’s bottom edge and then glued the bottom edge of the strip to the dinghy?) was becoming unglued on one side. Back aboard Russ performed a quick “dry and re-glue” that we hope will last at least until Florida.

Advertisements

Cat Island: We check out New Bight

First let’s give you some Cat Island tidbits. Supposedly Cat is named after pirate Arthur Catt, or possibly after its large one-time population of feral cats. I’m going with the pirate guy version, not only because a pirate makes a better story, but then how do you explain Arthur’s Town, one of Cat’s few main settlements?  Arthur’s Town is the childhood home of Sir Sidney Poitier and if you are lucky you might run across his daughter who calls this settlement her home. Or, as one boat told us, you might have tea with his aunt and just miss him by a day.

Cat Island is 50 miles long, 150 sq miles, shaped like a boot (a pirate boot right?) and the 2000 census counted 1,650 residents. It is as you now know, the Bahamian island with the tallest hill, Mt. Alvernia.

Cat Island sits east of the south-central Exumas. Can see Conception Island in the bottom right-hand corner

Cat Island sits east of the south-central Exumas. Can see the northern tip of Long Island in the bottom right-hand corner

After The Hermitage we walked back toward the shore road, turned right (north) to walk past the small cluster of “take-aways”, the Bahamian version of road-side take outs, only these are typically colorful and often sell beer and mixed drinks. Counted about 6 or 7; only 3 open. These tiny take-aways are next to the regatta stand so I imagine that during New Bight’s annual sailing regatta (one of the best because the harbor is large and unobstructed) business is brisk.

Along the beach-side road are a bunch of colorful take-aways- and a phone booth

Along the beach-side road are a bunch of colorful take-aways- and a phone booth

Lula’s drew our attention and Lula herself was welcoming and made sure we came in to see what she offered. Impressive: cold drink, mixed drinks, beer, snacks and best of all baked goods. After a taste of her coconut pie (more like a tart with soft crust and a filling like Lorraine’s Mom uses for her bread), how could we not have it for our coconut-loving selves.

We sure were delighted to come across Lula's

We sure were delighted to come across Lula’s

Along the way our coconut-spying eyes found a likely suspect on the ground; plenty of liquid and heavy. Visions of Bateau Ortolan coconut bread danced in our heads.

In the middle of the beach were large spigot thingys for three hefty hoses to attach to.

Fuel hose receptacle on the beach in New Bight

Fuel hose receptacle on the beach in New Bight

A few yards up was the road and across the road were large fuel tanks. Not every settlement receives fuel and not all that do have enough depth at a dock to accommodate a fuel freighter. Those settlements with shallower harbors use this method: the freighter anchors out (past where you see us anchored) and long, very long hoses are run to shore and hooked up to these faucets.

Fuel freighter anchors off the beach and runs in long hoses

Fuel freighter anchors off the beach and runs in long hoses

The Church of the Holy Redeemer was along the way and in addition to the church itself, was a rectory building, what looked like a small carriage/garage, a storage structure and around back an outhouse (educated guess based on the seat inside).

Father Jerome's final church project

Father Jerome’s final church project

Beautiful interior with several tiny enclaves in the side walls and Bapistry a half-level down

Beautiful interior with several small cut-outs in the side walls and Bapistry a half-level down

Outhouse (?) no longer in use- thankfully

Outhouse (?) no longer in use- thankfully

As we climbed back aboard Ortolan, I heard a sound and then I got it- big groan- we’d (ok ME) left the propane switch on in the galley and the one hour warning voice was announcing “Propane left on, Warning, propane left on.” Darn. First time ever we’d left the boat and forgotten the switch.

Our afternoon foray involved landing at a beach closer to the market. Directions provided by an ActiveCaptain reviewer said to use the beach at the abandoned resort with the three ink buildings. A Twilight Zone setting complete with plastic chairs still inside, an outdoor bar with stools, curtains hanging and signs indicating Twin Palms Resort. Any minute the place could spring to life; the creepy feeling we were not alone sat heavy.

We head over to land Bunting at the abandoned resort

We head over to land Bunting at the abandoned resort

Our directions guided us to take the road with tiny wooden bridge across Musgrove Creek then turn left at the main road. At the creek we could see an arched entry that looked like- what else- another forsaken resort? A large sign at the main road told part of the story; those who wander by can create their own ending.

Looks impressive, but best we could see not much has happened since 2007

Looks impressive, but best we could see not much has happened since 2007

Perhaps more in New Bight than we’ve seen elsewhere- a close second being Long Island- are small concrete homes abandoned when a family member died which required that a new home be built.

A rare specimen with wall art- kinda Mexican farmer looking to me

A rare specimen with wall art- kinda Mexican farmer looking to me

In sharp contrast to those was a walled home a bit further out of New Bight central that prompted the words, “Bahamian mansion”. Workers were on-site as were several hens and a rooster.

Not too many homes owned by locals look like this

Not too many homes owned by locals look like this

The lawn looked like that low Bermuda grass stuff we’d been seeing around, which explains the lawnmower noticed earlier. Did you see it in the photo of Russ on the stone seats in the prior post?

The New Bight Market was as promised; clean and well-stocked. Good thing our supply of Bounty was ample; who would pay this price?

Curious to know who pays this price

Curious to know who pays this price

Cheapy brands are available for around $2/roll in a pinch in most markets. When Exuma Market had an unheard of two-week-long sale on paper towels at $1/roll we scooped up six to use as shop towels around the boat since the 10 from CT ran out the week before. Paper towels, Scotts Boat and RV toilet paper, K-cups, various protein bars, cans of cashews, real maple syrup, contact lens solution and all our supplements are provisions we don’t leave FL without a 4-month supply. I’d like to put tonic water into that same category because only Schweppes is available here and our taste buds prefer Canada Dry, Polar or any store brand to Schweppes, but we couldn’t find room for more than 50 bottles – just kidding.

Spacious and well-stocked New Bight Market

Spacious and well-stocked New Bight Market

Our weather today was sunny with a moderate breeze, wind out of the ESE and a high temp of 82F. Lovely. Saturday promised to be a great sailing-back-to-Exumas day. Always fuel conscious, we sure hoped so. We’d added about 20 gals of diesel in George Town before we left and didn’t plan to add more until Abacos.

Jumpin’ Jumentos! : Perils at Water Cay

Heading west with Hog Cay off to the right

Heading west with Hog Cay off to the right

“Be Prepared”. The wise Boy Scout motto applies also to cruisers, travelers, and just about everyone alive I guess. When cruising outside the U.S. or Canada which for us means, “in the Bahamas”, one must think two steps ahead of today’s needs and desires. Chances are the ONE time you don’t plan ahead will be the one time you end up SOL, or close enough for a stinky whiff.

This little ditty is about our intrepid cruisers, Russ and Lori, aboard s/v Ortolan, accompanied by water taxi m/v Bunting, as they take a chance and make it happen further south than they’ve ever ventured before.

Sunday and the 8:30am cruisers’ Net compliments of Mike, not only with weather and local events but always ends on a happy note with a great joke or funny story. After the weather checking ritual is complete and with at least four days of favorable winds and NO cold front predicted, the captain proposes a short trip down to the northern Jumentos. Time enough to stop at Water Cay and Flamingo Cay… and we know there be lobsters in those waters just waiting to jump in your dinghy.

So, you didn’t get those extra food items at the market yesterday, no cell service to get updated weather and the propane is dangerously low, but hey we can motor-sail and make water on the way. Me thinks that with half the boats having already departed for “somewhere” perhaps the captain felt a tad competitive …. I’m just saying. At 9:40 the 44nm trip to Water Cay commences. The first 15nm is heading back west toward the back side of White Cay and Hog Cay (not the Hog Cay on Long Island) which sit at the tip of the Exuma chain. At the Comer West way point hang a left to head SW toward the Jumentos Cays. The forecast was sun and clouds with rain showers likely. True enough, although more rain was seen off in the distance than rinsed the boat.

The Explorer Chart book has this to say about the Jumentos Cays and Ragged Islands: “Self-reliance is essential… go with plenty of food, water, fuel, medicines and weather-reporting equipment…there are no marinas, no BASRA help, little fresh water and few supplies…ocean swells come around the cays.. the only settlement is tiny Duncan Town with a population around 100.”

If that’s not enough to alarm even experienced cruisers then what would? So why come here? Pristine remoteness, abundant coral reefs, great shelling and well, lobsters. A bit of adventure just to prove you are not simply another chicken in the harbor.

Water Cay is the first place suitable to anchor and when we arrived at 4:20 two cats were anchored with just enough room for us. Virtually no ocean swell and the following day was odd as the wind was low and variable.??????????????????

The next morning the exploration began in earnest. First, we headed toward Little Water Cay which sits just above Water Cay with approx 1/10 mile of water separating the two. Low tide prevented a beach landing and a large swell kept us off a sandy spot further up. ????????????????????????????????

So we turned south to check out the cut through the island and low tide proved to be a blessing for landing the dinghy.????????????????????????????

The distinctive cry of osprey caught our attention; sure enough two osprey ruled their territory and became very unhappy that we’d invaded their space?????????????????????????????????

I took this photo as the angry osprey was intent on forcing us away from his home. They both flew over us, at times quite close. We read the message loud and clear; good thing the shells were on the beach further away from the nest.?????????????????????

??????????????????????????????

So much for a favorable forecast.  Silly us to believe that “sun” meant “no rain” and certainly no waterspouts!! Shortly after lunch we saw this one about 5nm to our east, moving north.?????????????????????

Two minutes later it had diminished and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Right as we spotted the spout (the most fully formed one we’d ever seen) another cat was heading into the area from the south. “Catamarans at Water Cay, water-spout warning” boomed the Scottish voice from s/v Sam the Skull (isn’t that a great name?)  We acknowledged and assured them the spout was heading north (not west toward us).

A short time later, the sky not making any promises, we jumped in our water taxi to check out further south along Water Cay. Not much to see, just an old fishing trawler wrecked up against the rocks, not even in enough water to make a good fish haven. As we turned back, guess what was visible between the island’s small hills? Wouldn’t you know it- another spout- this one closer and way more menacing. Zooming as fast as our puny 8HP outboard (with duo fins assist) could go, we covered the mile+ quickly stopping to warn Sam the Skull who was lobster hunting and had no way to see the spout. As fast as we moved, he beat us to his boat and raised his dinghy.

Oh boy, at this point I’m wondering do we raise anchor and move?  If our Scottish friend does, do we?  If a hard-core cruiser is worried, then I am too. Because of our nearness to shore, the spout was too close to see but we checked the radar to confirm it was indeed less than two miles away, heading north. I guess spouts travel in a straight line pretty much, plus we had land between the anchored boats and the spout. Positive thinking anyway.

Scaredy cat hole in chicken harbor

Elizabeth Harbor and her many well-named and well-known anchorages is called “chicken harbor” by those who are not drawn into the fun and games winter community. Many of these floating cottages that look amazingly like boats, never (or just no longer) venture farther south than Sand Dollar Beach.

Elizabeth Harbor with Stocking island anchorages near the top and Red Shanks near bottom right

Elizabeth Harbor with Stocking island anchorages near the top and Red Shanks near bottom right

Even if the extensive list of activities does not interest you: beach yoga, beach volley ball, beach church, softball, table games, beach get-togethers (bonfires, happy hours), the more reclusive can engage in numerous solitary activities too: beach walking, swimming, kayaking, lounging about and burying your nose in a book or whatever happens to be your current hobby or interest.

One very common activity is called the “George Town Shuffle” where boats move among the four primary anchoring spots (Monument, Volley Ball, Sand Dollar, Kidd’s Cove) for either a change of scenery, to get closer to town and Lake Victoria, to get closer to the night’s beach event or to snag a better (more protected) spot. Some boats don’t shuffle, their anchor in all the way to China with several remoras likely attached to their hull too!

A fifth area called Red Shanks Cays, comprised of Crab Cay and several tiny cays is out-of-the-way and feels like you’ve been banished from George Town. But it has something the other anchorages don’t have; excellent 360 degree protection and great holding throughout. So if the main harbor is “chicken harbor” then surely Red Shanks is scared-y cat hole.  Cats and other shallow-draft boats can find plenty of ideal anchoring space- the kind where you are not on top of your neighbor able to read their books too. Boats with deeper draft have less room, but still enough for 8-10 just inside by Moss Cay.

We’d gone to Kidd’s Cove Monday evening for quicker and easier dinghy trips in and got reasonably decent SE wind protection. Cathy was leaving late afternoon Tuesday and this would give her another area to explore via kayak. By Wed with all our trips to town complete and 7/8 full with water, we headed over to Monument for a construction site check and to touch base with a few cruiser friends.

Five o’clock found us heading into Red Shanks Anchorage and very surprised to find at least 15 others already there. We snagged a good spot and I proceeded to figure out who were our neighbors. The most enticing advantage weather-wise to being this far south in the Bahamas (vs Abacos or even northern Exumas) is that the cold fronts often stall before reaching here or they fizzle and are not as severe when they do get here. The worst wind pattern is when the wind clocks around, say starting out from the NE, moving to SE the next day and over a shorter time period going to south then west with a healthy dose of wind greater than 20kts. One minute you are sitting calmly in the lee of land and during the night (almost always at night) you’ve rocked around the clock with your stern facing the shore and your bow greeting the increasing waves that even in the harbor become uncomfortable. Heavier boats sit more comfortably in these conditions than Ms. Ortolan who is a light-weight in her class. Assuming that your anchor hasn’t dragged because it couldn’t reset as it got pulled around, or one of your neighbors hasn’t gotten extra friendly and dragged into you, well now you feel pretty darn lucky.

Perhaps now you’d like to head to the beach or to some other spot with wind protection; that would require dinghy transport. This is the part that gets dicey for us. When Ms Bunting is launched, raised, boarded or exited, her bow goes under the bridge deck in the space between the scoops. If the waves are more than moderate the bow gets bashed up into the underside of the deck and we stand a good chance of ripping off the bow light mounting fixture which sits under the chaps, or worse, ripping the blue abrasion fabric as it gets pulled against the raised Achilles emblem just below. Having this happen once was enough to make us extra cautious to the point of saying, “nope, don’t need to get off and stretch my legs, I’ll just run up and down the steps and do cartwheels on the tramps.”  Right 🙂

A few of the catamarans anchored in Red Shanks- this was one of our nicer days

A few of the catamarans anchored in Red Shanks- this was one of our nicer days

In Red Shanks the wind can howl at 20kts and we can safely launch the dinghy and the kayak. Our Rocna loves it here too; she just buries herself like a clam, refusing to dislodge even when it’s time to go. Dolphins came by regularly and on Friday afternoon (the only few hours of partial sun in five days) one swam slowly around the boat six times. Yvonne and Brian on Options III were visiting and we all ran out to watch the show. Hey, it’s the little things.

As I write this on Jan 22, we are hanging out in Red Shanks again thanks to another cold front that thankfully wasn’t the very windy, rainy, no sun event that the first one was. Let me jump back to how the first one progressed to give you some idea of what we experience. Those of you who have “been there” can proceed to the comment section and share your favorite or most exciting event of this nature. 🙂

Wed afternoon: winds out of the SSE 11-16kts, partly cloudy, high temp 79

Thurs morning 3:14 am: I know the exact time because I looked at the iPhone when I got up. Wind moderate until then. The rain began and that’s when we got up. Was enough moonlight to see fairly well and I watched the boat swing from south to NNW, nearly 180 degrees, in less than a minute. Looking off the stern to the south you could see the dark rain clouds as they began to cover the sky and soon we had pouring rain and very dark skies. The wind picked up to 26kts steady and other boats reported gusting to 32kts which I totally believe. We’d turned off our electronics after a short time so only had brief wind speed info. Boats here appeared to have done the swing dance just fine, but we did see red and green lights over by the line of mostly monos anchored along the edge of the entrance channel. The wind shift put their sterns toward the tiny cay. On a worry-scale of 1-10, I’d give this a 3.

Thursday: wind NW 10-26kts, overcast all day but no further rain or squalls as had been forecast. High temp 73, brrrr

Friday – Sunday: a steady, daily drop in the high temps from 74 to 70. Wind NNW – N, mostly over 15kts. We learned that a boat did drag anchor when the wind shifted and picked up; the lights were on the dinghies helping get the boat re-anchored. They were lucky. A sand bar kept the boat from hitting the rocky cay behind them. Nothing, at least cruising-wise, worries us more than dragging into another boat- and taking them along for the joy ride.  When the sun popped out on Friday, Russ checked our anchor and she’d turned beautifully in place like, well, clock work. 

We re-connected with s/v Little Sister, our conch cleaning trainers who we met last Feb. We learned that Steve (and dog Charlie) deserves the thanks for keeping all the trails clear, but he says it gets interesting when walkers run into him and his machete along the paths. So Steve here’s a public thank-you for all your labors so that others can enjoy walking around Stocking Island. I am sure that most cruisers don’t know who does that for us.

Finally on Monday we came out of our hide-y hole which made the engines and batteries happy, and anchored at Monument so we could attend the first beach happy hour of the season. Everyone is invited, whether you are a member of ARG or BRG (Alcohol Research Group or Beverage RG); just bring what you like to drink and an appetizer to share, some boat cards and talk with people you haven’t met. Check, check and check!  An entire armada of boats sailed in that day and the harbor was noticeably bulging with boats at all anchorages, including the spaces in between.

Early Tuesday we headed to Kidd’s Cove for another round of jugging water (5 trips x2 5gal jugs=50 gals), stops at the library, Exuma Market (twice; the second time the avocados had arrived!!), ATM, liquor store and to dump our large black bag of garbage for $2. Low NNE winds made for a lovely day and the sun graced us with an occasional appearance.

Now, back at Red Shanks we sit hardly noticing the beautiful blue wavelets; if not for the wind howling you’d wonder what the fuss was all about.

The second front was much brighter than the previous and less wind- no dragging reports either

The second front was much brighter than the previous and less wind- no dragging reports either

Ortolan Cat Floating Resort

View of Monument anchorage from the top of Monument hill. Ortolan is the only cat in the photo

View of Monument anchorage from the top of Monument hill. Ortolan is the only cat in the photo

After returning from Long Island Jan 6 we moved around to a few harbor anchorages, finally landing a great spot off the shore in the Monument Beach section. On the 10th, our son would fly out on the same flight that Cathy, our next guest, would fly in on. We’d hoped to hook up with our favorite island homeowner, Cort, (Carolyn, his other half isn’t being ignored, but she’s home in WA) before he flew home for a few weeks on Sat but site work for the camp house suddenly was in full swing that week. However, Friday the 10th was a new Bahamian holiday, Majority Rule Day and most businesses would close and that included the contractor and his workers. Cort offered his time, boat (which I have dubbed Island Runner), car and rental house and ferried us in, then taxied us to the airport, the market, back to the airport to pick up Cathy and back to the house for lunch and my secret laundry facility.

Customs and Immigration at George Town Airport

Customs and Immigration at George Town Airport

George Town International Airport is small and friendly; more substantial than Black Point yet not as large as Nassau. As we walk up to the door into the terminal, a woman stands holding the door open. “Benjamin Rackliffe?” she queries. If I’d thought faster I could have taken credit for arranging his own personal airline host, because after the flying down ordeal, didn’t he deserve it? Instead the truth was that he was one of two parties who had not checked in online (hey we tried) ahead and since the other one was a party of two, the person walking up had to be Benj. We hung around for a bit as parents are prone to do, then did a publicly acceptable farewell routine (the real mushy one we did earlier on board) before heading off.

One service that cruiser guests provide when they fly home is to take stamped mail and mail it when they get to a U.S., Canadian or where ever home is, mail box. Benj had a package to mail for us (a very special one) along with mail from two other cruisers. It’s an easy and convenient way to get mail out of the Bahamas because if you mail anything from here- kiss it good-bye for two months!

Cathy waits for us at Kermit's Lounge across from the terminal

Cathy waits for us at Kermit’s Lounge across from the terminal


Luncheon feast at Cort's Burger Villa

Luncheon feast at Cort’s Burger Villa

When a guest visits, you wish for the best weather possible and by some miracle Cathy’s 4 ½ days were some of the best so far. She got off to a busy start; we didn’t even let her get settled before our lunch date and tour of Cort’s property.  In true resort fashion though we provided accommodations, equipment, ideas, food, water, sunscreen and let her set the pace and activities. Not sure it’s any surprise that someone still working full-time and in need of relaxing down-time would choose anything but R&R activities- especially those that required slathering on sunscreen.

Cathy views the building site for the camp house

Cathy views the building site for the camp house

Getting up at oh dark thirty to fly then getting dragged around, requires a snooze before dinner

Getting up at oh dark thirty to fly then getting dragged around, requires a snooze before dinner

A beautiful day for a multi-island kayak cruise

A beautiful day for a multi-island kayak cruise

We tested our skills and our memories in playing this game.

We tested our skills and our memories in playing this game. The margaritas were helpful too

As the saying goes, be sure to leave with sand in your shoes.  Hang on to that tan- I say!

Zoomin’ Exumas

View of Highbourne Cay and marina from Oyster Cay

View of Highbourne Cay and marina from Oyster Cay

At first the goal was to speed down the Exuma chain to George Town then over to Long Island for some serious early season beach combing. The weather had differing ideas, feeling that zooming was best left to those wishing to anchor in “their spot” off Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbor, otherwise known as George Town. After Thursday, Dec 5 the extended forecast for the northern Exumas read: East to ESE 16-22kts, gusting 24kts. Ugh. Ok, if the wind isn’t going to play nice we can work with that, and thus we went to Plan B and moved slowly down the chain. Daily high temps would be 80 with lows in the mid 70s at night. The evening temp often sat comfortably at 77 for several hours. Ignore the wind humming through the rigging when it hits 21kts 🙂

First stop: Oyster Cay by Highbourne- very near Elf Cay where we spent Christmas last year. We’d hoped to get further, to Shroud Cay (inside the Land & Sea Park boundary) but the wind died so we made water instead and ended the day early.

We weren't too unhappy to see rain over Shroud Cay in the distance

We weren’t too unhappy to see rain over Shroud Cay in the distance

Second Stop: Warderick Wells and Mooring ball #13.  Can you say, “only boat there?” Gee, guess we are early.

Lonesome Ortolan at Warderick Wells north mooring field

Lonesome Ortolan at Warderick Wells north mooring field

Andrew was holding down the fort at HQ and we talked with him on a variety of Bahamian topics. As dark was falling a sailboat entered and fortunately (but not unplanned) Andrew’s Gulfstar 42 (motor) sits on mooring #10 so he was able to direct s/v Rocinante to a mooring. Earlier that day a boat announced that they’d lost their dinghy near Norman’s Cay; no fun that. Never heard if it was retrieved.

I’ve decided that Warderick Wells is the most beautiful place we’ve visited in the Bahamas; others come close and that’s why we ooh and ahh every time we are in the beautiful Bahamas.

This cairn was built with a viewing window that I took advantage of.

This cairn was built with a viewing window that I took advantage of.

For the first time in five visits we enjoyed the attentions of a nurse shark along with her attached and unattached remoras. One remora was larger than the others and seemed to be in search of an appropriate-sized host; we hoped not Ortolan! Remoras are known to attach themselves to ships, people, turtles; not just sharks.

Nurse shark hangs around the boat with her closest BFs

Nurse shark hangs around the boat with her closest BFs

Russ got a great overhead shot of the largest remora- look at the sucker section!

Russ got a great overhead shot of the largest remora- look at the sucking disk on top!

I almost touched her but she was able to keep an inch away from my finger tips

I almost touched her but she was able to keep an inch away from my finger tips

At dusk we went in to the beach to search of those shy, nocturnal hutia- the only mammal native to the Bahamas.

Captured! An entire hutia who ventured out alone.

Captured! An entire hutia who ventured out alone.

They venture out at night for food scraps left by boaters who use the picnic tables. I sat on the bench seat which was very close to the bushes and waited. Sure enough, one slowly makes his way, stopping at the “tree line”. My camera was going to be useless so Russ used the iPhone to get a decent shot.

Third Stop: Staniel Cay- anchored near Thunderball Grotto. Saturday night we treated ourselves to dinner at the SCYC. Met a couple of guys from NY who are here for a 5 day rejuvenate vacation. They mentioned that some Pitbull-Kesha video had been filmed in the club and in and around Staniel Cay. Laughed and said we were too old to know who he/she/they were but we’d check it out.  So yes, a YouTube video is out there; haven’t watched it due to limits on our wifi here. Dinner: Lobster Chowder, coleslaw, grilled grouper with parsley potatoes and green beans and chocolate bread pudding for dessert. You’d think they knew I was coming.

And so, here we are. We could leave for our net stop 11 miles south at Blackpoint but with no good window to jump into Exuma Sound for George Town, we remain- not in a rush. Sunday was spent on board tending to those small and annoying projects that accumulate with each passing day. For one, the wind had managed to get the bottom of our flag caught on the knob that holds the flagpole in place, which resulted in 3 tears.

Jill of All Trades: today I impersonate Betsy Ross

Jill of All Trades: today I impersonate Betsy Ross

We still had some tears in our sail cover that needed patching as well as loose Velcro at the bottom of the front Strataglass zipper cover. Our fake candle was misbehaving of late, the stove and burners stopped igniting without the use of the grill igniter (again) and (JOY) the Christmas lights needed to be strung along the stern rail. Add to that some hand laundry, proofing a letter for SSCA and we had a full day; and we didn’t get to the entire list!

A very frantic s/v Petite Cordelia announced they’d lost their dinghy in the two miles between Big Major and Staniel. Fortunately another sailboat who’d just left Staniel, heading for the better protection of Big Major, found the wayward dink and an exchange at sea took place. We watched boats come and go, including the island transport, m/v Legend II  and s/v Vision360 who we thought behaved way more hardcore than the boat looked, when they headed out the cut in 22kt winds and 5-6ft seas in Exuma Sound.

Crazy cruiser or Salty Sailors? They head out into Exuma Sound

Crazy cruiser or Salty Sailors? They head out into Exuma Sound

Made a dump run and checked out the ocean beach on Staniel’s east shore. No beach combing there. 😦  Lunch on the porch at the YC was a nice treat and our first YC lunch and outside too- in the lee of the still boisterous wind of course.

Photos from the early days of SCYC

Photos from the early days of SCYC

Another Rum Punch- even better than Sat night's.

Another Rum Punch- even better than Sat night’s.

Bunting at the protected dinghy landing beach next to the YC.  Ortolan in background

Bunting at the protected dinghy landing beach next to the YC. Ortolan in background

A sad footnote: a couple of days ago we heard from SeaSparrow friends that Stella the wonderdog was diagnosed with cancer (took at least 4 vet visits over several weeks to determine) and had to be put down in Marsh Harbor, Abaco. She was laid to rest in Green Turtle Cay overlooking the lovely Sea of Abaco. Two 1/2 yrs old. So young. R.I.P. Stella

We cross with Chris

Weather guru Chris Parker that is. One the most frequently asked questions among cruisers, besides, “Is it 5 o’oclock yet?, is “Do you use Chris Parker?” Our “we can take care of that ourselves” reply has always been “no”. Well heck if it was free then that would be a no-brainer. Two years ago we tried the SSB route but the unit, tried mightily as we would, never picked up Parker’s reports. So we sold it. We use a variety of other sources for weather and have the apps on our iPhones for: Weather Underground, Passage Weather, Wind Alert and Weather Channel. NOAA weather is part of the Garmin package and we can call that up on the chart plotter for local and offshore, but not Bahamas. When in the Bahamas, we listen to the Cruisers’ Nets and the Met Office weather reports and widespread cell coverage lets the phones work 90% of the time.

This year we needed to be all the way down to George Town, Exuma by Dec 22, an aggressive but not impossible schedule. Crossing asap after Thanksgiving would be ideal and while we were prepared to make a less-than-ideal crossing, marching elephants in the gulf stream were not acceptable. So, we caved, but at least now we can claim membership in the “Hail to Chris Parker” clan. Toe-only, not the entire foot though. We bought a one-month subscription to six days a week emails of weather forecasts (Bahamas too) including crossing conditions and suggestions.

As much as we were packed to the gunwales (pronounced “gunnel”) with provisions for four months, we now were overflowing with weather info. Once a crossing window came on the horizon we began to track weather on our top four services which now included Chris Parker. We studiously read, digested and pondered just how “salty” our sailorselves wanted or needed to be. Would we be happy with a crossing day described as “the least-bad day for “Salty Sailors” with winds 20kts or less and seas 7-9ft?  If you thought “No”- you are darn right! Thanksgiving Day Mr. Parker recommended we spend the next 3 days getting ready to make the most of a 24-36 hour opportunity expected to begin mid Sunday, Dec 1. Right-o! That we did, as our other sources confirmed a crossing was imminent. On Saturday the “bottom line” advice for crossing was to make good use of any mild weather now through Dec 9.

After one more trip to Publix and filling our water jugs, we paid our mooring tab then got ourselves unstuck from Velcro Beach. Plan 1 was to take 2 days to get to Lake Worth then jump down and over very early Monday.  The wind, and the seas especially, would remain up too much until Sunday. We anchored in Ft Pierce which meant we’d be close to that good inlet. Ummm, we could skip anchoring in Lake Worth and just jump out at Ft Pierce Sunday afternoon and go for a double overnight over North Rocks, through Northwest Channel and into Nassau by Tuesday morning. Seas would still be sloppy but the advantage would be calm weather for a few days once over there.  Being well-rested for the ordeal- I mean trip- would be good.

Friday night, really Sat morning I guess, at 3am Russ was awakened by s/v Northern Goose entering with flashlights blazing, voices shouting; not exactly making a good first impression. The next morning they were shouting again as he’d gone up the mast to drop down the genoa(?) which had several obvious tears.

Just because their sail got ruined was no need to ruin our sleep!

Just because their sail got ruined was no need to ruin our sleep!

We moved further away from their noisy wind generator (one of the few things Russ can’t abide).  The expletives are deleted here from Russ’s loud lament when he saw them re-anchoring closer after we’d moved. They dropped anchor practically right in the channel- uh not good folks- then they moved back to behind us. I should have taken a photo of Russ with his bright orange earplugs in :-). Not a single flag on the boat either; since they are not a U.S. vessel a U.S. courtesy flag should be flown from the starboard spreader. Homeland Security was just around the corner (we met them last Spring); maybe we could make an anonymous tip 🙂

Instead, we made good use of a couple days at anchor and checked off all our pre-crossing and rough seas prep items. Come Monday, it WILL be alright. 🙂