Archive for January, 2010

January 28, 2010

Laundry and Liesure

(Posted Thur Jan 28, 2010 from Georgetown, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas)

Tue Jan 12. After three weeks of hanging around Staniel Cay, we said our goodbyes and headed  for the little town of Black Point.  It’s a short trip – about 5 miles as the crow flys – but the sail is a bit farther.  We left mid-morning and joined a parade of boats moving on. 

What was the occassion?  Just a break after a couple of windy days.  Everyone finds a spot out of the wind and waves when the weather pipes up, so when it breaks people are ready to move on.

We had the wind ahead of the beam, but it was a nice breeze and we eased down the Exuma island chain.  Getting in and out of harbors can be a bit spooky depending on the depth and channels.  Black Point was a piece of cake.  It’s a bay open from NE to SE and plenty deep.  We sailed close and then motored into a spot on the outside of the anchored boats.

Why Black Point?  The two most frequent things mentioned about Black Point are Lorrain’s Cafe and the laundry.  Lorrain’s is so popular that cruisers call ahead on the VHF to make dinner reservations.  The real experienced ones put in their meal orders.

Mailboat leaving Black Point

We followed the crowd and made a reservation for our first night there.  By chance we ended up sharing a table with Bob and Penny from Pretty Penny, Clay and Rita K from Carleigh, William and Frances on Alexia, and Ed and Dee on Sea Fox X, most of whom we had met at Staniel Cay.

But before dinner we headed for the laundromat. Lorrains was a great time, but you can find food anywhere in the Bahamas. The laundromat is the wonder of the Exumas.  Neat, clean, and lots of machines made it easy to do all the laundry that had been building up since Nassau.  And to make life simpler, the other half of the building was a small general store.  But wait, there’s more!  Want some conch fritters or a haircut while waiting for your clothes to dry?  No Problem, mon, this is the place!

We hung out at Black Point for a couple days, but there was a forecast of strong wind out of the south and Black Point is pretty exposed in that direction, so on Friday, Jan 15, we pulled up the anchor and headed south as did most of the other boats on the anchorage.  The wind was on the nose so we tacked down the islands.

Galliot Cay

Most of the boats were headed for the Big Farmers Cay, Little Farmers Cay area.  There are places to anchor, mooring balls to rent and a couple small marinas.  The channel in looked a little tricky and it sounded like minor chaos with all the boats coming in.  And if we went there we still didn’t think we would get very good protection from the south, so we continued on to the next anchorage at Big Galliot, Little Galliot, Cave Cay area.

We anchored just a little out of the channel just north of Little Galliot Cay, so that when the wind went south we would be in the lee of the island.  Just to the west of us were Arita and Tree House, boats that had been anchored by us at Black Point.  A couple other boats anchored just west of Big Galliot.

We settled in and the wind came up as predicted.  We still felt quite a bit of wind, but we were pretty well protected from the chop.  We stayed another day and did some snorkeling and spearfishing.  That evening we were down below when I thought I heard someone blowing a conch shell.  I looked out in time to see the mailboat steam by Arita.  At first it looked like it would run the boat down, but there was room to spare.

Arita and Treehouse moved on the next day.  We considered heading down the islands on the inside, but it was pretty shallow and we missed high tide, so we moved across the little bay to the west side of Cave Cay.  We walked around the island some, but didn’t find much exciting to look at.

Leestocking Island

We were bored there so we sailed down to Leestocking Island, the home of the Perry Institue for Marine Science.  As we tacked down the coast our friends on Persephone and Osprey motored by.  They went into the cut and we took down sails and followed.  A small trawler motored behind us and then turned around and motored back and forth.  We later found out it was our friends on Scooter.  Pete had seen a large wahoo jump and was trolling back and forth trying to catch it.

We anchored near Osprey in a small bay by the research center.  Persephone stayed out farther because they draw a bit much for the depths indicated for the channel.  We were able to arrange for a tour of the facility.  It’s an interesting place, but unfortunatley their funding was cut back drastically a few years ago, so they have had to scale back their operations.

Looking at Exuma Sound from Perry's Peak

Tug and Barge islands viewed from Perry's Peak trail

Ospery and Persephone left the next day.  Jackie and I hiked up to Perry’s Peak – the highest point in the Exumas.  Later that day we moved the boat to nearby Norman’s Pond Cay. 

"Here fishy fishy fishy" Trolling while anchored

We dingied around intending to do some snorkeling and spearfishing and learned the following:

1) Just because a school of fish is in an area doesn’t mean they will still be there after you go back to the big boat to get your fishing pole.

2) You can’t spear a fish if you left the pole spear on the big boat.

3) You can successfully troll off an anchored boat by walking from one end to the other and then reeling in your lure.

Next – George Town

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STANIEL CAY

January 14, 2010

Tuesday Dec 21, Staniel Cay

Please Note that the earthquake in Haiti did not affect us here. There was a Tsunami warning, but none developed.

Cruisers find some places to be “sticky” in that once there you have trouble leaving. Some even get nicknames like Velcro (Vero) Beach, FL. Reasons range from weather issues to high comfort level to just plain inertia. We arrived in Staniel Cay on Dec 21 and are still here, although we will probably move on tomorrow.

Unfortunately our story for remaining here is sadder than most. We had only been here for about a day when Jackie received word that her father’s health had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. His health had been going downhill all year, but this was a big change. Luckily, Staniel Cay has a small airport with scheduled passenger service to Nassau and Ft. Lauderdale.

We were expecting some rough weather and didn’t know of any good options for safely storing the boat, so I remained here while Jackie flew home. Jackie’s father, Frank Dziuban, died in the early morning of January 4.  He was a very good man and we will miss him tremendously.

Sailing to Staniel

Our sail down from Warderick Wells was easy and pleasant. Our friends Mark and Michelle had left ahead of us and had already anchored their boat, Reach, here by the time we arrived.

Staniel Cay has a small reef and three small islands just east of the town. The northernmost of these islands has a cave called Thunderball Grotto because it was used in the James Bond film Thunderball. To the northwest is the island Big Major Spot and to the north another island Little Major Spot. To the west of the north end of Big Major are a couple more small islands and a reef so there is shelter to the north and east and, to a lesser extent, to the northeast.

Horizon to Horizon Rainbow - Big Major Anchorage

This is a very popular anchorage, but it is about 1 1/2 miles to town by dinghy. We decided to move to town. We anchored behind the small barrier reef and they anchored Reach in a little spot just south of the reef. We dingied in, tied up at the government dock, and got the tour of town. After the tour we decided where we were anchored was to rolly, so we moved back out to the west side of Big Major.

The Town Staniel Cay is a delightful little Bahamian village. It is much more typical of the Bahamian experience than Nassau. There is no town center, just a few streets that wind up over the hill or along the water. The local homes are typically small concrete and/or stone structures although some are wood framed. There are a few tourist cottages, a small clinic, a small school, a church, a boutique, an art gallery, and a library. All are painted in bright, cheerful colors.

There are also three stores and a yacht club. Most of these establishments are in homes converted into shops or the shop is in the front room of the house. Two of the stores are the Pink Store and the Blue Store – guess what color each is painted. They are small, but have a varied selection of groceries. They are almost next to each other.

The Bread House

Just down the hill is a bright yellow house where you can get freshly baked bread. Simply walk up to the screen door that enters into the kitchen and call “Hello”. Once inside you see a small table with that day’s bread. You can get white, wheat, coconut white, and raisan. If she is sold out you can place an order and pick up your bread the next day. Don’t go early When it’s cold because the yeast rises slower and so baking gets delayed.

The people here are friendly and helpful. Seldom do you pass someone on the street without them saying hello. I’ve heard there are about 80 full time residents on the island and many are related to the original settlers. Everyone knows everyone.

There are few motor vehicles and most are pickup trucks. You can easily walk anywhere in town, but the vehicle of choice is an electric golf cart. There are at least two golf cart rental companies.

You can find cruisers walking around town, but the center of activity for cruisers is the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The club has a bar, full service kitchen, docks and fuel. It also has some guest cottages and small boat rentals. The big attraction for cruisers – other than the obvious food and cold Kalik beer – is a WiFi connection. You can buy Exuma WiFi cards good for various lengths of access time and sip a cold drink while you catch up on email or update your blog.

They also host the annual Pirate Costume Party, and Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners, and more.

The Experience

Jackie left just after we arrived in Staniel Cay and did not return until Jan 8. Mark and Michelle only stayed a few days, so much of the time I have been here alone. As I noted earlier we moved from Big Major to town and back the first day we were here. As we were motoring through the anchorage I spotted a boat named Fine Lion. I had seen a different boat with that name in Galesville years ago. It turns out that Steve was a previous owner and racer of that boat .  I later crewed on it after it changed hands and had its name changed to Black Pearl. I hailed the boat and explained my experience. The owner, Steve, later stopped by our boat and invited us to a cruiser party on one of Big Major’s beaches.

Cruiser Party on the Big Major Beach - First Night at Staniel Cay

We went to the party and had a great time and met a lot of fun people. To reinforce the notion that it is really a small world, Jackie met a couple who had taught three of her nephews back in Michigan.

Two mornings later we got up early,loaded the dinghy, and headed for the airport. It was windy and the chop was up – especially after we rounded the bottom of Big Major. Jackie wore a spray top, but her jeans were wet all down one side by the time we reached town. We motored up the creek south of town and tied up a short walk from the airport.

We were early and the flight was late, so we waited at the terminal. This is an all-weather facility in that it has a roof. There are no walls, so all the weather blows through which helped dry Jackie’s jeans. There are benches, but no ticket counters or security checkpoints. Don’t even think of getting a Starbucks.

A plane would land and taxi over to the terminal. We would walk over to the plane and ask if it was Jackie’s flight. Most were charters, but finally her plane arrived. Two propellers, 9 passenger seats including the one next to the pilot. The pilot got out, took the tickets, loaded the luggage, and made sure everyone was aboard. Then he taxied down to one end of the runway, turned around, and took off.

I spent the next couple days on the boat and usually got together with Mark and Michelle on Reach in the evening. One day we went snorkling and spear fishing at a nearby reef. Then they decided the weather was right to move along.

Cruisers Often Feed the Pigs. I wanted to take them some bacon.

I won’t go into the day-by-day litany of what I did, like go into town for bread or to buy minutes for the cell phone – just the high points. The first point of interest was a short distance away from where I was anchored – the Pig Beach. There are some wild pigs who live by the beach. Tourists visit the pigs and often bring food, so the pigs usually greet any dinghy that shows up. They will even swim out to meet you if you take too long getting to shore. Once in a while you will see some very skinny pigs on the beach. It turns out they are goats.

I did some errands one afternoon and then stopped at the Thunderball Grotto. There is a mooring where you can tie up your dink and it’s an easy swim to the grotto. The opening is above water, but it’s best to wear mask, fins and snorkle. The first thing you see as you swim in is hundreds of fish swimming out to meet you, hoping to get fed. Your first inclination is to turn around and swim for you life, but the fish are all friendly. Soon you are surrounded.   Its like swimming in an aquarium.  You swim though a narrow opening in the rocks and into a large cave with a high ceiling. There are openings for light to get through so you can see all the fish and coral. It’s incredible.

The yacht club hosts a few events between Christmas and New Years, but the most fun one is the Pirate Party. Cruisers and people from the huge yachts that dock at the club go all out on costumes. I had to settle for the “tourist with a Quetzal on his shoulder” look. The Island Shuttle provided taxi service to and from boats, so I didn’t have to drive the dink the 1 1/2 miles back that night. I met a lot of people including Bob and Penny from the motor cat Pretty Penny, and Rita K and Clay from the trawler Carleigh.

There are two sailing events that take place during the week. The first is the “mixed doubles” race for the Bahamian Class C boats. These are relatively small boats with little ballast and enormous sails. The booms hang a long way past the transom. To keep the boats upright they have boards, called prys, that slide from side to side. Most of the crew climb out onto the prys to counter balance the wind in the sail.

Termite - the C Class boat I raced.

Each boat has two or three “regular” crew and three more crew chosen by lottery. There were three races and four boats with new guest crew for each race, so 36 people got to experience the boats. My name was picked to crew on Termite in the third race. The races start with the boats anchored and the sails down. At the start signal, one person raises the sail and another pulls in the anchor. We would have had a great start, but our anchor got off to the side and wouldn’t come loose. We spent the race trying to catch up. When it comes to close passes, these Bahamians don’t mess around. We were on starboard tack (we had right of way) crossing another boat. We called starboard and they looked over, but thought they could make it. We ducked close behind them and our mast hit their boom. We eventually got ahead of them, but only managed to finish third.

Maverick With an Early Lead

The other race was the Cruiser’s Regatta. I wandered by the sign up table and got to talking to a fellow who was asking about entering. I offered my services as crew and he accepted. He and his wife are cruising Maverick, an Elite 37. We got an excellant start, but headed for the wrong mark. We soon realized our mistake and took off after the fleet. Maverick and crew did well and at one point we were second only to the Bahamian A Class sloop, Lady Muriel. Eventually we were passed by the 57 foot yawl that was the first cruising boat home. We managed to hold off a larger, well sailed sloop, so we took second.

When we first arrived in the Staniel Cay area, we anchored about 1 1/2 miles out of town around the far side of Big Major Island. The first couple times I motored back at night in the dinghy there was a nearly full moon, so identifying the island and navigating around the point wasn’t too bad. Then one night I started back before the moon was up and it was very, very dark. Luckily I could just pick out the island and once I got close I just turned left and “felt” my way around. I figured that if all else failed I could find my way back to the bright lights of the town, but no need. I finally rounded the point and found the anchorage.

Jackie Returns to Stanile Cay

Jackie finally returned on Jan 8. There had been a mixup on her reservation, so she had to fly standby from Nassau. Luckily someone was late and she got aboard. It wasn’t until moments before the plane landed that I found out she made it.

It was great to have her back on board. We had a nice weather the rest of the day and the following day, then the wind blew for a couple days and we stayed on the boat. When things settled down we did some errands and headed out.

Next: Black Point