Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Island time, mon

A long overdue update today. While I'd love to blame the delay on lousy Internet access here in the Bahamas, the truth is that it is only partly to blame. The rest has a lot more to do with me being mostly busy when we've been in good coverage, or else enjoying the downtime too much to take a couple of hours out to blog.

Our anchorage at Warderick Wells. The buildings are park HQ. You can make out only the masts of the boats on the moorings.

When last I posted here, we were anchored off Emerald Rock at Warderick Wells. We never did make it ashore there; it remained too choppy to want to take a 1.5-mile tender ride, getting soaked, then pick our way through the shallows just to hike around on the island. We'll be back, we hope in calmer conditions, and perhaps even take a mooring ball a bit closer to park HQ.

Emerald Rock, at Warderick Wells.

We only spent the single night there, and after ruminating very briefly in the morning about trying to go ashore for an hour or two, we decided to weigh anchor in the good part of the daylight and get under way to Staniel Cay. We planned for an arrival at a favorable tide, in case we wanted to anchor in close to, or even dock at, the yacht club there, which is really a hub of activity in that part of the islands.

We did arrive on a favorable tide, but it was still very windy, and before we even reached Staniel we had decided instead to anchor at Big Majors Spot (map), the next cay north, which is boomerang-shaped and has a lee harbor with lots of protection from the prevailing east-southeasterlies. We were not alone by any stretch; I counted 65 boats in the harbor when we arrived, including three megayachts with all their toys in the water.

After setting the hook we looked at the weather situation and discussed whether or not we'd stay for a couple of nights, to perhaps tender over to Staniel and check things out. Before we could make up our minds we got a text from Stephanie saying they had decided to leave Highbourne and come all the way to Big Majors the next day. That sealed it for us, and we opted to stay a couple of days so we could hook back up with them and see Staniel together.

Staniel Key Yacht Club. Photo: Stephanie Morris

We ended up staying three nights. We tried to get reservations at the very nice restaurant on the adjacent Fowl Cay, part of a resort, but they were fully booked with resort guests all three nights. Instead we ended up eating with Martin and Steph the last two nights at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, which was quite the happening place.

When they first arrived on Wednesday they were tired from a long day of travel, and we agreed to ride over in Scalar, our diminutive tender, which can not possibly get up on plane with four aboard. Beyond that, it was still blowing pretty good out of the east, and as soon as we rounded the protection of Big Majors we all got completely soaked. Then to make matters worse, as I was coming into the docks at the yacht club the engine stalled as soon as I put it in reverse. It turned out that somewhere in the chaos of plowing through seas to get there, the painter fell overboard and wrapped itself in the prop, which kept spinning merrily away so long as we were in forward gear. Still it was a hoot, more of an adventure than a hardship.

Swimming pig.

The next day they splashed their much larger and faster tender and picked us up in the morning to go see the famous swimming pigs of Big Majors. We brought along all the scraps from cleaning carrots and Steph brought some old lettuce. No sooner did we arrive on the beach than three big sows came over to check us out, followed shortly by numerous piglets.

Swimming toward us to see if we have more food.

It was a lot of fun, but Martin kept the tender far enough off shore to prevent the big ones from trying to climb aboard. While we were there one of the big megayacht tenders brought their charges over to see the pigs as well.

Charter guests with one of the littlest piglets.

In the afternoon we all walked around Staniel Cay, checked out the few stores on the island, and ended up back at the Yacht Club for another meal. It's an interesting mix there of locals, yacht crews, and pleasure boaters. We ate in the bar, off the lunch menu -- dinner is done in seatings and requires advance reservations.

Sunset at Big Majors Spot.

With Louise's flight rapidly approaching, and a good (enough) weather window opening up for a Sunday departure, we again bid farewell to Blossom and her stalwart crew and weighed anchor Friday morning for the day's run to Cave Cay, adjacent to Galliot Cut. Some skinny water on the approach from the bank meant we wanted to arrive at mid-tide rising.

We had no trouble all the way to the cut, but a large swell in that immediate vicinity had us proceeding a bit further south to the protection of Cave Cay (map). We dropped the hook with just two other boats, both sailboats waiting for weather windows of their own. Much quieter and more peaceful than where we had been.

That gave us all day Saturday to study the cuts and see when slack tide was in relationship to low tide. We'd heard these cuts can be a real challenge on the ebb in an east wind.  We also had the opportunity to see several other boats coming or going through Galliot, some the afternoon we arrived and some the next day. They had much more wind than we were expecting on Sunday, and, while they rocked and rolled through the cut, none had any trouble. Galliot is a very wide and deep cut, so it can be very forgiving in that respect.

That said, while we were there we learned that Cave Cay Cut just to the south was also easy and deep, albeit somewhat narrower than Galliot. But it cut two miles off the trip to use it instead, and when Sunday morning rolled around, one of the two sailboats went out that way ahead of us. We were waiting for a bit slacker tide, but he reported back to us that it was an easy trip, and we got under way still on the ebb.

We exited into four foot seas, on the nose until we made the southward turn and then on the beam. But our weather reports had been correct, and the wind and seas diminished throughout the day, with the ride becoming more and more comfortable as the day progressed.

On the ride down we took care of some housekeeping, including making 75 gallons or so of water, and emptying our waste tank outside the three-mile limit. We also spent the first half of the trip discussing whether we wanted to head to the marina at Emerald Bay, which right now has discounted dockage at just $0.50 per foot on the "no service" dock which has no power or water. It still includes all the marina amenities, including free laundry (rare even in the US, and downright decadent here).

While the comfort and security of being tied to a dock while I'm short handed was appealing, we ultimately decided against it. Mostly because Emerald Bay, while also on the island of Great Exuma, is a dozen miles from town. That's a looong bicycle ride, or $100 in a taxi, round-trip.  Without a proper license for a motor scooter, that was not an option. I decided I'd rather spend the week in the harbor, where I can get to everything on Scalar.

By the time we arrived at the tricky, winding northern entrance to Elizabeth Harbor, seas were quite calm, and we had an easy time of it. We arrived close to high tide, so the handful of skinny spots were also of little concern. We were well into the harbor in plenty of time to scope everything out and pick a nice spot (map).

The northernmost parts of the harbor, "Monument Beach" and "Volleyball Beach," were quite crowded, and at Monument, boats were sticking out into the channel. We were happy to have high tide so we could easily avoid them a bit west of the channel.  We continued on to a spot where we could see two giant megayachts, one, a converted Dutch pilot vessel, looking for all the world like a miniature cruise ship.

Sunset over Georgetown and Great Exuma Island. Megayacht Angiamo on the left, and Intuition II on the right.

We dropped our hook in 18' of water between them and the shore, in an area known as Sand Dollar Beach. It is relatively quiet and well-spaced here, in contrast to the areas north of us. We set the anchor, and enjoyed sunset and a lovely dinner on the aft deck.

The view from our deck.  Sand Dollar to the right, and the anchorages at Volleyball in the distance. We never tire of this water color.

One reason we wanted to get down here Sunday was to give us a buffer in case we needed to adjust our anchor or even move to a better spot, neither of which proved necessary. But the other reason was so that we'd have all day Monday to get the lay of the land, figure out where to get Louise on a taxi to the airport, and make sure we had all our ducks in a row before she needed to leave on Tuesday.

I spent Monday morning working on the tender, which needed its all-around light repaired, and some wiring changes, and I added a nifty underwater light on the transom in place of the garboard drain plug. We then went straight to the main dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, a short tender ride, and walked around town a bit. I needed to top up my cell phone, as our data package literally ran out on the passage out of Cave Cay, nixing my plan to get a blog post up en route. We also checked out the well-stocked market, which had just received its fresh shipment. On the way home we cruised through "the holes" on Stocking Island and eyed the St. Francis resort, closed Monday, and the Chat & Chill, a beach bar on Volleyball Beach, from the tender. We ended up back there for a casual dinner before sunset.

Tuesday morning we made our final preparations, and hailed a taxi on the radio -- how it's done here. After lunch I took Louise to the dinghy dock with her suitcase for the $30 cab ride to the airport; she was "U.S. early," which means at least an hour before she needed to be there. Fortunately Kermit's Cafe across the street had WiFi and a comfortable place to sit. I spent the afternoon tidying up the house and then had dinner on the aft deck with yet another gorgeous sunset.

I never tire of this kind of view.

Wednesday proved to be the best passage day on Exuma Sound, and Blossom made an early start out Dotham Cut to join me here at the end of the day. So, while I was prepared to spend several days alone here and maybe getting a few things done, I have instead had good company the whole week. After Blossom arrived we tendered over to the St. Francis for dinner.

Thursday we went into town together just to wander around and see everything. In the course of that we walked into the local dive shop, Dive Exuma, and ended up booking a two-tank dive for Friday morning. We also walked into the Peace and Plenty resort to ask about the evening's activities, a BBQ Bahamian-style dinner and "Rake and Scrape" music.  It sounded fun enough and we ended up back there at dinner time.  The band was pretty good, but I did not notice anyone playing a saw.

Friday we had a nice dive. With eight on the boat I was easily able to find a dive buddy. We did a fairly shallow reef dive at perhaps 45', and an interesting wreck dive in 75', a 60' tug boat that had been deliberately sunk for the purpose. It had been down just long enough to be interesting in terms of accumulating some sea life.  I did not see the moray that is reported to live in the stern, but there was a good sized barracuda hanging out by the enormous prop and rudder. I really need to get an underwater camera.

Diving makes you hungry, and we proceeded directly across the street to the Driftwood Cafe for lunch, which was thus my main meal for the day. A stop at the hardware store finished the day, and we were all useless the rest of the evening. I had a salad on the aft deck. Sadly, my dive computer bit the dust on the very first dive, so now I have another project on my plate; I had to fill out my log with some guess work -- I did not even have a working watch on me.

By Saturday morning I was still pretty whooped from the diving and all the running around, and I had something of a downtime day. At last, or so I thought, my big chance to catch up on email and get the blog posted. I actually spent a good bit of time transferring the photos and getting them organized, and even started typing this post Saturday afternoon.  In the evening I headed over to Blossom for cocktails and then took them to Stocking Island in Scalar for dinner, but we had not realized that both the Chat & Chill and the St. Francis closed by 7pm, so we ended back up on Blossom for burgers.

Signs in front of Chat & Chill on Volleyball Beach.  Photo: Stephanie Morris

When we stopped at the Chat & Chill, though, the proprietor showed us the 170-lb pig roasting on the spit for the weekly Sunday pig roast. Seeing and smelling that pretty much sealed the deal for Sunday, and we agreed to meet up at noon and head over; he allowed that the food would be ready around noon but on "island time." I'm sorry I did not have my camera at the ready to snap a shot of the pig, and I did not want to ask him to open up the rotisserie a second time.

I got about half way or so through this post Sunday morning before Martin and Steph picked me up for the pig roast. We had perfect timing, arriving just as the food line opened up, with just enough time to grab a beer at the bar before getting a heaping plate of roast pork with the traditional Bahamian sides: rice & peas, mac & cheese, and slaw. It was delicious.

While I was in line for the food, I thought I'd snap a photo for the blog, and, poof, my cell phone rebooted itself and then spiraled into an endless boot loop. Considering that, other than a very low-speed and expensive satellite connection, this phone is our whole link to the outside world here in the Bahamas, this was not good news. We spent another hour on the beach enjoying lunch and the colorful atmosphere, but my mind could not wander far from the broken phone. At least I now had my big meal for the day in me.

It is now Tuesday morning, and, other than cocktails on nearby Sea Monkey and dinner on Blossom last night, I have neither left the boat nor stopped working on the phone problem, which I finally finished just about an hour ago. Android necropsy is not for the faint of heart; at one point I had Louise on standby to buy me a new phone in the states before she headed to the airport.

Keeping mommy's chair warm. I wonder where she is?

All's well that ends well, and other than spending nearly two full days messing with it, we're now back up and running, and Louise is already in Fort Lauderdale on her way home. Our last hurdle is clearing customs here in Georgetown with the small handful of replacement boat parts she is bringing back. With any luck that will go smoothly and I will be picking her back up at the dinghy dock around 3pm or so.

The giant list of projects did not get any shorter here in Georgetown, but we're thinking of staying another week to enjoy the surroundings so I may yet get to some of it. I've been swimming off the boat daily but I'd like to get over to the beach, and there are supposed to be some nice snorkeling sites here. I ran the watermaker all day yesterday while I was stuck here fixing the phone, so we should be good for another week.

Now that the whirlwind California trip is behind us, we have no schedule or plan whatsoever. We'll stay here in Georgetown as long as it suits us, and then probably wander back up through the Exuma chain, stopping at some of the spots we had to bypass on the way south. We have good Internet access here and hardware, groceries, and marine parts nearby, so likely we will try to get a few things done before weighing anchor. I'll post again when we have an idea where we're headed and when.

In the meantime, you might want to check out Martin and Steph's blog for more details and photos of our last few stops together.


  1. I like keeping up with your travels - and just love the phrasing "Android necropsy." Best wishes from all of us watching your adventures from a distance!

  2. Can you elaborate on the underwater light you can installed on the tender!

    1. Sure. If you've not been around small boats, the sort that can easily be taken out of the water on a trailer, they all have a drain hole at the bottom of the transom. This is called a "garboard drain" and is used to drain any residual water out of the bilge when the boat is hauled out of the water. The hole has a plug in it; rigid inflatable tenders like ours often have a squeeze-fit plug in this hole because you need to remove it every time you lift the boat out of the water, and indeed we did this with our first tender. The tender we have now instead had a threaded plug (3/4" NPT) semi-permanently installed, because the boat also has an electric bilge pump which clears the water out reasonably well. I only remove the garboard plug if we plan to leave the tender on deck for longer than a couple of months.

      The underwater light is a simple epoxy-encapsulated LED fitted in a standard 3/4" NPT fitting. If you go to eBay and type "garboard underwater light" (how I got ours) you'll see quite a few different ones for sale; mostly the sellers make these in their garage. They're so cheap it was not worth buying the separate parts and doing it myself.

      I can still remove the garboard plug when needed, I just need to leave it dangling by the wires, which are run back to the accessory breaker at the helm.


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