Saturday, April 25, 2015

Running on empty

I am typing this post while we are off-line, under way in the Exuma Sound. This morning found us anchored just off Halls Pond Cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. With our cellular booster, I had just enough signal to get occasional text messages in or out, but not enough to load a web page or send an email. As is our custom when this far from connectivity, I sent a check-in through our Spot Messenger yesterday to post our coordinates.

Sunset from the deck at Ty's Sunset.

Monday evening we made it to the west side of Little Farmers, where the airport is, and had a nice casual meal at the aptly named Ty's Sunset Grill.  We met a couple who had actually arrived there in their plane, which was tied down nearby on the ramp, and who were ironically staying at the Yacht Club across the island. The same Yacht Club where Martin and Steph joined us for lunch on Tuesday, coming up from Rudder Cut Cay on their tender. We enjoyed their company, a nice lunch, and meeting Mr. Roosevelt Nixon, who runs the place.

The "terminal" at Farmers Cay International (note the Welcome sign). That's Ty's Sunset to the left. I'm standing on the runway to take this photo.

Wednesday we weighed anchor and headed outside to Black Point and the settlement of that name on Great Guana Cay (map), again diverting out to the three-mile limit with the expectation that we'd be cruising "inside," on the bank, for the next few weeks. That was a diversion of just two miles, or a gallon of diesel, which we judged well worth it to have the extra few days of capacity available, but it turned out to be for naught, for reasons I will get to in a few moments.

Black Point is something of an administrative center for the Exumas, sporting three restaurants, a grocery, a BTC office, and other various services even including some limited marine parts and what is reported to be the nicest laundromat in the islands. Still, it took all of about seven minutes to see the entire settlement after landing our tender at the town dock Wednesday afternoon.

Black Point Settlement, from our deck.

We needed some provisions, especially milk, eggs, cheese, and veggies. As it turns out, the mail boat arrives Thursday and so we left the store with just some rather old peppers and lettuce so we could have a salad with our meal aboard, resolving to come back the next day after the mail boat arrived. We also stopped in to a couple of the restaurants to read the menus, expecting we might need to call in our dinner orders if we wanted to dine ashore a night or two. In doing so we managed to meet some cruisers who were taking advantage of some free restaurant WiFi in the afternoon.

After coming back from town we actually ended up moving Vector a few hundred feet closer to shore; we had a marginal WiFi signal and were hoping to improve it. We had enough to get by for the evening, with the signal fading in and out. We also had a nice swim in the warm, clear water. In the evening, we took the tender around the point to check out the anchorage on the south side, which was quite picturesque, completely empty, and looked as if it could be a hundred miles from the settlement. We took some soundings, thinking we'd bring Vector around in another day, after provisioning in town.

Our very inviting anchorage at Black Point. Still, it was even nicer on the other side of the point, albeit farther from town.

Thursday Blossom got under way from Rudder Cut Cay and passed us on their way to that same anchorage, which they had to themselves. We arranged to meet up with them, along with the aforementioned cruisers from the restaurant the previous afternoon, another couple we had met in Stuart a year ago and who recognized our boat across the anchorage, and a couple we had met in Georgetown, all at Scorpio's Restaurant for "Cruisers Happy Hour" which they advertise every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The season is mostly over now and I don't think Scorpio's expected a big group to take them up on the offer; the bartender was working alone with the kitchen staff already gone for the day, and he scrambled to get snacks out. While there we also met another couple we've seen at several anchorages along the way; such is the nature of cruising. We managed to cobble together a table for 12 on the patio and had a great time chatting with everyone over half-price beers.

We had figured to have dinner there with Martin and Steph as well, but after we learned the kitchen staff was gone, we made arrangements at DeShamon's down the street instead. Scorpio's later managed to wrestle up some staff to cook, but with the call-ahead nature of dinner here we honored our reservation and left for DeShamons as happy hour wound down. We ended up having pizza with Blossom and Changing Course, the folks we knew from Stuart.

We really enjoyed getting together with everyone in Black Point, and the very inviting anchorage around the corner, still in easy tender distance of town, was also calling to us, but it turns out I made a key strategic error earlier in the trip that finally caught up to us, forcing a change of plan: we ran out of cash. We had figured to be at Black Point for several nights, but ended up staying only two.

I'm rather embarrassed to admit it because it is such a rookie mistake. In hindsight I should have brought at least twice as much cash from the states.  Failing that, though, we could easily have hit the ATM in Georgetown another two or three times to stock up, yet we did so only once while we were there. I just wasn't thinking about the fact that there are no other ATMs in the Exumas. That realization only dawned after arriving at Black Point, the largest settlement in the Exumas outside of Georgetown, to find there is no bank nor any other place to get cash. Some other cruisers did suggest that we might be able to draw cash from a credit card at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to the north in a pinch.

With less than $200 between us, an amount that can disappear in a heartbeat in the Bahamas if one needs anything at all, plus the fact that two of our four credit cards have expired since leaving the US, we started looking at other options to replenish the cash supply. From Black Point the three nearest ATMs were in Rock Sound on Eleuthera, back in Georgetown, or in Nassau. The first two options were both about a 50nm cruise, with Nassau half again as far.

Having plenty of fuel aboard, none of those options was beyond consideration, and since we are extending our Bahamas cruising a good three or four weeks beyond our original plan, going out of our way to a bank makes more sense than trying to eek out cash from marinas and businesses along the way. We didn't want to retrace our steps all the way back to Georgetown, and we'd been thinking we might like to see Eleuthera anyway, so we decided to make an opportunity of it and plan an excursion in that direction.

And so it is that today finds us crossing the sound toward Cape Eluthera and thence onward to Rock Sound. We've been to Eleuthera before, but those visits were aboard a cruise ship, so this will be new territory for us. I'm only sorry that I don't have the good Explorer Charts for the area, and have to make do with the less accurate Maptech ones, an oversight I hope to correct in Rock Sound.

High-end homes on Staniel Cay, from the Sound, en route to Halls Pond.

The crossing from Black Point would have made for a very long day, likely mandating that we anchor or dock at Powell Point on Cape Eleuthera. We opted instead to first make the 22nm journey north to Halls Pond yesterday, giving us a somewhat shorter day today and more choice in where to stop. As a bonus, Halls Pond is only accessible to us from the Sound, and this two-day window of nearly flat calm conditions on the Sound was a perfect time to visit it. We did run back into town before weighing anchor, hoping to find milk and other fresh foods, but apparently the delivery was short and we had to settle for just eggs and cheese.

We were feeling a little bad that we'd be parting ways, at least for a while, with Blossom, after only a single meal together in Black Point. As it turns out, they will be waylaid there for a while anyway, as their davit developed a problem shortly after anchoring. Fortunately they had already got their tender in the water, so they can at least get around, and they can tow the dinghy if they need to move the boat someplace. We did offer to wait with them until they could resolve it, but it appears the only remedy is a part that has to come from Vancouver. The closest airport is right there in Black Point, so at least they are well-positioned to get the part they need.

Sunset from our anchorage at Halls Pond last night.

We're very glad we stopped at Halls Pond. It was a lovely anchorage which we had all to ourselves. After setting the hook we donned our snorkel gear for a quick look around, and I swam all the way to the inviting beach. This end of the island has some abandoned buildings, but a faded sign on the beach indicated it was private property, so I remained below the high tide line. A pair of "Aquacycle" water trikes on the beach suggest it gets used occasionally by someone.

Our private beach. Abandoned buildings beyond the trees; the Aquacycle is on the far right.

Even though we were well inside the boundaries of a national park, many of the islands are privately owned oases of the wealthy. On the way in we passed the resort of Soldier Cay and just across from our anchorage we could see the high-zoot edifices of White Bay Cay. Most of the cays south of the park are similarly private, with high-end developments on several.

The private resort on Soldier Cay, complete with wind turbines.

White Bay Cay, as seen from our anchorage this morning.

This afternoon we should be anchored in Rock Sound, off the settlement of the same name. Over the next few days we'll find our way to the ATM, and we've heard there is a nice supermarket as well, which should make up for the disappointing selection at Black Point. Cash and groceries are not the only things running low, thus inspiring today's post title (with apologies to Jackson Browne). The aforementioned extension of our Bahamas cruise, a result of the cancellation of our Cuba trip, means we'll need to stock up on beer and some other essentials as well, especially since we are planning to have guests aboard for a week or so next month.

I should have this posted this evening, after I've had a chance to upload the photos.

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