Friday, 25 May 2012

Bahamas Part 3 - Nth Exumas

Hi from Clare,                                                                    Thursday 24th May 2012

Well it has been a mixed week. The weather has wavered from perfect to appalling. We are currently anchored in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, sitting out a low pressure system and sheltering from torrential rain; so it's not always perfect!

We have sailed a number of short hops this week from Warderick Wells to Shroud Cay to Highbourne Cay to Allens Cay and then finally Nassau. The total distance is around 65 NM.

The seven of us from 'Norna' 'Tactical Directions' 'Innamorata' and 'Eye Candy' took three dinghies and travelled from one side of the island to the other exploring the mangrove creeks. What a peaceful contrast with glassy, clear water and birds chirping. We came out the other side onto a gorgeous ocean beach and walked the short distance to the hilltop for some photos. It was unfortunate that it was overcast as the full impact of the aqua water was diminished.

Shroud Cay in the Mangroves and on the ocean side

This was the best time of the week as we went diving on two consecutive days. We left in the mornings and Tony took his catamaran out to the ocean side of the Exuma Bank. The weather each morning was perfect; the ocean was flat calm. In fact so calm, it was hard to imagine that we had left the Bank at all. We had two fabulous dives seeing black tip reef sharks, turtles, lobsters, abundant tropical fish and colourful corals. We dived on the wall which drops away to thousands of feet. We swam from the about 18 metres into a blue abyss. We all loved it and agreed the second dive was one out of the box. Good thing we went in the morning as both days deteriorated after lunch.

More Shroud Cay and Diving

We had an overnight stop to see the Iguanas. They are an endangered species and live on only one small island. They are small, scaly and ugly with only a few inches ground clearance. The public is asked not to feed them but they run to the beach with every arriving dinghy. It's either for food or they like having their photo taken; I'll go with the food theory!

Searching for the Dive site and the Iguanas
Although we have been here for two nights, we haven't seen anything of Nassua yet. We have experienced rain and more rain and high wind.
We have a tarpaulin tied low on the bow covering the three hatches. We can keep these opened a few inches for air circulation in the boat. We have another large tarpaulin tied securely over the dodger and bimini in an attempt to keep part of the cockpit dry. The rain has been constant and the humidity is high; not much fun.

Dismal scenes from Nassau anchorage with Norna astern

We have kept ourselves occupied catching up on boat chores, cooking, surfing the net and drying things out. Fortunately we haven't found any fresh water leaks in the boat.

We have all taken turns at having dinner guests or playing Rummy; most nights we are together. Andrew has started an informal radio net at 6pm to talk to other known cruisers either underway or stuck at anchor. The effects of the low pressure system are wide-spread and so we are all in the same boat; what a horrible thought?

When the weather clears, we will have a look around Nassau and then head for the Abaco Islands. We are looking forward to having a walk and seeing the sights we missed when here in 2004.

Love Candy xx

At 1:23 PM23/05/2012 (utc) our position was 25°04.71'N 077°19.68'W

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Bahamas Part 2 - On the Exuma Bank

Hi from Clare,                                                               Thursday 17th May 2012

This week we have spent most of our time in Staniel Cay and Warderick Wells on the Exuma Bank. The Exuma chain of islands is on the eastern edge of a flat top underwater mountain. The bank is about 100 miles long and 40 miles wide with a water depth of 3-6 metres. . As you can imagine it is very smooth water and even with a little wind, some terrific sailing. This is the area we visited in 2004 whilst working on Pacific Dream. It was at Warderick Wells that I jealously observed a middle aged couple relaxing on their 40 ft yacht and though "that beats crewing; I wish it was us". So it is pretty special to come back now on Eye Candy to relax and enjoy the Bahamas.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club and its view
We once again snorkeled in Thunderball Grotto and walked around the little township of Staniel Cay. It was Sunday and most of the locals were attending church. Nothing much has changed in eight years apart from a few new houses and some improvements around the local pub and marina area. The local fishermen still gut their catch on the wharf and feed the remains to the sharks circling below. Near by at Big Majors Spots feral pigs still occupy the beach and swim out to the dinghies to be fed food scraps. You just have to be careful that they don't climb into the dinghy; best to keep your distance. Some brave people go ashore. Kortney from Norna went onto the beach to give the pigs some apples and one bit her on the backside.
Staniel Cay Sharks and Pigs at feeding time

We snorkeled at Thunderball Grotto the following day. The James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed here in 1964. The blue grotto is teaming with hundreds of tropical fish. They are often hand fed by the public, I looked around to find Andrew and he was immersed in a ball of tropical fish. There are lovely soft corals on the outside walls but the grotto is devoid of coral, probably collateral damage due to the huge number of visitors.

We are now at Warderick Wells at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We have been here for two days and snorkel each morning at slack tide in three metres of water just outside the park's headquarters. We found multiple lobsters under the rocks, stingrays, nurse sharks and just about every type of tropical fish shown on my "Fishwatcher's Field Guide". They are truly magnificent and we stay in the water as long as possible. We only get out because our skin starts to shrivel up.

Warderick Wells (Park HQ) Anchorageand the tribe goes to Boo Boo Hill

We walked the short distance to Boo Boo Hill which is the highest point on the island. Visiting cruisers are allowed to leave a piece of wood with their boat name and particulars. Some of the pieces are from people who return each year and so their piece of wood gets updated with the current year date. We saw one that read 2008, 09, 10, 11 and 12; lucky devils. There was one from Melbourne Australia with 8540 NM to go. We didn't leave one for Eye Candy; to me it felt like adornment.

Unfortunately the weather has been overcast for the past few days. On a sunny day the colour of the water is dazzling and I was hoping for some great photos. Let's hope we have better luck when we return from America.

We are with our cruising buddies from "Norna, Tactical Directions, Ventana and Innamorata". Last night Dee on 'Ventana' cooked pizza for the nine of us. We had a wonderful night and the pizzas were terrific. The night before we had Dee and Rob on our boat for dinner and tonight we are having Kortney and Pete over for a game of Rummy after dinner. We spend some time together each day or get together for a sundowner. It is wonderful to have some company with the option to be alone if you feel like a quiet one.

Boo Boo Hill memorabilia and the Mahi Mahi

The highlight of the week was catching a 3.5 kilo Mahi Mahi just before leaving the deep ocean water and coming onto the Exuma Bank via Dotham Cut. This was very good timing as fishing is not allowed in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. So we have had three lovely free fish dinners this week and consider ourselves very lucky. Just one of the many benefits of the cruising lifestyle!

At present Andrew is over on Tony's boat (Tactical) with Rob from Ventana consulting the charts to work out where to go for some diving. We will probably move to another island, anchor the four yachts in the shallow water on the Exuma Bank and take Tony's catamaran outside into deeper water for the dive. This will be wonderful as there are seven divers and plenty of room on the catamaran for all the gear. So hopefully next time I write you will hear about our diving adventures.

Love Candy xx

At 11:49 AM19/05/2012 (utc) our position was 24°31.70'N 076°47.81'W

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Friday, 11 May 2012

Bahamas - Part 1

Hi from Clare, Thursday 10th May 2012

Hurray, we have now purchased internet access for the duration of our stay in the Bahamas. We are now in George Town in Grand Exuma and it only took two trips to the Bahamian Telecom shop before the sim card worked, so that's progress but it is sooo slooow - said to be 4G.

Our last news letter from Mayaguana was sent via Wifi from the local pub. To find Wifi was a real surprise because the island had one food store, no ATM or bank, but a Post Office and not much of anything else. There were very few cars but the town had a rotunda at the crossroad where locals could gather (safely) and see the town limits in each of the 4 directions!
 So we went to the pub for Wifi. "de pub was shut cos de power she is off and nobody got de key for de backup." The following day the pub she was open, it was Election Day, the locals were very friendly "you can stay, you are family, and after the elections we gunna build a marina - so come back soon". We think we will pop in on our way back from New York and see if they have started.

We had a fantastic overnight beam reach sail from Mayaguana to Conception Island. We did 147 miles in 23 hours; the wind dropped out towards the end and we motored the last 20 miles. Even so it was a wonderful night with a flat sea, a full moon and a warm breeze. Conception Island is uninhabited except for the visiting yachts. We were there with Tactical Directions, Innamorata, and Norna.
Our days were spent snorkelling, strolling along the beach and swimming in the shallows. The water at Conception is so clear we can see fish and the occasional shark swim by the boat. The sea water is a spectacular aqua and so vivid that white sea birds flying over the water look blue underneath. Then when they would fly over the sand and they look white; it is a truly magnificent sight.

Conception Beach and Drinks with Kortney, Pete, Clare, Steve, Carol & Andrew

On day two Andrew and I went for a 45 minute walk (to get some exercise) across the island to a deserted beach where there was one shade tree and someone had collected two plastic chairs and other useful bits of plastic flotsam. The total quiet was only interrupted by the occasional whistle of a bird. The sand was as fine as salt and so we went to nature's beauty parlour and rubbed our arms, legs, feet and backs with wet sand and then washed it off in the warm ocean leaving our skin soft and smooth.

 Deserted Beach and "Bruce" the shark from the back of our boat

The Bahamas are very beautiful and it is exciting to consider that we have just begun to explore. The climate at present is perfect. The days are sunny with a temperature in the high twenties and the nights have a lovely warm breeze. We sleep all night with only a sheet covering us.

We had drinks on the beach one night and then the following evening we had a party on 'Tactical Directions' for Pete's (Norna) birthday. We all bought nibbles and salads and Tony cooked the last of the fish Andrew caught and had been safely stored in his freezer. I made a birthday cake with candles and at the appropriate hour Tony turned out the lights and I ascended the stairs from his galley with the cake. The manoeuvre was a bit tricky in a long dress trying to feel my way with one hand and carrying the darn cake aloft in the other, I thought "this could end in tears". Later Andrew said he was holding his breath as he watched the cake bobbing up and down as if transported by spirits as I came up the stairs.

We reluctantly left Conception Island 4.30am yesterday and had a perfect beam reach sail to George Town arriving around lunchtime. (If all sailing was this good, everyone would be out here). We wanted to arrive when the sun was at its highest and the visibility good, as the entrance to George Town is very shallow. We had been given the co ordinates to travel by Rob from "Ventana". We were very glad to have his help as we had conflicting information between the chart plotter and the cruising guide, suggesting that we could run aground. However the shallowest we saw was 3 metres and as we draw 2.1 metres, that's close enough.

Beach at Stocking Island and Kortney on Norna

We anchored off Stocking Island just in front of the Chat n Chill Bar. Once again vivid aqua water and fine white sand which is washed clear of footprints with the evening tide. There are a number of small bays nestled in amongst foliage providing great hurricane holes and a short walk across the headland to a wonderful surf beach just like we have at home.

We had a gathering of eleven yachties last night for drinks on Norna. There were Brits, Ausies, Americans and a German. We had a lively discussion about American politics with everyone stirring the Americans. But they couldn't agree on anything because they were politically divided themselves; it was as funny as a circus. We were the first to leave, the others continued on to the bar and came up this morning a little worse for the wear.

Footprints on the beach & Anchorage inside Stocking Is
This morning Andrew and I got up early and went for a walk across the Island and along the surf beach. Our footprints were the only ones to be seen except for the birds; another wonderful experience

Tomorrow we will hope to leave here to continue our adventures through the Exuma Islands.

Love Candy xx

At 8:17 PM9/05/2012 (utc) our position was 23°31.08'N 075°45.38'W

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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Puerto Rico to Bahamas

Hi from Clare,                                                    Friday 4th May 2012

When last I wrote the guys had hired a car in Puerto Rico and went touring to the second biggest town Ponca and then up into the mountains.  I stayed on the boat nursing my head.  We spent the next few days sailing along the south and west coasts of Puerto Rico stopping off a few towns for provisions before leaving for a three day sail to the Bahamas.

Ponce Fountain and the Fire Station

In the cruising guide the people of Puerto Rico are said to be one of the happiest in the world.  Well they were certainly friendly and seemed genuinely interested in talking with us. They would strike up a conversation and introduce themselves and shake our hands. It was a refreshing change. However the one thing I could not understand was that whole streets of houses are butted up together and totally enclosed with steel mesh, they look like bird cages. We also saw this in other Puerto Rican towns.  I would have loved to take a photo but I didn’t feel comfortable. Eventually a local woman chatting to us told me that she inspected houses to ensure that they are hurricane safe. So I seized the opportunity to ask ‘in all innocence’ if the bars on the houses are for hurricane protection. She answered “Oh no they are for security” So I asked “In such a happy community is this necessary?” She said
“Oh yes, it has always been like that” So I guess they are happy being light fingered.

In the hills of Puerto Rico

We had a very fast sail to the Bahamas. We left at 6.30am on Monday and arrived at 6.30pm Wednesday. It was a comfortable sail with the wind on our beam.  We averaged 6.94 knots and 166 miles a day; another record for Eye Candy.  The highlight of the trip was that we caught a 18 kilo Marlin; Andy had the fight of his life to land it. We had to roll up the headsail and go off course to stop the boat.  It took up the length of the cockpit. We had to butcher it up on the seat and we had blood running everywhere. It took two hours to get it into the fridge, clean up and resume sailing.

That fish and Norna after the drop off

Our next adventure was passing some fish over to fellow cruisers Pete and Courtney on “Norna”. We had been speaking to them on radio and knew that they were ahead of us.  They sail a beautiful old style cutter with a big yard  for a square sail that protrudes out each side of their boat. So the trick was to get close enough to throw them some fish without getting their yard tangled up with our rigging all with a 1.5m sea and 15 knots of wind.  So as we approached we rolled up the headsail, turned on the motor, came alongside. I was harnessed on to our mast with the fish in a supermarket bag tied to a hand held fishing line. So with one almighty swing I landed the bag on their stern deck. Pete cut the fishing line and Andrew bore away amidst much hooting and hollowing from all parties.   They have the video to prove it and we were too busy doing the job to take photos of the “toss”.

We came into the Abrahams Bay reef, Mayaguana Cay in the Bahamas yesterday around lunchtime.  It is important to enter through the reef when the sun is at its highest or behind as the water is shallow and is studded with coral heads. The lowest depth we saw was 2.5 meters and as Eye Candy draws 2.1 meters there is no room for error. Tactical Directions (catamaran) went ahead of us and kept in radio contact with Andrew reporting on depth changes and I stood on the bow to assist with hand signals to maneuver around the coral heads. Tactical Directions has an AIS which told us where he was on our chart plotter.  It was really scary but welcome to the Bahamas there is a lot more of this to come.

Now I know we all say “What a small world” but the first boat we saw in the Bahamas was the Gulfstar 62 (Pacific Dream) that we crewed on in 2004.  It is currently anchored next to us. It has a different name but Andrew recognized it immediately. It must have looked pretty funny for as soon as we anchored both Andrew and I got out our binoculars. What a pack of sticky beaks!  I can’t recall how many times Andrew and I have commented “Wouldn’t it be funny if we ran into Pacific Dream in the Bahamas?”

The old Pacific Dream

So Andrew went across and spoke to the paid skipper of the boat. Yes, it is the same boat. Apparently it was sold last year to the new owner. He is arriving this afternoon with some guests.  The skipper said it was a complicated boat and referred to it as a “nightmare”. As it so happens I wrote in our newsletter at the time that due to the constant breakdowns and workload on Pacific Dream we had nicknamed it “Pacific Nightmare” how’s that for a small world?

We intend spending a month in the Bahamas. Tomorrow we will leave here and continue north.  There is plenty to explore and we would like to revisit some of the places we went to back in 2004.

Love Candy xx