Monday, May 26, 2008

Little Harbor, Abaco

From Spanish Wells we decamped to Royal Island. Royal is only 7 miles from Spanish Wells but is a nearly perfect hurricaine hole and is used to stage for trips north to the Abacos or east to Nassau or the Berries. Recently development has come to Royal. Roger Staubach's name is attached to the work, but it is preliminary at best.

Thursday, 5-22-08, we started north for a long slow 55 n. mile motor sail to Little Harbor which is the usual southern entrance to the Sea of Abaco. I caught a barracuda but it was too large to eat for fear of cigattura. The wind was favorable from the SW but too light to drive the boat so we motored hard all the way. Finally it was anchor down in the Bight of Robinson about 7 pm.

Friday we dingied into Pete's Pub. Pete has grown a really great beach bar out of nothing much. I had the best grouper sandwich since the Schooner Grill at Key West if not better. Lunch was highlighted by a dramatic downpore--the first fresh water White Pepper had tasted in months. Little Harbor had dramatic pulsating phosflorescence in the water at night. I do not know what creature would cause such a sight. It was as if gigantic fireflies were swimming under water. Just at dusk Jan caught a 4 foot shark. Thankfully he got off

Saturday we actually sailed under reefed genoa in a fresh SW breezed to Marsh Harbor. Marsh Harbor is the third largest town in the Bahamas. It has great provisions. The grocery store rivals any USA supermarket. Liquor is cheap although beer is still dear. The anchorage is 360 protected and holding is good. Thankfully we are here off season or else the crowding would be unbearable. I am pleased to be here because an unseasonably strong and very late cold front passed through Sat. night. We are distressed to be wearing sweat shirts and long pants in late May and listening to the wind whistle through the rigging.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spanish Wells--great place to be a kid

From Highborne Cay, Exuma it is 50+ n. mi. to Spanish Wells. We wanted to stop there for supplies on the way to the Abacos. The trip began before dawn. We proceeded north on a light SE breeze motor sailing. We passed Allen Cay where we had stopped in Jan., Roberts Cay, and Beacon Cay which guards the cut called Ship Channel. Then on into the Middle Ground. The Middle Ground is not the worst place on the Exuma Bank, but it is strewn with numerous coral heads. The sky was overcast and the tide low so my anxiety titers were high for about two hours. From then on to the Fleeming Cut (correctly spelled) into the North East Channel. By
6 pm we had a mooring secured.

My first impression of Spanish Wells was of children. Teenagers were hot dogging small boats up and down the waterfront the way American kids do the drag. Many younger children were riding bicycles along the seawall. There is a public park at the end of the island were dozens and dozens of children of all sizes, races, and ages just hang out in the water for hours, horsing around and jumping off a low bridge into the channel. We met a local mother, Kelly, who told us that the kids have the run of the island on Friday and Saturday. They run around seemingly unsupervised, but of course they are completely supervised. On this small island everybody knows everyone. Also no liquor is available here. I suspect that the children have such fond memories of their home that most stay and few are lured off to Nassau.

Spanish Wells is not pretty. It is quaint and busy. The people are largely derived from Loyalist stock and there relatives. Most are named Pinder. The population is mostly, but not exclusively, white. They speak with a brogue that I suspect wound be familiar to any 16th century Englishman. They have rejected the tourist trade and support themselves quite well as commercial fisherman and the related boat trades. It is a prosperous little town of 1500.

We have stayed longer than we should as the weather window is closing Saturday. Jan tried her had at bone fishing off the stern of White Pepper. We could see dozens of bone fish feeding the the flat at low tide. They were not interested in lures. Locals say they only take flies. We were awoken every morning by the free range roosters that roam everywhere. We went to the Methodist Church for Sunday service. It was familiar, but all of the hymns were quite archaic. The communion service were all old Anglican. We met new friends--Bobbie and Kenny. They are headed for Bonnaire.

This morning White Pepper is headed for Royal Island on the high tide. Tomorrow we will motor sail to Little Harbor, Abaco. Then depending on the weather make for Marsh Harbor during the weekend.

Pictures will be populated later as the camera is acting up. First stop in Florida will by Best Buy to buy a replacement.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Highborne Cay

From Shroud Cay we hiked up to Highborne Cay. Highborne is the northern most Exuma cay that is inhabited. It has attracted a megayacht following in the marina and is quite prosperous. We needed to replenish all the fuels--gas, diesel, coffee and rum. We were so surprised at how neat and prosperous the place looked. The store and fuel dock were first class.

The anchorage was also tops--wide and deep with great holding sand and a picture perfect beach. The only negative was sharks. I wanted to scrub the bottom. When I jumped in I saw a three foot shark resting in the shade of the hull. In the .2 seconds that I examined him, I thought it was a reef shark. Later two 5 footers joined the little one. I suspect they were attracted by the dead squid that Jan was using to fish with. The sharks would not touch the bait. Their game was to wait until a stupid fish took the hook, then they would get a cheap meal. Needless to say the bottom did not get scrubbed.

I am sorry to say I did not get any pics of Highborne Cay.

Back in the Park again

From Black Point it is only 22 n. mi. north to Waderwick Wells and the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We were able to secure a mooring ball at headquarters (the north field). As I wrote in our post in January this is one of the most picturesque spots on earth! We were able to renew acquaintance with park warden Judy. We snorkeled, swam and hiked over the nature trails that the park has carved out and maintains. I learned 5 or 6 new plants. The park even has poison wood trees. This tree was, of course, made famous in the novel "The Poison Wood Bible"

On Saturday night the park hosted a hamburger and beer blast in honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the park. Even though hamburgers and beer are not on my diet we had to go and celebrate. Judy is so frugal that this was a really special occasion.

After 3 nights we switched to the South mooring field for another two nights. This is another special place in Exuma. It is a well documented pirate's lair. It is so well hidden that I never would have found it without the Garmin chart plotter. Pirates would sally forth from this place to prey on shipping using the important Wide Open Cut 5 miles to the north. I say 'documented pirate's lair' because a grass grows ashore that is unique to Louisiana and must have come over with pirate grass sleeping mats.

We walked all over the southern part of the island on specially marked trails. In the Bahamas most of the islands are private and this is almost the only opportunity to experience the ecology of the interior of these islands and cays. So regrettably, this land was once forested. All of the timber was cut down or burned. Much was logged off by under employed pirates and the rest was simply burned off by planters wanting to grow cotton. After a few years in the 1700's all of the topsoil blew away leaving only the volcanic limestone that remains today. This was an eco-crime that rivals anything we have today and will take 1000+ years to repair. Currently there is a vigorous growth of low moisture and salt resistant scrubs and bushes that cover the islands.

Also in the south field there are stomatolites. Stomatolites are bacterial coral like formations that are almost 3 billion years old--yes, billion with a B. They are unprepossessing looking flat gray rocks in 8 feet of water. I will take it on faith that these are some of the oldest features on the surface of our planet. They are also unique to Waderwick Wells and are said not to exist anywhere else in the Western hemisphere.

We had one day of the best snorkeling ever on our trip. Jan saw a 4 foot reef shark and a lion fish. I saw hundreds of tropical reef fish, hugh yellow tails, and parrot fish. All of this was in 4 to 7 feet of crystal clear water. The park has been a no take zone for 50 years. The seas here must look like they did before wide spread fishing depleted the stocks.

When the strong south westerly wind subsided we moved up to Shroud Cay. It is also part of the park and features a dense mangrove swamp. There are canals all through the island that look like some thing out of "African Queen."

We were sorry to leave. As I wrote in my January post about the park--it is the crown jewel of the Exumas. In my opinion a stay at the park is the best reason for visiting the Exuma chain.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Black Point, Exuma

The reader will never see an article about Black Point in the sailing or travel magazines, but there is something very special about this place. The place is a universal favorite of the cruising set here. It is the only settlement on Great Guana Cay and the second largest settlement in the Exuma chain with about 400 people. Since the commercial fishing has played out and agriculture impossible on rock its continued existence is something of a mystery. There is no tourism or natural wonder except a small blow hole. However, the people of Black Point seem to be the reason it thrives. They are exceptionally friendly, even by Bahamas standards. They appear industrious, the houses are meticulously kept, and they seem well educated or at least well spoken. The cruising guide reports that the men of Black Point provide all of the skilled labor for many miles around.

The town is 5 miles south of Stanial's Cay and comparisons are inevitable. Staniel's Cay has magayachts in abundance and the world famous Staniel's Cay Yacht Club with megayacht prices. Stanial's Cay has the Thunder Ball grotto and the association with James Bond. They also charge 40 cents per gallon for water and $5 to dispose of a small bag of garbage ($10 for a big bag). Fuel charges are litterly breathtaking. At Black Point water and garbage are free and internet access is also free and of better quality. There is no fuel available. The anchorage are similar, but there is no dockage here.

Our stay there featured long walks on deserted roads and isolated beaches. We spent time at Lorraines's cafe. Lorraine Rolle served the best cracked conch ever. Her mother makes fantastic bread. Each loaf weighs 2 pounds at least and tastes like cake. Jan slices her coconut bread and then makes French Toast to die for. Wednesday at 1 pm the weekly mailboat arrives from Nassau. It is a riotous scene with nearly half the town on a small pier.

On top of this we found the cleanest and cheapest laundermat ever in the Exumas at the Rock Inn. For all future Exuma cruises Black Point will be our stop over.

First Blood

Jan is an accomplished offshore fisher. I usually could care less about fishing, but in the nature of couples everywhere she buys me a great offshore rod and reel for my 60th birthday. I promised to let her use it if she is good. Anyway last Sunday was the perfect day. We were broad reaching in the Exuma Sound after leaving George Town headed for Galliot Cut and Cay.

At 3:30 lightning struck--our first fish and it was a beauty. The fish was about an 8 pound Mahi-mahi. It was probably a male based on the head features. We caught it on a red and black lure. The reel was a Penn 300. White Pepper was in 75 feet of water although very deep water was only a mile away. The moon was 3 days from new.

Jan fished the creature up to the boat, and I gaffed it. Then we pored rum into the gills. I thought it was a waste of good rum, but Jan said it helped settle him down. Soon he was dead, gutted, filleted. A shark eat the carcass. Cleaning up the cockpit under sail was a major effort but Jan did a great job.

Soon afterwards we maneuvered Galliot Cut without incident. Crossing any Exuma cut is a delicate exercise in tide, timing and navigation. We anchored for the night around the corner behind Galliot Cay. I grilled the Mahi-mahi on the Magma gill hanging off the stern rail as the sun went down. Jan had made a dill sauce. I have never tasted anything finer, or been more tired. We slept nearly 10 hours that night.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Leaving George Town

All good things come to an end and White Pepper will raise anchor and leave George Town this weekend. She has been here since Jan 25th. We have met good people and have many wonderful memories as well as some bad ones about Jan terrible back pain. She is healed now but has to be very careful with lifting. She is pain free if she walks 2 days out of 3 on the beach.

I will be sad to leave and for reasons that I have difficulty identifying. George Town is simple, beautiful, safe, pious, healthy, and satisfying place to stay. It has short comings but the only one that I even notice is the outrageous cost of beer. I am especially pleased with the apparent racial harmony here and pleasant demeanor of the locals. It is refreshing to be able to meet a large black male on the street at 11 pm and not worry at all--just a nod and a "howdy."

Life here for a cruiser is physical with lots of chores such as every other day trips to town for a load of jerry cans--gas, diesel, propane, and water. There is swimming and long walks on the beach. There is no junk food. In fact there are no restaurants worth going to so everything is home cooked. The web is quite thin here, but the longer I am out of touch the less important the news seems.

I shall miss this place a lot.

The pictures are of everyday life in George Town.