Monday, June 20, 2011


From Green Cove Spring, Florida to Deltaville, Virginia--that is the challenge for contestants of the “The Greatest Race.” White Pepper was moored at Green Cove Springs and our car was still in a gas station parking lot in Deltaville. What to do? Air travel was too intrusive (“not my junk, you don't”). Besides the only cheap flights from Jacksonville were into Baltimore International. East coast types acknowledge that the trip from Baltimore to Washington by car is one of the worst experiences anyone can endure. Car rental from Florida was too expensive. Gas prices and inflation has emboldened car rental agencies to highway robbery. The bus was expensive and just too much. Jan and I settled on a hybrid solution of a courier to Jacksonville, a rail transit on Amtrak to Alexandria, VA, and then beg a ride from the kids to Deltaville. The price was the same as the airlines and much more convenient.

The Amtrak was a treat. It is like riding on a very large bus. The seats are huge and recline to almost horizontal. There is 110 AC on the wall so the computer can be used continuously if you have internet access which White Pepper does inside the USA. You can walk about and the bathrooms are large and clean. The fabled club car has regrettably been reduced to a snack bar. The best part was a relaxed attitude towards alcohol. Beer is sold in the club car and carry on liquor is allowed in moderation. Jan had packed a vial of rum and tonic, ice in a cooler, crackers and blue cheese. We had a positively delightful happy hour as the red dirt of southern George rolled past. Later she brought out tuna fish sandwiches for dinner. By lights out I was a happy camper and actually able to sleep off and on during the night.

We got on the train at 7 pm which was 2 hours late, but arrived on time at Alexandria, VA at 7 am a little tired but ready for the day. All in all the train ride was no worse than a mild overnight night passage offshore.

Indian River

Readers with good memories will remember earlier posts about the Indian River. It is a delightful body of water along Florida's East coat, but it is not a river. It is a sound that separates the Florida coast from its barrier islands. Texas readers will identify the Laguna Madre as a similar body of water. The Indian River is about 120 miles long by half to 8 miles wide by about 5 feet deep. It is protected and provides an easy transit along the central Florida coast.

White Pepper picked up the Indian River at the Fort Pierce Inlet and traveled 20 miles north to Vero Beach. There we rested and waited for mail for 13 days. With free bus service and excellent shopping Vero is hard to leave. The wind persisted briskly out of the NE for most of the time. This wind makes for excellent lounging about and beach going but is not suitable for traveling offshore to the north. Eventually we had to pack up and start north up the ICW along the Indian River route. We stayed at a favorite anchorage in the Banana River. Then we stopped at Cocoa which is across from Cocoa Beach. Cocoa has a delightful historic district and park. We regretted only spending one night at Cocoa ; however, the weather had finally turned favorable for an offshore passage.

To access the Atlantic Ocean White Pepper had to traverse the Saturn Barge Canal to Cape Canaveral. This canal is known to cruisers as the Cape Canaveral canal. The western end of the canal is just north of Cocoa. About 13 nautical miles long, it is simple to traverse. There are two basqule bridges and one lock. The lock is the key to the easy access to the Atlantic as it negates any currents. The Cape Canaveral inlet is one of only 5 reliable all weather inlets along the entire eastern Florida coast. Besides an interesting ride White Pepper was rewarded with sighting about a dozen manatees. In particular they seem to enjoy the lock. We sighted several playing in the wash as the lock opened and closed. A little research on the internet showed that the manatees are enjoying the protection of the Kennedy Space Center at the top of the Banana River. In their simple way the manatees have learned that they are safe here and come to breed. I pray that the death of the space program does not lead to the death of the manatees in the shadows in the empty gantries.

Offshore the wind was light from the east and southeast—favorable, but too light to fill the sails. We had to motor sail to the St. John River on an easy but boring overnight passage. The St. John River is one of the the other 5 reliable all weather inlets and the subject of another post.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Western Part

Past the Whale Cay Passage to the west begins the western part of the Sea of Abaco. It is wilder than the central or southern regions but offers numerous anchorages to the adventuresome. To most, however, including the White Pepper, it is a transit route to and from Florida.

After the Whale we chose to skip Green Turtle Cay. Green Turtle is every cruiser's favorite, but Jan and I had spent three days there in May '08 and chose to travel further on the Spanish Cay. Spanish Cay is a privately owned island with a resort and marina. We chose to anchor off as the weather was predicted to be mild and dinghied in. I bought fuel and then later that evening we went back to the restaurant. We met the owner of the whole deal. His name was Don, and he hails from Texas. He is a restauranteur and owns restaurants in southeast Texas, Fort Lauderdale as well as Spanish Cay. He runs the whole empire wearing baggy red swim trunks and a white Tee. But make no mistake this is a first class operation. The resort sparkles, the marina hums and the restaurant serves excellent food. Don obviously has no qualms about serving what sells—butter and salt. My feet were swollen for 2 days, but it was an excellent farewell to the Bahamas or a good introduction to Florida. I am not sure which, but I am sure we will stop there again when we swing the the Abacos again.

The next and last stop in the Bahamas is Great Sale Cay which is an uninhabited island in the middle of the Little Bahama Banks It makes an excellent stop coming or going. There were 12 boats there that night. We did not tarry or go ashore. The next morning was a bitter sweet parting. There followed a longish 50 mile motor sail to the Mantilla Shoal and then out into the Gulf Stream for a 60 mile crossing to Fort Pierce Inlet. As predicted by Virtual Buoy the wind and wave conditions were perfect for the crossing. The moon came up at midnight. There was not a cloud in the sky. The stars twinkled. The wind was gentle and on the quarter all night. It even obligingly changed directions as White Pepper snaked across the Stream. In the morning as Fort Pierce came into view I told Jan the I doubted if we would ever ever get another Gulf Stream crossing this nice.

We cleared the Fort Pierce jetties about 7:30 am but chose to pass Fort Pierce and continue north up the ICW to Vero Beach. Conditions are much more congenial in Vero Beach for rest and repair.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Central Part

The middle part of the Sea of Abaco is great green bathtub about 10 feet deep 16 miles long and about 6 miles wide. It is surrounded by islands and cays thus protected from the ocean waves. The web is thick here and bandwidth plentiful. Florida is obviously not too far away. Dotted about the periphery are harbors and anchorages embellished to entice the tourist and charter cruiser. Moorings maintains a large charter fleet in Marsh Harbor. And no wonder, this spot is perfect for the beginning charter. Navigation is line of sight without significant hazard anywhere and there is a party every night.

Marsh Harbor had fewer boats anchored than I anticipated—only about 40. A few were obvious derelicts or stored on an anchor. There was a steady stream of cruisers in and out picking up crew or provisions. As a note to the regular cruiser the grocery store, Maxwell's, has moved 3 blocks and has been enlarged. It now rivals any Publix in Florida or Randall's in Texas. This takes some getting used to after using the mom and pop stores in the out islands.

Great Guana Cay is still in party mode. On Sunday we went to Nipper's for the pig roast. There must have been 500 people there. It felt like a frat party. Jan and I had to leave to get some air. We walked to Grabber's which was rocking but somewhat more sedate. Unbelievably we met old Corpus friends, Adela and Bob Nash by the pool. We hung out by the pool all Sunday afternoon and then danced the evening away. The next morning they checked out of Grabber's and came with us on the White Pepper to Man of War Cay.

Man of War Cay was settled in 1780 by the loyalist from America. Today it retains a strong religious identity and work ethic. The place is neat as a pin and there are flowers in every yard. Every yard is moved. Most of the inhabitants are named Albury. It is a very unique place in the Bahamas. At the marina William “Tom” Carpenter came down and introduced himself. Tom is a prominent “Aggie” (graduate of Texas A&M University for the foreigners reading this blog). He was very gracious--buying us all ice cream and then taking us to his island home and boat. He maintains a pristine Hinckley Bermuda 40, Larkspur. He still races the boat and once took it to the Antigua Classic Boat Regatta. As a final act of hospitality he took Bob and Adela across to Marsh Harbor in his outboard. Bob and Adela had to catch a plane all too soon. Thanks, Tom.

Finally, White Pepper had to go back to Marsh Harbor for final provisioning in preparation for the return to the US. There we met old friends, Matt and Christine, on Kaleo. Also at Marsh Harbor were Alan and Diane on Mango Groove. All of us went to the craft fair on Sunday. It was very quaint. The Ministry of Tourism was apparently subsidizing the beer as Kalik was only $2, the lowest price I ever paid in the Bahamas. Kalik and all beers are usually sold for $5.

The weather was beautiful but a weak front and then trough had settled over the area. The winds came out the west for fours days. Since we could not leave we went to Treasure Cay. At Treasure Cay is an amazing 3.5 mile sandy white beach in protected water. We spent 3 days walking the beach or hanging out at the pool. It was hard to leave as we knew this was the end of the leisure part of our stay in the Abacos. Once we cleared the Whale, which is the treacherous passage between the western and central parts of the Sea of Abaco, we knew that we were headed back to America as fast as possible.

The pics are file photos of the beach at Treasure Cay and then of Man of War Cay at sunset

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Inagua" by Robert Klingel

There are few really good books written about the Bahamas. “The Out Island Doctor” and “Wind from the Carolinas” about completes the list. So imagine White Pepper's surprise to find a treasure in a gift shop on the Chesapeake--”Inagua” by Robert Klingel. Written in 1940 and largely forgotten, it was reissued by his daughter due to local demand in the Chesapeake where Mr. Klingel was well regarded mostly for his boat work and environmental efforts.

Robert Klingel was a young man and budding naturalist when he set out with his friend Wallie Coleman for the Caribbean to study lizards. They had commissioned a replica of Joshua Slocum’s Spray. Without any real seamanship they survived a horrible storm and were eventually ship wrecked on the island of Inagua. The year was 1930. Inagua is the southern most of the Bahamian archipelago. It was even more forlorn and God-forsaken than is it now which is saying something.

Rather than abandon everything he stayed a year on Inagua doing naturalist studies. Years later he returned with primitive diving apparatus to continue his studies on the reef.

In 1940 he wrote a comprehensive account of his adventures and studies. The result was a wonderfully entertaining book. The first few chapters review his preparations and voyage. Then there is a marvelous section about life on Inagua early in the depression. The bulk of the book is a series of essays about the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the island. There are several chapters about the magnificent flamingos that live and breed in the interior of the island. The last three chapters reprise his pioneering studies of the reef with an air helmet.

It is a beautiful book and available at Amazon. For Jan and I it enlarged our appreciation of the subtle beauty and delicate ecology of these desert island in the southwest Atlantic.

For the reader who has ventured this far let me add that the writing is reflective of biology as it was taught in the 1920's and 30's. Evolution was fang and claw. “A death for every life, ” in Klingel's words. This view of evolution, while strictly true, is no longer taught in school. The gory winner take all view of nature informed Nazi ideology and was using to justify killing Slavs and Jews as “natural.” Now teachers emphasize one set of DNA versus another. Same idea, just gentler consequences.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Southern Part

From Royal Island White Pepper headed north for Great Abaco Island. The wind was strong, about 18 or 19 knots from the ENE, as predicted, but maybe a bit more than anticipated. With a reefed main and jib she just rocketed through the 5 foot swells. The crew had less fun. Jan and I had to change off steering about every 30 minutes because the wave action was so vigorous and too much for the autopilot. The wind moderated to about 12 to 15 at noon, again as predicted. The autopilot kicked in, and we had a lovely afternoon sail to Little Harbor. White Pepper made the 50 n. miles in about 7 and ½ hours—quite good for an overloaded old boat. We anchored in the Bight of Old Robinson next to Little Harbor about 100 yards from where we had anchored 3 years earlier.

Little Harbor has not changed a bit in 3 years. The foundry is still cranking out professor Robertson's fine sculptures and Pete's Pub is still serving good food and drink. We spent a lovely afternoon with new friends Dr. Chris Vonderheide and Nicola from catamaran, Atlas-T! and old friends from Izzy-R.

The next day we motored slowly to an anchorage in the lee of Lubber's Quarters and then spent the next day, Cinco de Mayo, waiting out a stiff norther. It was too windy to even get in the Habenero to go ashore. Lubber's Quarters has been advertising heavily lately, and we wanted to see what all the buzz was about. I was miffed to have to spend a whole day on winter weather in May. Global warming where are you when we need you. On the 6th we motored slowly to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. The “inside” passage from Lubber's Quarters past Tilloo Cut to Hope Town is quite shallow. However, using the high tide at 11 am we made it in fine shape and picked up a mooring ball in Hope Town by 1 pm.

Hope Town is too cute for words. With the light house it is the quintessential Bahamian tourist town. Please see our post from 3 years ago for pictures and more description. What made this visit special was a chance to see Hope Town from the inside. As I have written before in this blog the best part of cruising is getting to know the natives. A chance encounter and invitation to Izzy-R allowed us to attend a cocktail party at one of the harbor side homes. Jeff told me, “Karl, you owe me for this one.” And he was right. Our host, Glenn, owned a home (and dock) on the hill overlooking the harbor and facing the light house. The reader may protest that this encounter was not the “real” Bahamas. However, it is the “real” Hope Town with its very high priced real estate and over the top life style. As the sun was setting and the light house light flashing twice every 20 seconds I thought of the quote in “The Great Gatsby”--'the rich are very different from you and me.' Anyway we had a lovely and gracious evening. The picture is one of Jan's favorites. It was taken by Izzy-R as we were coming over to visit for happy hour.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hatchet Bay and Current Cut

Hatchet Bay in northern Eleuthra Island claims to be the safest harbor in the Bahamas. It would be hard to dispute that based on geography. Despite the favorable topography hurricane Floyd did a number on the area as well as the rest of the Bahamas. White Pepper easily made the 15 miles from Governor's Harbor to Hatchet Bay. We entered the harbor through a cleft in the cliffs that could not have been 100 feet wide. There was plenty of water. Entering the harbor it opens into a deep and fairly wide anchorage which is protected 360 degrees by high cliffs. There are even several free mooring balls. Despite all of this amazing protection, we could see little marine activity. The marina has dried up. There is a large concrete government dock, but no fuel or water. There were few boats around. We did link up with Izzy R, our new friends from Governor's Harbor. We all had a nice dinner at the only establishment about which was the Front Porch.

The next day Jan and I walked the short distance to Alice Town. Alice Town was a pleasant surprise. It was large by Eleuthra standards. Everyone was very friendly. There was a large park and playground. Most of the homes were well kept. Some had extravagant gardens of gardenias, bougainvilleas, and hibiscus. We wondered how the locals maintained these homes since there was no industry about. Certainly there was no marine or fishing industry. The only employment opportunities inside the city limits seemed to be churches, bars, and numerous small convenience stores. Finally we decided that the locals must be employed in the hospitality services else where on Eleuthra.

A reason to stop in Hatchet Bay is to pass through Current Cut on the way the Spanish Wells and the other other heavily populated areas of northwestern Eleuthra. Current Cut is just what it sounds like—a very narrow cut with fierce current. White Pepper's sorry motor can not handle currents that can exceed 4 knots so we resolved to time the slack water. Consulting the tide tables I saw that the only slack water available within 3 hours of sunrise or sunset was the low tide at 13:29. We set out to cover the 15 miles from Hatchet Bay to Current Cut at 9:30 with a gentle wind from the East blowing us due West. However, the wind continued to build relentlessly. Despite reducing sail several times the old girl kept going faster and faster. Eventually we arrive at the way point about 45 minutes before low tide. There was nothing else to do except go for it. With a bit of sail assist, the Yanmar motor going full out, and my eyes glued to the Garmin chart plotter, we turned the last corner safely and blasted through the cut at 10 knots. The wind was whistling, the scenery was spectacular, the green water was doing its current/wind lap dance and my heart was beating like a drum. Jan was as cool as a cucumber and enjoying the scene immensely. Within seconds we were spit out unto the banks and headed for Royal Island. I felt an immense sense of accomplishment and proud to have checked that one off my bucket list. But if I am ever crazy enough to try Current Cut again, I am going to arrive 20 or 30 minutes after high or low water. Or I will just head for Fleeming Cut which is only several miles south and does not have any current issues at all.

The pictures are of White Pepper proceeding from Hachet Bay to Current Cut under reefed genoa only.  Izzy-R  took these pics.  The waterscape is a file photo of Hachet Bay.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Governor's Harbor

Governor's Harbor is in the middle of Eleuthra Island.  It is the old provincial capital of the Bahamas before Nassaua and remains the seat of government of Eleuthra.  As such it retains an air of  commerce and sophistication that is not seen outside of Nassau.  There is even a movie theater which is a first for me to see in the out islands. There are many old churches, cemeteries are full of old gravestones, and there are numerous stately mansions scattered across the hillside.  Several mail boats come every day and thus the stores are full of fresh fruit and produce at reasonable prices.

We walked around Cupid Cay which is the site of the first parliment in the Bahamas and the site of the first consulate from the USA to the Bahamas.  The memorial plaque is dated 1783.  After a long walk Jan and I had lunch at the Buccaneer Club.  She had cracked conch.  I had a grouper sandwich and two Guinness'.  Afterwards I had the best nap of the entire trip.

One thing that Governor's Harbor is not is a good harbor.  The bottom is thin sand over rock and I have to admit that the Rochna anchor did drag at least 60 feet before settling in solid.  The harbor is open to the NW where the worst winter weather comes in.  No local boats can stay in the harbor year round.  Having said all that White Pepper did have a safe and comfortable 3 days while the wind piped up out of the southeast.  A front is coming so we will be off to Royal Island soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter at Rock Sound, Eleuthra

White Pepper arrived at Rock Sound in southern Eleuthra intending to ride out some north winds that never materialized.  Instead we ended up staying 10 days.  The reason we stayed was that we were befriended by a wonderful Bahamian family--Paula, her brother Randy and daughter Tova.  They were from Freeport but were here for the annual homecoming festival which is always at Easter in Rock Sound.  Annual homecoming festivals are increasingly popular in the Bahamas.  As more and more Bahamians move to Nassau or immigrate overseas the festivals will hopefully reinforce loyalty to the out islands.  The official name for the out islands is the Family Islands. We decided to stay for the festival and then celebrate Easter at a local church. The actual festival is a small roadside affair which food booths, loud music, and overpriced drinks.  But, of course, the magic is in walking around visiting with old school chums and distant relatives.  Below is a pic of the festival and our gracious hosts Paula and Tova.

Cruising guides consistently dismiss Rock Sound as pleasant but boring.  The harbor is said to be too shallow. Indeed there is no marina, but the anchorage has all around protection in about 7 feet of water over sand.  The holding is very good.  Ashore there are well stocked stores including numerous hardware stores.  Rock Sound seems to be something of a building supply center. The town has excellent internet access with plenty of bandwidth.

Jan and I walked about a mile and half across Eleuthra to the ocean side beach.  The locals call this Northside or "Nortside."  The beach is the usual dazzling display of white sand and fringing coral reef with the deep Atlantic beyond.  On the way to the beach is Ocean Hole Park.  This is large blue hole that has been converted into a swimming hole and city park.  It is connected to the ocean about a mile away but no one has ever found the opening. There is an extensive cave system close to town.  Here is a picture of Randy at the site of his boyhood playground.

We celebrated Easter at Rock Sound Methodist Church.  The little church was beautifully decorated with palms and orchids.  There was a small but good praise band.  The service was very familiar to Jan and I, unlike our experiences at high church with the Bahamian Anglicans.  One difference from America was the hymns.  They use the old hymn book but use it often.  Everyone is expected to sing and loudly.  It was great. There was much fellowship afterwards.

Easter Monday is a holiday in the Bahamas.  We would have left except there was a trough from the east passing by.  Squalls and unsettled weather were predicted.  The weather is definitely changing from a winter pattern of cold fronts to a summer pattern of tropical waves.  Pretty soon one of the these waves is going to start rotating that that will be called a tropical storm or hurricane.  It it time to get back to Florida.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Little San Salvador Island

White Pepper left Hawk's Nest Marina on Cat Island at dawn on the high tide. We would miss the wonderful pool at Hawk's Nest Marina. The day was clear with a warm gentle breeze from the SE. As our course was NNW to Little San Salvador Island it was a perfect chance to set the cruising spinnaker. We had carried it from Texas and never used it. Today was the day. Finally after some tweaking and twiddling, especially with the sock, it popped open and fly beautifully all morning. I have a picture to prove it, but if is on film and not digital. Gentle readers will have to wait a while to see the pic, but I promise to show it eventually. About 1 pm the wind lightened so much we had to strike it and motor on.

Little San Salvador is small island conveniently located between Cat Island and Eleuthra Island. It is called Little San Salvador because it is little and next to Cat Island which used to be called San Salvador. In the early 20th century Cat Island had to give its famous name to Watling's Island or Guanahari. Cat Island then had to take the name of Captain William Catt, a British pirate.

We did not go ashore as the entire island has been bought by Holland Cruises and turned into a cruise playground. Cruisers are not welcome, esp if one of the cruise ships is anchored offshore.  I was able to borrow a picture of the 3 story pirate ship/bar the the company has constructed on the beach.  I guess this is to provide customers with an authentic Bahamian experience.

Contrary to published opinions, another cruiser said he went ashore and was welcome.  He enjoyed the day and could have even had a free lunch.

San Salvador Island

White Pepper finally reached San Salvador on Saturday, April 9, 2011 almost 520 years after Christopher Columbus first stopped here. White Pepper came from Rum Cay in a 41 foot sloop. We had to beat against a NE breeze. Columbus' ships were only slightly larger but came from the Azores running most of the way. Several alternative first landing sites have been proposed and the controversy will likely never be settled. However, the case for San Salvador is compelling. There are actually several small artifacts that link 13th century sailors with Arawak Indians. These are in a museum on Sal Salvador. We wanted to see these, but the museum is closed and under reconstruction. Columbus described the new island as bean shaped and filled with lakes both very characteristic of San Salvador. My favorite bit of evidence is Grahams Harbor, a well protected road stead on the northern shore. Columbus reported “a lake large enough to hold all of the ships of Christendom.” Grahams Harbor could easily fit that description. Columbus first anchored for the night on the rocky eastern shore.  This spot is marked by the Chicago Herald memorial placed there at the time of the Chicago World's fair.  A picture of the beach and memorial are below.

The next morning, Oct 19, 1492, Columbus moved around to the sheltered bight, on the western shore of this bean shaped island. White Pepper followed the same strategy anchoring off Cockburn Town in 9 feet of the clearest water and cleanest sand I have ever seen. Columbus anchored about 3 miles further south in Long Bay.  An underwater memorial marks the likely spot.  Pic below.

The colors of San Salvador are the most intense I have witnessed, especially the blues. I think that the reason is that the shore drops off so quickly. Only 200 yards off shore the water depths drop to thousands of feet. It would be possible to deep sea fish for marlin or sail fish with our dingy, Habenero. The water and air are as clear the Atlantic Ocean which exactly where we are. San Salvador is the very top of large mountain that comes straight out of the abysmal plain of the southwestern Atlantic Ocean.  This does not do justice to the drop off.

On Sunday the island was closed as is typical of the Bahamas. We did hike to the Riding Rock Marina Inn and had a wonderful lunch of cracked conch overlooking the reefs of Riding Rock Point. Monday we did chores. We dingied into the Riding Rock Marina where I got some diesel and Jan went on the get money at the bank. Then we shopped in Cockburn for supplies. I arranged for a tour of the island with Nat Walker. Nat is a bus driver and sometimes tour guide. He is an engaging, well educated and widely traveled Bahamian. He has come back to San Salvador to raise a family and help with the family bus business. On Tuesday as Nat drove us around the island we saw the vast calm expanse of Grahams Harbor and the marine science institute run by an American college. We stopped at the light house atop Dixon's Hill (elev. 79 feet) and climbed to the top. The light house is actually working and still runs on 1890's technology. Two families supply the lighthouse keepers who live on site. Here are pictures of the lighthouse some of the 19th century machinery still in use.

 The view from the top of the lighthouse gave a spectacular panorama of all of the northern coast but more interestingly of the vast systems of salty lakes that comprise much of the interior of San Salvador. This view is towards the north.  Graham's Harbor is in the distance.

 We drove along the deserted eastern shore. Only several families live on this stretch which once housed thousands in the plantation days. There is no electricity on this side of the island and any settlers are truly off the grid. On the southern shore we stopped at Watling's Castle which is an easily accessible ruin of a once successful plantation.  San Salvador was once called Watling's Island.

 The last stop on the tour was a visit to the Columbus memorials on Long Bay. There are several memorials grouped together. One was placed on the site by the Spanish government in 1992 to commemorate the visit by the Columbus fleet replicas. I may be mistaken by I believe that these are the very ships that were purchased by the city of Corpus Christi and now reside on the bayfront. Another memorial was placed by the Mexican government to commemorate the passage of the Olympic flame on its way from Greece to Mexico for the 1968 Olympics.  The small white cross is the "official" Colombus Memorial.  Note the catameran, Guiding Light, in the background.  Her owner, Shane, took these pictures and graciously let me publish them.

 On our last day we took Habenero to several snorkel sites. Moorings are maintained by Club Med so we did not have to anchor. After snorkeling we carried on the Long Bay and again visited the Columbus memorials for a picnic lunch. As we came ashore I claimed all of the New World in the name of Queen Jan. Seriously, Long Bay is a lovely beach with long stretches of soft white sand and would be a tourist destination without the history. There is good snorkeling just off the beach in warm shallow water. We had the entire place to ourselves. It did give me a tingle to imagine my footsteps crossing those of Columbus.

On Thursday we sailed west back to Cat Island sad in the knowledge that San Salvador was the high water mark of our cruise. Now we were head back to Florida although slowly.

Rum Cay

A new game to play with the advent of GRIB weather files is playing jujitsu with the wind. The problem is that sometimes the wind flips you back. White Pepper's plans was to go to San Salvador Island. The island lies about 60 miles ENE of George Town which is almost always up wind. One previous try had failed. Then I read a line in Mathew Wilson's cruising guide that the way to San Salvador goes thru Rum Cay. I hatched a clever plan. After Kathy and Robert Briscoe left us, Jan and I resupplied and moved the boat out the the Monument anchorage in Elizabeth Harbor to wait on the wind. Finally after several days a nearly perfect pattern was predicted on the GRIBs. First there would be a south wind to drive us across the Exuma Sound to Calabash Bay, an exposed anchorage on the northern tip of Long Island. However, the GRIBs called for calm that night. The next morning there would be very light northerly winds which even our motor could handle. After motoring around Cape Santa Maria on the northern tip of Long Island we would bear off to the SE and a light NE breeze would blow us to Rum Cay. At Rum we would anchor and wait for the wind to clock around to the SE. This wind would blow us up to San Salvador which lies 30 miles to the NNE of Rum. Good plan, and it almost worked out. When we got to Rum the wind went to the E and then backed into the NE and stayed there for days. Oh well, Rum Cay is a great place to wait out weather esp. wind from the north.

Port Nelson is not a port at all. It is the only settlement on Rum Cay. The island once supported 5000 people working in the salt pond trade. Now there are only several hundred souls on the island if that many. The pictures are of the Salt Pond and its entrance to the sea.  Port Nelson is an open bight fully exposed to the south and west. It is notorious in the cruising literature for rolling and going into the marina is advised. When White Pepper arrived the anchorage looked calm and after dodging a few scattered coral heads which were easy to see in the bright afternoon sunlight, we found a nice sandy spot in 12 feet of water to put the anchor down. We were comfortable there for our entire stay.

Rum Cay is a beautiful place, but there is not much to do. An hours walk did the town. Another hour was enough to walk to the small marina and check it out. All the stores were closed since the mail boat had not come in several days. The pic is of the closed Last Chance Store. We snorkeled a reef system called the Cottonfields, but did not see much. Another cruiser told us he dived on the extensive reef off Sumner Point, but he thought that most of the coral was dead. A big sun fish floated past the boat. Also on the reef is the wreck of the HMS Conquer.   It was the most advanced war ship in the British Navy until she cut the reef too  close in 1861.  Fellow cruiser, Shane, from  Guiding Light, took this picture of her drive shaft in 40 feet of water.  It was by the way the first such device in his majesty's service.

The most entertaining thing we did was to have dinner at Kaye's Restaurant. Kaye's is located at the foot of the government dock. Kaye is written up in all of cruising guides. She was not there that day, but her mother Doris did the honors. What started out as a dinner for Jan and I and our new friends Kate and Paul from Hylas 49, Ieolus, mushroomed into a a buffet dinner for 22. There was an extended happy hour. The buffet was worth the wait and very well worth the $15 Doris charged—conch, fish, ribs, spicy baked chicken, salad and johnnie cake. After dinner some of the locals did a few selections of “rake and scrape.” Rake and scrape is sort of music made on homemade instruments—cowbells, saws, wood block and drums made out of barrels. It was great fun in a primitive way.  The picture at the top is of Jan rocking out with cowbells during a rake and scrape number.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fowl Cay, Elizabeth Harbour

One of the joys of having out of town company is being able to visit the old hometown's tourist traps with new eyes. Kathy and Robert Briscoe were visiting for 5 days. This was too short a visit to plan a sailing adventure so we hung out in Elizabeth Harbor which is the actual name of the vast road stead that cruisers refer to as George Town. The road stead is about a mile wide by 5 miles long. Elizabeth Harbor is bounded on the NE by Stocking Island and on the SW by the very large Great Exuma Island. Elizabeth Island, Guana Cay and Fowl Cay trail off to the SE. More about Fowl Cay later in the post. Conch Cut is the northwestern entrance and North Cut is the southeastern entrance (go figure about North Cut being off to the south).

During the visit we walked up and down the dusty main street. I learned that this is actually the Queen's Highway although no one ever calls it that. We visited the straw market and the better souvenir shops. We eat cracked conch and drank Kalik beer at Eddie's. Readers should translate cracked conch as deep fat fried conch which has been pounded vigorously. Please never order this dish in the USA or anywhere except the Bahamas. Without knowledgeable preparation conch is awful, but in the hands of a Bahamian it can be heavenly. I have never had any better than at Eddie's Edgewater Restaurant.

We walked the trails of Stocking Island. We looked for shells on the spectacular beaches of Stocking Island. We dallied at the legendary beach bar 'Chat and Chill' on Volley Ball Beach. But the fact is that the Sands Bar on on Hamburger Beach serves a much better hamburger.

However, what the Briscoes were interested in the most was good snorkeling. White Pepper usually snorkels at a little reef just south of Sand Dollar Beach, but it is tame fare. For more adventure we took the boat to an anchorage off Guana Cay (which is open but the weather was settled). The next morning we set off in the dink for Fowl Cay about a mile away. Fowl Cay is a small, uninhabited island near North Cut. We pulled the dink, Habenero, up onto a deserted isolated beach. There we had a light picnic lunch while waiting for slack water. Finally the time came to swim around the southern corner of Fowl Cay to the most amazing reef I have ever seen. It was only about 200 yards long and in about 4 feet of water. The reef was aflame with yellow and purple coral of many shapes and sizes. There were fish everywhere. It was like swimming in a well kept aquarium. Robert, looking under a ledge, found 18 empty conch shells. His theory was that this was the nest of an octopus who has dragged these small conch to his home and ate them at his leisure. We all quickly started to look for conch shells, and within an hour the four of us had rounded up 33 nearly matched perfect specimens of conch shells each about 3 inches long—quite a treasure. The next morning we took Habenero about half a mile north to explore the reef between Guana Cay and Elizabeth Island. There is a lot of reef here. I estimate a tall man could probably walk between the islands at low tide if walking on coral were allowed. However, this reef while better than average just could not compare with Fowl Cay. Unfortunately, it was here that White Pepper's usually reliable Olympus underwater camera leaked. It has never come back to life and many spectacular underwater shots were lost.

Many cruisers and scientist all over the world report that coral reefs are dying and threatened. I suppose this is true as I rarely see great coral in my travels. But at least in one small small corner of the Bahamas, Fowl Cay, there is a really great coral reef within in easy reach.

Cotton Grows on Little Farmer's Cay

It always feel good to be back on Little Farmer's Cay. After anchoring north of White Land Beach we saw old friend Johnathan on his Gulfstar 50 Calypso enter the harbor. We radioed; they had caught a large fish and invited us to share it. Johnathan took the fish into Brenda's who identified it as a Bonita tuna and offered to cook it up for dinner. While Brenda was cooking, the crews of Calypso and White Pepper sat outside of Ali's bar for cocktails. Ali is Brenda's spouse. Nearby was a large shrub with fluffy white balls—wild cotton. This was a bit of shock to White Pepper from South Texas where cotton is plentiful but grows in long neat rows and never gets more than one year old. This cotton bush may have gone back to the loyalists days. Loyal southerns tried for several years after the American Revolution to grow cotton in the Bahamas. The planters are gone, but the seeds remain.

Calypso headed north. Jan and I spent the next evening with old friends, Earnestine and Terry Bain at his Ocean Cabin Inn. Terry is always interesting. He is getting more involved in Bahamian national politics and is opposing the Aga Khan's development of Bell Island inside of Exuma Park.

White Pepper had her first anchoring failure during this visit. We knew the anchorage was tight, and I had even shortened scope to keep her in deeper water. But about 1 am on the night of the full moon and spring tide when the current went slack, the Rocna 22 anchor had dragged about 30 feet. This small distance put us over some rocks that were 5 feet deep at very low water. Jan and I awoke with a crunch and a jar—a very horrible feeling. Luckily were were not hard aground and could motor off with just a couple more gut wrenching bumps. I reset the anchor out in the deeper water. There was fierce current but no more rocks. The take home lesion is that all plow type anchors (even the redoubtable Rocna) drag a bit as they settle into the sand. This just has to be allowed for.

Next stop--back to George Town to pick up the Briscoes. Kathy and Robert were flying in for a short visit. Up anchor before dawn and out the cut at slack water. Then we had a brisk 38 n. mile ride to George Town on a nice NE breeze. We arrived in time to see some of the annual Exuma Music and Heritage Festival that celebrates local musical talent. Regrettably we were too tired to make it all the way to the 2 am close and decided to turn in early.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mount Alvernia, Cat Island, Bahamas

There is little reason to visit New Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas except to pick up a few supplies or to visit the hermitage of Father Jerome on top of Mount Alvernia. White Pepper's reason for stopping at New Bight was to spend a few days waiting in the lee of Cat Island for the wind to moderate while not paying the big slip rent at Hawk's Nest Marina. The hike up the hermitage was a wonderful bonus.

First a word about the geography then I will add a paragraph about the remarkable Father Jerome before describing the actual hermitage. Mount Alvernia was the name Father Jerome called this hill. The official name is Como Hill. It is the highest elevation in all of the Bahamas at 208 feet. From this peak one can see the cobalt blue of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the turquoise of the banks to the west, and the endless unbroken green scrub forests of Cat Island stretching out to the north and south. Father Jerome had an eye for the spectacular.

Father Jerome was born John Hawes in England in 1876. He studied architecture and then switched to an Anglican seminary. He came to Long Island, Bahamas and built several remarkable churches. Apparently a restless soul, he made a switch to Catholicism in 1911. After seminary studies in Rome he spent 25 years as a bush priest in Australia. In retirement he received permission to spend the rest of his life as a hermit on Cat Island. In 1939 he chose Mount Alvernia and spent the remainder of his life alone on top of this hill. There he built by hand from native materials a miniature version of a monastery after the rule of St. Francis of Assisi. He was buried there in a simple tomb in 1956.

What is remarkable is the proportion of the structure. It is so well designed that from the anchorage it looks like a castle high on the hill. In actuality it is the size of a modest home. Indeed it is almost a doll house. Father Jerome must have been a small man. I could barely fit inside of the chapel, and I could not possibly fit in the one chair and kneel-er in the chapel. The bell tower could not be more than 13 feet tall. There is a tiny living quarters which connects to the chapel with a short tunnel. I guess that way he could say Mass even in a storm. Near by is a cistern and sun dial. The last 50 yards of the trail to the hermitage are almost straight up and lined with 12 home made Stations of the Cross. There is one out building for what purpose is not clear. About 100 yards away and down a well marked trail there is a large cave. I am sure Father Jerome spent some years in that cave before his living quarters were completed. The entire site is a remarkable testimony to one man's faith and choice of life style. Fortunately, the Bahamians know what a treasure they have left to them and are taking good care of the place.

Less well cared for is the old great house of the Armbrister plantation. It is at the foot of the road to Mount Alvernia. Built in 1760 it dates to the pre-loyalists days. The house along with Master Armbrister was burned in a labor dispute with his slaves about 1830. In some ways the ruin is a fitting icon for Cat Island. The place is a disconcerting blend of derelict buildings right next to brand new construction.
Other good things about New Bight are wonderful, open people. Mrs. Olive sold us two loaves of heavenly coconut bread. The Necker sisters served up a delightful Bahamian lunch at the Blue Bird Cafe.

After several days the wind had clocked around to the SE. We set sail across the Exuma Sound back to Little Farmer's Cay, Exumas. We had a rollicking sail with 15 knots on the port quarter. Waves built to about 5 feet but calmed down in the late afternoon. Eventually we put anchor down about 100 yards from where we were two months previously.

Hawk's Nest Creek

White Pepper needed a break. We had not stayed in a marina since Nassau in January. However, there was a strong north wind coming, we needed to fill the water and fuel tanks, and I needed several hot showers and some quality time on the internet. Hawk's Nest Marina is located at the very southern tip on Cat Island. If Cat Island looks like a slender lady's boot. Hawk's Nest Creek is at the toe. It is the only marina on Cat Island. The creek's entrance is very well marked and deep by Bahamian standards. The marina is just past the entrance. The protection is total, and I would feel safe there in all but the very worst storms. The Tartar banks are only two miles away and the place is renowned for great deep sea fishing. We did not catch anything. The marina is expensive. However, with the slip comes numerous amenities—clean showers and bathrooms, laundry, use of the club and pool, use of the honor bar and all day internet and cable TV, bikes to ride, and kayaks. The Hawk's Nest club runs a private air strip. We saw several planes take off and land every day. The air strip is between the marina and the club house, so we had to stop our bikes and look both ways before crossing over the strip.
The kayaks were the high light of our stay. We took a good quality Ocean brand double seater with canvas backs and good paddles. We left the marina about an hour before high tide and rode the last of the flood tide up Hawk's Nest Creek as far as we could. When the water level reached six inches we had to turn around and paddle back. We could have waited for the ebb to carry us back an hour later; however a pre-frontal rain squall was brewing so we hurried back. The creek was spectacular, but it did not have the amazing life that was in the creek at Conception Island. All we saw in the water was a starfish and two good sized sharks. Jan got a picture of one sharks that was about three feet long in less than one foot of water. We thought it was a nurse shark, but could not be sure.
Hawk's Nest is a treasure, but it is isolated and remote in the extreme. There is nothing else about for miles. There are a few homes along the shore and that is it. No store, no straw market, no bar, no restaurant, etc. One of the guide books called it “back of beyond.” Finally, when the wind abated a bit and clocked around to the NE we were ready to leave.
Departure day brought 20 knots of wind. Water depth was about 20 feet. Our destination was 10 miles dead to weather. Using the previous analogy about Cat Island looking like a slender boot, the Bight is the part in front of the ankle. There was no way White Pepper's tired old engine could motor us upwind. We had to sail for it. Since the wind had clocked into the NE Cat Island provided a lee and the water was flat. We set a reefed main and reefed genoa. The old girl showed her racing heritage charging upwind at 6+ knots. We tacked on headers. Instead of dipping starboard tackers we dodged gnarly looking coral heads. Finally when the anchor rattled down in 9 feet of water over clean sand we were rattled ourselves for having violated cruiser's rule #1: gentlemen and women never go to weather.
However, after a rum drink Jan and I decided this day would have been an excellent day sail in Texas. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Conception Island

 When God returns to Earth He will not chose Jerusalem. Rather He will set his throne upon Conception Island, Bahamas. That way He will not be as homesick for Heaven. And if only a few humans come to visit, there are plenty of turtles about; even better.

Conception is a small island about 15 miles NE of Long Island. We motored over from Long Island in a glassy calm. We easily avoided the two large reefs that protect the anchorage and dropped the hook in 13 feet of water in clean sand. The island is part of the Bahamas National Trust and is a national park similar to the Exuma Park. Shelling, hunting, setting fires, and dumping trash is forbidden. Fishing is allowed. It is uninhabited and there are no buildings. It is pristine. There is not even much plastic debris on the eastern beaches and the western beaches are completely clean. This island is the most naturally beautiful place I have ever seen!

However, most amazing reason to visit here is to see the turtles. There is an tidal creek that runs through the interior of the island. Access is only available at high tide, but once over the rocky bar, the creek winds back into the island for over a mile with 1 to 4 feet of water. Dozens, if not hundreds, of sea turtles live in this protected environment. Near the end of the creek there is a deep pool of dark green water about 300 feet long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. It is lined with lime stone and mangroves. We anchored and tried to stay as still as possible. Numerous turtles kept popping up to take a look at the visitors. It was a magical moment. Motoring slowly further upstream in about 3 feet of crystal clear water there were manta rays and small sharks as well as more turtles swimming under the dingy. Jan and I were amazed at how fast the turtles streaked away from the boat. They literally fly through the water moving their flippers like wings. Eventually the tide started to ebb, and we had to return or risk staying for another 12 hours. We floated down the creek carried by the wind and tide.

As the mangroves, yellow-white sand bars, and limes stone slid past with the blue sky over head and wind whistling I felt that I was not even outdoors but rather in some sort of futuristic, super realistic Disney ride. The sensation was that unreal.

On other days we hiked along the beaches. The view from the cliffs over looking the reefs is so mesmerizing that we would often spend 10 to 20 minutes just looking from one spot. From one of the promontories we could look inland to a drying lake, a salt pond. Over about an acre there was a shallow half dried lake orange- red in color. In the middle of the lake was a solitary white egret. The bird was fishing in a dainty manner so different from its Texas cousins. Here the egret did not have to keep one eye open for predators. The difference was apparent even from a distance. By this time the camera battery had died, but what a picture that scene would have made. A favorite overlook of ours is from a large rock that requires a fixed rope to climb. We had a wonderful picnic on top of this rock. Several pictures are from this spot. On a deserted beach Jan found a colony of living cittarium and numerous chitons. The cittarium look like black and white nautilus shells. How amazing to see living “sea shells!”

Snorkeling is said to be wonderful here at Conception Island. We did not have time enough to do any swimming or snorkeling. A front is due in and have to seek shelter elsewhere. Before we left we had a wonderful evening visit with new friends from Mad Cap and Sabbatical. Both are Canadian yachts. Regardless of nationality we all shared a deep regard and respect for the amazing island just off our bows.

Post 108, Long Island, Bahamas

 About a mile north down the Queen's highway past Tryphema's Club Thompson's Bay there is a telephone pole with little silver numerals-108. Some cruiser's refer to this spot as mile post 108, but that can not possibly be correct. Long Island is only 90 miles long and besides this spot is the middle of the island. Other boaters have festooned the spot with colorful buoys to alert the traveler that this post marks the start of a trail to the ocean beach.

The trail is well marked. It passes through scrub and is heavily scented with goat's urine. Much of the trail is sharp limestone and takes a toll on Crocs or flip flops. It winds about half of a mile to a “summit” of probably 150 feet. The view of the blue Atlantic Ocean to the east and the green Bahama Banks to the west is spectacular. The trail then quickly descends to a lush forest and over an old stone wall. Locals call these ancient stone walls 'margins.' They mark old land boundaries. Along with the rest of the land they have been left unattended for decades, if not centuries. In the small forest were the largest butterfly and the smallest birds I have ever seen. The birds were some sort of finch and would have left room in a shot glass. Desiccation does strange things to nature.

The ocean beach at the end of the trail is as breathtaking as it is uninhabited. The ocean waves crash over and around sculptured limestone and was up onto the softest finest sandy beach anywhere. In the water is every imaginable shade of blue-green and turquoise.

Typical of beaches these days that are neglected and uninhabited there is plastic debris everywhere. Most of the plastic is above the high tide mark and is in the surrounding sea grass. Jan and I saw plastic grates and grills, floats, crates, and bottles, jugs and jars of every size and shape. There was both a baby's car seat and a child's toy car. There was very little glass thankfully. Most worrisome was extensive netting that seemed a danger to larger sea life. We dragged several specimens well above the high water mark. At least the stuff won't float back out to sea. There was enough trash to fill several large dumpsters. At this point most blogs would denounce the evil polluters, careless trash tossers, and every one who uses plastic products. But if the Bahamians can not pick up their beautiful, remote beaches, neither can I. And why ruin an otherwise wonderful day at the beach with plastic angst? Besides I can not believe that the plastic will last long if left exposed to the tropical sun. Nothing plastic exposed to the sun lasts more than several years on the deck of White Pepper. We did pack out a few beer bottles. They will be disposed of back in George Town, Great Exuma.

From the high water mark sloping well out into the ocean is the softest, cleanest, finest white sand imaginable. Jan found some prize sea shells. We picnic-ed and swam in the shallow end. By the time we had hiked back out, down the Queen's highway, back across the trail to the dingy and landed back on the boat, we had had quite a day at post 108 beach.

The pictures are a visual depiction of our walk to and from post 108 beach.