Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Allens Pensacola

Allens Pensacola has what real estate agents call “location, location, location.” It is 24 n. miles west of Green Turtle Cay and 30 n. miles east of Great Sale Cay. Everyone who travels the western reaches of the Little Bahamas Bank stops here eventually.

The entrance to the anchorage is wide open. The anchorage itself is generous. We arrived too late to “read the depth”; but no problem, just follow the Garmin chart plotter all the way into 7 or 8 foot depth. Holding is good in sand (which is rare in this part of the Bahamas). There is excellent coverage from the north through the east. Since White Pepper's wind was 20 knots out of the NE, we were golden. This would not be a good place to be in southerly or westerly breezes.

White Pepper spent a comfortable night here. In the morning several beautiful beaches beckoned. We dingied in. The beaches are indeed exquisite, but “no see 'ums'” (gnats) drove us off after a quick walk and a bath. We did see a gratifying large amount of sea life on the beach and rocks.

Jan's Toes in the Crystal Clear Water of Allens Pensacola

There is said to be excellent snorkeling on the Atlantic side of the cay. There is also an abandoned NASA missile tracking station further down the island. White Pepper did not have enough time to tarry.

White Pepper includes this stop in the blog for completeness. Anyone passing this way when the wind is out of the north through the east should consider stopping and maybe staying for a few days.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay, Abaco

Green Turtle Cay was founded around 1783 by American Loyalists. Some of the first loyalist were actually black—freed slaves that did not want to risk their freedom in the new American experiment. Ironically many slaves and slave owners followed. Initially they all arrived at Harbor Island, Eleuthra, but soon many moved to the uninhabited Abacos—Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay, and maybe Hope Town. From a boater's point of view it is not hard to see why. These islands all have wonderful natural harbors. Green Turtle Cay has two of these harbors—White Sound to the NW and Black Sound to the SE. The settlement of New Plymouth is adjacent to Black Sound.
City Limits 

White Pepper has been to White Sound in 2008 and written about it in this blog. Nothing has changed except that the mooring balls are much improved. There is still the renown Green Turtle Cay Marina and the Bluff House Marina but little else. The entrance to White Sound is slightly deeper so that is were we went initially and picked up a mooring ball by Donny's Marina. Mr. Donny Sawyer came out and invited us to move over to one of his mooring balls in Black Sound which we did.

Black Sound suffers from a reputation of being too shallow, but White Pepper never sounded less than 7 feet coming in on the top half of the tide. The entrance is well marked and once past that there are no issues.
Heading into Black Sound

Donny's Marina was a treat with good mooring balls, a sturdy pier, garbage bin, showers ($4) and water (.20/gal.). He has excellent internet access. We rode out a heavy easterly blow there for five days. We explored New Plymouth, swam in Gilliam Bay, and went to one of the 5 churches on Sunday.

The settlement of New Plymouth like all of Abaco is quaint, colorful, and well maintained. Most of the houses date to after 1866 when there was a great hurricane, or after 1932 when there was another great hurricane. Some of the grave stones do date back into the 1700's.
Graves old and new on an exquisite evening in New Plymouth

A unique part of the town is the museum and nearby sculpture garden. The museum is set up to reflect how life would have been lived on Green Turtle Cay around 1900. There are many artifacts from other dates as well. It was quite interesting. The sculpture garden is a stunning monument to the Loyalists past and present. Note in the picture me below that one of the young women statues is a black girl.
Sculpture Garden

One interesting fact that White Pepper learned was that many of the Green Turtle Cay islanders reverse immigrated to Key West. One man, Mr. Stephen Curry, became the richest man in Florida in the late 1880's. They were known as Conchy Joe's. Some took their own houses with them piece by piece. There were so many of these Conchy Joe's that Key West eventually became known as the Conch Republic. I wonder if Jimmie Buffet knows about that?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Whirlwind Tour of the Abacos

White Pepper was blessed to have friends, Kathy and Robert, on board for a week. After arriving at Mangoes Marina in Marsh Harbor, the first evening we all had cocktails on board Lark Spur. Lark Spur is a beautifully maintained Hinkley Bermuda 40 Ketch owned by fellow Texans, Tom and Diane Carpenter. Tom keeps is boat in pristine condition and maintains an active cruising schedule at the age of 87! The next morning we set out on a whirlwind tour of the Sea of Abaco from south to north.

First up was Little Harbor. After a 17 mile drive south White Pepper entered the channel into Little Harbor. It is shallow with a controlling depth of about 4 feet. We arrived 2 hours after high tide but still had 6 inches under the keel. After a deep exhale we picked up a mooring ball. We kayaked and visited Pete's Pub again. We also rendezvoused with mutual friends Tammie and Bruce on Dos Libras.

The next morning on the high tide we left for Tilloo Bank. This area is known at the “remote” part of Abaco and does remind me of the Exumas. It is a great stop for snorkeling and beach combing.

Robert and Kathy had seen Hope Town on Elbow Cay so we went to the next cay in the chain, Man-o-War Cay. We picked up a mooring ball and went exploring. Man-o-War was Robert's favorite cay. He was impressed with the boat building tradition and the funky fastidiousness of the place. I was amazed that it was over 240 years old and probably little changed save for a new coat of paint.

Next stop was Treasure Cay. This is at the far northwest corner of the Sea of Abaco. It is a highly civilized development anchored by an amazing beach. The beach is about 2 miles long and filled with fine white sand. At the far end of the beach is the new Treasure Sands Club. All 6 of us spent a wonderful afternoon there eating lunch and lounging by the pool. It was a spot of luxury and felt good to pretend to be rich.
Pool At Treasure Sands Club

Walk back up Treasure Cay Beach 

The next morning we left Dos Libras and made a quick march back to Marsh Harbor. After lunching on tuna sandwiches at Snappa's we had to say good bye to Kathy and Robert. It had been a wonderful week! White Pepper had done it all before (except Tilloo), but it was great to do it again with friends.
White Pepper with Kathy and Robert at Snappa's

Now White Pepper had to look reluctantly to Florida and the slow trip home.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Aphrodite Uses One of Her Nine Lives

Aphrodite, cat, flopped into bed between Jan and I about 2 am soaking wet and exhausted. Cats do not pant like dogs when totally exhausted, but rather lie perfectly still. Aphrodite clearly had fallen into the water, climbed up a piling and now had nothing left. White Pepper was at a dock in Mangoes Marina, Marsh Harbor Marina, Bahamas. We were at the dock to ride out a storm that later became tropical storm Ana and later pick up guests. I had been worried all night that Aphrodite would try to go ashore because of the 6 boats with dogs aboard 5 had left. The remaining dog was too little to scare Aphrodite.

Aphrodite has negotiated docks and piers successfully all of her on board life; however, Mangoes was a special challenge. At low tide it was 4 feet higher than the deck. A south wind blew the White Pepper at least 2 feet off the dock. Then a leap between the life lines created problems with trajectory. I had seen her jump off several days earlier, and she barely made it. A few minutes later she was frightened back onto the boat by a large dog named Mollie.
Mangoes Marina. Note the high docks and wide slips.

Readers might now say, “well just do not let her do it.” But cats do not listen to instructions. They are experiential learners. Besides we could never bare to confine her. She has always been a free range kitty.

Jan and I had comforted our selves that if she fell overboard she could climb up one of the pilings to the dock and then jump back on the boat. When the time came this act must have proven harder than we had imagined. Hard creosote pilings are a lot tougher material than soft oaken tree bark around Beeville, Texas. That night we found one claw completely missing and 5 more broken off . The remaining claws were burred smooth. There was a large splinter in one paw. In addition Aphrodite has gained considerable weight. She must have had a struggle hauling that tummy up the large round piling. I will never know, but I suspect there was more than one attempt before gaining the safety of the deck.

The next night we knew that she could not survive another climb and closed off the hatch despite the heat. Ordinarily shutting the hatch would generate big protest from Aphrodite. This night she rested quietly knowing that she would not be wandering. The next night, having picked up guests, we moved off the dock to an anchorage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Would Anyone Leave This Place? Hope Town, Abaco

The iconic Hope Town Light House

Hope Town on Elbow Cay, Abaco is a wonderful place to spend some time on a mooring ball. Most visitors and the boaters will climb the old light house, walk the beautiful beaches, stroll the quaint narrows streets, shop, or dine out at one of the restaurants in Hope Town. Some might visit the museum to see the artifacts from 230 years of continuous habitation.

 Rainbow over the mooring field

This beach is not as famous at Harbour Island but looks just as pink to me

White Pepper, however, chose to go the pool every afternoon for a pool party for eight straight days. Thanks to the gracious toleration of the Hope Town Inn and Marina the boaters would gather in mid afternoon and while away the time till sunset telling tall tales, trading maintenance tips, and playing games such as Mexican Trail dominoes or Sequence. The ladies would work on their straw baskets while the guys would lounge in the pool. Everyone would bring an hor d orvers and for some reason the resort allowed us to bring our own drinks. All we had to do was clean up when we left.

 Most afternoons the ladies brought food

Peeing in the pool not allowed guys

The situation was so favorable that it brings up the question, “Why would anyone leave this place?” Sadly, having run out of money, spending most of it on mooring ball rent, rum and cheese, White Pepper had to depart for Marsh Harbor, Abaco to look for an ATM machine, fresh fruit and vegetables. I can't wait to go back.

Little Harbor, Great Abaco

The passage from Royal Island to Great Abaco is rather long, about 50 nautical miles. Since White Pepper tries to wait for mild weather we usually have to motor or motor sail.  The trip in 2015 was pleasant.  I caught a small fish.  It was probably a grouper of some kind and should not have been out in these deep waters.  It did taste very good, however.

Small fish, big appetite

After the passage most boats go to Little Harbor or Linyard Cay.  We have had good luck ducking in behind Tom Curry Point.  Tom Curry Point is a lightly protected part of the Bight of Old Robinson.  In settled weather it is a good alternative to Little Harbor which can be hot and buggy as well as requiring a mooring ball.  This year we got nailed with a swell that made the anchorage quite rolly.  White Pepper was glad to leave after two nights, not having been able to sleep after midnight of the second night when a big swell set in from a distant Atlantic gale.

We stayed the second night in order to dingy into Little Harbor which has become quite a tourist attraction.  As faithful readers of this blog will remember Little Harbor was the home of famous sculptor Randolf Johnston.  He took his family from New England where he had been an art professor at Smith College to the Bahamas in an old sailboat in the 1950's.  After a short stay at Black Point they all moved to Little Harbor where Mr. Johnston  built a foundry and resumed his sculpting.  He became quite well known for his nature sculptures.

Currently Little Harbor is in the middle of a controversy about developing a private marina and housing development.  The locals are vigorously opposed.  White Pepper did not see anything amiss and wondered what all the fuss was about.  Regardless if this development follows the usually Bahamian trajectory nothing much will happen.

Back in Little Harbor itself little has changed except that the prices have gone way up. I understand that the grandchildren are now in charge of the foundry that still operates in Little Harbor. Reproductions of Mr. Johnston's sculptures are priced between $8,000 and $32,000. Beer at Pete's Pub is $5.50.  (Pete is Randolf's son.) Hamburger's are $12.  Most of the visitors to Little Harbor do not seem to care about the price.  Jan did get a good picture of one of Mr. Johnston's sculptures in a natural setting on the hill above Pete's Pub.

Sculpture by Randolf Johnston

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spanish Wells

Little has changed at Spanish Wells since White Pepper last visited in 2008.  The fishermen are richer than ever and the the town quite prosperous.  The only news is that Spanish Wells gave up its no alcohol policy and there is a liquor store and several restaurants sell drinks.
White Pepper picked up a mooring ball in the small mooring field at the eastern entrance to the harbor.  We were only a hundred feet from the spot we occupied in 2008.

The path from Hachet Bay to Spanish Wells leads through Current Cut.  Currents at the full or new moon can exceed 6 knots here.  One guide book states that slack water here is 2 hours after Nassau high tide.  White Pepper was a half hour late and still felt currents of 2 or 3 knots. However, the transit was uneventful.
Current Cut from the West

The new liquor store and backyard bar is called Bubba's.  It is on 12th Street.  Most of the boater's hang out there.  There is also a new upscale restaurant at Shipyard Point that also serves drinks.  It has a spectacular view.  Regrettably, these pictures are locked up in the Olympus.


On this trip Jan and I discovered a wonderful beach that we somehow missed on the first trip.  It faces north towards the Atlantic and dense fringing reef. This is residential property and undeveloped.  The locals see no need for beach bars and tee shirt shops as long a the fishing remains so lucrative.

Spanish Wells Beach

From Spanish Wells White Pepper headed for nearby Royal Island to stage for the trip to Little Harbor on Great Abaco.  There is little to say about Royal.  The promising development that we saw 7 years ago remains moribund.  There is no place to go ashore.  It is, however, a great anchorage and transit stop for coming and going to Spanish Wells.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mooring Balls at Hatchet Bay

Entrance into Hatchet Bay

Hachet Bay in northern Eleuthra bills itself as the “safest harbor in the world,” except that it is not. It could be so with adequate mooring balls and here in lies the conflict.

Hachet Bay was originally an inland lake. An entrance to the Exuma Sound was dynamited out in the early 20th century to make a harbor for a cattle ranch nearby. The cattle ranch is long ago defunct, but a wonderful 90 foot wide by 10 foot deep channel provides entrance into 360 degree protection. The problem is that the holding is described in one guide book as “feeble” and that the bottom is foul with debris from numerous wrecks. Indeed, Jan saw a water heater on lying on the bottom while on a kayak trip.

The solution is mooring balls. Several were installed by the government and were essentially free; in that no one was available to collected the nominal rent.

The local government of Alice Town has declined to intercede due to liability issues. However, this year (2015) a local restaurant, the Front Porch, has taken over control of the mooring balls and has started charging rents.

The rest of the story is courtesy of Francis, an employee of the Front Porch. He is obviously an interested party. He told us that the decision to take over the mooring balls was done with little forethought. No one considered the issues of maintenance. Gradually it dawned on the Front Porch that something had to be done beyond mere collections.

According to Francis, the mooring balls in the western part of Hachet Bay are worthless and should not be trusted. Indeed he has collected a number of these
mooring balls from the mangrove swamps after storms. The several balls in the eastern part of the bay have been inspected and seems to be sturdy. They lack tag lines and are difficult to secure.

Francis assures me that improvements are planned. New moorings will be placed with appropriate foundations and lines. Existing moorings will be brought up to USA standards. Divers will do yearly maintenance. As in all of the Bahamas grandiose schemes abound, but few are ever brought to fruition. Time will tell about Hachet Ball.

White Pepper sincerely hopes that Francis and the Front Porch succeeds in installing numerous high quality mooring balls in Hachet Ball. If so it really would be one of the safest harbors in the world. There is room in here for 200 plus mooring balls. Most of these would likely go to boats interested in long term storage, esp. over the hurricane season. There is a good airport nearly, the Governor's Harbour Airport, built courtesy of the US military during the Cold War. If 200 yachts showed up a marine service industry would quickly evolve. All of this is a pipe dream of one man, but White Pepper completely endorses the idea.

Note added in July of 2017:  All of the mooring balls have rotted away. I am told that the anchors remain in place and can be used by diving down to thread a mooring line through the ring.  I spoke at length with a cruiser that spends all season at Hachet Bay and northern Eleuthra.  He gave Francis negative reviews. Regardless Hachet Bay is a good place to visit.  You just have to anchor with caution.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Rock Sound 2015

White Pepper has written about Light House Beach and Harbour Island, but what about Rock Sound? We spent 8 days there celebrating the Easter holiday and the homecoming festival.

Rock Sound, Eleuthra, has so much to offer the boater. There is almost 360 degree protection. The anchoring is secure in 8 to 10 feet of tenacious sand.
Fuel and good groceries are readily available. There is a bank, restaurant, and liquor store within easy walking distance. A very good doctor attends at the local clinic. It would be easy to spend weeks here.

Within Rock Sound itself there is less good news. Many buildings and homes are well kept. Many others are derelict, the inhabitants having gone to Nassau or to the graveyard. There are a number of other interesting buildings which appear derelict, but are actually inhabited by illegal Haitian refugees. Bahamians regard Haitians with suspicion, but possibly these immigrants will reinvigorate Rock Sound. Tourism is far away. There is no industry here. Agriculture has been abandoned. Fishing is difficult considering the population pressure. Regardless Rock Sound has many natural advantages, and with proper guidance prosperity should be possible.

One of Rock Sound's natural advantages is the Ocean Hole. It is a land based blue hole that rivals Dean's Blue Hole in depth, size and beauty. The town has created a park around this hole that is peaceful, refreshing, and beautiful. A mile and a half away there is a marvelous ocean beach that is much under utilized.

The Easter homecoming was both festive and poignant. Many natives return annually to celebrate Rock Sound. The music is very loud and lasts well into the early morning. Hugs and “how are you”s are the norm. Easter Monday is a particularly English holiday that is scrupulously celebrated in the Bahamas. Since nothing is going on and no stores are open it is a true day of rest. But by Tuesday morning everybody is gone, having returned to Nassau or wherever.

White Pepper left Rock Sound with deeply mixed emotions. We were pleased to have spent such a marvelous week here. There was a sense of mission accomplished having fulfilled a promise made long ago to visit for Easter. Hopefully, White Pepper will be able to come for many future Easter weekends. However, for now it is off to northern Eleuthra and more adventures.

Harbour Island by Car

Paula and Don, our Bahamian hosts, took us and other guests, Paul and Maxine from Yorkshire, England, on a car tour of northern Eleuthra on Easter Sunday. We made all of the stops—Tarpum Bay, Governor's Harbour, James Cistern, and the amazing Glass Window. The bridge over the Glass Window looks pretty rickety, and I will bet will fall down again soon. Until it does, however, the view is spectacular with the deep blue of the Atlantic to the north and the turquoise of the banks to the south. These two bodies of water mixed together 200 feet underneath a one lane bridge.

The high light of the day was Harbour Island. We took a right turn off the Queen's Highway at Lower Bogue settlement and soon passed the Harbour Island airport. We got a glimpse of what Harbour Island is all about from the sight of at least a dozen large private jets as well as several dozen smaller jets and planes. Then we stopped at a parking lot and walked to Three Island Dock which provides small private ferries (for $5 fee) to Harbour Island. I assume that even the richest and most famous have to sit in these humble launches for the 5 minute ride across the small sound to Dunmore Town, which is the only town on Harbour Island.

Let me say that Harbour Island is a cross between Manhattan and Hope Town. It certainly does not appeal to everyone, but it is a unique community in the Bahamas. The town itself is much like Hope Town, Abacos with the old wooden buildings all stuck together, high pitched roofs and narrow streets. Districts in London must have looked similar 250 years ago.

But the people, shops, foods, and most of all the prices are straight out of today's New York City. Paula and Don wanted to show us something different so off we went on the golf cart to the Pick Sands Hotel and the Blue Bar for lunch overlooking the famous pink sand beach. There are other pink sand beaches on Eleuthra, but Harbour Island is the only one the public visits. The Pink Sands Hotel is a world class 5 star resort. The Blue Bar, however, is an ordinary beach bar/restaurant with prices meant solely to keep out riffraff (like us?). The view from the Blue Bar is magnificent. There is the deep blue Atlantic Ocean lapping up against a wide, flat beach of pink sand. The last little waves are actually pink, especially at low tide.

 Pink Sand between her toes

View from the Blue Bar

After lunch our party went down to spend a few hours on the beach itself. We helped ourselves to the hotels cabanas. After all hadn't we just had lunch with an 18% gratuity added and a 7.5% VAT (Bahamian sales tax) added. We did have the foresight to bring our own beer and water to the beach. The beach is fabulous and everything it is advertised to be. The sand is not actually pink. It is white sand but mixed in with the sand are innumerable small grains of red coral and shell. The overall effect from a distance is pink. Jan and I took a long walk along the beach and could only marvel at the homes/mansions lining the beach. As we walked along at least 4 of those large private jets took off overhead.

Towards late afternoon we all packed back into the golf cart for a tour of the town. Then as a last treat we all went down to Valentine's Marina for a drink at the Rooster Bar. We watched the sun drop down over dozens of mega yachts. Most of the men at the bar seemed to be bored captains and crew of these boats. We watched a sports fisherman clean some the huge Wahoo fishes he had brought in.

Finally, it was back across the water and into the car for the 90 miles ride back to Rock Sound. We had another look at the Glass Window as the sun was setting.

All in all the day was quite a tasty little morsel of beauty and luxury. Thanks Paula and Don!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Light House Beach

White Pepper came to Rock Sound, Eleuthra to celebrate Easter and the Rock Sound Homecoming festival with Bahamian friends Prof. Don Maples and his wife Paula von Hamm. Paula is from Rock Sound although she and Don live in Freeport. We had met 4 years ago at the homecoming, and this reunion had been on the books for some time.

One day during our stay they drove us out to the Cape Eleuthra Club which is the new name for the marina at Powell Point. The scenery was exquisite with a 270 degree seascape. The service was leisurely even by Bahamian standards. After lunch we set out for the beach. Light House Beach is not just another beautiful Bahamas beach. It is one of the finest beaches I have ever seen! And I have seen a lot of beaches.. However, it is not easy to reach.

First pick up the Queen's Highway east of Green Castle and follow it south east as it bisects the long spine of South Eleuthra heading towards East End Point. This part of Eleuthra is about 10 miles long. Most of the land is deserted. Wemyss Bight is about the only settlement of note. The landscape is dry, thick scrub. Finally at the Bannerman Town city limits the the two lane black top turns right. You, however, continue straight along a narrow dirt trail full of ruts and tire busting rocks. The chart says it is only 2 miles long, but the road takes at least 30 minutes to travel. We passed three cars coming out. Each one said, “yes, this is the right road. The worst is yet to come, but it's worth it.” Finally, when it seemed that the rental car can not possibly take anymore abuse there is a sandy parking lot overlooking a beautiful palm shaded beach facing out into Exuma Sound. But this beach is not the one. To the east is a sandy trail leading over a hill and around the abandoned light house that once long ago guarded East End Point.

No This is not the most beautiful beach in the world

This is the most beautiful beach in the world

Coming over the trail on foot a most amazing beach opens up facing the Atlantic Ocean. It is about 200 feet wide and a half a mile long. The beach is flat with white sand. The sea is deep blue with dense coral formations. For some reason the beach is free of the copious plastic debris that coats most remote Bahamian beaches. I am sure no one cleans this beach. It seems to clean itself. The waves lap gently onto the shore despite a vigorous sea state offshore. Behind the beach are sculpted limestone cliffs. To the south there is the rugged East Point. Above everything is the light house. Climbing up to the light yields fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Exuma Sound to the south. I felt good just being at this most wonderful spot on God's creation. Mere words can hardly describe Light House beach, and the pictures barely do it justice.

 East End Point in the distance

The abandoned light house

Paula, who works in real estate and is quite knowledgeable in these matters, tells me that developers have claimed to have acquired rights to this land for $1 from the descendant of a former slave. The claim has been tied up in court for decades. How could someone buy one of God's best efforts for a dollar? If this beach is ever developed it would anchor one of the world's premier resorts. However, my heart would break to see a tiki bar or tee shirt shop on Light House Beach.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Replace Those O-Rings

Faithful readers of this blog will notice more and more posts this year about mechanical issues and maintenance. I do not seek to harp about routine maintenance. However, I do wish to point out how White Pepper has been embarrassed by failure to maintain equipment that I did not even know needed maintenance.

The refrigeration is point number one. The system was installed in 2007. It had worked flawlessly ever since; at least until it didn't. The freezer first failed at Great Harbour Cay this year. Gobby Frances got it going again. However, further failure was inevitable because the o-rings in the fittings were old, cracked and leaking. Later I did find a one sentence item in the fine print of the skimpy owner's manual provided by Frigoboat which recommended that the o-rings be replaced every five years. This should have been a huge “black box” warning, not just a casual “oh, bye the way.” To be fair Frigoboat had left a set of o-rings in the compartment with the compressor. These had been ignored.

Back in George Town, Exuma, Bahamas a miracle occurred. Jan and I walked into town and met with Mr. Rolle, who does refrigeration locally and was recommended. He said he would meet me in half an hour which he did. An hour later the problem was fixed. He replaced the o-rings with new ones. I did not want to use the spares that had been lying there drying out for 7 years. He purged the system, vacuumed out the moisture and recharged the whole unit. Two hours later there was ice in the freezer.

Moral of the story: if you can't service the refrigeration (and I can't) then have someone do it periodically.  N.B. I replaced the entire unit back at in Green Cove Springs. During the replacement of the external keel cooler, it crumbled and fell apart.  The moisture in the system could just as easily been sea water as atmospheric contamination.

Point number two is far more subtle. White Pepper has been having alternator problems and difficulty charging while motoring probably since Florida. There was no question the the alternator was working. It was brand new. Also the belt was tight. However, the alternator was not giving up the amps to batteries. The alternator seemed to work for a while and then quit. I suspected a loose wire and several were found and tightened. Things seemed to improve until the alternator failed completely at Water Cay.

Finally, a friend, Peter from Pearl, came over and applied his expertise. Eventually he found a blown 100 amp fuse. This fuse had been installed years ago during the long stay at Fort Pierce, FL in 2008. I had forgotten about it. Why it blew is still a mystery. Peter advised me not to use the solar panel or the wind generator while charging from the motor. Maybe the current from the solar panels and the wind generator along with the output from the 100 amp Yanmar alternator burned the fuse. We replaced it with a 150 amp fuse for now. Everything seem to be working so far.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Comer Channel and the Moon

White Pepper transited the Comer Channel today. The Comer Channel is the deep water passage from the Exumas (via Long Island) to the Ragged Island Chain. The Raggeds are also known as the Jumentoes. Shallow draft boats (read here small and medium sized catamarans) can take a short cut through the Hog Cay Cut. Hog Cay Cut has a controlling depth of 3 feet at low water. White Pepper with 5 feet, 4 inches of draft (maybe more) does not want the hassle; hence the Comer Channel.

We left Thompson's Bay/Salt Pond on Long Island at 8 am. We were are the eastern entrance to the Comer Channel at 10 am and had no difficulty in passing through. White Pepper was at the western entrance of the Comer Channel by noon never having seen a reading under 8.7 feet. We followed the Explorer Chart's way point explicitly and never even saw a coral head.

But what about the Moon? You said you were going to write about the Moon!”

The reason White Pepper had such an easy passage was that it was timed to start when the tide was half way high and rising and finish near high tide. How do you do that and have the sun over your shoulder to give visual clues? One way is to time the trip to coincide with the new moon or full moon. Actually, two or three days after the new moon or full moon is probably better.

On the day of the full or new moon, the tide at Nassau is high at 8 am as it is in many open ocean locations. Two days later the tide is high around 10:30 am. The tide at the Comer Channel is about 2 hours after Nassau, and all of the bank sides of Great Exuma and Long Island are about 2 and ½ hours behind Nassau. Doing the math two days after the new or full moon the tide is half full and rising in the Comer Channel about 10 am and full about 1pm. It takes roughly an hour and half to two hours to get from Thompson's Bay to the Comer East way point. So a civilized departure time of 8 am is perfect. This event occurs 24 or 25 times a year. Water Cay, the first stop in the Jumentoes is easily reached by 3:30 or 4 pm.

News from Long Island

White Pepper motored straight into the wind the 30+ miles to Thompson's Bay, Long Island. The wind was light from the SE and not expected to change for a week. However, after being pinned down for three weeks with 20+ knot winds at George Town just moving felt good.

This was White Pepper's third visit to Thompson's Bay/Salt Pond in 7 years ,and the changes were palpable.

The iconic “Long Island Breeze” resort known far and wide to Bahamas cruisers has closed. Across the Queen's Highway Harding's Store closed January 1, 2015. The wide spread rumor is that too much credit was extended. Finally, Tryphema Knowles' Club “Thompson's Bay “ has closed. We wrote glowingly of Tryphema and her place in previous posts, but worried about her age and health. Tryphema was literally born on the shore of Thompson's Bay, and it won't seem the same without her.

View from top floor of the regatta park building at Salt Pond, Long Island

Mr. Chester Fox allows open access to his wi-fi if you sit on the top floor of the regatta park building. The gas station known as Long Island Petroleum provides fuel. Hillside Grocery has taken up the slack for Harding's. Propane and laundry can be arranged. Fox auto rental is still in business. A farmer's market is held every Saturday morning and is quite well done. There is a one room office for the Tourist Bureau that has some air conditioning and a small book exchange. A tiki bar named Sou' Side has opened. Restaurant would be too grand of a word to describe the place. Locals say it is good, but it too was closed the day (Sat) that Jan and I visited. All in all, things are pretty quite around Salt Pond.

Friday was a good day. The Long Island Agricultural Exposition which is held irregularly was held this year at the Clarence Town Community Center. The above mentioned Tourist Bureau arranged for a free bus from Salt Pond to Clarence Town. The exposition was a great success with displays of local agriculture and husbandry, a lecture about micro gardening that I found very interesting, and the usual festival food and drink.

 Father Jerome's Catholic Church circa 1946

Father Jerome's Anglican Church circa 1904

Jan and I walked from the Community Center into Clarence Town. There we investigated the two famous Father Jerome churches which will be the subject of a future post. Father Jerome is far too complicated of a subject to toss off in one paragraph. After the churches we walked to the Flying Fish Marina on the hunch that an old friend, Dennis, might be there. Sure enough Dennis was there as the captain of a 50 foot sport fishing boat named Marlin. It was great to catch up on old times with Dennis and reminisce about our adventures in Port Lucaya last year. We took a couple of great pictures of sharks feeding on the scrapes of fish from the sport fishermen's catch.

Finally to top off a great day we stopped at Dean's Blue Hole. This is the 626 foot deep blue hole made famous on the Discovery Channel by the exploits of the free divers. It is said to be the deepest blue hole in the world.

Dean's Blue Hole at Sunset.  Note the memorial to three women who died in a drowning accident.

By the time we had returned to the White Pepper at dusk, we had had one wonderful day all free and provided by the Ministry of Tourism for the Bahamas.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What's Different about George Town in 2015

White Pepper at Sunset in Monument Anchorage, Elizabeth Harbor, George Town.

2015 is White Pepper's fourth visit to George Town, Bahamas since 2007. White Pepper has written extensively about George Town and Elizabeth Harbor in 2008, 2011, and 2014. Rather than repeat the obvious, a more interesting question is what has changed?

The short answer is “not very much.” There seem to be subtle differences, however. There appears to be a bit more prosperity about. White Pepper was startled to realize that the door to the liquor store is no longer locked. Previously one had to be buzzed inside. All white people got a buzz, presumably black people got a second look. Now everyone comes and goes without scrutiny. The reason for this change is not clear to me.

There are more buildings and more construction. However, in the very typical Bahamian manner there are just as many abandoned projects. This is such a mystery to Americans. The Bahamas are littered with unfinished marinas, homes, housing projects and resorts. The most egregious example is the local hospital. It is gorgeous and completely new, but lies unused because of lack of equipment and staff. Poor planning and a change of government are a few of the excuses I have heard. By the way the the unofficial name of the hospital is “Stairways to Heaven” because of a its lovely stairway entrance and a local rock formation of the same name. What a great name for a hospital!

The market is much improved. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually available unlike previous year when they were only available on the day after the mail boat arrived. Many more mail boats or supply boats arrive daily except Sunday.
Beer remains prohibitively expensive at $50+/case. Wine is ridiculously overpriced although one Chilean brand, Lazo, is now available for under $10. Rum remains quite cheap.

Wi-fi and internet are more available for a price. Phone service is better and much cheaper.

There still is no movie theater or pizzeria. I think that a KFC or Pizza Hut would do very well in George Town.

The fish are largely gone. The conch are dying out which is a shame. “Cranked conch” which is deep fat fried conch when prepared by a Bahamian is one of the world delicacies.

There is a movement in Exuma to resurrect farming. More farm products are available on the street and in the market. For some reason home made bread has vanished from the George Town street. It does remain available in smaller communities.

The weather remains beautiful. The people are so friendly and courteous it is hard to believe. Marijuana seems to be a bit more in evidence recently, esp. at night. Beer is routinely consumed in public and at all hours, but no one every seems drunk or disorderly. Crime is almost non existent on Great Exuma. I would feel quite as ease walking about at mid night.

One new phrase that White Pepper hears is people referring to Great Exuma as the “main land;” presumably in distinction to the smaller rural islands of the Exuma chain. Great Exuma and George Town are no longer so rural.

Jan reports that she does not care about what has changed. She says we come here for what is beautiful and enduring. I would agree.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Karl Resuscitates the Yamaha after a Drowning Accident

Last year's cruise was dominated by problems with the Yanmar motor which powers the White Pepper. This year the main problem has been with the Yamaha 8 HP which powers the dingy Habanero. There is no comparison, of course, but today's event were memorable.

We had the Yamaha serviced at Vero Marine Center and had a rusted throttle cable replaced with considerable expense and delay over Christmas at Vero Beach, FL. That is were the problems started. Performance was great the day after service. However, problems developed soon afterward. By the time White Pepper had arrived at Great Harbour Cay, the motor would barely start and would run only at full throttle. It seemed as if the idle jets were clogged in the carburetor. Some improvement was made by adjusting the idle screw. At this point I had decided to buy a new motor in George Town, Bahamas as the cost of service was exceeding the value of the motor. Also we were limited to motoring no further than we could row back to the boat which is no fun when cruising.

I guess that the Yamaha knew that the end was near and decided to commit suicide. On a very windy and bumpy night the Yamaha jumped off the stern of the dingy into 20 feet of water while at anchor off Lee Stocking Island.

The next morning after discovering the accident a friend took me into George Town were I ordered a replaced motor-- an Enduro Yamaha 8 HP. In the meantime I had to get the motor off the bottom if for no other reason than to prevent fouling someone's anchor.

Conventional wisdom is to take the spark plugs out, turn the motor upside down, hose it down with fresh water, drain the carburetor, replace the spark plugs, and start it right away.

I chose a different path. I partially disassembled the motor, washing and cleaning the parts. The carburetor was exhaustively cleaned. There was considerable debris inside which was probably old “varnished” gasoline. The high speed jet was clean, the low speed jet less clean, and idle jets were clogged. The idle jets are not really jets on the Yamaha—rather they are just holes and tunnels near the choke valve. Steve from Red Boat was very helpful pointing out these fine details that never show up in manuals or You-tube videos. It took all of one afternoon to disassemble the motor and all of the next morning to reassemble it. Finally, I was ready to try to start it. I would love to tell the reader that it started on the first pull, but that didn't happen. I had dedicated myself to 100 pulls on the the starting rope. However, I could not get that far. My sense was that there was still water in the cylinders. I removed the spark plugs and began to pull on the starting rope. A foam of water and WD-40 sputtered out of the holes. Eventually only gasoline seemed to be coming out of the spark plug holes. I replace the plugs with new ones. Here at this point I would again love to tell the reader that the motor started—it didn't. I returned to the 100 pulls. Finally, on the very last pull the Yamaha truly miraculously sputtered to life and ran.

Because I had meticulously cleaned the carburetor the motor actually runs better than before the dunking. I can now idle it down to almost nothing. There are still problems with the motor. Some folks say the 2 stroke engines can last forever. I do not believe them. Things wear out, although I could have taken better care of this particular motor. I do plan to use the new engine. I think, however, that I will keep the old one as a souvenir.

(As an aside, 2 stroke Yamaha motors are reasonably priced in the Bahamas when nothing else is. Yamaha is the only brand available, and they are ubiquitous. I have been told that the price did go up when 2 stroke engines were banned in the US.)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cambridge Cay

In this remarkable picture taken by Jan the water actually seems to be moving.  White Pepper is anchored in the background.  Bell Rock is the large hill on the left. Please click on the pic for best results.

I have wanted to spend time at Cambridge Cay for years after reading about the place in a sailing magazine long ago. Time and circumstance had prevented White Pepper's visit despite passing it by several times. Cambridge Cay is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. It is maintained in a pristine condition. No fishing, shelling or spear fishing is allowed and no one lives on Cambridge Cay. There are mooring balls available and the protection is 360 degree.

What I did not count on was having to spend so much time at Cambridge due to the weather.

White Pepper arrived Sunday morning after a short trip on the outside (in Exuma Sound) from Norman's Cay. There were mooring balls available which was excellent since a westerly blow was forecast ahead of a strong cold front. In addition to its natural beauty Cambridge Cay is one of the best places to wait out a westerly in the central Exuma Islands, esp. if a mooring ball is available.

Before the storm Jan and I had time to explore the cay and hike. The beaches are wonderful. We had happy hour on the beach with fellow sailors. We were able to visit the famous Sea Aquarium behind O’Brien Cay. It is a snorkeling spot. There is calm deep water behind a small island that wards off the surge. When we dove in there were swarms of aquarium quality fish and abundant live coral. The place really deserves it reputation. High waves and problems with the dingy motor prevented us from visiting other prime snorkeling spots such as the Rocky Dundas or the Coral Garden. Hopefully, we can visit these spots on a future visit.

Just across the channel from the Sea Aquarium was Johnny Depp's island. On it were still the tents that he had erected to house his guests for his wedding last week. On the way to the Sea Aquarium were passed Bell Island which is owned by the Aga Khan. How Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan managed to acquire land inside of this national park is very controversial even today.

Since there is no fishing allowed here we were able to see numerous fish, sharks, rays, and turtles. The rays jump and make loud splashes. The seascape in so many shades of blue is indescribable. We have several memorable happy hours on the boat and on the beaches.

Finally on Wednesday afternoon the cold front hit with a vengeance. This was the tail end of a system that froze Atlanta setting cold records all across the South. It blew hard from the west , then northwest and north. After the rain the temperatures dropped, and White Pepper was quite chilly. We had to break out the long pants and sweat shirts once again. After the front passed White Pepper remained pinned down with strong winds from the northeast and east caused by “a compression zone” of the high pressure behind the front. We spent four days on the boat without getting off. While this is unusual, it has been an unusually windy and chilly winter in the Bahamas this season. Still I was very glad that we were on a sturdy mooring rather than an anchor. We read, napped, and did minor chores. Hopefully, I was able to fix the dingy motor by tightening the limit screw on the throttle.

All bad weather passes eventually and White Pepper left by way of the south entrance. This is a testing shallow ,narrow and intricate passage that can only be safely down at high tide. We made it out onto the Banks heading for Black Point. Black Point is a wonderful Bahamian community with good wi-fi, good food and a great laundry. Readers will remember several posts about Black Point.

As happy as Jan and I are to be at Black Point I do regret not being able to fully explore Cambridge Cay due to the bad weather. Maybe we will be able to stop in the Spring in calm weather and properly do all of the wonderful snorkeling that is available there.

Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay

The voyage from Great Harbour Cay to Cambridge Cay is only about 120 nautical miles. It does require planning and patience as is typical when moving to the South and East in the Bahamas.

However, arriving at Cambridge Cay is of some personal significance to White Pepper. Cambridge Cay had long been on the bucket list even before cruising. I had read accounts of how wonderful the place was in magazines. On previous trips past Cambridge Cay there was either a schedule or motor problems to prevent a stop.

This year we left Great Harbour Cay Marina in the face of a force 4 (15 knots) easterly breeze. This was on the nose, and why we did it is still a question to Jan and the cat. It was awful. However, I was amazed and shocked at how well the re powered White Pepper handled the conditions. She motored straight into a 2 to 4 foot chop at 6 plus knots. The crew was beat up badly. Aphrodite, cat, was miserable, but the boat showed no strain whatsoever.

I chose to bypass the anchorage at Devil/Hoffman's Cay. It was crowded, and from a previous post (2010) readers will remember how rolly the place was in a strong breeze. White Pepper pushed on another three nautical miles to Little Harbor in the Berry Islands. Again alert readers will remember how White Pepper in 2013 could not get the anchor to hold here at the Cabbage Cay anchorage. This year we chose the Frozen Cay anchorage in 6 feet of water over good sand. The anchor held well, and we had a quiet night after the roll calmed down about midnight.

Then it was off to Nassau in light winds motoring all the way. Using this “light and variable” day to cross the 32 miles of the New Providence Channel was the real reason why White Pepper chose to suffer so much the previous day.

Every year we swear not to go the Nassau, and every year we end up there. We always use the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. It has decent amenities for $1.50/ foot. However, main reason we use this marina is that it is close to good provisioning. The less one moves about Nassau the safer you are. And Nassau is distinctly dangerous. We replenished gasoline, diesel, propane, cash, rum and did laundry. Jan made several runs to the fabulous Fresh Market supermarket just across the street. We watched in awe as 25 knot westerly gales passed overhead.

Finally mild weather came and White Pepper left for the Exuma chain. White Pepper's new boat speed is so high with the motor that we were able to use the coral free route between the Yellow Banks and White Banks and still arrive at Norman's Cay by 4 pm. This was a trip of 45 nautical miles. The wind was still out of the Northwest, and Norman's Channel anchorage near the wreckage a plane was perfect. Reader's will remember how White Pepper spent 3 miserable days riding out a frontal passage here in 2010. This time we spent a perfectly pleasant night at anchor with mild Northwesterly wind.

The next morning the northerly flow persisted. This has been one of the longest stretch of westerly and northerly winds I can ever remember when cruising in the Bahamas. These winds are great for traveling in the usual directions of South and East, but present problems finding safe anchorages. There are many spots to anchor in the Exumas, Most of these are only protected from the NE, E, and SE which are the prevailing winds here. Nassau Harbor is safe, of course; so is Norman's Cay. The next safe anchorage with 360 degree protection is Exuma Park at Waderwick Wells, but it is always full. White Pepper exited Norman's Cay Cut onto the Exuma Sound. We used to Exuma Chain to provide a lee and had a great day of sailing and motoring on Exuma Sound. About noon we arrived at Cambridge Cay. It is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There is 360 degree protection here. There are moorings in 10 to 20 feet of crystal clear water over sand. The predicted frontal passage with strong Northwesterly wind never arrived, and White Pepper spent another quiet night at anchor.

The setting is exquisite. I have heard and read about this anchorage for years. I hope it lives up to its reputation and I will let reader's know in the next post.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Great Harbour Cay Marina

Great Harbour Cay Beach on East Side

White Pepper has spent 3 weeks in the Great Harbour Cay Marina near the village of Bullock's Harbor on Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas.  The locals prefer the British spelling of harbor with a u.

This is longer than we had planned to stay.  We did want to spend at least a week here letting the Bahamian winter pass overhead.  We did not count on how much winter there would be to endure. 3 and 4 cold fronts lined up each week without let up.  We barely felt these  since Great Harbour Cay Marina is a virtual hurricane hole.When one weather window did show up, Jan came down with a vicious respiratory virus that sent her to the bunk for several days. It all might sound horrible, but this is fine place to spend some time.

Great Harbour Cay Marina has been greatly upgraded under the steady hand of Hans, the harbor master.  The service is first class--friendly and 'bend over backwards' accommodating. For example Hans drives us back and forth to the market on Wednesdays when the mail boat arrives and the fresh fruits and vegetables are available.  The price is very reasonable by the week--$1/ft--hardly more than a mooring ball elsewhere.Oh, and the bathrooms are new and sparkling.  They are cleaned twice a day. There is free wi-fi.

There is a family of manatees here.  They were blown over during a hurricane and have thrived.
Locals named this manatee George

We walk to the beautiful beach (see above).  We dingy out to the fishing grounds. One of our cruisers organized a trash clean up that was the subject of a previous post. Hans has a little activity lined up every day.  One Monday Jan went to an art class and made jewelry.  Tuesday some local residents instructed the cruisers in how to play the French game of patanque. Barbecue is Friday. Pot luck is on Mondays. Trivia Pursuit at the bar is Thursday.  However, it is all very low key and lots of fun.

A special one time treat was a lecture by the Audubon Society.  They were on the cay researching the rare pipping plover.  Apparently the pipping plover which had been thought to be an endangered Atlantic seaboard bird spends the winters in the Bahamas.  This was  recent discovery.  Jan and I saw about a dozen on the beach the next day.

While we were here the Frigoboat system failed.  This is the wonderful freezer/fridge machine that has worked so flawlessly for 7 years. I have ignored it until it wouldn't cool anymore. Almost miraculously (for the Bahamas) there is an excellent refrigeration man on this island of 450 souls.  His name is Gobby. He came down to the boat and got things fixed up with a minimum of fuss or expense.  I could not have had better service in Fort Lauderdale.

Finally, the weather seems to be clearing. White Pepper will head for the Exumas maybe Sunday.  There seems to be an extended period of good weather coming so we plan to try to get to George Town, Great Exuma, as fast as possible to wait out the rest of the winter.  When the fronts weaken and slow down then more adventuresome cruising is possible.