The View From the Beach:
The social situation is regimented here. If you play volleyball there are strict rules by which you must adhere; no one under fifteen is allowed. On a public beach? How can this be? Well, Chat and Chill "owns" that stretch commonly known as Volleyball Beach, so in a round-about way, yes those are the rules.
There are children here in great numbers, but they don't really get to meet each other easily. There is a rope swing on Volleyball beach and some sort of social activity occurs there, but it isn't exactly community. Also, folks on the VHF tend to get testy when children actually get on and use it to call their friends... this isn't constructive when folks with cruising kids are trying to teach them to be more fearless on the microphone.
Sarah would have none of it.
So she organized art meetings for children and "well behaved adults", announced them on the morning VHF net and we rowed ashore to host them. They were stunning successes. The kids just needed the opportunity to meet in a neutral setting.
The Button Making Project:
The Paper Lantern Project:
Several boats collaborated on an Easter Egg Hunt and potluck lunch. One of the best holidays I've spent ashore.
I feel the need to head north again, but the cold fronts still blow through, followed by troughs. The quality of food and water in George Town has made it difficult to weigh anchor. Another week perhaps?
The outboard on our dinghy nearly killed us with failure at the cut to Little Farmers Cay. The tide was ebbing mightily, and we had to row for our very lives to avoid being sucked out into the sound. Of course we forgot to bring the handheld VHF. Pure excitement.
We rowed out to Big Farmers Cay and hiked through trails that really required boots more than the sandals we wore. All of us got cuts, Madison suffering a bad laceration on her toe that covered the ground around her in blood. Good times, good times. We did manage to find a sound facing beach though, but it can hardly be said to be worth the damage.
Little Farmers Cay is pretty awesome. They have their own theme song and flag. Most of the business in town centers in or around Ocean Cabin. We had fries, salad and ice cream there. The proprietors are friendly and pretty much know what the lay of the land (and sea) is. They run the mooring field, which is somewhat sketchy (see my rant on moorings). If you are around it is definitely worth a trip to shore.
We sailed south to Lee Stocking Island, which is home to the Perry Institute for Marine Science on our way south. We were saddened to hear that these folks are suffering from budget cuts that threaten their research, including studying coral regeneration. NOAA, who in a large part funds them, can't seem to keep up weather satellites for hurricane tracking, nor pay for important research these days. At least NOAA put their catalog of charts online for free. The tax dollars get spent in any event. They are friendly folks and offer tours of their facility a few times a week.
Among the permanent staff, we met Eric and Jen who manage the island. Well, to be more precise, they manage the interns and workers who keep their institute running. They have many adventures, including trying to get oblivious cruisers who anchor in their channel to move before the diesel shipment arrives. We encouraged them to make a morning announcement via VHF. I hope it helps.
In addition to having several long, sandy beaches facing the Exuma Sound, Lee Stocking Island hosts the highest elevation in the Exumas, a whopping 39 meters! We were breathless from the climb.
We have spent the past couple weeks in George Town. It is *somewhat* warmer and the cold fronts have decreased to once a week. There are children cruisers here and more sailboats in one place than we have seen in the Bahamas. It is likely that this is as far south as we will make this year. Once we are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN the fronts have subsided and we have solid trades, we will start north.
The (in)famous swing at Volleyball beach:
In the meantime, there is much to do. Malia celebrated her ninth birthday here. We've made new friends and met up with old ones.
Malia and the crowd at Volleyball Beach:
The days go on forever in Springtime:
If you are reading this on my blog, you know about my sailing and cruising experience. If you aren't reading this on my blog, then go find it!
Mooring balls are the top parts of the moorings that float, and usually carry a loop you can tie your bow line without having to get your anchor wet. What you see is that friendly bight and bright floating ball bouncing on the chop. But what is underneath? Who knows? An opportunity for your boat to go up on the rocks?
Here are the reasons I can think of off the top of my head for an agency to install a mooring:
1) To prevent people from anchoring in delicate coral. This is the most reasonable use for moorings. I never willingly anchor in coral. If I found my chain is going to swing over coral, I crank it up and move somewhere else. Moorings allow boats to enjoy a close visit to coral bottoms. This is completely acceptable AS LONG AS THERE ARE PUMP OUT FACILITIES!!!
2) To pack folks in as tightly as possible. I don't personally care for it, but I have seen it done fairly well on Catalina Island They have double moorings there and they have PUMPOUT FACILITIES. They used to put strong dye tablets in your holding tank and head. If they caught you pumping your crap over the side, they'd beat you senseless.
3) To make revenue. This is pure crap. You can immediately tell when there are folks just trying to make a buck because the moorings are placed in perfectly good sandy bottoms for anchoring, the mooring construction and maintenance are dangerous and there are NO PUMPOUT FACILITIES.
My strong recommendation to sailors? Don't take a mooring unless there are pumpout facilities. Otherwise you will be wallowing in a cesspool. Be suspicious of any agency or "preserve" that requires you to take a mooring for "environmental reasons" but don't offer a pumpout. They are just trying to make a buck, probably have bad moorings and in any event are encouraging the destruction of their coral. I'm looking at you Exuma Land and Sea Park. Such a wonderful place, the no take zone allows you to see a variety of conch slowly making their way across sandbars at low tide where in other places in the Bahamas they are fished out to twenty feet of depth. But no pumpout? Moorings at $20 per night? And please, please don't utter a damn word about how your current "flushes out" the anchoring channel where your moorings are sunk in and around perfectly good sand.
Effluent is directly implicated in coral bleaching. You want to be serious about your park? Eject all boats, stop selling off islands to private parties and keep an armed patrol boat in the waters to keep people away. OR, provide a mandatory use pumpout. Forget the moorings, charge ten dollars to pump the head, keep track of who's there to enforce it (currently volunteer cruisers are collecting the inane and destructive mooring fee - have them do something useful instead). For bonus points, how about a trash receptacle ashore? Give people a place to put all the refuse they find washed up on those beautiful islands instead of just making a junk pile above the high water mark.
"This is the worst it's been in 15 years... usually today would seem chilly," Al explained from his dinghy alongside us at Big Majors Spot.
For us, it felt like the first day of spring come early.
We've been hiding from the weather - or specifically, the nasty cold fronts that blow through sometimes at a gale. For a time they were blasting us every eighteen hours. We've spent a lot of this cruise below decks. At first, we blamed ourselves - had we pushed further, harder we could have made Dominican Republic or points south, well beneath these winter systems. But it wasn't us, we should be south enough here in the Exumas for warm winter weather. Everything, everywhere is just... cold.
We spent a couple weeks at Rock Sound in Eleuthera Island. It is a lovely settlement. A mile's walk over the hill takes you to Northside, where we met with Rose Gibson, the proprietor of some lovely vacation cottages. We met her son Ashley back in Grand Bahama Island, but sadly he couldn't join us for our stay at Rock Sound. Behind the cottages, down a challenging, long flight of wooden stairs, a lovely beach stretches out in both directions. We spent days combing the sands there. I tried snorkeling, but it seemed pretty scrubbed out, and the water was just cold enough to demand the use of a wetsuit, which I refused (so far) to employ.
Water has become an issue out here. Prices range from $.50 to $1.00 per gallon. We usually wash dishes in salt water, saving just a cup or two for rinsing, but now that there are far more boats around us, and people ashore, we are using more water on washing than drinking. We eye folks with water makers a little jealously. Maybe we'll add one to our kit next time we journey out.
Madison, Malia and Owen:
On Eleuthera we spent time hanging out with Rob and Loren aboard Arita and Reaan, Dianne and Owen aboard Thursday's Child. Owen, Madison and Malia spent time playing games, including Mexican Train with dominoes, addicting us all, somewhat.
The cold fronts relented just a bit to allow us to cross the Exuma Sound - after being becalmed for hours off Cape Eleuthera - to Cambridge Cay. I'll rant about the moorings there in a later blog, suffice it to say for now - DON'T TAKE ONE. You're encouraging the wrong behavior and actually endangering the "Park". Anchor just south of the mooring field, and be careful coming in. We managed a night landing, which in retrospect was completely insane. Cambridge Cay is worth a few days just hiking around and enjoying the East facing shore. Especially if your feet are itching from too much time sitting around aboard. I managed to get some time in the water, which is still chill, but a bit warmer. There is a small coral shelf extending out from the south beach. It's easiest to hike over the hill, but watch out for poison wood along the trail.
The north path, out by Bell Rock is a steeper hike, but affords breathtaking views. Every time we made a new turn, all we could say is: "Oh, wow!". Maybe we were just dizzy from the altitude, as none of us has been that high up (outside a building) in the years since we arrived in Florida.
We sailed just a few hours south, and made yet another unplanned, but much safer night landing at Big Majors Spot. Sailing around on the Bahama Banks in ten feet of water is a trip. I just can't say it enough. When the weather is settled, it's like a lake, but a very shallow one. Here at Big Majors we met up with Al aboard Calypso Poet. His help and kindness back in Lauderdale was instrumental in getting us on our way. It is good to see him here in his element.
It's been almost a week since the last cold front tore through, but there is one expected this weekend. We saw the grottos and pigs at Big Marjors Spot and we're going to make the obligatory visit to the "Thunderball Grotto" by Staniel Cay before looking to fill up on water and scope out a cove a bit to the north to weather out the coming blow.
We flew out of Nassau after staying a bit too long. The Yoga retreat and their buffet was irresistible. Also we made some time in our overwhelmingly busy schedule to have tea and cookies with the folks aboard Seawalk and a late evening while we were at dock with Eau Dessey. So it wasn't all rushing around. Actually socializing with other sailors is hampered by our VHF's inability to receive after dark. When the masthead light comes on, it interferes with the radio. There's a fix for this, and we're waiting for the manufacturer of the LED mastheads (which otherwise work perfectly) to catch up a replacement for us. We all had a nasty, nasty head cold from hanging around those unwashed masses, but came to the realization that we weren't going to get better staying put.
These guys would've dusted us out of Nassau if they put up their topsails:
Back out onto the banks we sailed along in a stiff north-easter in about two fathoms of water. We made Allen's Key an hour before sunset. You need to hunt and peck for a good spot, as the surroundings are beautiful, but the bottom is irregular and the current moving through is incredible. We put our anchor down in fine white sand in twenty-five feet of water, the nearest boat, "Rainbow Maker" was a few hundred feet away. They had motored in ahead of us and put off to shore presumably as soon as their chain was wet.
We set down to a fine supper, just when Rainbow Maker weighed anchor, turned up and set down again not a boatlength from us.
"You're too close!" we shouted. "We'll hit when we swing!" This should be common sense. I even made an attempt to explain how our boats would swing in the current counter to the wind. We even tried to go through the math - we were both in 25 feet (they insisted it was 10 - meters maybe?), we both had out over 100 feet of chain and we were about 75 feet apart in quickly shifting current. Recipe for disaster anyone?
Rainbow Maker - If you see this RUN!:
"There's plenty of water for all of us!" They shouted back. Damn. I wished they could go drink some.
"If there's so much water, why don't they anchor in some that we aren't using?" Sarah demanded.
Indeed, we were in a large basin up in the middle of the broken islands that make up Allen's Cay. Their crew wanted to continue our exchange via radio, which was absurdly superfluous as I could hear their footstep on their deck, so close were we.
The sun set and we swung close. We cursed and shouted at them, but two facts were resoundingly clear:
they were on a boat with a "For Sale" sign on it
they weren't going to move even and especially if we were going to hit.
So that left it to us. In darkness we drifted closer and closer in the changing tide. We ground up a hundred feet of chain and did a "GPS anchor drop" on a moonless, windy, cloudy night. This procedure is white knuckle steering madness.
Now there is something lovely to be said about the Bahamas: with a sufficiently bright light, you can see clear to the bottom in 25 feet even in pitch black night. So we pulled away from our bad neighbors and set down two hundred further east.
When sailing, it becomes transparently obvious how dependent we all are on each other's good behavior. Habits and mannerisms that are easily disguised or rationalized away ashore become as obtrusive and odious as flatulence in a car.
Ultimately, you are responsible for your boat. If someone anchors too closely to you and won't budge, you can whine, pout and shout, but if you care about the outcome, you end up moving.
We woke early after little sleep as the wind picked up to 25 knots and sailed out of Allen's Key, south to Highbourne Cay, sailing through the narrow passage there (another half hour of white knuckles and blustering wind) and out into the deep water of Exuma Sound. The wind picked up even more on our quarter and we flew across the Sound at 7 knots, making 8 knots good for a time as well.
Rock Sound in Eleuthera is a quiet, congenial place. The sand is fine and holds well. The water is clear. There are very few boats and the settlement ashore is lovely. We're catching up with friends we made on Grand Bahama Island who have family here, and mending our health and boat.