Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sailing, fishing, exploring, making new friends ...

... that’s what the cruising life is all about, and we’ve had a fine, fine time in the Sea of Abaco for the past several days.  Penelope arrived on April 24 which filled us both with enormous joy.  We busied ourselves around Marsh Harbour, getting a few last minute provisions, enjoying the folks at the Jib Room, the Marsh Harbour Marina restaurant, where I made sure that Pen met Mario, who bartends and more and is as well the Bahamian champion free diver, with a record of 180 feet.  It’s a challenge that I recognize immediately is not just physical, but an emotional and intellectual one … quite Zen, I think, in its exercise.  You really should visit Mario’s web site, PureApnea.
One of the other really nice things we did before departing Marsh Harbour was to have Brian and Sheree, captain and first mate of the classic, historical Bahamian schooner William H. Albury over to Alizee for dinner.  They brought some Mutton Snapper they had caught the day before, and we had rib-eye steak … we made a magnificent feast, drank lots of wine, and became very fast friends.  We have an invitation to sail with them as crew on a day sail on May 10, which I’d dearly love to do … crewing on a schooner!  But, I think we’ll be sailing down to the Eleutheras for a couple of weeks, and staying here until then would preclude that … well, we’ll see.

On April 26, we sailed to Guana Cay.  Our intention was to go to Man-O-War Cay, but the winds were so nice (15-20 knots), we wanted to sail, so we beam reached to North Man-O-War Channel and then turned port and broad-reached all the way to Guana, a total of about eight nautical miles in a little over two hours.  We anchored in Fisher’s Bay, right off Dive Guana’s docks, but it wasn’t smooth.  We initially put the anchor in grass and it dragged, so we weighed anchor but Pen had a hard time lifting it up.  In the process we snagged another sailboats rode (they had two anchors out in Bahamian anchor style, which was really unnecessary, but…).  We successfully freed ourselves and did not pull out their anchor … they were not aboard their boat and never knew.  Second time we anchored successfully.

We went ashore and at Dive Guana she bought herself fins, mask, and snorkel from Troy.  He was really helpful in picking out just the right stuff and the price was really reasonable (unlike so much else in the Bahamas).  Then we cleaned the bottom of the dinghy, which was really gunged up from being in the water in Marsh Harbour.  Fun, fun!!

The next day we went ashore for a nice walk past Orchid Bay Marina, where I harvested a lovely little tomato from an abandoned garden at a rental property (Pen says “stole” a tomato), and picked some flowers for her hair.  We wound up at the Pirates Cove, a sweet little sidewalk bar and restaurant, where we met the owner of Nipper’s, one of Guana Cay’s most well-known restaurant/pubs, and had a great conversation with him and another fellow who worked for the Bahamian telephone company … he’d come from Abaco to fix a public phone, and once done had to wait for a couple of hours for a ferry to take him back.  Tough life….

On April 28, we sailed to Man-O-War Cay.  Weighing anchor was a slow process, and I realized that something was not working smoothly with the windlass.  I discovered later that the clutch nut had loosened up; once tightened we had no more problems.  I’m getting pretty comfortable figuring out little glitches on the boat and with its mechanical systems.  Hope that keeps working.

Man-O-War Cay is a strange place.  We found some great boat building spots there, one where traditional wooden boats are still built using traditional methods and woods.  But the cay prohibits the sale of alcohol, so there are no good restaurants … only one that we could see, and a couple of ice-cream shops.  It’s not the sort of “cruising destination” I’ve ever expected.  Nice people, but very quiet.  Of course, we anchored out, as always, and had to dinghy in to the harbor, where only moorings were available and there was no room to anchor.

We left the next morning, heading for Hope Town on Elbow Cay, a few miles down the Sea of Abaco.  But I didn’t tack soon enough and we wound up going to a wonderful little quiet anchorage in a bay formed by Matt Lowe’s Cay (a private island), about a 2.5 nm sail.  We relished the privacy, and even though we couldn’t go ashore, we dinghied about and enjoyed it all.  Another boat, the same one who’s anchor line we’d snagged in Guana Cay, sailed in the waning hours of the day, and they anchored under sail, a nicely done maneuver.  We’ve been sailing off anchor almost every time, and I’m getting pretty confident about that … maybe anchoring under sail will be the next thing.

On April 30, we decided to sail over to Marsh Harbour, provision with wine and liquor and some food we wanted, dump garbage, and have lunch at the Jib Room.  We also connected with Brian and Sheree briefly, and they gave us some frozen Grouper of which they said they had too much.  Then we weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbor bound for Hope Town.  We had a great sail to the North Man-O-War Channel, then turned starboard and down the west side of Man-O-War Cay to Hope Town.

Thanks to Rob’s wonderful gift of a fine fishing reel and lures, we’ve been trailing a lure everywhere we’ve sailed, but except for the Blue Runner we caught on Pen’s first time on the boat a few weeks ago, we’ve had no luck.  We seem to pick up grass all the time, and I’m constantly clearing the lure of grass, which I did just after we turned starboard at North Man-O-War Channel … the best place to catch something trolling.  But three minutes after I put the lure back out we heard the strike!  Pen rushed over to get it and it was a big fish.  She couldn’t pull it in, so I started reeling it in while she got some cheap gin to pour in its gills, should we be so lucky as to land it.  It was a fighter, but when it swam up on the hook to lose it, I reeled in quickly and we landed it: a two foot, perhaps 5-7 lb Mutton Snapper.  Hooray!  Sushi tonight!!

We got our trophy on ice, jumped up and down in hooting celebration, and I sailed us right on to a shoal, well marked on the paper chart but not at all on the Navionics chart.  I got us out by heeling the boat on a beam reach and motoring … thank God it was sand, not mud … and we passed a couple of locals diving for conch right at the edge of the shoal.  So, that’s where they are finding them!  Ah ha!

We arrived finally at Hope Town around 18:00, a total sail this day of 14.5 nm.  Once anchored we got out our prize and Pen filleted it on the poop deck, seagulls finding us immediately and making an amazing racket.  I made us a couple of sushi rolls … I’ve got a lot of practicing to do to get it right … and it was absolutely wonderful!
Today, May 1, we had a fine breakfast of sausage patties, eggs, and toast, cleaned off the salt from the exterior teak and stainless with fresh water, and then we went into town and explored , first stop, the famous Hope Town lighthouse.

Built in 1863 (or 1864, depending on the source) by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service, it is still running on a kerosene lamp shining through a Fresnel  lens.  Not only is it a gorgeous lighthouse, distinctively painted with red and white stripes, but it is a piece of technological history that lives and breathes.  It’s beam can be seen from 17 miles away, and it was indeed the first light that we saw making our crossing down from Beaufort, North Carolina, two months ago.  Pen and I climbed to the top, 101 steps, and got the most panoramic views of Hope Town and the nearby Abacos.
Afterwards we dinghied around Hope Town harbour and ultimately tied up at one of the public docks next to Cap’n Jacks bar and restaurant.  We wandered the streets of this truly quaint town … it reminds me a lot of Carmel, California, in the 1950s, when I went down with my mother and father to a cottage that my mother had inherited just off Ocean Avenue.   We walked up “Lover’s Lane” to the Atlantic side, then down to the Hope Town museum … a lovely little spot, done with lots of local flavor and not bad at that … then finally, after looking in several little boutiques and a couple of other shops, we had a great appetizer meal of lobster bisque, sweet potato chips, and Key Lime pie at Cap’n Jacks.

We finally dinghied back to the boat, napped, read, and finally made a sushi roll and then Pen cooked a wonderful dinner from a large fillet of our Snapper.  It’s hard to explain why this is so full and wonderful, but cruising is a “laid back” experience … it’s got to be lived, I think to really get it.

More photos (to come when I have faster internet connection)


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