Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Return to the Abacos ...

Our stay in Spanish Wells was quite wonderful, particularly in connecting with Peter and Dianne on Pearl.  We had them over for dinner the night before we left for Harbour Island, and also invited Reg and Teri from Blue Topaz to join us for drinks before we had dinner.  We all had a wonderful time and quite unbelievably Teri came from Morgan Hill, California, where I lived for some time while teaching at Gavilan College in Gilroy.  We even knew some of the same people ... six degrees of separation for sure.  Reg and Teri were heading south the next morning, ultimately aiming for Antigua in the Caribbean, but we promised to keep in touch.  Meantime, we had a fine dinner with Peter and Dianne, and we promised to get together in the Abacos.

To get over to Harbour Island, one has to navigate what is called the Devil's Backbone, and narrow passage through the reefs at the top of Eleuthera.  We hired Jock "Bandit" Morgan, from whom we rented the mooring at Spanish Wells, to pilot us over.  He made the trip seem easy, indeed, and I can vouch that it was tricky, for coming back when we left to go north to the Abacos, I grazed a coral head when I drifted off the track just a few meters.  No damage but a gouge in the keel, but it was a good warning about paying close attention.

Harbour Island is a refuge for well-to-do and celebrities seeking anonymity.  One of my cousin's family owns a house on the north end, which they've had ever since I can remember.  In our wandering about on a rented golf cart, we met an old-timer named Anthony who while now farming and running a produce stand made his career at sea as a charter boat captain and fishing boat captain.  He remembered my cousin's family quite well, and that's how we found where their house was located ... we were beat though, so never got up to see it.  We did have a wonderful lunch of truly unique "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" and really fine conch fritters at Ma Ruby's ... she had been recommended to us by Jock Morgan.  And, we got over to the "pink sand" beaches, which seem to be quite famous.  Lovely, yes.

After a couple of nights at Harbour Island, we took a weather window and had a wonderful sail north the the Abacos.  After finding our way out of the Devil's Backbone (barely), we caught a Yellow Tail going out the cut to the ocean, and then 45 minutes later caught our first Mahi Mahi on a hand line.  Very exciting!  Pen did her usual masterful job of filleting both fish, and our freezer was full when we pulled into Little Harbour in the Abacos that evening.  We celebrated with sushi and while in Little Harbour we had two wonderful Mahi Mahi dishes that Pen found amongst her recipe collection.

Our first day in Little Harbour was sunny and quite nice, and while talk of a cold front coming through the northern Abacos on Tuesday was on the weather internet and single-side band radio, our in-house meteorologist, the Captain, predicted a non-event for Monday.  It's a good thing he didn't suggest going north to Marsh Harbour on any other destination, though, for a poured buckets and buckets of rain all day and into the night.  We apparently dragged anchor sometime in midday when the wind clocked around to the north.  We were down below and didn't notice until we realized we were aground, and thankfully we went aground at low tide and before really getting into shallow water.  We floated free pulled in ten feet on the anchor line, which reset the anchor, and then the wind shifted south again.

The next day (Tuesday, April 27) brought a stupendously nice sailing day ... sunny, warm, 12-15 knot winds ... and we sailed all the way up from Little Harbour to Marsh Harbour.  It's a bit of a circuitous path, going around a couple of major sand banks and around some small cays, and we also had to tack our way down the home stretch into Marsh Harbour, but it was well worth the sail.  And, we caught two Mutton Snappers and a Yellow Tail along the way.  On arrival we discovered Peter and Dianne at anchor.  I stopped off just to say we'd arrived, and they were all apologetic ... they were going to leave in the morning for home, taking advantage of a big weather window to get to Florida, and they'd already made dinner plans for the evening.  We did have a chance to have a sundowner with them and catch up a little, and Peter promised that he'd make good on the dinner he had promised us when back in Spanish Wells.

Today we did some errands in Marsh Harbour, had lunch at Curly Tails, a favorite hang-out, and got our toilet seat repaired with new brackets (it broke down in the Exumas somewhere).  Now it's relaxation time, and the Sea of Abaco is the place to do it.  Lots of nearby destinations and lovely scenery.  It's a full moon tonight, and we got a sample of it last night.  Gorgeous!  We're very happy to be back.

Alizee's geotrack

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rock Sound to Spanish Wells ...

Time continues to fly by without our reporting much.  Internet connection is partly blamed, but so much fun is more to blame.  But now, in Spanish Wells at the top of Eleuthera where we're spending five nights on a mooring, we find the time to catch up on the blog posting.

We had a wonderful three days in Rock Sound Harbor in the bottom of Eleuthera, dropping laundry, having a chance at the internet and doing some shopping.  We met John, Rick and Mark on Candace Rose on the first day, and when we saw them in town later, they invited us for a farewell dinner for Mark aboard their boat.  It was a crew change for them, with Rick arriving and Mark going home (to the Pacific Northwest).  We took over ceviche (made with fresh snapper), a couple of sushi rolls (also fresh snapper), and homemade peach chutney; they provided a pork loin and side dishes.

While consuming appetizers Mark said: "Okay, aren't you going to ask us what we do?"  What a leading question.  We bit, and he responded: "We're all OBGYNs," which led to a hilarious and wonderful conversation that flitted from topic to topic the rest of the evening.  The next evening, after Mark had gone, we invited Rick and John over to Alizee for dinner and had the most wonderful baby back ribs with all the accompaniment and another great evening of conversation.  We haven't connected with them since ... they were going south and we north ... but we hope they keep in touch.

On April 8th, we weighed anchor and sailed with the Genoa north to Pineapple Cays, anchoring in Pau Pau Bay.  We caught a Southern Sennett, a very edible type of Barracuda while passing the village of Tarpum Bay, and over the next couple of mornings had pan fried fish and eggs for breakfast.  The Sennett was the most tender and tasty fish either of us have eaten! ... Pau Pau Bay was a wonderful anchorage except for the no-seeums.  The winds died completely our second evening there, and Pen got eaten alive ... some 75 bites everywhere, and she was miserable for the next three days.  Ugghhh!

We sailed up to Governor's Harbor, the first capitol of the Bahamas they say, and anchored there for a couple of nights.  We bought some conch from a local fellow and I experimented preparing it.  I made a tasty conch salad, and then the next day simmered the conch for an hour and a half and then diced it up to make a conch stir fry served over rice.  It was wonderful, and we won't be shy about getting conch again.

Staying a Governor's Harbor with no other cruisers in sight seemed to put us off the beaten path again, which is really something we like, and we moved even further off the beaten path by heading further north to James Cistern.  This is a little village with lots of room to anchor but on a bottom that has a lot of grass and rocks.  It took us three tries to finally hold, but it was worth it.  We got some wonderful fresh island grown produce at a little roadside stand and had the pea soup to end all at Lee's cafe.  They people were the friendliest, and we really enjoyed the stop.

On April 13th, we made an invigorating beam reach sail up to an anchorage south of the Glass Window toward the top of the Eleuthera bight.  We passed Hatchett Bay, where lots of cruisers go, and elected to anchor out alone ... well, not quite alone, because a half-mile north of us was a 200+ foot luxury yacht, but they were in the distance and of no bother.  The winds came up to 25 knots for the next day or so, and we didn't even bother to explore the shore, electing to read yet more books.  The luxury of reading book after book has been wonderful, and we've read some great books.  Geraldine Brooks, March, which is the story of the husband in Alcott's Little Women, is a masterpiece.  So to is Annie Proulx's Postcards, which is a superbly better novel than her Pulitzer Prize winning Shipping News.  Another good one is Tony Horowitz's Blue Latitudes, in which he traces the journey of Captain Cook (inspiration for Captain Kirk of Star Trek).  Interestingly, he is and Geraldine Brooks met while working as foreign correspondents for the Wall Street Journal and married.  We've also read a couple of Nelson DeMille's adventure novels, Plum Island and Lions Gate, and his character John Cory is the best ever male hero.  Well, the list continues with John Grisham and Lee Childs, but you all probably know about them.

At anchor we've finally figured out our SSB and are now regularly listening to the weather broadcasts of Chris Parker, who covers the Caribbean, Bahamas, and eastern seaboard.  And we've checked in with the Cruiseheimers cruisers net on the SSB as well.  The weather is a good thing, because my record of predicting is a bit marred.  The Sirius weather subscription which displays on our chart plotter is good, but it's never more than three days out and very slow to load.  We're not always in internet range, so, which is generally right on and gives seven to ten day forecasts, is not always available.  So having Chris Parker works out well.

On April 15th, we had a very brisk downwind sail with just the Genoa over toward Royal Island from Glass Window, with 20-25 knots from the east and making 6 knots speed over ground (SOG).  We had to sail off our course to the Current Island Cut (half way to Royal Island), and when we jibed the Genoa to make the Cut, the tack blew out on the sail.  The shackles simply wore out and we lost the pendant and both shackles.  We rolled the Genoa in right away and put out the stay sail and then put a second reef in the main and raised it.  We lost our momentum and couldn't go much faster than 4.5 knots, but we made it through the Cut with the ebb (at 6.5 knots SOG), and then beat our way up to Royal Island.  Pen didn't think we should have left Glass Window, but when the weather worsened the next day, she agreed we'd made an okay decision.

That afternoon about a dozen cruisers came into Royal Island, most from Spanish Wells, a couple of miles north, and three or four from Hatchet Bay.  All were staging to go to the Abacos the next morning (April 18th).  We listened on the VHF to their conversations about what the weather would be and so forth, and we agreed that we didn't think the next day would be the best day to make the 60+ nautical mile crossing.  But then, most were eager to get going, and Chris Parker seemed to suggest that the optimum day would come for a week or so.  By 0800 the next morning they were all gone, and we motored up to Spanish Wells and picked up our mooring from Bandit (Jock Morgan).  Picking up the mooring was Pen's first time, and it didn't go well ... but we were rescued by another cruisers and had our after-action debriefing later. 

Spanish Wells has been wonderful.  I got to see my first Manatee, of which there are many in Florida's ICW and few here.  But this pregnant female has become the darling of Spanish Wells, and everyone feeds her volumes of cabbage and lettuce and awaits the big day.

Monday, April 19, says Penelope, was a "near perfect day."  We succeeded in getting Chris Parker on all his broadcast channels, enjoyed a blueberry pancake breakfast and reading while some rain passed, and then we went into town.  We got shackles to repair the Genoa at a marine store, found some wonderful fishing lures and two "old hickory" knives (like those we saw Nestle and Cracker using in Arthur Town on Cat Island), went to Jean and Tom Goldson's "book exchange" in their cottage, got a couple of pounds of Stone Crab claws and two lobster (crawfish) tails at the fish store and shopped at the big market for some groceries (and more baby back ribs).  We had lunch at a little restaurant and had the best ever lima bean soup plus tuna and cracked conch.  Jean and Tom invited us to "happy hour" at their "Done Reach" cottage at five, so we cleaned up, made up some salsa, and joined our now friends Pete and Dianne on Pearl, a Bristol 40, to go to the happy hour (we'd had Pete and Dianne aboard Alizee the night before for drinks).  Penelope wrote in her journal: "What an amazing group of people!  The best time we've had socially for a long time.  We sate on the cottage porch with Pete and Dianne, Linda and Ed and Tom off the trawler Lady Brookhaven, and Jean and Tom,with appetizers, wonderful conversation and laughter in the most natural and authentic exchanges.  The head discussion was hilarious, especially with Tom Goldson's descriptions of use and misuse.  Jean gave us the name, address and phone number of some cruisers who live in DeLand that they know well and made us promise to get in touch when we get back.  Then Jean brought out p0asta in plastic cups (what a good idea), which made dinner back on the boat unnecessary.  A grad time was had by all, after which we came back to Alizee and had the most stimulating conversation about Annie Proulx's Postcards and then graphic violence in books and movies as we sipped wine.

A perfect end to a perfect day!

Alizee's geotrack

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Cruising the Far Bahamas ...

My goodness!  Almost a month has gone by since we've posted anything about our cruise.  We must be having so much fun that the idea of spending time at a keyboard just hasn't been appealing ... perhaps it's guilt that forces the fingers to the keys now.

So where have we been?  At last posting we were in George Town, the Exumas, where we ended up spending a full week.  We were in large part waiting for mail forwarded via UPS, which finally arrived after sitting in Nassau for a full week.  I can safely say, never use UPS in the Bahamas.  Go Fed Ex or DHL, because Big Brown has not gotten its act together in these islands.  Of course, finally it did arrive and we rejoiced, but it was not without great frustration for a week and many wasted trips into the UPS agent.  This is Island Time at its worst, but the only really answer one can give to a problem like this is "no problem, mon."

In George Town we met with friends we'd made in Stuart, FL, who were on a 52 foot ocean-going trawler Peking.  They had us over one night to meet some other cruisers, one couple who had twice circumnavigated, another couple who had just come back from two years in the Caribbean and a third couple, Ken and Leigh Parrot whose boat was named One Eyed Parrot in honor of the fact that Ken and Leigh each only have one eye.  It was a wonderful evening and we really enjoyed everyone.

Over the next several days we moved anchorages a couple of times, having burgers at the Chat and Chill on "volleyball beach" and also at the Hamburger Beach Bar, shopping in George Town for fishing lures, good Kalik beer and always for fresh produce.  We attend the ARGH! meeting, standing for "alcoholic research group" on Hamburger Beach and had a jolly time with more cruisers, among them Pat and Doug on Scalliwag.  The next day, relocated back to Kidd Cove in Elizabeth Harbour, Doug made me a conch horn, which at last I've learned to blow quite nicely at sunset.

On March 19, we departed George Town for Long Island and had a wonderful spinnaker sail to Bains Bluff, where we anchored all be ourselves.  The next day we moved a bit down the coast of Long Island to Miller's Bay, where we spent a couple of days, changed the engine oil, tangled fishing lines in the dinghy motor and lost a lure (well, we've lost a lot of lures), unexpectedly found internet connection, and had an unwelcome adventure.  Sitting in the cockpit reading around 1100 hours, I looked up to see our dinghy floating 100 yards away and ... escaping!   I donned fins and snorkel and dove in after it, finally breathlessly catching it after twenty minutes of swimming ... she floated away almost faster than I could swim.  Naturally the gas tank wasn't in her and I didn't have the key to the motor anyway, so I climbed aboard her, pulled out the oars and started rowing.  Rowing a rubber dinghy, even with a hard bottom, is hard, and I was making little headway against the swells, when I thought of holding the key switch out and at least using whatever fuel was in the motor lines.  That got me about a quarter of a mile toward Alizee, but soon the motor sputtered and died.  Out with the oars again, and no sooner did I have them out but the starboard oar lock popped out of the fitting and went overboard ... gone!  Oh shit!  So, I put on fins and snorkel again, went in the water and started swimming, towing "Bertha" behind me.  Boy, was I tired and making slow progress.

Meantime, Pen is on the boat.  She had the idea of swimming out to me with a couple of long lines tied together.  She put on a life vest forgetting it would self-inflate, then discovered the ladder was not down all the way and had a hell of a time getting back on.  She had the presence of mind to turn on the VHF, thinking I'd call her on the hand held, which was in the dinghy, but I didn't have the presence of mind to remember it was there.  Eventually I got within hailing distance and got her to weigh anchor and maneuver Alizee over to me, and I got on board, we secured "Bertha" and re-anchored.  The whole episode to an hour and a half, and we were both exhausted physically and emotionally.

Next day we went down to Thompson Bay where we spent a couple of nights, did laundry at the Island Breeze, had the best coconut shrimp ever and bought some more fishing lures.  A day or two later we returned to Miller's Bay and went into Chez Pierre's for dinner (I jury rigged an oar lock on "Bertha", just in case ... oh yes, "Bertha" comes from the bumper sticker on her bow that reads "Eat Bertha's Mussels," in reference to the best fresh mussel restaurant in Baltimore, "Bertha's).  The dinner a Chez Pierre's, was fabulous ... scampi, veal Marsala, fresh Gorgonzola salad ... and we were the only boaters in the bay.  The other guests were all from Pierre's cottages.  This is truly a hidden treasure, and Chef Pierre and his wonderful waitress Orame were fabulous.  We had a nice bottle of Bourdeaux and we so incredibly happy not to have the typical Bahamian deep fried fare.

On March 26, we had another wonderful spinnaker sail up to Calabash Bay, where we spent the night before pushing on to Conception Island.  Alas, the spinnaker blew out along the seams just as we entered the bay.  This is a great disappointment, for it has made light air downwind sailing just an incredible treat.  We will buy a new one as soon as we are back stateside.

Fishing has had us baffled this year.  Last year we caught many yellow tail and mutton snappers in the Abacos.  This year we seem to lose lures and fish every time we put the line out.  On our way to Conception Island we hooked and lost a couple of nice fish as well as lost a couple of more lures, and we decided to put back on the 100 lb. line that a fishing shop "expert" said really was too heavy.  Well, so much for his expertise.  Since we put back on the 100 lb. line we haven't lost a fish because of the line breaking.  After leaving Conception Island, we started catching yellow tail snapper ... eight so far, plus a nice small bar jack that was the sweetest eating.  Sushi has become our staple again, and Pen has cooked a couple of wonderful fish fillet dinners using Mark Bitman fish cook book recipes.

Conception Island was pretty, but the mangrove interior and creeks were a bust.  The tide was not high enough to really get in there, and we spent most of our time on the boat at anchor.  On March 29, we arose to weigh anchor for Hawks Peak, Cat Island, and I discovered that the fresh water pump had sprung a pinhole leak in the body of the pump.  We were losing water, but decided the flow wasn't that great and we'd make the sail and then fix it.  Unfortunately, the wind didn't lay down when we finally arrived at our anchorage in New Bight, Cat Island.  I ended up changing the water pump (we had smartly bought a spare before we left), and amazingly I didn't get sea sick, although the rollers in the anchorage were four feet and the boat was hobby-horsing worse that we've ever experienced.  We stayed in New Bight for a couple of days, met some cruisers there who we'd seen in Conception, and we hiked up to the Hermitage atop the highest hill in the Bahamas (206 feet).

The next couple of days we spent by ourselves along the coast of Cat Island, first at a quiet anchorage off Curry Murry Bluffs, some remarkable iron shoreline bluffs.  The next day we went to Arthur's Town, the boyhood home of Sidney Poitier.  ... Well, let's let Penelope tell the story:

We hopped in the dinghy almost immediately to go to town for ice and eggs, hoping a store would be open.  Now such luck.  The store looked like a tiny cabin, shut and locked tight.  With no ice and eggs to carry back we decided to sop at the little tiki bar.  "Cocktails by the Sea" read the sign.  We made immediate acquaintance of Sharon, the bar keeper, a vivacious mother of three whose husband Sidney was out fishing.  She filled us in on a lot of local lore such as the fact that the Bahamas don't map uninhabited cays and islands, Cat Island has an underground water source, Sidney Poitier's daughter Pam lived close by on Cat and there's some controversy as to whether her father has done all he could for his boyhood home.  Her husband Sidney owns the bar, and only returned to operate it in January after his mother-in-law, who has diabetes, was injured when a car ran over her foot and she could not continue running the bar.  So he left Nassau, where Sharon and the kids live.  Sharon loves the "space"!

We met two colorful locals, Nestle and Leroy who tells us his English name is "Cracker."  He was born to a bi-racial couple and is the blackest in skin but evidently demonstrated some white traits early enough to earn the name Cracker.  He was a sweetheart.  Of course it was Friday (Good Friday), so both had been nipping the bottle but were in no way pickled.  As we were having a beer and tequila shots, Sidney and crew arrived with the day's catch and dumped it out atop a flat piece of concrete atop the rocks, which became the local gathering place.  Wat a hustle bustle of scaling, gutting and filleting and what a variety of fish: yellow tail, red snapper, yellow fin grouper, something called Bahamian catfish, and sturgeon (which they called turgeon).  And who knows what else.  It was probably 150 to 200 lbs of fish and, oh my, the scales were flying!  And the people were gathering!

The town chef and his wife showed uyp and finally the chef went home and brought his cleaning tools, a machete-like knife, a scraper and a smaller knife.  Cracker did most of the scaling and Nestle did the gutting and cleaning.  He let me try it and I think I will be able to cut back the head while leaving it attached and scraping out the gills and the entrails.  It was one extraordinary experience that so many cruisers miss by staying on the beaten path.  As they cleaned, they joked with each other and us and seemed happy to answer all my questions and then some.  We learned that most Bahamians don't own boats and don't know how to swim!  Of course, we don't know what "knowing how to swim" might mean, because Nestle didn't seem to think going after lobster in shallow water had anything to do with "swimming."  Sidney said they would share the catch with the community so there would be some darn good eating in Arthur's Town over the Easter weekend.

We went back to the boat for sushi and our own fish dinner (even though we'd been invited to return that night for the fish fry).  And, after sunset, a spotlight from shore seemed beamed right at us on Alizee.  Were our new friends keeping an eye on us?!?  Probably just the light at the basketball court, but it was a nice thought.  The next morning as we left the anchorage, we passed by "Cocktails by the Sea" and hollered and waved goodbyes were shared with Nestle and Cracker, who were out there on the deck.

April 3 was spent sailing over to Little San Salvador Island, and we caught a couple of nice fish along the way.  The next day, just as a cruise ship came in to "Half Moon Bay," the cruise ship day camp spot on Little San Salvador, we left heading for Eleuthera Island.  We had a wonderful sail, caught a couple of more yellow tail, and arrived at the Rock Sound Harbor anchorage in the late afternoon.  And, here we are.  Enjoying every sunset and sunrise, every bite of sushi and loving life to the fullest.  Really, we wish you were here!

Alizee's geotrack

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