Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Point, Great Guana Cay Exumas

After a three day stay, we left the Big Major's Spot anchorage near Staniel Cay early in the morning and headed to Black Point. Since the wind was not in our favor, it was a 10 mile motor. On arrival we dropped anchor, loaded up the dinghy with three big bags of laundry and headed for Rockside Laundry.

Leaving Jen with the laundry, Quinn and I returned to Mirasol to fetch the five boxes of school books we picked up in Ft Lauderdale. The Seven Seas Cruising Association organized a small fleet of boats to bring school books donated by Florida school districts to various islands of the Exumas. We were happy to volunteer. The organizers did a thorough job putting it all together and must have put in a great deal of effort. Since we were already going to the Exumas, I suspect the delivery was the easy part.

Laundry and book delivery complete we retired to Mirasol for lunch and a short nap. Jen spied the weekly Mail Boat arriving, which means fresh produce at the grocery store. We piled back into the dinghy and headed back in to shore to see what we could find. While Jen vied with the other cruisers for the limited supply of fresh veg, Quinn and I walked up the road to see what was going on at Lorraine's Cafe. It was very much like we left it two years ago. A very friendly place where you can get access to the internet, sip a beverage and catch up with the world a little bit. We found out that there was a BBQ buffet planned for the following night so we signed up and headed back to the grocery to find Jen. Jen had some success at the market so we grabbed the booty and headed back to the dinghy.

Since the Mail Boat was in, so were all the cruisers and the dock was quite crowded with all their dinghies. I had to climb over several to get to ours. As I was about to step onto ours, the dingy I was standing on started to drift backwards. I chose to make a jump for it... and chose poorly. Fortunately, I had nothing much in my pockets as I splashed down chest deep next to our dinghy. Jen, Quinn and the crowd on the dock all found it very amusing. Oh well, after 3 years of clambering around on dinghies it was about time, I suppose!

The following day we hiked to the east side of the island to explore two of the ocean side beaches. Jen found a bunch of sea glass and Quinn found several shells he liked. Once finished with the first beach, the sky looked a little threatening so we skipped the second beach and headed back to the boat. As six o'clock rolled around it was back to shore to Lorrain's Cafe for the BBQ. We met a family of four on the way and they decided to join us for dinner. They were taking a year sabbatical and enjoying the islands and it was fun comparing stories. Quinn had a lot of fun with their two boys, one 3 and one 5. As usual, Lorrain's food was delicious and the beer was cold.

We'll stay one more night here in Black Point, and then we think we'll move a little further south to our favorite anchorage in the area, Hidden Harbor. On our last visit, we spent several days there and had it almost exclusively to ourselves.

It looks like we might have a good weather window to get to Rum Cay next week. Rum Cay is a good spot from which to jump south to the Turks and Cacaos, and it's time to start thinking about that. The longer we stay here in the Exumas, the less favorable the weather becomes for getting to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and it's still a long way to Grenada.

Staniel Cay, Exumas

We had a great sail south from Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay. It was about 25 miles and a broad reach or run most of the way. We had plenty of company heading both north and south as it was a beautiful sailing day.

We arrived at the Big Major's Spot anchorage just north of Staniel Cay in mid afternoon and dropped the hook. The following day we went in to Staniel Cay to pick up some fresh produce from Isle General Store. We were in great luck and found carrots, broccoli and eggs along with some canned juice. While at the store Quinn found some kids playing in a fort just around the corner and joined in with a big grin. Heading back to the boat, the tide had gone out and I had to pull the dinghy through the shallows of the river to get to deep water. I seem to be timing the tide wrong on our land excursions lately!

We skipped the traditional pastimes at Staniel Cay - Thunderball Grotto and Pig Beach. Thunderball Grotto is very cool, a hollow islet that you can swim into via a short submerged tunnel. It was the location for the closing scene from the 007 movie Thunderball. However, the water was pretty choppy during low tide and I decided to give it a pass this year. I'll be sure to snorkel it on the way back north.

Pig Beach is just that. Wild pigs on a beach. Cruisers like to go ashore and feed them, and it sounds fun. We did it last time and I learned my lesson. Pigs aren't nice and are pretty aggressive. We watched from the boat this year.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Warderick Wells

We've spent the last three days at Warderick Wells, one of the jewels of the Exumas. It is in the heart of the Exuma Land and Sea Park and has many things to keep you busy. For us, the most attractive feature of the area are the hiking trails.

On our first day, we repeated a hike we took during our visit in 2009. We visited the blow holes on Boo-Boo peak, which were quiet as we arrived too close to low tide. We searched for and found the board we left two years ago on Boo-Boo peak, where it is customary for cruisers to leave a piece of driftwood marked with the boat's name and date of visit. Then we continued down to the beach on the Exuma Sound and then back across the Cay to some beaches on the Yellow Banks side of the Cay where we were moored. These beaches are among the best I have seen anywhere. Talcum-fine white sand, turquoise waters and live starfish, conch and other sea life in abundance.

That afternoon, we joined about 20 other cruisers for drinks and snacks down on one of the beaches. Quinn was very happy to find Glen, another 5 year old to play with and they spent 2 hours playing on the beach and in the surf. Unfortunately, Glen's family were headed north to the Abacos on a tight schedule so we couldn't spend more time with them. The afternoon was fun and we met several cruisers who we expect to see more of over the next several weeks as we are all working southward.

Our second day we went for a longer hike to the south end of the cay. We saw ruins of the abandoned loyalist settlement founded during the US Revolutionary War, a hideout used by pirates with a fresh water well, as well as several more beautiful beaches and great vistas. The "trails" were very rugged, often requiring stepping from jagged boulder to boulder, skirting 20-foot deep holes in the limestone. Quinn did very well, but was happy when we were finished with the rough trails and could stick to the beaches the rest of the way back to our dinghy.

Speaking of the dinghy, when we beached the dinghy in preparation for our hike I thought it was low tide. This assumption was supported by the fact that I had to row the last 100 yards in to the beach as it was very shallow and flat. Concerned about a rising tide, I dragged the dinghy up to the high water mark on the beach and tied it to a tree. As it turned out, I needn't have bothered. In fact, it was not low tide when we left the dinghy, but WAS when we returned several hours later. When we crested the rise by the beach where our dinghy was secured I was dismayed to find that the water that I had rowed over had disappeared and our dinghy was stranded 100 yards from any water.
We had three options. One was to swim out to Mirasol to wait for the tide. As Mirasol was about a quarter mile away and we were tired from the hike this was a poor option. The second option was to sit on the beach and wait for the tide to come in. Since this would probably be several hours, it was clear that this wasn't Quinn's or Jen's favorite idea. We were all hot, tired and thirsty.

The third option entailed dragging the 250 pound dinghy, motor, and fuel across 100 yards of that wet talcum-fine white sand. I mentioned that we could sit and wait for the tide, but apparently Jen and Quinn felt that I was simply making a poor joke and waited for me to start hauling the dinghy to the water. Oh, and they took pictures of course.

I did manage to float the dinghy without damaging anything important, (the dinghy made it afloat unscathed as well). We arrived back on Mirasol and I quickly availed myself of our stores of gin, tonic and lime.

Our third day was more leisurely. We hiked back up to the blow holes on Boo-Boo peak. This time we arrived near high tide and they were blowing strongly. We also climbed up to the peak and updated our driftwood marker with the year 2011. Boo-Boo peak get's its name from the sound of the blow holes when there is a strong on-shore swell at high tide. The cay is rumored to be haunted by a shipwreck castaway and some attribute the noise to his ghost, others to the blow holes. I'll reserve judgment as I haven't been to the peak at night and I imagine it's pretty spooky on a full moon.

We hope to come back to Warderick Wells one more time in 2012 as we make our was back to the US. It is a fun place to visit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day at Shroud Cay

As expected, the cold front arrived a day early and we were happy with our decision to shift our Exuma landfall to Shroud Cay. Shroud gave us less protection than we had hoped, but it was better than we expected Highborne to be in N-NE winds. The cold front stalled on top of the Bahamas, giving us lots of rain and 20-25 knot winds for a couple of days. Mirasol was pretty salty from the last couple of passages so the heavy rains were welcome.

After two days of hanging out on the boat we were ready for a trip ashore when the weather broke on Valentine's Day. We climbed on the dinghy and motored around exploring the tiny cays that surround Shroud Cay. Quinn had his first try at driving, and did very well. By the time I had to take over as we approached land he was comfortable enough with it to be screwing around with the throttle, pestering Jen and making me happy I had the kill cord strapped around my wrist.

We beached on Shroud Cay and followed a trail for a short hike. We found a natural fresh water well that really surprised me. It was 12 feet in diameter and full of fresh water - not brackish at all. This was very surprising to me since Shroud Cay is made of porous limestone and is no more than 10 feet above sea level. There were small fish swimming in the well, and Quinn asked how they got there. Good question... how did fresh water fish show up in a well hundreds of miles from any sizable fresh water habitat? I'm stumped.

We found a tidal creek that wound its way through the mangroves across the north end of the cay all the way to Exuma Sound. We followed it in our dinghy, motoring and rowing as required. On reaching the Exuma Sound I had to jump out and pull Jen and Quinn in the dink across the shallows where we beached it and tied off to a very small mangrove tree along the shore.

Crossing the barrier dunes, we found a beautiful deserted beach on the Exuma Sound where we relaxed for a while while Quinn played in the surf. We named it Valentine's Day Beach.

Once back on Mirasol Jen started on a batch of bread while Quinn swam off the transom.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On to the Exumas

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in the Exumas after a wonderful 33 hour sail from Bimini. We left Bimini at dawn and motored south straight into 15 knots of wind. The waves were steep and right on the nose, but fortunately this was just for a few miles as we made our way to Gun Cay where we would turn East onto the shallow waters of the Great Bahamas Bank.

Once on the shallow smooth waters of the Great Bahamas Bank, we had wind on our beam. We shut off the motors and blew across the banks at 7-8.5 knots. It was a fantastic sailing day. With only 3 to 15 feet of water under our keel, I kept a close eye out for coral heads, but never had to change course to avoid them. We were following a route from the Explorer Chart Book and this is well traveled route we found it to be carefully plotted to avoid the hazards. I saw many coral heads on the banks, but all passed safely to either side of us.

I was very pleased with Mirasol’s performance. Even loaded down with every cabinet stuffed to overflowing with provisions and gear, we were able to overtake a monohull with a 10 mile lead and keep ahead of a larger catamaran following behind, although he would have overtaken us if he had a few more hours.

At sunset, we left the 6 to 20 foot water of the banks and entered the Tongue of the Ocean which is the deep water between the Great Bahamas Banks and New Providence. The drop-off is sudden – our depth finder which has a range of more than 350 feet and measures every second, lost the bottom with the last reading being 24 feet. A glance at the chart we were suddenly in 2600 feet of water, and would soon be in water over a mile deep. The topology of the Bahamian waters is simply amazing.

Over night, we sailed most of the way across the Tongue of the Ocean. The sky was clear and the moon was out so it was a bright passage. The wind settled down to about 8 knots, and we were fighting a 1.5 knot current so our progress was a modest 4.5 knots through the water and 3 knots over ground. It worked out just right, though as we arrived off of Paradise Island, New Providence just before dawn and would need daylight to pick our way onto the Yellow Banks just past New Providence.

As we approached New Providence, we could see the lights of the massive Atlantis Resort and other hotels on Paradise Island, and kept an eye out for the many passing cargo and cruise ships. At first light we picked our way through the scattered Cays and coral heads that guard the north east corner of New Providence and turned south onto the Yellow Banks. The Yellow Banks, like the Great Bahamas Bank is a huge expanse of very shallow water, generally less than 20 feet deep that runs the entire western length of the Exumas.

By mid afternoon on Friday we made Highborne Cay in the Exumas, which was where we had planned to anchor for the night. However, as we approached we learned that the cold front we expected to arrive the following evening had sped up and was now expected that night. The anchorage at Highborne Cay didn’t offer much protection from a strong North wind, so we changed plans and headed a couple hours further south to Shroud Cay.

The Shroud Cay anchorage is gorgeous, dotted with tiny cays surrounding Shroud Cay on the East and the turquoise waters of the Yellow Banks on the West. At Quinn’s suggestion, we toasted our arrival in the Exumas and then went about the business of squaring away Mirasol after a passage. By sunset the three of us were lounging on the bow, very happy to be back.

Exploring Bimini

We spent four days and five nights in Bimini at the Blue Water Marina while we waited for weather for our hop to the Exumas. We spent the time exploring Alice Town, building sand forts on the beach, fishing off the boat and a little minor boat maintenance here and there.

We had arrived on the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday and Jen was happy to find that the owners of The Big Game Club marina were big Packers fans and were hosting a Super Bowl BBQ. Late Sunday afternoon we headed for the Big Game Club, both Jen and Quinn sporting their Packer gear. Since the Bears didn’t make it, I settled for cheering for the Packers, but refused to wear any Packers gear. The waitress at the door harassed me a bit for being a Bears fan, but let me in anyway. The BBQ was fantastic. Jen went for the chicken, Quinn for the ribs and I for the jerked pork loin. Delicious! Bahamians know how to throw a BBQ! Since the Packers won the big game, we celebrated with a big slice of chocolate cake, probably the last desert of that type we’ll find for a few months.

Monday Jen went searching for sea glass while Quinn and I built a huge sand fortress, complete with an outer wall, a moat, and a secret escape tunnel in the back. It has been many months since Quinn’s been on a beach like this and he put it to good use!

Alice Town was a pleasant place to visit, with very friendly locals. Quinn made several friends, including Craig, the BBQ master & bartender at the Big Game Club. The town is well kept and painted bright pinks, blues, and yellows. I was sorry to find that the Complete Angler Hotel where Hemmingway spent a lot of time had burnt down in 2007. Maybe I’ll read Old Man and the Sea again soon.

Arrival In Bimini

We’re back in the Bahamas! 


The crossing from Miami to Bimini was bouncy but pretty quick.  We were in a pack of six boats making for various entrance ports of the Bahamas so we had plenty of company.  We worked our way slowly through the pack and were the first of the three boats to arrive at Bimini.    Not that it was a race…


On arrival at the cut between North and South Bimini, we found that the entrance did not resemble our electronic or paper charts.  There were two large brand new channel buoys that were not on our charts and none of the buoys that were on our charts.  The only thing that seemed in agreement was the note about shifting sand bars on the charts and the breakers we were seeing just beyond those fancy new buoys.  We motored very slowly between the entrance buoys and confirmed the water in front of us was full of breakers so we turned around and headed back out to deep water to regroup and visually plan our route in.


We were hailed by another boat that just arrived who wanted to know what we found in the cut.  They had been here before, but said the markers were all new.  They had waypoints plotted from their last visit, so we let them lead the way.  As we headed in, we were hailed by someone with local knowledge who advised us to ignore the new buoys and head straight towards the southern shore and follow the beach in through the cut.  On the bow, Jen said that route looked the best and we headed that way.  The boat we were following didn’t heed these instructions, I assume being more comfortable with their old waypoints, and ran afoul of one of the sandbars.  They were being very cautious so didn’t ground hard and were quickly moving again.  We both then followed the beach in through the cut and were safely in the North Bimini channel off of Alice Town.


We took a slip in Blue Water Marina, cleared Bahamas Customs and Immigration, and settled in for a relaxing evening.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bahamas Bound 2011

Jen's elbow is getting much better and we've decided to continue on with our 2011 cruise. Tomorrow we will head down the New River and out into the Atlantic for the short hop to Dinner Key, Miami. The plan is to stay on a mooring ball at Dinner Key for a couple of nights and then make the jump across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas on Saturday.

We'll clear customs in Bimini and then head on to the Exumas as weather permits. Jen is hinting at us staying in Bimini for a week so we can watch the Packers in the Superbowl. We'll see how it works out when we get there (my favorite method of planning).

We made good use of the unexpected extension to our stay in Ft Lauderdale. Quinn is a proud owner of a new bike, we crammed at least another couple hundred pounds of provisions in our bulging lockers and cabinets (hey, beer is expensive in the islands!), visited some museums, and completed numerous chores on the boat that had been postponed until "a better time".

So, off we go on the next stage of our 2011 Cruise. Our long term plans are to spend some weeks in the Exumas and then begin working our way south through the West Indies until we reach Grenada in late June. We'll stay in Grenada through the 2011 hurricane season, and then start working northwards come November. Eventually, we'll make it back to Ft Lauderdale sometime in May or June of 2012.