Bahamas… dreamy research

10 Mar

IMGP2023What a fantastic 2 weeks of Bahamas research it was!

It was an early start  to get the boat all put to bed. The shuttle arrived an hour early so got the 0800 train to Lauderdale and taxi to Executive Airport for flight with Watermaker Air. We had breakfast at Runway Cafe and our flight left at 1300. We flew in a Cessna, about 9 pax. We stopped at Andros for customs then on again to Staniel Cay. It was a beautiful approach over the top of the Exumas and down along the chain to Staniel Cay. The views from the plane were incredible.  It was simply magical with the colour of the turquoise waters and oh so light sands. Dave and Theresa met us at the open air airport and we had a walk about Staniel Cay and the tiny Yacht Club, then dinghied around the corner to Big Blue II. Up anchor and set off to Sampson Cay to anchor for the night and enjoy a lovely laid back evening. In the morning Dave, David and I went to a great snorkel spot known as the “fish aquarium”. There was already a dinghy on the dinghy mooring so we asked if we could tie up too. The fellow said to David – hey did you do the transatlantic on Valkyrie – and it was Guy and Pica who were Captain and First Mate when David and I sailed from Gibraltar to the Canaries (along with Gill) and then David and the guys did the transatlantic race to St Martin in 2007 – unbelievable! We had a lovely snorkel with the fishies  – there were so many and they were so social they almost swam up your nose! Then we sailed on to Warderick Wells. The entry was interesting , with as little as 0.1m under keel and anchor in 0.2m! We picked up a park mooring and went ashore for a walk. The sands here are so fine that it is called pudding sand. We saw all kinds of shells and coral but couldn’t take any as it is a park. We also saw a couple of Hutia – a chubby little rodent guy that eats everything green until the island looks grey. We had great fun getting his photo  – he froze, pretending to be “just a rock”! A nice evening onboard and great meal by Theresa – one of many. A bit bumpy overnight snuggled in the forepeak.

Wednesday dawned with an unusual amount of cloud. We went in to the Park office for a hike. The terrain is a bit like a moonscape with the unusual limestone formations – it is actually coral limestone. It was a very hot hike, very hot. We had a picnic lunch then decided to move on after all and headed for Shroud Cay. It seems the best charts are the Explorer charts and these charts have recommended routes known as the Explorer highways. We saw some sailboats and several mega yacht powerboats.  It was a lovely afternoon sail but hot! Once anchored we went off in the dinghy to the beach for a cooling swim. We found this amazing moon sliver beach stretched between a jut of land and tiny outcrop of limestone. This sliver of a beach is called a tombolo and the little island adjoining is known as a tied island. In simple words, it was magical and the water was oh so lovely. We found lots of great shells including one very live conch with the most vibrant colors. We also saw two birds dancing together in the air – American Oystercatcher (not the infamous whistling duck!). One thing we noticed is that there do not seem to be a lot of birds in the Exumas – seems odd.

Thursday dawned another frisky day. We decided not to go in search of snorkelling, but set off instead for Alan Cay. Alan is north of the park area and is also home to the endangered Bahamian Iguana. Once settled in a snug anchorage, we dinghied to one little buffering island. There were lots of Iguanas and one in particular had pretty pink and red markings – a pretty iguana you ask? We walked across the island to a nice beach, walked the beach shell hunting and then went for a swim and a bit of snorkeling. I found a large conch, David found a small pretty one. We saw various fishies – Sergeant Major, Blue Chromis, Angelfish, a Slippery Dick (!), perhaps a Creole Wrasse, and many more. We were one of the early ones to anchor and sat back with a cocktail to enjoy the entertainment as others picked their spot and manoeuvred to anchor. It was a good day… shell hunting, walking the beach, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, reading, chatting and relaxing. All good.

Friday we set off for the Nassau area. There was a cold front coming and it was expected to be a bit of a blow. We have been listening to Chris Parker on the SSB and it is interesting to get the weather picture each morning at 0630 on channel 4045. When we set off it was right on the nose and a bit of a bucking bronco ride but it settled down to a nice passage even if under power. We skirted the yellow banks and headed in the direction of Nassau. We got to Rose Island, a little island just east of Nassau and dropped the hook in the shelter of the island. We went exploring, looking for shells, looking at coral and fish through the glass bottom bucket and wandered in to Sandy Toes which to me was reminiscent of Caribbean tourist spots twenty year ago.

Saturday dawned grey, windy and cold. Forecast by Chris was for  NNW winds of 15-20 with gusts to 25 and squalls of 30 knots. That is pretty much what we got. Dave and Theresa have been impressed by how reliable the forecasts are here. We motored over to Nassau and dropped the hook in the Cloisters anchorage. We felt quite at home in the cold grey windy and wet day but hey it was like a cold day in July.

We won’t get down to Georgetown (also known as Chicken Harbour) or The Out Islands on this little side trip but it has been an excellent reconnoitering trip. We have a bit if a feel for the Exumas, the Park area and now, Nassau. Next is the Berry Islands and a bit of the Abacos!

Sunday, there was a bit of a parade of boats heading for the Exumas but sadly, not us. Despite the still strong winds these folks in the parade were antsy to get moving as their charter had started Saturday. Nassau – what a contrast. I think about 200,000 of the 300,000 Bahamas inhabitants live here. It is a city and a port city at that, with cruise ships, along with Paradise Island just across the bridges – I am sure you can imagine it. We docked at Nassau Harbour Club & Marina. Don’t be fooled by the fancy name, but the rate is reasonable. Small world syndrome again, who was docked right across from us but Jock MacRae who we had crossed paths with farther north in the ICW! We all got showered and set off wandering. We got to Potters Cay, the food stalls under the bridge with every second one selling conch salad – if you dared. Then we walked over the bridge to Paradise Island and witnessed another form of wildlife, the slot machine type. There were several mega yachts docked there, including Diamonds Are Forever, the world’s most luxurious charter mega yacht that we had first seen at Rybovich. Then we were back over the bridge and into the streets of Nassau. There is a very visible police presence here and security guards every second shop. It is advised that you not walk after dark and I think perhaps the biggest threat are the beer bottles they toss out the car windows in a most disconcerting manner! We feel very safe here, evening Nassau… then we read the daily paper and the front page featured: a cop attacked in the line of duty in Exuma, a man shot dead in his car in Nassau, $1M drug raid in Nassau, and a Haitian drug sloop causes oil spill. I guess we are just blissfully oblivious! Great people watching here – an amazing variety from the gamblers and cruise ship tourists to the spirited Bahamians. The local dialect is a delightful lilting one although when they speak quickly to each other, almost impossible to follow. We found the Bahamians genuine and friendly. In the evening we took Dave and Theresa out to dinner at the Poop Deck. The wind howled all day with gusts as high as 28 knots and good whitecaps out to sea. Walking across the bridges was a bracing wind whipped experience. The night in the marina was a windy one as Deep Blue 11 tugging at her lines creating a symphony of creaking noises all night.

Monday dawned with more sun but still quite windy. We spent much of the day walking and exploring. David and I wandered through the cruise ship port area and all the traps (shops) around it. We went to the Straw Market and around much of old Nassau. We went back to Potters Cay and chatted with two guys hand painting a beer ad on the side of a shed in an attractive illustrative style – very impressive. One guy was very chatty and even picked up our accent as being not American, just by the way we pronounced the name of their local beer, Kalik!

We have now had several days (and nights) of cold and blustery weather. Heard some other cruisers talking and the word is that Tuesday will be the only good passage day to the Exumas this week and it will be 15-17C this coming weekend!! In the Bahamas! The neighbour of our friend on Whale Cay said that in his 27 years here, this is by far the coldest and windiest, with many more cold fronts than normal. Just in our short time here we will experience two cold fronts – of course! So what – still oh so lovely.

On Tuesday we waved good bye to Dave and Theresa and set off to the Nassau Executive Airport. Rob picked us up in his twin Piper Comanche (plane) and we flew over to Big Whale Cay. Rob and Kaya have a little piece of paradise. They built their place about 10 years ago. The island has a fascinating history that revolves around a lady, Marion Carstairs who developed a whole community with a church,  pool, tennis court, walled roads, runway, boat launch and all sorts of other buildings in the 1930s. All that is unused and deserted now but the stonework still stands and the runway is still used. What an amazing place – we wandered about the island and the four of us went by boat to a little marina  that seems to be getting up and running again. Then we went over to Chub Cay. Someone had a grand vision here. A very sheltered marina with a substantial dock system has been created as well as some holiday housing and a main lodge which is still unfinished and starting to deteriorate as the project has been abandoned. ScotiaBank owns what is left unsold and unfinished. It was a couple of days of true island time – simply idyllic. We even saw peacocks including a colourful male. Rob told us of his run ins with the Poisonwood tree, and that when there is a full moon, the poison wood tree weeps.

Thursday there was a gathering at the airstrip for farewells. First Sandy and her family boarded their little chartered plane and took off. Then Rob, Kaya, David and I boarded Rob’s plane. Helen, Beth and Kent were there to wave us off. It was about a half hour flight to Marsh Harbour of the Abacos. The views of the pink sands and the multitude of water colours was incredible. From there it was a cab ride to the ferry and then the local inter island ferry to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. Absolutely charming. Narrow streets, more golf carts than cars, colourful houses, smiling people, lots of sailboats and a lighthouse. The lighthouse is the last hand cranked kerosene fuelled lighthouse. The harbour is an excellent hurricane hole with lots of moorings – mostly taken. We visited the two grocery stores and got a real insight into provisioning in the Bahamas – selection very limited and prices 50 to 300% more than stateside. On the Atlantic side of town was a long sandy beach, much more pink than the beaches in the Exumas. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Hope Town and hope to be back! We took the ferry back to Marsh Harbour early the next morning. The communities seem tight knit, the people friendly and ready to laugh, and the ferries are a wonderful gathering place. So many shops and places had signs that had the word “tellin”. We asked a lady on the ferry and she said it is the lovely little fine bi-valve shells with sunburst colours of yellow to pink. Kaya was interested to visit a shop in Marsh Harbour and asked the cab driver if it would be open. He replied: there is a good chance it might be open! That is island time. Indeed the shop was not open. We waved goodbye to Rob and Kaya then boarded our Bahamas Air flight to W Palm Beach. The Captain informed us that we were #1 in line for take off (not so surprising as we were the only aircraft there). The views from the plane were amazing again. In spite of mankind’s attempts to deface the earth, Mother Nature remains stunningly beautiful. Can word or art ever truly capture the pure beauty. We can but try.

We read an interesting tourism article on the flight – tourism in the Bahamas has been down a bit in recent years and was also negatively affected by Hurricane Sandy. Their tourism development is focused on the big stuff – hotel beds, casinos, flight lift, cruise ship numbers and per pax spend, and so on… not us little cruisers. So much of it is focused on Nassau, Paradise Island and Atlantis – which is good news for us cruisers as they don’t focus much on development of our playgrounds, the smaller peripheral islands.

We got the shuttle back to Rybovich from the airport and found Gypsy resting happily in her spot between the piles. A welcome sight. We threw open the hatches, emptied our bags and settled back in. We went to the south yard for Friday night crew night – and Meteor was on the hard for work. We have a few little jobs to do and then we will dawdle on. Rybovich has been fantastic to us in all ways. Their slogan: Refit – Refresh – Refuel – Relax… so true. The people are so wonderful – friendly, helpful and most delightful of all, happy. I can’t even begin to single out names, there are so many. The facility is great and we have loved access to the main yard (gym, café and ogling megayachts!). Even though we are now not looking for our own weather window to the Bahamas, we continue to watch it. While we were in the Bahamas, there were two cold front that blew through, leaving only one day windows. Right now the seas outside are 15’ and not really abating until later this coming week!

Towboat US has one of its bases at the Rybovich yard – great guys. David was chatting with one just before we headed to the Bahamas. They said the season was getting busier – it had been a pretty normal day with 2 sinkings and 2 fires! When we got back, the Towboat US guys were still hard at it – right now they are dealing with a 50’ poweryacht that was single handed and unknowingly taking on water til it sunk! The boat had to be cleared of the reef for environmental and navigational reasons and all oil/fuel removed, plus the guy wants to salvage it so yesterday they floated it and parked it in the sands at 40’ til conditions improve. They have to dive on it and were getting too thrashed to continue. Mother Nature again, just letting us all know who is the boss!

Our plan now is to head towards Jacksonville. David needs to replace the engine heat exchanger. It has been leaking and misbehaving badly. So we hope to leave Rybovich Wednesday at the latest. Back in the Ditch!

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