Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 20, 2015 Cambridge Cay to Nassau

March 20, 2015
Friday: Cambridge Cay to Nassau

It was high tide when we unhooked from the mooring ball at Cambridge Cay.  We could cut about a mile off our travel time because we did not have to go around the island looking for deep water.  By 7:30, we were on our way to Nassau.  Before we left, Walter on Summer of 42, came by to chat.  We had met Walter in Jacksonville at Lamb's Yacht Center back in 2013.  Walter gave us the number for an A/C repairman in Nassau he had used before.  

Palm Cay Marina came into sight around 2:00. We could see rain off in the distance, thankfully, it kept its distance from us.  We had some trouble getting into the marina as it is one of those crazily marked entrances that is common in the Bahamas.   I won't go into details as I am told I often exaggerate, let's just say the boat has a scratch or two more than when we started this trip--but nothing serious that requires attention before we get back home.   We had trouble hailing the dock master, the canal is just wide enough for one boat and a Hatteras fishing boat politely requested to pass us to enter the canal first.   Once inside the sea gate--a chain across the canal--we had no problem getting into a slip, once the dockmaster's assistant of just 2 months showed us our slip. 

Palm Cay Marina is going to be very nice.  It is inside a gated community which beaches a pools and a beautiful restaurant.  Construction appears to have been re-started on the adjacent condominiums and dockmaster's office.   The employees are delightful, courteous, friendly and happy.   The fees are very reasonable and it is an easy place from which to jump to the Exumas.  There are quite a few transient boaters here, but there are also many permanent boats here as well.  We have discovered that we are not the only ones who are in need of repairs before continuing their trips. 

We had reservations at 7:00 for pizza but the refrigerator repairman had not arrived.  Lainey and I went ahead while Steve waited.   We got free wifi at the restaurant so we lingered over our dinner but Steve never made it.  Steve was busy talking to Roland Douglas and his wife Julie who were finishing up the repair when I returned.  Lainey stayed to take advantage of the wifi and Face Time her friends.   It turns out that the refrigerator had gotten stuck in defrost mode.  The thought is that because we switch from inverter to generator with some irregularity, the refrigerator gets tricked into defrost.  As always, Steve has a plan, and this shouldn't happen again.  He also has plans to maybe switch out the inverter when we get back to the states.  Can you say "Summer Project"?

So not a bad day--two out of three repairs made, pizza night and a beautiful marina to wait for the remaining repairs. 


Restaurant at the marina

Monday, March 30, 2015

March 19, 2015 Staniel to Cambridge

March 19, 2015
Thursday: Staniel Cay to Cambridge

The part for the water maker came in first thing this morning on the Watermaker  Air plane.  He and Lainey worked for two hours and managed to take out the membrane and put into a new vessel.  A test run proved that it had been repaired by these two.  I have known for years that Steve could repair almost anything, it seems that Lainey too has that gift.

Overnight, however, the refrigerator went out--packages of canned biscuits were exploding and the butter was melting.  The freezer seemed to be holding its own, but the ice maker was refusing to work as well.  After some phone calls we obtained some phone numbers for repairmen in Nassau.  Change of plans--head to Nassau .  Pulling up the anchor around 2:00, we headed north.  About 2 hours into the ride, we chose to pick up a mooring ball at Cambridge Cay, we did not want to pull in to someplace new at dark and  reason to waste the whole day. 

It was low tide as we came up to the mooring balls at Cambridge Cay.  We had to pass by the anchorage, go through the cut to the ocean, circle around and come in on the other side because the water was too shallow to come through on the south side.  Jack met us at the entrance and pointed out the last two mooring balls.  We opted to take the one further up the channel as it looked like it had more room to swing.  We secured our lines to the mooring ball and set out to explore a little. 

While Lainey and I were out walking the beaches, the park rangers came by to collect the fee.  By the time we got back, Steve was ready to explore, so we gave him and Piper the grand tour also.  There are some strange things that wash up to the beaches.  Lainey found a child's flip flop.  We have often seen small blue, green and aqua squares and triangles littering the beach.   These look like sea glass, but upon close inspection it turns out to be plastic.  We have heard that much of the trash that is discovered here is coming from countries which allow dumping of trash into the waters.  Visitors to Cambridge are encouraged to collect the trash and deposit onto a pile.  Park rangers will come around and dispose of these items when possible. 


Friday, March 27, 2015

March 18, 2015 Big Majors/Staniel Day 2

March 18, 2015
Tuesday: Staniel Cay/Big Major Spot

Bright and early (8:00ish) we heard on the VHF that the supply boat had come in so all the grocery stores would have fresh produce.  There are three "grocery stores" on Staniel Cay.  We found the blue one and the pink one.   Grocery store is quite a stretch---these are not much bigger than a convenience store-not something like QuikTrip but small, like maybe the size of a bedroom.

We had to watch where we walked while exploring because the golf carts were racing back and forth from the supply boat to their stores loaded with crates and boxes.  We also walked to the airport where we thought Steve would have to pick up the water maker part and where we thought we would purchase Lainey a flight back to Nassau.  (Our original plans were to take the boat back to Nassau, but we discovered this $118 flight from Staniel to Nassau for her).   Before going back to the boat, we found the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and restaurant.  We decided we had to come back here for dinner. 

After lunch and at slack tide--we took the dinghy, our snorkels, masks and fins to Thunderball Grotto.  It was here that the James Bond movie was filmed.  We were warned it could get crowded with all the mega yachts -- it was crowded.  A nice boater gave us a bag of frozen peas to lure the fish.  Jumping in with all of our gear on, we swam to the opening at the base of the rock, swam under and came up to the the inside of a cave with an opening up top that let in sunlight.  There was so much to see, the fish swimming around, the patterns of light coming through the top of the cave, and all the people.  Some brave ones were jumping in from the outside which was probably a 30 ft. drop.  We swam out under a rock and popped up on the other side and then returned to explore some more. 

Since we had the dinghy out we decided to take a look at the swimming pigs of Staniel Cay.  The pigs are owned by a local farmer and are actually not on Staniel but on Big Major Spot.  The farmer really has a great deal --all the tourists feed his pigs, leaving him to reap the benefits when these little piggies go to market. 

Our return to the boat led us to another discovery.  Our A/C had gone out and our refrigerator was gasping for life.  We could all sense a change of plans in the making. 


Supply boat loaded with goods

Thursday, March 26, 2015

March 17, 2015 Big Majors/Staniel Cay

March 17, 2015
Tuesday: Big Majors/Staniel Cay St. Patrick's Day

Time to leave our mooring ball and head south to Staniel Cay.  Our friends, Jack & Evie on Eldridge C are here and we are hoping to find them.  As we inch into the anchorage at Big Majors just an island away from Staniel Cay, I spotted their boat.   While we were setting the anchor,  I noticed a couple in a dinghy one boat over waving at us--it was Jack & Evie out visiting.  They came aboard and chatted for a while and then offered to take us on a dinghy tour of the area.  We were all for that--it is super nice to have someone point out the places to explore and with their 11 years of experience visiting the Exumas, we were eager to soak up all the advice they had to offer. 

After their tour, we took off for Staniel Cay.  A Batelco office is on the island--I had to visit because we had used up all of our data package on our phone.  The clerk helped me re load another data package and gave me a brief lesson on how to conserve data.   It seems that this trip is all about conservation--water, electricity, & now data.  While I was making a new friend at Batelco, Steve went over to the WaterMaker Air office (hut).   Our water maker sprung a leak--YIKES!  Our water maker uses reverse osmosis to make potable water from sea water.  It tastes terrific.  Because we are staying on the hook mostly while in the Exumas, it is important to make our own water.  Steve had worked hard to prepare the watermaker for this trip so this leak is a real blow to our trip.  He found Chubby, who could not make the repair for us, but told us what part we needed and how to order to put it on the next Water Maker Air flight to Staniel Cay.  Water maker has a great deal--they make water for the islands, and they have an airline. 

After our chores were completed, we made a quick appetizer and headed to a St. Patrick's party on Pirate Beach at 5:00.  Jack & Evie invited us to this nice beach with chairs, umbrellas, benches, games and a great view.  Lainey made several connections to the St. Pete area for possible job opportunities when she returns. 


One of the many mega yachts anchored nearby--see the waterslide?

local fishermen selling catch of the day--look at their feet and see the lobster.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March 16, 2015 Warderick Wells

March 16, 2015
Monday:  Warderick Wells

After a good night's rest securely on the mooring ball, we checked in at the park office after it opened at 9 a.m.  There are artifacts, and shells on display on the deck surrounding the park office as well as inside.  The park staff was very helpful in giving us trail maps and snorkeling guides and answering all the questions.  They have a small gift shop as well as a book exchange and DVD rental. 

We put on our good shoes to hike up to Boo Boo Hill. The hike is over spiky rock/coral that is not something to be done in flip flops.  It is said that Warderick Wells is haunted and that hymns may be heard on a moon lit evenings.  There are three shipwrecks off the island.   Local lore tells the story that a boat load of missionaries who wrecked off of Warderick Wells are buried on Boo Boo Hill.  It is also thought that their cries can be heard throughout the night.  A cairn has been erected in remembrance of these lost souls.  The hill can be seen easily in the North Mooring field.  At the top of the hill is a pile of wood scraps each with a boat name or other message painted or carved into the wood.   Next to t he pile is a bench with two placards with quotes. One said "Do not regret getting old, it is a privilege denied of many."  The other is "People will forget what you did, but they will not forget how you made them feel."

We headed north from Boo Boo Hill to the trail leading us to the Blow Holes.  When the wind is high and the waves are high, the water is pushed up through these holes like a geyser.  There was no water shooting out of the holes, but as we stuck our heads over the hole to look down, a burst of wind sent our hats flying. Later in the day we went to Tabebuia Beach and hiked across to the Exuma Sound side of the island following Hutia Hill Trail and the Hutia Highway Trail.  We did not see any Hutia, but we saw lots of evidence of Hutia.  After this hike, we tried to cool off by going snorkeling, but the current was too swift for us--so we toured around in the dinghy and discovered the burned hull of a 44' fiberglass sailboat.  It is at mooring ball #9.  There is at least 9 feet of depth over the sailboat, so there are no worries of hitting it by boat.  The boat sank after an electric fire burned it while the owners were at dinner aboard another boat. 

Around dinner time, the reef sharks appeared again.  It was nice to watch them safely from the cockpit.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March 15, 2015 Highborne to Warderick Wells

March 15, 2015
Sunday: Highborne Cay to Warderick Wells

After a brief stroll around Highborne Cay on Sunday morning, we left for the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  Our destination, Warderick Wells, is the hub of the park and the home of the park headquarters.  We called ahead on the VHF to reserve a mooring ball.  There are three mooring fields here: North, Emerald Rock and south.  We were given ball #17.   It was an easy passage in through the park and we snagged the pennant with no problem, secured the line and we were ready to explore.  The park office closes at noon on Sunday, so we were on our own for exploring.

Powerful Beach just a few steps away from the office, looked inviting to Piper.  She took advantage of the sand while we were inspecting the 52 foot sperm whale skeleton.  The whale was killed by consuming plastic garbage.  Plastic bags are often mistaken for jelly fish and eaten.  Fishing line entangles both birds and fish.  There are no trash receptacles on Warderick Wells.  Everyone is encouraged and required to leave the area undisturbed to protect the wildlife. 

Now that Piper had her walk around the beach, she was ready for a nap and we were ready to snorkel.  The highlight was seeing the lobster parade across the sandy bottom and hide behind the rocks.  We saw several rays glide effortlessly through the water.  One decided to bury itself in the sand becoming very well hidden.  A barracuda, a needlefish and a Nassau grouper also made appearances as did many other small colorful fish. 

Around dusk (dinner time) we noticed (as did Piper) some reef sharks swimming around the stern of the boat.   One was about 6 feet long the other about 4 feet in length.  Piper kept looking out ready to give chase to the stealthy gray fish while the shark appeared to be stalking her and licking their chops at what could be a tasty dinner.  We ushered Piper inside and closed all the doors.   While Steve and Lainey were out looking at the sunset I had some visitors drop by to see "My Sharks."  They tied up for a while to get a look at what by this time had morphed into 15 feet long sharks.  The sun was almost gone, but the dark shapes were still visible and evidently still hungry.


Monday, March 23, 2015

March 14, 2015 Lyford Cay to Highborne Cay

March 14, 2015
Lyford Cay to Highborne Cay

Ready to explore and start our trip to the Exumas with Lainey, we left early Saturday, 3/14/15.  Our first stop in the Exumas was Highborne Cay.  Highborne is a private island with a marina.  It is the first marina to be found in the Northern Exumas.  Although the island is private, privileges are extended to visiting boaters.  We maneuvered around the rocks--definitely want to have good visibility coming into this marina.  There is a very well stocked marina grocery/sundries store along with assorted souvenirs.

We ate lunch at the Xuma restaurant where we could overlook the entrance into the marina and the neon blue green water with snow white sandy beaches.  We had the opportunity to meet the owners of Mint Julep, a Grand Alaskan from Kentucky.   A road running across the island was cut through limestone. Late in the afternoon we walked along this road to the Atlantic side of the cay to get a look at the beaches on that side.  We sat on Adirondack chairs shaded by thatched roof huts to look out at the sea.  It was too rough for snorkeling, but  a great day for enjoying the warm weather. 

Otter, another Fleming, was also at the marina.  We enjoyed getting to know Parker and Martha and their Labradors, Ruby & Madison.  Piper spent some doggy time with them as well.  A fishing boat came in while we were enjoying some time at the Exuma Bank side beach.  Steve hailed Lainey and  I over to watch the fishermen slice and dice some Mahi. They threw out the scraps to at least a dozen sharks who were worked up into a frenzy.  Lainey got some great video with her go pro using the extension rod to film the sharks from underwater. 

We had dinner on the fly bridge and watched two charter boats come in at dark squeezing in between other boats without incident.  The hosts came over to warn us that the boats were full of college and high school students on spring break.  They had chartered both boats for their children and their friends for a week long vacation. 

Strolling along the marina after dinner provided Lainey some time to network.  She met several captains who offered her information about job opportunities for the future.  The marina is run by Carolyn and Kevin who take great care of this island.  Jessica, their daughter, came out to talk to Lainey and they discovered that Jessica has a cousin who is also a student at Eckerd. 

On Sunday morning before we checked out, I noticed a man with a rope strung through about a dozen conch shells.  I watched him as he hammered and scraped to remove the conch from its shell.  He was collecting the conch to take home to his wife who makes conch salad to sell in Nassau.  The owner of the boat for whom he was working invited me in to see the lamp her husband had made out of these conch shells.  I saw Steve wandering by and got him to join us so that he could see the lamp and make one for me too--he just loves a project. 


P.S.  I used my baking skills to catch about 3 lbs of Mahi today.  Brownies made with Georgia pecans can be alluring bait for a fisherman who has had his fill of Mahi. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

More Animals of the Exumas!

Determined to study all I could for this trip to the Exumas, I have learned more about the animal life than I ever imagined.  Probably  more than I did in school.
In case you were wondering, there are amphibians in the Exumas.  Frogs, my friends are amphibians and there are three species may be found here--the Cuban tree Frog, the eastern narrow mouth toad and the greenhouse frog.  There are also reptiles in these beautiful islands.  We saw the Curly tail lizards are  in Bimini and may run into them again in any of the Bahamian islands.  We might see a brown racer or a pygmy boa or a blind worm snake.  We could also run into a Bahamas Fowl Snake which is a relative of the boa constrictor. Thankfully, none of these snakes are poisonous.   The other reptile we may see is the Anole which is very similar to a lizard which might  be sold in a pet store at home but often are mistaken for a chameleon.  

Freshwater turtles are not native to the Exumas, but we may be lucky enough to see one of three species of sea turtles.  The green turtle, the hawksbill turtle and the loggerhead turtle all live here.  The loggerhead is the largest of the three and can grow to weigh over 500 pounds.  The hawksbill turtle is probably the most beautiful because of its multicolored carapace of browns and yellows, and reds. 

Many people come to the Exumas with the expectation of seeing the Rock Iguana.  After seeing the iguana in Marathon, I don't have any desire to have any visits with the Rock Iguana.  Many cays in the Bahamas are named "Guana Cay" because at one time these prehistoric looking animals were abundant throughout the Bahamas.  Today, however, they are a protected species.  They can be found at Allans Cay and Leaf Cay in abundance.  

Bird watchers will delight in all the many different birds they might have a chance to see: hummingbirds, owl and red legged thrush can be sighted as well as mocking birds, white crowned pigeons and osprey.  The Bahama honey creeper is quite common  and is sometimes referred to as the bananaquit.

The mosquitoes here are not quite as big as birds, but can be more annoying.  Bug spray is a must.  We have already experienced the "no see um", which are invisible insects which must have enormous teeth that love to bite into human flesh.  Do NOT go outside without bug spray on a windless day.  There are also crab spiders, black widow spiders and scorpions here just like at home.  There are termites which live in enormous mounds that look like a beehive made out of potting soil.  

It is supposedly good luck to run into a Giant Bat Moth.  The locals call them Money Bats and it is considered a sign of good fortune should one fly around a person.  These Giant Bat Moths can grow up to 8 inches wide and are easily mistaken for bats.  I would prefer the good luck with out having a Giant Bat Moth buzzing around my head.



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rats, Bats and Hutia?

We are looking forward to seeing the swimming pigs at Staniel Cay in the Central Exumas.  I have never seen a swimming pig and I am assuming that most of you who read this post have not seen swimming pigs.   I generally like my pigs cooked on a Big Green Egg by one of my readers on Lake Hartwell. (Hoping for an invitation to join them this summer)  Before we get to Staniel Cay and the swimming pigs the mammals we are most likely to encounter are rats or bats.  Can you hear the gleeful sound in my voice as I say this out loud?  Did you know that rodents and bats are the most abundant species of mammals on earth?  Neither did I.

The Bahamas boast 12 species of bats.  We are most likely to see the leaf nosed bats which have an appendage which is leaf shaped that they use as radar.  These bats help keep down the mosquito population-which makes me appreciate them greatly.  Bats are nocturnal and since I am not- I don't think we will get into each others way while I am visiting.  

The two species of rats in the Exumas are also nocturnal--Yippee!  I would rather run into a bat or a cat or a big fat gnat than a rat and that is that! (Oops I am channeling Dr. Seuss again) The rats in the Exumas are either brown which prefer water and thus can be found where there are people, and black rats which don't need a lot of water and can build their little rat packs in the forest and field.  

There is another rodent which lives in the Exumas.  The hutia has a chunky body, stubby neck, short ears and a short tail. The Hutia are somehow related to the porcupine and the chinchilla.   Hutia have been kept as pets and used as a food source, proving their adaptability to societal needs. After the Hutia populations declined, it became a protected species and can generally only be found at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.  Today, they have almost over populated certain areas and are extinguishing much of the vegetation in their habitat.  

Tomorrow-a lesson on Amphibians in the Bahamas. (If I can get an internet connection)


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Intro to the Exumas

The approximately 130 mile chain of 360 cays or islands is known as the Exuma's district of the Bahamas. The largest of these is Great Exuma with the largest town being Georgetown.  The Exumas can be divided into 4 distinct regions- The Northern Exumas, The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, The Central Exumas and the Southern Exumas.  

It is with great anticipation that we set out to explore the Exumas as it has been the setting for both films and novels.  The James Bond film, Thunderball was shot at Thunderball Grotto of Staniel Cay.  Sandy Cay near little Exuma is the location where Pirates of the Caribbean beach scenes were filmed.  The novel entitled Wind from the Carolina's was set in Great Exuma.