Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Exumas: Black Point, Shroud Cay

Is the Coast Clear?

The May 19 weather forecast indicated that the very unsettled, potentially dangerous, system that had been hanging over Cuba for the last week was not going to head our way after all. So, despite cloudy skies, intermittent rain, and more wind than we wanted, we decided to begin making passage northward. We were still going to be "trapped" in the Exumas by the high winds but we could gain some northward distance with a short passage in Exuma Sound and then cutting over to the protected Banks such that when we had the opportunity to make a jump across one of the seas whose waves were still too big for us to cross we would be in a better position with less distance to cover. What had appeared to originally be a leisurely cruise back to Florida, dropping anchor for some play days and easily getting to the home dock in time for the appointments we all had scheduled for the last week of May was now looking like we had "missed the boat" and had little chance of getting back in time. This type of weather in late May is not what boaters, or even natives, ever expect to see. Radio chatter comments all say that it seems like the calender has been turned back to February.

The seas in Exuma Sound were surprisingly calm so we put out the fishing lines, hooked two dolphin, but only got one in the boat. Just getting the fish to the boat is a lot of fun as they are really aerial acrobats, wildly jumping out of the water, their blue, yellow, and green colors flashing brilliantly. Just when you think they are tired, and you reel them close to the boat, they take a look, make one last violent thrash or deep dive to try to break free. Landing them is always good for a lot of yelling aboard FLUKE.

Skies looked menacing as we moved northward: we could see scattered thundershowers in the distance and heard VHF reports that waterspouts had been spotted. As we were eating our lunch of BLTCPs (bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickle sandwiches) thunder rumbled in the distance. Ursa's ears perked up, and she ran downstairs. I could hear that she had jumped up in the bed and was clawing (we call it digging) furiously at the sheets. Through a mouthful of my sandwich I remarked that someone (presumably Wayne, since Eddie was at the helm) needed to go get her before she tore the sheets or wet the bed. Ursa's anxiety towards thundershowers has intensified in the last couple of years to where it seems like she is having a panic attack. She pants, whimpers, digs into cushions or under pillows, and is just plain terrified, usually resulting in loss of bladder control if we have not recently taken her out to use her mat. This activity sets up the blog for its next episode:

The Princess and the Pee

No, that isn't a misspelling of the title of that wonderful fairy tale about the princess and the problem she was having with a pea under her mattress causing a miserable night's sleep. That would be too simple.

The skies opened up, the rains came down (we collected 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes, could have had much more, but we filled all our buckets on the upper deck), thunder rumbled, and the Princess continued to dig.

When Wayne finished his BLTCP, he went downstairs and yelled up that Ursa had peed right in the middle of the bed. I thought he was joking, but he said he wouldn't joke about something like that. His damage control report indicated that the top and bottom sheets and the mattress pad were wet. Immediately I questioned the condition of our brand new, ultra-expensive mattress. Still dry! I closed my eyes and silently thanked that mattress salesman for talking us into looking at the demonstration for that $100, at the time, seemingly ridiculously priced, high tech, microfiber mattress pad that was guaranteed to hold back all human and animal fluids. It had already been "christened" with some cat puke, but that was of more solid substance, so its pure liquid holding capabilities were now being put to the true test, and it passed with flying colors. No warranty claim needed for this product!

OK, now the big clean up at sea would begin. With the rain subsiding, Eddie plugged up one of the deck drains to retain water. I put laundry detergent into one of the large buckets and dipped in the sheets, swishing them more violently than my washing machine sitting at home in Vero could. Then, I handed them over to Eddie who did a pre-rinse in the standing water on the plugged deck by swishing them with his feet. These are queen size sheets, so they are a bulk to handle to say the least to wash and rinse by hand or foot. After the prerinse was completed, they were put in a bucket of clean rain water. The "spin cycle" consisted of Eddie and I twisting them tightly to wring out as much water as possible. Maybe not as good as the true Whirlpool treatment, but by Bahamian standards it would have to do. We layed out the sheets on the deck chairs to dry as much as they could and then put them in the dryer when we ran the generator after we anchored.

Ursa doing it the right way
Ursa doing it the right way

The magic mattress pad presented more of a drying problem since it was so thick. To hasten its drying, we rigged a line on the bow from the burgee pole to the bridge railing (no room in the aft deck since the dinghy was there and the pad needed a lot of free flying room) and hung the pad on it. I thought it was a great place for it since we could keep an eye on it in the event the wind started to blow it off. The guys thought it looked stupid, having it billowing on the bow while underway. I suggested they think of it as a spinnaker and quit worrying about being seen by other cruisers. Besides, who cares what the likes of a yachtsman who owns a megayacht named HOOTER PATROL, which passed through the cut where we anchored for the night, would think of our spinnaker?

FLUKE's spinnaker
FLUKE's spinnaker

Great Guana Cay, Exumas
May 19 – May 20, 2007

We crossed over from Exuma Sound through Dotham Cut to access the harbor where we decided to anchor off the town of Black Point. We had visited here in 2000, felt comfortable in the anchorage (it is huge, with a nice, sandy bottom and good holding for the bad weather we're faced with), and liked the town which is why we stopped here again.

We enjoyed another meal of fresh fish from the sea; even Ursa and Visitor were treated to some raw tidbits during the lengthy cleaning process. Long, hot, showers were everyone's treat since we knew we had ample water to last the rest of the cruise.

An inter-island freighter arrived, a real community event. It is interesting watching the cargo get off loaded: plants, produce, lumber, engines, boxed goods, and even people. Locals show up to watch the activity even if they aren't getting anything from the boat.

A Sunday morning walk around the small town found the doors of the church wide open and the parishioners singing loudly. All the businesses, as few as there are, were closed as we expected. A friendly man, named Willie Rolle, stopped to talk to us to give us some local information and said "I'm dee one in dee guide book". Since our guide book is over 10 years old, and he is in it, it's obvious he is the town greeter of great longevity.

Native boat building project
Native boat building project

Shroud Cay, Exumas
May 21, 2007 – May 25, 2007

Shroud Cay is one of our favorite islands in the Exumas. We fell in love with it when we were here in 2000 so we were looking forward to making the 35 mile trip northward from Black Point and getting reacquainted with its natural landmarks. The entire cay is unpopulated and criss crossed with mangrove-lined tidal creeks, some of which flow all the way to the ocean. It is so fun to kayak or dinghy through the creeks when the tide is right.

Shroud Cay anchorage
Shroud Cay anchorage

This cay is within the boundaries of the Exumas Land and Sea Park. All cays and waters that lie within the park are deemed "no take" zones. That means visitors can't take anything, living or dead, from the environment: no fishing of any kind, no lobstering, no shelling, no cutting vegetation on land. This policy helps visitors see the area in a less spoiled light, particularly because it protects many of the fish, lobster, and mollusk species which are being depleted throughout all the Bahamas.

There are moorings for rent for $20/night that can accommodate boats even larger than ours, so we felt safe being tied to one of them while we rode out the squalls with their high winds and sometimes heavy rains. This weather was so persistent we were unable to launch Fin the 5 nights we were here. Our satellite TV reception is back again, but the boat is swinging so quickly the receiver can't keep up with the signal. We were only about 100 yards from shore, so we could swim to the shore from FLUKE and snorkel along the lee shore and still have a great time (if the sun was shining!) despite the nasty wind.

This "neighborhood" is very popular with the megayacht crowd, and we have seen many beautiful yachts at anchor in the area west of us. They are 2 or 3 times the length and height of FLUKE and light up the sky at night. One afternoon a sea plane landed right next to us and offloaded 3 passengers who went aboard one of the yachts. Another time, a sea helicopter with pontoons for landing on the water passed eye level right in front of our bow and had to go upward to clear the cay.

Our megayacht neighbors
Our megayacht neighbors

Touching down
Touching down

One afternoon I look out onto the misty Banks and see an inter-island freighter headed south with numerous tall white "sticks" on its deck, unusual looking cargo. Looking through the binoculars I realize that those sticks are really many masts of boats, probably the elegant island sloops being taken to Long Island for the regatta that is coming up. No shortage of wind for their event: things really be jumpin' there, mon.

I'm saddened, knowing we will have to keep moving north, and all too soon, make the big crossovers over open oceans to the west and back to the coast of Florida. I haven't done enough snorkeling, fishing, or beach combing. The days have flown by despite our weather woes. The guys really get the message when they see me clean out the downstairs freezer and transfer the remainder of the frozen food to the galley freezer which had emptied enough to hold all the food we have left. "Hey, are we going to run out of food?" they ask. " You will be able to eat your ways back to Florida, just as you have all through the southern Bahamas. Tick tock, eat by the clock. No be worried, mon."


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