Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cat Island and Little San Slavador

(New Bight, Fernandez Bay, Smith Bay)
June 6 – June 9, 2009

Cat Island is about 45 miles long and 4 miles wide. We approached from its southern point, coming in from Exuma Sound and headed about 10 miles eastward into New Bight. Spoiled from our lovely stay at pristine Conception Island, we experienced a state of a cultural shock back to the reality of civilization even before we had set the anchor down.

The closer we got to the settlement area, the greener the water got until we dropped the hook over a sandy bottom speckled with green algae (I already missed those Dr. Seuss trunkfish!) . Nutrient and waste run-off from the sparsely populated shoreline doesn't get much mixing with water from the Sound because of the prevailing easterly breezes. After Eddie got the anchor situated, thinking of the crystal clear water he had snorkeled in the day before, turned around and mouthed “YUCK” and said “I'm not going in here!”. I was staring at the garish house on shore, painted alternating stripes of lemon yellow, jade green, fuchsia, and purple, thinking of the pleasing rainbow blue colors of the waters we had left behind. The high pitched tweets of the graceful tropic birds were replaced with rooster crows and barking dogs. The gentle lapping of the waves on the white sandy beach were replaced with the din of tires on the paved road and a beeping horn. As night fell, the bright stars were replaced with a row of dull street lights and a giant Batelco tower with flashing red lights .

So, why did we even bother to stop here? We do like to check out the island settlements, and New Bight is the capitol of Cat Island, and the site of one of the most interesting man-made places in the Bahamas and the most noted tourist site on Cat Island, The Hermitage.

I don't want you to have the wrong idea when I say “populated” or “capitol”. The paved road is two lanes (no shoulders, and no lines), there are no traffic lights, and seldom are there two cars in a row or passing each other. The capitol building is composed of a post office, police station, and some sort of administrative office comprising less square feet than our home in Vero. It mostly looks like what you would think of as a small strip mall, not an official legal building. There are a few small homes scattered about, but no neighborhoods.

Getting High

There is a sign indicating the way to The Hermitage. The road starts out paved and takes you by the 1760 ruins of the Armbrister Plantation's Great House. We stepped over 2 termite mud trails running right over the pavement; the termites do this to get from one side to the other since it is easier than trying to burrow under the road. We frequently see the 2-3' high mud nests throughout the islands. If you poke a stick in through the side MANY termites come spilling out. They would make a good, easy meal for your pet ant eater!

You will pass by 1-2 acre size parcels of land where the vegetation has been cut down to shoulder height or stripped away altogether, all mostly by hand. During the winter months farmers grow crops such as corn, tomatoes, and watermelon. The ground is so rocky, clearing to bare earth is not practical or is it even necessary to remove all the native trunks or rocks; enough area is cleared just to give the crops light and gain a root hold. Since no fertilizers are used (it is too expensive), the little plots can only be used for 1-2 crops before the nutrients are depleted. Huge brown moths fluttered around us; it took me a while to figure out they weren't bats! Maybe they help pollinate the crops.

When the paved road ends a rocky foot path continues up the hill. There is a piece of scrap metal hanging on a tree. You are supposed to signal your continuing approach up the hill by picking up a stone and banging it on the metal. It really makes a loud sound! Then you can navigate up the steep, old steps chiseled into the rock, passing the Signs of the Cross which Father Jerome built into the rocky outcroppings. On the day we made the trek it was worth the climb, even with the overcast day and million mosquitoes that were with us.

The Hermitage is the jewel of New Bight and the result of the faith of one man, Father Jerome. Father Jerome was a Catholic priest who built several churches in the out islands, but chose to retire on Cat Island in 1939 and live out the rest of his life as a hermit on 206' high Mt. Alvernia, the highest point of land in the Bahamas where you can see the beautiful sapphire waters of the Atlantic to the east and the turquoise waters of Exuma Sound to the west.

Originally trained as an architect, Father Jerome built The Hermitage as a miniature replica of a European Franciscan monastery. He hand collected stones from the mountain top and fabricated a beautiful structure consisting of a chapel, visiting and sleeping quarters, outdoor kitchen with brick oven, water catchment slope terminating in a well, and bell tower (Eddie climbed up the thin tower to ring the bell!). There are arched doorways, columns, and domed roofs, all constructed solidly enough to have withstood the harsh elements all these years. A guest book lies within the chapel; it is interesting to read the comments people have left describing their feelings, all positive.

We departed the peak area by choosing to take what appears to be some kind of service road that loops more gently around the hill. We spotted a footpath branching off the road, headed toward the ocean side of the hill and debated whether or not to see where it lead. After I remarked “A path not taken is an opportunity missed” we all made the turn. The path was through dripping, dense native vegetation, some with fragrant flowers. After going through some up and down areas it finally leveled out and ended with a huge cave. It had a low entrance, but opened wide on the inside and had an opening in the ceiling towards the back which let in light. We wondered if Father Jerome may have stayed there while he was building The Hermitage.

FLUKE's Dirty Laundry

No, this isn't going to be that segment when I tell you the “bad” stuff and other breakdowns that have been happening, i.e. those things that embarrass my crew mates. This is the real low down on the new system we have come up with on how to get some laundry done.

We've had enough rain to be able to get our water tanks filled up and several (45 gals. worth) containers we keep on the upper deck. We usually use the container waters for anything that needs a freshwater rinse, and then we aren't tempted to use the valuable tank water for what some of us deem as an unnecessary use. I mean, it's a no brainer to decide if you want water for a shower or to flush the toilet vs. to use to rinse off your snorkel gear.

Laundry kind of goes in the snorkel gear category, but having it excessively build up causes me some “anxiety” (the guys use other descriptive terms). Our compromise solution is to run the washing machine when we have the tanks and all the extra containers full. We hand fill the washing machine 2/3 full with water from the containers for the wash cycle and then 2/3 full again for the rinse cycle. The remaining 1/3 for each cycle comes from the hot tank water. Each of us selects what we want to have washed until the load is full. We get to use the dryer for “free” when we run the generator to charge the batteries or else we hang the clothes outside, weather and time of day permitting. Leaving anything of value out on a line overnight can mean it may not be there in the morning if a high wind has kicked up and ripped it off the line. I've gone to sleep with my wetsuit hanging outside and awakened in the middle of the night, thinking about it, and gone outside to take it down for fear of losing it.

Cleaned Up With A Place To Go

Leaving New Bight we motored northward up the coast a few miles to Fernandez Bay. It is a small bay, maybe room enough for 6 boats (or only 3 if everyone anchored like we do!). It has a gorgeous beach and its adjoining property is home to Fernandez Bay Resort (FBR). We heard that we might be able to use their WiFi, so that is the reason for our stop.

FBR is an unique resort. Since it is really in the middle of nowhere it offers a variety of services on site that most island tourists would like to have: water toys of all kinds, charter fishing, gourmet food served in a tastefully decorated island theme dining area, internet and satellite TV, and on-site grocery store. The housing accommodations are villas, with or without kitchens, made out of native stone spread out amongst native vegetation, offering lots of privacy between units. There is an island style one-of-a-kind outdoor bar and patio: you get and make your own drinks and write it down on your own ticket, to be paid for at your convenience! There is no bartender, and the price of the drinks is listed. Even wayward cruisers can use this “service” or dine at the resort. The boutique, selling higher end clothing and jewelry, is also self serve, no salesperson present; you select what you want, bag it and turn in your ticket. Would this honor system work in any Hometown, USA? Despite all these goodies that we had to choose from, the one thing we really wanted, WiFi, was not available unless we were registered guests. However, the extremely pleasant and helpful staff suggested we go to a newly opened internet cafe just down the road in Smith Bay.

Back to School

Since all of us, including Ursa, could use a good walk, we decided to walk to Smith Bay, about 2 miles. Smith Bay is important to the area because it is the site of the packing house. Farmers can bring their produce to the packing house and have it packed up to be shipped to Nassau or other out islands. This is a big deal for the out islanders because it used to be that all the produce had to be shipped directly to Nassau and then redistributed again, paying a middle man. Wayne was looking forward to seeing the packing house. On the way there, a friendly Bahamian woman stopped her car and asked if we needed a ride or were we just out for a morning stroll? I am always pleased when the locals stop to assist us, and even more so when they offer us a ride even though we have the dog with us. We told her we had been on a boat and needed the exercise, but thanks for the offer.

There were more cars on the road than what I would have expected until we cleared the last hill and could see down into Smith Bay, where the EAST WIND, the weekly mailboat, was docked and was in the process of getting unloaded. We lucked out with timing our walk because watching the mailboat get unloaded is the BIG time event in the small out island communities, and we love hanging out and seeing all the activity. Most of the goods aren't even boxed up or else minimally wrapped so you can see all the stuff as it comes off the boat on pallets. Vendors were even present to sell food and drinks. Eddie bought some extra greasy, cooked right on the spot, yummy conch fritters. So much for all those calories expended during the walk over. We also took home some island potato bread, pineapple and coconut tarts, and an island cookie called a bennie. I can best describe a bennie as tasting like a free form cookie made out of bird seed with some chopped peanuts thrown in, held together with molasses and brown sugar. I think our parrot, Echo, would have liked it more than we did. While Eddie and I were sampling native cuisine, Wayne looked at the packing house, for about 37 seconds. It is really a metal building, about the size of a 3-car garage. Since winter growing season is over, no veggies were being packed.

As the skies were beginning to darken with an approaching thunderstorm, we tore ourselves away from the loading dock and went across the street to the building that housed the internet cafe which also turned out to be a store selling office supplies, various handy household items, and school textbooks. I enjoyed looking through the textbooks, seeing how the students are taught English, History, and Social Studies through a Bahamian perspective. The owner of the store, being very friendly and affable and not real busy by my observation, endured my barrage of questions ranging from how she ran the business, how the farmers farmed, to “important” current event items like who she had wanted to win Dancing With the Stars and American Idol. Satellite TV gives us all something in common!

That dark cloud grew even more menacing so we departed with the idea of going back later via the dinghy to the mailboat landing. We figured we were in for a real drenching when the first raindrops began to hit us, and there was no doubt more was on the way as we looked over to the next hilltop that was already gray with a downpour in the direction we had to go. Oh well, it was a hot day anyway, but how I hate the lightning. We had walked less than ¼ mile when a man driving a little bus asked us where we were going, and then told us to get in his vehicle, saying it looked like we were going to be in a fix if we didn't. So, as the rain began to come down harder, and I finally managed to figure out how to open the funny little side door, we all piled in the rickety little bus.

Our first question was “What is this?” The friendly man laughed and said it was the school bus. Oh, really? He wasn't wearing a uniform, there wasn't any writing on the outside, and most importantly, it wasn't even yellow (Isn't that some sort of a law?!). Since I could see around the driver's area and dashboard I noticed he didn't even have a microphone to be able to yell at the school kids with. I asked him, how come it didn't say anything about being a school bus on the outside? He said some people like to fix up their buses, but he hadn't done anything to his. Oh?, so that led to more questions to find out he owned and drove the bus as a private contractor for the island schools. It was Tuesday and the last day of school was Friday, so he would be done for this year with the school bus gig, but his wheels would be available for “charter”.

First class bus service to the five star resort, of course, meant that he drove off the main highway, along the lengthy entrance road, right up to the main building to drop us off in what had turned into a torrential downpour. So, we didn't disturb the ambiance for any of the guests as we tried to be inconspicuous in threading our way through the villas and get to the beach where we hoped FIN would be still securely waiting for us. I saw resort guests, standing under thatched beach cabanas staring at us as we trudged along in the pouring rain, providing some island entertainment for them, no doubt. We made it back safely to FLUKE, and FIN needed a good pumping out when the storm passed. Oh, we did some more laundry too (the silver lining to that black cloud).

We did take FIN back to the mailboat dock to go to the internet cafe later in the day. The EAST WIND was still in the process of being unloaded, all the refrigerated goods go off last because the cold freight container sits in the aft end of the ship, and all the pallet packed stuff sits forward. There was still a lot of hustle and bustle.

Our internet connection woes continued. Wayne had the laptop and could connect to the WiFi, but couldn't connect to the internet. He even tried plugging directly into her router, but he still couldn't get the internet connection. I read in one of the cruising guides that there are Cat Island natives who still practice black magic, but I really don't think that nice lady looked like the type (Aren't they supposed to look like that Obeah woman, Tia Dalma, who tried to help my favorite pirate, Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean?). Wayne thinks it was because I was asking too many questions and she wanted to get rid of us! Well, whatever the reason, we couldn't go back the next day because we were destined to pull up anchor and head to the next port.

June 10 – 11, 2009

Once upon a time there was a little, quiet, uninhabited island paradise that cruisers used as an anchorage between Cat Island and Eleuthera or as a jumping point to cross over to the Exuma chain of islands. Fishing, bird watching, and snorkeling were on everyone's agenda. Exploring the rocky cliffs and inland creeks that lay between white, sandy beaches filled in the time you didn't spend in the water. Little San Salvador was a Robinson Crusoe fan's delight or if you are like me, a place where you could fantasize about finding your favorite pirate's treasure. Or just do nothing but enjoy the solitude of being by yourself in the middle of nowhere.

In 1997, the idyllic paradise was turned topsy turvy when Holland America Cruise Line purchased the island and turned it into one of “their” out island day stops where their guests could experience a true, “native” experience (right out of a Hollywood studio). They even had the nerve to change its name to Half Moon Bay (I guess that name has more marketing appeal) . They dredged a big chunk out of the rocky cliffs, where the birds used to nest, so they had a place to store the tenders and work boats. Along the vacant beach, they erected colorful little shacks, all identical in structure, all exactly the same distance apart and the same distance from the shore, where you can buy “native” crafts (make sure the Made in China tags are removed if you are giving them as gifts), tropical drinks in plastic cups with pretty colors and little umbrellas, fast food, and other commodities for those guests requiring daily retail therapy. Hundreds of beach chairs line the shoreline where driftwood, flotsam, and jetsam used to pile up for beach combing delights. A netted swimming area will protect you from those dangerous denizens of the deep that are always lurking just out of sight waiting for toe appetizers. If you don't want to get your head wet you can float around on one of the big rubber dolphins or alligators (kind of out of place, but I guess kids like it). You can ride a horse in a single file line through the water and then go up into the outback, out of sight of the stables and beach. Have no fear, the path is fenced off on the inclines so your trusty island steed can't stray and take you asunder into the thorny bush or run you back to its stall at an unpleasantly high rate of speed. To further minimize interference of the guests' deserted island experience, the black smoke belching from the power plant is mostly obscured as it is set back from the waterfront, tucked in behind a small hill, although I'm sure it is visible from the upper deck of the cruise ship. Or, maybe the cruise director tells them that a pirate landing has been thwarted and the smoke is the burning pirate ship; hopefully not the Black Pearl though.

Despite this development and the island now being private, cruisers are still permitted to use the area for anchoring, providing they stay clear of interfering with the guests' out island experiences. Fortunately, cruise ships are only there for the day, and come 5:00 p.m. they are pulling up the anchor, hopefully with all the guests safely aboard, salt and sand free, waiting for their next happy meal.

FLUKE arrived about 3:00 p.m., dodging the parasailing boats, jet skis, launches, and giving the proper berth, i.e., passing behind as designated in the cruising guide, to the behemoth cruise ship Carnival PRIDE. We dropped the hook amidst a big oil slick, and then we had a couple of hours to watch the activities. As I looked through the binoculars that old tune Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell with the line “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot” kept popping into my head, and the fragrant blossoms of the island vegetation were replaced with the fresh smell of horse manure. We said good-bye to the PRIDE as we marveled in the anchor hauling operation. The horn was sounded and around the point of the island, out of sight, they went.

The next day we had the island to ourselves. We had already planned on spending an extra day to try to do some spearfishing on the extensive reef system that was close to shore and easily accessible for us. The coral heads that were closest to the island were covered with algae and dead and devoid of any life. Those that were farther out and in areas with more current were still in fairly good shape, but there weren't many fish of any kind, large or small. We ended up circumnavigating the whole island, but came back empty handed.

We decided to get a closer look at the cruise ship base; we were especially curious about where they kept the tenders for storage and offloading the guests since that was the area where they had done the most dredging. We dinghied up to the opening into the rocks, right passed the No Trespassing sign and motored by a couple of natives having a rendezvous beside a John Deere tractor. We gave them the “We know what we're doing wave with pleasant smiles” and motored onward. Just when we got in sight of the landing area, a man holding a radio stepped out and asked us if we had seen THE SIGN. Of course we did, did he think we could operate the dinghy if we were blind? We told him that we weren't planning on getting out of FIN and just wanted to see what the landing area looked like. He was very pleasant and said we couldn't proceed any further, but we were welcomed to go land on the beach and enjoy that area as long as a cruise ship wasn't present. The beach was too sterile for our tastes; we'd rather climb over rocks, debris, and stumps than beach chairs, so we headed back to FLUKE for a late lunch and to ready FLUKE for a very early morning departure to cross back over to the Exumas. Wayne finally figured out what the tiered platforms on the beach were for: to help the guests get on and off the horses!

Long Island and Conception Island

May 25, 2009

It was only a 25 mile run from Georgetown to reach our anchorage at Calabash Bay, even before the noontime feeding bell rang. With mild winds and gentle seas everyone was happy. We even deviated from a direct course to troll along drop offs whenever we could, but only caught a barracuda and jack.

Long Island is called that because it is a long island, 76 miles in length, but only 4 miles wide at its widest point. It is bordered on the west by Exuma Sound and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, where we will be heading next. There are over 40 Bahamian communities (many with just a few inhabitants) along the length of the island, more so than any other island in the Bahamas. It was the 3rd stop for Chris Columbus (a distant relative of Christina Columbus, now penning this blog!), and the point of land within sight of our anchorage bears a monument to, and was named after, Chris' flagship, the Santa Maria which allegedly ran aground on one of the treacherous near shore reefs. FLUKE and her crew will try to avoid meeting the same fateful end thanks to our navigational software that is far superior to the ancient instruments Chris had to use.

Two years ago, we anchored about 25 miles south of here in the Salt Pond area on our return trip from the Jumentos, and had a chance to go ashore and do some walking around. That won't be the case here though; we are only going to stay for the night. As it turns out anyway, the surge from around the Cape is so strong, we are rolling so much from side to side we are not able to launch the dinghy. If we tried we think we would end up with a result as bad as when the cable broke, and the dinghy smashed into the upper deck rail. We are disappointed as we would love to snorkel and do some spearfishing on the shallow reefs that are clearly visible only a short distance away.

Aside from the surge, very puzzling in these benign conditions, the sparkling water here is perhaps the clearest we have ever seen, especially over the brilliant white sandy bottom. A swim (without my wetsuit on, the water is WAY too cold) out to the anchor reveals it is fully buried in a sea bottom that is gently rippled with finely packed sand. I can see forever, and so can the big barracuda that is chairman of the welcoming committee sent out to greet me!

We disturbed six squid that were using our anchor chain for “protection” when we hoisted the chain in the morning. They lazily drifted alongside FLUKE all in a line; the water was so clear we could see each of their individual tentacles waving goodbye.


This little uninhabited speck of an island was only a 15 mile run from Cape Santa Maria. Even though it is only about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide at its widest point, it is clearly visible from the distance because it rises to an altitude of 60'. As you approach from the west you can't help but see the conspicuous outcropping of Wedge Point on the southern end of the island, so named because it looks like a gigantic wedge sitting in the aquamarine water. The island is like a big rimmed bowl with the interior of the island comprised of shallow creeks and a large mangrove swamp surrounded by higher land of varying elevations. Several species of migratory birds use the island for nesting and a source of water. When the wind is just right, there is a rotten odor coming from the land that I suspect is associated with the mangrove swamp. The odor is so foul, after we first got here I looked through the binoculars to see if there was a big dead carcass of some behemoth from the deep washed up on the beach. However, the mosquitoes must think it is just grand since they started coming out in droves at sunset after we had some rainfall. They are so determined to try to get to us, they annoyingly buzz loudly all night long batting against the screens.

Conception Island is a National Park under the jurisdiction of the Bahamas National Trust. Like the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, the entire land area is protected. No one is permitted to remove any plant or animal material, living or dead. Unlike ECLSP, fishing is still currently permitted in the surrounding waters. We only found this out because Wayne posted the question to the net and was answered by the park ranger himself! Lloyd and Jacquelyn were anxious to check out the underwater habitat in this remote area. One trip into the water and one hike on the island pretty much convinced us we wouldn't be going over to Rum Cay after all; there was just too much to hold our attention here at this tiny freckle on the ocean's face. Oh, by the way, my blood pressure reads 96/62: I am content.

The Neighbors

With the prevailing easterly winds, nice sandy bottom with good holding, and a large area to accommodate many vessels, a lot of boaters stop here. One night there were 10 boats anchored, a lot considering we are in the middle of nowhere on June 1, the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Cruising vessels getting ready to continue down the islands of the eastern Caribbean use this as an exit point to wait for favorable weather. Reversely those coming back from the same area stop here. We have seen several vessels pull in with their solid yellow Q-flags flying, indicating they are technically still “quarantined” as not having cleared Bahamian customs. We spoke to one couple on a sailing catamaran who had sailed back from Venezuela, where fuel was $.75/gal! Another couple we spoke with on a sailing ketch were headed to Australia.
We invited a couple from a small sailboat over for grilled tuna and mackerel after they had tried to leave the island and sail into the prevailing wind to Rum Cay, only to discover the wind conditions were too much for their vessel and sailing skill level to handle. After 4 hours in turbulent seas they returned; we thought they could use some cheering up. They said they wanted to make it to Luperon, Dominican Republic, a popular eastern Caribbean hurricane hole. After talking with them and hearing about their mechanical and technical problems and the fact we are now into hurricane season we tried to convince them to return to the safety of the states, get their problems solved, and develop a new plan to implement after hurricane season is over.

To our surprise several sportfish vessels have even anchored here for the night. This island stop gives them several options to fish various drop-offs to the deep Atlantic between here, Cat Island, Rum Cay, and Long Island. They can stay out late or get an early start without having to go into a marina on one of the other islands. I counted 15 rods and reels mounted on one of them that came into anchor. Another one, estimated at 70' in length, named FREE ENTERPRISE dropped its hook. We laughed at the name, surmising that the owner didn't vote for Obama!!

One afternoon, a small Bahamian fishing boat came in to anchor. During my beach walk I could hear loud clanking as the men cleaned their conch and then plops and splashing water as they discarded the large shells. These were not easily plucked from shallow waters; I surmise they had to collect these ocean conch in no less than 25 – 30' of water, and probably even deeper, very hard work to say the least. Sadly, I have only seen one living conch in the shallow waters we have snorkeled around here.

Jacquelyn and Lloyd Hunt in Paradise

Conception Island offers a number of options for the water enthusiast. The West Bay anchorage fronts one of the prettiest beaches we have seen in the Bahamas, 3/4 mile long. You can get your walking or running exercise in by choosing a workout in the soft, white upland sand or take an easier stroll in the finely packed sand at the water's edge, where you can try to keep pace with the docile nurse sharks and rays that lazily sniff the bottom just a few feet from shore. If you want a breezier stroll, just take the 50 yard hike on the path through the sea oats over to the ¼ mile long eastern beach on the windward side of the island. However, the waters are calm there too, since the near offshore reef breaks down the waves. Either choice, when you get hot, just take a dip in the swimming pool clear water.

Either side of the island offers near shore snorkeling options in water of varying depths, from a “baby” snorkel site of 3-4' in depth to coral heads and rock formations to take the dinghy or swim from your boat, 5-30' in depth. There is undersea activity wherever you look and depending on the time and patience you want to expend.

The FLUKE crew spent most of their time spearfishing the isolated coral heads and rocky outcroppings in West Bay, usually at depths around 20', but venturing into “lung buster” depths of 25' for us, where we don't have much down time. It is so easy to become entranced into watching the underwater activity where on the brightest of sunny days, you can really see forever in the crystal clear water. There is so much action in holes, crevices, and under ledges. Before you know it, you need to surface and wonder if you can make it back to the top with the little air you have left in your lungs. One time I surfaced, totally out of breath to where I was light-headed and gasping for air. I looked up towards the sky, and before the water could drain from my mask I thought I was seeing stars, like before you black out. When I finally regained my proper vision I realized I was seeing several topic birds flying overhead. Despite my temporary discomfort, I smiled and reveled in the beauty of those birds and how lucky I was to be in that situation anyway.

We had to look carefully to find Nassau and Tiger groupers that were large enough to spear for table food. We regularly saw large ones, in the 10-15# range, but it was obvious we were not the first humans they had seen. They always stayed a cautious distance away, and if they thought we were getting too close, would duck into one of the honeycomb formations and go to a site unknown to us. Eddie did well spearing a couple of groupers at each outing, but has had enough misses, with the fish coming off the spear that he has spent much time in the cockpit silently honing the spear points, contemplating his future moves. He has even added some little cylindrical metal attachments over the spear prongs in hopes of getting better adhesion through the fish. Carol finally speared her first fish that made it successfully back to FIN, a Tiger grouper, and became an official member of the Hunt Club. It would have been a good time to take my blood pressure to see if I could break the 100 mark!

Lloyd and Jacquelyn have become so spoiled with their diligent support staff hovering nearby. Wayne and Ursa are in FIN, ready to pick us or our fish up at a moment's notice. That gives us a lot of peace of mind in being able to get out of the water quickly if confronted by any “terrorist” activities. The seemingly unlimited visibility also makes us feel safer. We have only been confronted with sharks on 3 occasions, black tip and bull sharks. They make their intentions clear with their circling around us getting closer and closer, and we know that we will not win any battles with them if we have a speared fish. This is one of the few places where we have not had a barracuda just hang over our shoulders the whole time we are in the water. They come by, look around and then are gone, probably waiting out of sight, hoping for the sound or scent that indicates easy pickings may be within their reach. The sea is their domain, and we are no match for their ability to get their meal however they wish. It is then time to climb back into FIN and call it a day.

Ursa delights in fish getting dumped into the fish bucket and once got so excited trying to nip at the fish, she fell right into the bucket! It is fun to surface the water and see Ursa hanging eight (she has her dew claws removed) over the bow of FIN with the look of anticipation on her face, hoping there will be a fish on the end of the spear. She and Visitor never tire of the sushi they get when Eddie is cleaning the fish.

Southhampton Reef extends continuously for 4 miles off the northern tip of West Bay. It has varying water depths to appeal to snorkelers and divers alike, but is only accessible when the winds are light. We only went out about 1 mile on one calm day; we will have to go out there on another trip to view the 300' wreck in relatively shallow water which is supposed to be an interesting site. Southward, towards Wedge Point are buoys that mark sites for dive boats where divers can visit Conception Island Wall, which is said to be one of the most beautiful diving reefs in the Bahamas.

Even if you don't want to put your head underwater, just look over the side of your boat. There is plenty of activity to spark your fascination. Schools of jacks churn up the water after the little baitfish or scraps of food you throw overboard. Colorful and oddly shaped trunkfish are always on the prowl for scraps. These fish have a triangular shaped body with eyes borne high up on a sloping forehead. Their protruding lips make them look like they are always ready for a kiss. When I dump the cat litter box scoopings overboard, the cat poop floats. Up come the trunkfish. Generally reef and rock feeders, they are not properly designed to gobble surface snacks like the nutty buddies from the litter box. So, they have to stick the tops of their heads out of the water, and they look so comical with theirs big foreheads and bug eyes sticking above the surface of the water with their lips straining to suck in a turd. I chuckle every time I see them. It would make for a good utube video.

When Eddie is cleaning fish, we get a lot of activity, from the big guys: sharks and extra large barracudas. They are fun to watch from above, as we wonder who will get what. They just wander away when all the scraps are gone. Gulls screech overhead and try to get the little pieces before they sink; sometimes they land on the bow pulpit and get way too comfortable and overstay their welcome when they leave their droppings behind.

You shouldn't leave the island without taking the trip up the creek; the entrance is about 1 ½ miles south of the West Bay anchorage. You MUST go on high tide: the mouth of the creek is shoaled in very well (look for the deep water) and you will have to find your way through the deepest inland channels which you can access when the tide is flowing. Be prepared to tip up your motor even though most of the bottom is sandy.

The water is so clear, and you can see all the way to the bottom wherever you go. You will see some shore and wading birds, nurse sharks and rays and other fish, but the most interesting site of all is the dozens of juvenile sea turtles, 12-18” in diameter . Their heads are popping up everywhere and you can see them scurrying along the bottom underneath your dinghy. If you follow the main channel slightly to the north and then take the deepest water western branch, you can land your dinghy on the shore and take an easy hike through the open dune vegetation and access a small pocket beach on the western shore of the island. The shore is somewhat rocky, but it is not steep and it is not composed of the ironshore rock that is hard on your feet; the sandy rock is weathered and smooth and easy to climb on. There is even a gnarled, weathered buttonwood tree where you can sit to get out of the sun and look over the blue Atlantic.

On the Dry Side

One, if not the best, of the most spectacular views in the Bahamas waits for the cruiser who takes the time to walk over the dune to the windward beach on the eastern shore I described previously. The small half moon shaped beach is pretty enough by itself, but you have to walk all the way to its southern end. There is a 20' high rocky hill with a 3” diameter rope hanging over the side. Grab hold of the rope and put it between your legs, lean backwards, and “walk” up the steep side of the hill. It is NOT difficult! When you get to the top you will loose your breath, not because you had to overexert yourself for the climb, but because you won't believe the view. There are hundreds of individual colorful coral heads that stretch left and right as far as you can see over a sandy bottom with varying depths of water, making for a rainbow of blue and green water colors. When the FLUKE crew reached the top we just stood there in silence, not knowing what words to use to describe what we were seeing. The seascape is more like something you would see in an aerial shot of some island atolls in the South Pacific or Southeast Asia; we have never seen any other area in the Bahamas where you have this extensive of a view from such an elevated perspective. It was low tide, with no wind and very bright sun, so everything, the colors, rock and reef formations, wildlife in the air and water were all magnificently intensified. It was one of life's Kodak moments, and the FLUKE crew was without a camera!! I have added reliving that experience to my life list.

Now, you can't stay there for the whole time. Get off the boulder and look to your right, in the southerly direction for the beginning of a path. Those of you who have gone that way before will ask why I haven't said look for the lone coconut palm. That, probably 15-20 year old, island landmark beauty survived many storms, one of which undoubtedly washed it as a seed high enough upland in the lee of the cliff to allow it to grow in the first place. During our short stay it was hit by lightning and won't even remain a stump for long.

Follow that path for a grand island tour of more breathtaking views. The path is periodically marked with decorated net floats (to Turtle Cove), worn enough so that you don't need to cut your way through the vegetation. You will walk up to 30' high in some places, peer down to the waves crashing on the rocks , see cliff dwelling sea birds flying out from the cavities below you, see a wrecked ship; look to the west and see the huge mangrove swamp in the central portion of the island. The path runs about a mile right along the edge of the seaside cliffs; some places have been undercut from the crashing waves and the original path fallen into the sea, but with careful footwork and some good handholds and a couple of more rope aids you can navigate around those areas. Continue on the path as it gently begins to slope away from the shoreline and weaves through a canopy of hammock vegetation growing robustly in the lee of the cliffs (with some buzzing mosquitoes), and you will arrive at Turtle Cove, another very picturesque island beach setting.

I explored the entire West Bay shoreline by myself, after getting dropped off by FIN. Full of entertaining wanderings along the water's edge and up on the low-lying rocky outcroppings and into the dune vegetation, it was just over a full two hours before I signaled my shipmates on FLUKE to come pick me up. I had Mother Nature news to share!

Looking into holes in the rocky ledges of the dune line, I found several nesting tropic birds. They sat silently as I peered in at them, marveling at how large they are, their brilliant white feathers contrasting with their startling black ones. They have a black band that goes through their eyes and they appeared like winged zorros staring back out at me, perfectly still, never once squawking or trying to peck me. My best surprise was when I peaked into one cavity and saw a lone nestling. It looked like a softball sized round ball with the whitest of white wispy down feathers with only a dark beak sticking out, one of the most beautiful chicks I've ever seen.

I made my way up into the vegetation. The area is very sandy and fairly open, not like some of the solid rocky terrains we have hiked on before. Some of the same tropical hammock vegetation that we have growing in Florida is also present here. However, the plants are all in bonsai form; the salt spray, wind, and minimal rainfall make for hard living. Seagrape plants are more shrub-like than tree form. Thrinax palms, one of my favorite palm trees, are about as tall as I am, instead of their usual 10-12'. It is easy to look over the tops of the vegetation and see the mangrove swamp down below and the undulating cliffs of the eastern shore in the distance. Careful observation rewards me with the sight of a nest within a low-lying, wiry, shrub. The nest is shaped like an elongated pouch, made of tightly woven palm fibers. I have to pull back the thick branches to find the small opening to the mouth of the nest and look inward to see two, light colored eggs with brown speckles, just about the size of jelly beans.

I've laughed each time I've passed an old wreck that lies just covered only a step away in shallow water off the sandy beach; what's left of it looks like the old vertebrae from some giant sea creature. Another, larger wreck lies at the southern end of the beach at the base of the 20' high rocky cliff. Examining it at low tide, I can make out gears, shafts, and 8” links of chain. When I scramble up to the top of the cliff I can see more parts of the wreck strewn out from shore, probably home to any number of tropical fish. I can also see the yellow shades of the big elkhorn coral growing close to shore and rocky underwater crevices where Eddie and I can go hunting. I'll take the easier long walk back along the water's edge to where FLUKE lies placidly offshore, and my crew mates are probably in their usual napping positions.

I detour up to a rocky ledge close to the area where most cruisers land their dinghies. Someone has creatively put together a deserted island beach bocci set and even enclosed a set of rules within a plastic, weatherproof sheet. The bocci “balls” are various sized colorful floats from fishing nets that wash up on the beaches when the tide is right. This is recycling at its best. Eddie and I added one float we found on another hike, and I added a coconut that will work just as well as another ball. The rules state that they can change at any time depending upon how much rum the competitors consume!

We left early this morning, June 6, having waited 2 extra days for more favorable seas to try to cross over to Cat Island. Eddie and I weren't anxious to move on anyway, and I had a lump in my throat when I turned to look back to see the interesting contours and colors of Conception Island fading into the distance as we headed out to sea. My spirits were lifted when I realized King Neptune was granting us calm passage and I would be able to finish off this section of our story while we were underway.

Plus, we had charted our course to take us over the Tartar Bank. This tiny bank is created from an undersea mountain top. The water depth goes from 5000' to 40' right in the Atlantic Ocean. The area around it is a feeding area for blue marlin, and there are many sportfishing boats trolling the surrounding waters. We heard on the VHF one boat tell another boat that in the previous week, 3 boats had released 10 marlin. So, the fishing flunkies of FLUKE did their best not to interfere with any of those hot shot anglers as we gawked at the streaks of the white sandy bottom and the clear, blue water when we passed over it. Eddie thought we should get in the water so we could tell people we snorkeled a mountain top!

Now, if we can only find a way to finally make a post!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Finally Cruising Again

(This is being posted from Treasure Cay in the Abacos, sorry for the long delay)

I asked Wayne to write about the land activities of the FLUKE crew that had occurred since the last cruise so that I could be working on writing the outline for this portion of the blog. I knew we would be under “pressure” to be able to post to the blog since our cruising plans for the first part of the trip indicated we would have very limited access to any internet connections. Another reason for Wayne writing that portion was so that he could more accurately fill in the details of the work we had done which will be of interest to other cruisers who read this blog. The last reason was because I would have probably broken the keyboard typing about my feelings for how long the work was taking at American Custom. As the months went on, workers would thank me for my “patience” in bearing with the time frame of the project; I would reply “Thank Wayne, I no longer have any patience”. I know they were thinking I was a real boat bitch at that point, but, as I told the yard manager, if they ran all their projects that way, they wouldn't have a business. I think the temperature in the pilothouse is already rising as I have just written those last two sentences, so I will move on to the good stuff, and some more of the bad, as usual.

Show Us the Way
Show Us the Way


One day during the last week of April Wayne said he thought we could leave the home dock on Monday, May 4. I quickly asked if he had looked at THE LIST to see all the things that hadn't been checked off and still needed to get completed before we left. THE LIST shrinks and grows daily as the day we hope to leave the dock gets closer. Think of all you would need to do if you were going to be gone for 3 months (or 6 if we decide to head north when we return), leaving a home behind and hoped to be self sufficient and isolated for that time; you can't just pick up the phone to make a call or run to the store to pick up something you need. You have to be mentally prepared to go and do without.


We finally left the home dock on Thursday, May 7 at 6:25 a.m.. Our plan was to travel south on the Intracoastal Waterway to Lake Worth, kind of a full day shake down cruise, where we would be protected and have access to goods and services if something critical broke down. Then we would travel south offshore to Miami where we could make the 45 mile crossing to Bimini and clear customs and be officially in the Bahamas.

After a relaxing, calm cruise south on the ICW, we had the anchor down in Lake Worth at 4:25 p.m. The sailboat next to us had two dogs aboard and one of them was sitting on the deck-mounted solar panels barking at us. I could hear his owner yelling “Shut up, Diesel and get down here”.

We had the anchor up by 5:30 a.m. the next morning so we could get an early start for the long day's run down to Miami. Even though it was still dark, the inlet is well lit, although the city lights make it somewhat difficult to see some of the markers. We just creep along until we are in the channel within the inlet and the dark ocean lies ahead of us.

Mild winds, less than 10 KTS, and seas that were a little choppy around the inlets were our fare for the day. We traveled within 2 miles of the coastline to minimize fighting the northern flow of the powerful Gulf Stream which comes close to Florida's coastline in that area. We wanted to minimize our fuel use, so we traveled about 7 KTS, slower than most of you would be riding a bicycle!

Since we were so close to shore we could see all the mansions of Palm Beach, high rises of the coastal cities, and inlets with all their boating activities. We trolled fishing lines, but didn't get any hits.

On bright, sunny days I always delight in seeing the Miami skyline from the ocean side. It has such a beautiful, vibrant appearance; the colors and diversity of shapes of the buildings is eye-catching to say the least. It is difficult to take it all in.

Miami Skyline
Miami Skyline

When we got to the inlet in Miami we had to use the “alternate” route through Government Cut, the Loomis Channel. That route is primarily used by the commercial traffic to get to the derricks and docks of the Miami Port Authority which handles all the containerized freight entering and leaving the country. The Coast Guard kept broadcasting that the main channel was closed to recreational traffic because there were 2 or more cruise ships in port, and they have a Homeland Security rule that says no one can transit that area if more than one cruise ship is in port. I guess if you want maximum U.S. Coast Guard protection from terrorists you should book your cruise on the same day another cruise ship will be in port. If yours is the only one, you should hire private security. Our crew discussed this and felt that the run of the mill terrorist would be just as satisfied to damage one ship as two, but I guess the higher ups think otherwise.

Anyway, I like using the Loomis Channel. It is a flurry of activity with the ships being loaded and unloaded. I like seeing the flags from the other countries, style of ocean going ship, and the colorful cargo containers and how neatly they are stacked and packed both on the docks and on the ships. Judging by this photo, it is apparent that the U.S. isn't just importing everything from China; we are sending them some exports too.

Loading the Ship
Loading the Ship

Passing the Egyptian freighter made me wonder if they were going to have to worry about the Somali pirates when they went home. We always get asked if we worry about pirates, even more so now that those creeps from Somali have gained such notoriety. We don't worry about those kinds of pirates boarding us while we are underway and taking over FLUKE. We don't carry any weapons, and Ursa would be useless for protecting us. I wish she were a better watchdog when we need her to do that job the most which is at night. But once she goes to sleep she is a sound sleeper and perfectly content to let the rest of her pack members tend to keeping order in the night, which is when are likely to have a problem with someone trying to steal FIN, the dinghy, if we have her tied up alongside FLUKE.

Notice the Lifeboat
Notice the Lifeboat

After weaving our way through the industrial port area we entered beautiful Biscayne Bay and dropped the anchor close to the old Nixon Florida White House. In its time it was an impressive structure, but now it looks dated and worn compared to the majestic, new mega mansions that now line Miami's prime waterfront property.

So, with the sparkling Miami night skyline in the distance, I slept peacefully in my comfy bed illuminated with beams from the bright moon shining through my overhead hatch and looking forward to the sapphire blue of the Gulf Stream crossing when FLUKE and her crew would start another Bahamian adventure.


We left the anchorage at 5:40 a.m. and followed the well lit channel through the shallow waters of Stiltsville to get out to the open ocean. There was a lot of turbulence where the Bay waters met those of the ocean. I noticed that Wayne had not taped down the 17” navigation monitor and it was sliding and bouncing a bit. I told him that I thought it was going to fall over if he didn't do something with it, but he shrugged me off. Within 5 minutes the monitor crashed into the elevated instrument panel on the helm. We were so lucky that the screen didn't crack or cease to operate altogether. I always marvel how a crew like us, who have logged over 10,000 miles on FLUKE alone, can continue to make such stupid mistakes. I wonder if it was the same way on the Bounty?

I put out the trolling lines once we were in deeper water. We caught one barracuda and had another fish on the line, but it broke while I was trying to reel it in. I suspect it may have been a billfish since I did see a huge wave of water when it broke the surface after pulling most of the line off the spool. My life list includes catching a billfish, so it is exciting just being that close.

Now I have to tell you that I am responsible for getting all the fishing gear together and doing the boat fishing. That includes purchasing the lures, bait, and other paraphernalia. I also make up a lot of our own rigs. However, Eddie keeps the gear organized and is generally good about helping me to do things with it if I ask him. Whenever something goes wrong, like a line breaking, my two crew mates jump down my throat and blame me with a litany of reasons why we had a fishing failure: Carol bought cheap line, she didn't tie the knots right, she keeps using the same worn junk, she didn't make the leader long enough, she's using the wrong sized hooks, she didn't buy enough of such and such and she is trying to make due, she waited until the last minute to get the fishing gear together, etc. I hear the same thing EVERY time we lose a fish. I wonder if it was the same way on the Bounty?

The day before we left the home dock I went to the local bait shop to stock up on materials to minimize some of the “chatter” I just mentioned. I spent quite a while picking out a wide variety of plastic lures, weights, and various other supplies. I asked the older man at the counter if he had any blue and green skirts in the back, and he said that everything they had was out on display. I sensed some annoyance on his part, and then he asked me “Are you planning on doing some real fishing or are you just picking out stuff to use for decorations?”. I paused, took a deep breath, and calmly replied, looking him straight in the eye, “Oh my, I use these things for hair decorations”. He had such a startled look on his face, and then he started laughing, and said “OK, you really got me good!”. He must have crewed on the Bounty.


Those of you who have followed our previous adventures know about the “issues” we have encountered when trying to clear customs. We have never determined any consistency in the method, as it all depends on the customs “official” you wind up dealing with. It is apparent they must not all go through the same training program since they all do things differently. At times clearing customs can be intimidating and frustrating.

We were trying another approach this time. We decided to clear in Bimini, and we heard we could go into Bimini Sands marina and tie up temporarily to their docks while we cleared. So, we called them on the VHF and were pleasantly surprised to hear that we could tie up at NO CHARGE while we cleared.

Getting into the facility is somewhat daunting as you have to find the deep water channel that parallels the shore and then navigate through a dredged channel in a rocky opening not much wider than FLUKE, but once inside, there is plenty of room to maneuver and the surrounding buildings block much of the wind. A dock hand was prompt with assisting with our lines to tie us off to the dock. He showed up again within a few minutes, carrying the papers we would need to fill out to clear customs. He said that the airport, where the customs officer was located, was a 5 minute ride away, and the charge was $4 each way. Captain Wayne took off to do the deed. He returned so quickly I asked him what was wrong, and he said it was done!! We were off the dock again, having completed the entire process in less than an hour. That is a new record for us, and now will become the standard for all future clearings in the part of The Bahamas.

In contrast, cruisers can clear at Cat Cay, a private facility located a short distance from Bimini Sands. We have cleared there once before, many years ago, but figured it would be too expensive and it was more out of the way for us. We made the right choice this time, as we ran into some other cruisers who had cleared there a week later than we did; they were charged $100 just to tie up to the docks while they met with the customs officer.

Since it was only 2:00 p.m. with mild weather conditions and a good forecast for the rest of the day, we decided to keep traveling eastward, across the shallow waters of the Great Bahama Bank until we would stop for the night. At times, we had less than 2' of water under our keel, and the water was so clear we could see every spot on the bottom.

We pulled a ways off the route to anchor for the night. A good analogy is to imagine that you are traveling with your motor home in a corn or wheat field that goes for as far as you can see in all directions and you want to stop for the night. You don't want to just stop on the same path you have been traveling since it is the one through the field that most other people would use too. So, you need to pull off a ways so some other RV driver, who might be asleep at the wheel or on autopilot, doesn't just plow into you in the night. Oh, make sure you leave a light on to make your location more obvious; in our case, it is our mast light which is visible for a couple of miles. Sleep tight, and be ready for an early start in the morning.


After leaving the Banks we headed out into the Tongue of the Ocean with a heading to Andros Island. There is always good fishing in the TOTO, so I was anxious to get the lines out ASAP. We were rewarded with the action of 2 barracuda, one 43” dolphin, and we lost one dolphin at the swim platform. I blame it on Eddie not grabbing the leader and pulling the fish in through the transom gate in one full motion. The guys blame it on me for all the other reasons I already described. If you are a previous reader you will remember how this crew prides itself on assessing blame before all else. As we get more sophisticated in our blogs, we may move towards a utube video, so you can see and hear all the action that takes place during our attempts at landing the fish. Young children should not watch or listen.

Our Good Catch
Our Good Catch

In defense of our fishing skills, we are handicapped from the beginning. FLUKE is not a fishing vessel like those you see on TV or hire for charter adventures out of some fancy marina facility. Her transom is very high, and her swim platform is very wide. And, we are not professional fishermen. And, we are getting older, so we have to be more careful and our strength and balance isn't as good as it used to be either. Despite these handicaps, we still give it our best shot.

We troll from our upper aft deck. When we need to bring in a fish, Eddie goes below in the cockpit, opens the transom door, and then he is tries to haul the fish in when I reel it close enough to the swim platform (keeping it free from the prop, swim ladder, flag, and edges of the platform, all while the boat is rocking and rolling). He is supposed to grab the leader, keeping tension on the line so the fish can't throw the hook and pull the fish through the transom gate (I say the fish then smells wood, since the gate is outlined with teak) and flop it into the cockpit and remove the hook. Wayne is trying to keep the boat from rolling any more than is necessary, so we are all in 3 different places yelling into the wind at the same time. It's a good thing we don't have to hire ourselves out for charter.

We pulled into Morgan's Bluff at 4:30 p.m., in plenty of time to get the dolphin cleaned and ready for a yummy dinner. We last visited here 2 years ago, but didn't go ashore, so I was looking forward to walking around and seeing what the land side of the area looked like.

Going to Look for Treasure
Going to Look for Treasure

So, we launched FIN and headed into the crowded little dock area. A friendly native suggested we tie off to his boat and jump over to a landing area. Eddie was supposed to be tending to Ursa, who was very excited to be going to land and was riding on the bow. She tried to jump to shore before FIN was secure and, since Eddie was holding her leash and was himself flopping around trying to get FIN tied off to the other boat, he pulled her into the water. It was a comedy show for the locals.

Turns out there is no town, only a dock, Esso station/convenience store (the “store” is about the size of the salon on FLUKE, and we are carrying 20X more food than what is on the shelves in the store), and bar, Willy's Water Lounge. The bar is “upscale” – it has a pool table, and a huge rock on the open air porch. I have no idea what the rock is for.

We walked over to the point dock where the water barge, Titas, was docked. Titas makes the round trip over to Nassau in 21 – 27 hours, and that is its only purpose in life: moving water from Andros to Nassau. The crew member we spoke with said the only people making any money on that operation are corrupt politicians. Titas was having a problem with a valve, and so they listed the boat to port by filling the water tanks on that side, which lifted the starboard side out of the water so a diver had easier access to the valve problem.

Titas Listing
Titas Listing

We stopped by Captain Henry Morgan's cave (I believe the community's entire advertising budget was used for the nice sign). It is rumored that treasure was hidden in the cave, but no one has ever found any. We found it interesting, especially the bats. They didn't like getting their picture taken with the flash; some began flying around. Eeee...bats in my hair!! Since it is below ground level, it would not be a good place to be in the event of a flooding hurricane.

Beginning Another Adventure
Beginning Another Adventure

The Real Bat Cave
The Real Bat Cave

We talked with a friendly stone crab fisherman who was unloading all his traps since the season had just ended. He said he works 8 months collecting crabs from the banks on the west side of Andros. I thought it was interesting to hear that he baits the traps with pigs feet-they hold together well and last a long time. He sells them all, ranging from $7-15/lb, to a supplier from Miami who flies over every couple of weeks to pick them up. He let me use his hose to rinse off Ursa who was quite crispy from the dock dunking.

Stone Crab Boat With Traps
Stone Crab Boat With Traps

There was a cruiser, Calvin, waiting for the customs officer to arrive to clear him in. He had been waiting since the day before, just having to hang around since no specific time would be given as to when the officer would show up. We told him how easy it had been for us to clear at Bimini Sands, and he said he had thought about clearing there too, but had passed on, now with much regret. Calvin had single handedly sailed his little sailboat all the way down the eastern seaboard from Newfoundland. What an adventure!


After leaving Morgan's Bluff, we decided to make our first transit through Nassau harbor since it was in the direction we were headed anyway. On the way over, Titas passed us on the high seas on its return trip to fill up with more water.

We all found Nassau Harbor interesting for a drive through, seeing all the cruise ships and colorful buildings, but it is not the type of place we would choose for one of our leisure destinations: too congested, too many people, too many buildings, too noisy and too much development.

Choose Your Ship
Choose Your Ship

Something For Everyone
Something For Everyone

Exiting the harbor it was a short distance to our anchoring destination at Rose Island. Since it was still early in the afternoon, several tour boats were using the area. They had large numbers of people aboard, probably from the cruise ships and were dropping them off to snorkel the shallow reefs nearby.

We remarked how spoiled we are and lucky to go places where we have the reefs to ourselves and don't have to deal with running into 50 other bobbing orange snorkel vests. At least those people will experience the thrill and wonder of seeing all the tropical reef life. Seeing animals in the wild has a much greater impact than watching them on TV or seeing them at Sea World. When you see a turtle or dolphin swim close by it gives you a greater sense of appreciation and might motivate you to help protect and preserve the ocean environment.

May 13-19

As we cruise down the Exuma chain of islands, we are going to try to anchor places we haven't anchored at on previous trips, weather permitting.

We had a very windy ride down from Rose Island; we are hoping for a rain shower to rinse off FLUKE. Winds have picked up, so our activities are going to be restricted to the lee side of the cay. Since this cay is 3 miles long and 400' wide with hills as high as 40' in some places we have good protection anchored on it western side when the winds are out of the east, and there is perfect holding in a nice, sandy bottom.

There are a lot of good snorkeling reefs on both sides of the cay. The southern tip has an area used by a tour group out of Nassau called Powerboat Adventures. We can see them roaring by on speed boats (4 x 250HP engines), and then they are there for the whole day. They have a shark feeding area, which we presume must be used at the end of the day when all the other water activities have been completed. Cruisers aren't permitted to mingle with the paying tourists, not that we would want to anyway.

We did get some rain, about 15 gal. worth in our deck buckets. I climbed up on the roof to scrub it during the shower so that we could use the water to fill our boat tanks, but it didn't rain enough to get clean, free flowing water.

After the Storm
After the Storm

We went out spear fishing and Eddie speared a strawberry grouper and gray snapper. There are plenty of heads in the area which should provide good habitat for some decent fish. I wish we had better weather to dive the oceanside reefs, which I suspect would be more productive. Lloyd (as in Bridges) and Jacquelyn (as in Cousteau) will have to wait for better opportunities as the voyage continues.

There are some ruins on the island. If you are adventurous enough you can land the dinghy and hike up to them. There are no beaches, so you have to do a wet landing, tie the dinghy to shore off the bow and throw out the stern anchor and then wade in. The rocks are smooth enough to walk on, but you will need a good pair of shoes to make the walk to the ruins.

A Difficult Step
A Difficult Step

We hiked up to the first ridge line where we could look down to a transition zone between the mangroves growing in the inland pond and the silver buttonwood growing upland from them. The vegetation is sparser in that area, but you have to walk on the hard rocky limestone, carefully watching for all the holes, some of which are very deep. When you think you are below the ruins, pick your way through the thick brush, avoiding the poisonwood.

The ruins have a beautiful view and a finely crafted set of wide, winding steps that lead down to what was a patio/docking area on a plateau above the waterfront. It is a peaceful area to sit and have a picnic lunch or contemplate how fortunate you are to be sitting right there at all.
The last night we were here a tug and barge arrived late in the afternoon to anchor for the night. I had looked at the barge trough the binoculars a couple of days earlier as it was headed south carrying what appeared to be construction equipment. Once they were situated the decks erupted with a flurry of people scampering about, kids of various ages from a toddler to a teen. Soon, several jumped into the water and swam towards shore with a bucket, collecting “things” from the exposed low tide rocky shoreline. I suspect they were collecting chitins for making a stew, an island fare I described last year.

The Family Barge Company
The Family Barge Company

May 17-19

This cay is the northernmost inhabited cay in the Exumas, but it is a private island with a marina business. However, you can anchor out and walk along the beaches and shorelines as long as you don't walk upland. Most cruisers don't anchor here because they anchor nearby at Allan's Cay, home of the famous land iguanas. If you want a more private location, you can anchor at Highbourne and take the dinghy over to Allan's. We anchored in North Cove in good sand after weaving our way through Allan's and over the coral heads in between the two cays. I could see sand dollars on the bottom.

Bleeding Tooth Shells
Bleeding Tooth Shells

The whole area between Allan's and Highbourne is filled with nice coral heads and is a great place to snorkel on slack tide. The depth varies quite a bit, down to about 20', so there is a diversity of bottom and structure. We saw a variety of fish species, but didn't spear any fish. I suspect it would be a great place to troll from the dinghy, but we didn't have time for that.

One of our shore walks took us along the soft, sandy rocky areas of the west side and north point where we found nesting red-billed tropic birds way up in small caves. We decided to try to cut back to the western beach area where we had left the dinghy and chose a recently cleared survey path that appeared to transverse the island where we thought we needed to go. It was a terrible walk although I delighted in seeing 3 different species of orchids growing prolifically. The piles of brush were difficult to walk through, and the path wasn't clear cut to the ground level. The worst part of all came when we had gotten 2/3 of the way through and stood above a huge cavernous pit and cave. The path had not been cut around it; the survey cut had been made from the two sides of the pit, originating from the opposite sides. We were too far through to go back, so we had to weave our way around, which included scaling one end of the pit by holding onto branches at the sides to keep ourselves from slipping downward.

Cavity Nester
Cavity Nester

Wayne had been carrying Ursa, so getting through this area was extra challenging. We had to let her pick her own way around through the underbrush, still connected to the leash. We were so scratched up by the time we reached the beach; we all headed into the water and let the salt burn our wounds.

We overheard an interesting radio conversation between a research vessel and eco tour boat that frequent the area. A dead land iguana had been found and people from both vessels were getting together to perform a dissection. I was dying to ask if I could stop in for the show as I would have loved hearing what they had to say and learning more about them.

Giant Land Iguana
Giant Land Iguana

May 20, 2009

This was just going to be an overnight stop because there was no better place to go with the steady winds out of the east and the long distance we wanted to travel, and it was easy to get in and out of. Plus, we had anchored here before and knew the holding was good.

We left the North Cove anchorage by taking the cut out between Allan's and Highbourne. I knew we should have just turned around and gone back to the Banks side as soon as we cleared the last point of land and just started bouncing around like a cork. Plus, Captain Wayne, suggesting what a great opportunity it would be to do some offshore fishing, had charted the course to take us far offshore, well away from the nutrient rich waters associated with the numerous cuts between the cays and the near shore drop offs. I asked him if he thought we were trying to fish with Davey Jones in the 5000 ft. depths we were traveling through.

After several hours of sea misery, and no fish, we gave up and we took the cut in at Warderwick Wells, home headquarters for the Exumas Land and Sea Park. It is one of the most beautiful places in the entire Exumas. There are more colors of blues and greens than can be described. The shoreline is an interesting mix of white sandy cliffs and gray outcroppings. The main anchorage has calm, protected waters and looks so peaceful and inviting after a rough time at sea. The sun was even out by then so the area sparkled at its best and helped calm our nerves. Plus, it was lunch time, and we don't miss many meals aboard FLUKE!

By the time we finally got to Black Point we were totally covered in salt from the choppy sea conditions. Touching anything outside the boat felt gritty. We tracked salt inside on our bare feet and everything was damp. Yuck. At least eating dinner would help get our minds off of the miserable day.

May 21 - 24

Here we are once again, in the famous cruising mecca of the Southern Exumas, and frequent winter home for a big majority of serious cruisers. Overall this neighborhood is very quiet now, with most of the winter cruisers having already left. However, there sure aren't near the number of boats that we saw when we were here 2 years ago. We wonder if the downturn in the economy has changed many plans.

A Working Native
A Working Native

The run down from Black Point proved to be a cruising adventure that will become part of our conversations in years to come. We traveled on the Banks until we went out Galliot Cut on an outgoing tide.

We all agreed that we would leave Davey Jones to himself this time and try fishing the drop off lines, only 1 -2 miles from shore, especially with the outgoing tide. That strategy really worked. We caught a big king mackerel, 2 tuna, and had a dolphin in the boat. While I was looking over the upper aft deck railing, hearing Eddie down below wrestling with the dolphin I saw the fish and Eddie wind up on the swim platform, and then it looked like Eddie actually released the fish! I couldn't believe my eyes and asked what he was doing (not using those words). He said his hand had gotten tangled in the line and the fish had jumped back out through the door after the hook had gotten off. He just couldn't keep hold of it so it slipped out of his hand.

As we were getting nearer to our destination we ran into a rainstorm. The line on one of the reels started screaming and being pulled out at an extremely fast rate. I didn't think I would get to it in time to set the drag enough to have any line left, but I did. We all went into the “fish on” mode despite the cold rain and lightning. There was something really big on the line, but it stayed deep as I was trying to reel it in. My arms were getting so tired and I was cold from the rain. I forgot all about my discomfort when I finally saw what we had on the line. It was a beautiful white marlin, one of my dream billfish. I told Eddie to just cut the line so we could release the fish, but he wanted to try to save the lure and managed to make the fish “smell wood” as I watched Eddie drag the big fish over the swim platform and through the transom door whereby I was able to really get a good look at it both going in and out after the hook was removed. Eddie thought it was 5' long and weighed about 70 pounds, and despite having bent the hook, we still boated it. So, that was quite a feat for the fishing flunkies of FLUKE.

We continued onward. Headed for the cut, coming from the port side was a black sailing schooner under full sail. It looked so mysterious through the pouring rain. Since it had been a magical day anyway, I was hoping maybe it was the Black Pearl with my favorite pirate at the helm, Jack Sparrow.

The schooner, a huge motor yacht, and FLUKE all went through the north cut into Elizabeth Harbor in the pouring rain. We motored slowly through the harbor all the way to the southern end where we dropped the hook off Sand Dollar Beach.

Eddie and I immediately began cleaning fish, in between lightning strikes, since we wanted to have it fresh for dinner. I had hoped to grill the mackerel and tuna, but the rain wasn't going to let up, so I ended up baking it with a new recipe. It turned out great, and we had plenty of leftovers to use for a fish salad for lunch the next day. I spent quite a while removing all the skin and bones and saving only the purest meat, like fresh tuna fish. When I woke up the next morning I found the container sitting out on the counter, where it had been left to cool and forgotten about all night long. It became fish food for the scavengers. Fortunately we froze all the rest of the fish and will have a chance to try it again on the grill.

It has rained for 3 days now and our tanks are filled up. I have even gotten to do a load of clothes with all the extra water. All our deck buckets are full, so we'll be able to rinse off whatever we need to clean. You can truly see that storm clouds may have a silver lining judging by all the good that has come our way, as we are waiting for better weather to make the crossing to the islands we intend to visit east of here: Rum, Long Island, and Conception.

We have limited email access, being able to buy time in 80 minute increments if the provider deems that the system is not too filled with users. I have been typing for hours to complete this in case we get to leave tomorrow (May 24) and so Wayne can format the text and photos for the blog. One last segment remains for my story, a popular regularly featured presentation.


In no particular type of order (i.e. safety, comfort, fun, necessity) I'll bring you up to date on some of our “problems”.

We made it as far as Lake Worth to discover that the satellite TV wasn't working. It had been in use daily while we were at the dock. Basically we just can't pick up the signal, and we have never had this problem before, so we think it is pretty serious. I was worried that Eddie may decide to abort the trip, but he decided to tough it out, with the slim chance that Wayne could figure it out and get it working again. We have given up hope at this point. Eddie is truly in a withdrawal period, but I think he will make it.

Trying to Diagnose Satellite Disease
Trying to Diagnose Satellite Disease

The sewer system is always on the list for one reason or another. This time it is not really broken, we are just having a maintenance disagreement. Holding tank chemicals help control the odor and facilitate the breakdown of wastes. I don't like using the chemicals if we are going to be pumping out on a regular basis anyway since the chemicals are expensive and it is just one more thing to dump into the ocean. We have to dump the waste since there are no pump outs to process the material, so we pump out in open water where the waste will be easily dispersed. Whenever one of the toilets gets flushed, it forces residual gas out the vent line. Coincidently, the noxious gas fumes flow down the port side of the boat and usually stream right into the big window where Eddie puts his head to sleep. (I'm laughing now as I write this). He thinks if we used the deodorant he wouldn't get the stinky fumes. As a compromise, whenever anyone flushes they have to announce the event so Eddie can close his window. The only problem with that is that Eddie naps quite a bit, and goes to bed early (since there is no TV) so he has to be awakened to close his window, and that makes him more miserable. Funny how all operations are so interconnected, huh?

The bilge pump in the dinghy was on the fritz altogether, meaning that we had to manually pump it out. That is kind of a big deal because the lowest part is under the seat, and you have to lift up the seat and cram the end of the manual pump way underneath and hold it at a funny angle for maximum suction. Simply no fun. Seems that the WE team managed to fix it to where it won't pump automatically, but it will pump if the switch is turned on by hand, a truly great compromise.

Lastly, some rather sad news for our readers. The camera bit the dust when we were at Highbourne Cay. It is a rather bitter sweet event since I have disliked that camera for a couple of years now, but I will no longer be able to better accurately record the images of these adventures. I've mentioned that I may do some drawings or scan some images, but Wayne thinks I can't draw anything, or have no other artistic talents for that matter. I may do some and see what you all think anyway. I am looking forward to being able to donate the camera to Davey Jones when we are in his neighborhood again.

Not Having a Camera Makes Me Mad
Not Having a Camera Makes Me Mad


Since the weather wasn't cooperative for a departure on May 24, we decided to stick around for at least another day; we would take a trip into town and keep trying to post the blog. We had heard radio chatter from other cruisers inquiring about the status of the WiFi service, so we weren't the only ones waiting for that.

Obviously, we never made the post since you are having to read this along with everything else. The little time that the connection stayed up, everyone else was also was trying to use it, so the system was so slow. Wayne was never able to fully upload our publication, and then the system went down altogether. He even tried it again before we hauled up the anchor on May 25. So, we “wasted” our purchased minutes. That's how life is in the out islands. If staying connected 24/7 is critical to your existence, don't plan on coming here for an extended period of time.

Our trip to town was rather uneventful. Not much was happening since it was Sunday, and most of the businesses are closed. I managed to find a phone booth and had an old Batelco (the out island equivalent of AT&T) card and decided to try it in the machine. To my complete surprise it worked, and I was able to call my Mom, who was pleasantly surprised to hear from us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

August 2008 to May 2009, Florida

(I think I am going to finally be able to post this. We are in Nassau.)

Haul Out at American Custom Yachts, Stuart, FL

As we noted in our last post we decided to have FLUKE hauled out for hurricane season this year. We needed to get regular maintenance done on the bottom and the stabilizers. We also wanted to improve the efficiency of our freezer and refrigerator. The very high cost of diesel fuel at that time contributed to the decision not to head north.

In the 150 ton Travelift
In the 150 ton Travelift

We contracted with ACY to have the bottom work done, repair the rail on the top deck where it was bent when the winch let the dinghy drop a couple of years ago and to have Voda Marine do the custom refrigerator and freezer work using Frigoboat keel cooled compressors, stainless steel liners and custom teak finish work to be done by ACY.

Wayne used Google's SketchUp 3D design software to show Voda Marine and ACY what we had in mind. Unfortunately, Voda Marine was involved in a large refit project that continually delayed our project. It wasn't until March that they were “done”. We brought FLUKE home on March 13, 2009 and within a couple of days the weather changed from the winter low humidity we had been having to very humid. This showed a major defect in the freezer installation as it was sweating profusely in many places. To their credit, Voda Marine made several trips to Vero Beach (from Riviera Beach) to expose the voids in the foam that caused the condensation and improve access (by following Wayne's suggestion to remove the washer/dryer) so that they had access to the back side of the freezer which is located where the lower bunk in the 3rd stateroom used to be. The second attempt at injecting the foam insulation was finally successful and we are quite happy with the final result. The freezer is about 8 cu ft (compared to old 5 cu ft) and the refrigerator looks great and has a lot more space than the old GE unit. Of course the project cost much more than expected primarily due to the hours required to do the beautiful teak carpentry work.

During this time we made several trips to the boatyard to wax the hull, polish chrome and paint the black rubber on the upper rub rail that, due to years in the sun, made black streaks below it whenever it got wet.

Road Trip

For most of the month of October, Eddie was gone on a road trip as he drove the PT Cruiser to Georgia (to visit his son and a childhood friend), Ohio (visit his sister) and to his hometown of Old Lyme, CT.

Take Time (Wayne and Carol Watjus)

Take Time is a Krogen Whaleback like ours. There are only 29 total and two of them are owned by couples named Wayne and Carol. Since we had an empty slip we invited them to stay with us for a while on their way to Marathon, FL for the winter. They arrived in early October after a non-stop offshore run from New Bern, NC to Cape Canaveral, FL and stayed until just before Thanksgiving. While they were here we drove to Titusville to watch a night launch of the space shuttle.

Wayne W has done many projects on their boat and can fix just about anything mechanical or electrical. One thing he fixed for us was the old davit motor on the dock. If you could see it, you would never think it could be fixed as it is mostly a pile of rust. But Wayne W took it apart and found most of the internals looked OK, but the centrifugal switch that controls the start capacitor was shot. He wired up a regular household light switch to replace it. We bought a new start capacitor, wired on a plug so we can plug into an extension cord when we use it and lubricated everything inside, and now it works; so we can pull the dinghy up on our dock when needed.

The one project Carol T loved on Take Time was the cabinets Wayne W built above the lower bunk in the 3rd stateroom. Wayne W agreed to make them for FLUKE with Wayne T working as helper. They made them in the garage and took advantage of the planer and drill press that Wayne W has and a used Grizzly table saw Wayne T bought. The most complicated part of this project is making the doors match those in the rest of the boat. They have recessed panels (teak plywood) in the upper part and teak slats for ventilation in the lower part. This project was expanded to make two additional doors, one for the space where the trash compacter we never use in the galley was and the other for the space where the ice maker was in the pilothouse. Everything came out very nice and Wayne T and Eddie installed them after FLUKE returned to Vero Beach. Here is a picture (while still in the garage).

New Cabinet Doors
New Cabinet Doors (almost finished)

Bread Making

Last year Carol W on Take Time showed Wayne T how she makes sandwich rolls, and Wayne used this instruction to improve his bread making skills over last year's Abaco adventure. This year Wayne wanted to significantly expand his bread making skills. We purchased some books and Wayne did a lot of research on the internet. One great site is and Barry was kind enough to offer advice and answer Wayne's questions via email. This year we didn't even take the bread machine on the boat since Wayne does it all by hand. Now we buy flour in 25lb bags and yeast in 2lb blocks from Sam's Club.

Our favorite recipe is “Italian Feather Bread” from Beard on Bread. Wayne makes it as free form loafs for table bread or as rolls (round or sub shaped) for sandwiches or even in a loaf pan for slicing. Wayne also learned to make pizza dough and our Italian neighbor in Vero Beach, Al Sammartino, showed Wayne how he makes foccacia bread just like his mother used to. A version of this also makes a great Sicilian style pizza. We eat good!

The other major accomplishment was with English Muffins. Last year Wayne made them on the boat using the recipe in Joy of Cooking and while they tasted great they were always too thin as they fell when handling them after rising. Wayne decided to try to use the ingredients in this recipe as they are not a problem to have on the boat, but used the method described in and this was huge success. Now the muffins are perfect (Eddie says better than the ones we've bought from the store). It is amazing how the same ingredients produce such a different result with the extra steps of rising and folding the dough after a long preferment.

English Muffins

House Still For Sale

We put the house back on the market around the end of January and had several open houses and a few showings (often with short notice!) which was much more painful than last year when we were living on FLUKE and this year we had to live in the house this fall and winter while the boat was in the boatyard.

Boat Maintenance, etc

Once the boat was back home we had several projects to do including getting the injectors rebuilt on the generator, changing its raw water pump, and dealing with a fuel leak on the main engine injector pump. We also did annual service on the Honda for the dinghy. Another project was the installation of a Single Side Band radio, something we have wanted for a while, primarily to get weather in the out islands. We bought a used ICOM M710RT from our friends on ThomKat, Tom and Anice Walker that have spent time at our dock in Vero Beach.

The other major time consumer was moving all the stuff back on the boat that had made its way into the house and garage in preparation for the haulout.

We also had a local dealer that we saw delivering fuel to another boat come to our house to deliver 591 gallons of diesel fuel for $1174 (just under $2/gal) to fill our tanks. This was less than half of what we paid last year and quite a bit less than going to a marina. He had a small tank truck with a 500 foot hose that we dragged around the house, through the back yard and out to the dock.

Post Script

In reviewing Wayne's summary of our time on land Eddie thought of a couple of important items that were left out, especially since they involved one of his most disliked words: WORK. Since I had gone back to work at the University of Florida's Medical Entomology lab, it was only fitting that the guys also tow some of the economic load of supporting the household. I fired the pool and lawn service. Eddie became the Pool Boy (not quite like in the movies!), and he and Wayne became the WE Lawn Maintenance Company. There was a slight problem in getting the WELMC in operation; we no longer owned a lawn mower since I had sold ours the year before, thinking that we would sell the house and not need one anyway. So, I knew one of our other neighbors who had used to mow his lawn and had hired a maintenance company and decided to ask him if we could buy his old mower. He said he had just decided to start mowing his own lawn again, but that we could use his mower anyway. We felt that was too generous, but compromised by saying we would use it if Wayne would mow his lawn too. So, Wayne did really well, so much in fact, two of the other neighbors, thinking the same, and thinking we had become so "poor" that Wayne had to mow lawns for some pocket money, asked if he would be interested in mowing their lawns too. I thought it was a great idea, but it would have been for such a limited amount of time, so graciously declined their offers.