Thursday, February 28, 2008

Happy Birthday!

February 26-28, Warderick Wells
Cambridge Cay and Warderick Wells are part of Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park, a no-take zone where fishing, conching, and shelling are prohibited. On the way from one to the other, we traveled east outside the park boundaries to fish in the deep water of Exuma Sound where it’s possible to catch tuna, mahimahi, or wahoo. We had a line out and—excitement!—a bite. But the line broke. It was probably our last chance to fish in deeper water while Loren and Clairice are with us, so the one that got away has been the source of a lot of consternation on our boat.

Another cold front, bringing rain and high wind, is on its way, and we have nestled into the very safe harbor of Warderick Wells. As the wind pipes up and clocks around to the north, we’re happy to be comfortably tied to a mooring ball, watching the sun rise over the ranger station.

February 27 is a very special day. Loren turns 70 today! We’re glad he could spend the big day with us. We celebrated with unquestionably the best lunch in the anchorage: caviar, black truffles, imported olives and cheeses. Since we didn’t catch that fish…or any lobster…we’ll have to settle for grilled steak with Bahamian peas and rice for dinner. Happy Birthday, Dad!

P.S. A new slideshow is posted on the top right side of the blog, and Keith keeps the placemarks on the PelicanPath map link updated more often than I update the blog. If there are no new updates for a while, check to see if the map has been updated.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Favorite Places

February 24-25, Pipe Cay to Cambridge Cay
Tucked between several islands, Pipe Creek is a shallow area with room for only a few boats to anchor. We tried to enter a sliver of water between the rocky shore of Pipe Cay and a sand bar, and in the attempt Keith’s stellar record of never touching bottom on this entire trip was tarnished. No problem—it was soft sand and he quickly powered off.

We dropped anchor in a wider, deeper pool alongside Little Pipe Cay. A luxury resort covered the private cay, but we saw no sign of life. Around us, turquoise waters swirled between rocks and islands. White sand bars expanded and sand flats dried out at low tide.

When we first arrived, Keith and Loren snorkeled to some rocks no more than forty yards from the boat. Fast-running current is prevalent throughout the Exumas. It carried them away in a flash, but they had a heart-pounding swim back to the boat.

We explored the creek area by dinghy and saw a bed of hundreds of baby conch (called “rollers”). Sometimes a square yard housed eight or ten small conch. At slack current, Keith and Loren snorkeled again, bringing back four large conch and a small fish for dinner.

Pipe Creek was so beautiful that we were tempted to stay another day, but we were intrigued by reports of great snorkeling at Cambridge Cay. We were glad we didn’t miss a stop there. We hiked a trail across the island to Bell Rock, which Keith and Loren climbed and conquered. Close to slack tide, we snorkeled over a reef that contained rare coral, including a stand of pillar coral. It resembled multiple small-scale saguaro cacti clumped one against the other.

The current was still strong and we moved on to Rocky Dundas, a grotto that may rival Thunderball. At low tide, we snorkeled under a ledge into a dome-shaped cave that opened to the sky. Sunlight filtered in and illuminated a cathedral of multi-hued stalactites. Where is the camera when you need it?

When Pigs Swim

February 21-23, Cave Cay to Big Majors Spot
Thursday we began our journey north, retracing our route through the Exumas. Loren and Clairice will fly out of Nassau on March 4, so we’ll stop at our favorite places and at some we missed on the way south.

We revisited Cave Cay and anchored all by ourselves, a rare pleasure. On our return trip to Black Point, we ate the best cracked conch ever at Lorraine’s Café and picked up two loaves of delicious coconut bread and dinner rolls that we had ordered from Lorraine’s mom on the VHF radio that morning. At Staniel Cay, we snorkeled in Thunderball Grotto again.

Then we discovered a new favorite place. Sometime in the past domestic pigs were released on an island called Big Majors Spot. They don’t fly, but when you approach Pig Bay by dinghy, that’s when pigs swim! One sow came splashing out to greet us; apparently the others are busy with new litters of piglets. She turned up her nose at the vegetables we brought but loved the raisin bread. We’re not sure if she would be inclined to bite, but Loren wasn’t inclined to find out. He landed on the beach to collect a sample of sand and didn’t let her get anywhere near him, try as she might.

We’ve had a lot of unusual experiences, but nowhere else have we seen swimming pigs!

A Very Warm Welcome

February 19-20, George Town to Staniel Cay
Thursday, February 19, Keith’s parents, Loren and Clairice, flew in to George Town. We were thrilled to see their smiling faces! And they came bearing goodies—new marine supplies, low-carb treats, a web cam, and more.

That night Claus and Rachael joined us at Eddie’s Edgewater Grill and we ordered entrées of turtle, conch, and red snapper. After we had left, a local man chased us down on his bicycle to tell us that we had left a bag in the restaurant, an example of the helpfulness and honesty we’ve experienced everywhere in the Exumas.

Anchored right near downtown, Wednesday was a day of practical provisioning. We bought fresh meat and produce at Exuma Market and fresh bread from Mom’s Bakery van where no transaction is complete without a big hug and a “Praise the Lord!” We refilled water tanks and hauled ten gallons of diesel to the boat.

After a busy day, we enjoyed a relaxing evening. We moved across the harbor and anchored next to Kyanna. We took a dinghy tour along Stocking Island, including Volleyball Beach. Then we went to a cruisers’ happy hour on shore. Dinner with Claus and Rachael on our boat was topped off by the view of a full lunar eclipse. Sadly, it was our last dinner with Claus and Rachael for some time. We’ll go our separate ways before we meet in the Abacos in mid-March. We miss you travels!

Overwhelmed by Gifts

February 16-18, George Town
En route from Conception Island to George Town, our alternator broke down. At first it seemed like very bad timing. Knowledgeable cruisers said we should wait until we reached Nassau to have it repaired. We were very happy that we had bought a Honda generator, but with guests about to arrive, we didn’t want to run the generator day and night.

In December back in St. Augustine, we had met two couples traveling on Jeanneau sailboats. One of them, Zingaro, owned by Juan and Estela, is a sister ship. Over the miles we had run into them and chatted several times. They “happened” to be in George Town when we came back there, we stopped to talk with them, and they “happened” to have an extra alternator of exactly the type we needed. They very graciously offered it to us and wouldn’t even take any payment (we’ll try to work something out when we stop at their place in Baltimore on our way back home). Thanks, Juan and Estela!

Sunday, we attended Beach Church in George Town and felt blessed to be in such a welcoming community. That afternoon, Rachael gave me a two-hour massage. You're the best, Rachael!

We’ve received so many gifts along they way, from practical help and kindnesses to the privilege of being out here in the middle of such beauty. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). We feel overwhelmed and undeserving, but thank God for every gift of grace.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Idyllic Interlude

February 10-15, Conception Island
Sunday morning we rounded Cape Santa Maria (named for the ship in Columbus’s fleet that reportedly went down here) and headed for Conception Island. What a wonderful serendipity…we had the entire island to ourselves! We found what we had been looking for throughout the Exumas: a lovely and remote destination off the beaten path

A front was forecast to move into the area Sunday night. It brought high winds, but we were quite well protected. During the five days we spent there, only twelve hours were uncomfortable, due to a surge that rolled in perpendicular to the wind direction. If nobody else wanted to brave a front out here, that was okay with us.

The beach was the most breath-
taking we’ve seen on our trip. White bluffs formed one end of the bay and pristine, pure-white sand curved to the other. The water’s glorious shade of turquoise contrasted against the white. We walked the beach and hiked a short trail that led to another that was almost as pretty.

Keith snorkeled on reefs outside the bay and returned at sunset with his biggest lobster ever for a romantic dinner. In the photo, the plate measures 9.5" in diameter. Another day, we explored a mangrove creek inside the island by dinghy and took twelve conch. Fresh seafood!

Before our stay ended, Valentine’s Day arrived. Ever the incurable romantics, Keith and I both forgot completely that February 14 was a day of any special significance. But we agree that Conception Island itself was our valentine: an amazing and romantic place and an experience we will never forget.

An Awesome Spectacle!

February 9, 2008, Long Island
It didn’t take many days in George Town before we were ready to leave. For some, this is the destination, the place to spend the winter. After all, there’s beach volleyball, you can take classes of any description (basket-weaving, yoga, how to operate an SSB radio, etc.), a happy-hour party is never far away, and there’s a cruiser’s net on the VHF radio every morning. If you’re a candidate for adult day camp, it may be the place for you. What could be the downside? Hundreds of boats are anchored in the harbor!

We floated away over quiet seas, luminous deep-blue water reflecting pearlescence on the back side of every ripple. As we arrived at Calabash Bay on Long Island, a welcome sun shower gave us a fresh-water rinse before we anchored.

A few minutes later, about two miles from where we sat a funnel descended from dark, ominous clouds and a very impressive waterspout churned up a massive spray. In the golden light of late afternoon, it was a powerful and awe-inspiring spectacle!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Down in George Town

February 4-8, 2008, Great Guana Cay to George Town
After watching the Super Bowl in Black Point Settlement, we moseyed down the west side of Great Guana Cay to anchor for the night. Sweet solitude!! We were all alone in an anchorage for the first time since we left the Apostle Islands.

Uncomfortable rollers sent us further south the next day, and we anchored in a more protected spot behind Cave Cay with several other boats. As we sat there, a brown pelican flew in and landed right behind our Pelican. We knew it was a very rare sighting—a couple weeks earlier at Exuma Cays Park, the ranger said pelicans very seldom visit the Bahamas. Keith had talked to another Bahamian man who said he hadn't spotted one around here in years.

Near Cave Cay, Keith had another rare sighting—a huge spiny lobster. He speared it and brought it home for dinner. The two of us ate as much as we could, and still couldn't finish it! Yummm.

We wanted to get down to George Town, probably the southern-
most point on our journey, this week. Claus and Rachael's daughter, Annie, her husband, Sean, and daughter, Kyah, are vacationing here, and we wanted to meet them before they leave on Saturday. Last night we took a lobster salad appetizer to their boat and had dinner together. What a great family!

Tomorrow, we want to head a little further east to see Long Island and then Conception Island before a cold front arrives here...and before Loren and Clairice fly in to George Town on February 19.

Monday, February 4, 2008

First Friday at Farmers

January 29-February 3, Black Point to Little Farmers Cay
Sandwiched between two visits to Black Point Settlement, we attended the 5F—First Friday in February at Farmers Festival. This is billed as one of two major annual events in the Exumas. The celebration spills over into Saturday and is kicked off with pomp and circumstance. Regional government officials offer effusive speeches. The police chief of the Exumas, dapper in military uniform and diamond-crusted Rolex, sternly warns that lawful custody will certainly follow unlawful activity. Uniformed schoolchildren recite the pledge and sing the national anthem and the Farmers Cay song. The national TV station in Nassau even sends a team to cover the story.

For an island with a total population of 60, this is great marketing! Boats loaded with Exumians from neighboring islands fill every available dock. Planes land at the airstrip bringing native sons back from George Town and Nassau. And cruisers are not only invited to attend, they’re pressed into service to help run the festival.

The main attraction is a sailing regatta: races for fame and honor between Bahamian wooden sloops. On the second day, Keith volunteers as crew on one of the boats. The other three Bahamian sailors on Golden Girl are leery. Sailing experience on a boat like ours doesn’t necessarily translate to one like theirs (just ask the crew of non-Bahamian cruisers that try racing one of the sloops on their own). His duties, in addition to normal tasks like raising the anchor and helping trim the sheet, include riding the “prys,” the boards that are pushed out from one side to the other on each tack. The human ballast balances way out on the boards, adjusting position with any gusts, to keep the boat as level as possible.

Golden Girl runs into hard luck. First, she goes aground and finishes eighth in her race. On the next outing, a T-bone collision opens a gaping hole in her side, but she manages to place fifth among fifteen contenders. His crewmates declare Keith a natural—no great surprise to those of us who know him!

We closed out the festival at West Beach with the Bahamian crowd. The very entertaining conch man, Carsol, made two preparations of conch I had never tried before. Scorched conch is scored and topped with “sour and spice,” or lime and Scotch bonnet peppers, guaranteed to set your lips on fire. Grilled conch is diced and pounded, then cooked in foil with green pepper, onion, and an abundance of butter-flavored Crisco; very tasty if not healthful!

Speaking of health, and in keeping with the alliteration theme, we could talk about positive progress, a remarkable recovery, or feeling in fighting form. The best description is that it's a generous gift of God’s great goodness and grace. Much sooner than I imagined, I’m able to breathe deeply and do almost everything I need to do…still carefully…but with very minimal pain. Thank you so much for your prayers!