Friday, March 28, 2014

Eleutheran Adventures

Powell Point, Eleuthera to Royal Island
February 27 ‒ March 9

The first Europeans who established a permanent settlement on this island in 1648 based their name on the Greek word for freedom, calling themselves the Eleutheran Adventurers. Their experience on these shores included shipwreck and hardship. Our adventure was of a much more delightful and relaxing variety.

We’d never visited Eleuthera before, so we rented a car one day and toured the island from the southern tip to Governor’s Harbour—about half of its 110-mile length. We were so impressed by the gorgeous scenery we kept discovering that it became our new favorite island.

Cottage on Cupid's Cay across from Governor's Harbour
Eleuthera is jam-packed with natural beauty. White and pink sand beaches stretch for miles along its coasts. Majestic cliffs and massive boulders rise above the beaches. Magnificent views of the bright aqua Bight of Eleuthera on the west and the cobalt Atlantic Ocean to the east can sometimes be seen from the same place.

Our lunch stop was Governor’s Harbour, a picturesque village with quaint New England‒style cottages that stair-step up a hill. A causeway connects the town to Cupid’s Cay, where the Eleutheran Adventurers first made landfall. We drove beach access roads and walked on beautiful beaches. And at the end of the day, we found it: the beach that surpasses all the others we’ve seen so far! They say that nothing but a four-wheel-drive vehicle can manage the last few miles of the drive to Lighthouse Point Beach. But Keith maneuvered our compact rental through deep, sandy potholes and ruts between walls of tough shrubbery along both sides. The view at the end of the road made every bump worthwhile.
Lighthouse Point Beach (late in the day, the picture doesn't do it justice!)
Cliffs at Lighthouse Point
Because of a pattern of repeating cold fronts with strong westerly and northerly winds—and the fact that there are few good harbors on Eleuthera for those winds—we didn't mosey around as much as we’d have liked. We spent several nights at Cape Eleuthera Marina, anchored for one night at Governor’s Harbour, and then moved on to Hatchet Bay Pond, a hidey-hole with all-around protection, to wait out the next storm.

The Front Porch Restaurant in Harchet Bay
There weren’t many thriving enterprises in Hatchet Bay, which made The Front Porch restaurant even more of a find. Francis, the owner/chef, had been out the previous day and had fresh stone crab claws and crawfish (lobster). I ordered crawfish stuffed with fresh crab meat (a great choice for the indecisive), and Keith went for the claws. The biggest stone crab claw on his plate was the size of his hand; including the knuckle, the claw extended a few inches up his wrist. It was all fabulous.

Storm clouds at Hatchet Bay Pond
Once the storm passed through, we moved farther north and anchored by the Glass Window, a tiny isthmus sometimes referred to as “the narrowest place on earth” (less than 100 feet). It connects the northern section of Eleuthera with the rest of the island and dramatically contrasts vivid turquoise waters with the deep-azure Atlantic. The Glass Window was named when a large stone arch crossed the narrow section. The force of a hurricane swept the arch away in the early 1920s. A couple highway bridges have since spanned the gap. On Halloween of 1991, a formidable wave moved one end of the latest bridge over by seven feet—but it’s still in use, one lane only!
The contrast between turquoise and blue at the Glass Window
The Glass Window bridge.
Waves can sweep over the top even on a clear day!
If you look closely, you can see the offset of the bridge at the orange sign.
And Pelican is in the right top corner.
Even the departure from Eleuthera had potential to be an adventure of the wrong kind. Ebb or flood tides at Current Cut, an opening 100 yards wide between Atlantic and the Bight of Eleuthera, can flow as fast as 10 knots. Since our boat goes 7 knots under power, it would be impossible to go through this cut with current against us and we would have very little control if it was with us. After reading all of the advice we could find, we arrived 90 minutes after low tide and had almost no current going through. Getting the timing right was adventure enough.
By Lightouse Point Beach
When those first Eleutheran Adventurers arrived on the island over 350 years ago, the native Arawak people called it Cigatoo, their word for paradise. According to our own Eleutheran adventures, the name is still a perfect fit. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Persistence Pays!

Black Point, Exumas to Cape Eleuthera
February 26

Ever since we left Florida, Keith has been on the hunt for mahi-mahi (aka dolphin fish), trolling whenever we are in deep water. We’ve diverted farther off shore a few times in order to fish. In all this time, all he had to show for his efforts was a picture of a barracuda (released) and tooth marks on his lure.

Pump and reel
Crossing the Exuma Sound on our way to Eleuthera, he dragged a line behind the boat for six hours. Until we were fifteen minutes from our destination, the fish population had responded with total apathy. Then suddenly, that long-awaited sound that makes every fisherman’s heart beat faster: the scream of line spooling out. And spooling out! Keith tightened the drag more and more until he was afraid the line would snap. Even so, 300 of the 400 yards on his reel quickly paid out. The fight was on!

Almost landed
As he jumped and fought, the fish showed his iridescent gold, blue, and green mahi-mahi colors. It was a full-on contest. After thirty minutes of playing him, pumping and reeling, Keith landed the biggest mahi he has ever caught. (The fish was a bull, shown by the prominent square forehead; cows have rounded heads.) It isn’t easy to get a fish this size on board a sailboat, but Keith did it with just a little help from me. We didn’t measure or weigh him, but judging from a picture of him stretched out on the cockpit floor, we estimate that he was four and a half feet long and weighed close to fifty pounds.

Catching this lunker will definitely be one of Keith’s trip highlights. Eating fine mahi dinners will be one of mine.

The Exumas—a Chain of Jewels

Nassau to Black Point, Exumas
January 28 ‒ February 25

The Exumas, a 120-mile-long chain of jewel-like islands, has been called the perfect progression of cays. Here the waters are clearer, the colors brighter. The east side of the islands borders the deep sapphire waters of Exuma Sound and, to the west, the shallower Exuma Bank sparkles aquamarine, jade, and every possible shade of blue-green. My thumb mishap altered our plans somewhat but didn’t spoil our enjoyment of this setting filled with such incredible natural beauty.
Aerial view of islands in the Exumas (photo by Keith)
We arrived in the Exumas after a brief stop in Nassau, where we stocked up at the last big-city market we’d see for a very long time (or so we thought). Our only nods to sightseeing were a walk through the faded section of East Bay Street to the glitzy shops on West Bay Street near the cruise ship terminal and a short walk to Potter’s Cay, under the bridge to Paradise Island, to buy made-while-you-watch conch salad at Skinny’s (a local said it was the place to go, and she was right).
Lighthouse marking the entry to Nassau harbor
Waiting for conch salad at Skinny's, Potter's Cay, and watching a game of dominoes

On January 30, we traded the hustle-bustle of Nassau for the peaceful, exquisite Exumas. Here are a few highlights from the island chain.

The iguanas at Allans Cay—no need to coax them out of hiding, these iguanas, conditioned to look for food, stream down the beach to greet anyone who lands there. They can be aggressive in their search for treats, but Keith was comfortable relaxing right among them. When they waddled my way, I was more comfortable backing into the water to prevent my toes from being nibbled.
This species is found only on three islands in the Exumas

Keith making friends with iguanas at Allans Cay
The streams at Shroud Cay—only at high tide can you navigate the streams that crisscross the interior of Shroud Cay between mangrove roots and sand bars. We dinghied across the island with Bob and Ilona, and after an unplanned side trip, found Camp Driftwood (where the US DEA spied on Carlos Lehder’s drug smuggling operation on neighboring Normans Cay) and the gorgeous Driftwood Beach. If the Exumas are jewels, this one is a perfect gem.

A stream on Shroud Cay

The view toward Driftwood Beach from Camp Driftwood (photo by Eden)
The park at Warderick Wells—our boat spent over a week at the Exuma Land and Sea Park headquarters, but for four of those days we were in Nassau. Our forays around the island were limited to a dinghy ride to Hog Cay on the southeast side (with Ihana and Rag Doll) and a quick hike to the top of Boo Boo Hill to place the traditional driftwood plaque with our boat name.
Pelican waiting at Warderick Wells
Dinghy ride to Hog Cay (photo by Eden)

The view of the harbor from Boo Boo Hill (Pelican front and center)
Placing the plaque on Boo Boo Hill
The party at a private island—when we flew back to Pelican after our emergency trip to Nassau, we met a couple whose mom owns a private island down here in the Exumas. They invited us to drop in if we came close with our boat, so we did. How often will we be invited to a private island, after all?
Several celebrities own islands here (Johnny Depp, Matthew Perry, David Copperfield, the Aga Khan), but this owner is a “regular lady,” very sweet and welcoming and humble. We had a cool beverage on the deck of her house and looked out over an incomparable view of crescent beach and uninhabited rocky islets.  Before we left, we invited the couple, their three daughters, and three of their friends (all there on vacation) to drop out to the boat. Then as we were leaving the island, we chatted with the caretaker and he invited us back to the island for a pig roast the next evening in celebration of his birthday.

The girls and dad came to the boat the next day, and after their tour, the girls, one by one, held onto a halyard coming from the top of the mast, swung out from the bow, and dropped into the water. Then we hoisted two of the bravest to the top of the mast in a bosun’s chair. They had fun, and so did we!

That night at the pig roast we had such fun talking with a group of thirty interesting people who mostly live down here. We felt like we were invited into another world for the evening. And, proving that it really is a small world, we learned that the son who invited us to the island in the first place is a very good friend of two authors we worked with in our last jobs. It was such a serendipitous weekend...and it wouldn't have happened except for my injury. How kind of God to provide all these little blessings!

The people (and laundromat) at Black Point—the second largest settlement in the Exumas, Black Point is a typical Bahamian town unspoiled by tourism. You’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier and more helpful group of people anywhere, and the several restaurants made the fill-in cook very happy. We’d been looking forward to Lorraine’s CafĂ© and her mom’s coconut bread. Another magnet for cruisers is the town’s laundromat, the best within a hundred miles. You wouldn't believe how exciting that is! For all of these reasons, Black Point is a must on most boaters’ itineraries.
The roomy anchorage at Black Point
The town comes to meet the mail boat in Black Point
Our buddy-boating with Bob and Ilona (Ihana) and Chris and Eden (Rag Doll) ended in Black Point. We'd traveled with them most of the time since arriving in the Bahamas on January 21. Bob and Ilona are in Nassau and soon heading back to the US. Since they’re from Roseville, Minnesota, we’ll reconnect with them at home this summer. Chris and Eden, who are from Canmore  and Toronto, Canada, are now farther south in the Exumas. They were all a very special part of our trip so far, and we'll miss them!
Bob and Ilona (photo by Eden)

Chris and Eden (photo by Ilona)

Goodbye dinner at Scorpio's

The cast removal in Nassau—the highlights list wouldn’t be complete without this! Dr. Neil was happy with progress so far, but the healing has a ways to go. I’m wearing a much more subtle splint that complements my boating style much better. Even though I can do a lot more, it still can’t get wet, so Keith continues as executive chef in the galley. I’m handling some sous chef duties here and there. We’re both holding up well.
Leaving the Exumas with my new, becoming thumb splint
When we needed to take it easy for a while, thank God that we could soak in the warmth and picturesque views of these “crown jewels of the Bahamas.” We look forward to seeing more facets of the Exumas on our next trip.