Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just what and where are the Exumas? (long post)

I thought it would be good to provide a map of the Exumas and a little information to help everyone understand where we are and what we're up to... I should have posted this a while ago but honestly, I've kind of been learning as I go. I finally feel like I have enough of a clue to share it! Please understand that this is me talking. It's not scientific and I probably have some facts wrong. But it should help give a little better understanding :) I've taken some info from The Bahamas Cruising Guide and Stephen Pavlidis' The Exuma Guide.

The Exuma Cays (where we are):

The definition of a "cay" is: A small, low island composed largely of coral or sand. Also called "key". (thanks wikipedia). The Bahamian cays are made of limestone and coral. They are low lying - the highest hill in the Bahamas is just about 200' high on Cat Island. The cays are no more than 100' high. I can't find info on the exact size but a cay is smaller than an island. The Exumas is a chain of about 365 cays stretching north to southeast, the northern tip is about 35 miles southwest of Nassau, New Providence Island. I found a great map - see above. (I think you can click on it to make it bigger.)

All the cays we have visited, and are going to visit, are on the map except Pipe Cay and Cambridge Cay. Pipe lays just north of Sampson Cay and Cambridge is north of Compass Cay. There's a lot going on between Warderick Wells and Staniel! We have visited the northern and central Exumas, from Allan Cay to Staniel Cay. Along this route there are 4 marinas, at Highborne, Compass, Sampson and Staniel.

Flora and Fauna (what to look at and what not to touch)

The vast majority of the cays are not inhabited. Many of them are also private islands and you can't land on them. There aren't a lot of indigenous animals on the cays. There are rats, bats and hutia (look like guinea pigs), frogs, snakes, many types of little lizards (my favorite is the "curly tailed lizard") and iguanas found only on a few northern cays. There are many kinds of land and sea birds including hummingbirds, owls, thrushes, mockingbirds, bananaquits ("sugar birds"), pigeons, seagulls, tropic birds (in the spring) and osprey. We don't need to discuss the flys, mosquitoes, noseeums, sandflys, black widow spiders and scorpions. The plants are mostly cacti scrub brush, flowers and small trees. Of note is poisonwood (think evil poison ivy-like) and the small silver topped palms that seem most numerous. The epifauna and epiflora (all the good stuff in the water) is too numerous to detail here. The sharks and stingrays are pretty big and you see them from the boat a lot.

Water Depth (when to travel in shallow areas):

What the map doesn't show is that the water to the west of the islands is the Grand Bahama Bank, running right up to the south side of Paradise Island. The water here is anywhere from 1 foot to 30 feet deep. The water to the east of the Exumas is the Exuma Sound and it's up to thousands of feet deep. so depending on what direction the wind is coming from, we can go up and down on either side - getting from one side to the other through "cuts" in between the islands. In general, the bank side (west) is safer since the waves can only get so big given the shallow water. The danger lies in the very shallow areas where rocks and coral may be sitting just under the water. This is when you need to "read" the water - you can approximate the depth of the water by the color. (Martin has posted on that below) By the way, you need sunlight (and polarized sunglasses) to do this so it's not advisable to travel into shallow areas/anchorages on cloudy days.

Currents & Tides (snorkeling):

There are a lot of very, very strong currents in the Bahamas because of the shallow bank. People die here because they are swept away by currents. So you need to have a basic understanding of what they are and what they mean.

Every 6+ hours the tide comes in and out. So a huge amount of water from the ocean flows - squished through the cuts onto the very shallow bank. Then 6+ hours later it all shoots back out. This is in fact why the water is so clean and beautiful here - it's exchanged constantly and all the crude flows out to sea. All this blue and green is just what ocean water looks like - clean and shallow.

The tide is "low" twice a day and "high" twice a day. There is a 2-3 foot difference between low and high tide here. It's enough that you have to step up, or hop down, to the dock depending on the tide. It's also enough that sometimes we can't enter or exit as area unless we're at high tide because the water is so shallow.

The current is strongest right in between low and high tides. Exactly at low and high tide is referred to as "slack tide". This is the best, and sometimes only time you can snorkel some sites, especially those near cuts. This is why we snorkeled once a day at Cambridge - at high tide since it was in the early afternoon when we were there. CJ & Margie have mastered drifting with their jet ski so they can snorkel more often when there is current. We haven't figured this out with the dinghy since the engine hangs over and it's more difficult to manipulate.

Whew. That was a long one :)

Navigating by Color

We're all used to navigating using a map (or a chart if afloat). Most of us even combine the map with a GPS to get an up-to-the-second birds-eye view of our location. Since we arrived in the Bahamas however, I've had to learn a new technique - color. That is, the color of the water.

The water here is exceptionally clear. Its not unusual to be able to look down into 20' of water and see the bottom as clear as a bell. It's also very shallow. Huge areas are less than 20' deep and all the interesting parts less than 10'. There's a limit to the accuracy of both charts and GPS and that limit is far greater than you'd like to trust when your props are concerned. Hitting bottom is not good and if the bottom is rocky, can make for a really bad day, so its something to be avoided.

So when we nose into an anchorage, I use the color of the water to tell me where to go. It's called VPR - visual piloting rules. Our boat goes 3' 8" below the water (aka draught), the deepest part being our props at the back.

Deep blue water is over 30' deep - in the case of the ocean thousands of feet - and is no problem as far as depth goes. Between 30' and 20' the water turns a lighter shade of blue. The Bahamian Bank is mostly this color. 20' - 10' and there's another color change, this time green. Between 10' and around 6', the water is a light green-blue. Less than 6' and its white. While 6' is still plenty deep enough, there's no way to tell how shallow it goes, so its to be avoided.

These colors assume a white, sandy bottom. Grass makes everything look darker, as do cloud shadows, so you need to keep an eye on the chart to have a rough idea of the depth. Also complicating things are rocks and coral heads. These show up as black blobs. Unless the blob is moving, in which case its a stingray or a shark. Reefs usually show up as brown patches.

So the rule is, stay out of the white and avoid black and brown. I also keep an eye out for the tide when anchoring as a 3' drop when at 6' will ground us out.

When we're heading in or out through a shallow channel, Steph is performing her "Titanic" impression, standing at the bow, keeping a look out for rocks and coral heads.

Back at Sampson Cay Marina and back to rain

Dang but we're having a lot of rain! We left Cambridge this morning at about 10:30. The forecast called for isolated squalls and since the sky was looking pretty gray, we headed out hoping to beat whatever was coming... We went outside the bank and down the Exuma sound side (deep) because the water was calmer to the east. We headed back into the bank via a large cut and bam - we found ourselves heading into a squall - along with 4 other large motorboats. We were all pretty close to each other and hauling butt southward toward Compass Cay and Sampson Cay marinas. It was pretty impressive to see a big motorboat out about 4 miles with lightening shooting down into the water about a mile off of it. I say "impressive", Martin wouldn't use that word exactly...

Well we got here safe and sound. And we got laundry tokens and internet hook-up and even had lunch. (I have to say, we had a fine time in the restaurant as well.) Hopefully the rain will back off tonight and tomorrow we'll be able to get fuel for Lucky and the dinghy and be off for Warderick Wells. Today - we're having another cozy day in the boat and enjoying having internet and of course, updating our blog! (blogger likes me again - I can post now)

Moored at Cambridge Cay and Snorkeling with a shark! (5/28-5/31 Thursday - Sunday)

Another new experience - we took a mooring ball at Cambridge Cay.  Grabbing the mooring ball and figuring out how to attach the lines wasn't too bad. After one evening we figured we hadn't done it quite right as the lines were hitting the anchor, so we got out the binoculars, looked at the other boats and figured it out.  There's that learning curve again :)

Cambridge Cay is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We'll be in the park for the next week or two.  The moorings are $20/night so you dinghy over to "mailbox cay", fill out an envelope and pay in the box that's there. The park warden comes by at least once a day to check on everyone (and they told us about some snorkeling sites). We snorkeled the Sea Aquarium and a 6-7 foot nurse shark came by. You would not believe how fast I can get my butt into a dinghy - Martin was amazed. He didn't hear me yell his name but he figured what had happened as the blur-that-would-be-Stephanie flew into the boat. Nurse sharks, by the way, are "harmless". They are totally not aggressive and people snorkel with them all the time. But apparently I was traumatized as a child by watching Jaws and no shark that is bigger than me is getting close without me experiencing shear terror... Our routine now is that Martin jumps in, scopes out the waters and gives a thumbs up to signal "no sharks". Then I get in and am totally preoccupied looking into deep water :) We also snorkeled the Rocky Dundas, another cave in a rock that is beautiful. Then we snorkeled the Coral Garden and saw a 4 foot grouper and 2 HUGE lobsters. Martin did get a pic but it doesn't show the scale - these guys were about 2 1/2 feet long with such long legs!  You can tell that we are in the park now - a no-take zone. The fish are all so huge…

We got to do a bit of walking on land too. We went onto Cambridge and walked the north and south trails. The north trail cut across to Bell Rock (see pics). The sand here is so fine that it's hard to walk on - you sink up to your ankles.  Then we went to the south beach near the Coral Garden and walked through to another beach. We got to see what the plants look like on the Cays - tiny palms and poisonwood that you are supposed to stay very, very far from. We also went exploring looking for a natural pool that CJ & Margie told us about on the tip of Compass Cay. They gave us good directions and we found Rachel's Bubble Bath - very cool.

Last night we had another brute of a thunder/lightening storm. We woke up at 3:30 - it was amazing!  We stayed up for an hour watching it as it passed. I've missed these storms living on the West coast though I think I'm going to get to see plenty of them this summer.

This has been a beautiful place to stay but oh - the neighbors! A 128 foot megayacht named "Arioso" came in the same day we did and moored right next to us. They have many water toys and get this - an airplane. So we get to sit in the quiet, looking out at the blue waters ... and get buzzed by a plane, repeatedly, all day long.  We can locate the boat using AIS (ask Mart…) so we’ll be sure stay clear of them from now on.

We're spending tomorrow night guessed it - Sampson Cay ;-)  It's the only marina here with: laundry, internet and fuel. We had a close call today when we realized the dinghy was on empty when we were out cruising around Little Hall's Pond Cay. CJ told us about the cay - it's owned by Johnny Depp and you can see cameras all around island.  (We had a nice tour of the island and did make it back to the boat.) So we'll post these blog entries, update the pic of the day, wash the towels and fuel up the dinghy before heading to Warderick Wells on Monday.

Posters note:  Another post authored by Steph and posted by Martin.  Don't worry, I'll be posting up some horribly technical, jargon-filled narrative soon.  I know my fan(s) are anxiously awaiting one...

Having a wonderful time at Pipe Cay (5/25-5/28 Monday - Thursday)

We anchored out for 3 nights with Pazzia between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe Cay. It was absolutely beautiful and one of the most fun times we've had so far! The weather finally cooperated. At times the water was so calm, no wind, no rolling but a slight breeze... Every now and again a big thunder/lightening storm would blow through but they were always quick. We loved anchoring with CJ & Margie, they are so much fun and so full of life! We packed so much into a few days and we have tons of pictures. CJ & Margie shared photos with us so I've updated the "pic of the day" back to 5-17-09. Putting them into Picassa made me smile, I think you can see in the photos just how much we've enjoyed the past week with our new friends.

Let's see, what we've been up too... We explored Pipe Creek on the dinghy/jet ski. (Pipe Creek is the area amongst a stretch of islands between Compass Cay and Sampson Cay. there are several cays here.) We did a lot of snorkeling and did a "drift snorkel" for the first time hanging onto the jet ski as we passed by the reef. We saw 2 porcupine fish - my favorite with those big eyes. We found a shallow sand bar filled with sand dollars and sea shells. I never realized how fragile the sand dollars are, I hope at least a few of them make it home with us. We shared dinners and cocktails with CJ & Maggie and enjoyed the company of Chorizo and Saucisse. Margie and I got stranded - beaching the jet ski on a sand bar in low tide. We saw 2 baby black tip reef sharks in 6 inch water while waiting for rescue. The Sampson Cay store gets it's provisions on Wednesdays so we went in to stock up on produce. I know, I know, I said we wouldn't be back. But after my temper calmed as we discussed it...and the fact that there aren't many options when your transportation is a dinghy... ;) That morning we woke up to a mean thunder and lightening storm and to find that the winds and currents had conspired to somehow bring Lucky & Pazzia very close. It was an exciting morning! It's all in the pics...

Martin and I have discovered how useful a jet ski is to go off exploring and snorkeling. They are fast, go into incredibly shallow water, you can drift dive and they handle rough seas better and faster than a dinghy. We're left thinking that a jet ski is far more practical than a dinghy as long as you have waterproof clothing. We figure you can bungie a large dry bag to back (like a motorcycle) so they can be just as useful for provisioning... Hm, food for thought :)

Our next stop is the mooring field at Cambridge Cay. CJ & Margie are going to anchor at Big Majors (the cay with the pigs). We'll both be heading north to be in Nassau around mid-June so we may meet up again at anchor - I really hope so! We'll definitely be visiting them in Florida this summer!

Posters Note:  Steph's having "Blogger issues", so I've posted this on her behalf.

New picture album

We've been prolific with our picture taking this last week.  I blame the influence of CJ (who's never without a camera in hand).  So prolific, in fact, that we've maxxed out the number of pictures Picasa allows in a web album.  So Steph has slaved away and created a second album called "Pic of the Day 2".  You can find the link on the right.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sampson Cay - Thunder & Lightening & Rain

Okay - after 3 days of thunder and lightening, the excitement is over and we're okay with the sun coming back!

We spent the last three nights at Sampson Cay Marina. The marina is very clean with a good store, laundry facilities and showers. Unfortunately, we've had a disappointing time here. While a couple of people at the marina have been very nice, the restaurant staff managed to intimidate us (and our friends) away from having the "audacity" to eat there! (A drag since it's the only place to eat, other than your boat...) We had a great dinner on Friday and then it was all down hill. Not to belabor the point, it's just too bad - the facility is lovely but the attitude wasn't, and we won't be coming back here.

The marina was a minor thing though. We had such a great weekend! With Pazzia and Searcher as our neighbors on the same dock we had a wonderful weekend. We hung out, got to know each other better, walked the pups and got to see Falcy (CJ & Margie's parrot) "do the chicken" which is a parrot dance :) Friday we enjoyed a great dinner together. Saturday we all got together for an impromptu barbeque with rum punch... Yesterday we were getting very tired of the rain so we decided to head out between storms to try to snorkel. We got caught in one heck of a downpour (see pics). We found a monster-sized starfish and a great time! Then we had CJ & Margie over for a chicken curry dinner.

I'm really excited about the next few days - we're going to anchor out with CJ & Margie and the pups. We woke up this morning to NO wind and blue sky and it's absolutely gorgeous. We're heading just a couple of miles north to an anchorage off of Pipe Cay. Our plans include exploring by dinghy and serious snorkeling.

I was just thinking this morning that this trip is going so well and living up to all of our expectations. Martin dreamt of sitting alone at anchor in turquoise water, off a gorgeous beach, swimming and snorkeling. I fantasized about exploring the islands, meeting interesting people, making friends and enjoying the "cruising lifestyle". I feel so, so fortunate - we're doing it all and enjoying it all...

Okay, we have one hour to hit the store for fresh produce, batten down the hatches and head out before the tide gets too low… We’ve kind of forgotten about our temporary “itinerary” so I don’t really know when we’ll be on line again but I’m sure it won’t be long!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Updated route

I've updated the route to include our trip back to Nassau and our recent Exuma explorations.  If you have good connectivity, I highly recommend switching to satellite view for the Exumas.  You get a really good idea of the water, islands and marinas.

I also add a little commentary for each stop and passage.  Click on the symbol or line to read.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thunder and Lightening

Today is the first really "bad" weather day we've had here but I'm loving it! It's been raining all day with lots of thunder and lightening. I miss that on the west coast! It's nice to have a relaxing day after our fun night yesterday.

Martin and I went to dinner at the Fowl Cay Resort restaurant with CJ & Margie. We got picked up at the marina on a nice 29ish foot boat. We went by Pazzia and picked up CJ & Margie and then headed for the restaurant just north of the Big Major anchorage. There was only us and one other couple, a really nice British couple celebrating their 20th anniversary. The food was great and unlimited wine...but the company definitely made the evening! I just love CJ & Margie. Their boat name says it all in Italian - "Pazzia = crazy, lunacy" :) The ride home was Awesome! The same guy drove but this time in a local skiff - a big hollow boat with no lights, seating for 2 and nothing else. I'll try to get a picture of a similar boat later. He was taking himself and another employee home to Black Point after dropping us off (about 5 miles south of Staniel). So I stood in the boat and held on to a rope attached to the front so I wouldn't fall over and we went flying back -lots of stars but no moon, with no lights - just racing through black water in the dark on warm/humid night. It was soooo cool.

This morning we woke up to gray skies and lots and lots of rain. I met a couple yesterday when I went to the Blue Store (where I scored the last avocado!) who are cruising on a trawler. Martin and I sat at the bar with Barbara & Jack in the afternoon talking and they invited us over to see their boat. So this morning Martin and I headed out to the anchorage at Big Majors. You can see from the pic how lovely the weather was as we headed out in the dinghy! Their boat, Searcher, is a 42-foot, 1984 Kadey-Krogen that they've remodeled. It's so homey and there is so much space! Hmmm, I definitely like the trawlers... We had a really nice visit and Barbara made fresh conch salad as a snack. I've never had it (Martin absolutely refuses to eat it - the conch is raw and he calls them big snails). I was pretty anxious about tasting it but it was great! Very much like ceviche. We were going to swing by Pazzia on the way back but were soaked within seconds so we waved hello and came back to enjoy a lazy, rainy afternoon snuggled up in Lucky.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pizza, Pigs and Lionfish

Just a quick update - I posted some fun photos on the pic of the day today. A few of the pigs at Big Major Cay yesterday. We brought them our organic garbage. It got exciting when one tried to climb into the dinghy. We didn't get a photo of that, Martin and I were too panicked trying to escape, but you get the idea! Some more pics from dinner last night at Club Thunderball with CJ & Margie. Martin and I walked up and were shocked to find out that it was a solid 30 minute walk on the winding roads. We're used to walking but really, it's HOT here. We were the only ones who didn't get there by dinghy, car or golf cart. On the way, some cruisers took pity on us and after they dropped off their wives, they came and gave us a lift in their cart :) The walk back was at night in the dark with a ton of stars, it was cool (and downhill) and Awesome!

The wind has calmed down some so this morning we went snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto where they filmed the James Bond movie. It's a cave in a rock - incredibly beautiful. (The pictures came out much darker than it actually was in the cave). AND I spotted a lionfish outside the rock and CJ & Margie were there with their spear - one less lionfish - yay! It was creepy too because it wouldn't die - a fish, speared on stick out, of water, and it just kept moving and moving... Yikes! I'm going to try to find a spear this afternoon. I would love to be able to "give back" by taking out some of these invasive fish!

We have a chilled afternoon ahead (spear shopping?) and then a fancy dinner up at Fowl Cay this evening. Life is sooooo good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Staniel Cay

Hello from Staniel Cay. Wow - it's so different living on the hook with no one else in eyesight...compared to staying at a marina! We arrived on Sunday. Staniel Cay Yacht Club is a nice little marina (about 15 slips). The office/bar/restaurant is all wrapped in one and is a very popular spot. I had read in one of the guides that the small mega-yacht crowd hung out here but we've found the opposite - salty cruisers, fisherman and very friendly locals hanging out, drinking and joking around.

It took us a bit to figure out that the bar tender was also the office manager but once we did...we moseyed up to the bar, checked in, got internet and ordered drinks :) Then we were very pleasantly surprised to see CJ & Margie walking in! It was great to see them again and exchange generator stories (they were in Highborne where we met them because their generator had broken and missed them in Normans because we were back in Nassau...) We made reservations for dinner at the restaurant (you have to reserve by 5 for the 7:30 seating - most of the restaurants request this, including MacDuffs). We had a few drinks with CJ & Margie and made plans to have them over for dinner Monday. The rum & pineapple drinks were Strong, it was an early night!

Monday we explored the island. It's about a mile long and 1/2 a mile wide. There is a community here so the streets are paved and it's easy to get around. We checked out the 3 markets on the island (Blue Store, Pink Store and Isle General Store). We picked up some tomatoes and Bahamian bread and circumnavigated the island. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera. The views on the west and north sides are gorgeous. It's cloudy and a bit rainy so we decided not to snorkel or go out in the dinghy, we have plenty of time for that later in the week. Then we had a great time with CJ & Margie in the evening, sitting out on the back enjoying Martin's spicy chicken curry.

Today we woke up to pouring rain but the sky is already clearing and the winds are supposed to calm down by this evening as the front moves through. We've made reservations for a nice dinner on Fowl Cay for tomorrow evening. We also checked out the dive shop yesterday and will go by this afternoon to plan a day of diving. We heard at ad on the radio this morning for a happy hour followed by an all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta dinner at Club Thunderball on the north end of the island. That sounds worth checking out! We're rocking and rolling pretty badly so I have to limit my computer time - no better way to get seasick than typing away down here.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Sara had a great comment - I'm sorry I didn't explain about the lionfish! Lionfish are a species of fish originally from the tropical Pacific and India Ocean. They were first seen around Florida in the 1990s. The "invasion" probably began with people throwing their aquarium fish out when they got too big for their tanks. They have poisonous barbs and have almost no predators in the Atlantic so their population is exploding and spreading from South Carolina down to the Caribbean. They are very aggressive carnivores and eat everything in sight - they're basically decimating the indigenous coral reef fish populations where ever they show up. Environmentalists are really concerned that on top of warming waters and over fishing, the lionfish could tip the scales for ecological disaster in the mid-Atlantic.

Most cruisers here know about them and when legal, people will kill them if they find when they're out spear fishing. Organizations like Reef and NOAA are trying to greatly reduce the population from Florida waters by killing and trapping them. We were told last night that there's a movement in the Bahamas now to teach people how to eat them (and I just read this in the article linked below). If they're good eating that should help reduce the population a bit! So even though I hate killing things - I turn a bit vicious when I see these things all over the place.

I was looking around for some internet info to post here in case anyone wanted to read more and found a fantastic Smithsonian article that was just published this month:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shroud Cay (Wednesday - Saturday)

Shroud Cay was our first stop within the Exuma Land and Sea park, only about 4 miles, as the crow flys, from Norman's Cay. The winds were really picking up so we chose what we hoped would be the most sheltered anchorage, this is also one that Hal from Naples had told us about. The rock and roll wasn't very bad at all which was surprising - the wind was literally howling through the boat. The forecast was for strong winds for a few days so we decided to stay put since we were reasonably comfortable and didn't know how sheltered the anchorages would be to the south. There isn't much to do on land, so we had a very mellow few days. I was able to get back into my workout routine (yay videos!), enjoyed the Nickelback songs I downloaded while we were in Nassau and devoured about 4 books. We also enjoyed the company of a resident seagull, Max (named for the human/avian hybrid in a book I was reading - nope, not reading classics at the moment :). Max came by every evening for dinner and brought some friends the last couple of nights (see pics). While there aren't many gulls, there are beautiful tropicbirds. They look like large terns with long flowing tails - gorgeous!

The first day/night we were all by ourselves, not a boat in sight, it was amazing! Thursday we took the dinghy up into the northern creek to visit Camp Driftwood which was built in the 60s by a hermit/sailor. The point was later used by drug agents to spy on the drug smuggling at Norman's Cay to the north. The views are gorgeous (see pics). We re-anchored closer to shore in the afternoon as the wind was really picking up. A few boats came that afternoon, a few to the mooring field south of us and 2 to our anchorage but they all left the next day. Friday afternoon we took the dinghy up to MacDuffs for lunch, about 4 miles north at Norman's cay. It was easy getting there with the wind to our back and Rough returning - soaking wet! But well worth the trip. It's a cozy little restaurant/bar and there always seems to be a few people there for lunch. There are few dogs to keep you company too, I bonded with the old chihuahua, Pepper... Our last day we did some swimming/snorkeling but there wasn't too much too see - lots of sand and turquoise water. (Unfortunately we did spot a lionfish.) It was relaxing and beautiful but I think my tolerance for the lone, slow life is much less than Martin's and by Saturday I was itching to move on!

Norman's Cay (Tuesday night)

We left Tuesday for Norman's. The wind had picked up quite a bit and we had plenty of chop on the way down but it wasn't too bad. We arrived at Norman's and anchored almost exactly where we were last week. The anchorage was quite full by nightfall with about a dozen boats. We dove the anchor and took the dinghy out to see the airplane wreck on the south side of the island. Norman's Cay is somewhat notorious for it's drug-smuggling history. The wreck that sits in very shallow water was delivering sod to the island, and supposed to leave with cocaine but something went wrong, and now it's an island attraction! (see pic) Today, the cay is inhabited by a few people and there is still an airstrip on the island. We saw several small planes and helicopters coming and going.

Tuesday evening was the most uncomfortable night we've spent yet on the hook. The winds kicked up and we were a rolling. I couldn't sleep on my side because the boat would roll violently enough to flip me over onto my back. Sigh. It was a long night. No surprise then that we cut our time short and headed out to Shroud Cay on Wednesday morning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We're Off to Norman's (Again!)

We're fixed up and ready to go and very excited to be heading back to Norman's Cay tomorrow. We definitely made the best of our long weekend in Nassau and had a really good time (despite both of us being a bit uptight about having to come back ;-) The internet connection here is great and we were able to catch up with friends and family on skype. We called Bahama Divers and set up a refresher course for Sunday morning and a one tank afternoon dive. Saturday night we checked out a restaurant I read about in a local magazine. We went to Shogun Revolver that night and Wow! It was one of the best meals we've ever had. Think Gary Denko's...that's how great it was. We did the chef's choice menu with wine/sake pairings. Dang...did we get tipsy! I have a great photo of Martin in pic of the day. (Shhh, he hasn't seen it yet...)

Sunday, somehow, we felt fine, and went to our class/dive. It was a shallow boat dive (only 35 feet at it's deepest) and was a great refresher ("lighthouse wreck" just off the north end of Paradise Island). We saw lots of midnight parrot fish - big, blue and gorgeous. (They drove through Atlantis on the way back and I got some more pics of the resort from the water.) Now we're back into the flow of things I can't wait for Staniel Cay where there's a dive shop. We had a nice dinner on the boat afterward. This evening we went to the Green Parrot after walking into town to buy boat parts and groceries.

For the past couple of months our nightly indulgence has been watching Battlestar Gallictica. Last night we finished up season 3.0 and found out who 4 of the "final 5" are. For people who don't watch much tv we have become AVID BSG fans!

Generator fixed!

So we got a call at 9:30 this morning from the generator folks.  After a quick phone diagnostic, the mechanic was on his way.  Traffic must have been a little slower than anticipated as it took  him a little longer than expected to arrive, but by 10:30 he was down in the engine room unbolting stuff.

He quickly determined that the impeller was turning, so my fear of a crunched pump was unrealized.  A little more sleuthing didn't turn anything new up.  While watching him work, I was looking straight down on the top of the pump and noticed a slight gap between the rear plate and the pump housing.  Once the mechanic tightened down on the bolts, the pump was able to draw water.  So there was an air gap that prevented the pump from pumping water.

Unfortunately, now there was water spraying everywhere.  Once the pump starts to turn, it pressurizes the water and that was enough to force it out.  Taking the whole pump off the generator allowed him to tighten down and make sure that both plates were securely in place.   Once the pump was back on the generator everything worked fine!

So we're back to the Exumas tomorrow.

We went shopping for some more groceries and I took the opportunity to get a few spares:
  • pencil zincs
  • secondary fuel filter
  • oil filter
  • oil
  • coolant
I already have a few of these, but extra can't hurt!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mechanical Issues

Shot water impeller

Between the watermaker and the generator, we've experienced a few mechanical problems.  Unfortunately, they're been in the two systems most conducive to anchoring out.

Firstly, the watermaker.  Last we left it, I'd briefly mentioned that it had become bio-fouled while we had been in Ft Lauderdale.  Sea Water has lots of little organisms in it.  They're at the bottom of the food chain and allow for the huge diversity of life we see in the oceans.  This life thrives in warmer weather and after leaving Biscayne Bay the temperature must have warmed up enough to allow the little critters to blossom.  The watermaker automatically replaces the sea water with fresh water at the end of each watermaking session and then replaces it every five days.  This had proven effective at preventing bio-growth since I installed the watermaker last September.  However, I guess the temperature had warmed up enough to overcome this.  I've since reduced the fresh water flush interval to three days, but the damage has been done.  Despite many attempts to clean the membrane, there must still be critters in there.  Unless we run the watermaker at least once a day, it struggles to desalinate.  Eventually the salinity will come down, but it takes time.  If we run it everyday, it's only about 15 minutes.  Miss a day and it can take over an hour.  If that wasn't enough, the diversion valve is sticking.  This is a relay operated valve that diverts the product water (the desalinated water) into the water tanks once the salinity comes down enough.  Fortunately, our unit has a switch that allows me to manually operate the valve.  So now I go down and move the switch once salinity has come down to around 800 ppm.  It's a pain and I need to remember to turn it back after the run, but we're able to make water and that's the important thing.  When we get back to the east coast, I'll be able to order a replacement valve and membrane and these issues will be behind us.

Secondly, the generator and the reason behind our unexpected return to Nassau.  It stopped working the day we arrived at Normans Cay.  When it errors it blinks a light with the reason why.  In this case, seven blinks meaning raw water flow impeded.  Unlike car engines, whose coolant is cooled by air passing through a radiator, marine engines use raw water (the water the vessel in floating in) passing through a heat exchanger.  Not only does this water cool the coolant (and hence the engine), but it also passes into the exhaust and  cools that down as well.  Losing raw water flow is worse than losing air flow over a car's radiator and the engine shuts itself down quickly.  At first I thought it was the same issue we experienced in Allen's Key - something sucked up the intake.  Not to be.  The strainer and hoses were clear all the way to the raw water pump.  I even got a mouth full of sea water when I sucked on the end of the hose, just to make sure.  So I took the impeller out.  The impeller spins inside a sealed housing and pumps the water through the system.  As you can see, ours was shredded.  It was near it's end of life and the shock of being run dry must have been enough for it to give up the ghost.  I didn't have any spares for the genset (yeah, yeah.  I know...) so back to Nassau it was.  The only other alternative was to head down to Georgetown, which was even further away.

We arrived in Nassau, refueled and docked.  We immediately headed over the bridge and hit all the marine stores.  It was looking grim when we hit success in this small "hole in the wall"  repair shop called Albert's.  I also took the opportunity to get a few Raycor primary fuel filters for the generator as well.  After lunch I descended into to heat of the engine room - the engines were still over 120 degrees from the run up - and got working.  After replacing the impeller I was still getting the same error.  So I checked downstream from the pump.  There's always the possibility that pieces of the impeller get stuck in the heat exchanger and impede water flow.  The exchanger has end caps that can be easily removed to check for this, so I did.  No bits of impeller, though there were a few pieces of zinc from the zinc anode protection.  I removed them and then checked flow by blowing through the hose leading into the exchanger.  No blockage and I could hear faint gurgles as the air I was blowing through percolated through the water still in the exhaust.  I put everything back together and tried again.  No go.  Rechecking the impeller, I noticed it was dry, which implies it wasn't spinning up at all.  watching the strainer carefully during another attempt confirmed it.  No water was flowing at all.  So the pump is broken.  I called Cummins and they gave me the address of the local authorized dealer and service outfit.  I called at 5:55 and, not surprisingly, they're closed.  Someone answered and I arranged for the mechanic to call me first thing Monday morning.  Hopefully that doesn't mean 2pm Tuesday afternoon.  If I've not heard anything by Monday afternoon and calling back isn't helping, I'll give Albert's a call and see if they can come down to look at it.  Albert's say they can get any part in 48 hours, so I'm optimistic we can get it fixed before we leave for Staniel Cay this weekend. 

Updated Route

I've updated the route with our brief trip to The Exumas.  It's worth switching to Satellite view (look for the small button in the top right) and zooming right in.  You'll get a great idea of where we've been.  The water really does look that blue!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Detour - Back in Nassau

Well, we are back at Nassau, in Hurricane Hole this time. Our generator conked out at Norman's Cay yesterday. Norman's is incredibly beautiful. We arrived, put on our snorkeling gear and checked the anchor, then swam to shore. We had lunch at the Norman Cay Beach Club, aka MacDuff's. The anchorage was calm and gorgeous. Then we tried to make water and found that, well, enough said, we're back in Nassau.

Martin will post details I'm sure but my "lay" understanding is that the raw water is not flowing through the system. Martin looked and the impeller was trashed. There are 5 marine stores in Nassau and we found the impeller at the last store. Talk about anxiety... Anyway, we got the part and Mart put it in and...still not working. The same error that it's the cooling system. So after trying all afternoon, it won't work. We've called a local dealer but of course, it's Friday evening and they said they'd call Monday. The weather is perfect and calm - no wind for the first time since we got to the Bahamas and we're in Nassau.

Spirits are very low here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hanging Out at Highborne Cay

We arrived at Highborne around 1:00 Tuesday. We check in, signed up for internet, dropped the dinghy off the back, had lunch and took the bikes out to tour the island. It felt great to get back on them. The island is really beautiful. The island is privately owned and it looks like there's a lot of construction going on. The Cay is about 3 miles long so it's easy to get around on the bike. Most people in the marina use golf carts.

Life back in a marina is lovely and hot! It' so breezy when you're anchored out, we'd forgotten how hot it is on land, especially in a "protected" marina which by definition is "protected" from wind and waves. We grilled some our fabulous mahi-mahi last night and Martin gave a try at his verson of Bahamian peas & rice (it was great). It's our favorite new dish, made with rice and beans called pigeon peas. The marina is small and runs along the shoreline so people walk by all the time. We enjoyed chatting with people all afternoon. We met a couple that used to have the exact same boat as Lucky. They were so funny - they said that after a 3.5 week trip then turned her in for a 55 foot Viking. When we told them we were living on Lucky for a year their eyes popped! Really, I don't think Lucky is That small, it's certainly no smaller than my 220 foot studio in Berkeley...

Wednesday we got up well rested from a very peaceful and quiet evening. We had to sleep with the hatches down and air on - there are "noseeums" here. I've never experienced them before - yikes. How can something too small to see bite so well? This morning I went to the end of the dock where the fish cleaning area is. This is where the fishermen clean their fish and the nurse sharks, sting rays, needle fish and gulls hang out for scraps. I got some great pictures! Then we went snorkeling at Octopus Garden on the north side of the cay. We tried a couple of other sites but 2 were on the east (ocean) side and not calm enough for the dinghy. We saw a HUGE lion fish. It's the first time I wish we spear-fished. Then we could have taken care of it. They are eating up all the reef fish in the Bahamas and Caribbean and it's a sad thing to see.

This morning we are heading out to Norman's Cay. We had a nice morning chatting with some other cruisers. CJ and Maggie and their 2 mini-dachshunds are neighbors and they're heading down to Norman as well. In fact, we met a few people heading south and expect to see them again. We noticed several boats here that we saw up in Atlantis - we're all making the southward cruise.

The web was down last night so I'm going to post this quickly before we check out. The pic of the day is updated as well. We'll be back in a week or so!

I found the website for the Exuma Land & See Park this morning and got a ton of great information. Here's the link if you're interested:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dinghy party at Allan's Cay (5/2-5/5)

Hello Exumas! We left Nassau Saturday, late morning for a 2 hour cruise through mildly choppy, emerald green water. We arrived around 1:00. It was our most comfortable passage to date. We arrived to the familiar anchorage with the iguana and 3 catamarans at anchorage. It's beautiful here! The anchorage we're in is surrounded by 3 cays - Allan, SW Allan and Leaf Cays. It's rated a E in our Skipper Bob guide (A is most sheltered and G is not sheltered at all with current). The predicted 10-15 knot winds feel much stronger at night and we've been rockin' and rollin'. We've found, however, that it's still within our comfort level. Actually, I don't know if it's any less than at Biscayne Bay but I think we're starting to get used to the movement and "frwapping" noise and are sleeping right through it now. (I do get a bit motion sick though when I try to write the blog and it's rolling).

Our first day here was a lot of fun. Martin got the snuba working and I went for a snorkel. We did a visual check on our anchor and found it good and buried in about 7 feet of water (see pic). We took the dinghy out and toured around the cays (pronounced "key") and breezed by Ship Channel Cay where we went with Powerboat Adventures. We found another beach on SW Allan Cay (a tiny little cay) that had a few iguana on it as well. It's warm but the breeze is cool and blowing so the boat is very comfortable and the mosquitoes get blown away before they can reach the boat, yay.

By evening, there were 12 boats in the anchorage, several cats, a few sailboats and us. As it got dark, we noticed a dinghy driving around to all of the boats. We hoped we'd be visited as well and wouldn't be excluded because we're a powerboat! Happily, Bruce and his daughter came by to tell us they were hoping to get a few people out in their dinghy's around 9:00 to raft (tie up together) and anchor...everyone bring your own booze. We happily accepted the invitation. Only 4 boats decided to come by and 1, a group of 3 Australian men, were simply too drunk (or "pissed as a nit" as one man exclaimed) by 9:00 to hang with the group :) So we had the family from Wanderlust and another 3 people from Racontour and us, rafted together. We had a nice time, talking mostly with the Wanderlust folks because we were right next to them. They began from their home in South Africa 11 years ago and have been cruising ever since! They picked up an American friend and a cat, Benji, along the way. Their daughter has lived on the boat over half of her life! We enjoyed talking with them about their lifestyle, travels and experiences.

Day 2 was been a bit more frustrating and from what I understand, very typical of cruising. Our water maker, which I have named Lucy (a temperamental Lucifer from hell) decided to stop working our first day anchored out in the Exumas (when we need it most!) Martin has done everything he can and we're now producing water at a salinity level of about 900 which is drinkable but nearing the edge of potability. We run the generator when we run the watermaker and it stopped working this afternoon as well. After Martin pulled a black plastic bag out of the intake pipe, all was good. So we are up and running...but we've had some fumbles along the way.

In the afternoon a fishing boat pulled up and anchored near us. The captain yelled over "dolphin?" We said sure and dinghied over. They had caught several coolers full of dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) and were giving some away to make room for the next days catch. I smiled and asked if they could please tell us how you clean such a thing...and they cleaned it for us ;-) I did watch and in theory, know how now, but I'm pretty sure I'd end up with shredded fillets rather than the perfect ones he produced. He cleaned 2 big fish for us and then we rode over to Wanderlust to see if they'd like some. They took some, their cat Benji got his own fillet, and we are left with our portion - about 4 pounds of fresh, caught-this-day mahi mahi fillets. This life is turning out to be tough! Veronique showed me how to put the fillets in a ziplock bag, submerge it underwater, squeeze the air out and zip it shut with about 2 teaspoons of seawater in it. I sealed up 6 bags and our freezer is officially full. Grilled fish for dinner tonight!

The most ironic part of being here is that I was really worried about being isolated and not meeting people. Well, we've met and talked with more people in the first 24 hours on the hook at Allan's Cay than we did at Atlantis in the 3 weeks we were there...

Day 3 at Allan's Cay was another lazy, rolly day. The Wanderlust family came over and said goodbye, they're off to Norman's Cay which is our next stop after Highborne. We took the dinghy over to Highborne Cay (a couple miles away) and checked out the marina. It's really nice and we decided go tomorrow for 2 nights. We can explore the island and even rides our bikes and they have internet! There's a store there so we bought some lettuce and then headed to SW Allan's and fed the iguana. Back to Lucky, the water maker worked (still at about 900 but she's working). Then we watched as 2 sailboats came in together and anchored on top of us. Very strange - it's a huge anchorage with 9 boats in it and they anchored about 40 feet off our bow. After a few hours, we don't know why, but one tried to pull up his anchor, almost rammed the other boat, Martin threw a fender on in fear of a collision, and there was much yelling on deck between the couple and they headed to the other end of the anchorage. The other boat started spinning around in circles so they pulled up and joined their friends. Apparently the current is very different a few yards away...but we're glad they moved because they were too close and if anyone dragged anchor it would have been nasty. Oh the excitement!

A note about living at are a few important things:

The dinghy is your life-line - it's how to go anywhere or do anything.
Without a water-make you'd be sticky and salty all the time, everything you do involves salt water and you want to rinse off a few times a day so water usage goes up.
It is nearly impossible to do "lunges" (think workout video) in a rolling anchorage, workouts need to be adapted to conditions or you tip over.
The radio is a great source of entertainment. This is how the radio works: You call people on channel 16 on the radio and then pick a new channel to talk. Ie:
Luckyt: "Wanderlust, Wanderlust, Wanderlust. I Got Lucky".
WL: "This is Wanderlust".
Lucky: "Wanderlust, go to 19."

Now you both switch to channel 19 and have your conversation. So during the day, you leave the handheld radio "on" and listen as people come in and hail other boats, then you switch channels and listen in. Okay, there isn't much to do ON the boat so I guess you get very interested in everything happening Around the boat :)

We've just arrived this afternoon at the marina at Highborne Cay - we'll be here for 2 nights and have internet so we'll post again before we leave. My first thought sitting here at the marina is this - I really enjoy anchoring out - more than I thought I would, but it's NICE to sit still, in the quiet, and not roll, ahhhh.

Our (subject to change) Itinerary

Now that we aren't meeting Richard at Staniel Cay, we are reworking our Exumas trip. We have until mid-June to explore the Exumas. My friend Meliza is coming to visit us in Nassau (yay!) and we'll be staying in Atlantis. From there, we don't know if we'll return to the Exumas or head north to the Abacos. We're planning a loose itinerary, an outline, for the next several weeks, all dependent upon weather, anchorage conditions, what there is to do and how much we like where we are. I've poured over Steve Pavlidis's chart books, the Skipper Bob guide, Lena Bea's blog and several Bahamian guide books. It seems most cruisers follow a similar path - going to the best anchorages and seeing the main attractions at each cay. We're only planning as far south as the first inhabited island with a small community - Staniel Cay. If we have time, we may explore further south. This is (approximately) what we'll be up to over the next 6 weeks. We may not stop at all these stops - some can be accessed by dinghy from other cays, but these are the main attractions...

1. Allan's Cay (3 days) - anchoring, iguana and snorkeling
2. Highborne Cay (2 days) - marina, hiking, biking and snorkeling
3. Norman's Cay (~1-2 day) - anchoring, snorkeling a plane wreck, island exploring and lunch on the island
4. Shroud Cay (?) - anchoring or mooring, creek to explore by dinghy, hiking on island
5. Hawsbill Cay (?) - mooring, gorgeous island
6. Warderick Wells (at least few days) - mooring and/or anchoring, Land and See Park Headquarters - hiking and snorkeling
7. Compass Cay (?) - marina, beautiful hiking and walking trails
8. Sampson Cay (1 day) - marina is well protected - check it out
9. Big Major Cay (?) - anchoring, feral pig colony
10. Stanial Cay (~ few+ days) - marina and/or anchoring, inhabited island with restaurant and bar. Lots of snorkeling sites accessible from here.

(For our non-boating friends: "mooring" means there is a "mooring ball" floating in the water attached to the bottom that you tie the boat to. It means you won't hurt the coral or sea grass below and that you won't drag your anchor. There's usually a small fee but it's much cheaper than a marina. All the moorings above are in the Land and Sea Park to protect the environment there.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

We're Off...

One last post before we head out! We've had a great 24 hours - dinner at the Poop Deck last night, reading at the pool today. Life is very good. Our biggest struggle right now are mosquitoes, the buggers manage to get in even with screens over the hatches and they Definitely find me much more tasty than Martin! We are feverishly working through season 3.0 of Battlestar Galactica in the evenings and geeks that we are, we're obsessed :)

The other day we noticed signs around the pool area that said, to paraphrase, "if you're sitting or walking around this area then you agree to be filmed" (we didn't sit anywhere near that area!) Today, while on route to our favorite river raft ride, we saw the film crews and actors as they were filming. It's a reality tv show called "The Superstars". It's like Dancing with the Stars but sports rather than dance. we took a couple pics of what we saw and put them on the pic of the day. We don't have a tv so we won't see that episode!

Lucky is almost ready to go. Martin has done the requisite engine/systems checks and plotted our course on the GPS. I've done the usual cleaning/straightening up that I like to have done before we head out. We only have 34 nautical miles to go (about 37 miles). We can finish packing up tomorrow since we aren't supposed to leave until late morning. According to our guide book, you want to wait until the morning sun is not in your eyes so you can see the coral heads and shallow water. I've also been reading about the Exumas, the Exuma Land and Sea Park, Thunderball Grotto (snorkeling/of James Bond film fame) and Staniel Cay and I'm getting really excited.

I'm looking forward to life on the anchor and what it will be like. It should be more bug-free, very quiet, gorgeous and surrounded by a swimming/snorkeling pool... It will be a challenge to not run the air except for the few hours we run the generator to make water each day. Plugged in at the marina we keep the temperature on the boat at a comfortable 78 degrees. We'll be very careful about garbage production and dumping biodegradable foods overboard since we'll be paying about $2.50/a garbage bag to get rid of it. I think we'll be swimming a lot more, hopefully using the snuba and even scuba. I'll try to keep up doing my exercise videos since I won't be doing much jogging...

Here are a couple of websites with info on the Exumas and where we'll be going... There are islands with iguanas, another with wild pigs that greet you by swimming up to you in the boat as you arrive, the park has tons of aquatic life with fantastic snorkeling. Oh, and the water is filled with sharks ;P

We'll post again as soon as we can!