Jun 12, 201307:05 AM
Swing Set: Cruising Full Time
Allen's Cay To Staniel Cay
We had a nice stay anchored between Allen's Cay and Leaf Cay. The water was calm and crystal clear, but we had no wind and it got hot! The upside was that laying on a raft behind the boat was like laying in a backyard pool without the backyard.
We visited the iguanas on the beach, but Rosie and Holly both stayed in the dinghy. We watched other visitors approaching the iguanas with food (which you aren't supposed to do) only to see them scamper away as the quick iguanas would run toward them to get the snacks.
We took several long dinghy rides in search of the folks that our friend in South Carolina wanted us to look up. Luckily, we didn't find them, because our friend Abby didn't actually know the people, she'd just seen a TV show about them. Johnny Depp has an island further on down the Exuma chain of islands. No, we won't be popping in to say hello.
When we passed through Highbourne Cay on our emergency trip to Nassau, I mentioned the sharks there. We took a dinghy ride over to Highbourne to get some fuel, and I took this picture of the sharks at the fish cleaning station. I told Rosie to get a good hold on Holly, as they were literally bumping up against the bottom of the dinghy.
As we were leaving the harbor, a familiar boat was pulling in, and upon closer inspection, we saw that it was some folks we had met in South Bimini on their Egg Harbor Honey Bunny. We said a quick hello to them as they were just arriving and had guests with them. We wouldn't see them again further on down the Exuma chain this time, as Highbourne was as far as they were going.
We left the next morning from our nifty anchorage at Allen's Cay and said goodbye to the convenient BaTelCo tower at Highbourne Cay. I didn't realize the spotty Internet service that we were to encounter for the next several days was not going to allow publishing this blog. We were able to get enough service to get our all important Windfinder forecasts, and an occasional email, but blogging was out of the question.
Also, our phone minutes were all but used up with our dealings with the credit card company, so I even had to hold off on my weekly calls to my dad. We were still issuing "OK reports" on our SPOT device, so my brother could still relay to our dad that we were OK if he had the inclination to do so.
Our next stop was Norman's Cay, where we thought we'd be able to visit a casual beach-front bar and restaurant there, but it was closed. We took a lengthy dinghy ride and found some folks traveling together on two separate sailboats that we'd waved to in Allen's Cay. They had anchored over in a bay on the other side of the island from us, just yards away from a plane wreck left over from the drug running heyday that Norman's Cay is known for.
Our anchorage at Norman's Cay left us exposed to some southerly winds that were predicted, so we pulled anchor after one night and headed to Shroud Cay, where a spit of land would give us some protection and perhaps a calm night for sleeping. When we arrived, there was two boats already anchored near the spot we'd to take, but it was early and they apparently had plans on leaving. Soon, we had the anchorage, and the beautiful beach, to ourselves.
In this photo, we're heading up a creek that leads to the other side of the island. We'd tried to transit this creek when we first got here at Shroud Cay, but it was low tide and we soon ran out of water. This time, we went late in the day at high tide and were not disappointed.
This is the entrance to the creek taken from Exuma Sound on the other side of the island. A boat was pulled up there on a small beach, where a young couple were swimming and enjoying the solitude.
We ducked back into the creek and went exploring until we ultimately found ourselves lost. Instead of making a right when I was supposed to, I made a left. I noticed things didn't look the same and a big sand bar we'd passed our way up the creek was absent on our way down. I still knew where the sun was, so being absolutely lost wasn't a concern, but being lost in a mangrove swamp isn't something to be taken lightly. We did have our VHF radio just in case, and two cold Bud Lights in the cooler to last us for the night if we had to, but soon I saw a cut leading out to the Exuma Bank where Swing Set was anchored. It just happened to be about three miles away from where we'd initially entered the creek.
A couple more boats pulled into the anchorage we were in, and one boat in particular gained my attention as they were anchored a bit further south than we were and were enjoying a calmer anchorage. I'd remarked to Rosie,"that guy over there picked a good spot," because he was closer to the leeward side of that spit of land I mentioned earlier, making his choice a smarter one because we were getting tossed around some.
It was time to move on when morning came. We decided to just tow the dinghy, as our stops were intended to be a only a few miles apart and in protected water, so towing at slow speeds was easier that putting the dinghy up on the davits, as easy as that is. We made a slow way over to Hawksbill Cay and grabbed a mooring ball there. We were able to attach to the ball without too much difficulty, but Rosie hadn't had much practice at her mooring ball proficiency, so it was not without issue that we got settled in.
Unfortunately, the wind and wave protection was not what I'd expected, so after being tossed around for an hour or so, we cast off our lines and headed out, not knowing where we were going to drop the hook, but our route was rife with little nooks and crannies, so I wasn't worried about not finding a suitable spot for the night.
Another thing was that the mooring ball we were on wasn't free, and it was designed for a 150-foot vessel. Payment is expected to be made in a drop box on the beach, not a procedure that I had much faith in. The mooring balls we were to encounter are part of the 175-square-mile Exuma Land and Sea Park, a nature reserve run by a Bahamian non-profit organization. Within the boundaries of the park, no dead or living creatures are to be taken from the land or the sea.
The creatures were safe by me. I'd been trolling my fishing rig since we left Allen's Cay, and to repeat a phrase I heard from a card-playing friend many years ago, "I couldn't catch a Chinese whore with a seabag full of rice." I'm not sure at this point if I should apologize to our Asian friends, or to any Chinese whores reading this blog, but the fact remains that I'm not catching any fish.
We were snaking our way through the many cays on our cruise, and I tried a spot or two, but didn't like the feel of them. Off in the distance, I could see the boat that had anchored in the same bay as us off Shroud Cay. They were anchored off the beach of Cistern Cay. I studied the chart, and although the entrance to the anchorage was narrow and a bit shallow, we made our way there and anchored at a respectful distance from the other vessel, which was a strange cross between a houseboat and a runabout. It looked larger than it was, and the owners were on the beach, so I couldn't use the reference of people aboard the boat to tell how big it was.
It was late when we finally got settled in. We had a nice dinner and spent a peaceful night without much rocking, but when daylight came, the swells rolled in and we began to toss around. We didn't waste any time pulling up anchor, and we sounded our horn as a goodbye to our anchor mates, not knowing anything about them or where they were headed.
We were going to bypass Wardrick Wells Cay because it's a tourist destination, but the forecast was predicting strong winds for the upcoming weekend, and the harbor at Wardrick Wells has mooring balls at $20 per day. Typically, there's a waiting list for these moorings, but we called on the VHF when the park opened and were quickly assigned a mooring.
This picture of the Northern Mooring field for Wardrick Wells was taken from the park office when I went to pay. Swing Set is the tiny speck of boat just right of center. The light-colored areas are sand and are very shallow, and the current runs through here at a quick pace. I mention this to set the stage for my following comments.
We passed some other boats that we've been seeing at the other anchorages. Although we hadn't spoken to many of the other folks, we exchanged waves and hellos as we weaved our way through the narrow channel leading to our mooring ball. As is my custom, I approached our ball into both the wind and the current, allowing me to nose up to the ball with the greatest of ease. Rosie was positioned on the bow with the boat hook, and she adeptly snatched up the harness with one try. Things were looking good.
Once Rosie got the harness in hand, I kept the boat in position so she could slip one end of of a mooring line through the eye of the mooring harness, the other end being previously fastened to the starboard bow cleat. Once the line was slipped through the eye of the harness, we were home free, because then it's just a matter of dropping the whole works into the water and pulling the free end to tie off to the same starboard cleat. This is simple unless your boat mate drops the whole works onto the top of the anchor, where the now pile of spaghetti will foul.
Rosie was making an attempt to free the line from the anchor and was able to do so, then she began to pull the free end of our line through the eye of the mooring harness, still pretty good so far. Then, something strange happened.
Rosie was pulling the line correctly through the harness eye, but I don't know if a bug flew by and distracted her, or a small bubble shifted in her brain, but for some unknown reason, Rosie began to pull the line the opposite way through the harness eye, and before I got a chance to stop her, the line was pulled completely through the harness and we were now unattached to the mooring ball harness. Rosie then says, "It came loose."
What I said then cannot be repeated because our blog gets published on some public sites, but imagine that it was worse than saying anything about Chinese whores.
I could only take a deep breath and go through the motions again to get one side of our lines attached to the mooring harness. I didn't have the foggiest hope that we could manage to repeat the entire performance to attach a line to the port side cleat. Instead of using the smarter method of Caterpillar horsepower to do the trick, we had to resort to the dumb but proven method of human muscle, and a good supply of pain relievers later on that night.
So, we got hooked, and not long after, our anchor neighbors in the odd looking boat came by to hook up to the mooring behind us. Their performance made us look like seasoned sea-fairing types by comparison.
The captain backed toward the mooring ball with the wind and current on his bow. I knew this would be interesting to see. His mate was able to grab the ball with a hook and get a line on it, but then things got really interesting. Now, the ball was on their beam and the wind and current was pushing against the side of their boat. The captain left the helm to help tug on the line, (never leave the helm when docking our anchoring) and then the dog on board got anxious to help when the line got tangled around the engine of their dinghy. The dog jumped into the dinghy and ran towards the stern, where it tried to jump into the water. I say tried because the front half of the dog was in the water, and it's hind end was still in the dinghy, which looked more like a canoe than anything. A foldable boat is what it was, but the point is that the dinghy was unstable and the dog had all it could do to keep its muzzle out of the drink.
Meanwhile, the first mate had handed off the other end of the line she'd slipped miraculously through the harness eye, but the captain was torn between saving the dog or tying off the line. Thankfully, the dog won out. The line was handed back to the mate, and the captain now jumped into the water to rescue the dog. The mate was left on the side of the boat with a line in each hand, looking more like a teamster handling an unruly hitch of Clydsdales, before the captain returned to the deck and was able to get a line on the bow where the boat was turned toward the mooring ball and finally secured on both forward cleats. At this point, the captain looked over at me with both hands raised high in the air and exclaimed "We DID IT!"
I gave them a much deserved thumbs up.
Rosie and I decided to go for a little exploring in the dinghy, but first we went over to our new harbor neighbors. First, I asked if they had ever hitched to a mooring ball before and the captain, Doug, said that no, it was the first time ever. Then, I really got a look at the boat. It was an older, trailerable, 30-footer or so with an OMC outdrive that Doug had trailered to Florida from Arizona. He had absolutely no experience in running a boat, except for the last two weeks and he was "learning while doing." In fact, not 20 minutes after launching the boat in Key Biscayne, the steering cable broke.
I then admitted to him that when I first saw them anchoring in a much better spot than we were back near Shroud Cay, I remarked to Rosie I thought he knew something we didn't. I then told Doug that I still thought he might know something that I didn't, but it wasn't the things I thought they were. We both laughed at that.
After meeting the mate, Denise, we talked a bit more about travel plans. They admitted to being out of water and planned on staying in the shelter of the harbor for the same reason we were, and were heading to Staniel Cay on Monday. We offered any assistance that we might be able to provide and said we'd probably see them on down the line.
The tide was going out, leaving sand bars exposed on our bow and stern. Some other boaters had taken their dinghies over to play on the sand, so we took ours, too, in order to meet some folks and let Holly play. Sand that had been covered with water won't have sand fleas on it, or much else to cause concern, but we did see some small sharks winnowing around in the shallows. We kept a sharp eye on Holly. She succeeded in not only getting her eyes full of sand, but she later got another ear infection. We think Holly's beachcombing days are over.
When we checked in, Jen, the park attendant, told us about a happy hour being held that evening on the beach. "Bring what you drink and an hors d'oeuvre to share." Maybe some of the nearby yachts carry supplies for fancy snacks and hors d'oeuvres, but a bag of chips does not hors d'oeuvres make, plus what would go with a sandwich at lunchtime if we run out of Doritos?
Later, I got creative and made some hors d'oeuvres with some Triscuits, ravioli and cheddar cheese, sprinkled with parsley to make it fancy. We packed a cooler and our beach chairs and dinghied over to the beach. I set the plate on one of the picnic tables as we were the first ones there, but the lizards were taking too much interest in the vittles, so I put the tray back in the big cooler in the dinghy that I use as a seat, and we waited for the other guests to show up.
About an hour later, nearly at dark, another couple finally came up to the beach. This was to be our happy hour party. It was not without benefit, however, as we learned that the other couple had been traveling in their Grand Banks for quite some time, but were heading back to the US after visiting all points south, including the Dominican Republic. I liked the fuel and water capacities on his boat, and he liked the fact that we had a watermaker on our boat, plus the fact that we could go faster than his 7 mph if we had too. But he also had stabilizers. Each boat had its advantages. They were from Cape Coral like our friends Gary and Judy. They also like the area but visit the Bahamas quite often.
It got darker, and the mosquitoes really came out. We were offered some spray but decided to get back to the boat, where our buddy Holly was waiting. We played cards and ate our fancy hors d'oeuvres for dinner. It was the tough luck of the others that they didn't show up.
On Sunday, we had plans to do some snorkeling, an activity that everyone seems to want to do, but I can't figure out when they do it. Where we were anchored, the wind was too stiff, or the current was too strong for swimming. We decided to wait for slack tide when the currents would subside. Right about the time we were going to get our gear together, Rosie spotted a shark swimming around the boat. End of story. She wasn't going anywhere near the water.
"You can go if you want to", she tells me. I surveyed the increase of the wind and decided to hold off on the lone snorkeling. This is my story and I'm sticking to it. We decided to take a hike instead.
The tallest point on Wardrick Wells Cay is Boo Boo Hill, a short hike from the mooring field. Our boat can be seen near the middle of the harbor at low tide. Looks more like a huge beach from where we were.
This cairn comprised of driftwood decorated with the names of boats and crew members that have hiked to the summit of Boo Boo Hill is the only thing that humans are allowed to leave on Wardrick Wells Cay. We left a small sign with our names and the name of Swing Set, too. A RiverBills sticker was used for a photo op and then taken back down with us. The view is spectacular, not so much for the visual appeal, but for me it was a realization of how far we have come and how far we are from our friends and family. To be honest about it, the experience left me a little sad.
On Monday morning, we headed out. We put the dinghy on the davit, because our route was going to take us through some open water on the Exuma Bank. With the wind, it was sure to be a bumpy ride.
By mid-morning, we were anchored securely near Compass Cay in the clearest water we've seen yet. In eight to 10 feet of water, you could count the grains of sand on the bottom. At one point, I saw a pretty green fish swimming toward the boat before I realized it was nothing but the stern of the boat drifting over a Heineken bottle.
We did some much-needed waxing on the boat after doing a short rinse and wipe with our own onboard water. Afterward, we went for a dinghy ride to check out the nearby Compass Cay Marina, a place designed for people with more money than sense. Compass Cay Marina charges folks $10 per head just to step foot on the property, and I'm here to tell you that it's not that special. The docks are old and sandwiched into a little harbor that really isn't a harbor at all but an offshoot of a channel where the current runs swift four times per day. We did see some sharks in there, and little kids were swimming unconcerned nearby. I need to get some of their nerve.
We went back to our very affordable anchorage, meaning FREE, and had a great dinner of grilled chicken, macaroni and spinach. Then, we sat in the cockpit and watched the sun go down before retiring.
One thing we've been surprised at during this voyage is the amount of current that we have to deal with. The Abaco Cays are large and spaced far enough apart where there's plenty of space for the water to reach the ocean from the Sea of Abaco, for the most part.
Now, Eleuthera is one big island. The water goes up and down, but hardly no current because the exchange from one side of the island doesn't go through cuts.
Here in the Exumas, lots and lots of little cays are separated by big and little cuts both, and the waters in the Banks and the Sound do battle with each other, moving from one side to the other, and the current going through the cuts is downright treacherous. Taking a dip off the stern better be done with caution, or an unwary swimmer may find themselves drifting quickly away from the boat. The area we were about to transit was no exception.
We left this morning to head for Staniel Cay. Another consideration for traveling through these islands, is the fact that one needs to be able to read the water, and this means sunlight overhead. I'm used to reading water based on the ripples it makes as the current takes the water around the bends and shallows. Reading the bottom by actually seeing it, on the Mississippi anyway, is a lesson in futility.
So, we need to see the bottom, which means waiting until after 10 a.m. But when the high tide, the best time to travel shallow areas like this, happens at 10:30, one has to compromise.
We left at 8 a.m., so we could be on a rising tide to travel what is known as "The Pipes," a narrow, twisty and shallow route where VPR, or Visual Piloting Rules, apply. Meaning, don't trust the chart, trust your eyes. Always a good practice in any water.
Within a couple of hours, we were anchored along with several other vessels off of Big Major Spot, near Staniel Cay, where the feral pigs swim out to your dinghy looking for a handout.
They like frozen peas and carrots we're told. So what? We do, too. There's more of a chance of us eating one of these pigs than of us feeding one of them. Where is Steve Huebner when you need him? (Steve is a friend from up north who knows his way around slaughtering a hog.) Just kidding, pig lovers. We'll avoid the pigs for the most part. They not only bite, but Holly would be a snack for one of the 500-pounders. Apparently, they swim like fish and will try to climb into the dinghy with you. Stay away from us you soggy pork rinds!
We have adequate Internet service here, and we have some business to attend to in Staniel Cay. We need to get our credit cards sent to us here, for one thing. Another thing is to get rid of two big bags of trash. Really, the only items in the trash are empty beer cans and potty pads for Holly. I'd like to see an archeologist's take on that sometime in the future.
There are also three grocery stores in Staniel Cay that we'll visit. There's fuel here, too, but we'll probably wait until we get to Georgetown in the southern Exumas. The fuel is cheaper there at the Marina at Emerald Bay, and they don't have a surcharge when you use a card to purchase fuel.
Meanwhile, as I write this, the megayachts are filing in. This anchorage is one of the busiest in the Exumas. It's supposed to be the place to meet everyone, and if we want solitude, this isn't the place to find it.
If I post any pictures in the coming days of us eating big ole racks of spare ribs, let's just keep it a secret between us, OK?