Friday, May 29, 2015

Hanging out in George Town

We stayed in George Town for a little over a week, and it was a great place to hang out since it’s the cruisers headquarters for the Exumas. It has a population of around 1,000, and several of the businesses cater to cruisers needs. We anchored in front of Chat’n’Chill, and after the first morning I knew I was going to love it there since there was a water aerobics class being held about two hundred feet from our boat. I got to exercise (something I don’t do often enough) and socialize, which we really hadn’t done since leaving Nassau. I took advantage of the water aerobics and also went to a couple of yoga classes that were held on the beach, which were unbelievably relaxing. A lot of cruisers spend the winter and spring in GT and volunteer their time to do things like teach exercise classes, tutor local children, and work in the library.

On Memorial Day, one of the sailboats organized a potluck BBQ that was held on Monument Beach. We were told that we didn’t need to bring anything for the grill since someone had caught two Mahi Mahi that they wanted to share. I whipped up a batch of broccoli rice casserole, put a bag together with utensils, plates, and drinks, and headed to the beach in the dinghy. We stopped at s/v Skybird to pick up some foam that Rick had offered to give us to help with our fridge issue. We had met Barbie and him at the Berry Island Club a few weeks back, where Rick had helped me grab ahold of the mooring line. We had seen them the first day we arrived in George Town, and it was nice catching up with them. Bacon rode with us in the dinghy to the BBQ…and it made me miss Trixie :( But I know that she is much happier staying with my mom and dad than being on the boat. It was a great night…getting to know people, listening to people play the guitar (including David), playing Left, Right, Center, and being gathered around the bonfire. There may or may not have been a search party looking for Jennifer from s/v Aegis and me, but that’s a story for another time :)

We finally bit the bullet and had the boat hauled out and re-painted. It was a little nerve-racking watching Dulcinea being lifted out of the water by only two straps and carried over land. But it all went smoothly. We lived aboard during the two days it took to sand and re-paint the bottom, which meant crawling up a tall step ladder to hop aboard a slightly swaying boat. Needless to say I stayed on the boat as much as possible. We also were able to get a free WI-FI connection from within the boat, which made me very very happy. We try to be conservative with the data plan that we have from Batelco so it was nice being able to surf the web and download songs to my heart’s content. After everything was done and we were sailing away, I realized that we had left the dinghy behind at the boat yard. Luckily there was someone in a small power boat going by so David hitched a ride to go retrieve it.

We spent the last night at Peace and Plenty eating BBQ and dancing to the tunes of a Rake and Scrape Band. We met Wayne and Sue from s/v Black Pearl and were invited to go have drinks with them and Rick on m/v 5ive, which was a luxurious 100 foot sport fishing boat. There were granite counter tops, outdoor a/c, full showers, washer/dryer, and massive bedrooms and living spaces. It kind of made it hard going back to our little 35 foot boat.

Chillin' at Chat 'n' Chill

potluck BBQ




Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Staniel Cay - Thunderball Grotto and the Pig Beach

Snorkeling in the grotto was awesome! The Thunderball grotto, which was named after the 1965 James Bond movie that was filmed there, is an underwater cave teeming with colorful fish and coral and is lit up by a natural skylight that was created by years of rain erosion. Here is my first attempt at editing a video.


We also went to visit the infamous wild swimming pigs that live on Big Majors Spot. I do have to be honest though. We went twice…and the first time I was too intimidated by the two 300 pound pigs to get out of the dinghy or try to feed them. But the second time I went ashore to pet the little piglets and feed the big mommas some left-over apple and orange peel. After we got back in the dinghy, we noticed a couple of big rays swimming near us so we jumped back in the water with our snorkel gear to go have a look. Being down there hearing nothing but my breath and watching them silently glide underneath me was so peaceful and surreal. I wish we could stay here forever.


Compass Cay and the Nurse Sharks

Compass Cay is a private island with a great marina and a few vacation cottages. There are also resident nurse sharks that come to the marina to be fed, which is a big attraction that draws boat loads of people from surrounding islands. The entire island is maintained by the owner of the marina, and you can really tell that a lot of TLC goes into taking care of everything. The marina was colorfully decorated with driftwood signs painted by cruisers, and there was a series of trails that led to various points of interest, like Rachel’s Bubble Bath, the crescent beach, and the Bat Cave.

As soon as we pulled up to the dock in our dinghy, we saw the sharks swimming around, and I was the lucky one that had to get out of the boat to pull us in. It is relatively safe being around nurse sharks, but it was still intimidating being surrounded by them. They have small, serrated teeth and suck in their prey with an influx of water so you definitely want to keep your hands away from their mouth. There was a small group of people already in the water, and they started feeding them as we approached. We stuck around for a few minutes to pet them and then went to inquire about eating lunch. They only serve hamburgers and hot dogs and only if they are not too busy doing other things. Luckily there was a group from a large yacht that also wanted lunch so the two guys who worked at the marina stopped what they were doing and fired up the grill. It was $15 for one hamburger (and no sides), but it was worth it! It was the first place we had eaten out since leaving Nassau, and I had gotten tired of eating the same ole things on the boat.

I had read on Active Captain that the beach is postcard picture perfect so we walked the short distance to the beach, set up our umbrella, and relaxed for a couple of hours. It was very pretty, but I still think the beach at Shroud Cay is the best I have ever seen. David went snorkeling and saw a couple of squid, which I thought was pretty cool. After we had our fill of the beach, we tried to find the Bat Cave, but we somehow lost the trail and gave up. On the way back to the marina, we saw a 2-3 foot long green snake at the edge of trail, and I almost lost it. If you know me, then you know that I am TERRIFED of snakes. I even have nightmares about them and prefer to only see them safely in the confines of a glass cage.  It took me a few minutes to get the courage up to walk past it, but I was sure to put David between it and myself J We ended the day with a short swim in the natural swimming pool created by His and Hers Cay.




Thursday, May 14, 2015

We found paradise in the Exumas

Nassau turned out to be a great place to stay while we waited out bad weather since we had access to a free dinghy dock, free WIFI, a grocery store, laundry facilities, and places to eat out. We checked out the Fish Fry, which is an area by the waterfront with 50 or so small adjoining outside restaurants owned by locals. Conch is a very popular dish in the Bahamas and is served in a variety of ways….conch fritters, cracked conch, conch salad, fried conch, grilled conch (you get the picture). We enjoyed some fritters, fried conch, and a couple of Kaliks (Bahamian beer) while we sat at the outside bar watching a small preview of the Junkanoo Carnival that would be hosted the following weekend. The next day we walked across the bridge that connects New Providence to Paradise Island to get in some beach time. Before we headed to the beach though, we went to a time share presentation. I know what you are about to say because I said it to…why in the heck would you go to something like that. I told David, “Nuh-uh, we are not going.” He said, “But we get a free breakfast AND $50 out of it.” I said it wasn’t worth it, and I would feel guilty getting free stuff when we knew going in that we wouldn’t buy into something like that. Well, we went anyway, and we left three hours later frustrated (or I did) and $50 richer (even though they didn’t want to give it to us once we said no). We had lunch on them at Anthony’s and then made our way to the beach. There was a stark contrast from the mainland of Nassau and Paradise Island, which should be expected since Paradise Island is made up of only hotels, condos, restaurants, and shopping centers. All of Paradise Island looked like a vacation resort with colorful buildings, manicured grass, and palm trees lining the streets whereas the other side of the bridge represented a normal, real Caribbean town. We walked to Cabbage beach, which is the beach where a lot of the cruise line passengers go. The surf was really rough, and I wasn’t brave enough to venture out into the water so I lounged on the beach watching other people get knocked down by waves and go tumbling through the water. It was kind of funny.

We were finally able to leave Nassau on May 6th and sailed to Highborne Cay (pronounced key) in the Exumas, which was about 30 nautical miles southeast of Nassau. I read that the Exuma Cays are made up of around 360 cays and form one of the best cruising grounds in the Bahamas (if not the world). And so far, we have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been wowed by this area and have taken a ton of pictures. I had been waiting to get here since we started the trip and felt that I could truly relax once we arrived. Once we dropped the anchor at Highborne, we moved the dinghy from the deck to the water and made the short trip to Allan’s Cay to see the iguanas. There we saw Sue and Jack from S/V My Weigh, who we had met the prior week at the Berry Island Club at Frazier’s Cay and had also run into during our stay in Nassau. They invited us to join them and their visiting friends for a glass of wine so after a few photos and a short swim, we headed to their boat for a short visit.

Highborne Cay is a private island, and there wasn’t much to see or do besides snorkeling so we left the next day for Norman’s Cay. The Exumas are almost an unbroken chain of islands so it doesn’t take long to get from one to the next. Once we anchored, I did a couple of cannonballs off the boat (it was my first jump off Dulcinea) to celebrate being here and being anchored for the first time in crystal clear water. We were finally in Paradise!  

Norman’s Cay used to be controlled by a drug runner in the late 70s and early 80s, who had drugs flown in from Colombia, repackaged, and flown out to the US. There is a plane wreck from a shipment gone wrong at the south end of the island, and it is a popular snorkeling spot so we went to check it out. Apparently, the fish there are used to being fed, and they kept eyeballing us and following us around. It was the first time I’ve been snorkeling at something other than a coral reef, and it was a unique experience. After that, we went to explore the island and came upon a shallow lagoon hugged by a couple of small cays. It was gorgeous!! We were making our way to land and saw a dark shadow pass by the dinghy. It was a nurse shark so I quickly put on my snorkel gear and jumped out of the boat (it was only 2 or 3 feet deep here). I tried to chase it down but didn’t have any luck getting a close up. Those suckers are fast! Crazily enough I did get a good photo of it by putting my underwater camera in the water when I was still on the dinghy and blindly snapping a couple of pictures. Next we saw a huge red starfish, which of course I had to pick up and take a picture with. After our wildlife adventure was over, we relaxed on a deserted beach, swam, did some beachcombing, and then went back to the boat. I could get use to spending every day like that.

Next up was Shroud Cay, which was our first uninhabited island. We got there on May 9th and spent two days on this picturesque island. A bight (like a creek) runs from the west side of the island all the way through to the east side. We anchored on the west side and took the dinghy for some sightseeing through the bight. It was like being on the lazy river at Hurricane Harbor but lined with mangroves and tree covered hills. And the best part was the beach where it empties out to the sea on the east side. It was the most exquisite beach I have ever seen. From the opening of the bight, there was a beach to the left and to the right. A rounded sandbar connected the two beaches and created a natural shallow swimming pool that led back into the bight, which was also had shallow crystal clear water. It was simply beautiful. After making a cozy spot for ourselves on the beach, David napped and I hiked the short trip up to Camp Driftwood. I’m not sure why it is called that since there isn’t anything up there, but the view was incredible. I had a panoramic view of the beach, miles and miles of sea, the bight snaking its way through the island, and the west side of the island where Dulcinea was anchored. I was in awe of my surroundings and just stood for a few minutes soaking up the beauty. It had instantly become my favorite spot in the Exumas. We spent the rest of the day at the beach reading, soaking up the rays, listening to the waves crash, and reveling in the fact that we had the whole place to ourselves.  

We left Shroud Cay on May 12th and made our way to Warderick Wells, which houses the headquarters for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. The park was established over 50 years ago, and its purpose is to protect the marine life and the land within the twenty-two mile area. We went to the headquarters early the next morning to get a map of the island and then hiked to Boo Boo Hill, which is haunted by the way. The story goes that there was a missionary ship that went aground on a reef and sank, and there was not a single survivor. Supposedly on moonlit nights when the wind is howling, you can hear the ghosts singing hymns. Once we got to the top of the hill, we saw the pile of driftwood that has accumulated over the years from cruisers leaving behind a memento with the name of their boat. Unfortunately, we forgot to pick up a piece of driftwood before our excursion and didn’t see any laying around on the beach. Oh well…maybe next time. The view from up there was stunning. Next we went to snorkel at the nearby coral garden, and it was the best coral I’ve ever seen. There was an abundance of brightly colored fish, and we even saw a huge spiny lobster out in the open (the ones I’ve always seen are hidden away under the coral). We were fighting a strong current, and it tired us out after about thirty minutes so we left. Then we took a short dinghy trip to Beryl trail and hiked up to the ruins of a Loyalist plantation. The ruins were comprised of two small broken down stone buildings, which weren’t very interesting. After the hike, we were hot, tired, and in need of shade so we called it a day.



This morning, May 14th, we snorkeled at Malabar Cay, where we saw the largest conch we’ve ever seen. It was massive! David has been wanting to find a conch big enough to eat, but there’s a strict park rule about not taking anything from the park. So Mr. Conch lives to see another day. After snorkeling, we left for Fowl Cay, which is where we are currently anchored. David went for a quick swim and found two Shakespeare fishing poles at the bottom of the seafloor, which apparently are too good not to keep so we now have two new poles. I swear this boat is going to be filled with stuff David finds out and about on our adventures by the time we get back to Texas – those aren’t the first used items that’s found their way onto our boat. I do secretly think it’s funny even though I give him a hard time about it.
Hopefully it won't take me so long to post the next entry. We haven't had reliable cell service since we left Nassau so it's been hard keeping up with the blog.