Monday, April 11, 2016

Rum Cay: The Unspoilt Jewel of the Bahamas

Rum cay is a small island measuring 30 square miles and only has about thirty people living on it. Last year when we stopped at Port Nelson, the island’s main settlement, we were able to get a few groceries, have a few drinks at Kay’s Bar and Restaurant, and eat out at one of the few restaurants. This time around we weren’t sure what to expect since the island was hit hard by Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015.

When we were here before, we saw a few guys replacing boards on the pier, and the first thing we noticed this year when going to land via dinghy was that most of the pier was gone. After pulling the dinghy ashore, we walked a few feet over to Kay’s Bar since Snorre, a Norwegian guy who came over to Dulcinea to introduce himself, said the grocery store had been badly damaged and had moved to Kay’s. Kay’s is owned and run by Delores, who is a sweet, cheerful lady in her eighties. The grocery store didn’t have much, but we were able to get some lettuce, apples, and cheese.
The wrecked pier

The old grocery store

As David went to fill the jerry cans with well water, I went to sit at the bar next to Delores, where she was watching a televised church service. She immediately got up to get me a beer, even though I didn’t ask and it wasn’t quite twelve o’clock. Not that I’m complaining! It did feel a little weird sipping a beer while she was singing the praises of Jesus though.

Delores is sitting at the bar. It is also known as the Sand Bar because there is no floor, just sand.
David came back in, and she offered to share her lunch with us, which we tried to politely decline since we had just eaten on the boat. She wouldn’t let us refuse though and brought us a plate of chicken, cole slaw, peas and rice, and kale to share. After we cleaned the plate, we decided to head back to the boat and handed her a $5 to pay for the beer. She gave us our change and a free beer for the road. She is such a kind, generous lady!

Before leaving, she told us a little bit of what happened during the hurricane. She said the roof of the bar had been completely ripped off, and there was a few feet of standing water in the bar. She said that everybody had been moved to the church until it started filling with water, and then they had to move more inland to the clinic. I can’t imagine having to hunker down and wait out a dangerous Category 4 hurricane. It must have been very frightening not knowing how long it would last and how bad it would get. After the storm passed, she said the government really stepped in and helped. The prime minister came to visit, and he brought supplies and volunteers to repair roofs and other damage. She was very thankful for all the help they received.

That evening we went back to town just to get off the boat and went to Oceanview Restaurant and Bar since Kay’s was locked. We had a few drinks and watched a couple of movies and then decided to call it a night. However, we saw another dinghy on the beach and wanted to see who it belonged to so we wandered back over to Kay’s. We met Eric, who is a young guy living alone on his boat. He has been here a while since it is one of his favorite islands, and he goes out with the fishermen when they go spear fishing. He helps out by bringing the fish they catch back to the boat while they continue fishing. He said they always see reef sharks and blacktips. I told him that I am fascinated by sharks, but I am terrified of meeting one while I’m in the water. He said that it’s not a big deal to see one – he had three come too close for comfort the other day, and all he did was swim towards them and they quickly swam away. Then he offered to let us join them, and while I answered with an enthusiastic “yes” last night, I quickly changed my mind this morning.

We decided to go snorkeling in the bay this afternoon, and on the way to some coral heads, we saw a small tiger shark . At least I think it is was a tiger shark based on the markings I saw in the photo. We zoomed around in the dinghy chasing it and took underwater shots and videos of it. Then we saw a large ray as soon as we got in the water. Snorkeling wasn’t that great because the majority of the coral was bleached out and dead, and there weren’t that many fish. However, the shark and ray provided some excitement for the day!

Update: after doing some research, it seems it was a thresher shark, not a tiger.

Video of shark

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

We are on our way back to the States, which has caused me to have a ton of mixed feelings. I kept asking myself and David, “Should we stay, find jobs, and keep living on the boat in a tropical paradise or go back to somewhere in the US to be near family and friends?” As you may or may not know, I can be very indecisive, and my mind kept changing daily, even hourly on some days.

When we left St. Martin for St. Thomas, David and I were on the same page. We would provision like crazy for the Bahamas (since everything is expensive there) and then start making our way back to Texas as soon as there was a weather window.

Once we were back in Red Hook, we made our first of three trips to the grocery store. We were headed back to the safari stop from Cost-U-Less loaded down with food, and a guy stopped to ask where we were headed and said to jump in. We started talking, and he said he was from Ft. Worth, Texas so there was an instant comradery. We told him about our plans, and I mentioned I didn’t want to leave the island. He said, “Why the hell would you go back if you don’t have to?” Our immediate answer was “Jobs.” Then after mentioning that I worked in accounting, he said he was a CPA with his own company and would hire me if he had an open spot. He also said that David could find jobs repairing electrical systems and such on boats.  Rusty took us on a quick tour of the nearby private school and yacht club to reinforce the possibility of living there and then dropped us off by our dinghy. We thanked him profusely and made our way back to the boat with a lot to think about.

However, our conversation with Rusty was put on the back burner, and we concentrated on finishing grocery shopping and getting things done on the boat. Two days later we still hadn’t really considered staying in St. Thomas  so we headed to Christmas Cove near St. Thomas to spend our last night in the USVIs with friends. We snorkeled in the crystal clear water, and then Elisa and Rudolph from Tulum III came over for some drinks, apps, and dinner. We met them in Luperon, Dominican Republic and became friends after staying there three months for hurricane season. It was the first time seeing them in months, and it was great catching up. I again expressed my reluctance to leave, and after listening to their comments, it made me once again question giving up this life. There are jobs here and we can live rent/mortgage free on our boat because we own it so why not? More talking between David and I still led us going back to the US. The next morning more of the same conversation came up, and as we stood filling out our clearance papers at Cruz Bay in St. John, we were still talking about it. David said he was fine with staying another month and trying to find a job in his field. But it’s me…ME!…who decided to head back. Why after David agreed would I choose to leave?! A place like this has always been where  I have wanted  to live…beaches…white sand…beautiful water…flip flop weather…all year long. But I know the type of job he wants isn’t here (and believe me I looked at several job sites on-line). So we are heading back because we would have eventually.

Snorkeling at Christmas Cove
The Pizza Pi boat that makes delicious, made to order pizza
Although I will miss a lot of things I have become accustomed to on this trip, it will be nice to be around family and friends again, have use of our cars ( I haven't driven since leaving Texas), have A/C on hot days, take long, hot showers, have access to fast WiFi whenever we need it, not worrying if the solar panels created enough energy to run our computers, and have a home that doesn't roll or break free of it's grounding.
Now we are back in the outer islands of the Bahamas, which are absolutely beautiful. I missed being here. I know other people look at water and beaches and ask, “How do you not get tired of that, especially after a year?” I just don’t. It’s very calm and peaceful, and I enjoy hearing the waves break as I dig my toes into the soft sand and relax.

We arrived at Mayaguana, which has three settlements consisting of a total of around 250 people, on April 4th, checked into the Bahamas, and also bought a new Batelco sim card since the one we bought last April expired after three months of non-use. This time around we didn't have to pay the $150 entry fee since a cruising permit lasts one year, and we checked in on April 22, 2015. Just made it back with a few weeks to spare! We went to Reggie’s to get some reverse osmosis water (we filled jerry cans from his backyard hose) and some groceries. Reggie keeps a small convenience type store, which is the one of the two small grocery stores you will find on that part of the island.
After we got back to the boat, we snorkeled and found some puffer sea biscuits, which we had never seen before. I brought two onboard for my collection since they weren’t alive and also found a lot of bleached sand dollars.


Puffer Seabiscuits
On the hunt for sand dollars
A couple of days later we left for East Plana Cay, which was only a thirty mile sail. We left at 6 a.m., arrived around 1 p.m., maneuvered the boat though various coral heads, and anchored in more gorgeous water. We donned our snorkeling gear, jumped in, and immediately saw a curious two and half foot barracuda, which swam with us as we made our way to the anchor to make sure it was dug in. It bared its razor-sharp teeth a few times before swimming away. Not sure if it was trying to show aggression, but that was the first time we’ve seen a barracuda do that. After that I found the biggest conch we’ve ever seen. This is an uninhabited island with little boat traffic so they are not harvested here. We contemplated making conch fritters but decided it was more trouble than it was worth so I laid the conch gently back onto the sea floor. Next we took full advantage of the bare anchorage and laid out on the deck in our birthday suits to soak up some sun while listening to good music.

David making sure the anchor is dug in

Coral near our boat
Mr. Barracuda
Yesterday we left our anchorage in the morning and planned to go 120 miles to Conception Island, which is where my all-time favorite anchorage is. However, the wind didn’t cooperate last night and we were low on diesel so we stopped at Rum Cay this afternoon instead of going another 30 miles. We wouldn’t have been able to make it before dark, and there are a lot of coral heads lurking just beneath the surface.
A cold front is supposed to hit tomorrow so we’ll stay tucked away in our anchorage at Port Nelson for a few days until the wind and seas die down.