Back to November 2001
Saturday, December 1st, 2001 Lucaya, Grand Bahama
We are debating where to head next and when to do it. The weather is looking ok. Olga the hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical depression and is expected to peter out altogether by the morning. It's looking right now like Great Stirrup Cay might be our destination. It requires a brief overnight, which ought to be among our last for a while. We'll see if we have the motivation to go tonight or whether it will be tomorrow night.
Sunday, December 2nd, 2001 Devil's/Hoffman Islands, Berry Island Chain
We took the plunge last night and headed out into the dark. Lucaya is relatively well marked for a Bahamian harbor so we didn't have any trouble getting out. The forecast was for 15-20 NE, so we double reefed the main and put out a bit of jib and were on our way. The seas were bearable and the point of sail was good so we hummed right along. The night was fairly uneventful except for the part where we almost got run down by a ship. We're told by other cruisers whom we've met that once a ship responds to your hail on the VHF they assume some sort of responsibility. Needless to say this ship did not respond to us when we asked for clarification of its course. Once again we were tickled with the radar and the info it gave us ("move over or you're gonna get hit"). We changed our course as any prudent sailor would, and survived the evening.
As the sun rose we saw two very large cruise ships drop anchor off of the Stirrup Islands. Apparently passengers get ferried ashore to experience "Out Island life" The islands are leased to the cruise lines by the Bahamian government. We had already decided to bypass these islands in favor of a group of islands commonly referred to as "Devil's Hoffman". The north wind was predicted to blow for several more days and the protection there was reputed to be good. We made our first unmarked Bahamian landfall with very dry mouths. When you are used to navigating with buoys it's a bit of a shock to go without. Add to this fact that the cut we were entering was closely bordered by coral reefs and your eyes get really big. We survived the entrance and were greeted with a beautiful, deserted, rolly, lagoon. We finally felt like we were in the Bahamas.
In the afternoon we went for our first snorkeling trip. There were no reefs around so we saw only grass and sand. It was nice to be in the warm water though. The beaches were beautiful and empty. There were lots of plants I couldn't identify. (Note to self: get guidebooks in Nassau.)
Monday, December 3rd, 2001 Devil's/Hoffman Islands
Roger spent most of the day messing around with the anchors. We deployed a second one in hopes that we would stay put in the wind which was pretty strong (E-NE, 25). I baked bread and made humus. A couple from a catamaran named "Magic" stopped to visit. They are anchored in a very tranquil spot on the back of Hoffman's that only shallow draft boats can get to. Boy, are we jealous. They gave us fishing tips and chatted about the weather. It was nice to see other cruisers.
Tuesday, December 4th, 2001 Devil's/Hoffman Islands
It looks like we'll be spending longer than anticipated at Devil's Hoffman. The weather is still a bit heavy, with more NE 25 forecast for tomorrow. You can't fight the weather. Roger did an engine servicing while I was completely slothful and read a book.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2001 Devil's/Hoffman Islands
Today the surge and the rolliness in the anchorage finally put us over the edge. We pulled up our anchors and headed to its eastern reaches, towards the Great Bahama Banks. We probably should have done this several days ago but we kept thinking we'd be heading further south. When you have to gimbal the stove while at anchor and the cat sleeps wedged behind the litter box, you know things are bad. Nothing like being trapped in paradise.
Thursday, December 6th, 2001 Devil's/Hoffman Islands
This is our fifth day here at Devil's Hoffman and it's losing some of its allure. I think we're both suffering from a sort of low-level anxiety from the incessant howling of the wind (30 knots last night and this morning). It looks like tomorrow the wind will drop a bit and we might be able to get back out the cut if the seas lay down a little. That would be really good.
We met some more catamaran folks today. (Do you see a theme here?) They are anchored over by the "blue hole" behind Hoffman's Island. They're from Belfast, Maine. It's a small world. Perhaps because they've made the trip before (parents and two very young boys) they seem really relaxed. I'm hoping we will reach that point in the not too distant future.
While diving on the anchor, Roger met his first shark. It was a very little one and Roger says the shark was as shocked as he was at the meeting.
This is a special thank you to Linda Waldie for the deck of Skip-Bo cards. We have been playing a great deal. I do admit however, that we associate the game with bad weather.
Another thank you goes out to Aunt Jane (via sister Cath) for the corn and pea salad recipe. Mmm Good! It's amazing what you can do with canned veggies.
Friday, December 7th, 2001 Nassau (hurray!) Bahamas
Today was a big day. We finally managed to extricate ourselves from the remote island paradise where we had been stranded for five days. At around 9:00 a.m. with a rising tide we girded our loins (can girls do that?) and headed towards the dreaded cut. Overnight the seas had subsided somewhat and the entrance (exit?) didn't look quite so bad. Roger leapt from one rail to another scanning for shallow spots while I steered our trusty craft out the way it had come in, sooo long ago. You couldn't have pried my hands from the wheel with a crow bar. Needless to say it was a very long half-mile.
Once we were back in deep water and could breath again we set a somewhat hopeful course for Nassau. The wind was now from the SE at about 15-20. Naturally Nassau was in an almost SE direction from Devil's Hoffman. Happily the good ship Great Notions points pretty well and we were able to hold the necessary course. Our fallback, if this hadn't worked, was to spend the night at Bird Cay (surgy, rolly, nasty) at the southern end of the Berry's, then set out for Nassau in the a.m. with a shorter distance to cover. The seas were 4-7 ft. and became less choppy as we headed away from land.
The cat had a somewhat difficult day. In his frantic efforts to take cover in the rocking and rolling he found his way to the kitty carrier which is housed in the quarterberth. The carrier, unfortunately, "shifted in flight" trapping him firmly within. Once we were anchored in Nassau and there was no sign of the cat we went in search of. We found him in his carrier looking a bit frazzled. Once we were able to shift the neighboring cargo he was able to make his exit. We noted a roll of paper towel within reach of the carrier, which had been partially shredded, apparently in kitty's attempt to pry himself out of the box. What bad cat owners we are. After several kitty treats he seemed to be back to his old self.
As the sun set over the five cruise ships at Prince George Pier and the Club Med, in front of which we anchored, started its evening hum we felt a great relief. There was no wind, no surge, little current and we had made some headway towards our destination. No amount of disco music could dampen our spirits.
[For you geography buffs, here's a map. Yes, it does show that we have indeed made it to George Town - but hold tight - the story is on its way.]
The Story Continues...
After a pretty inexcusable lapse on my part (I blame island living) I am going to attempt to continue with the tale of our journey south.
When we last left you (in early December) we had finally made it to Nassau, a mere 100(ish) miles from our final destination of George Town, Great Exuma. The clock was ticking. Roger's flight home for Christmas was on December 19th, from George Town. This gave us less than two weeks to get there. Eek!
Friday/Saturday December 7th & 8th Nassau, Bahamas
In the two days that we spent in Nassau we really didn't do it justice. As is often said, "cruising is repairing your boat in a succession of exotic ports". We spent our time buying a lot of bolts mostly. Our heavy-duty alternator seems to eat them like candy. Is this a symptom of a problem? Of course. Are we looking into it? Of course. No solutions yet, so we keep a good supply of spare bolts on hand.
I think that under the right circumstances Nassau could be a fun place. First, a note to anyone considering a trip to Nassau in the near future: WEAR YOUR TRACK SHOES! In order to avoid getting hit by the crazed drivers in the city you must sprint strategically across all streets. After listening to the "national news" at night on our radio we have decided that the primary cause of death in Nassau is traffic related. However, if you like shopping, especially for duty free liquor and perfume this is the place for you.
The time you really want to be in town is for Junkanoo, which seems to be celebrated several times between Christmas and New Years. It's supposed to be a great time with parades, music and wonderful costumes. The competition between the parading groups is fierce. Leading groups spend as much as $100,000 for their costumes. Unfortunately we found ourselves there several weeks too early and in a rush. Buy bolts, call relatives, leave town.
Sunday December 9th Rose Island
To get from Nassau to the northern end of the Exuma Chain (of Cays, pronounced "keys") you head south for about thirty miles till you get to the Cay of your choice, which is usually Allen's or Highborne. As is always the case, there is a catch. The thirty miles you must cross is VERY shallow and has a small but select variety of coral heads that you could hit. This means of course, that you must coordinate your crossing with the high tide and good light so you can see what you're going to hit.
Sunday morning we headed off bright and early from our little spot in front of Club Med to attempt our crossing. The rising tide combined with a wind in our face that was just a bit too strong. It slowed our pace enough so that we would be unable to get to our destination before dark. We turned around and headed for an island just east of Nassau called Rose Island. It wasn't a particularly productive day, but we were happy nonetheless. Rose Island has a nice little anchorage. We spent the afternoon lounging and watching a boatload of Nassau daytrippers enjoy a "remote island getaway". In the evening we could see the lights of Nassau and were glad we weren't there.
Monday December 10th Allen's Cay, EXUMAS!!!
We finally made it to the Exumas. Roger calls this the land of milk and honey. I had to remind him that that is what he called Maine, so a different name is in order. Perhaps "the land of sunshine and iguanas" would do.
The anchorage at Allen's Cay was beautiful. The water was clear and blue and the little islands surrounding it were uninhabited...except for the iguanas. Allen's Cay, and it's neighbors, Leaf and South Allen's are home to these rather rare creatures. I'm not sure if they are rare everywhere or just in the Bahamas, but they are pretty interesting. A speed boat, from you guessed it, Club Med, brought a group of guests down to see the iguanas and provided them with grapes to feed the critters. We got to the beach just as the Club Med boat was leaving. We, of course, were empty-handed. It was us and the iguanas and no grapes. We retreated to the water in fairly short order.
SO GLAD TO BE HERE!!
Tuesday December 11th Warderick Wells, Exumas
We sailed about 30 miles south to Warderick Wells Land and Sea Park today. The sailing was great. We had an east wind of about 20 knots, which allowed us to zip along at about seven knots. The water was pretty shallow, measuring in at about 7 feet. When you draw 6'2", seven knots in seven feet of water takes a little getting used to.
We arrived at the park in the early afternoon and picked up a mooring in the north anchorage. The anchorage is a little sliver of deep water surrounded by flats. It's really quite a sight. In the park you cannot fish or pick up shells. Because of this the fish seem quite tame. We had a very large jack hovering around the boat for several hours before the sun set. We went to the ranger station to pay our fee and chat with the folks who work there. Somehow we got on the topic of Tom Cruise (a park donor perhaps?) and his divorce from Nicole Kidman. There was much speculation here in paradise about THAT, I'll tell you. We batted around a few possible causes before heading back to the boat for a spectacular sunset. We'd like to get back here to spend more time later in the season.
Wednesday December 12th Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay, Exumas
Another great sailing day with more wind from the east. We arrived in Black Point by mid-afternoon. The anchorage here is a big shallow bay looking across to town. Black Point is the second largest town in the Exumas (with 100 or so residents). It's a very traditional place and not a cruisers hangout which makes it nice and quiet. We took a walk around town after we secured the craft. Everyone we met was very friendly. Eunice, a local woman who sells straw items, meets you along the side of the road in front of her house to make sure you see her wares. She takes you to her side yard where everything is displayed and you are unable to leave in good conscience without purchasing something. We are now the proud owners of a plaited straw placemat. I complemented her on the pretty conch shells she had lined up around her foundation. Mistake. I didn't think I was going to get out of there without her digging one up to give to me. I escaped with a photo instead. Our walk coincided with the end of the school day. We had an escort of a dozen school children through town. They were going home to study for a test on the following day so we quizzed them with a variety of totally irrelevant questions.
At the end of the street we met the couple from the only other cruising boat in the harbor. Lita and Rick on Orca suggested that we have a meal at Lorraine's Restaurant at some point during our stay. We put it on our list of things to do.
Thursday December 13th Black Point, Exumas
Up to this point we had been sailing down the West Side of the Exuma Cays. The entrance to George Town on Great Exuma is on the East Side of the Cays. It would follow that at some point we were going to have to head out a cut between some islands north of Great Exuma to get to the water on the East Side, otherwise known as Exuma Sound. Naturally it isn't necessarily quite so straightforward. The Banks, on which we had been sailing since we reached the Exumas is very shallow. The Exuma Sound, on the East Side of the same islands is VERY deep...like 2000 meters deep. When an east wind blows for any length of time, it creates BIG seas, which bunch up at the cuts between the islands. NASTY, NASTY. If you have to go out a cut in an east wind, the wind needs to be fairly calm and the tide needs to be going in the same direction as the seas. Needless to say the wind had been blowing out of the east for as long as we could remember and the seas were fairly impressive. A little part of us thought we might give it a shot today but during our daily engine check we discovered the alternator belt needed to be replaced so we decided to hang for a day. Roger changed the belt and once again readjusted the alternator while I lugged water. Lots of water. At mid-day we headed into town to make reservations with Lorraine for our dinner. "What would you like for dinner" "um,...fish?" "Grouper ok?" "sure" "how about six-thirty?" "sure". We spent the afternoon going for a walk out to Dotham Cut. Looks NASTY.
We arrived at Lorraine's at 6:30. She had us help ourselves to drinks from the cooler and we chatted for a while before she excused herself to go to the kitchen. Did I mention that we were the only people there? Dinner was wonderful. Lorraine invited us back for her third annual SuperBowl Party. We put it on our growing list of things to do.
According to John and Diane on Spirit, who we met the following day, Lorraine takes your order (usually for fish), then she calls her brother and sends him out in the Whaler to catch your dinner. Talk about fresh fish.
Friday December 14th Black Point, Exumas
The wind abated somewhat during the night so we decided to give Dotham Cut a try. We were slightly late on the tide so it was just beginning its ebb. Lesson Learned: there is no real slack period when you are working with a cut. Tide was going out. Seas were coming in. About half way through we decided to bag it. Broke the gooseneck while turning around. The guy who tried it immediately after us (in a fairly large motoryacht) turned around after breaking his salon table.
We limped back into Black Point happy to be afloat. Spent the rest of the day taking the main sail off and lashing the boom to the deck. Spirit stopped by to commiserate. We're jib sailors now!
Saturday December 15th Little Farmer's Cay, Exumas
Another blustery day. We stayed put in the morning. Visited Spirit and tormented them with a huge variety of questions. They have been calling us with the weather, which has been very helpful. When Roger goes home for x-mas He's going to buy an SSB receiver to pick up better weather forecasts than what we've been getting from the radio.
In the afternoon we decided to get a few miles in so we headed out the back way onto the Banks once again. The further south we get, the shorter the run to George Town will be when we finally get out onto the Sound. We wound our way through the shallows to the back of Little Farmer's Cay. There was supposed to be 2 meters of water there but there wasn't. It was too late in the day to move, so we just made peace with the fact that at low tide we were going to be bumping in the sand a bit.
Sunday December 16th Big Galliot Cay, Exumas
We continue to inch our way south via the back way. Yesterday's ten miles and today's five mean that when we finally get out it's a 30-mile day to George Town. Yahoo!! Let the wind drop so we can get out Galliot Cut tomorrow.
Monday December 17th(Sister Cath's Birthday) George Town, Great Exuma!!!
We made it out Galliot Cut this morning! The tide was right and the wind was ok. We could see the cut from our anchorage so we knew it was do-able. The cut was much less awesome than the last one we tried, though we have talked to people since who don't like Galliot. I guess everyone has cuts they dread and cuts they are comfortable with.
The wind direction for the shot to George Town was a little tight but we figured we could tack towards the end of the day and be ok. Spirit had contacted Eleanor M., already in GT, via SSB alerting them to our impending arrival. We were able to contact them a few miles outside the entrance to George Town Harbor via VHF. They said Conch Cay Cut was relatively kind and to just follow the waypoints and we'd be fine. Passed through the Cut at 3:00 p.m., and passed Eleanor M. by 4:00. We dropped the hook next to them at Honeymoon Beach. YAHOO! WE MADE IT! (with 1 _ days to spare.)
We dashed into town to use the pay phone. Called Cath to sing Happy Birthday and Roger's Mom to assure her we were alive. By the time we had completed these tasks it was dark. We got soaked with spray on our mile long trip back to the boat but we didn't care. After a quick rinse under the cold sunshower we cracked open our final bottle of champagne (labeled "George Town" by Cath). We sat around giggling for an hour before crashing into bed for a stress free sleep.
George Town, Great Exuma
George Town has been our goal since we decided to go cruising a year or two ago. I'm not sure why exactly. First off we knew we had only a limited amount of time. A yearlong cruise isn't very long when you think about it. We're not complaining mind you, we were just aware of the fact that you can't really get that far AND back in a year unless you're sailing Steve Fossett's PlayStation.
The Bahamas were the obvious choice because they are relatively close, warm, quiet and beautiful. I imagine George Town became the southern staging ground for our trip because of the folks currently bobbing next to us on the Eleanor M. Skip and Cherylle, who belong to Eleanor M., are from our general neighborhood up in Massachusetts and have been coming to George Town for about twelve years. They were a wealth of information when we were planning our trip and they love it here. It's sort of infectious.
George Town, and the Exumas in general are starkly beautiful. The locals are friendly and generous (a special hello to Mom of Mom's bakery van and Naomi the barkeep at Two Turtles). Despite the number of cruisers here (75 when we arrived in Dec., 280 as of mid-Jan, 400-500 expected by Regatta) this is not a glitzy place. The town is very laid back with just enough dust to remind you you're not in the BVI. Chickens still roam the streets and the housing is very basic for many.
We arrived here with the thought that we would use George Town as a base for provisioning, picking up mail and flying home if necessary. So far it has worked out well. Roger headed home to see his Mother for Christmas a few days after we arrived. My Mom and Sister came down and spent Christmas with me. We have fixed an array of things that we broke on our way down as well as several things we have broken since our arrival. Our friend Nick came to visit and we spent a week sailing to several nearby islands with him. All in all, George Town is fulfilling our needs.
It is pretty amazing the array of needs George Town is able fill for the boats that flock here. For some, George Town is where they want to be. Period. There are so many activities here that it's almost like a college campus. Volleyball is so popular that there are regular clinics in addition to the daily games at the half dozen courts. There are pig roasts, potlucks, beach church, horseshoes and the granddaddy of them all: The Annual Cruisers Regatta. You can put down your anchor in December and pull it up in April if you choose. There is a humorous tee shirt for sale in town that reads; "nobody moves, nobody gets hurt". It's funny but it sort of discounts the skill that it takes to get this far, even if you choose not to move once you arrive.
For others George Town is just a stopover on the way south. They head from here to the more southerly Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and on to the Caribbean and South America. As you might guess, there are fewer folks in this category.
We fall into an intermediate group. We come and we go.
Christmas Day, 2001 George Town :)
Cathy and I caught a flight out of Boston on December 23rd and began our journey south to spend Christmas with Amy aboard Great Notions which had dropped anchor a week before in George Town's harbor in the Bahamas after a three month sail from home.
Enroute we spent a day in Orlando with my sister Jane, her husband, Bud, and their daughter Linda, and son Mike - a trip that included a visit to Disney's Epcot.
On Christmas day Cathy and I spotted Amy sitting on a wooden bench in front of Exuma Markets. Freshly ashore from Great Notions, Amy, at least to my eyes, seemed to list slightly to the left as she came to meet us. That impression may have arisen from the fact that we had just disembarked from a thirty-mile taxi ride on the wrong side of the road.
Nasty New England weather vanished from our thoughts, we surveyed our home-to-be for the next five days. You cannot get lost in Georgetown. It's a tiny place with low buildings painted in astonishing colors suited to fit the mood of a population that knows nothing of winter. The town seemed to have sprung up around a little bay in the middle of the island far removed from the airport where we had landed in the noonday (70 degrees) sun.
Cathy and I began our strip of hide bound clothing at the first whiff of tropical air. To say the least we were giddy to find ourselves on Christmas day in this paradise called Georgetown - so giddy in fact that we offered no protest when Amy stuffed us into a dingy along with our baggage and set off through the tossing waves of the harbor. There is this bizzare practice among dingy owners that says its alright to pilot your boat standing up. We later learned this to avoid getting wet. If you were a snowbird who belonged to the colony of boatowners who called this harbor town home from December through March, the harbor was accessible by way of a tunnel that lead out from the bay. The tunnel was wide enough for one boat at a time. On your way into the bay you were introduced to the visitors' humor by a sign overhead on the bridge that reads "Bridge Freezes Before Road". But I degress.
By our reckoning Great Notions was anchored about five miles from town but that may be a mis-calculation as there was salt water blurring our vision and it may have been more like a mile. I don't like to exaggerate, but my straw hat got soaked. I ultimately left it for Amy in case it should ever dry out. We had first been introduced to the ship's cat, Milo, on Plum Island in his landlubber days. Apparently, on Christmas day, he was still exhausted from his trip south because he did not come up on deck to greet us. Amy explained that he was burrowed somewhere in the bedding of the boat's v-berth in the midst of his afternoon nap, not to be confused with his morning/evening/night slumber. True to form he made his entrance as the lamb roast was being prepared for Christmas dinner.
Roger, who was credited with the boat having arrived in one piece, was absent from our little circle having returned to New England to spend Christmas with his mother, Nora. On his person he was carrying a list of boat parts that had to be replaced before they could set sail again. Cropping up in the conversation and prefaced by a stricken look were alusions to a day when the boat had made an unexpected jibe in one of the shallow cuts between islands that was fierce enough to tear the boom from the mast. They had sailed there after under the jibe and/or motored the rest of the way to George Town. Amy had counted what she estimated to be 100 boats in the harbor - a number she thought would swell to some 400 by March as New Englander's make tracks south to get out of the cold.
We had been forewarned that Georgetown was a sleepy kind of town so fear of finding ourselves in an uncivilized place had prompted Cathy and me to hall a bottle of white and one of red wine in our suitcases. The giddyness went up a notch with the onset of happy hour. While the lamb roast was cooking we decorated the boat. Amy had used some of her time in port to ressurect from the dead a Christmas project she had undertaken a decade or so ago - a project naively assigned by me - that by careful procrastination had remained unfinished. It was a Christmas quilt project that in the confines of the 'main salon' created the same magic that a Christmas tree gives to a room. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I beheld the thing finally finished. She had strung the place with little white Christmas lights. We trimmed the boat inside and out with homemade origami cranes made of golden paper that caught the lights below deck and bobbed in the breeze outside under the bimini. Mysteriously a salt shaker was up in the rigging to provide a night light.
You can't give big gifts to boat dwellers. Thinking small, Cathy swallowed her aversion to sewing and made a tiny black velvet bag to house a pair of earrings for Amy. I settled on a porcelain Christmas tree box just big enough to hold a talisman to ward off encounters of the watery type. It now holds a seashell. Bobbles made of beach glass from camp in Vermont were put together by Cathy for all the girls in the family who had frequented camp in past summers. Amy got one shaped like a Christmas tree. We resisted devouring Roger's gift of a chocolate Santa Claus and it was put aside for his return. Defying the odds Amy's lamb dinner was wonderful. We are not a threesome used to having things go off without a hitch so we carefully avoided mentioning the fact that everything was going right and that somehow we had pulled off a perfect Christmas - unless you want to remember that Bill and Roger weren't there.
Sunday, December 30, 2001 George Town
The rest of the week passed quickly. For those of you who are looking for a vacation spot with little to distract you, this is the place. One day Amy and I rented kayaks from the village while Mom stayed aboard with Milo. We paddled over to Crab Cay, an uninhabited, quite wild island within the harbor. I think we met Robinson Crusoe in the little cove we landed in. He was aboard what looked like a homemade trimaran and he dashed around the rigging like a monkey. He was thin, very tan and had on only a little white bikini. His white beard hung below his chin and he was smoking a curly pipe. It looked like he had not seen civilization for quite some time. We went for a walk up what looked like a trail, and I don't think I've ever been in a more wild place. We were aiming for some ruins the kayak rental fellow had told us about, but after walking gingerly - with sticks to move the spider webs - (the brave older sister, I must admit, went first) we decided that a rock wall we found was good enough and turned back through the thick. (Botanical note: Along the trail we passed a few wild orchids - pretty neat to see where they come from.)
On our last day, we were dropped at the small airport two - yes two - hours early, so Mom and I decided to visit Kermit's Bar and um... get rid of the rest of our Bahamian dollars. Well, Kermit turned out to be quite charming and talked to us for quite a while. On the wall was a photo of a groovy little hut. When we asked about it, Kermit explained that it was the original Kermit's Bar, and when the airport grew to what it is now, Kermit moved and grew with it. He was a neat fellow. Mom is supposed to send him some VT Maple Syrup I think.
A fine time was had by all - Thank you Amy & Roger!
To January 2002