Thursday, March 29, 2007

George Town Photos 2

George Town Photos

Winds decrease in George Town

The relentless wind keeps everyone here pinned down. People get tired of being here, or have commitments to meet friends or family somewhere else and need to leave, and therefore attempt to leave. But when they hit the 8 to 10 foot seas, they return.
It’s like the Eagles song: “Welcome to Hotel George Town. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

Our friends Walter and Connie on the trawler Summer of 42 tried to leave because of relatives arriving in Staniel Cay tomorrow. They decided to turn back because it was too rough. The engine died and Walter choked on his sandwich at the same time. After Connie revived him with water, he fell down the stairs, knocking the fire extinguisher off the wall and spraying him in the face. He managed to set the anchor and work on the engine. He was low on fuel (only 200 gallons left out of 500) and figured that the pick-up had sucked air and killed the engine as they surfed down a wave. After bleeding the lines the engine ran and they headed back into Elizabeth Harbor.

Another fellow on the sailing vessel Seabird attempted to leave a few days ago. When asked by someone in the harbor how things were going, he replied “It’s really not too bad out here.” A woman then came on the radio and asked for a report from his wife. We thought that was pretty funny until they also returned to the harbor.

We just finished a 5 day series of squalls which increase the prevailing winds of 20 to 25 kts up to 30 to 50kts. That weather is now over, and we have nice sunny weather with steady 20kt winds. The winds are supposed to decrease to 15kts in 2 days so there will probably be a mass exodus.

The first day of the strong squalls brought a cell over us at 11pm which brought 50kt sustained winds for 30 minutes. It was intense. We had both anchors down and didn’t move at all, except for sailing back and forth pretty hard on the anchors. Boats on both sides of us dragged and we watched numerous boats get smaller as they drifted away. Long term visitors to George Town said that it was the worst they had ever seen here (during this time of year). There were no boats upwind of our position so we only needed to monitor our position relative to other boats downwind. It was amazing that no boats collided during the storm even with boats running under power dragging their anchors, half out of control. There were close calls to be sure, and people are still retelling their stories of that night.

So how are we doing you may ask. Our attitudes have changed considerably. Now when the winds are only 20kts, we say, “Hey it’s nice out, lets head to town”. Before, we would have been nervous to leave the boat. We’re now on one of those little dinghys heading a mile across the bay in rough water to go to town (as we’re about to in an hour after lunch). I reported earlier how we moved Stardust to Kidd Cove to go shopping last week. Now we like the way our Delta anchor is totally buried, and want to leave it that way. (It will probably take a crane to get it out when we leave). And we’re used to long wet dinghy rides. And we stand up in the dinghy holding onto ropes like everyone else to stay dry. During the storm Kathy was very calm (she’s always been rock solid when I’ve been hurt or sick, or a hurricane was bearing down on the gliderport, and other similar nasty situations- it’s the little things which make her nervous) and Rachel took care of Whitefoot in her cabin.

But these are the most recent highlights. Usually school is in session, I’m doing minor preventative maintenance (like changing the transmission oil yesterday), or we’re on volleyball beach with 100 other cruisers, Rachel is playing with her new friends, or visiting on other boats. It’s easy for me to get caught up in reporting about the wild things that happen but the reality is that things are usually pretty sedate. Yesterday found Kathy and I sitting under a palm tree talking with our new friend Linda (with serious cruising experience) about places she has been and what multi-day passages are like. Kathy said how much she’s been enjoying the trip and doesn’t want it to end. I asked her to repeat that. We all related how it’s the little things that get to you, not the big stuff.

Linda and her two boys Chris (11) and Nick (8) are alone on Second Wave, a beautiful motorsailor, since her husband had to fly home because of a family emergency. They are anchored two boats behind us (I can use a term like behind due to the steady east winds- we’ve probably only swung 30 degrees in a week). The boat right behind us is Wild Child with David, Michele, and kids Caroline (11) and Sabrina (5, and a true wild child- a very wonderful little girl). Both boats are from Toronto and the kids are all fast friends. Rachel hosted a movie night here the other night, and we’ll be having both families over for dinner tonight.

There are awesome trails on Stocking Island and we’ve been putting in some mileage on them. Whitefoot and I hiked about 5 miles this morning. We hiked with Jim, Pat, Walter and Connie two days ago. Walter and Connie still looked a little shell-shocked from their ill-fated attempt to leave. Twice weekly poker games take place in a nice establishment on Stocking Island. I went last night and joined about 25 other players and had a great time. You pay $5 for $500 worth of chips and the last person in the game gets all the money. I wasn’t the winner. I sat at a table with Tom on Out of Bounds , a cat registered with their hometown of Angel Fire, New Mexico, the neighboring town to Taos! He’s an ex-ski instructor from Vail, so we’ll get together to swap some ski tales.

Rachel needs the computer for school while Kathy and I go to town, so this will be posted tomorrow, perhaps (our years in New Mexico prepared us well for the maňana land of the Bahamas). When you read about tonight or tomorrow, just change it to past tense.

We’re not planning to leave here anytime soon, so hop on a jet and meet us down here! Just send an e-mail to confirm, and we’ll leave the light on for you. (Think I’m kidding? Try me!). The next potential meeting place with jet service is Marsh Harbor, Abacos.

OK, it’s Wednesday now, the winds have decreased as forecast, and folks are preparing to leave tomorrow and it will probably be a mass exodus. Should be fun watching the action in the morning and listening to the radio reports of conditions “outside”. We swam on the outside today with Wild Child and Second Wave and we all got tumbled in the waves pretty hard. I think everyone is jumping the gun leaving tomorrow. It’s bound to settle down much more next week. We’re lucky not to be on any time table.

I met Bob and Sharon on We Beastie this morning. They are from Taos, and have an earthship in Lama. They took sailing lessons in Tampa and then bought a boat. A woman from Taos was in the same course a week before Bob and Sharon. Maybe the famous “Taos Hum” which only a few special individuals in Taos can hear is really the sound of the wind in the rigging. We Beastie is leaving tomorrow and will follow the same route as us, so we hope to meet again.

Wild Child is also leaving tomorrow, and Rachel is sad to say goodbye already to her friend Caroline. It’s amazing how close they became in only a week. I think the cruising kids come to realize how precious friends are due to the tenuous nature of the cruising lifestyle as it relates to meeting friends “on the road”. Wild Child is a Catalina 42 skippered by David, a fireman/paramedic from Toronto on leave from his job. He needs to be home by May and can’t find anyone to help him get it home, so the family will probably have to stay on board all the way to Canada. They would rather get off in Hilton Head and drive home, while David and crew take the boat up the Atlantic to Canada. So if there is anyone reading this who may be interested in making the trip with David, send me a note. He’s a great guy with lots of experience sailing so it would be a good trip to share with him. No experience required.

When we leave George Town, our plan is to head for Cat Island, Eleuthra, and then the Abacos. That will take two months. Then we’ll head up the east coast of the US, possibly arriving in Hilton Head from the Bahamas, and continuing where we left off last fall. That is the current rough plan anyway, subject to change, of course.

I’ll be making the mile trip to town tomorrow in the dinghy and hope to post this at that time. The computer gets wrapped in a garbage bag, placed in my pack, which is placed in another garbage bag and then stored in the cooler which is the dinghy seat. So far so good with keeping it dry. The winds are down and the harbor is much smoother tonight so it might even be a pleasant dinghy ride for a change. Bed time, goodnight all!

This morning, the winds were down to 12kts and about 70 boats departed. It was quite a sight! We Beastie had to return due to engine overheating problems. The dinghy ride the mile across Elizabeth Harbor was very smooth, and I have a good internet connection on shore, so here goes the latest blog. I also managed to make Skype calls to sister Laura and Mom and Dad, and will try one to Jean and see how her cataract surgery went.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bitter Guana Cay Iguanas

Bitter Guana Cay Anchorage


Stardust Log:
3-15: Filled water tanks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club (90 gal, $46). Posted blog containing Rachel’s Corner and her poems. Sent and received e-mail. Sailed to Black Point and anchored in our old spot again. Beautiful sunset with light wind for a change, and ate dinner in the cockpit.

3-16: Left Black Point under motor into the south 15kt wind straight on the nose. West winds are coming and very few anchorages are protected in a west wind so we headed for Little Farmer Cay and made the tricky entry through coral reefs into the shelter of the cay. Much current, tried to anchor in the narrow channel but dragged the Delta over the hard scoured bottom. Hooked up to a mooring for $10 a night. Went ashore to pay for the mooring, and had a hamburger for lunch! Tried some snorkeling but too much current, swam around the boat and inspected the mooring which was buried and not visible. Squalls from the west overnight caused us to drag the mooring and we ended up bumping the bottom next to shore. So instead of dragging our own anchor, we paid someone else for the pleasure of dragging their mooring. (I never did dive back down to see what the mooring was made of.)

3-17: Tide came in and we stopped bumping so stayed put till morning. Another squall coming, so we changed to another mooring. After the squall passed, skies looked good enough to head for Georgetown in the NW wind. Exuma Sound was flat as a pancake for a change, due to the west winds, so we had a wonderful sail into Georgetown. We covered the 42 miles at an average speed of 6.1kt and top speed under sail of 8.4kts! As we sailed the front arrived bringing north winds blowing 20kts. The seas were still moderately smooth so it was very comfortable. I caught a 2 foot barracuda and threw it overboard. Another fish (probably barracuda) stole a silver spoon. So no fish for dinner. We knew that Jim and Pat were nearby on Shamrock, and it was St. Patrick’s Day so we looked for them and found them at Monument Beach in Elizabeth Harbor and anchored next to them. At midnight fireworks woke us up. Kathy got up to watch the show, I stayed in bed and Rachel never woke up. It was very nice of the folks in town to welcome us to Georgetown with a fireworks display!

3-18: Banana pancakes for breakfast. The 3 of us took the 1 mile dinghy ride across the harbor to meet Jim and Pat for a stroll around town and lunch. Most stores were closed on Sunday afternoon so we headed back to the mothership against the wind and waves with ponchos on. We invited Jim and Pat over for candles in pastries for Jim’s birthday. Rachel played “Happy Birthday” on her clarinet and wrote him a poem. Then I took Whitefoot ashore and we hiked to the top of Monument Hill for a look around. It was a stunning view of the various hidy-holes with boats anchored everywhere. There are “only” 200 boats left, since the regatta is over. There seems to be a contingent of boats numbering 100-200 which leave the states in December, head straight for Georgetown, and then return following the regatta. At night the anchor lights on top of the masts are very pretty, competing with the stars.

3-19: Winds increasing to 30kts from the east. It will blow like this for the next 5 days. We dragged our 45lb Delta with 80 feet of chain and 20 feet of nylon in 12 feet of water and had to re-anchor using the 35lb Bruce and the Delta. No one else is using 2 anchors here and it’s considered bad seamanship to anchor differently from everyone else, but so be it. I sleep better at night on 2 anchors.

3-20: Moved Stardust to Kidds Beach so we are close to town for shopping, internet, mail, etc. Blowing 15kts and expected to increase. Rachel took the helm for the move, from anchor up to anchor down again and did a great job.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Black Point and back to Staniel Cay

We’re back in Staniel Cay, after spending the last week in Bitter Guana Cay and Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay. We came back to check the mail, and it is here! Thanks Mom and Dad!

The wind has been relentless. It blows at least 15 knots and usually around 20 knots except at night when it picks up to 25 just to make sure we bob a little extra while trying to sleep. Actually we’ve had some good anchorages, so the nights have been comfortable in spite of the wind. Due to the number of boats here in Staniel Cay, we had to anchor a little further out from the island than last time, just to stay clear of the other boats. But wouldn’t you know it, just before sunset a fellow sailor pulled in and anchored RIGHT NEXT TO US! There is an entire bay behind us with no boats and this guy has to anchor on top of us like there is no more room anywhere. Just more proof that some of us are descendants of the bovines where the herding instinct runs deep.

OK, I’m in a bit of a bad mood, due to the wind and the fact that during our sail from Black Point today, the boat heeled hard over in a gust and our chartbook of the central Bahamas (that’s where we are now) blew overboard from the cockpit. We found a decent replacement today, but there goes $50. I told Kathy that tomorrow when we leave, we’ll just throw a $20 bill overboard rather than the cost and hassle of losing gear. I said this because a few days ago we rolled heavily in a big swell and my polespear went overboard. Also bought a replacement spear today for $70. So at least we can find what we need around here, but it isn’t cheap.

The polespear earned it’s keep with numerous dinners. Lately the target of choice is the Lane Snapper. I found a spot off Bitter Guana Cay which is a steep slope from the point of the island to a deep trench coming from the ocean. There are 4 sizeable coral heads on the slope with numerous fish including Nassau Grouper and Lane Snapper. On two occasions I was able to shoot a few snapper before the reef sharks discovered what was going on and moved in for leftovers. That’s when I moved back into the dinghy. It seems that the grouper know they are the most desirable fish and are the first to seek shelter in the reef when trouble appears. Kathy and Rachel like to snorkel before I start shooting fish so they don’t have to deal with the sharks. But I really have to hand it to my girls, getting in the water and swimming around and enjoying the underwater scene before I’m permitted to hunt for dinner. Rachel and I saw a Ridley’s turtle on one outing. Turtles are her specialty; I didn’t know what kind of turtle it was.

There are no lobster to be seen. Not one. They were abundant in the protected park, but outside the park, at least in shallow water, there aren’t any. As previously mentioned, the majority of reefs are bleached white with few fish and no lobster. The bleaching comes from two sources. The fishermen use bleach to quickly kill the fish and harvest them off the surface. One gallon of bleach can poison 500,000 gallons of seawater. Also, warming sea temperatures cause the coral to bleach. According to Rachel’s school report research, “bleaching occurs when coral polyps, stressed by heat or radiation, expel the symbiotic algae—the zooxanthellae—that live in the reefs and provide the coral most of their food and oxygen. The reefs turn a whitish color, and the coral have little energy to grow or reproduce. Usually the coral can recover unless the bleaching is severe enough, in which case, whole reefs can be destroyed.
Bleaching can be caused by a variety of factors, including diseases and ultraviolet radiation, but scientists are increasingly noting that sudden rises in water temperature are playing a major role. Between 1980 and the present there have been over 60 cases of coral bleaching around the world, and they are becoming increasingly common, especially during El Nino events, which increased sea temperatures in the eastern Pacific by several degrees and caused major bleaching events. Bleaching may become even more widespread if global warming continues to increase the sea temperature.”
At Black Point we enjoyed walks around town and carried fresh water from the town well back to the boat in our 5 gallon jug. 4 trips equaled 20 gallons. A rather labor intensive way to fill the tanks. We can buy water here at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for 40 cents a gallon. We got 170 gallons during our last stay here, so it can get rather pricey, but instead of paying 5 thousand dollars for a watermaker, we can buy a lot of water.
Kathy and Rachel volunteered in Black Point yesterday afternoon, helping the kids learn math and reading in the church sponsored after school program. There were about 6 boater volunteers paired up one on one with the local kids. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids of the boaters. I know Kathy and Rachel had a good time.
I’ll post this tomorrow morning before we leave Staniel Cay and head south again. In the meantime, here’s Rachel:
*Rachel’s Corner*
Here are some poems I wrote, inspired by all of the poetry in my classes. The second poem was inspired by a sail when the sun was shining so brightly, so gleefully, on the water. This first poem is dedicated to all who strive toward something in their life:

Why do we strive for the things unseen?
Why do we strive for our relentless dreams-
For the imaginary figures that dance about in the sweetest dreams,
For the wisp of magic within our wishes.

Why do we strive for the never ending want?
We strive for the unseen,
The unheard,
The impossible.

Oh the never ending Why-
Why do we walk the endless steps?
And leap the long, sorrowful leaps of time and space,
We let the needs,
The dreams
Fill our sails of billowing thought
Fill our cups with the nicest wine
Fill our mouths with words that come untwined-
In an endless jabber of things so,
So unimaginable.

Oh, the endless strive
The endless step,
The endless want and dream, and need, and wish, and thought-
For, what have we to lean on?
What have we to watch, to see, to hear?

No, not one thing of steel hard proof,
Yet we strive, and we leap, and we go on
Looking and walking towards our unseeable dreams-
Towards our unthinkable future-
Towards our wishes that we whispered so.

Why, Why do we strive the endless strive of our winding roads filled with blackness,
And brightness,
And taunt;
These things that we see,
These dreams that we know are there, yet we do not.

Why do we strive towards nothing that we can see, or hear, or smell, or touch?
Perhaps it is not the dreams of which are unseeable,
But it is out strives, and leaps
The dreams, perhaps, are real-
Right there before our very shapes
It is, just perhaps, our strives toward it that are the invisible.

This second poem is dedicated to all sailors:
Gold, Silver, and Bronze
Boldly behold the riches of the sea
Stare forever not,
Yet hold the picture
Of these sparkling jewels
To your mind.

Tend to the sails, ye sailor of the seas
Stare forever not,
Yet stop to block the bright picture from your mind
It is all of the longing of all the sailors
Scarred from the seas,
And longing the riches.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze
Boldly behold the foux riches of the sea
You ask,
Are they foux?

Tend to the sails, ye sailor of the seas
Could ye get rich in all of one night?
For the sun shines,
The seas are calm,
Now is the time to go and collect your years worth of livings
There are bronze pounds, silver dollars, and gold deblunes out there-
Yet, here, here holds your mistake of the many a sailor

Gold, Silver and Bronze,
Boldly behold the suns sparking rays on the dark blue waves
For, realize this
The shiny liquid that splashes upon the never ending blue-
It is all the joke of the sea,
For it is just the suns rays upon the waves splashing so gaily. Rachel Lee

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Conch Blower of Staniel Cay

Stormy Staniel

Today is cloudy and windy (15-20kts) with the prospect for showers and squalls which could result in gusts to 30kts. Stardust is sailing back and forth on the 2 anchors, but not too bad. Seas here in the harbor are choppy but not rolly so we’re comfortable. Kathy and Rachel are in school, and Rachel just finished some work on a report on coral reefs. Now it’s my turn on the computer. When this is wrapped up I’ll dinghy ashore to post this at the bar, and walk down the street to buy some bread which is supposed to be ready by 1pm.

The mail boat came in this morning at 5:45. It anchored at the harbor entrance, waiting for high tide to come on in which happened at 8:30. All of a sudden small boats were zooming everywhere. When the mail boat comes to town, it’s the biggest event of the week. Fresh produce, special ordered parts for boats, and of course, the mail, attract locals and visitors alike. We saw small supply boats from neighboring islands show up to join in the action. An armada of dinghies flew past us from around the corner at Big Majors anchorage where 40 boats are anchored. It’s amazing how far some people travel in their dinghies. If the little outboard died in these conditions they’d be blown out to sea in an instant. I wouldn’t do it without the handheld vhf radio and epirb, and even then I’d be nervous. We stick close to shore in our dinghy, but maybe that changes too as time goes by.

But our mail wasn’t on the boat. The local mailwoman who Kathy finally met today said that with the time frame involved, it was probably just into Nassau where it would be processed, and sent out on the boat next week. Kathy bought some nice produce however, while Rachel and I were in the bar doing internet research for her coral reef project. Don’t worry, I don’t do any adult beverage research in the mornings (not yet anyway, although there was plenty going on in there). And how many kids can lay claim to doing schoolwork in a bar? It’s actually very comfortable with big windows all around letting in the air from the sea through screens. A big screen TV with the weather channel or sports is always on. Huge shutters all around can be closed during heavy weather.

The post office is in the postmistress’s house. She let Kathy in, looked in the bag for our mail, and then took Kathy’s outgoing mail and set it by the sink. She’ll put stamps on it later, and give it to the boat when it comes back through on Friday, on its way back to Nassau. In the grocery store, the proprietors asked Kathy to operate their new calculator for them. The prices for each item were written in the margin of the newspaper by one of the owners as Kathy picked them from the shelves. This is how things are done here, and we like it, but it does take some getting used to. Kathy said 3 visitors also shopping at the same time were quite condescending but the owners didn’t act like they minded.

We walked a mile to the east shore yesterday to look at the wild Exuma Sound. Waves were crashing ashore, and we ran around and burned off some energy. Whitefoot especially. It’s a little on the cool side, and cloudy, so we haven’t been in the water for 2 days.

We’ll move to Bitter Guana Cay tomorrow, and explore more reefs. Rachel’s research says that 70 percent of the oceans reefs will be dead by 2050, so we better get out there while we can. Then on to Black Point, a settlement of 300 people. We’ll call back here to find out if the mail comes in next week.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Birthday Girl at Staniel Cay

Photo #1: Rachel next to a whale skeleton at Warderick Wells
Photo #2: Jim and Kathy at Allans Cay
Photo #3 Visiting more iguanas on South Allans Cay

Today is Kathy's birthday. We're in the Staniel Cay Yacht Club having lunch; conch, grouper, and Kalik beers. The weather channel is on the tv and we have a good internet connection. But we just tried to call my Dad on the Skype phone and the call failed. Kathy will use her Batelco card to make some calls outside the restaurant. We found a wonderful basket store down the street, and bought Kathy the handbag of her choice, just beautiful, and woven by the store owner Shirley whose birthday is tomorrow. She gave Kathy an additional basket as a gift.
We have spent 3 days here snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto, where they filmed the James Bond flick of the same name. The cave is awesome, the fish numerous, and we're having a really good time. I've hunted fish in the surrounding reefs but the reefs are in poor shape, white, bleached, and lacking fish. I did see my first "real" shark while in the water, probably a 6 foot reef shark which paid no attention to me. I say real, because we've seen a few nurse sharks but they are gentle and no threat. So the only fish we've had lately were caught by someone else. There is no fishing allowed in the grotto. And the fish know it too.
We'll be here a few more days, waiting for mail and exploring the area. There are more reefs about 6 miles away I want to see. They are off the beaten track, so maybe some dinner will be there waiting for me.
The weather is unsettled with 20kt winds out of the NE for the next 3 days so we'll stay put for the time being. Exuma Sound looks intimidating right now with huge breakers pounding the rocks.
I'll write a full report for posting later. Otherwise we have to keep buying Kaliks to keep our table, and that is expensive not to mention falling out of the dinghy on the way home to Stardust later today.