Ragged Islands, no reliable Internet

Wednesday April 17, 2013

We are having a great time at the moment traveling through the Ragged Islands and Jumentos. We’re currently sitting in Hog Cay, just next to Duncan Town on Ragged Island, of which we had a lovely tour of today. The only issue is that all four of us (Rode Trip included) we’re counting on the Internet service there, the only place in these island chains that offer it. After checking in on it today we found that a thunderstorm took it out a few weeks ago and they don’t know when it will be fixed. So here I sit with a bunch of posts from our Long Island adventures ready to go up, but no way to post them. Maybe they’ll have to wait until we get to Jamaica? We’re looking for the best weather window to get a little East and South to make the Windward Passage there, hopefully arriving in about a week. Wish us luck!

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Picturesque Double Breasted Cay, Ragged Islands

Sunday April 14, 2013

4.15.13

On our last day here in Double Breasted Cay, it was just a nice relaxing day.  The guys were out to do a little more fishing, but instead of diving they thought they’d try dropping rods and hand reels over the side of the dinghy in deeper water to see what they could catch (spoiler alert: nothing).  Stephanie and I decided to use the time away from them to check out the island via kayaks.  She picked me up from Serendipity, her in her own kayak trailing one for me behind her.  We went from one side of the island to the other, venturing out one side to the Exuma Sound and then to the shallow and almost dry banks between the cay we were at and the one that wrapped around it.  The water looked too enticing not to take a dip in it the whole time we were there, so we beached the kayaks and stayed close to shore where we could keep an eye out for sharks and avoid them if they came near.  The water was a perfect temperature, and for awhile we just floated around until we saw the guys coming our way after they had gone back to spear fishing.  Looks like it’s fish for dinner again…

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Night Time is Always the Best Time

Saturday April 13, 2013

4.14.13

I have to say that besides the sharks, I think Double Breasted Cay is absolutely perfect.  It’s beautiful, it’s calm, and for the most part, secluded.  Our first night here we were joined by a single-hander, a very nice Frenchman who caught too many lobsters and brought us one of his extras.  Don’t hate me, but I’ve been eating so much lobster lately that I stuck it in the fridge to save for another day.  Then our next night here, our previous anchor buddy from Flamingo Cay came in and dropped hook here as well.  It never felt overcrowded though, I think all the radio chatter was just between Rode Trip and ourselves, and even though we could see that there were other boats in the anchorage with us, we never crossed paths unless we intentionally wanted to.  Which led to one very fun bonfire by ourselves on the beach one night, and drinking a traditional French liqueur with some new friends on Ba’nan the next night.

After scouting out the beach with Stephanie we made plans to come back the next night and burn more garbage, even though I don’t know how we had enough piled up already for another fire.  I just grabbed the whole bag and threw it in the dinghy without really thinking twice of what was in it.  Once on shore the four of us separated into two groups collecting wood and dragging it back to the fire pit.  This ‘deserted’ island still must have been frequented enough that they used almost all the available wood around so we had to walk through the bushes to grab any sticks and roots we could.  Making trip after trip, we were finally satisfied and quickly got the blaze going while we opened cold beers.  The garbage bags went on top, and it was as soon as the plastic melted away that I remembered the two fog horns I had removed from the previous trash we burned were tossed into this one.  Brian was in there right away with a stick to edge them out of the flames and we were safe.  That was until we were commenting on a friend that had a battery shoot out of a fire and onto her leg, causing a massive infection for a few months.  Matt turns to me and asks, “Did you take the batteries out of the trash before we left?”  “There’s batteries in there?” I replied, and all looking at each other, we quickly ran about 30 feet back to seek shelter.

For a good 20 minutes we had to hang back until we heard three distinct pops meaning that all the batteries had exploded and it was safe to go back.  Back at the fire we somehow got on the topic of school, popularity, and bullies where we found out that while Matt and Stephanie ran in the popular crowds, Brian and I had our fair share of being picked on.  Laughing and swapping stories, I was almost in tears from laughing so hard while I admitted to everyone that back in junior high I happened to be a little more shy and awkward than I am today.  Back then, my only two friends were scheduled for different lunch periods than me and I was stuck sitting by myself at an eight person table everyday.  Oh yes, it gets worse.  If any other kids in my lunch period were caught acting up, the teachers punishment would be to send them at a table to sit by themselves and think about what they did.  Except, my lunch period always seemed to be pretty crowded and there were usually no open tables to spare which left them with only one other option, putting them with me.  So although the teachers probably didn’t think of it in this light, all the students thought of their punishment as, you guessed it, sitting with me.  Doesn’t do a lot for a thirteen year old’s self esteem.  At least I can laugh about it now, and admit that even if I had the chance I wouldn’t go back and change anything since it made me into the person I am today.  Always rooting for the underdog.  Plus, after telling that story to Matt, he said that all I have to do if I ever want sympathy from him is bring up that story again.  I think I could use that to my advantage…

The next night was, surprise surprise, a fish dinner again with Brian and Stephanie.  We shared the guys’s catch for the day while eating on Rode Trip so Brian could show off his cooking skills.  We had cracked conch once more and fried fish.  I was almost getting to the point that I was sick of having fish for dinner every night but this meal completely changed my mind.  After dinner the guys got a little rambunctious when Brian showed Matt how he could scale the mast without any kind of ropes or seat.  He spent a few minutes swinging around the spreaders before coming back down to give Matt his chance.  Stephanie and I just kind of looked at each other as if to say “Boys….”.   Maybe we just knew that we couldn’t climb up like them and were saving ourselves for the spinnaker jumps that they were supposed to set up for us to try sometime.

When all the dishes were cleared we got ready to make our way over to Ba’nan for sundowners.  We had honestly spent the whole day discussing if or what we should bring with us since there’s always that awkward moment where someone invites you to their boat for drinks and you don’t know if you’re supposed to show up with your own or if you think they want to supply it for you.  I asked Matt over and over again how it was worded, “Why don’t you come to my boat tonight around sunset to have a beer”.  To me this meant, “You’re my guest, I invited you to my boat, I am playing host, I would like to give you a beer”.  To Matt it meant, “I invited you to my boat, but I never specifically said I would give you one of my beers.  Make sure to bring your own drinks”.  In the end we decided that we’d go over with an open drink started and if they wanted to offer us more we would accept it.  After running out of fuel on the 1/4 mile ride over from Rode Trip to Ba’nan, an always classy move when you’re going to meet new people, we tied off to their stern and climbed aboard with our drinks.  They took one look and us and with surprise and disappointment said “Oh, …. you brought your own drinks”.  I shot Matt a quick ‘I told you so’ glance.

After we quickly finished what was in our glasses in order to make room what they wanted to offer us though, the rest of the night went great.  We were introduced to a French liqueur called Pastis, normally diluted with water, and as soon as I brought it to my lips I knew exactly what it reminded me of; Absinthe.  Again, black licorice is not my favorite, but how many times do you get to sit on a French built boat with French people drinking a French liqueur?  When in almost France….   In the midst of all the ‘Frenchness’ going on though, they had a nice little snack spread on the table that I’m not sure, but I think they were trying to make very American.  It was saltines, Pringles, Planter’s Peanuts, and Vienna sausages (America’s Favorite!).  The language barrier didn’t stop us from having great conversations about cruising, and I was even able to pick up a few words here and there, asking for more eau with my Pastis.  We found out that the owner and his wife spent six months of the year cruising and the other six months back at their home in Nice.  There were two friends visiting them, both architects from Paris.  We talked through multiple glasses of Pastis and until all the Pringles and Peanuts were gone.  They made France sound like a very enticing place and now I’m determined to get over there sometime, on Serendipity or by plane.  We stayed until close to midnight and until I was getting too giggly to keep the conversation going much longer.  We tossed off the lines to the dinghy and I yelled out ‘Au revoir’, hopeful that we’d get the chance to meet again.

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I am a Nice Shark, Not a Mindless eating Machine

Friday April 12, 2013

4.12.13

Even though Buena Vista Cay had been previously described to us as ‘not to miss’, we decided the empty coral heads and lack of challenging walking trails were not enough to keep us there and we hauled anchor once more. Slowly making our way down to Ragged Island and the only settlement of Duncan Town, we thought we’d stop at one more cay on our way since we were in no real rush. Our biggest goal in mind now was not which island held the prettiest beach or a good pit for bonfires, but one that would shelter us from the terrible swells that would constantly rock our boats back and forth all day and all night. One of the days we had been on the radio hailing each other while traveling, we were overheard by another cruising boat a little further south that mentioned they were at Double Breasted Cay along with a few other boats and the swells were not bad there. This boat was now headed toward Hog Cay which is right next to Ragged Island, and we were invited to a beach get together should we decide to continue on the extra 15 miles south. Since we chose to visit the Jumentos and Raggeds mostly for their seclusion, a harbor full of other boats did not sound tempting so we planned to anchor that night at Racoon Cay which is the island just north of Double Breasted. It had a large cove that hooked around and we were sure the swells could not wrap around it and reach us. (I know this sounds like a geography lesson, but these islands are literally within 3-4 miles of each other and I feel the odd need to list them all)

Stephanie had listened to the weather on their SSB that morning, and according to weather guru Chris Parker, winds were supposed to be 17-20 knots out of the east. Coasting under the protection of Buena Vista Cay still (see, there I go again) we did see those light winds, but once out of the shelter, they settled into the 20-25 knots that we had been experiencing all week. This was fine as we were used to it and I still liked the speed that would carry us to our next destination as soon as possible. I should quickly mention here that one of the reasons we also decided on Racoon Cay was that the harbor was easily accessible from the banks, and since we hadn’t broken our ‘no engine’ streak yet, we didn’t want to mess with all the necessary tacking to get into the impossibly hidden harbor for Double Breasted. Or at least, that’s how it looks on a map when you know it will require at least 18 turns and sail trims to get into it. On our way to our intended anchorage for the night the winds not only picked up to the 25-30 range, but began shifting so that we were pointing further and further into it. Not only did this make it harder to sail, but it also looked as if our spot we had picked out at Racoon was not looking as protected as we thought it would. With a quick talk on the radio on the radio to Rode Trip we decided that even though it would be tricky to get to, Double Breasted probably would be the best place for us.

Matt and I had already been having issues at this point while sailing where our self tailing winch that was no longer self tailing had gotten the line wrapped in it to the point we had to tighten the line to another source, take apart the winch, free the line, and put it all back together. I was getting to the point that I was happy with our no engine streak, we proved that we could get through multiple days of sailing under sail power alone, but I was ready for it to end if necessary. Stubborn Matt on the other hand was ready to make those 18 tacks if necessary since, as he claimed, ‘What does it matter if it takes an extra hour?, We don’t have any place we need to be.’. Mmmm hmmm. So while we were on tack #4 avoiding a 3 ft sandbar just to our boat north and I accidentally let the line for the traveler slip out of my hand where it flew through the cleat and up on the deck causing the boom to now be permanently stuck on the port side until the line could be retrieved and fed through again (something I tried to do, but was quickly yelled at to get back in the cockpit even though I was on the high side), we decided to stop fighting fate or nature or whatever was causing our bad luck, and turn the engine on after 100 miles and three anchorages without it. The streak was now over.

I was even happier not to be messing with sails once the wind began gusting into the mid 30’s. Even though the mood was a little tense I couldn’t help but look at Matt and say, “I thought that 17-20 knot winds would be a lot less gusty than this. That Chris Parkers’ full of shit man.”. (Do you get the movie quote?) Luckily I was able to wrangle a big smile out of him too. The bay ended up being empty of other boats which was a nice relief to us, and we anchored Serendipity in ten feet of some of the most beautiful water we’ve ever seen. Even though it had been a slightly stressful twelve mile trip, it was still early in the afternoon and we were not ready to spend the rest of the day sitting on the settee and watching tv. Matt and Brian were excited to have new coral heads to check out for fish and Stephanie and I were eager to check out a new beach. The boys set off in one dinghy while us girls took the other, me with an ice cold Sands in my hand since, hey, it had been a stressful morning. Greeting us right on the shore of the beach where we landed the dinghy was a fire pit, but a much better set up than the one we had just used at Buena Vista. This one came complete with wooden benches and logs to sit on, along with a table made of milk crates and decorated with plastic owls. A little out of the norm, but entertaining nonetheless. We hiked a trail while barefooted which was not a good idea, so soon we quarantined ourselves to the sandy beach.

Along the shore were dozens and dozens of conch shells. Nothing new, there were literally hundreds littering the beaches of the last few cays we’d been to, but something about these ones made Stephanie very excited. These ones were not left overs from fishers after a clean with holes in the top of the shell where they had cut the conch away from it. These shells were untouched, as if the conchs were using them as hermit crabs do, willingly leaving a perfectly good one behind to move into a bigger or better one. Soon she was stacking them up in her arms, excitedly claiming that she could make horns from them or save them as gifts for family (sorry if I’ve ruined an early surprise for anyone). It got to the point where they were toppling out of her arms and I thought I might need to have an intervention for her. I’m not sure how it would go, but I think it would start something like “Stephanie, I really care about you…but I think you have a problem”. Scooping up just a couple myself, I mean, I do want a horn too, we piled 10 of them back in the dingy to head back to the ‘Dip, where we intercepted the guys on the way back from their fishing adventure. While we had been safely strolling beaches, albeit Stephanie’s new addiction, the guys regalded us with a tale of how they had a shark encounter while fishing and Brian flew out of the water and onto some rocks while Matt heaved himself back into the dinghy. It hadn’t stopped their fishing adventure though, they just moved to a new spot, and were still able to bring back a good number of fish for cleaning.

Since Brian decided he had too many fish and the lionfish which was on his spear would probably not make it’s way to the dinner table, he flung it back into the water to let it be eaten by other fish once it’s poison’s had worn off. It hadn’t even been able to float away for five seconds when we saw a dark shadow rush past and snatch it up. It had been moving so fast that although we hadn’t been able to get a good look we assumed it could be nothing other than a shark. Sure enough, as if it knew where it’s last meal just came from, it sped back towards Serendipity and began circling the side we were all standing on. Now we could make out that it definitely was a shark, probably just over two meters long. This being our first encounter, we were all excited to watch it zip around at lightning speeds and dart from one side of the boat to the other. Soon it had a buddy join in and we thought we’d turn it into some kind of dinner theater. With all the fresh fish on the boat that need to be cleaned, we brought out the cutting board and fillet knife, ready to throw the scraps overboard and watch the sharks go at them.

Each time some guts or a head flew into the water the two sharks would race toward the surface and snatch it up before it even had a second to submerge. After the first two fish, we had the bright idea of tying the remaining body of one of our catches to a string and dangling it just off the side of the boat so we could get them to come in even closer and get a really good view of them. Even though the waters in this cove are crystal clear, there is constantly a 10-15 knot breeze blowing through causing ripples on the surface and obscuring anything below. With the string tied around the backbone of the fish and Stephanie and I stationed on each side with our cameras, Matt slowly brought the fish down to the surface of the water. I don’t know why we thought it would be any different than when we threw the scraps 10 feet out from the boat and the sharks still managed to be there within a half second, because this fish had barely touched the water before one of the sharks whizzed by, cutting the string with it’s razor sharp teeth and speeding off with the fish. We all sat there dumbfounded for a second with our mouths agape and thinking ‘Did that just really happen?’. Then we all broke out into a nervous laughter and made jokes about how we were definitely not going to dangle our toes in the water now.

The close up of the shark was enough for us to get a much better look at it and determine that we thought it was a black tipped shark. There actually are a few kinds of sharks in the Caribbean that don’t pay much attention to humans and shouldn’t cause worry, such as nurse sharks and lemon sharks, but black tips are not one of them. They are known to be aggressive and unpredictable. Now that water that had been looking so tantalizing earlier, calling my name to go for some refreshing dips, was now not looking so friendly. The most beautiful bay we’d come across yet in the Bahamas, and now I couldn’t even go for a swim in it. It was somewhat of a happy trade off though, to get to experiencing a couple of sharks up close and personal. They had no intent to leave us alone anytime soon, and so we kept doing whatever we could do to bring them close to the boat, throwing over scraps of lunch meat, leftover lobster and contemplating Gorgie (aka: shark bait). I don’t know what their thoughts were on us, but one of the sharks actually did begin to show aggression a few times when it would swim cautiously toward our dinghy that was tied to the stern, and then smack it’s tail against the hypalon side before rushing away. It was then that we decided to call it a night. Brian and Stephanie carefully got back in their dinghy and she was even allowed to choose one of her conch shells to take back to Rode Trip with her. The rest were tossed over board, possibly in the direction that the sharks were still sitting. You know, … just to see what they would do.

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sharks eating our fish scraps from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.

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Bahamian Bonfires

Thursday April 11, 2013

4.13.13

There are many islands to the Jumentos and Raggeds. Some of them are literally just large rocks that are still given the name cay, not places to be explored, and not places you’d even want to drop your anchor near. Of this island chain there are maybe 10 good ones to anchor at, and our schedule seems to be 1-2 nights at each island we decide to stop at. Water Cay and Flamingo Cay were there first two and really only islands to anchor at in the Jumentos. After that, you pass by many more un-achorable ones until you reach the Raggeds, about 30 miles south. Going based on information from other cruisers of what’s good to see and do at each island, we’d heard that Buena Vista Cay had great hiking trails and a place for fires on the beach, so it was a quick and easy choice as our next stop.

Because of the distance to cover we left somewhat early, hoping to give ourselves enough time to get in before sunset in case winds died, although lately that has been completely a non issue. Winds had not changed since our last travel and we were keeping a constant 6.5 knots through the water as winds were 20-25, although a few gusts were kicking up close to 30. We haven’t had a full main sail out in I don’t even know how long, and had started out the morning with a double reef. Although we originally started with a full head sail out, once we began crossing in front of Man of War Channel the winds and current picked up even more and we took it in a little just to be safe. The only disturbing part of it for me though was the water pushing it’s way through the very wide channel was also keeping me from pointing up as high as I wanted to and I for the life of me could not keep us on course to our next waypoint. I thought Matt was supposed to be the one with OCD, but not getting from point A to point B in a direct line can drive me absolutely insane. Probably because I know that any kind of tacking means more time in a cockpit heeled over at 15 degrees with enough rocking that it keeps me from going below and even fixing a sandwich. What happened to our nice relaxing sails on Lake Michigan?

By the time we sailed into anchor, our third stop without breaking the streak, it was late afternoon and Matt and I only had enough energy to get the sail cover on and tuck away all the lines before promptly passing out on the settees below. An hour later I was woken from my slumber by Stephanie who was coming by in her kayak to let us know her and Brian were going to shore to do a quick exploration of the beach and wanted to know if we’d like to join. I think I got a few syllabals out of my mouth that referenced sleep before stumbling down the stairs to get back to it. Later in the night we got a report over the VHF from Rode Trip, informing us that there was a nice area with a fire pit and some hiking trails that we should all check out the next day. When we woke up we realized that our food supply was seriously getting depleated and after having discussed with Rode Trip that we’d have lunch somewhere along our hike, I cooked up some Ramen noodles, threw them in a Lock & Lock container and called it good.

With the four of us in the dinghy we rode over crystal clear waters up to the beach at Buena Vista Cay. When we were still a few hundred feet out, Stephanie guaged that the water was getting too shallow and should walk us the rest of the way in, but before Brian and I could stop her to tell her it was deeper than she thought, she jumped out into chest high water, which although we felt bad, also gave us a really good laugh. When the dinghy actually did get to shallow water and up on dry land, they showed us the beginning of the trail they had found the previous night. The cruisers who had been here before decided to make good use of all the trash lying around (ie: the million pairs of plastic sandals that seem to wash up on the beaches) and placed them along dozens of trees as trail markers. There were also bamboo walking sticks left at the beginning of the trail. This made us think that we were in for quite a hike, much more exhausting than our hike around Flamingo Cay, but this new trail wasn’t even five minutes from one end to the other. There was a nice bay on the other side that we explored for a bit before we realized there wasn’t much more to do and the guys would be having a much better time in the water spearing for dinner.

Stephanie and I stayed on our respective boats relaxing and getting some chores in while the guys were out for three hours, exploring coral head after coral head and coming up empty. When they finally got back to the boat, after us girls seriously thought they may have been taken by sharks since they had been gone so long, they showed up with one fish and three more lobsters that sacrificed themselves for us. How nice of them. Dinner was cooked on Serendipity with plans of going to shore for a bonfire afterward. This was one of our ‘must do’ things that we had been talking about ever since traveling down the ICW last year. ‘You know what we need to do once we get to the Bahamas? Have a bonfire on the beach!‘ It was a special enough occasion that I finally cracked open the bottle of Kraken that our friends Jackie and Ron had given us so that I could couple it with some ginger beer from Rode Trip and make dark & stormies.

With garbage bags in hand (since this is apparently the way to get rid of your plastics in the Bahamas if you can’t find a trash), we took the dinghy in once more, and while half way out, asked Stephanie if she wanted to walk us the rest of the way in.  The garbage went up in flames within seconds and was completely gone just minutes later.  I hadn’t expected it to burn up so quickly and none of us were ready to leave just yet since this was a pleasure trip and not a chore.  Brian threw on some palm frawns which sent a green flame up into the air and an extensive heat wave our way.  We just sat around and enjoyed the night.  There was a cool breeze blowing up from the water in between the waves of heat, and plenty of sparkling stars above our head.  When the dark & stormies ran out we moved on to Lime-a-Ritas.  It was everything I imagine it would be, back on those cold and blustery nights back in the ICW when things like balmy nights on star covered beaches were just distant wishes.

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Welcome to the Good Life

Thursday April 11, 2013

4.11.13

Because Stephanie and I are a little of the ‘slightly odd and off the wall’ variety, we like to plan silly little things that the guys normally roll their eyes at, but we find incredibly funny. So while enjoying our cracked conch and sipping gin and tonics the night before, we had the bright idea that Flamingo Cay needed it’s own Cruiser’s Net. Back in Thompson Bay we’d tune in every morning at 8:30 to hear the local activities, catch the weather, have an open mic session, and have the net ended with a joke from Mike at Long Island Breeze. ‘We could totally do that’, we thought, ‘We should do that!’. We prepared who would do what (Stephanie would have the weather of course, since she listens to Chris Parker every morning), I would host, and the guys were actually getting into it, giving us suggestions and laughing along.

So the next morning while pancakes were on the stove and the coffee had just been poured, I put out a call on channel 16 to let everyone in the area, just us we assumed, that the cruiser’s net would be starting momentarily on channel 18. Switching over I began by welcoming everyone and going over a list of the days activities which included a hike on the beach, afternoon snorkeling, and a group dinner on Serendipity, BYOF. Stephanie filled us in on the weather, 15-20 knot winds out of the east, day after day, after day. The trades were settling in and we didn’t expect much different. When the open mic session opened up is when we let ourselves get goofy, making up pretend people on pretend boats. I was Southern Betty on Breakin’ Wind, and just wanted to say that “I am so happy to be here, y’all”. Then I finished with a joke, one my uncle had forwarded on through e-mail and the only one I could remember at the moment*, before we closed down the net and let our breakfast digest before storming the beaches for a little hike.

Clouds had been rolling in and out all day and we waited for a clearing of sun before we all piled into t/t Serendipity and dragged her up on Two Palm Beach. Wandering just past some of the brush we found a salt pond which was no big surprise since they seem to be on every island we go to now, and eyed the large hill in front of us with a tower on the top. We wanted to make it up there, but after pushing our way through thick palms and a few spider webs we quickly figured out this was not the right place to do it. Our two options were to hop in the dinghy and drive it around to the other beach where there should be access up the hill, or to scale the sharp coral that wrapped itself between the two coves to get to the other side. We, of course, went with the latter. I have to say that after our little hike through sharp coral on Water Cay I was feeling much better about my stability issues since normally I am such an uncoordinated person that it’s easy for me to fall down on even ground. This coral was at a 30-40 degree slant however, and I quickly fell behind the rest of the group as I constantly gazed at my feet, trying to figure out the best hole to stick my foot in, or if my ankle would twist if it slipped off a piece of coral I did not land perfectly on.

This lagging gave everyone else a chance to stop and take in the views though, and what we saw off in the distance was very distressing. Headed towards our very own private island was another boat. The nerve! According to our explorer charts, only a dozen cruisers visit this chain of islands every year, and this other boat had to come bursting the bubble of our private little paradise. At least there were two coves to choose from, and my hopes were they would not choose ours. Continuing around the coral peninsula we made it safely to the sandy beach on the other side and found a perfectly laid trail to the top of the hill. It only took a few minutes before we were at the top and standing under what we assumed was a radio tower. Taking turns we one by one ascended the rings to the top to take in spectacular views of the whole island. We could see the high winds and waves crashing on the Exuma Sound side of the island, and the calm bays of the banks side we were anchored on. We also spotted from the top of the tower that the new addition to our group did end up anchoring in Two Palm Beach bay with Serendipity. Damn it. Watching a few dark clouds come in and realizing I desperately needed lunch since pancakes are in fact not very filling, we made our way back down and back through the coral once more.

We got to the dinghy just as the rain started coming down. Pulling it into the water we decided not to even try and beat the rain since we were now already soaked. We took a moment to introduce ourselves to our new neighbors, two French couples on an aluminum boat named Ba’nan, complete with yellow sailcovers and a banana on the back. The next few rainy hours were spent with all of us on our own boats, taking time to unwind and relax. I figured it would be the perfect time to work on a few Spanish lessons, so I qued up the Fluenz on Matt computer and we went to work while enjoying some hot coffee and Nutella spread on Nilla wafers (a frickin’ awesome snack). In the afternoon we tried fishing one more time, although once again, I came up empty handed. The guys did quite well though, Brian catching a glass eyed snapper and a good sized lionfish, while Matt was able to get his spear through one of those trigger fish that I had been hunting down the previous day. There’s also a lobster that ended up in the mix, but as far as I know it sacrificed himself for us to eat it since lobster season ended a few days ago and catching it ourselves would just be wrong.

The fish were cleaned on Rode Trip and then brought over to Serendipity to be cooked. The lobster was served as an appetizer and the rest of the fish were pan fried, which I’m finding out is my specialty. A little bit of olive oil, a little bit of citrus seasoning, and voila, a perfectly cooked fish fillet. I threw together a little seasoned couscous as a side and Stephanie also went all out on dessert making some homemade brownies to slay our chocolate cravings. By the time we got to the brownies though we barley had any room in our stomachs but shoveled them down anyway.  Now it has been two nights of freshly caught dinner, two nights of beautiful views and sunsets, and two nights of just lounging around with friends.  I didn’t know what to expect when we entered the Jumentos, but I think it’s safe to say we’re enjoying the good life.

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Jessica & Stephanie, Flamingo Cay

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fish catch, Flamingo Cay

(above photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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Dress Like a Girl, Play Like a Boy

Wednesday April 10, 2013

racing 7

 Who says you can’t race in a skirt?

(Photo courtesy of Jackie Skelton)

 

After our very short stay in Water Cay, the four of us continued slightly south to the next big island along the way, Flamingo Cay. I won’t lie, I originally wanted to come here because I thought they had a BTC tower that would give us an Internet signal on our iPhone, but it turns out it was just a radio tower. That was fine though because the beauty of this island completely made up for it. The ride over was fairly easy, although the winds were still continuing strong at 20-25 knots on the banks side, throwing us back over to our 15-20 degree heel and keeping us at a minimum of six knots. We passed over some electric blue water that reminded me of a giant swimming pool and made me want to jump in take a dip, five foot waves and all. It was some time around here I realized how largely perspective about anything can affect you. I had seen these same waves back in the North Atlantic, gray and looming, and they used to scare the hell out of me (ok, maybe they were still a little larger back there as well). But this Kool-aid blue water looked fun and inviting, and should a wave have swept me over I think I would have spent a few minutes frollicking in the water before any real panic set in. ‘Wow, a really big wave pool, too cool!

It was only a 10 mile journey and the winds were on our side so we made it in just over two hours and still had a good portion of the afternoon for some fun activities. Since the island had two separate bays next to each other, each of us took one for a little seclusion so at times we could each pretend we had the whole place to ourselves. This would be our first time in the Bahamas without at After anchors were dropped though we quickly joined back up so Matt could drag me to do something that I had been wiggling my way out of since we got to the Bahamas. He wanted me to share in his fish spearing joys, and it’s not that I didn’t want to, but while he was gone it was the only alone time I’d been getting on the boat so I passed it up each time he asked. Every time he’d beg I’d reply “When we get to the Jumentos”, and now he was holding me to my word. Although I’m the kind of girl that will look for the first opportunity to wiggle into a dress, do something with my hair, and get a little make-up on my face, I also always want to be out doing what the boys do. It’s just always so much more fun and interesting than what I’m normally stuck behind doing like cooking or working on sewing projects. Want to leap of a 30 ft bluff into a blue hole? Sure. Jump into some known shark infested waters to do a little fishing? Why not? I never wanted to get back from this trip just to say I tended to the boat, walked a few beaches, and enjoyed way to many sunsets from the cockpit.  Although this life is adventurous enough in itself, it can always use a little more sometimes.   So with the four of us piled into t/t Rode Trip, we checked out the shores of Flamingo Cay until the guys found a place suitable for dropping anchor and scouting out. Since Brian had both a Hawaiian sling and a pole spear (what we have), he lent me his pole spear so that all three of us could be sent out to catch dinner. With all of my gear on I flipped back off the dinghy and into a coral maze below me.

I had been given a quick lesson on the pole spear and set off to catch something. Anything really. I don’t think they were expecting too much from me with it being my first time out and I was just told not to shoot something I wasn’t willing to eat. I think they meant not to kill something too small just so I could practice, but hell, I’d eat a minnow if it ended up on the pointy end of my spear. Surrounding me were patches of sand with coral heads sticking out in stark contrast, each one teaming with multiple species of fish. There were so many that I didn’t even know which one to choose. So I went for the slowest moving one. I found a fish that was beautiful in colors, purplish with neon blue lines streaming back from it’s large dopey eyes.* I prepared myself by stretching the elastic band of the spear as far up the pole as I could get it, took a deep breath, and dove under the surface. I thought I had myself lined up pretty well and the fish hadn’t swam off in shock yet so I took a shot. I swore the pole went in a straight line to the fish, yet it appeared to bounce right off. I know my strength isn’t the same as the guys, but come on, it was a perfect shot! The fish still looked dopily at me, now just five feet further away. I loaded my gun once more, took another shot, and once more it bounced off. WTF?! Now determined, I followed this fish around the area, taking constant shots at it but now so worked up that both the fish and I knew that the attempts were no closer than they had been the first time. Time to find something new.

Joining Matt and Brian once again at one of the larger coral heads I was ready to take a shot at anything I could, I didn’t care what it was. I was not getting back on that dinghy without a catch, damn it! Hovering at the surface I’d stretch the band back, take a deep breath, dive under, find some kind of fish, and shoot at it. Many were misses of course, but there was one time that my spear came up with a scale from a fish on the end. Getting closer! Thinking I’d have better luck in a new location we moved the dinghy down the shore to an old shipwreck where multiple fish were hiding below and I’d have a better chance of catching something. Time after time I’d dive under the water, let the spear go, and come up empty handed. A big part of the issue was that my wetsuit was too buoyant and I’d keep floating to the surface before I’d spot a good catch. When Matt gave me the tip to dive down and hold onto a bar hanging out from the ship to keep myself down, I tried that but then couldn’t hold my breath long enough for the fish to come back after I’d initially scared them away. It looked as if this was not to be my lucky spot either.

Making one last attempt at an area since I was getting a little tired and also a little cold, I let Matt be my guide, finding a suitable fish that he’d point out to me and then I’d prepare and then shoot at it. Five to ten attempts later my wrist was getting sore from holding the stretched elastic band and I had enough. I was getting ready to call it a night when I spotted something silver floating close to me. Not even looking to see what it was I stretched the elastic back and let the spear go. Another quick flash and the fish was on the end of my spear. I was still underwater and a little speechless, but I knew the fist thing I needed to do was make sure the fish was secure on the spear. Trying to jam the points into the sand below me I suddenly got nervous there may be a shark around, and with one quick poke into the ground I then quickly brought the spear up and out of the water. Except when I looked up, the fish was no longer on it. My first catch and I had just lost it. Matt saw all of this happening and was in quick persuit of the escape artist. Even with two (or three?) puncture wounds in it’s side this fish was too fast to catch and soon out of our sight. Knowing that a shark might also be in persuit of it we made our way back to the dinghy to change locations.

I was done for the day, now resting in the dinghy with Stephanie while the guys worked on catching dinner. In the end we wound up with about 7 conch (Two thanks to me. Yay, I contributed!), a hog fish from Brian, and a pretty good sized grouper from Matt. Since the fishing was a group effort we decided to clean and cook our catches, and also enjoy their tastiness as a group. After we had been dropped off to quickly shower and clean up we gathered back on Rode Trip where Matt and I learned how to clean and prepare a conch. The guys went to work busting the shells and cutting off the skin, where the meat was then passed to Stephanie and I as we took wooden dowels and beat the crap out of it to tenderize for cracked conch. After we had snuck a few bites of the fresh meat for ourselves we handed the remains over to Brain who fried it up in a nice tempura and served it with a delicious soy/ginger dipping sauce. Seriously heaven on earth. We also fried up the hogfish and a little bit of grouper while the remainder of the huge fish was sent home with us in Ziploc bags. It was stunning night with a perfect sunset and then a million stars coming out at night with nothing surrounding us to dim their shine. After making the way back to Serendipity in the pitch blackness, we sat up on deck and enjoyed the beauty around us, lucky to experience a place so few people ever visit.

 

*I found out later it was a trigger fish, and they have very tough skin that’s hard to penetrate. Probably why it wasn’t too scared of me and my spear, it knew I couldn’t do anything to it.

Matt, Flamingo, Grouper

Brian, hog fish, Flamingo Cay

(Above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

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Picturesque Water Cay, Jumentos

Tuesday April 9, 2013

4.9.13

Water Cay was a very quick stop for us, less than 24 hours.  There isn’t more to the island than a few bluffs and trails, but we took full advantage of exploring them in both the evening and again the next morning before taking off again.

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Who Needs an Engine Anyway?

Monday April 8, 2013

4.8.13

I’ll let you in on a little secret about our sailing adventure. I love our engine. It just makes things so..easy..sometimes. You can point whatever direction you feel like, you can maintain a constant speed, and you don’t have to pay attention (or be reminded by your spouse) that the sail is luffing and needs to be trimmed. When the engine is on I feel like I have a sense of control. As in, I actually know how to control the boat under engine whereas I’m still 40% useless under sail power alone. (Getting better every day though!). I’m not alone, Matt has had some of these feelings too. While going down the ICW we often joked that things would be so much less difficult if we had a motor vessel. I mean, the money you save on sails and lines and winches and a million different cleats totally makes up for the cost of fuel, right? Which is why we’re always amazed when Brian and Stephanie mostly refuse to turn their engine on. Granted it had to be done for most of the ICW, but if there was a big enough bay of water, their sails were up and the engine promptly shut off. The only time it ever came back on was when the water narrowed back into a tiny winding space and when dropping anchor.

Which is why when the crew of Serendipity was settled into our anchorage in Thompson Bay after our trip over from George Town a few weeks ago, we were intently watching Rode Trip as she came in to anchor about an hour after us. “Wow, they still have their sails up”, I commented, “Looks like they’re going to ride the wind in here as far as possible before turning on the engine”. But they got closer and closer and yet the sails weren’t coming down. “No!”, I exclaimed, “They’re not going to anchor under sail!, are they?”. Not that this is an impossible feat, in fact, in an empty bay it’s probably actually pretty easy, and a handy trick to fall back on should your engine fail you. But this wasn’t an empty bay, and they had to head right into the wind! We watched in curiosity as they tacked back and forth, dodging other boats in their way and then slowing to a stop just as they were about to drop, and then pulling the boom all the way out to allow the wind to catch once more and allow them to back down on their anchor. And all I could keep thinking to myself was ‘Why go through all that trouble?‘.

Then this morning came, the day for us to finally leave Long Island and move ourselves to the desolate, never visited (according to our Explorer Charts) island chain of the Jumentos and Raggeds. Just as our buddy boat routine of yester-year (read, 2012), we set alarms to be up and haul anchor at sunrise. Just as they had come in, Brian and Steph worked without engine power to get the anchor up and get themselves moving. We just looked at each other and then said, “Hell, why not. Let’s give it a shot”. So we raised the mail sail, and as Matt pointed to the left and right I turned the wheel that direction while he used the windlass to get our anchor up. Expecting a lot of hassle, some minor complications, or at least a small argument that normally comes when we try something we’re not familiar with and can’t get our communications through very well, it was actually a piece of cake. Before I knew it Matt was giving me the signal that the anchor was up, and I turned us 180 degrees to face us out of the bay. The wind was now at our backs and I released the main to allow us to gain some speed, and we gracefully slid back out into the Exuma Sound.

The plan for the day was to get through the Comer Channel, an area with a luxurious 6 ft depth at low tide that would allow us to pass through the 2-3 ft water just outside of it. When it dropped us out we’d cut a little south east and hopefully drift into Water Cay in the Jumentos before the sun went down. The overall journey was about 45 nm and we had a healthy 20-25 knots of wind to carry us there. All of the waypoints had been entered in our chartplotter that morning so we wouldn’t accidentally find ourselves outside of the channel and run aground, so all that had to be done was to set the autopilot and watch for our next turn. We listened to the cruiser’s net one more time on the way out, received a wonderful send-off from Ren while he was doing the weather, and called in with our heartfelt goodbyes as we made our way out of radio range.

When we reached the shallows of the Commer Channel the waters turned spectacular postcard colors of blue and teal. With only a few feet of water covering an unblemished sandy bottom it looked as if we had left real life and entered some kind of computer generated perfect world. Wanting to fully enjoy the views, I made my way up to the front of the deck and sat next to the dinghy which we had strapped down in case of rough waters. My feet dangled over the side and as I kept an eye out for starfish I noticed the water color getting even lighter. We had been in a comfortable 9 feet for the most part (we were passing through at high tide), so I called back to Matt to make sure everything was ok. It turns out he was so engrossed in his book that he missed our waypoint about a half mile back and we were now edging into the low 6’s. Still a little bit of cushion, sure, but up ahead I could see almost white water. Like, there’s not actually water there, just sand. Although we had now turned and were in allignment with the next waypoint I still wasn’t comfortable with the 5’6” we were in and turned the wheel for us to actually backtrack a little, where we knew there was at least enough water to carry us there the first time. All this did though was bring us into a patch of coral heads, and while Matt stood at the bow pointing them out to me I maneuvered around them. Within a few minutes we were back to our 9 ft of water and could breathe easy again, although this time I stayed in the cockpit with my eyes glued to the chart.

Once out of the channel the water dropped off to 15-20 feet and turned an emerald color, full of grass growing on the bottom. We also turned from a relaxing downwind sail to a beam reach, and the extra gust of wind on the side of the boat now sent us shooting off at 7 knots. Getting more and more used to the 15-20 degree heel the Bahamian winds like to keep us at I settled into the high side on the cockpit and enjoyed the speed, thinking that if we kept it up we might get to Water Cay early enough to still do a little exploring. My wishes were granted and after floating past a few rocky mounds that were still called cays, we came up to Water Cay around 3 pm. Figuring we were on a roll, we wanted to try our hand at dropping the anchor under sail as well. Starting off from a speed of 0 is one thing, but getting yourself there is another completely. We had never done this before and had no idea when to douse the sails so that we either weren’t too far out, or worse, too far in. (We don’t have to wait for the sails to stop us, we can just let the ground do it!) Not having to do any tacking, we let ourselves slowly coast in. One thing I have under my belt better than Matt is reading water colors and depths, so when he kept saying, “Let’s drop now, we need to drop now”, I kept replying with, “No, we can get in so much further!”. Finally we settled half way between where each of us wanted to be, in 13 ft of water. The process of getting the anchor down was just as easy as getting it up, and after the wind let us float back a little, we also brought the boom out to catch a little wind and help us back down further.  It was our first day ever with no engine, and it was a big accomplishment for us.  Now that we’ve started we’re going to see how far this streak can last.

Rode Trip was a few miles behind us, and just after we had gotten the dinghy down from the deck they came coasting in and under sail alone and dropped anchor a few hundred feet from the beach in ten feet of water. I knew we could have gotten in closer! While they dropped their kayaks in to do a little exploring, we thought we’d drop in a hook since we heard the fishing in this area was supposed to be a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I was below finishing a few dishes so I missed the commotion, but I soon heard Matt yelling at for me to come up. “There’s a shark! A shark just ripped the hook off the line”, he exclaimed! What?! A shark? I had just about been ready to get in the water to cool off but now that plan was off my list. “Look under the side here”, Matt continued, “You can see him swim by”. I kept peering over the side but didn’t see anything. Then there was a small flash of some gray that looked to be about 2-3 feet long. “There it is!”, I heard. That little thing? Doesn’t look as sharky as I thought it would. By this time Brian and Stephanie had come over to see what the commotion was about and after seeing our ‘shark’ circle under the boat once more Brian explained, “Oh, that’s just a remora. Those are fine”. Turns out our first exciting shark sighting was just a bottom feeder. Not that I was ready to get in the water with it, but we did have fun tossing food scraps in the water and watching it swim up to take a few nibbles.

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Wish You Were Here

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You never saw us on New Years Eve, did you?  That’s cause I never got around to doing that post.  Sometime, I promise.  While sitting in my little hurricane hole this summer.

Well, we are packing up our dinghy and hitting the road.  If we’re still out of internet range now, I apologize.  Hang in for just a few more days?

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