Our mission -- Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enter .. OOPS, sorry, I got carried away. Let me start again.

Our mission -- Warm Waters and Great Weather: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Motor Vessel Traveling Soul. Its five-year mission: to explore strange warm waters, to seek out new forms of recreation and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Brown, Applegate or Higgins has gone before.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Black Point and George Town (1)

One of the famous "swimming pigs" near Staniel Cay.
I know we have already left Staniel Cay, but there is one observation I need to make. When we first started our Bahamian adventures; there were some wild pigs on Staniel Cay and there had been for quite a while. Over time, people had learned that if they took some food to the beach that the pigs would actually swim out to them to get the food. I guess that was kind of fun and interesting. Since then, however, the Bahamian government has taken control of the pigs, and tourists in Nassau and George Town have started coming to Staniel to see the pigs. The pigs now have their own hut and their own water trough (which they really need and I would not begrudge them). Moreover, since there are not many costs of entry into the swimming pig market, there is at least one other island (in the Abacos) that has introduced its own swimming pigs. It just seems that when people try to improve the cool and kitschy they take all the coolness and kitschy-ness out of it, and make it kind of institutional. Oh well, enough bellyaching.

Black Point

After Staniel, we went south about ten miles to Black Point. When we moved the wind had subsided somewhat and we thought it would be a relatively calm few days before we headed even further south. Well, the weather gods didn’t agree with our assessment. Although Black Point is known as a fairly well-protected anchorage, it certainly was not for us! The first night we stayed was the worst with the wind changing directions slightly and giving us a washboard night. The second night wasn’t as bad, but “good” it was not!

So why, you may be asking, did we go to Black Point in the first place. Good question. Black Point is hardly a tourist Mecca, but it is a “must” for cruisers. It is kind of like the “Chicago of the Exumas,” the city small settlement of big medium-sized shoulders that provides the necessary industrial support to cruiser-dom. Ida’s Laundry, for example, is certainly the best known and most widely used in the Exumas and perhaps the out islands of the Bahamas. Mama’s bread (made and sold in her house, just behind Lorraine’s Café) is some the best around – and her coconut bread? Magnifico! In Black Point they also weave the straw into bands that eventually become the baskets and straw hats that are sold in the straw markets around the country. And, of course, there are some cafes and bars-and-grills in Black Point – but these aren’t the fancy schmancy restaurants that have French sauces and Italian herbs, -- they serve regular old fashioned blue-collared food like pizza, hamburgers and cracked conch.

As I thought about Black Point I realized that I had to do something – like write a poem. Some of you may recall that, in high school, you had to memorize – or at least read – the poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg. Now Sandburg won three Pulitzers and I have yet to win my first … though I am sure it is only an oversight by the Committee. Still, I have taken a few liberties and written what should be an award winning poem called, “Black Point” which I kind of patterned after Sandburg’s masterpiece. I am only going to show you the fist stanza of each because otherwise this blog would be too long. I have posted the stanzas below. I will let you decide who deserves the Pulitzer. (P.S. I promise chocolates with every vote for mine.)

Sandburg’s Chicago

Hog Butcher for the World,

   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;

   Stormy, husky, brawling,

   City of the Big Shoulders:

    Blah, Blah, Blah …

Brown’s Black Point

Straw Weaver for the Bahamas,

Launderer, Folder of Clothes,

Sailor of boats and the Island’s Bread Maker;

Windy, skinny, dusty,

City of the Medium-sized shoulders.

And there is more to this brilliant poem.

George Town

After Black Point we decided to go south to George Town. We knew that the first half of the trip would be a little bumpy as the winds were predicted to start fairly high on Thursday and to diminish over the course of the day – and they were generally coming from the southeast, smack-dab into our direction of travel. To try to miss some of the nastiness, we left a little later than normal and we traveled inside on the “Bank” for the first part of the trip. (The Exuma Bank is no more than 20-25 feet deep and is generally protected from waves, if not winds, by the chain of islands. The Exuma Sound, on the other hand, is on the other side of the islands and basically part of the Atlantic. It can get very, very deep out there and much, much wavier and choppier.) After staying inside for about an hour, we exited into the Sound via Farmers Cut out and found that the weather people were very correct – it was not particularly calm on the Sound side. Again, we have been through worse, but it was kind of rough. Over time the seas calmed down as the forecasters said they would and I eventually dropped a line off the transom – to no avail, I might add – but by the time we reached George Town the seas had pretty well reasonably smooth.

George Town is quite a place. For some cruisers it is Mecca; they come here at the beginning of winter and stay for the entire season. There is a regatta which lasts for about two weeks that includes dinghy racing, volleyball, sailboat races, softball and many, many other events. In the past there have been as many as 300 or more boats in the harbor, though this year I think the number is nearer 280. It is difficult to tell how many boats are here at any one time because, in addition to the stalwarts who spend the whole season, there are a lot of people like us who pop in for a few days then pop out again.

Anchoring at George Town
With 280 boats you can imagine that it might be difficult to find a good spot to anchor. True, Elizabeth Harbor is pretty big, but everyone wants to anchor in places with the same general characteristics: they want a place where the holding is good (generally meaning a sandy bottom), that is close to the various attractions in the area, that will have some kind of protection from the wind as it shifts from E-W-N-S, and that is deep enough (6-ish feet) without being too deep (15-ish feet). As a result, about 2/3 of the boats anchor near one of the beaches: Honeymoon, Monument, Chat and Chill or Sand Dollar. Once the captain and crew have decided the beach at which they want to anchor, though, the fun really begins. Since everyone is looking for the same kind of spot, the captain has to make sure he has enough swing room. Basically, he has to make sure the precise spot at which he drops his anchor allow the boat to swing 360 degrees at the end of whatever length of rode (chain/rope line) he has chosen to deploy and his neighbors have chosen without bumping in to anyone else. Because every boat swings differently and because every boat has differing amounts of rode out, it can get tricky.

Traveling Soul at anchor on Valentines Day in George Town, Bahamas. This
photo was taken by our friends Chris and Erin.
The way Ann and I handle this is to observe the anchorage as we are approaching. Then we try to identify a “hole” in the layout where we think we would fit. Because we are a big boat, we usually try to locate “our” hole near the perimeter of the anchored boats. Now here comes the tricky part. Let’s say we have identified the hole that we want to fill and the location where we want our boat to rest. Now, based both on the existing wind and current AND on the wind and current we expect over the next several days, we have to identify the exact spot where we want to drop the anchor so the boat will settle in to our chosen location. That, my friends, is much more difficult than it sounds. But we are still not finished.

Let’s say we have done all the above, dropped our hook, looked around after we have settled to make sure we are not violating anyone else’s space, and grabbed a cold one to celebrate another successful anchoring.  Now we have to defend our territory. Whenever someone comes anywhere near Traveling Soul with the intent to anchor, I continue what I am doing – reading, writing, eating, drinking, etc. – but I keep an eye on them. If they anchor a goodly distance away, all is good. If they start coming a little close for comfort, however, I will often go out front on the foredeck, sit down and just observe them. This is basically sending a signal, “Don’t you think you might be getting a bit close?” If they continuing anchoring, I will get my camera, take a picture and use my laser rangefinder to check the distance. If they get really close, that is the time for the “bitch-wing” stare. I stand on the boat, hands on hips, staring at the intruder. Very few boaters can withstand the bitch-wing stare. By the way, this isn’t a Brown invention. There have been one or two occasions where, after dropping the anchor, our boat has drifted too close to another boat – and we have been the subject of the same process.

In George Town we generally anchor at Sand Dollar Beach. It is far enough way from the hubbub of the Chat and Chill Bar, with fewer boats than the other anchorages and usually with more of the larger power boats (like us). From there we often take our dinghy ashore and walk some of the trails that lead to the other side of Stocking Island.

Enjoying George Town

One of the beaches on the Exuma Sound side of Stocking
Island. we walk here almost every day. You are right. There
are no footprints but ours.
Generally, I think it fair to say that George Town is not our favorite place. Everybody is trying to organize everything, especially during the regatta). This year, though, we have had a good time primarily because of our friends Russ and Lori aboard Twin Sisters. Russ and Lori are among the folks who spend a lot of time in George Town. As a result, they know just about everything there is to know about the place and everyone worth knowing. Lori, for example, showed Ann the location of the trails that lead from the beaches on one side of Stocking Island to beaches on the other. Russ and Lori have also guided us to some of the better local eating establishments (they are kind of semi-foodies like we are). They came over for dinner for Valentine’s Day and went to the Cruiser’s Variety Show with them. All in all they have been very good friends.

We also met Chris and Erin aboard Barefeet, a Selene trawler. Before buying their current boat they owned a 44’ sailing catamaran, also called Barefeet, on which they accomplished a circumnavigation. We had them over for drinks once and will try to have dinner with them another night before we go. We want to hear the stories!!

Hundreds upon hundreds of cans of sardines. Nirvana!!
One thing people do when they stop at George Town is re-provision. They have free water (very unusual in the Exumas) for those without a watermaker and a pretty good grocery store. Now, very few of you know the peculiar direction my lunchtime culinary preferences have taken recently, but several months ago Ann asked me if I liked sardines. I don’t think I have had them for three or four decades, but as I recall I used to like them. So we bought a can. OMG I fell in love. Okay, I would rather have lobster, conch, salmon, grouper, trout, snapper, shrimp, crab, or many other types of seafood, but for an inexpensive lunchtime seafood-in-a-can, it is pretty darn good. Moreover, you have several choices; there are sardines in mineral water, olive oil, soya, tomato sauce, marinara sauce, Louisiana Hot Sauce, and in sriracha. There are sardines with green peppers, jalapeno peppers and red peppers. And there are many, many others. When I find one that I haven’t tried, I automatically buy it just so I can taste it. We have found that Giant Supermarkets in the States has a pretty good selection, as does Safeway and surprisingly, Piggly Wiggly. Equally as surprising, Publix, Florida’s main supermarket, does not. As you can see, I have turned into kind of a sardine gourmand. I say all this so you can understand how astounded I was when I looked for sardines in George Town. Good Lord, it was a sardine lover’s dream. There were hundreds of cans on display of all different kinds. I was expecting to hear music in the background. And while one normally does not take photographs in the grocery store I couldn’t contain myself.

Ann’s Notes:  So…I will only add a few more things…

A lot has been happening on the home front while we have been away and the most recent one is about our sweet little feline Spot.

As you all know Dave and Joan are taking care of her while we are in the Bahamas, damn Bahamian government for denying her entry permit. It may have been a blessing in disguise.

For some reason Spot has a history of getting UTI’s. If you recall we had to make a beeline to Belhaven NC to get her to a vet for antibiotics. I now carry antibiotics with me on board, just in case.

Last Monday I got a facebook message from Joan saying that they are taking Spot to the Vet because she had a UTI. Before we left Spot, in that night mare of a trip in one day from FL to VA, in a snow storm, I found a Vet in Woodbridge, close to Dave and Joan’s house. They made an appointment a few days later just to meet the Vet and the Vet to examine Spot just in case his services were needed. I am glad that I can be over organized at times,

Spot assisting Dave in wrapping presents
So back to the Spot story, Dave and Joan took her in, the Vet was concerned, she had a pretty bad UTI and kept her over night. They gave her an IV, an injection of antibiotics, and sedated her to do some X-rays of her kidneys to make sure she did not have any kidney stones. While being x-rayed the vet did a chest x-ray.  Now at this point D and J are beside themselves, just leaving her over night was hard on them.

They picked her up the following day as soon as the office was open and then got more bad news. The chest X-ray shows a tumor near her heart. It must have been so very hard to make that phone call to us, they explained and repeated what the Vet said and let us decide what to do next.

Needless to say it was a shock…some tears on my part and lots of conversation between Michael and I.

Spot in is no immediate danger, she is acting like her sweet feline self, jumping up to high places, chirping at birds and squirrels, eating, drinking, using the litter box and demanding that her staff pay attention to her. She is in no pain or discomfort.

The plan is once we get back to MD, we will have a specialist read the X-rays, get a second opinion, get another set of X-rays to see if the tumor is growing, what kind of tumor it is and what the course of action should be to reduce the tumor or remove it is necessary.

D and J are more than friends, they are more like family. Joan sends at least one picture a day of Spot doing something, like helping Dave wrap a package for mailing. They are a blessing.

Thank you for following us…

Traveling Soul…OUT

Monday, February 11, 2019

White Cay, Nassau, Highbourne and Staniel Cay

White Cay.
After Great Harbour Cay our intention was to head directly to Nassau. However, when we looked at the weather forecasts it appeared as if there were going to be two, count ‘em, two days of good weather. We decided we would divide our trip to Nassau into two. In Phase I we would stop at one of the beautiful anchorages of the Berry Islands and spend the night. Phase II would be from the Berries to Nassau. Oh, by the way, on both phases of the trip we would have a chance to drag a line and see if possibly, maybe, we could, you know, catch a fish.
I am writing this part of the blog after the first phase. We are now sitting just west of White Cay, north of Devil’s Cay and to the east of Fowl Cay. It isn’t a perfect anchorage in that there is a bit of roll (we’ll see how bad it is tonight), but the holding appears adequate and the view is spectacular. There are three beaches within dinghy range so we downloaded our dinghy and visited them. On one, we actually went ashore. Imagine, exploring a deserted Bahamian Island. OK, maybe we weren’t the first people there, but you would hardly know it from the environs. There was hardly anything man made on the island, other than the remnants of an old aluminum chair that someone left behind years ago.  I wonder if the chair has a story. Nor were there any human footprints – a few birds had left tracks and maybe a lizard or two but nothing else. It was cool. We wanted to visit the other islands, but we didn’t arrive at the anchorage until 1400 and I wasn’t going to miss happy hour at 1700. Moreover, we kind of got stuck at the first beach.
One of the beaches at White Cay. You
 can also see some of the many variations on the color "blue."
It was really kind of embarrassing. Normally when you approach a sandy beach, you turn off the engine, lift your motor out of the water and coast into the beach. The lifting mechanism on the dinghy has been giving me problems lately, so we couldn’t get it all the way up. We still got in to the beach and did our exploring, but when we got back to the dink, the motor was dug into the sand.  I know, I know, the answer is easy. All we have to do is lift a 25 horsepower Yamaha motor (about 150 pounds) out of the sand in which it is stuck. Not so easy when you are waist deep in water. Anyway, after about 10 minutes of twisting and turning we got it out and went back to our boat.
Our embarrassment, however, was nothing compared to one of the sailboats that came in to the anchorage., Two buddy boats had come in, dropped their anchor and appeared to have had either had dinner or drinks with one another. About 1830, just as its visitors were leaving, one of the bots starting moving backwards. We knew right away what was happening – their anchor was dragging. One of the oddities about a dragging anchor is that captain and crew do not necessarily realize they are dragging unless they have set an alarm or they are watching your surroundings. Anyway, as soon as we realized what was happening we tried to call them on the radio. Most people, though, turn off their radio as soon as they are set in an anchorage – as did the crew of Starry Night. Luckily, they only dragged about 100 yards before they realized what was happening and got their engine started; they were only about 50 yards from the beach. You can imagine what would have happened if they would have dragged that night when all were asleep. It would not have been pretty!
We departed the next morning with fishing lines deployed. The depth water in the Northeast Providence Channel varies, but in places it is over 8000 feet deep – certainly deep enough for mahi-mahi and Wahoo. So … where the hell are they? We covered about 60 miles of ocean and you can’t tell me that zero mahi-mahi saw our lures. I mean, come on, I have been skunked before but never quite so badly! (Ok, maybe that’s not technically true. I have been skunked before just as badly … but never worse!!)
You know you are in Nassau when you see the Cruise Ships!
We pulled into Nassau Harbor Club Marina about 1500. We joined our friends Vic and Gigi aboard Salty Turtle as well as our friends Stephen and Jill aboard Jillaroo. We had Vic and Gigi over for drinks Thursday night and we regaled one another with boat and Bahama stories – some of them actually true! Salty Turtle is on its way back to the States to replace a generator (and lordy, lord, lord do we know how THAT feels). Vic and Gigi are kind of half-Bahamian anyway, so even though they may not make it back this year, we are sure to see them next year.
We have been at the Nassau Harbor Club before, but it has been several years. Amazingly, many of the dockhands and workers remember us and our boat. Dudley, the dockmaster, and Peter, the owner, are two of those who we remember well and both seem to remember us also. Two of the guys we remember, however, have recently passed away, Smitty, who used to clean our boat, and Clark, one of the dockhands. I am wondering if the marina has some bad juju. Yikes!
 I have several tasks to accomplish while we are here, some of them are big and some very little. If they are checked off, I have finished them.
ü  1. I have to get Ann to Starbucks – and fast. She may go into some kind of a frenzy otherwise. “Our Starbucks is right across the street from the marina. Needless to say, the afternoon that we arrived in Nassau, Ann had her first Starbucks since leaving the States.
ü  2. I have to find a heavy duty float switch to replace the one we currently have that sticks. Then, of course, I have to physically replace the current switch. Found it and it cost $72.50. It went in pretty easily, however. AND it seems to be working.
ü  3. I have to try and figure out why it is so difficult to adjust the angle of the dinghy motor. Ok, I have figured out how the motor raises and lowers. I have figured how it stays in place. But for the life of me I can’t figure out why it won’t stay in place when raised or lowered. All the pieces seem to be working individually, but when put together they don’t accomplish their mission. ‘Tis perplexing. 
ü  4. I have to flush our watermaker. Over time, the membrane in the watermaker accumulates salt. Flushing it with fresh water once in a while improves the quality of our RO water and extends the life of the membrane. I have flushed the watermaker several times. It seems to be working -- most of the time. Today, though, the alarm went off for seemingly no reason.
ü  5. Ann and I have to change the oil. We try to change it every 150 (or so) hours. That means once before we leave the Chesapeake and once while in the Bahamas.  Lord, changing oil in a big Detroit Diesel is a messy job. The engines take 5 gallons each, so for our two engines that is ten gallons in and in and ten gallons out. Plus, 0f course the oil filters.
We had a couple of windy days in Nassau, but by Saturday afternoon the wind subsided and on Sunday morning we were out of there and on our way to the Exumas. Highbourne Cay was our first stop.
The Exumas are an archipelago of 365 cays and islands, of which 20 are inhabited – with barely 7000 people. Moreover, 2500 of these folks live in George Town. As you can see, there are a number of deserted and uninhabited islands in the chain. For cruisers, the Exumas are THE place to go in the Bahamas. There are a few marinas (four, and one “kind of” being built. In the Bahamas, you can’t count on anything being built until it is finished.), but there are hundreds, maybe thousands of decent anchorages. 
The evening view from the restaurant at Highbourne Cay. 
The food is even better!
The real call of the Exumas, however, is not the islands, it is the surrounding seas. It is everything you have seen on a postcard and more. If I were a religious man I would be willing to swear that the day God invented the color blue he created the Exumas to show off His creation. From some anchorages, you can look into the distance and count a dozen different shades of blue. And looking down, you can see 20, 30 or more feet into the water. In fact, on an earlier trip, we could look into the water and literally see starfish crawling along the bottom. The Exumas are really something.
After heading south from Nassau, one of the first of the Exuma cays you run across is Highbourne Cay. Highbourne has a very nice beach that faces the Atlantic – which is basically the other side of the island from where we anchor – but that is not why we go there; it has a nice and surprisingly well-stocked general store, but that isn’t why we go there either. We go to Highbourne because it has what we consider to be the best restaurant in the Exumas. It has a magnificent view, but what sells the restaurant is the food. I had Shrimp Linguine and Ann had a  lobster Mac and Cheese with Beet Salad. Both meals were scrumptious. This year there was a second reason to go to Highbourne. It was Superbowl Sunday. We sat next to two young German couples, the males of which were both American football fanatics and knew more than we did about football.
Highbourne was only an overnight anchorage. The next day we were off to Hawksbill Cay, an island within the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We had been to Hawksbill before, but didn’t really get a chance to explore it. Last year there were some significant winds and we spent most of our time hunkered down avoiding the gale-like conditions. This year we got a chance to explore inland a ways, and noted the peculiar geology, but we did not make it to the ruins.
One of the famous, spoiled swimming pigs at Staniel Cay.
The ruins belonged to the Russell family, who were Loyalists during the American Revolution. After the War, many of these loyalists were being driven out of the new United States by revolutionaries who condemned all loyalty to Britain. Particularly in the south, Loyalist plantation owners were driven off their land, often tarred and feathered, even raped and murdered. Some got out with their families and possessions, and some were cast nearly naked to the winds of fate. Many headed for the Bahamas to make a new start in life. In 1785 the Russell family was given a grant to settle on Hawksbill Cay. They tried to make a go of plantation living until 1830, when they finally departed. There are rumors, however, that the last member of the family did not leave the island until 1900.
After Hawksbill, we needed to get some internet service so we headed to Staniel Cay. Staniel is outside of the Park and has a BTC tower, so we get extraordinarily good telephone and internet reception. Staniel is also the home of the renowned Staniel Cay Yacht Club. In the past I have described the Yacht Club as a kitschy, ex-patriot kind of facility where you kind of expect Sidney Greenstreet or Humphrey Bogart to be looming in the background. It still has some of that feel, but things are changing. A couple of years ago they built a new dining room and have since shrunk the old one. The new dining room looks … well … like a dining room, not like the Club with the old fashioned pictures and aging memorabilia of a few years ago. There is, however, one oddity. On a wall next to the TV the Club has hanging the flag that Secretary of War Stimson used at the Yalta Conference during WWII. I wonder what the story behind that flag is.
Well, here we are at Big Major Spot, the anchorage off Staniel Cay, waiting for some weather to pass so we can go to Black Point, just down the chain a little. Until next time …
Ann’s Notes
 Michael has pretty much covered our adventure so far. I have my own list of “To Do” while in Nassau.
First is Starbucks, Michael was correct in saying it was on my priority list every day that I could walk across the street. I even got my ice coffee the morning we departed. And an extra bonus was they refill my Venti cup I use when I am back home. YES…I take my starbucks cup with me to the Bahamas when there is a possibility of stopping in Nassau.
Second, there is a wonderful grocery store, Fresh Market owned by the Solomons food chain. It is like shopping in a normal USA store only most of the items are higher in price. For example a box of Triscuts is seven dollars.
Third the grocery store has a juice bar and they make the best pineapple mango smoothies ever, all fresh fruit, a little ice and no milk…beyond yummy, I had a few of those also.
Fourth there is a beauty salon in the shopping center, so it was girl time for me and I got a pedi. So nice be pampered
Lastly…I like Nassau, not for a long visit but three or four days is good and a bus ride downtown is always fun. Just to people watch, have some lunch and buy a few things.
It was good to see Vic and Gigi, they gave us their latest boat card which is actually a CD of their favorite music. We have been collecting one a year since 2012. They spend almost their whole winter months in the Exumas and have been doing that for many years. They both know most of the local Bahamian on the Exuma islands. He is even the official photographer for the school children on these small islands. One school has only eight children and since their RO water maker broke, the school has no fresh water. Vic takes the pictures, prints them and gives them to the kids and their family, all at his expense and the goodness of his heart. He truly loves the children, such a kind and generous soul.
While in Nassau I had time to do a daily walk, my new friend Jill came with me and we had a great time getting to know each other better.
All I can say about the restaurant Xuma is YUM, every meal we have had there has been delicious. The three things you can count on in that restaurant are:
1 The food is fresh and delicious
2 The view is breath taking
3 The check will always be higher than expected
We love to anchor at Highbourne, the holding is good and the cell tower is close. The down side is when you go to the restaurant in your dinghy for dinner it is still light outside, than after dinner you need to get back into the dinghy and it is DARK, like pitch black…ok..there are anchor lights on the boats but they are tiny, compared to the darkness of the sky, the water, and the reefs we need to pass through to get back to boat. Thank heaven Michael has a better sense of direction than I do. My job is to scan the horizon with our spot light and look for the edges of the reefs until we are in the open water of our anchorage. It is a white knuckle experience for me, however I trust my captain to get me home safely. In case you did not understand, I don’t like dinghy rides at night.
That is about all I have to add…Just I still miss our little feline Spot.
Also I want to thank Dave and Joan, Joan sends a daily picture of Spot to us..
Thank you for following us.
Traveling Soul…OUT