Thursday, May 7, 2015

Staniel Cay

After leaving Norman's Cay, we chose to go to Staniel Cay to re-provision so that we had fresh produce when going to Warderick Wells.  Since we wouldn't have an option to fish there, we were desperate to get some fresh meat and vegetables.  We anchored out off of Big Major's Cay.  Of all of the anchorages, this was the easiest approach as it was literally a matter of pulling up to the island.  This stop was a nice retreat and it was our first dose of civilization in 10 days.  Staniel Cay is one of the bigger communities in the Exumas, and it was great to be able to go to stores and see other lifeforms besides Frank and Ashley.  Upon arrival, we went straight to see the pigs.  We had heard about these infamous swimming pigs that farmers let loose on the beach.  It's a nice deal for the farmers because the pigs get fed by cruisers, and in turn, they don't have to pay for feed.  They were a rambunctious bunch and were unafraid to approach.  At one point, one of the pigs tried to climb aboard our dinghy and we had to back away so that its hooves wouldn't puncture our inflatable.  


We ended up staying here for close to a week, just relaxing and getting our stores back up.  We even visited the Staniel Cay yacht club and enjoyed the site of 20 or so nurse sharks getting fed right outside the club.  The guy feeding them would bang this stick on the dock, signifying to the sharks that food was on its way.  It was so cool seeing them gather and swarm the dock.  Frank and Ashley jumped in with them, but I couldn't because I didn't have my swimsuit on…:(  though it did allow me to take photos of this fanciful sight.  The club itself was a nice excursion because it provided us the opportunity to socialize and feel less like characters out of The Lord of the Flies. We bumped into our friends from St Augustine that had left about 2 years ago to go cruising and were actually on their way back to Oasis Boatyard.  Imagine my surprise when I hear, "Hey Yu!" coming from across the bar.  They were anchored out beside us and had noticed Moitessier, but didn't believe that it was us until Paula saw me climbing into our dinghy.  Small world…


We spent the rest of our days going out snorkeling and spearfishing on this really awesome reef.  We were even able to get Uni, which is my absolute favorite food!  Uni is basically the gonads of sea urchin.  It is an extremely expensive Japanese delicacy, and at most sushi places, you won't get away with paying less than $8 for 3 bite-fuls of this delightful treat.  Frank was able to spear a couple of small snapper during each hunt, and dinner was fresh fish nearly every evening.  We even visited Thunderball Grotto, which was an awesome cave dive.  You have to go during slack low tide as entering the cave requires ducking under water and popping up inside.   The currents here tend to be strong and you must be a strong swimmer if you're not entering during slack tide.  This was a really cool dive and I wish we got to spend more time alone as when we were there a huge group of tourists came and disrupted the peace in the cave.  Definitely a must see, with tons of fish that are not shy about getting fed.  Be careful of the red fire coral though as those were plentiful in the bottom of the cave.  The reef around Thunderball Grotto is also extremely gorgeous as well, and worth checking out. 

Ashley learning to dive
Thunderball Grotto...
Reef right outside Thunderball Grotto 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Norman's Cay

After our little debacle in West Bay, we decided to move Moitessier to right outside Old Fort Bay so that we would have an easier time leaving before sunrise from New Providence to make it to Allens Cay with enough daylight to spare.  Luckily for us, at that point, the winds had died down, so being unprotected was no longer a problem.  Waking up around 5am, we headed over to Allens Cay, it was pretty uneventful except when we entered the cut, we noticed that there was not a single place we could anchor.  The anchorage was narrow with shallow water on either side, and there were boats EVERYWHERE.  Turning around to get out was a little challenging as the current running through there was also pretty strong.   Since there were really not many other options to anchor our deep draft boat, we ended up anchoring outside on the west side of Highborne Cay, with a strong west wind.  This was incredibly nerve wracking as it was unsheltered, and the bow of the boat kept bashing into the water.  Since we didn't want to risk dragging into the lee shore, we decided an anchor watch was necessary through the night given our circumstances, we had no other choice but to stay wary and alert, in case we did drag.

After a restless night, we pulled anchor early in the morning to make our way further south to Norman's Cay which was the next place on our route.  We ended up getting stuck here for about 10 days, as a huge front came through, pummeling us with bad weather for a week straight.  It's a pretty remote little place with no stores or anything, except one bar/restaurant with overpriced fare, and so on our last couple of days, we were forced to be creative with our cans, as we had not prepared to be stuck for so long.  Those days were spent dreaming about all the foods that we missed….burgers, broccoli, foie gras, steak tartare, chocolate, arugula, mushrooms, ice cream.

Bad weather...
Ashley learning to play guitar

One of the highlights of Norman's Cay that you absolutely must see, is the sunken plane.   This was one of the drug running planes that had crashed during the height of cocaine smuggling in the 80's when the whole of Normans was under the control of the nefarious drug lord Carlos Lehder.  There is actually a reference to the island in the movie, Blow.    From above the water, you can see the hull of the plane, and it doesn't look like anything special, but the moment you enter the water, it becomes quite a magical site.  The plane is covered in a colorful array of coral, and there are fish in every nook and cranny.  I can't deny though that snorkeling in some parts of the plane creeped me out a little.  There was something very eerie about it, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a little scared whenever I passed by the cockpit.  It felt a little haunted and at times, almost like something was watching me.  Irrational I know, but that still didn't keep my heart rate down.

 

Another highlight during our weather imprisonment was that we ended up hanging out with a group of young professionals from NY who had chartered a boat for a week and were passing through.  We had a little beach party on one of the tiny little islands, and since they weren't cruisers, they had plethora of goodies that we were dreaming about….fresh salsa, champagne, brie, and even pumpernickel!  What a treat it was to not only talk to some younger people but we got to indulge ourselves a little over a bonfire.  You'd think that we were some sort of primitive animal, being stuck on a boat with just the three of us for a week straight with nothing to do but sing songs, have dance parties, philosophize over the meaning of life, and elaborately plan meals out of the stores we had left.

Lil island we had the bonfire on

On one of our mornings there, I was awakened by hearing Frank go to Ashley, "We're about to get hit…"  Scrambling to get my clothes on, I thought for sure we were dragging into someone. When I got on deck, I noticed Frank at the bow of the boat fending off this big powerboat called "Daddy's Money" whose stern was bashing into our bowsprit.   Apparently this guy had somehow dragged into us or perhaps the current had swept him into us, but when we finally fended him off, all the captain's wife could manage to say was "Whoopsies!"  No apologies, nothing…just whoopsies….and then motored off.  Not even hailing us on the radio to apologize.  Some people really have nerve.   What I couldn't understand was, even through it all, why didn't the captain just drive the boat forward so that his stern wasn't repeatedly bashing into us?   Ashley and I had even thought of going to their boat in our dinghy afterward, and saying something like, "Hey, we forgive you for crashing into us this morning.   There wasn't too much damage done to our boat, but do you think you could give us all the fresh produce you have in your fridge as consolation.  We'll call it even then…"  But of course, we didn't have the audacity to do that, and left well enough alone, instead we just vented about it to each other throughout the day, getting more indignant with each re-telling of the "Whoopsies!"  Fortunately, they left the anchorage shortly after the incident, as our anger over the situation was starting to get the best of us.  I guess there is something to be said about acceptance, that sometimes in life, you are going to encounter people who lack wit as well as a fully developed brain.  You simply can't change the world, and making peace with that fact is all a part of growing up.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stumbling Through the Bahamas, One Mistake at a Time

We spent a couple peaceful days anchored out in Old Fort Bay swimming around and checking out some of the coral.  On the third day after Ashley's arrival, we had to move Moitessier to West Bay, due to a wind direction change.  Since the wind was coming from the north at about 25 kts, Old Fort Bay was no longer an option for a sheltered anchorage.  Since we were planning on going to the Exumas the next day, we figured we would just head over to West Bay, get up early in the morning, and head south around Nassau and make our way southeast to Allen Cay.  Getting into the anchorage proved to be quite simple, with visual piloting around some coral heads, but leaving proved to be quite a debacle.  

In West Bay, there are 2 ways to get in and out of the anchorage.  One is from the north, which we entered from, and another is in the south.  We stupidly decided to leave early in morning without the sun high in the sky to help us read the water.  Since we hadn't entered through this cut, we had no reference really as to where the shallow water began and ended.  We were relying on our chart-plotter which didn't have too much information on depths, as well as on our paper charts which also weren't too helpful, but with a time crunch to get into Allen Cay with daylight behind us, we foolishly left early in the morning against our gut instinct.  What a mistake that was.  With me at the helm, I watched the depths quickly drop from a safe 10 ft to 6.5 ft within seconds.  By the time I had realized what was happening and put the "brakes" on Moitessier, it was already much too late.  We ran aground onto a large, camouflaged coral bed.  

I must say, that may have been the longest 5 minutes of my life.  With every bashing on the coral Moitessier was taking, I felt my heart breaking.  The waves were thrashing Moitessier up and down, and the boat was rocking back and forth.  Any longer and water would've started to enter the bulwarks.  At this point, I was still at the helm when Frank told me to back off the coral. Frank was shouting don't back up into a coral head.  He hadn't thought to help look behind me and in his frantic state, he was concerned that I would hit the rudder or prop straight into a coral.  With Frank panicking and shouting, I ended up making him take over helming as I became the eyes behind the boat.  We were all freaking out and I figured that it would be easier if I just told him which way to steer.  After what seemed an eternity, Frank finally reversed us off of the coral bed.  We finally started to gain depth and watched the depth-sounder slowly rise again as my heart rate slowly dropped.  


By far the most frightening experience thus far.  Of course the trip to Allens was delayed another day as we went back to our anchorage to assess the damage done to our poor baby.  Surprisingly, actually very surprisingly, Moitessier had only suffered a few cosmetic scratches and where we scraped the bottom against the coral, the paint simply had chipped away.  A testament to the resilience of older built boats.  We were so proud of her and apologized for our wrecklessness.  Chalk it up to another lesson learned through us not listening to our instincts.  Though it was a bit traumatic, I'm glad we learned the lesson that we can't ignore our gut and that in the Bahamas, it is extremely important to have sun behind you for visual piloting.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nassau

After spending over a week in the Berry Islands, we moved on to Nassau where we picked up my good friend, Ashley, who is to be joining us as crew indefinitely (until she runs out of cash).  We anchored out in Old Fort Bay, by Lyford Cay Marina, and dinghied to the marina to pick her up.  Looking at the prices to stay at the marina with tight security, as well as the megayachts there, we thought for sure that we wouldn't be able to get away with docking our dinghy there.  It turns out that the people at the ultra posh marina were actually quite affable. I went in and spoke with the dock master and was told that we could dock our dinghy there for $1/ft for a couple of hours.  Since we needed to reprovision, I figured that this was a great deal.  

When we finally went into marina preparing to our pay our whole $9, the lady at the office giggled and said that since our boat was so small that we didn't have to worry about paying our fees.  I guess we're chump change compared to the money they see coming in.  Haha.  When we told her that we were planning to walk to the market 2 miles away, she gave us a sideways glance and the number to a taxi in case we changed our minds, as it was a very long walk.  Halfway through our walk, we realized that we were lost, we stopped in a real estate office to ask if we could use their phone to call the taxi.  The young receptionist there was so sweet and helped us call the taxi.  When we heard that the cab ride was going to be $20, our frugal asses decided that perhaps we would walk after all.  With sympathy in her eyes, she said she'd give us a ride since the market was really really far away.  She said that she's spent the  past couple of years travelling Asia and understands what it's like to be on a low budget.  We were dumbfounded.  The people here are so nice and it's so refreshing to see that there are still places where people will just help you out for nothing in return.  Again, another example of the altruistic nature of human beings reinforcing my belief that there is still hope for mankind.  Teaching me that lesson over and over again that I must be nice to people and continue this cycle of giving and paying it forward.  

Provisioning in the Fresh Market at Lyford proved to be absolutely exorbitant, and I can't figure how the Bahamians could afford to live there.  A head of cabbage cost $7! And an orange was $3!  Frank, Ashley, and I were just walking around the market, picking up random pieces of fruit and vegetable going, "Holy Shit!  $8 for a bulb of fennel?!"  We were completely flabbergasted.  We bought the cheapest of the produce, which included a couple heads of cabbage, some carrots, and celery.  Meat was quite expensive as well, so we opted out of that, rationalizing that we would be catching loads of fish.   

In the end, our provisioning trip ended up costing about 4 times what we would've paid for anything in the states.  Good news though was that on Ashley's first day aboard, she caught on the hand-line a 25 lb Mutton Snapper.  It was crazy when she caught it because a Barracuda was chasing it as quickly as she was trying to reel it in.  Nice!

Ashley is here!!
Mutton Snapper!!
Water Spout that luckily dissipated



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marketfish & Frozen Cays

Apologies for the barrage of new blog posts, but this is the first time I've been able to get steady internet for quite some time….we are currently in Georgetown, but I'll back-track a bit just catch us up...

Marketfish Cay
Shortly after leaving Fraziers Hog Cay, we spent a couple of days in Marketfish Cay, which was a beautiful little deserted cay in the Berrys with some stellar coral to dive on.  The cut getting into Marketfish is pretty straighforward as well and the holding there is very good.  We were able to spear some snapper which made for some amazing meals.  

Speared Snapper
Beautiful Fan Coral at Marketfish….
Remora we found living under Moitessier

After Marketfish, we moved on to Frozen Cay to visit the famous Flo's Conch Bar & Restaurant at Cabbage Cay.  This was an interesting little cay as the only residents of this "town" were the people who owned the "restaurant." This establishment was basically a house set upon a hill overlooking the island. Making reservations is important as they only cook for each person individually.  When we hailed them on the radio, we told them that there were 2 of us, and they asked us if we would like Fried Fish or Conch.  That's about all the choices we had on the menu.  We were the only ones in the place, and it was nice to be able to go out and talk to people other than each other.  The people working there were quite friendly and showed us photos of all the famous celebrities that have been to Flo's.  

Flo's Conch Bar & Restaurant
Highlights from Frozen Cay...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frazier's Hog Cay

Since we've left Bimini, we've been island hopping the Berry Islands.  Life on a boat has proven to be quite tranquil as well as really simple.  Oddly it seems there is not much to do, but days and hours are filled with the simplest tasks.  I wake up, tidy the boat, fix breakfast, then shortly after, take the dinghy in and explore.  We try and forage for food, whether it's spearfishing or just snorkelling around looking for conch.  Then we come back, fix lunch, read, write, clean our daily catch, lay in the hammock, think about what's for supper.  Funnily enough, not one moment has been boring.  Getting back to the basics and just enjoying the littlest things.  

Every island thus far has been remarkable, with each island looking almost the same, low lying with a few trees, but each have also held slight differences that make each of them special and fun to explore.  What they all have shared has been how remote they are.  The whole time in the Berrys, we only saw a handful of boats.  

Our first couple of days, we anchored in Frazier's Hog Cay, which I've considered the cay with all the conch.  Taking the dinghy and landing in a small stretch of beach, we started to snorkel and discovered that where we were, there was an abundance of conch.  It was pretty shallow where we found them, and our first day was filled with conch salad and fried conch (I will post a separate blog as to how to clean them).  The batter for the conch that Frank came up with was really simple, with the conch being tenderized with a hammer, lightly battered in flour and ginger powder.  Right before he drops it in peanut oil, he flavors it with pieces of fresh ginger, the deep fried pieces of ginger go really well with the conch.   

First homemade conch salad

We spent 2 days here enjoying being alone and just dinghying around.  One of stretches of beach was pretty cool as it was covered in blackened conch shells, which from afar looked like black rocks.  It reminded me of a graveyard for conch.  One of the days, just as Frank had gotten off the dinghy and swam ashore, I was about to start my daily hunt for food, when just as I stuck my head in, I spot a 5 ft shark.  It took a second for my brain to register it as I was only in 3 ft of water.    Never in my life have I swam so fast screaming to Frank, "SHARK! SHARK!"  As I was racing to the dinghy, all I could hear was the muffled sound of Frank yelling at me, "STOP SPLASHING! YOU'RE GOING TO ATTRACT HIM!"  I'm sure it was a funny sight to Frank as all he saw was just a flash of tan and black, with water splashing all around, and then me struggling to climb back into the dinghy, pulling myself up as quickly as I could, with my legs dangling in the air, trying not to touch the water for the fear of losing a limb.  When I got back in the boat, I had to dinghy as close to shore as possible without running aground, because at this point, there was no way Frank was getting in the water.  Since then, we have seen a shark 3 other times we've gone in.  I find that it's usually earlier in the evening, so I make it a point to not go in the water at that time.  I also look around like a madman now when I snorkel because being surprised by them is no fun either.