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Posted By Robin & Jim

We anchored just south of Staniel at Bitter Guana Cay - a small island inhabited only by iguanas and birds.  We went ashore to explore a cave and hike around, and we met a couple camping there - they are from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium studying the protected iguanas. 

chuck and sylvia

Dr. Charles Knapp is the iguana expert and his lovely wife Sylvia (a Ph.D. candidate working on a rainforest study) were so kind to us, sharing lots of information about their work, the negative impacts of tourists feeding the iguanas, the rarity of this particular species, etc.  They let us watch as they "processed" an iguana for study, showing us how they insert a tiny RFID chip, take a small blood sample, weigh and measure them, paint a number on their sides with White-Out, and release them. 

iguana exam

They even let us release one of the bigger ones!

iguana 50

Over the next few days we saw them and talked with them, and almost had to come to their rescue when a local tourist boat captain accosted them, threatened them, and tried to take some of their equipment.  They have all the proper permits for their work - Chuck has been coming to this island for over 12 years to study this population, but the tour operator was apparently upset only about the numbers painted on the sides of the iguanas.  It spoiled his tourist's pictures!  He was quick to refer to his operation as "eco tourism", but he continued to feed the iguanas despite signs to the contrary, and Chuck and Sylvia's polite requests.

A few days later Shedd Aquarium's research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II anchored nearby with a group of volunteers for another session of iguana-catching and we were invited to join the fun.  The iguanas are smart and they head for the thick brush or into the rocky cliffs, and we lost many more than we caught but it was a very fun adventure.  I think the ones with numbers told the un-numbered ones what was going on so they were wise to our tricks!  We got a lovely tour of the Aquarium's research ship, and we reciprocated with a tour of our "little ship" for the two captains.  What absolutely wonderful people - the researchers, the volunteers, and the captains and cook!!!  This has been the highlight of our trip.
Between us we caught three and a half iguanas (the half was an assist).  All this was done wearing big floppy sun hats, long sleeves (it's an all-day affair), long pants, boots, and heavy leather work gloves to keep from getting scratched or bitten.  We both bled a little in the name of science, but that was from the vegetation and not from the speedy iguanas.

hunter jim

We can't give enough thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers from Shedd Aquarium for such kind treatment, friendship, and fun.

sylvia iguana

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We've had internet access for the past few days because we're anchored near Staniel Cay - the site of a little settlement with a big antenna to reach the outside world.  We typically prefer more remote places but this is one of the rare spots with not one but three stores, and we needed to replenish lettuce and tomatoes.  The stores are tiny and it's best to shop right after the weekly mail boat arrives from Nassau.  There's the Pink Store...

pink store

The Blue Store...

blue store

And the General Isles Store.  We got some tomatoes in the General and Pink Stores, the only two packages of lettuce in the Pink Store, and a lovely coconut sweet loaf in the Blue Store.  We're officially re-provisioned!

The Big Major's Spot anchorage near Staniel has a famous little beach where some feral pigs come out of the brush and will swim out to you looking for a handout when you approach in your dinghy.  We were cautioned to stay in water deeper than they can stand in or they will try to climb in!

swimming pig and LS

We brought some lettuce scraps and cheese rinds which seemed to make Miss Piggy happy...

swimming pig

Staniel is also home to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club - an un-fancy little restaurant/bar with some docks for boats and big yachts.  People decorate the ceiling with various yacht club burgees, so we sat and had burgers under the DeFever club's flag.

scyc and us

Although there are small airstrips on several of the larger islands, Staniel has regular air service to Ft. Lauderdale via Watermaker Air - a 9-ish seat Cessna Caravan that carries people and cargo to the island once or twice a day, or less often in the off-season.  This is the air terminal at Staniel, and it's about 100' from where the plane lands.

staniel airport

We've done our usual exploring with the dinghies looking for snorkeling spots, but haven't found as many here - the few are in areas with heavy current flow or strong surge, so we're missing our usual long immersion time.  It's still very pretty and interesting to explore little coral patches, tiny islands, and isolated beaches for picnic lunches.

ghost crab

Tomorrow we'll snorkel Thunderball Cave made famous in two James Bond movies, then we'll head south to a more remote anchorage.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

This is the path we've taken through the Exuma part of the Bahamas so far...

exuma course
Once the winds eased we moved down the island chain to anchor between Compass and Pipe Cays.  We dinghied up to the north end of Compass to experience "Rachel's Bubble Bath" - a natural basin where waves crash over the rocks at high tide.  It's fun to wade and swim in the basin while the waves crash over your head, and we giggled like little kids.  At low tide we dinghied over to snorkel the limestone caves on Rocky Dundas - which were very neat!  All these limestone islands are pock-marked with holes of all shapes and sizes, as well as lots of caves. 
This is the first place since Norman's Cay that there's a little "restaurant" - you can have a burger with or without cheese or a fresh fish sandwich of some sort. 

Jim at Compass

It seems that wherever there's a marina (few and far between, so far) there is a fish cleaning station that attracts a herd of nurse sharks who become pretty tame.  They're fat and happy, and they congregate when they hear a dinghy or boat come in because that could mean another free meal!

compass nurse sharks

You can pet them and swim with them.  I'm not a fan of feeding wild life - it makes things behave in an unnatural manner, but I do like to pet them when I can.
There are many cuts between the rock islands between the Exuma Sound (ocean) and the shallow banks, and if the cuts are small the current can be quite brisk except at slack tide.  Many of the best snorkeling spots are in places where there's a lot of water movement, but that means we have to wait for slack to snorkel them.  Regardless, we've been rewarded with great sights including a school of 26 reef squid, grouper, tiny blennies, parrotfish, angelfish, chromis, wrasses, and rays.

stingray face

With our buddy boat friends Carol and Dan we spent a good half-day exploring the islands, rocks, and ledges in Pipe Creek.  There's some interesting development on Overyonder Cay (great name!), and an elaborate set of elegant houses, airstrip, and a private dock on Little Pipe Cay that belongs to some mega-rich person as a vacation home.  It's clearly set up for entertaining a large number of people in grand style.  Other islands are either uninhabited, or there's an occasional little house with a few solar panels and a generator.  Remember - each island needs to provide all its own electricity and water, and supplies and fuel comes in either by boat or small plane.

We need to do the same thing on our boat - our morning routine is to run the generator for 2 hours to charge batteries and (every other day or so) make water.  We are still living quite nicely with our on-board stores of food, and I'm proud to say that I kept my romaine lettuce supply going for almost 4 weeks using the green produce storage bags.  Everything else is frozen or shelf-stable, and we have enough for many months!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The core of the Exuma Land & Sea Park at Warderick Wells Cay has three mooring fields to mimimize damage to the sea grasses and corals from anchoring.  We were in the north field near the Park office, which is a natural deep channel in the shape of a "J" with a huge sandbar (awash at low tide) in the middle.

north mooring field

We snorkeled on a few gorgeous spots around Warderick Wells, making friends with a 3.5' barracuda who followed me like a puppy all around the reef.  He was very cute, relaxed, and curious.

pet barracuda

Much of the Bahamas are vast sandy plains which is the reason for the incredible water colors we see.  Reefs are typically very small patches, but they are fairly healthy with good fish populations, big gorgoinians and yellor or purple sea fans.

queen angel
We had to stay put for a few days to wait for strong winds to pass, so we did some hiking around the island when it was too rough to snorkel.  The trails can be challenging on the jagged limestone or near the beach on soft sand, with lots of ups and downs. 

 warderick hiking

We also participated in an old cruiser's tradition by making a sign out of driftwood with our boat's name on it, and placing it on top of Boo Boo Hill.  Jim did the carving with his dremel tool and I painted the carved letters - a team effort.

Jim and sign

We installed our sign (lower left) among the hundreds of others stacked haphazardly around the hill top - it's the only place you can leave something behind in the Park.  You can even see ADVENTURES on her mooring in the center background.

boo boo hill


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We're settled in at Warderick Wells Cay, the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  We'll stay almost a week because there's so much to see and do here, and because we'll have a few days of strong winds. 

hawksbill jim
After leaving Norman's Cay we anchored off Shroud Cay for a few days, exploring the mangrove creeks by dinghy and kayak.  One creek leads across the island to a windswept beach on the ocean side, and from there we took a short hike up to an overlook where we could see Norman's to the north and our boats at anchor to the southwest.  Shroud is home to a number of nesting long-tailed tropic birds this time of the year, and the sky was full of these dramatic fliers.  The water is such a bright turquoise color that it reflects off the bottom of the white birds.
tropic bird

The snorkeling has been quite good everywhere.  We just hop in our dinghies and go exploring - looking for black areas in the water that indicate coral patches, and heading to likely spots after studying the chart.  If a spot looks interesting, we just flop into the water and snorkel around until we've exhausted the terrain or we get cold.  The patches and reefs are full of grouper, snappers, and tons of little reef fish and juveniles.  Where the patches meet the sand we often see stingrays. 

stingray

We moved a few miles down to Hawksbill Cay and anchored off a beautiful little beach.  We hiked up to the limestone cairn at the top of the hill, and had a nice view of our dinghy on the beach, and the land and seascape.  It really is as remote as it looks here.

Hawksbill Cay

On Saturday we moved down to Warderick Wells where we are now.  We snorkeled until we were prunes to take advantage of the settled weather while it lasted, and we were rewarded with elkhorn coral, gorgonians, yellow and purple seafans, big lobsters just strolling out in the open, and tons of fish.  We even saw a group of six reef squid doing their strange "dance", as curious about us as we were about them.

lobster

Some of the smaller sea life are my favorites - the pretty little flamingo tongue snails...

flamingo tongue

...and the juvenile queen angelfish.

juvenile queen angel

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The weather finally settled enough for us to travel the remaining 75 miles to the northern end of the Exuma chain - where we plan to spend most of the next two months exploring.  Here's a map showing the Exumas, and I'm writing this on Friday, 30 April from Highbourne Cay.  Tomorrow we're heading down to Normans and we hope to find some wifi there so we can connect to the Internet - update this neglected blog, and catch up with friends and family.

exuma map

We've encountered a lot of boats leaving the Bahamas, heading back to the US after spending the winter over here.  It's a shame - the weather is finally starting to get nice, but we hope that means fewer boats around since we like more remote, quiet places.  We ran into a DeFever 44 (ELIZABETH ANN) we know coming out of Nassau, and we made plans to get together when we're passing through Annapolis later this summer.  We cut through Nassau harbor - a very busy place with three cruise ships in port, various mail boats destined for many of the islands, pleasure craft, and fishing boats.  On the east side we turned south through Yellow Bank, where the chart shows lots of scattered coral heads that we must steer around.  It turns out to be pretty easy in broad daylight - the coral is very black, and can be seen at a distance.  The chart looks pretty daunting, though!  We planned to anchor off Allen's Cay (pronounced "key"), but it was full of sailboats so we headed down to Highbourne Cay just to the south for a few days.   Next to Allen's is Leaf Cay, home to some interesting iguanas, which come to the beach when boats arrive, hoping for a hand-out. 

allens iguanas

We dinked around to the east side of the island and hiked to the top, where the iguanas were a little less spoiled. 

iguana face

It takes some getting used to, zipping around in our dinghy at high speed, with rocks, coral, and shallows all around.  We're probably better at reading the water than we think, but we're taking it cautiously for now.  We've gone snorkeling a few times the last two days, finding some healthy patch reefs not far from the anchorage with lots of fish, encrusting sponges, and coral.  This is a furry sea cucumber (all rolled up) that Jim was holding.

snorkel jim

May 1 - we moved 10 nm down to Normans Cay – VERY pretty!  Went exploring in the dinks for snorkeling spots and found really small patches of coral that are healthy and full of life.  Saw two lionfish on one of these tiny patches – very sad. Dinked around the south end and up into the basin to snorkel the wrecked DC-3 airplane from the island's days as a drug haven. 
We stopped at the “Normans Cay Beach Club” with MacDuff's Restaurant – two or three little brightly painted houses right next to the airstrip and the beach (closed on Mondays).  MacDuff's supposedly has internet, but it wasn't working today.  “It was struck by lightning and we need to send it to Nassau for repair” was the explanation, but no one seemed in a hurry to do so.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We're living on the "hook" (at anchor), but it's a bit different in these more remote places.  We have a watermaker that we can use to convert clean sea water to drinkable water, otherwise we'd have to buy water since islanders have to make their fresh water supply - nothing is free and there aren't any natural water supplies out here.  We carry plenty, but we try to be mindful. 

Trash is another thing we can't take for granted.  We have to pay to bring bags of trash ashore (where there is a settlement), and the islanders usually burn most trash. We sort our trash into recyclables and that which can be burned, and we're careful to rinse out containers and separate food scraps so the trash doesn't get stinky - we have to live with it a lot longer!  Food scraps are collected in a container kept in the refrigerator or freezer, and dumped (legally) overboard in deep water during passages.  Never dump food scraps in an anchorage - the fish (sharks and barracuda) learn that boats mean food, and that's not a good thing.

 highbourne sharks

These big nurse sharks hang out just below a fish cleaning station at Highbourne Marina - we dinghied in there to check it out, and these guys were hard to miss!

We don't have our cell phones any more (they're disabled until we return to the US in early July), so we have to rely on satellite phone ($1.29/minute - for keeping in touch with our Dads and emergencies only), SSB radio, and marine VHF radio.  We can still receive Sirius satellite radio and DirecTV feeds, though we can't get any weather info that's relevant for us.  For that, we use a Weather FAX, and weather reports from the SSB.

It's just a different routine, but one we've settled into nicely.  We run the generator for about two hours every morning to charge batteries and either make water or use water (run the washing machine).  Then we head off in our dinghies to explore and find snorkeling spots, or to the beach to go hiking if there are some trails. 

 shroud sunset


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We finally made it!  We crossed the Gulf Stream last Thursday - a somewhat lumpy ride, but not too bad.  We saw a sailfish jumping, lots of flying fish, and we even had a little bobolink bird hitch-hike on the boat deck for an hour or two.  We decided to come into South Bimini, clear customs, and proceed the next day.  Jim and Dan took a cab to the airport and cleared customs quickly - so we hoisted our Bahamas courtesy flags and raised a toast with a cold beverage.
We had a little time in the later afternoon for some exploring, so we walked to the north end of the island and took a water taxi over to North Bimini - a distance of about 150 yards.  People were very friendly and smiling, and the water was so blue that it reflected turquoise off the bottom of the puffy white clouds... lovely.  We walked through Alice Town and Bailey Town, stopping at the little liquor store for some Bahamian rum (Dan got coconut and I got mango), and the gal there recommended a little place called "Kim's Deli" for dinner, a good walk up the road. 
Friday morning we left for the long trip across the Great Bahama Bank.  We had nice conditions for the crossing, but we were nervous because of the shallow water.  Of course it's so clear that you can distinguish individual blades of sea grass easily, but we're just going to have to get used to the shallows and gain confidence in our ability to read the water.  At the eastern end of this "plain", the water plummets from 15' down to 3000+' as we entered the Tongue of the Ocean.  We ran in the deep for about an hour, then tucked in to anchor behind Frazers Hog Cay in the Berry Islands just after sunset.  The weather was changing and we would have to stay put for a few days - a welcome excuse to relax and explore a bit.
We launched our dinghies and headed to a nearby beach to land and explore.  We saw tons of little birds - migrating red starts as well as local finches.  We waded in the shallows at the north end of the island out of the wind, and rescued several sea hares (large shell-less snails) from the low tide.  We came back to the boat and snorkeled around a bit - we're still getting used to the unbelievable water clarity. 
We had two boat-bound days - we did some chores, read, relaxed, and cooked a bit - things we haven't had the time to do in a long while.  We took advantage of the time to build a "lookee bucket" - a bucket with a clear bottom that you can stick in the water to see what's under the boat.  It's handy for checking the set of your anchor, looking for good coral heads to snorkel, etc.

lookee bucket

A nice day followed so we dinked over to the tiny marina and bar/restaurant called the "Berry Islands Club".  The name makes it sound big, but it's just a speck of a place... friendly and nice though.  With some advance notice (you radio ahead if you want to eat there, and tell them what you want), we had a nice lunch on the porch.
The problem with the Bahamas islands is that there are so many places to explore it's easy to become paralyzed with indecison.  The biggest constraints are water depth and finding anchorages that will provide protection from the current wind direction. 
Here's a crude map to show you where we've been (Bimini and the Berry Islands), and where we're headed (the north end of the Exumas).
bahamas trip route


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The weather is finally going to break (somewhat) so we can head up to Key Biscayne and meet up with our Bahamas buddy boat.  Friday, April 16th we finally got out of our slip and traveled a whole 100' over to the fuel dock to top up the diesel tanks and fill all our spare gas cans for the dinghy.  We spent the night on the fuel dock since we were leaving before sunrise, and we enjoyed a last dinner and Marathon sunset at Lazy Days.  We left on Saturday morning and had a bit of a lumpy ride for several hours, but the seas settled down a bit after lunchtime.  We noticed a "Low Oil" light on the stabilizer panel, and when Jim went to the engine room to look he saw oil squirting from one of the stabilizer pistons every time the fin moved.  We centered the stabilizers and he added some oil to keep the system happy, but we were no longer happy when the seas kicked up later in the afternoon, about an hour out of Key Biscayne.  It was the first time we've ever really experienced the ride in a steep beam sea without stabilizers, and we had to tack (zig-zag) to ease our ride a bit.  We were tired, it's a long run (90 miles).  Jim grabbed the stabilizer manual to try to understand the situation better, and he noticed that the local (Ft. Lauderdale) dealer had a 24-hour phone number.  We gave the number a try and left a message, holding out little hope for any help on a weekend.  An hour later we had a call back from Stabilized Marine (the folks who installed the stabilizers in the boat 14 years ago), and they were going to check on parts availability, and squeeze us into their schedule on Monday or Tuesday if we could bring the boat to them in Ft. Lauderdale.  Wow! 
We anchored next to LUCKY STARS, ate a quick dinner, and zonked out for the night.  We were very disappointed about delaying our crossing to the Bahamas, but the weather changed and conditions were not going to be favorable for a few more days.  Stabilized Marine called us back on Sunday to discuss their recommendation for repairs and to say they would have to order the parts from Connecticut first thing Monday morning, with overnight delivery.  All they asked was that we try to get to Ft. Lauderdale on Monday so the engine room would be cool for the repairs on Tuesday.  NO problem - it was the least we could do for such great service and support. 
Stabilized Marine strongly recommended that we replace the pistons on both sides with a newer model - it has a larger diameter push rod and is more durable, and they suggested we upgrade our hydraulic pump to match the bigger pistons.  The parts were expensive, but the system is 14 years old and it's the first time we've had to do anything besides regular maintenance, so we couldn't really complain. 
The piston on top is the older style, and the one on the bottom of the photo is the newer type.

stabilizer pistons

The parts and guys arrived earlier than expected on Tuesday, and by the end of the day the repairs were completed and the system was tested and checked out fine.  We left at mid-tide on Wednesday morning and had a nice run back down to Key Biscayne out in the ocean - a good sea trial for the stabilizers.  Dan and Carol on LUCKY STARS were still waiting for us in Key Biscayne, and they invited us for dinner so we didn't have to cook!  The weather looked acceptable for crossing the Gulf Stream on Thursday, and we made it an early night so we could leave before sunrise.  At this point, I was wondering if we'd ever make it to the Bahamas!


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

After returning from our circuitous (ship, planes, and automobiles) trip, we scrambled to deal with all the provisions (seven dock cart loads) - repackaging, inventorying, and freezing things into two-person portions.  We also had a little bit of work to wrap up from our winter projects, and we had to double-check everything in the engine room to make sure nothing was dislodged or broken when Jim was crawling around dragging electrical cables, jammed in tight spaces.  Weather was also a problem, as the pattern of strong easterly winds continued unabated.  It was a race to see if we could get everything finished in time to catch a "weather window" - a break that would allow us to leave the Keys and head up to Key Biscayne to meet up with our buddy boat - Dan and Carol aboard LUCKY STARS.
In addition to our boat projects this winter, we also had the builder construct the sea wall at our house on Big Pine.  It was finally completed a week before we left, and we were able to make arrangements for two big palm trees to be planted on the canal-side of the yard, as well as the final grading and pea rock all around the house - which pretty much completes our house projects.  We're still waiting for the builder to paint the trim around the front windows.

big pine house

Weather conspired to keep us and many other cruisers stuck in the Keys around April 10th, but we made use of the delay since we were in town for the big air show at Key West Naval Air Station.  It was a huge event, with a large number of current and older military aircraft on static display, plus a wide variety of action to watch: an enormous C-17 cargo plane showing its capabilities, the Army's parachute team...

parachutes

...older Navy aircraft...

corsair and friends

...a wing walker...

wing walker

...an F16...

f16

...and the Blue Angels!

blue angel 6
We had a front-row seat right along the tarmac and runway, and it was amazing to see the take offs and landings as well as the aerial stunts.  It was the best air show I've ever seen, and it was especially fun to watch Jim - he absolutely LOVES airplanes, and it  brought him back to his days in the Air National Guard.