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Posted By Robin & Jim

Here's a map of our path through some of the many Bahama islands so far - we're now up in the Abacos which are a lot more developed and "crowded" than the Exumas. 

trip route

Hope Town is the first place we explored, with its famous lighthouse, pastel homes, and narrow streets.

hope town lighthouse

This is a view of the harbor through one of the lighthouse windows - note how thick the walls are.

lighthouse view

We were lucky enough to hear DeFever friends Gary and Linda March on the radio heading into a nearby marina, so we toured the town with them and Dan and Carol from our buddy boat.  We lunched in a lovely setting overlooking the ocean and had a terrific day!

dfc lunch gang

We saw another DeFever anchored nearby, and met Chet and Linda Brummett for sunset cocktails on the beach.  We arrived early and Jim (barefoot with shirt un-tucked!) relaxed while I hunted shells.

tahiti beach jim

We cruised up to Man-O-War Cay and explored a more industrious and low-key town known for boat building.  We went snorkeling on the outer reef with Linda and Gary, and the highlight was a little green sea turtle who stayed around longer than usual.  We're both really in our element when we're underwater!

underwater jim

Since this is our first time in the Abacos, we spent one night anchored off Great Guana Cay to visit the famous Nippers and Grabbers beach bars.  Nippers was a bit too much like "Spring Break" for our tastes, Grabbers was a bit nicer - but we had a good time doing something different, for us.

verts shop

The next island up the chain is Green Turtle Cay, with more pastel cottages, a memorial garden dedicated to the Loyalist settlers (the plaque there refers to the American Revolutionaries as "rebels" - it's all about your perspective), and Vert - a lovely gentleman who builds ship models.

All over these islands the Royal Poinciana trees are in full bloom, and they are magnificent!

royal poinciana

Tomorrow we're heading NW for more snorkeling and exploring - our last week here.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

On the suggestion of a few DeFever friends, we decided to pay a  visit to Eleuthera as we make our way northwards.  We caught a nice fast ride through the aptly-named Current Cut and headed up to the town of Spanish Wells.  This area is home to a lot of commercial fishing boats, and claims to be the largest source of conch and lobster in the Bahamas. 

The town is very nice - pretty cottages and flowering landscaping, clean and well-supplied.  There are some good marine services available on the island, as well as a few shops and cafes.  The Anchor Snack Cafe right on the waterfront gets our vote for an extensive menu, good food, reasonable prices, and excellent ice cream (frozen pies as well as treats).  Jim is still talking about it!

Spanish Wells is on an island about a mile from the main part of Eleuthera, and small ferries run constantly between the two, some for people and some little mini-barges with an outboard motor to transport cars and golf carts.  On the islands nearly everyone gets around on gas-powered golf carts - some with more style than others.

fancy golf cart

 As with all the islands, the mail boat is the source of most everything - fuel for the generators (and to power desalinization machines to make fresh water) and supplies of every shape and size.  These mail boats look like small freighters with a big drop-down ramp on the front.  It's amazing to watch the captains maneuver these behemoths into and out of the tightest little places!  When the mail boat arrives the town is abuzz, distributing pallets and truck loads of supplies. 

mail boat

Spanish Wells is close to the trendy community on Harbour Island, so we took the fast ferry over for a little day trip.  The ferry is one of several that provides service between Nassau and bigger towns on some of the out islands.

bo hengy ii

The ferry transits a notorious area of reefs called the Devil's Backbone, and if you want to make the trip in your own boat all the cruising guides strongly recommend the services of a local pilot to guide you through.  $50 is much less than repairs to your running gear or a hole in your boat!  The fast ferry has the right local knowledge and zips across the Backbone at an impressive 25 knots!

We rented a golf cart on Harbour Island and toured the tree-lined streets, with pastel-colored houses and magnificent royal poinciana trees in full bloom.  We stopped for lunch near the waterfront, bought a nice pineapple from a road-side stand, and walked on the famous 3-mile-long pink beach (with a storm in the distance).  It was a lovely trip, capped off with another ice cream treat back in Spanish Wells (Jim insisted, after a long hot day).

pink beach

On Friday (6/11) we headed out past the coral-studded Ridley Head, into the ocean for the 50 mile passage north to the Abacos.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We're headed north so we can see more of the Bahamas, but we wanted to stop back at Warderick Wells - the headquarters of the Exumas Land & Sea Park to donate a little volunteer time to a worthy place.  They needed some splicing to make mooring pennants and they needed wood and epoxy repairs on some of their boats - all things we're pretty good at.  We had a fun day helping out and we left a few useful supplies behind.  While there we wanted to snorkel around the south end of the island to see the very rare stromatolites.  Stromatolites are considered to be some of the oldest fossils - they consist of fine layers of sediment trapped within thin films of organic matter such as algae and diatoms.  They are large block-like structures - and the scattered blocks look a little like the ruins of Atlantis.

stromatalite

I found a very old bone (that looked human) stuck in the sand next to one so we reported it to the Park.  Luckily an archaeologist happened to be doing surveys in the Park, so we took her to see it but I couldn't find it before the current got too strong.  She said that she'd have the underwater archaeology group do a proper search when they come in November, and she took our card to let us know what they find.
Bananaquits are among the little tropical birds found on the island.  The Park lets people put sugar in their hand, and the little birds will come for a party.

bird friends
bananaquits

We ran into DeFever friends Dennis and Nellie, who gave us some great tips for our visit to Eleuthera.  Small world!

From Warderick Wells we jumped back up to Highborne Cay to visit one of the dive spots I got from the CORAL REEF II.  We had a really nice dive on one of the steep drop-offs, and saw eagle rays, big lobsters, spadefish, and the usual pretty reef fish.

eagle ray

From there we headed up to the very northern end of the Exuma Islands since the weather was favorable to anchor where there is little protection.  We stopped at another of CORAL REEF's dive sites north of Ship Channel Cay that turned out to be really outstanding - it was a beautiful reef at 35' with very deep slot canyons that cascaded down to a wall that dropped off into the very deep Exuma Sound (hundreds to thousands of feet).  It was one of the most dramatic formations I've seen - with eagle rays and larger ocean fish cruising by.
We moved farther north to anchor off a huge sand bank cay for the night, and we managed to avoid some ugly storm clouds that passed north of us.  Watching the clouds (from a safe distance thank goodness!) we saw 5 waterspouts form and hit the water. 

water spout

Wednesday 9 June we headed up to Eleuthera to visit Spanish Wells and Harbour Island.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

After our grand Iguana Adventure, we stopped at Black Point Settlement - one of the rare little towns.  We had heard about the famous coconut bread from Lorraine's, and we heard that we might be able to get haircuts from the lady at the Rockside Laudramat (sic).  The town at the north end of Great Guana Cay is very small, and it doesn't take long to hit the highlights.  We stopped at Lorraine's Cafe and Internet to order some coconut and raisin bread from her lovely mother, and we got a bit of very slow internet time there too. 

lorraines

The coconut bread is wonderful - it makes the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

One of the sights we were told to see is the "Garden of Eden" - Mr. Willie Rolle's yard which is full of various pieces of driftwood.  You knock on his door and he or his wife will come out and give you a tour - showing you the things that he sees in his carefully arranged driftwood.  It seems a bit strange at first, but if you let your inner child loose it's fun to see what you can find in the driftwood.  Willie also showed us some of the local flowers and unusual fruit trees - the sapodilla was our favorite to taste, and the wine tamarind wasn't too tart if it's ripe enough.  A smile, some appreciative words, and a small donation compensate Willie for the generous time he spent on the tour.

willie

Walking around town we could see wooden boats under construction - sailing boats for the famous family races around parts of the Bahamas.  The boats carry an enormous amount of sail area, and they use long boards to move human weight outboard to balance the boat, similar to a Chesapeake Bay log canoe.  The work is traditional, using wooden "knees" found where trees form right angles naturally to create strong structural framing.

boat building

We headed back up to Staniel to start our journey northwards, and met up with some DeFever friends for cocktails on the beach.  It really is a small world.
Northbound, we spent two nights at Cambridge Cay, back in the Exuma Land & Sea Park.  Jim, Dan, and Carol were swarmed with sergeant majors when we jumped in to snorkel "the Aquarium" (a beautiful spot).

sergeant majors and friends

We also did a great drift snorkel on a large reef - there's so much life where the current is strong.  We just hang the bow and stern lines from the dinghy into the water, jump in, and let the current carry us (and our dink) over the reef.  We saw sea turtles, some big nurse sharks, and all the usual pretty reef fish.  On another spot I found a large queen triggerfish that seemed more like a pet - it let me get close and kept hanging around - they're normally quite shy.

triggerfish

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We've really been enjoying all the time spent snorkeling, and one of our favorite spots has been Thunderball Grotto, made famous in the James Bond movie of the same name.  The grotto takes up most of the inside of a fairly small rock island with about a third of it underwater.  You have to wait for slack tide to get into the cave since it's near a cut between the Bank and the ocean with a healthy tidal flow - the timing is critical.

thunderball grotto

There are several holes in the roof so you can float on the surface and see the sky, and the sun can create some dramatic lighting effects.

thunderball light shaft
The cave is full of fish and brightly colored sponges, and it's fun to imagine Sean Connery and a film crew making "movie magic".
thunderball sponge

All through the Exumas the snorkeling has been great, though the patches we can get to without too much current are getting smaller as we move down the chain.  You never know what you'll find - sometimes the smallest patch of coral or rock can have an amazing collection of sea life - this rock had corals, two small nurse sharks (one didn't like being photographed), small jacknife fish with impossibly tall dorsal fins, banded coral shrimp, and a large number of lionfish. 

dan's patch reef

Lionfish are magnificent fish but they belong in the Pacific, not the Caribbean where they have no predators.  They're carniverous and they multiply very rapidly so they are taking over every little patch - it's a huge problem impacting the reefs and small fish populations so we're saddened to see so many lionfish everywhere we go.

In general the fish have been plentiful and beautiful - queen angels with their neon blue crown, gray angels with their surprise patch of yellow inside their pectoral fins, and french angels with each scale edged in bright yellow.  These are "teen angels" (one gray, one french) - getting bigger but they still haven't lost their baby stripes yet.
teen angels
We're at the half-way point in our trip and we just turned north on Monday.  We'll meander back up through the Exuma chain hitting some places we missed on the way south, then over to the west end of Eleuthera and then to the Abaco islands for a few weeks.  We're so lucky to be able to do this, and we don't take any of it for granted.