Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Being There

Another long post but that’s what happens when we go days of traveling and exploring without finding civilization. Be advised that the pictures don’t really capture all the crazy blue colors of the water down here. . . so, come visit!

A long time ago, well, it seems like a long time ago now, our old friend Mark from Burnahm Harbor, Chicago started giving us his old issues of Cruising World. It seems every picture in that magazine shows a boat all by itself in a beautiful anchorage. I guess we’ve been carrying around pictures like that in our heads ever since leaving Chicago. We’ve had wonderful adventures and some pretty anchorages here and there but lurking in the back of our minds was the idea that we were never there yet. Too much America and usually too many boats. At times I began to lose hope that we’d ever get to the place in our heads.

Monday 2/19 - Crazy wind finally backed down and we broad reached out of Nassau sailing ESE toward Sail Channel Cay. We sailed between 6 and 7 knots the whole way with reefed main and full genny. What a perfect sail. Maybe this will be the day. (Well of course it is otherwise why all the foreshadowing in the first paragraph!) A number of boats left Nassau with us but we could tell by their heading and by their radio chatter that they were all heading for Allen’s Cay. Many cruisers feel a clustering instinct with other cruisers. We do not. We’ll go there too soon but the anchorage we have in mind is off of the western shore of Ship Channel Cay which features some high bluffs. Since the wind is suppose to continue to diminish and clock to the east we think this rather open anchorage will be fine for tonight. As we approach we see all the other boats...ZERO! We nose in slowly and drop the hook in about 8 feet crystal clear water onto white sand. The anchor pulls tight and we are in.

Engine off now we just look around. Open sea to the west and rugged shoreline to the east and completely uninhabited. Some obvious coral heads near shore that will need exploring.

We’re there.

Other ports will follow and we’ll once again be snuggled up in tight anchorages. That’s ok and that’s fun too. It is great to know that you can still get truly away though.

We did nothing the rest of the day except watch the changing sky as the sun set and sipped our sun-downers. Tomorrow we’ll launch the dingy and go snorkeling and exploring. I thought back to all the conversations I had with good intentioned people back in Des Plaines Illinois who tried to explain to me why what I was planning was impossible. Well, it’s not impossible to sail away and life is every bit as good as I ever imagined it to be.

We are going to make short hops from here down to Staniel Cay (45 miles) as a practice run for where we will take my daughter and her husband when they come on March 10.

Life is good.....GOOD AND SHORT!

Tuesday 2/20 - We stay on the hook by Ship Channel Cay. Beautiful day and we want to explore around here a little. We take the dingy over near shore. The ‘shorline’ is mostly very sharp and pointy rock (old coral?) so we keep the dingy away. To the north is a little beach though and we pull the dingy up there and walk around a little. I snorkeled here too. Pretty but not very many fish. Later, we were joined by 4 other boats! So much for our lonely anchorage. This is a lot of area though so not really crowded at all. We actually hear nothing and no one bothers us.

Wednesday 2/21 - We’re off for Allen’s Cay. This is a motor of about 4 miles. I think from now on we will usually see our destination as soon as we get to open water. Allen’s Cay is made up of 3 islands: Allens, Leaf, and SW Allens together along with various un-named rocks and reefs form a well protected anchorage. It is shallow running north and south between Allens and Leaf with anchoring room toward either side. As usual the water is amazing and no problem visually separating the deeper water from the shallow. We anchor about as far north as we dare is soft sand. Probably not great holding but there’s no wind and none really predicted. What there is is a significant tidal current. We anchored about high tide and didn’t notice. Once is started running it turned us about toward the even shallower region. We took the second anchor out in the dingy and set it Bahamian style 180o from the first anchor. Now we can turn in the current without making huge circles. There are about a dozen boats here but still plenty of room.

After watching the play of the anchors for a bit we take the dingy out to explore a little. Leaf Cay is VERY special in that it is inhabited by thousands of Iguanas. Aggressive ones too! As we pulled the dingy up on the sand they were literally running (something they don’t do all that well) towards us. More than a little creepy. Sue stayed in the dingy initially while I ventured ashore. They come close and then they back off. Apparently they’ve been fed by the tourists enough to have learned where an easy meal comes from. OK, that’s enough...let’s go snorking!

We saw some dingys out snorking to the north of us by some rocks so we head up there to see what we can see. Now there is a significant current running. Running fast enough that I can’t make headway against it swimming with fins on. This is not too safe so we decide to put off snorking until low tide when the current will be down.

Reading and naps ensue...

At near low tide we venture out around to the ocean side of the rocks to the north of Leaf Cay. There lies a wonderful reef and the thousands of different tropical fish that inhabit such places. We are always so amazed by this. You just stick your face in the water and there’s a whole world for you to fly over with virtually no effort. Tomorrow we’ll come back or try another reef farther to the north.

Time is on our side. We have about 10 days to make the few little hops it will take to get to Staniel Cay. Then we’ll have a full week to make it back to Nassau to pick up daughter and son-in-law. Weather is being our friend right now so we are free to stay or go on any of the upcoming few days.
After dinner (brats and potatoes) we sit out on the fore deck and look at stars. There is no civilization here at all so the sky is good and dark. Wonderful.

We can’t imagine things getting any better than this.

Thursday 2/22 - We plan for the next few days ahead. First we listen to Chris Parker on the ssb at 6:40 a.m. Weather is good to go for the next few days. We decide to move south. But where to next? Well, why not go someplace where there is wifi since we haven’t been in contact with family since we left Nassau on Monday morning. Okay. We hail the marina at Highborne Cay. This is a private island but if you take a slip at the marina you can have access to shore amenities such as wifi. Well there is a slip available but the price is rather large so we look at our options. If we sail further we can be at Warderwick Wells where there is a ranger station for the Exuma Park and also wifi. We call Exuma Park on VHF 16 and find out that we can make a reservation for a mooring ball there. $20 a night compared to $80+ a night. Okay, we’ve made a decision. Onward. As we leave Allen’s Cay Friday morning the wind is significant and we have to raise the main out on the banks.

The anchor and bow are consistently bowing their heads below the waves as we hoist the main into the wind. Scott discovers that he can actually time his pull on the halyard with the bobbing of the boat. Down goes the boat........up goes the main..... and so on. Reefed and ready to go we head southeast, but not too east since there are shoals and coral heads out there to watch for. Very different that sailing lake Michigan where there is a serious lack of coral heads!

We sail a broad reach all the way to Warderick Wells even missing the one significant coral head at Elbow Cay. Okay. We had to jibe a couple of times to make sure we missed it but better sure than not. We had very nice wind (10-15 knots) off our port quarter for a broad reach with only 2 foot waves. Very nice. Hope we get this when Leah and Jason come to visit. An almost flat sail which Sue always likes. (Sue is also writing this piece).

So what is it like to not only sail for 6 hours on the Bahama Banks but also to arrive at Warderick Wells? Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves. And yes you guessed it. There is nobody here unless they arrived by boat and mostly sail boats at that. Now you’re really somewhere! Somewhere else.

Waderick Wells is the main island for the area called the Exuma Park. This area is protected - no fishing, no taking trash ashore, to taking shells, or shellfish. Our mooring ball is about a mile from the park office which is a pretty long dingy ride. Once there we find a very quaint office with the nice lady from the radio working there. They do have wifi...of sorts. We paid $10 for 24 hours and we could get in but it was desperately slow. Still we could read and write a couple of e-mails but no uploading of this blog with pics.

Waderick Wells itself is gorgeous. That crazy blue water, many sandy beaches and trails all over the place to go exploring. There are some little coral patches with dingy moorings to go snorking as well. We stayed 3 days.

Monday 2/26 - Time to leave Waderick Wells. Before we go we join the Bahamas National Trust. This is $60 but gives you two free nights on the moorings which is $20 a night. So, we would have paid $60 anyway for our three nights and now for another $20 we become members which puts us on a priority list for a mooring ball. Since we know we are coming back with Leah and Jason we decide this would be a good idea.

We have yet to nail down air travel for Leah and Jason out of Staniel Cay so we decide to just go there and do it in person! The wind is likely to be right on our nose with some indication that it might swing to the south-west. It is only about a 16 mile run so we decide to leave late morning hoping to catch the wind shift. We’ve never had occasion to try to tack this boat directly upwind. We know she’s not very good going close to the wind but now we’ll get some actual data. Oh yeah...this is NOT a weatherly boat! We tacked several times and each time through 120 degrees! That is really clawing your way down the coast! After few hours of this we decide to get there in daylight and motor and main the rest of the way.

There is a main channel into Staniel Cay. Outside this narrow channel on the west side of the island bordering Staniel there are about 20 boats anchored. Hmmm...what do they know that I don’t know? Oh well...onward! It gets pretty shallow on the way in - about 3 feet under the keel which I think is actually considered a LOT of water around here! It gets deeper once we are in the channel proper near the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Oh, by the way...there are NO buoys EVER marking ANYTHING down here. You have to really go slow and depend on your charts and your eyeballs! We tried to drop the hook near three other boats but the water was too thin for us. We have less than a meter under the keel and this was at high tide. We continued in to the area near Thunderball Grotto! Yes, this is where they filmed parts of the James Bond movie, Thunderball. There is a boat anchored there and two on mooring balls. We went slow and circled around until I could see a nice hunk of sand (about 10 feet down...no trouble seeing that!) and dropped the hook. Seemed to grab ok but it’s never like the hard pull you get in mud. After laying out about 60 feet of chain I dive in and swim over the anchor. Looks pretty good with the shank buried and one whole wing of the CQR. A little bit of the other wing is sticking out but it is not dragging. We’re in!

We go ashore to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club which is just a fancy name for a tavern. And a great place it is. Lots of atmosphere, lots of sailors (cute ones too!), and cold Kalik and best of all...free and fast wifi! I called Leah on Skype (the greatest invention since sliced bread). Life is good.

I’m thinking of the Jack Nicholson movie, As Good as it Gets, where he says the famous line, “What if this is as good as it gets”? I’m wondering the same sort of thing is a good way. I’m wondering if this is possible...to just sail place to spectacular place taking care of each other and our boat. Reading, writing, exploring...Doesn’t seem possible...but here we are! Breakdowns and storms will come - another day though.


LeahC said...

holy crap!!!! it's so beautiful down there! are you guys for real there? it looks like a freakin' movie set! I canNOT wait to get there....hmm...you might have some problems shipping me back though.

Anonymous said...

Scott and Sue - Enne looks great ! You two look great! We're jealous! It's fantastic to read yer blog, especially the lastfew "episodes".
(ok , the guy with all the piercings on the canal was good).
Can't believe you made it !! Awesome! I'm going to go down to EH and have a few Old Styles !! The pictures are great keep 'em comin'.
Do anything you have a mind to !
Dave and Terri
Burnham Harbor EH9

Rich P said...

Good to get caught up! You missed another FANTASTIC faculty meeting today, Scott! I know that down deep, in spite of how you go on about great weather and solitude and all that crap, you really miss Maine friggin' East and the goddamn Chicago winter!

Seriously, the onlyl good thing about the faculty meeting was the cookies! Your reports of retired life make me VERY eager to get on with it myself. One more year!

Keep bloggin'. We thrive on it!

Anonymous said...

OK. Does anyone find it suspicious that after all Scott has gone through he winds up in the Bahamas at exactly this point in time? I think he's angling for his piece of the $489 million pie.


Gary said...

Sorry Brian - Scott's out of luck. Been there - did that.

Oh Captain - while you are down in Crab Key will you look in on my young daughter?

Remember when I went on vacation at Atlantis - well, I got lucky at more than the Blackjack tables.

I didn't mention it to Madame Meow - but, with Fidel on his last length of colon, I figured it was time for me to step up and say, "The little girl is mine" - to quote Michael Jackson and his best buddy, Sir Paul.

Captain - Please tell them that my DNA is in the mail and warm up the Rolls (the peoples' wagon for us Political types).

Speaking of which, the once and forever mayor is now just forever. Hail Daley - scandals and hired trucks cannot touch ye!

PS - Captain, my Captain - the pictures look great. I am full of envy.

Love and Kisses (to Sue at least and a big Russian bear hug to you)-

Chairman Meow

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue & Scott, thanks for instructions on what to do for message, as I indicated we love your blogs and photo, keep up the great work and enjoy.
Stan & Judy