Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thunderball Cave and other adventures in Paradise

A view of fish in the grotto.  The striped ones are sergeant majors.
 The famous view underwater in the grotto -- featured in the James Bond movie

Looking towards the entrance of the grotto.  Note sunlight overhead.

A view of the reef outside the cave.  Sorry about my finger on right side!

Scott serenading Tess on her birthday.

Tess cuts the cake as Tony looks on.
Sunday, 30 January, 2011

We're still anchored here off Big Majors Spot and have had a wonderful time in this area.  We snorkeled at Thunderball Cave on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings with various sailing friends.  This is the famous site featured in the 1964 James Bond movie "Thunderball" and it is a magical spot to snorkel in.  You go at slack low tide and snorkel in under protruding rocks to enter an amazing grotto with sunlight streaming in from holes in the ground above.  The fish there are used to being fed by snorkelers so they are teeming around you and the variety is impressive.  We saw tons of sergeant majors (small striped fish), a huge Nassau grouper, colorful parrot fish and many others.  Thanks to our friends, we discovered that the reef outside the opposite side of the grotto is very healthy and we saw beautiful sea fans, sponges and various corals there along with even more varieties of fish.  I tried to get some photos with my new underwater camera Drew gave me for Christmas so enjoy the pix.  Photos don't do it justice, unfortunately.

Along with the wonderful snorkeling at Thunderball, we've enjoyed meeting many sailors from all over.  One night, Tess organized an impromtu happy hour get-together on a small beach nearby and we had folks there from England, Switzerland, Italy, Canada and the U.S.  It's so wonderful how cruisers are all so friendly and helpful to each's easy to make new friends here!

Speaking of friends, our good friend Tess had a birthday on Thursday so we enjoyed having her and Tony over for drinks at sundown that evening.  Tony had tipped us off the day before about her birthday and told us that they were in Cabo San Lucas last January 27th and a mariachi band serenaded her then.  Sooooo.....I suggested that Scott could play "Happy Birthday"on the bagpipes.  Tony loved the idea so, sure enough, once we'd had a couple of drinks and chatted, here came Scott with his bagpipes.  She was totally surprised and delighted with his rendition of Happy Birthday to You, Scotland the Brave and a finale of Amazing Grace.  Apparently, many of the other cruisers anchored nearby were also pleased with the concert since we heard lots of whistling and cheering.  We then had some chocolate cake and Tess suggested we all go over to a nearby catamaran and share the cake with the folks partying there.  What a great idea!!  Dream Catcher was having a rockin' good time with owners Gary and Jayne joined by Varina and Silvio from Blues Breakers.  They were delighted with the arrival of chocolate cake since they had all just been discussing their craving for dessert when Tess's voice came floating across the anchorage "Does anybody want chocolate cake??"  They all thought they were hearing things until we dinghied over with the cake.  What a fun evening!!

We'd both read about how helpful cruisers are to each other but we found out firsthand this week.  Wednesday night after the beach gathering, we got back on our boat and started the engine to heat water for showers.  After a minute or so, we heard a terrible noise and Scott figured out it was coming from the engine compartment.  We quickly shut off the engine but, unfortunately, the damage had already been done.  We had cooked our starter.  Somehow, the key had gotten stuck in the "start" position on the engine and it only took minutes to kill the starter.  When we got on the radio the next morning and called another boater for help diagnosing the problem, other boaters heard our plight and one, from La Buena Vida, offered his spare starter to us.  It happened to be the wrong size for us but we were so amazed at his generosity and can't wait to see him again in George Town to thank him.  Murray from Windswept 4 came to our aid and spent roughly an hour diagnosing our problem ( definitely a cooked starter ) and he gave us great information re: how to get a replacement flown in.  Lucky for us, Staniel Cay has an airport and the Watermakers Air company here has 2 daily flights from Florida.  Scott has been telling me how cruising is really all about "fixing your boat in exotic places" and now I understand.

Tess and Tony from Endurance were very gracious and lent us a cell phone, enabling Scott to track down a replacement starter in Florida.  We went over to Staniel Cay Yacht Club (they manage Watermakers Air issues) and Scott got the part ordered and the paperwork arranged for the air delivery of the part.  Stu and Tony from Georgia E were also very kind to lend us their cell phone for other calls related to the part.  All of our sailing friends were wonderful support as we waited for the new starter to arrive and we are very grateful to everyone.

Happily, after we snorkeled yesterday morning, we headed over to the yacht club and there was our package!!  We dinghied back to the boat and Tony Marts from Endurance came over and helped Scott put on the new starter.  Then Tess and I did the "drum roll" like in Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation movie and I turned the key.  Hallelujah!!!  The engine came alive and life was good again. 

Today, we are going to refill our water tanks at the yacht club with their wonderful reverse osmosis water and Tony and Tess will join us at the bar for some dominoes and perhaps cribbage.  They're avid cribbage players and are teaching us the game.  We plan on heading over to Black Point settlement some time tomorrow where they have a real laundry so we can get some clothes washed.

Life is good and we are blessed.  Stay warm and healthy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Steelers & pigs in Staniel Cay

Friday, 28 January, 2011

We are now anchored off Big Majors Spot just around the corner from Staniel Cay.  Sunday night was spent at the docks at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (see photos below) so we could get our "NFL fix" watching the conference championships.  The bar is great there and was pretty packed with folks watching football and enjoying their amazing, free happy hour buffet.  We were, of course, outfitted in our Steelers jerzies and had our terrible towels.  And we were *very* happy with the outcome of the game!!  HERE WE GO, STEELERS!!!!  Now we just have to figure out where to watch the Super Bowl.

Monday,  we motored over to our present position just off Big Majors -- the home of the "swimming pigs".  They're huge pigs who live on the island and love the sound of dinghy motors 'cause that means they're about to be fed!  They'll swim out to your dinghy for the food you bring them (we brought apples and old bread) and we were forewarned that they can be pretty aggressive if you don't feed them fast enough.  They have huge, long snouts that stay above the water while they're swimming and they have dark spots on their backs.  See the photos below.

Yesterday and today we snorkeled in Thunderball Cave, the site of filming for the 1964 James Bond movie "Thunderball".   You snorkel in under these overhangs of rock and then you come into this amazing grotto with holes in the top for sunlight.  The fish there are teeming around and we saw alot of new varieties.  We were there with our friends, Tony & Tess from Endurance and several other dinghies of friends.  Today, we went over again at slack low tide and saw the wonderful coral reefs on the other side of the grotto.  Beautiful coral heads and more interesting fish.  We plan to go back tomorrow with Hank & Ellen from La Belle Helene' since it's a great thing to do more than once.

The weather is pretty warm the past few days, in the high 70's or low 80's with a fair amount of wind today.  I actually broke down and hand-washed some of our clothes today since there's no laundry here at Staniel Cay, we're getting kinda desperate for clean clothes *and* there's such great wind today for drying clothes on the lifelines.

The famous pigs enjoying food thrown onto their beach by another boat.

Here they come, swimming out to our boat for even more food.

Sunday night at Staniel Cay Yacht Club's bar.  We're psyched!!

Carl, the bartender (left) and one of the dockhands on the right, unloading more Kalik beer for the night.

Another view inside the bar.  Very neat ambience there and nice folks.

We'll post more pictures when we update the blog again....probably tomorrow.  Until then, stay warm and healthy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

More pictures from Exumas Land & Sea Park

Friday, 21 January, 2011

Yesterday was spent making bread aboard and reading after we put our plaque up on Boo boo hill.  The usual "happy hour" took place on the beach with about a dozen sailors showing up to chat and exchange stories.  Everyone is congenial and it's amazing how easily you make friends when sailing!  Tonight, the park is hosting the get-together and providing the ice (a real treat!!) so we look forward to getting together with other cruisers then.

We were thrilled to see about 6 huge, black rays this morning swimming near our boat and over the sandbars here.  I tried to get some pictures but they weren't very close to the surface.  At one point, a huge ray broached -- he came completely out of the water and sailed for a few seconds before splashing back in over the sandbar.  What a sight!  You just can't describe how amazing these creatures are.

We will probably snorkel some more today at slack tide since we're having more wind and current than normal.  It's always fun to see what's hiding under our boat and nearby.  We're fortunate to be on a mooring here as many boats are scrambling to find a safe spot for tomorrow's forecast gale.  Hopefully, it will be less fierce than predicted but, in any case, we're happy to be where we are. 

Following are some more pictures from the park:

This is one of the bananaquit birds mentioned in yesterday's blogs.  These little guys have bright yellow chests and are very friendly.  They appear on our boat daily and fly right into the cabin!  If you put sugar in your hand, you'll have them all over you in seconds.

One view from the porch of the park's office building.

These are bones from a huge sperm whale which are displayed on the beach.

Scott atop Boo boo hill.  He's read about this place for years and can't believe he's finally there!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Exciting times in the Exumas

Thursday, 20 January, 2011

Boat plaques on top of Boo boo hill.

A shot of Painkiller from on top of Boo boo hill

Looking from our boat across the mooring.

The boats viewed from the mangrove flats on the island.
We left Rock Sound, Eleuthera, on Sunday and sailed with Messenger and a couple other boats also headed over to the Exumas.  It was a pretty rolly passage as the winds were on the starboard quarter, but overall it wasn't very rough.  We anchored behind Highborne Cay that night, snorkelled for the first time since Christmas (this time without wetsuits) and were treated to fresh skipjack tuna caught by Tony on s/v Endurance on the way over.  It was like a steak - I don't think I've ever had a better piece of fish.  They had us and all 4 Messenger's over for dinner and sent us home with leftovers that ended up being another fine dinner.  We left Highborne the next day on a pretty windy trip down to the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells. 

We are currently on a mooring at the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.  We arrived here late on Monday afternoon  after coming from Highborne Cay further up in the Exumas.  True to their reputation, the water here IS warmer and the air temperatures are around 80.  This is all fine with us since we've been wanting to snorkel without wetsuits and go without jackets so often.

We hiked along some of the many trails here in the park yesterday and today we hiked up to the top of "Boo boo hill" to put our boat name in the pile with many others immortalized there.  Unfortunately we weren't able to find a suitable piece of driftwood to use but we're sure our plaque will age quickly and blend in soon thanks to the sunshine here.  The hill got its name "boo boo" because there is a legend that you can hear voices singing hymns on full-moon the hill is thought to be haunted.  There was supposedly a ship of missionaries which ran aground and sank near here and those singing voices are from the ghosts of those lost.  Anyway, we've had a glorious full moon while here and nary a singing ghost has been heard.  We can't really say we're disappointed!

The water here is crystal clear and we've been able to snorkel and see many different types of fish.  We've also been treated to the appearance of 2 Eagle rays swimming nearby on 2 mornings.  They are gorgeous rays with dark brown coloring and white spots....very majestic and unusual looking.  We've also been visited by tiny birds with yellow chests called "bananaquits".  They are very friendly and will sit in your hand to eat sugar.  Today, one landed in our cockpit while I was eating an orange and he gladly joined me in the snack.
We also had a hummingbird land on one of our winches for a few seconds before taking back off. 

Since the park is so protected, no birds, fish or even shells can be removed from here and this causes the creatures here to be more outgoing than the norm.  There's even a huge barracuda here named "Bubba" whom we haven't seen but we hear he loves to hang around snorkelers, just watching them.

The island here is a mix of sand dunes, mangrove lowlands and jaggedy limesone slabs.  It's an unusual mix of terrain and we have to be very careful while hiking since the rocky paths are sharp and could do real damage if we fell.  Even so, it's a place of wild beauty with the mooring field on one side and the sound on the other.  The sound side has huge rocky cliffs all along it and the surf bursts up through myriad blow holes high above in the cliffs.  It's not hard to believe that pirates once hid here and preyed upon passing ships.  This land is as wild and lawless as they were.

There is a front coming through on Saturday, so we plan to stay here until it passes.  Then we'll head down towards Staniel Cay since we need to fill up on water, fuel, propane, and a some fresh food. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Eleutheran Adventures

Thursday, 13 January, 2011

Sorry to be so slow updating our blog but internet access has been elusive of late.
We did manage to cross over to Eleuthera last Wednesday, January  5th along with our friends on Messenger.  The seas were near perfect for the crossing from Little Harbour, Abacos to Royal Island just to the northwest of Eleuthera.  We hoisted the anchor around 6:30 AM on that Wednesday and were safely anchored at Royal Island around 4:00  that evening.

Royal Island is currently under development by a corporation which includes Roger Staubach, we're told.  There are plans for a hotel, golf course and the usual amenities of a Caribbean resort.  The upshot of all these developments is that they don't allow cruisers to go ashore anymore, which is a shame.  We would have loved to explore the area's beaches, etc. rather than just sit at anchor and observe the shoreline.  It did prove to be a fairly good spot to sit out the gale which arrived Thursday evening around 8:00.  We'd had a very good day up to that point, with bread baking and good books.  Once the wind started howling, it was like something out of a bad Hitchcock movie......awful winds, rain and then lightning and thunder.  Our good friends on Messenger had the misfortune of a dragging anchor just after 9:15 and it was heart-wrenching to watch their struggles without being able to help at all.  Luckily, they got the anchor reset fairly quickly and all was well for the rest of the night.  Scott started our motor (just in case) and sat up for much of the night since he was afraid our anchor would drag as well.  God bless the Bruce anchor!!

We stayed at Royal Island until Saturday morning when the weather improved enough so we could cross over to Spanish Wells.....about an hour east.  This is a very neat little island with hard-working folk....fishermen mostly.  They account for 70% of the lobster and conch fished in the whole Bahamas and, we're told, they provide all the lobster for the Red Lobster chain back home.  Their boats are spotlessly clean, their houses and yards tidy, the people friendly.  We loved being there 2 days at a marina and enjoyed spending time with our buddies from Messenger and Endurance.

Monday morning was sunny and warm and we decided to head south with Messenger in our efforts to reach the Exumas.  We had another great motoring day over to Hatchet Bay.  Current cut wasn't bad at all since we reached there at slack tide.  Despite our worries, it was easy.  We had beautiful aquamarine water and lots of flying fish on our journey there and arrived around 4:00.  Our friend from Kalara came over to say there would be a happy hour gathering at a local bar/restaurant overlooking the anchorage......needless to say, we quickly lowered the dinghy into the water and made our way over for the get-together.  It's always fun on our journey meeting new people.  We had a lovely view of the sunset over the harbour and met alot of nice folks, some of whom winter there at Hatchet Bay every year.  It was fun visiting with Liz and Ian from Kalara.....we love spending time with them and are sorry they won't be going to the Exumas this year.  Maybe next year?

The next morning, we hoisted the anchor just after 7:00 for our run to Rock Sound.  Coming out of the harbour, it's rocky so I went forward to the bow to watch for submerged hazards.  The water was crystal clear on this beautiful, sunny morning and I looked over the bow to see 3 gorgeous spotted Eagle rays off our starboard side.  They were so near the surface and so clear.....amazingly beautiful creatures!  Unfortunately, in my efforts to help Scott see them, I scared him to death since he thought I was pointing to rocks!  Oh, well......

We arrived in Rock Sound around 2:00 and have found the town interesting.  The weather is forcing us to stay here a few days and we are discovering new things here daily.  There is the wonderful library where we have internet access;  it was a Methodist manse along time ago and then a medical clinic.  But it was in disrepair and condemned when the townspeople decided to raise money and give it a facelift.  It is now a beautiful, 2-story structure with a wonderful computer lab and heavy, old-English looking furniture.  The locals should be very proud of their work here as it is a wonderful facility.  We also discovered a brand-new laundromat here yesterday, run by a lovely local lady.  Her sister lives in Columbia, SC -- our hometown.  What are the chances??

Our friends on Endurance are due to arrive in this harbour later today and we look forward to that reunion.  We are all hoping to head down to the Exumas this Saturday, weather permitting.  In the meantime, we are enjoying Rock Sound and the many blue holes here in the harbour.  We met a young couple yesterday and gave their rowboat a tow as they were headed over to a large blue hole for a diving trip.

We will keep you posted on our crossing to the Exumas when that day comes.  Until then, keep warm and enjoy the snow!

A photo of the waterfront at Spanish Wells.  Each large boat goes out with 4-5 small "Carolina Skiff" type boats in tow.  The smaller boats collect the lobsters from the floor of the banks and bring them back to the large boat.

The shoreline at Royal Island behind Messenger.  The edges are rough limestone which has weathered and eroded over the years.

A brightly-colored office/ business in Spanish Wells.  I just loved the shutters!