Monday, November 17, 2014

Bahamas Birthday

November 16

Today, we are in Staniel Cay. Today is my birthday. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be here when I turned 59 years old. In the Bahamas, on a beautiful sailboat with a beautiful girl that I love very much.  We are on quite the adventure, Junie and I. We are fortunate to have discovered this common love and to be together on this adventure. Another birthday? No big deal. We saw a quote on a bench near BooBoo Hill in Warderick Wells a few days ago that I found very birthday appropriate.

“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”

And, today, I have pictures! After several days of travel, anchoring out, mooring balls and lack of communications, we are treating ourselves to a marina break. Partly because of my birthday, partly due to a weather system moving through -mostly because we need to have some parts delivered. Without providing all of the details, we have to get some plumbing parts or we will be in deep s%#t.

Once we left Bimini we moved a few miles south to Cat Cay to anchor out. Cat Cay is an exclusive resort that does not allow you to come ashore. They have an expensive marina / yacht club that you could go into but, even if you pay the admission, you aren't allowed to go anywhere outside the marina grounds. So, we just anchored out in the bay to the east and looked at it. Reminded me of one of our favorite sayings from the past.  “Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a boat big enough to sail right up next to it.”

We got up the next morning and started planning our next steps. Then, spontaneity aligned with the weather report. We pulled up the anchor and headed off for an all-day /overnight trip to the south side of New Providence island (where Nassau is). Our intention was to go to a marina there, at Palm Cay, to get set up for a jump to the Exumas. We had a great sailing day across the Bahama Banks. It is just crazy to be sailing along, perfectly quiet, in 10 – 15 feet of crystal clear water. The contrasting and coordinating colors are just stunning. Every time you go down into the cabin for something then come back up the companionway, the brilliance catches you off guard and you are dazzled again. Even the rain came with rainbows. Ridiculous!

We were approaching the Northwest Channel at about 10:00 pm and went through uneventfully despite several little dramas playing out around us. Boats moving in the dark, not talking to each other, going through a pinch point between the shallow Banks and the endlessly deep Tongue of the Ocean created some tense moments. Not for us, fortunately. We came through here last year and had our share of excitement. This year, we are a little more comfortable and maybe a bit wiser. We hung back, let the drama play out, called the big boats on the radio to confirm our respective actions and went ahead peacefully.

We motor-sailed the night away and turned east, just after daybreak, passing the west end of New Providence.  Spontaneity reared its head again (well, actually, I guess I got anxious to get to the Exumas) and we reversed course away from our intended marina stop and headed across White Bank toward Shroud Cay in the Exumas. The wind was good enough for us to sail some more. We had promised ourselves to sail whenever possible this year and it feels good. Eventually, we had to resort to motoring because the wind shifted around on our nose. We made it to a mooring ball at Shroud Cay, in the Exumas Land and Sea Park area, by late afternoon on Tuesday, November 11.  A little tired but a lot of progress. A trip of 157 nautical miles from Cat Cay to Shroud Cay.

Some strong northwest winds developed overnight which brought with it some fairly large swell and waves. The bow rose and dropped 5 – 6 feet all night long. And we slept like logs. I woke up a few times and thought, ‘Geez, this are big waves.’ Then went right back to sleep.

We were looking forward to getting up in the morning to explore the interior part of Shroud Cay. There is a creek that runs through the mangroves which is big enough to float through, in your dinghy, all the way to the ocean side of the island. Step One is to get the dinghy down off the davits on the back of the boat. Remember those big swells and waves? Yeah. That dinghy process did not go well. By the time we got the dinghy down, it became obvious that it would be too dangerous to try to get the outboard motor onto the dinghy. Somebody was likely to get hurt and the motor would be at the bottom of the bay. Trip cancelled. We thought about the times- many times – last year when we had to take Roux in to shore in some choppy waves. He would not have been happy with a day like this because there would have been no shore relief.
Looking at the water, looking at the scenery,looking at the sky...

We spent the day doing something or other. It is easy to just look at the scenery. The light changes the colors which changes the aspects which reveals new perspectives. You get sort of enchanted, afraid to look away because you might miss a variation. We did play with the GoPro for a while filming the shark-like things swimming under our boat. We finally determined they were Remoras - those fish (not little) that tag along on sharks and whales. Apparently, they think we are a whale.

Next morning, we had decided to move on without doing the mangrove float trip. We can back-track in the next couple of weeks if we want. So, while we were a little disappointed, we quickly put it behind us when we found the wind coming from the perfect direction for our 3 hour sail south to Warderick Wells.

Warderick Wells lagoon
Warderick Wells is a famous Bahamas sailing destination. It is also within the boundaries of the Land and Sea Park and, as such, has no services – no stores, no supplies, no trash disposal, no fuel, no nothing. Although, there is a park office here. The horseshoe-shaped mooring field in cobalt and turquoise water, in between rocks and white sand, is very distinctive and has been photographed often. The approach is narrow and shallow and you must stay very close to the other mooring balls and boats going in. Fortunately, we are a little bit ahead of the sailing migration moving south this year so the mooring field is almost empty.
Butterfly Beach

As it is with every stop in the Exumas, you think, ‘This is the prettiest place I have ever seen!’ We got moored up, went to check in at the office and then went for a hike around the island. The landscape ranges from nearly lunar to mangrove shallows. The views are spectacular with the shallow banks on one side and the ocean on the other. The Exumas chain stretches north and south away from you as you stand on the high points and survey the world. Absolutely amazing.

Interior of the island - mangroves
Looking west across the banks

Tourist stop on the hike. Apparently, OSHA does not exist
here in the Bahamas.

Ocean side

Looking north along the Bahamas

SeaClearly in paradise - where she belongs.

The 'cairn' on BooBoo Hill. According to the sign,
this is the only place in the Land and Sea Park where
you can legally leave anything but footprints.

Our hike took us up to BooBoo Hill, also famous amongst Bahamas sailors, where people leave driftwood signs with their boat names and dates of their visits. We had not prepared a viable sign and thought that SeaClearly deserved a better token than a broken piece of plywood with a handwritten Sharpie inscription. Guess we will have to go back there one day with a more appropriate item.

Volunteer work. Again, no OSHA rules apply.

Day Two at Warderick Wells we volunteered to help out at the park. We expected them to have a list of projects – cleaning up trails, fixing signs – you know, volunteer work. When we asked what we could do, their response was, ‘Well, what are you good at?’ I replied that I was fairly handy with most stuff. After all, we live on a boat. Turns out they had a large watermaker that needed some hoses replaced and a generator that sounded funny. OK. Not exactly what we expected but, hey, I can do this. So, I ended up replacing that watermaker hose and then switching out the fuel filter on the generator. Junie turned out to be particularly adept at unearthing required pieces and parts in the mish-mash of miscellaneous stuff that they have on hand. They are really working with minimal tools and parts and making do with what they have.  We spent the morning working with them and they seemed to appreciate the help.

Yeah. I know, right?
We went back to the boat for a quick lunch and then went snorkeling! We started out in some deeper water over a small sunken boat. It was pretty cool but Junie kept having visions of the sharks she had seen earlier, cruising the beach while we were working. We climbed back into the dinghy and went around the island to some gorgeous little beaches where we could land and, basically, walk into the water and snorkel. Very mellow.

An approaching squall chased us back to the boat. We had some chores to attend to anyway. One of them involved our plumbing issue – our macerator pump was not working last time we tried to use it and some troubleshooting was in order. To make a long story short, it turns out that our holding tank is almost full (despite the gauge indicating that it was not) and we have no way to empty it. What a crappy situation. Sorry. There has been an endless stream of crude, 8-year-old-boy level, jokes here since this situation floated to the surface.

This, pretty much, forced us to get up and move the next morning to Staniel Cay. Again, this decision delivered perfect sailing conditions. We, literally, cleared the mooring field, came around to the heading we needed to make Staniel Cay, shut off the motor and sailed. Like, as in, seriously sailed. For hours. We had the full cutter rig working on a close reach  the entire trip. We didn't start the engine again until we needed to drop the sails for the approach to the entrance. An absolutely perfect, sailors dream, kind of day.

At Staniel Cay, there is air delivery service, via Watermakers Air, that can get us a replacement pump fairly quickly. It also means that I get to have a birthday dinner at a restaurant, we get to run the air-conditioner  (Yes, I know it is cold up north - You all have my sympathy) and let the batteries charge up nicely. The weather front will pass, we will get things fixed and we will get underway again soon. Staniel Cay has its own stories and I will get to them shortly.


  1. Hi June and Duane
    I just passed your house on my way to the Alligator River and beyond. Good luck with the plumbing issues!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Thierry! On the one hand, I wish we were home so you could stop in to see us. On the other hand...well, it is pretty warm here. Be safe Thierry.

    2. The weather is crazy here. Today it hit 78. Tomorrow will be in the 30s. Thunderstorms and tornado warnings today. Now safely anchored in Upper Dowry Creek.

  3. Great update! Love your beautiful photos! Happiest of Birthdays Duane! Best of luck on Potty issues every boaters curse. ��. Missing photos of Sea Biscuits! Will look forward to those! Look under shrubs on beach for them covered in leaves. If u can't take'em at least photo for us. Best, Doug and Betty

  4. Thank you Betty and Doug. We may be the worst beachcombers ever. We didn't see any Sea Biscuits. But we will keep looking!