Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Exuma musical anchorages (Christmas)

It's hard to get scale for the size of the megayachts, but check out the crew member on the bow...

One of the surprises in the Exumas is the megayachts. There's at least one in every anchorage and they keep getting bigger!  We are also learning to play Exuma-musical chairs--"Everyone raise anchor at 9:00 and race to the next cay." 

Norman Cay:  The Captain, who isn't a morning person (no chit chat before his second cup of coffee or longer), comes out of our berth in Highborne with, "Where to next?!"  After double-checking that this is our last fuel & water stop before Warderick Wells (Land and Sea Park has no services. Compass is the next water stop), the dinghy goes in the water. Seriously, we can barely get the outboard on because of the swells. I hand him the handheld radio and tell him the proper radio protocol is, (overheard from the megayachts) "Odin, Odin, shore team." Lol.  My Captain, Oh Captain, My Hero dinghies the mile to the marina for 3 jerry cans of water, and 2 of fuel (he returns with a bottle of vodka as a present for his First Mate--smart man). I watch him through the binoculars until he is out of sight, then crank up VHF channel 16 and begin our departure prep. When I go to flip some breakers, I see the batteries are 12.09--below the bosses' 12.15 minimum. Yes, the fridge is running, but flipping it off brings us up to 12.14. Dang it. We'll be motoring soon, but that could be an hour?  The Honda is still in the cockpit, so with trepidation, I crank it up.    (No explosions. That's good!)

Shallow boat route

When he returns, the anchor is quickly up. He plops down for a break while the First Mate motors out to the route. It's rough away from shore, so after clearing the reef, I duck back in to pick up the shallow draft route. I'm concentrating on the the chartplotter and autopilot while the Captain identifies the coral heads along the path. Pretty soon, we pop out out an anchorage with a megayacht and 2 sailboats. We find a spot close to the beach just in front of the megayacht and drop anchor in a light swell. The water is 7 ft and clear. We could probably swim to the beach. We also have a view of the airport. A surprising number of airplanes are arriving and departing the north-south runway in 20 kts of SE wind.

Norman's used to be the hideout of drug lord, Carlos Lehder (and yes, the setting of the movie, Blow). The island is now privately owned with a small resort. 

Stats:  Total time 2:04, avg speed 4.7 kts, total mileage 9.8 nm, motorsailed.

Merry Christmas, family & friends.  Wish you were here!

Christmas Eve:  Our second day in Norman is regrouping. We have a great nights sleep (no howling winds!). Over a leisurely breakfast, The Captain decides we should dinghy to the DC-3 wreck off the end of the runway (drug smuggling plane?), then swing back by McDuffs Restaurant, however the waves are pretty big for our dinghy and we're soaked before we reach the point. We turn around, electing instead to take a walk on the beach (Is this our first walk on the beach?  That can't be right!). It's an interesting beach, with natural limestone slabs scattered in the sand. Weird! (Yes, we have a rigid bottom dinghy). We confirm the restaurant is still open (it was closed in 2013 after a hurricane and wasn't always open to cruisers--part of the private resort), then walk out to check out the runway. 

Christmas Eve dinner @ McGruffs.   Norman Cay, Bahamas

After changing into dry clothes, we warmly welcomed at McDuff's for our Christmas eve meal of Bahama Mama's, Kalik, and 8 oz angus cheeseburgers with onion confit ($25 each but they were fabulous!  The crews from a few other boats stop by but balk at the prices--seriously private resort. The next nearest restaurant is...I don't know!).

Norman Cay beach

After lunch it's SNORKEL TIME!  My third attempt, it takes me awhile to get set up, then we're off on my longest snorkel. We check the anchor, then follow the limestone down the beach. Seeing brilliantly colored fish (I've only seen in aquariums!), shells--still in the water, several sea stars (starfish) and I believe, one very shy tube anemone. Amazing!  When you get tired, you just float for awhile (or let hubby take your hand and pull you along)!  Even The Captain is fun to watch--normally one to keep moving, he floats above things for a long time, observing--making me smile. We work our way out the the nearest small coral head then back to the boat--being followed by a decent-sized Great Barracuda (not recommended for eating in the Caribbean because of ciguatera poisoning).

Sunset, Norman

By sunset, our little anchorage has swollen from 5 boats to 13. Our neighbors on the 52 ft cat, Aristo are circling the anchorage with their center console dinghy, pulling the kids on a SUP. "That looks fun."  I want a SUP.  "I want a dinghy that can pull skiers!"  Christmas Vacation The Movie is popped in the DVD player.  Before bed, I pop out one more time and discover another catamaran has nudged up between us. Too close my friend. Too close. 

Christmas tree, Norman

Short sail on Christmas Day/Shroud Cay:  As soon as we're up, we start getting ready to move. A loud roar comes from the boat next to us. "Did they bring their Harley?"  Wow, it's early for a generator that loud. By 9, the anchor is up and I turn the helm over to My Cappy. It's 6 miles around the corner to Shroud Cay. Our path is basically an arc, which means I'm constantly grinding a winch to keep the sail trim up to his standards.  Halfway over, we cross into the Land & Sea boundary. We see 4 masts and a megayacht (seriously, I think it's a cruise ship) at the mooring field, so we elect for the more shallow, northern anchorage. At the last minute, we change our mind about where to anchor--"It's still rough out here (frowny face)," so I snuggle farther in to 6 ft of water, just south of the entrance to Driftwood Camp. We have tiny beach off our bow and crescent beach off our port side. "Nobody else will come back here!"  

Anchored in Shroud Cay

Stats:  Total time 1:23, avg speed 4.5, total mileage 6.3 nm (1/4 motor, 3/4 motor sail genoa/1 eng)

Jimmy Buffett, The Christmas album is on!  Mele Kalikimaka, friends.

My Captain is ready to explore, so we dinghy over to the tiny beach off our bow. The water is deep all the way in. When we step out, I sink several inches into the softest white sand I've ever experienced. There are no footprints. It's like we are the only ones who have ever been here. A tiny barracuda is fishing the area. The view back towards our boat is stunning! (I forgot the camera and the light won't be the same later.) Merry Christmas to us!  We dinghy down to check out the entrance of the creek entrance we'll do later. 

The 25ft powerboat aground (again) on the dinghy creek

After naps, we are back to a rising tide for the dinghy down the shallow Sanctuary Creek (Explorer Chartbook Exumas, "dinghy traffic at idle speed") through the mangroves to Driftwood camp ("Built during the 1960's by a sailor living on his boat just inside the creek, the camp was used by drug agents in the 1980's to spy on aircraft flying from Norman's Cay."):  You want to leave on the rising tide, because there are some shallow spots on the way in. We leave a little early, so we swing by our little beach and then head over. For some reason, I end up out of the dinghy in the shallow water and pulling. It's a great lesson in reading water depths, as I plop my butt on the bow for ballast and give hand signals. Near the end, I see a woman sitting on a sand bar, holding a baby. Photo shoot?  We round the corner and see the 25 ft powerboat hard aground. The Captain stops to help pull, but seriously, they'll float in about an hour. ("They had to come in for the ocean side."). They speak very little English, but we heard, "Armando, Armando!  Jet ski!  Jet ski!"  OK, you're on your own. We hop up to the beautiful beach and tie up then look for the trail up to Driftwood Camp. We can see our boat, Norman Cay and the powerboat heading back where we came from!  We head back and find our foreign friends aground again. "Get a picture of this!"  No, we can't pull you with our 4 hp dinghy!

Warderick Wells/Hawksbill:  We decide to skip Hawksbill and head for Warderick Wells. The anchor is up by 8:30 am and we pass by the shallow boat route for a favoring wind "outside". Mistake. We have the genoa out and are, basically sailing @ 6 kts (one engine at idle). The winds build to 26 kts and we are taking 3-4 ft waves over the bow, when I hand the helm over to the Captain (Thornless Passage, "On the passage down the banks behind the Exumas you'll close reach on 20 kts of wind without a ripple on the water."  NOT!)  I open the companionway door to check on the cat, and the water out of her bowl is hitting the ceiling and she is sitting on the salon staring at me--soaked!  "I know our house moves, but I didn't know there is water involved!"  One hatch, closest to the cockpit is cracked 1/4", so I scramble to close it. Then hold the cat for a few minutes. The couch is soaked. A quick walkaround reveals the hatch next to our berth is also letting in water (I left on the external hatch covers. The seal will take a leech line without leaking, but NO CLOTH.). As the 9:00 Warderick broadcast comes on, The Captain says, "Do you want to call or shall I?"  Seriously?  After discussing 3 more hours of this, the amount of wet things below and the perfectly good anchorage over there, we make the turn. After dropping anchor as close to the beach as we can get (the two monohulls on the moorings look rolly), all the wet things go flying out the companionway into the cockpit.  The Captain starts hanging things up without asking questions. The cat is SUPER pissed. She's dry now and gets more some hugs. She's calmed down but her nap spot is GONE (hanging outside to dry)!  Dad gives her an old t-shirt. "Who are you trying to kid?"  Her old blanket?  "NO!"  She gives up and goes out in the cockpit for a nap. 

My souvenir conch pic, from Land & Sea

After lunch and naps, we drop in the dinghy in the water. As I look down, I see a decent sized ray swim under our boat. Why, hello there!  Where's my snorkel?!  We head off to explore the ruins & find a beach covered in conch shells?  Someone has punched the hole to get at the meat, but we're in Land & Sea Park?  How old are they?  There are hundreds!  There isn't much to the ruins. (How much were we expecting from 1735?!). We get a beautiful view of the bay. On the way back, we stop at our beach for another walk.  Apparently, it was a plantation and there is a field full of palm trees?  And this bench?  More questions than answers.

Hawksbill.  No idea.

We're back at the boat just as the "shore team" from the mega-yacht (aka aircraft carrier!) arrives and this afternoon's entertainment is--3 kite surfers. That looks hard. "How do you even learn that?"  They tack back and forth near our boat but the wind gradually carries them farther and farther out. The less experienced surfer ends up WAY out there, and the tender goes to retrieve him. Red beans and rice in the pressure cooker. 

Stats:  Total time 1:30, avg speed 4.6 kts, total mileage 6.8 nm, motor-sailed genoa/1-engine.

Sunset over the megayacht.  Hawksbill, Exuma, Bahamas.

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