At Staniel Cay we got to explore a marvelous cave by fin. We donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the anchored dinghy. Swam into a hole in a big rock island and found this cavern inside. Magic! Some of the best snorkeling we’ve seen so far in the Bahamas.
Another little clip of our adventures this one is of riding in a golf cart with our dear friends Rich and Mimi from s/v Maffick. We have been having a delightful time with them in the Exumas and have been grateful for their special friendship!
In the last few days we have visited 3 caves. These caves are located in very tiny uninhabited islands, and to get inside of them you have to snorkel into an opening in the rock wall of the island into the cavern. The first two caves we went to were at a special place in the Land and Sea Park called “Rocky Dundas”. What a great name! This place is said to be a sacred site of the native Lucayan people that originally lived here. It does feel sacred. The cave felt like a cathedral, with high vaulted ceilings made of sculpted, richly colored stone. Light shone down in glimmering shafts through openings in the top. It made you want to sing praises to God.
We went with our friends Mimi and Richard from s/v Maffick, who have been our travelling buddies since we found them in Norman’s Cay. They have been great to hang out with, easy going and fun. We took their 30 foot Gemini Catamaran over to the caves from our anchorage a few miles away, and fell in love with their boat. The caves at Rocky Dundas had great snorkeling all around it, with whole schools of fish and very impressive coral, including gigantic gold colored staghorn coral, which is looks like a Dr. Suess version of gigantic rack of elk horns. We also visited the “Sea Aquarium”, a small snorkeling area that is renowned for it’s friendly “herd” of Sargeant Major fish. These adorable fish have black and white zebra stripes, with yellow backs. The fish here at the Sea Aquarium were definitely friendly! As soon as we pulled up in our dinghy, we could see dozens of them surrounding the boat. As soon as we jumped in the water, they crowded all around us, as if to say “Welcome!! Where’s the food?!?” Apparently these fish have been fed by humans, and have come to welcome our visits. It was such a delight to swim in such close proximity to these little cuties completely surrounding you!
Then we moved on to Staniel Cay, where there is another famous cave called Thunderball Cave. This is where they filmed some James Bond movies, among others. It was absolutely spectacular. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, just another rocky tiny island. But you put your snorkel on your face, and your face in the water, and head for a small opening in the rock. Another group of friendly Sargeant Major fish greet you at the entrance. Larger fish lurk in holes along the rock which are lined with crazy coral, some which appear to be actually glowing blue light. A strong current pushes you as you approach the narrow entrance, and you force your way through, fish passing you on all sides. And then the cave opens up, and it takes your breath away. Light comes through, penetrating through the water and casting enchanting shadows. You don’t know whether to look up or down, as below the surface is an entire world of coral and magnificent sea creatures, and above is a vaulted cathedral like dome. Here is a small glimpse:
I definitely have a new appreciation for the value of coral reefs in creating a habitat for such a diverse array of wonderful life forms. The fish love their protection, and of course the food that they provide. There is a wonderful, peaceful community of fish living at each coral head, each fish doing it’s own job to keep the reef healthy and balanced. What a fine example they make for the rest of us striving to create community. Some of the major lessons I’ve learned from these fish are that the more outrageously colorful you are, the better. And stick with your kind, but mingle often with others. And don’t trust long legged creatures coming at you with spears.
What a sweet ride!
Here’s a video that shows the endangered iguanas on Allan’s Cay in the Exumas.
A week ago we tried to cross the Tongue of the Ocean to get to New Providence, Bahamas. That’s the island where the country’s capital is located–Nassau. The wind was on the nose (of course), and the chop was bad. The waves were 5 feet tall and only 4 seconds apart, so we were doing wheelies avery four seconds. Major stress.
So with only 16 miles to go, we turned around and ran to Morgan’s Bluff, Andros.
Over a week later the winds shifted enough to give us a wee tiny little window to get across to New Providence again. Being that we are dumb and want to be sailors and not motorboaters, we wanted to sail the whole way. What are we trying to prove to ourselves?!
Of course, the wind was blowing straight on our nose, as if was it created and sent directly at us from the very anchorage on New providence that we were trying to reach! The waves were about four feet tall with a three second period. It was basically the same scenario all over again!
Lala and I processed for a long while about our options. We considered turning back and trying again the next day. We considered running to the Berrys and then to the Abacos and skipping the Exumas all together. After considering the weather deeply and talking all options through, we decided to press on.
That meant that for the first time in our sailing careers we would beat to windward the entire way, while our friends in the two other sailboats making the crossing that day simply motor sailed their way across.
It’s a 30 mile course if you go in a straight line. We had to tack back and forth all day long and ended up travelling about 60 miles in a zig zag course to make those 30 miles to windward. It is serious work! They don’t call it “beating to windward” for nothing! We had to strach and claw every mile of the way there.
We did it though! It took us 14 hours to work our way all the way from Andros to New Providence. We sailed off the anchor in the morning before we set out, and we sailed to anchor that evening when we arrived at New Providence. We didn’t start the motor for a moment the entire trip. It was quite an accomplishment for us.
It was exhausting! Beating to windward means that the boat heels over 20 to 30 degrees and bounces up and over and down each wave for the entire trip. Just try standing up in the cockpit or cabin without hanging onto something, and you will end up falling over and hurting yourself. Cooking is nigh impossible. We just ate nuts and twigs all day.
It sure was a learning experience and a confidence builder though. We learned that we couldn’t get our boat to point closer to the wind than about 60 degrees. That’s not good windward performance. Too much weight in the back of the boat. Too much stuff on deck. We learned that we really can read the wind and waves now, and we intuitively know when to tack. And last but not least, we can claim bragging rights for making a passage like that without ever using the motor. It’s supposed to be a backup after all!
So one lesson at a time, we are becoming better sailors. Thank God for our angels looking after us! We are being guided to something here, and we have yet to find out what it is!
We walked about 6 miles to get to a store, and were exhausted in the mid day sun and heat. Then we hitched a ride on a tractor! Cool!
We’ve brought the Conch shell tradition to the Bahamas from the Keys.
Lala woke up early because of some banging on the boat. The main sheet had come loose, and the boom was banging back and forth as we rolled in the anchorage. She was like a walking zombie barely able to keep her balance or think a thought other than “stop the banging!” Turns out that the swinging boom broke our anchor light cord. Bummer. We’ll have to fix that too. She came back to bed and we went back to sleep.
A while later I woke to my watch alarm which goes off early in the morning. The sun was just rising I blew the conch shell out over the waters to greet the coming day, and I turned on the SSB radio and brought it to bed. We listened to Chris Parker’s weather forecast while still half asleep. Everything sounds good for staying in this anchorage for the next few days. There is no protection here for winds from the west to north, so this is not a place to stay if a front comes through.
Fell back asleep again. Damn we were tired. Didn’t really regain consciousness until 11:00 or so. Then I spoke these sacred words: “coffee” and “banana pancakes.” That magically roused Lala from some deep otherwordly place, and without opening her eyes, she repeated the mantra: “banana pancakes” with a big ass smile on her face.
I did up the Wee Happy coffee double strong with a double dose of condensed milk. That really got us going!
We struggled to assemble and inflate our dinghy from the land of giants on the Albin Vega’s wee foredeck so that we could get ashore today. That almost brought us to tears with frustration because we still haven’t recovered from our exhausting passages. Nevermind that though! One jump into the crystal clear waters from the deck and all troubles were washed away.
The water here is clean and perfect. It’s just the right temperature to stay in all day long. It just brings a smile to all the sad places inside of you. You cant help but become one big smile. While we were lingering in the water, soaking in its healing powers, over came a couple from the next boat over in the anchorage, s.v Gitana Del Mar. Michael and Jennifer introduced themselves and told us all the benefits of this sweet little spot.
Here there are deep Blue Holes, unlimited delicious fresh water, a produce market, a woman who does laundry, gasoline, $5 lunches and dinners, and Captain Morgan’s treasure cave. Yeah, for real! Captain Morgan (the pirate, you know) stashed his booty in a cave just a ¼ mile from here. You can just go explore it. It’s not a business or anything. There’s great fishing and snorkeling just across the bay too. Not only that, but Jennifer hit us with the fatal blow after that. “Do you want to do yoga in the yurt over there on the beach?”
That’s really going for the jugular. I haven’t been able to stand up in six months now. Yoga? DAMN STRAIGHT! In a yurt too! Over a beautiful beach in the Bahamas with nothing but a few sailboats around! DAMN! We hit the jackpot here. It can really pay off to follow your intuition and go off the beaten path!
Turns out that Michael and Jennifer are from Connecticut, although you couldn’t tell from their tan skin. They are traveling on their nice sloop with their two children, Moriah and James. They came to do yoga too, along with an Irishman named Allen who is also anchored here.
The yurt has two floors and no walls. We did yoga on the second floor overlooking the water from up above it all with a delicious warm breeze blowing over our bodies. Is this for real?!?!
We rowed back our Albin Vega sailboat any made dinner in the tiny little kitchen with our beautiful new stove. Played with the kitties. Still tired, but relaxed and full of wonder and gratitude now. Blew the conch at sunset four times. Once when it just touched the horizon line, twice while it was setting, and once when it was fully gone. Seeing the sun rise and set every day is becoming a spiritual practice of sorts. It helps to connect me to the cycles of this beautiful world that give us life and meaning.
Breathe deep and rejoice. You are alive.
Woke at 06:15 to tune into Chris Parker’s morning Bahamas weather net on 4045 khz SSB. Made strong Wee Happy coffee and got ready to haul anchor to get off the Great Bahamas Banks and into the tongue of the Ocean. We decided to head for New Providence Island, where Nassau is located. From there we could make it to the Exumas in just one more day of travel. The trouble was that the wind would be on the nose and strengthening. We hoped that we could make it to Nassau before the chop got too bad and the headwinds too strong. It was 60 miles to the anchorage at West Bay on the west end of New Providence, so it was going to be another long day. Actually it was another passage like crossing the Gulf Stream, except without the strong current. The sun was out, the temperature was nice, and the winds were only around 5 to 10 knots.
On our way around the Northwest shoal marker that doesn’t exist we saw a sailboat going right over the shoal from the anchorage that we almost made it to the night before. Our paths crossed as we converged to go through the narrow channel into the Tongue of the Ocean. They hailed us on channel 16, and it turned out to be s/v Midnight Express from Marathon. We’d met there when we lost our kayak paddle in a serious blow. They lent us their paddle while we searched the mangroves. People said that we’d run into people we know in the Bahamas, but seriously out here in the middle of nowhere?!!! We motored together into the wind until our ways separated as they headed to Chub Key and we headed towards the Nassau area.
The Tongue of the Ocean is a mile deep, just like the Gulf Stream. So after 60 miles over the banks in water no deeper than 20 feet anywhere, we suddenly found ourselves in over 5,000 feet of water. The winds were out of the southeast…directly in our line of travel. To make West Bay before dark, we’d have to keep going at least 4 knots for 12 hours or so. Our plan B was to head to Morgan’s Bluff on the northeast tip of Andros, and our plan C was to head to Chub Key, the southernmost island in the Berrys.
We made good progress in the beautiful grand bleu of the ocean. Most of the time we were alone in the great splendor of lapis blue below and baby blue above. We made love in the sunshine with no one around for dozens of miles. What a treasure of an experience to make love on a sailboat in all of God’s glory.
A few hours later, as we were closing on New Providence, the winds and seas reared up quite a bit. Our Albin Vega was beating hard to windward by motor and was bobbing like a cork, so we flew full canvas and fell off the wind enough to see how high we could point and how fast we could sail The closest we could aim to our target was about 30 degrees to the east of it. We were beating hard to windward and making headway, but only 3 knots. That wouldn’t get us into port before sundown. So we started the motor again (dammit! We are supposed to be sailors!!!). We furled in the jib and kept the main up for stability. With enough throttle to keep our average speed over 4 knots so we could make port by sunset, we were beating HARD. The bow was coming fully out of the water every two or three waves. By this I mean that we were doing wheelies. Not fun with a 6,000 pound vessel that is supposed to stay in the water, not out of it!
16 miles to go. 4 knots. Four hours of hell.
We like to think we are tough, but we really had no desire to keep stressing ourselves and our vega out like that. If we didn’t have to be in port before sundown then we could just turn off the motor and sail to windward at a lazy 2 or 3 knots without popping wheelies and pegging our blood pressure. If we didn’t mind beating up our boat and ourselves, we could just pound ahead for 4 hours at 4 knots.
Why push though? Really!
We changed course and headed for Morgan’s Bluff on Andros. Instantly the sailing was blissful and beautiful on a nice reach. The waves were just so close together that when we were pounding to windward we were getting slammed every 3 or 4 seconds. The path to New Providence from the Northwest channel can really be surprisingly hard in even moderate winds.
We let go of the idea of trying to push on to catch up with our friends Sara and Trevor on s.v Earendil. Oh well. We tried! Maybe we’ll run into each other later. In the mean time, we’ll be exploring Andros: the island where (next to) nobody goes in the Bahamas.
We made the entrance channel to the anchorage just before sundown, which made us nervous because we were heading directly into the setting sun. Talk about blinding glare and lack of visibility!!! I was wearing two pairs of polarized sunglasses, and that still wasn’t enough to look into the horizon for long.
Lucky for us, the channel is very well marked by Bahamian standards, and the entrance channel is easy for small craft in most conditions. We motor sailed in, took a left and found a sweet spot to anchor nestled into the southeast corner of the bay. There are only five other sailboats here, and they are all relatively small. Your boat has to be to explore Andros. The big boys can’t play here because the waters are simply too shallow. Sweet! We like remote exploration off the beaten path. We don’t care to go to the big cities and crowded anchorages.
Andros sounds wicked cool anyway. It’s the only island in the Bahamas that has natural fresh water. It literally has fresh water springs welling up within. It also has “blue holes” all over the island where there is a circular pond of sorts with fresh water on top and then thousands of feet of salt water beneath. They are reputed to be the most amazing blue. Andros also has fresh produce!!! That’s nearly unheard of in the Bahamas! Oh yeah, there’s a fiber craft / weaving community here too, so we are excited to explore.
We were so tired after crossing the banks and getting only 5 hours of sleep before our day on the tongue of the Ocean, that we could barely set our anchor without crying. Once we got it set right though, we made dinner and uncovered the interior of Wee Happy. We took out the outboard motor that was sleeping on the starboard half of our bed in the v-berth. Found the port side of the v-berth was soaked, and so were all the books on the port side of the shelf at the forepeak of the v-berth. Some of the water that went over the bow while we were beating to windward must have made it inside through the hull/deck joint and the front hatch. We’ll have to get some caulk out before our next passage!
We transformed the bathroom from a storage closet back to a bathroom. We unearthed the couches in the main cabin. Our vessel became a snug cozy place to hang out again, and we dove into bed for a much needed full nights sleep in calm protected waters. Still can’t imagine sleeping while crossing an ocean or while hove to for the night. Nice sheltered anchorages with flat water are just SOOooOoOOoOOOo nice!!! After three days of almost constant travel, the cats finally got out to play on the deck.