It has taken me a long time to post the blog below. It is about the last part of our sailing vacation over the summer. As it turns out, Natalia and I came back for Thanksgiving and we are now anchored in the North West end of Stocking Island. I’ll write more about it, but for now this is what happened after we entered the Exumas in mid August..
The Exumas must be in the top 10 percent of beautiful cruising grounds worldwide. For me at least, these are the islands and cays I have enjoyed the most so far — granted having only a few comparators (Seychelles, the Aleutian Islands, the South West of Thailand, the BVIs, and the Channel Islands in the West Coast). The shallow waters can be a source of stress for those of us in a keel boat (particularly when the depth sounder is not working), but things improve as you learn to read the water. Plus these days, electronic charts (and Active Captain) make things much easier. In my case, I use a combination of NavX and Garmin Blue Charts. Of course, I also have a hard copy of the Explorer Charts Books and Padlivis’ books in my Kindle. Below are some notes from the two weeks cruise.
Compass Cay has an spectacular beach that we would have enjoyed even more had we remembered to bring cold drinks, appetizers, and wine. It’s a 10 minute walk over a well marked sand path that twists and turns through wild bushes. Turquoise waters extend far into the ocean without increasing much in depth and, at least that day, there was just enough wave action to keep the girls entertained. The owners of the Marina have built two picturesque huts with chairs and hammocks that you can use to relax and find protection from the sun. Nobody else seemed to care and we had the beach for ourselves; except for an old, white, voluminous cat who was sleeping in one of the huts and didn’t flinch by our presence. The marina though, to my surprise, didn’t have much to offer, only cold beer. Apparently they usually grill hamburgers and sausages but they had run out of propane. I was not even able to find a 50 Amp adaptor for shore power (one of the next items I am going to buy) and had to rely on the Honda generator. We also didn’t like been surrounded by big motor boats. That said, it is definitely worthwhile to stop-by and swim with the nurse sharks; quite an experience that, except for Sofia, we all enjoyed. The animals, Ginglymostoma cirratum, have a very thick, brownish, skin, a broad head, and a hinged mouth that forces them to suck their pray instead of biting it (which is why they are not considered dangerous for humans). They feed at night and sleep during the day. So, while they were riffling through the bottom sediments searching for food, we had dinner in the boat and then slept like stones. It had been a long day. The next morning, after breakfast, Natalia and the girls went to say good by to the sharks who were sleeping over the swimming platform. When they came back we casted-off our lines and motored towards Conch Cut. Before reaching the cut we did a U turn towards Exuma Bank and then headed to our next destination, the Big Majors. I have good memories of Compass Cay but, if I ever go back, I will anchor outside the marina and use the dinghy to go ashore.
Big Majors and the Pigs. We anchored in 7 feet of water a quarter mile from shore. Even if there were several large motor boats around we had much more room to ourselves. Plus it was a sunny day, the water was calm, and the surrounding volcanic formations and tropical vegetation kept us well protected from the wind. After lunch we dropped the dinghy, installed the outboard, and went ashore to meet the famous pigs.
Nobody seems to know where the pigs came from. Some argue that they survived a ship wreck, others that they were left in the “island” by sailors who planned to come back and eat them but never did, yet others claim that they are simply part of a scheme to promote tourism. Regardless, they are there now — around 20 of them between adults and piglets –, and we enjoyed feeding them and swimming with them. We also saw a couple of wild goats.
The day was hot and I preferred to be in the water than walking on the beach. So the pictures below were taken by Natalia and Marina. We must have stayed with the pigs for an hour or so. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the boat, jumping in the water from time to time to stay fresh. At sunset we gathered in the cockpit for appetizers and drinks and started planning the rest of the trip. Marina’s 11th birthday was coming in two days and her wish was to celebrate in land and have dinner at a “nice restaurant.” Next morning I called the marina at Stanley Cay and reserved a slip.
Stanley Cay. The cay is just around Big Majors but it is surrounded by shallows. We motored carefully, relying on our eyes and the Blue Charts. We had to dock between two large motor boats and there was barely room for Antares. Luckily, the breeze was light and blowing from the east pushing us towards the dock. The only other sailing boat around was anchored outside the marina; a 38 footer, classic design.
After making a reservation at the restaurant for a round table by the window that Marina had chosen, we headed to “town” to buy groceries. We walked under a scorching sun with Marina, who had found a map of the island, as the guide. Not much to see. The main road followed the beach at first but soon turned inland. We were expecting to find a decent size food store but instead encountered a couple of very small ones, really add-ons to the owners’ houses, that you can be distinguish by their colors. The “pink” store we thought was the best, not the least because outside lives an oak three with a large trunk and a dense mingle of branches and leafs that offers plenty of shade to the visitors. I was very pleased to find there Permalate milk which does not require refrigeration until you open (and I personally like the taste) and orange juice in cans (same advantage). Because we were fully loaded the lady who owns the store offered to drive us back to the marina in her gulf car.
We spent the rest of the day in the swimming pool where we met the owners of the sailing boat anchored outside. Two friends: the skipper (who leaves in the boat), and a large man from Florida who comes during holidays (this time with his son and daughter and their respective best friends). I am not sure how they managed to all fit in the boat but it was clear from some of the conversations that cohabitation was not easy. I invited the skipper for a drink at the bar. We had a long talk about his life and my cruising plans. He was coming from George Town, the place where we were headed and where he had stayed “for too long.” An American on a disability pension, he had been cruising the Bahamas for the last 10 years. Time, sun, wind, and a penchant for alcohol had started to mark his rectangular face but he was still a good looking man in his 50s. I got plenty of advice about the best cuts and places to anchor. After a couple of drinks we all went for a walk and in search of souvenirs. On our way back the skipper took me aside and guided me into a local bar where he was already known by name. We sealed our encounter with a shot of rum.
Natalia and I got up at 4am to decorate the boat for Marina’s birthday. For breakfast we had pancakes, eggs, and bacon as had been requested. We spent the day walking around, swimming, reading, and playing cards. At sunset we all dressed up to go for a drink and then dinner. The restaurant had dim lights that barely exposed its sober decor, more of a Mediterranean style that contrasted with the surroundings. The round table lied at a corner, by the window, in an almost separate space. We could see the moon outside. The chef didn’t disappoint. After Marina blew her candle we went back to the boat to open presents. It was a special celebration that I hope she will not forget.
Headed to George Town. Natalia left at dawn; she had an early plane to Nassau and then DC. For rest of the trip to Georgetown it would be only the girls and I. By 10:30am we were ready to cast-off the lines. Antares was still trapped between two giant yatchs and we had to use a small motor boat to pull her bow away from the dock. Once cleared, I motored out of the marina and back to Exumas Bank.
We set course towards Little Farmers some 15 miles away. Three hours later we were looking for a place to anchor, Marina at the helm. At first we tried the west side of Little Farmers but there was no beach where to land and the water was choppy. I asked Marina to motor slowly towards the north end, around Hawks Nest. We had contradictory information about depths in the area and there was only one catamaran at anchor there. The Navionix charts indicated 7 feet of water but the Blue Charts only 4ft. We decided to give it a try and eventually dropped the hook over 6 ft of water (as measured by my handheld depth sounder) close to low tide. We took the dinghy to the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling. After going back to the boat to change in proper, clean, clothes and watch the sunset, we had dinner at Ty’s Sunset Bar and Grill (recommended, great service). It was a fine day. Unfortunately, the night was quite the contrary, at least for me. The wind was blowing down the low hills with a sharp timbre and almost from the south. The anchorage was rolly to the extreme and Antares was jerked around. I was concerned about dragging the anchor and didn’t sleep well.
The next day I had to convince Marina and Sofia to leave the place; they wanted to go back to the beach and stay one more night. But I knew we had to make as much south as possible before the wind increased. Thus, after breakfast, we hauled the dinghy, retrieved the anchor, and headed to Exuma Sound through farmers cut with Marina at the helm (to bring the dinghy on board I winch it up using the main halyard until it clears the life-lines, then Marina releases the halyard while I stow the dinghy under the boom). The plan was to sail to Rats Cay, some 20 miles south. I confess that both girls were apprehensive, recalling the passage from Cape Eleuthera. I promised that this one was going to be shorter and easier because there was less wind (even if on the nose). Farmers cut is quite narrow and as we approached we could see the current creating small eddies and choppy water. Marina crossed the cut without hesitation and then headed up-wind while I hoisted the main. We sailed east for a while to get away from land and then turned south, unrolled the Genoa, and set Constancia the windvane.
The passage was indeed uneventful. Marina and Sofia read, painted, and watched a movie. We also ate while under way. In a bit less than five hours we were entering Rats cut headed towards one of the most beautiful anchorages I have seen. The cut was also narrow but, contrary to Conch and Farmers, well protected. It was a very sunny afternoon and we could see the different shades of green in the water. Marina was again at the helm while I monitored the Blue Charts. We anchored between Pigeon Cay and Rats Cay. No boats or human life around. Splendid scenery that I contemplated while drinking a cold beer. After having had some rest Marina helped me again with the dinghy and we went to the beach at Pigeon Cay carrying our snorkeling gear. Spent the afternoon following and enjoying the fish. We came back to the boat at sunset to our usual drinks and appetizers but this time, maybe because we were very close to land, hungry nats came to pay a visit! We had to go inside making sure that the screens were in place. I have to say that they worked pretty well. A couple of nats made it to the cabin but it was manageable. We could fix dinner, eat, and sleep in peace.
The last leg to Georgetown “down” Exuma sound was slow but comfortable. The wind was blowing from the South East at less than 12 Knots. It might have taken us 5 & 1/2 hours to sail the 20 miles separating Rats cut from Conch Cut at the entrance of Elizabeth Harbor. The girls were tired and a bit moody but felt immediately better upon arrival. It seems that during the high season there are hundreds of sailing boats anchored in the area; Georgetown, after all, is supposed to be the Mecca of cruisers. But in mid August we found just a few.
Georgetown was a bit disappointing, maybe in part because it was deserted. Other than a couple of shops, a nice cafe, and the port there was not much to do or see. We had reserved a slip at the Yatch Club where we were planning to leave Antares for the next three months. Only a couple of large motor boats were there. We spent the last two days cleaning the boat, stowing gear, and packing. The girls enjoyed the bar/lounge at the marina and made friends with the bartender. Although the menu is frugal, it has a nice view of Elizabeth Harbor and the breeze keeps the place cool even during very hot days. But other than that, the Yatch Club had little to offer and the slips didn’t seem very secure for Hurracain season. At the end I decided to leave Antares on the hard at the boat yard behind Fergusson point, and hired Roston McGregor to take care of her during my absence. Roston is a great sailor and reliable boat manager. I am indebted for all he did to keep Antares safe during Hurracain Matthew.
We left early in the morning of August 15. By then the girls we’re ready to go back to DC to the comforts of civilization, their mom and friends. I was nostalgic. Antares is still waiting there for our return, which might takes place during Thanksgiving.