Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Swimming Pigs and Margaritas

After leaving Lee Stocking Island we spent a night at Blackpoint Settlement where we joined 60 other cruisers for dinner at Lorraine's cafe. The next day we met up with Dave and Corinne on At Last at Big Majors Spot where we fed the swimming pigs and celebrated International Margarita Day. 

The famous Swimming Pigs looking for a snack at Big Majors Spot
Janice and Wilson beach combing.
After two peaceful nights in the anchorage there we moved on to Exuma Park in search of some good snorkelling opportunities. We spent the next day at Norman Cay here we explored an abandoned resort.

Found our piece of paradise

This was a laundromat but only the stainless drums are left now

This was a happening night club at one time on Normans Cay

Drug Runners plane a DC3 crashed in the lagoon at Normans Cay
Then we moved on to Highborne Cay where Al and I enjoyed a long drift dive on some of the best reefs we have come across on this trip.
Exploring a cave at Big Majors Cay

Thursday, 21 February 2013

1st real Nor'easter

We have been so lucky this winter, there has not been any really nasty weather until now. The couple of Nor'easter's that came through while we were in the USA were short lived. We decided to sail Friday from Conception Island to Santa Maria Resort on Long Island and anchor out. This turned out to be a good move as it shortened the trip to Lee Stocking Island and gave us a better wind angle to sail on Saturday. Just as we approached Lee Stocking Cut the rain and high winds came thundering through. Al had anticipated the sudden wind gusts and had furled the main sail and was in the process of furling the genoa but the winds were too strong and for the last half of the genoa he had to attach the line to the winch to finish the furling. During this time the sheets were flailing and one hit the dodger and broke the window. Oh well, they were yellowing and in need of replacement anyway. The wind came out of the south and started its typical clockwise rotation with high gusty winds and colder air (mid 60's). it was a fairly comfortable anchorage but because there was another boat anchored in close proximity we woke up with every wind shift to check that our mooring ball hadn't come loose and that the other boat hadn't swung too close.
Sun downer party at Conception Island

Always beautiful sunsets

Diving has in the most part been a bust. We have sailed about 500 miles since leaving Georgetown in search of the elusive spectacular diving the Bahamas is known for. Hogsty Reef was to be a highlight as people rarely go there (because it is so remote) and we expected the reef would be in pristine condition. In the two days we spent there we explored the small island and snorkeled on a small ship wreck. However it was so windy, with huge waves and surge, we were risking our lives just getting into the dingy.

Conception Island was also high on our list to dive and we did do some snorkeling but the reefs are basically all dead. There is the odd brain coral and a few sea fans that seem to be coming back. Fisherman have used bleach to fish for crawfish and scalefish. The coral is very susceptible to minute amounts of this stuff and that may explain the very few fish we saw also. We did spend one morning here exploring the mangroves and saw quite a few sea turtles and a crane but not much else. I was expecting the mangroves to be teeming with life but was sadly dissapointed.
Perry Institute for Marine Science has likely the only Hyperbaric camber in the Bahamas.
This 2 man underwater vehicle should be in a museum.

This underwater vehicle was used in the James Bond "The spy who loved me" movie

We were back in Lee Stocking Island to wait out the storm and obtained the last mooring ball.  We stayed there for a few days and have now moved on to meet up with Dave and Corinne at Staniel Cay.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Castle Island

Castle Island is on the south end of Ackland Island.  The only thing there is a lighthouse which is abandoned.  We anchored off the south side surrounded by reefs

This light house has no center column like the last one we visited.

A eagle has a new home with quite the view

The stairs looked unsafe so I did not make the trek to the top

We made our mark like many before

This was the light keepers house, the hurricanes have taken their toll


Hogsty Reef and bad weather

We made the 41.5 nm sail down to Hogsty reef in 20 gusting 25 knot winds.  Hogsty is an almost perfect atoll surrounded by sand bars, reefs, wrecks and a small (150 x 700 feet) island where we anchored.

This atoll is located 30 miles from the nearest island and surrounded by 3000+ feet of water.  Imagine cruising along, convinced there is nothing in your path, only to come to a sudden and violent stop on this reef  in the middle of nowhere.


This is the only markers on the reef a stone cairn  with a water well and a light that does not work.  The light used to be gas but was converted to solar.

A fishing boat pulled in and anchored about half a mile away overnight and we watched as seven small boats took off, in rough seas, from the main ship at first light in the morning.  A couple of fishermen in one of the small boats approached us and asked if we wanted some fish.  We said yes and off they went to spear some at the drop off (where the ocean floor has a sudden and steep change in depth).  A little while later they returned and we purchased 2 good sized groupers.  The fishermen were from the Dominican Republic and I was amazed at the gear they were using.  Their boat was a 14ft skiff with a 20hp yamaha motor.  In the center was a 5hp gas motor driving a oil-bath air compressor like you would have in a repair shop.  It was setup as a hooka with at least 200 feet of air hose.  One person drove the boat and the other person dove with a speargun.  I wonder how many people die catching fish that way. The oil from the compressor is really bad on your lungs. 

Al watched the boat driver frantically circling as he could not figure out where his diver was.  He went out of the 200 ft range and ripped the air supply from the diver.  The diver swam to shore and was waving, trying to catch the attention of the driver. The seas were so rough the driver was bailing full time to keep the boat from sinking and would not know where the diver was anyway.

The wind stayed strong and the water rough all day so we stayed aboard and tried to catch up on our sleep. Al tied a stern anchor to point the bow into the surge, it was better the second day but the wind was higher the next night 30-35 knots. Unfortunately the weather turned even worse and after snapping one temporary anchor and breaking the 3/4 nylon rode to the stern anchor we decided to head out. Al found the anchor in the morning in 20 feet of water and retrieved it.  It is a good thing we had 4 anchors on board!  I am disappointed that we didn't get to do much exploring in this area, I thought this would be a highlight of the trip.    

We headed out under windy conditions and high seas and made it to an anchorage on Long Cay, where we spent a more comfortable night.  This morning we moved on back to Clarence Town.  Although the winds were light we managed to blow out the spinnaker sail. We will have to add that to the growing list of repairs and replacements.
This is a mail boat that ran aground on the reef in 2009.

The sea shells are encased in the rock here.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Great day in Crooked Island

We arrived at our anchorage near the Landrail Point Settlement on Crooked Island  yesterday afternoon.  We had a good trip down but no sailing wind so we motored the 46 miles.

Al is looking for lunch but no luck today

This morning we went snorkelling on the reef beside our boat.  We saw a shark, baracuda and some good sized coral heads.
The fuel boat came in from Gregory Town, we almost ran over his hose in the dingy.

  After we went to see the settlement here and met some very nice people.  There are about 500 people who live on the island.  The Landrail Settlement was settled by Seventh Day Adventists and the church is still very active here.
 We toured the village and had a great lunch in the restaurant for just 5$ each, including dessert.  The stores here are well stocked, better than we have seen in other small centers.  There is also more farming here than we have witnessed elsewhere in the Bahamas.  After lunch we visited a lighthouse
The light house has long been abandoned

2 families used to live here at one time

The steel steps are getting very rusty
The view from the top is spectacular

Lovely walk on the beach returning to the boat to end a fabulous day in paradise.

We are off to Acklands Island tomorrow and then down to Hogsty Reef which is 40 miles south of Acklands Island to do some scuba diving. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Clarence Town & Deans Blue Hole

We left Santa Maria Point Monday morning after a great Superbowl Party at the resort.  It was a 55 mile sail down to Clarence Town but we got in in good time as we averaged 7.5 knots the whole way.

Janice made a big pot of fish chowder from the lobster Dave caught and fish we had been given.

The free divers are in training when we visited Deans Blue Hole

Today we went off to explore town and to find Deans blue hole, the deepest in the world (663 feet).
We hitch hiked to the Blue hole and a Tamika gave us a ride right there (about a mile off the main road).   On the way back we caught a ride with a couple we met in Georgetown a week earlier. 

This church looks like a castle

One of the original settlement houses
The roof blew off this church when Hurricane Irene came through a couple of years ago

They are reinforcing and going to replace the roof.

Tomorrow we will head off for the Crooked Islands as we continue to make our way south.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Long Island

On Friday, when we left George Town for Long Island, there was no wind, but that soon changed and we hit nearly 30 knots and rising seas about 20 miles into our 40 mile voyage.  We reached Long Island before 5 pm, picking our way through the coral heads, and anchored just off the Santa Maria Beach resort.
What a beautiful place Santa Maria Resort, look close we are anchored just offshore
 The anchorage was a little lumpy (current and waves) so we were rocking and rolling the first night.   The winds were still strong in the morning so we decided to sit tight and head out  in a couple of days when winds are predicted to drop significantly and also so we could catch the superbowl game on the big screen at the resort.  Al and Dave set stern anchors to bring the stern into the surge and it was quite comfortable after that.
Quaint restaurant on the east side of the north end of Long island

While here Al and David went lobster catching and brought back a good sized tail.  We went for a  dinghy ride up through the mangroves and a walk where we ran into a local farmer who showed off his garden and a fishermen, (from Ottawa) who invited us to his house and provided us with some fillets of Mahi Mahi.
On our way back we stopped at a local restaurant and had lunch.  Last night we attended the Super Bowl party at the resort. A link to a video of the resort is below.

Typical Bahamian house and garden

There are reefs surrounding the island so having good visibility is a must for near-shore  navigation.  We hope to stop and do some snorkeling/diving tomorrow on our way down to Clarence Town.