Friday, February 21, 2014

Hopping Home via Lyford Cay, Chub Cay, Bimini

And finally, our voyage back to the US.  It took several hops, with our first stop at Lyford Cay on New Providence.  New Providence is home to Nassau which was the last place we wanted to go, but Lyford Cay is much more away from the hustle and bustle of Nassau and made for a pleasant stop with only one downside.  My god it was expensive.  $5.25/ft  Yikes!  I think that's the most I've ever paid and cost almost as much for one night as I paid for a full month at Sea Spray on Elbow Cay.

Needless to say we only stayed one night and the next day made the run to Chub Cay which is part of the Berry Islands.  At Chub we elected to anchor in the bay/cove outside the harbor and had a great afternoon snorkeling around.

Our next hop was a long one from Chub to Bimini so we set out at first light and arrived at Bimini mid afternoon.  Originally we were hoping to anchor on the west side of the north island of Bimini, but the wind had kicked up and it would have been very uncomfortable, so we continued down to the south island to Bimini Sands which is a well protected harbor and development/resort.  We didn't go by land to see the north Island, but from the water on our way down is looked like one large abandoned construction site with idle cranes and half build houses and condos.  It was another reminder how hard hit the Bahamas were (at least parts of it) by both the boom and bust of the real estate market.  Hopefully in time it too will recover.

We hung out in Bimini for a couple of days waiting for the weather conditions to improve for our final crossing back to the US.  From Bimini it's a short 40nm or so across to Miami, but Miami is a good bit further south than our planned destination of Palm Beach Gardens.  The more diagonal direct shot to Palm Beach is around 75nm, but has the advantage of the gulf stream helping to push you along.  We were hoping for conditions favorable enough to make the direct route to Palm Beach, and sure enough we got them.  It was a stark contrast to our trip over 6 weeks earlier, and was so calm that we decided to burn some fuel and just blast through it.  By early afternoon we were working our way through the Lake Worth inlet and heading up the ICW to the marina where we would leave the boat for a couple of months before continuing the trip north back to Gloucester.

In summary, the trip was a great success, and we both really like having a waterfront home that we can more around and position wherever we want for the cold winter months.  It's nice not to be stuck inside so much, and great to be able to extend the boating season to be year-round instead of the meager 6 months that we stretch out of New England.  And I sure don't miss all the work associated with winterizing and recommissioning over and over again.

Highborne Cay

Heading back now, a reasonable stopping point appeared to be Highborne Cay.  As you may recall, we tried to get into the marina there not long after we first arrived in the Exumas, but they were full and we ended up in a nice anchorage spot outside the harbor....  Anyway, Highborne has one of the few marinas and restaurants in the norther part of the Exuma chain, and we were ready for some eating out and exploring, so in we went.  It's a nice little resort that appears to take up the whole island (it's all private property and they chase you away if you are not staying at the marina) with a bunch of rental houses, bar, restaurant, and a small store not unlike a small New England general store.  And a short walk away is a really nice beach on the ocean side.  We enjoyed a great meal and the next day walked across the island to check out the beach.

One thing we heard were visible from the beach were a number of stromatolites.  According to Wikipedia "Stromatolites provide the most ancient records of life on Earth by fossil remains which date from more than 3.5 billion years ago".  Apparently it's a pretty recent discovery that these buggers are still growing and not just rocks, and an even more recent realization that they have been sitting right in front of us in a number of places around the world, including the Exumas.

Stromatolites as much as 3.5B years old

Stromatolites at Highborne Cay, Exuma

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Warderick Wells Cay

Wow, Warderick Wells is really spectacular, and a great choice for the park headquarters location.  There is a small staff that lives on the island, presumably in shifts, and other than their accommodations, a generator house, and the park office, there are no facilities at all.  They do, however, offer wifi in slow, paid chunks of 100MB.  It quickly became evident how spoiled we have all become expecting unlimited internet.  We were not connected for more than 15 minutes and 30MB was already gone from our first card.  A single load of the NY Times web site is 3-5MB!  But enough of technology.  That's not what this place is about.... it is about wonderful beaches, well marked hiking trails, interesting terrain, a multitude of snorkeling opportunities, fish galore, and just a spectacularly beautiful setting.

Warderick Wells Park Office and Staff Residence

Warderick Wells North Mooring Field

Over the course of our stay we saw countless varieties of coral, 4 giant rays, a smaller ray,  a barracuda, a trumpet fish, three nurse sharks, a school of about 30 yellow tail snappers hanging out under our boat, and a zillions different small fish.  On shore is an amazing field of coral with dozens of pockets that collect rain water, and give the Cay it's name.

Nurse Shark circling our boat

Aside from the park buildings, the only sign of humans is the heap of boat signs up on Boo Boo hill.  Apparently it's tradition for visiting cruisers to leave behind a piece of drift wood inscribed with their boat name.  I took a walk up the hill to see this, and to see if I could find plaques from any of the people we know who have been through in the past year or so.

Boat plaques left by cruisers

More plaques piled high and deep

But I have to admit to being a bit put off by the whole thing once I saw it.  The only signs that are visible and legible are those from the past 3-6 months, and even that's pushing it.  Everything else is buried and/or faded beyond recognition.  It struck me as more of a junk heap than any kind of memorial, and I couldn't bring myself to contribute to it.

But once up on the hill, there are some great views back down over the cove.  Keep in mind that this "hill" is probably a grand total of 50' above sea level, but for the Bahamas, that's a lot.

North mooring field and cove

North tip of Warderick Wells Cay

Hawkesbill Cay

Next stop south was Hawksbill Cay which is just barely around the corner from Shroud.  Hawksbill has two mooring areas, one more to the north with only 4 moorings, and one further to the south with a bunch of moorings.  We decided to go in and check out the smaller area and found it deserted, calm, and generally very pleasant, so we grabbed a mooring and settled in.  We had a very relaxed day and did a bit of snorkeling, but generally just slugged out.

The next morning we again participated in the reservation radio-fest for moorings at Warderick Wells, first reconfirming that they had us on the list for that night.  Indeed they did, and we stood by patiently waiting to see if we would get a mooring or not.  Warderick actually has 3 different mooring fields, and the preferred one is in the north field in the "bay" and near the headquarters building.  It's the most protected, and has the best access to land to explore the Cay.  Worst case, we figured we'd get into one of the secondary fields with no trouble.  Luck was with us and we were assigned a mooring in the Northfield, and only had an hour or so cruise to get there.  I went out for another quick snorkel to a nearby reef, then we hauled anchor and made our way to Warderick.

Shroud Cay

Next stop south in the Exumas was Shroud Cay, and our first stop within the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  Throughout the park there are well maintained mooring fields, but at Shroud we elected to anchor in a more remote spot a little south of the field.

Shroud is about 80% mangrove, and 20% dry land, and is criss-crossed by several estuaries which made for great kayaking.  We found one up at the north end that wound all the way through to the back side of the dunes on the ocean side.

The Exumas are largely unpopulated and undeveloped with a few exceptions, so cruising involves anchoring (and moorings in the park), making your own water and electricity, etc.  I don't think there are any marinas, places to get water, or fuel stops anywhere between Highborne and Staniel.  But, despite being more remote, we found the Exumas to be decidedly more crowded than the Abacos.  The mooring fields all filled up each afternoon and the latest arrivals had to anchor (which is no big deal.)  And even our more remote anchorage ended up with 1/2 dozen boats.  It wasn't as tight as Allen's Cay, but there were still a lot of boats around.

The other interesting thing - and perhaps some of our readers can shed some light on it - was the predominance of boats from Canada.  I'd say Canadian boats out numbered others by 4 to 1, and of the Canadian boats, more than half were from various parts of Quebec.  With the Bahamas so much closer to the US than Canada, I'd expect the opposite.  One thing I was wondering is whether there is a longer winter holiday in Canada that makes it easier for folks to come spend a month down this way?  Or perhaps they are just smarter than us and more quickly figured out the pleasure of escaping a cold winter.  I know I've been slow to figure it out.

But getting back to the number of boats, most of the mooring fields are first-come-first-serve.  Except Warderick Wells, home to the park headquarters, operates on a reservation system.  It all takes place over VHF because there is no cell service, wifi, or anything else.  Every morning at 9:00 the process begins, conducted by the park "manager".  First, there is a call to find out which boats will be leaving that day.  Then there is a call for reservation requests.  Most requests are for that same day, but while we were there they also accepted requests for the next day.  It's a bit of a free for all to get your request in, fueled by the first-come-first-served nature of the reservations, but I can't think of any better way to conduct it.  Once all the requests have been voiced, the manager goes off line for a few minutes while she sorts out the requests.  Then she comes back on and calls the boats one at a time to give each their mooring assignment for the night.  All in all, it works pretty well.

We listened in while at Shroud key, and although our reception was marginal at that distance, we put in a request for the next day, the decided to head a little further south for the night.

Monday, February 3, 2014

(SOLD) Tanglewood II (Grand Banks) is for sale

Lots of mixed emotions today.  First, we are sad to be working our way back to Florida, bringing a conclusion to our Bahamas adventure.  But at the same time excited to get back and shift our focus to the completion of our Nordhavn.  And, sad to begin the process of saying good bye to Tanglewood II, our Grand Banks Europe 47 which has taken us on so many adventures over the 4 seasons we have had her.  But excited because this also marks the transition to our new boat and a whole new set of adventures beginning on the west coast.

Today's big milestone is that Tanglewood II is now offically listed for sale.  Tanglewood II listing (2009 Grand Banks Europa 47)  I'm sure she will find a good home, and bring lots of joy and adventure to her next owners.