Thursday, February 9, 2006 - Nassau
Following our usual pattern, we decided to stay at Nassau Yacht Haven a little while longer. If you don't get run over on the roads, Nassau is a fine place to hang out. We shopped at the City Market grocery store, which was better stocked than the stores back in Chattanooga. There is a Radio Shack, Subway, Dairy Queen, Outback Steakhouse, and three different marine stores within easy walking distance of Nassau Yacht Haven (although I haven't found Hooters yet).

Cruising boats come and go each day, some of them modest like our own and others (like the 44' Gozzard Skerryvore that was next to us for a day) inspiring serious cases of "yacht envy." Today we attended the weekly cruisers lunch organized by Nick and Carolyn Wardle (Thursdays at 12:30 at the Yacht Harbor restaurant) which was an especially productive event for us because we were able to join the "support fleet" for the Exumas Land and Sea Park (which will help us get a mooring there while supporting the park) and purchase a copy of Chris Parker's book Coastal and Offshore Weather, which is especially tailored for the Bahamas. I double-checked the coax on the SSB radio (again) and to my dismay found nothing wrong with it. Today I took apart the starboard chainplate and re-bed it to keep that saltwater on the outside where it belongs. Meanwhile, Janet and Rhonda on Promise were able to get their built-in satellite phone working (Rhonda spent an hour halfway up the mast at the antenna on the phone with a tech to accomplish this). We washed down the cockpit and I fueled the boat (another ten gallons from the jerry jugs, 302 engine hours). We are set to leave tomorrow to cross the Yellow Banks to the Exumas, assuming the weather holds. Doug on Misty Blue will stay here to await a new crew member who is flying in on Saturday, but we hope he can catch up with us later.

Photo:(1) Rhonda climbs the pole to make a phone call, or more accurately, to fix the sat phone antenna. (2) Rhonda going back up the mast (actually the next day) to fix a fallen courtesy flag. Rhonda is a handy person to have around.

Friday, February 10, 2006 - Highborne Cay
Prefrontal and PostNassau: Promise and Seaductress left Nassau Harbor in a parade of a half dozen other boats all headed for the Exumas. With a strong cold front just two days away, we had studied all the guides, listened to the weather nets, and still didn't have the perfect destination picked out--probably because that perfect route and anchorage just don't exist. Still, we had lots of options. The parade, widely scattered, made its way across the dreaded Yellow Banks, where coral heads rose to what looked like inches of the water's surface, yet were easy to steer around assuming you kept a sharp lookout. We had very much wanted to stop at Allens Cay to see the iguanas that come out on the beach, but had hopes of getting closer to the Exumas Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells, so we continued on to Highborne Cay, where we are now anchored in a slight swell off the western shore. We dingied in to the very nice marina, where the very nice staff spotted me a few coins when I ran short buying ice cream in their very well-stocked store. I had called the park on the satellite phone and put our names on the "want a mooring" list, but we'll have to wait until morning to find out if we might get one (evidently all the moorings are taken and our chances depend on someone leaving tomorrow). If we can't get in there, we will probably try to ride out the front at Normans Cay. (Note: it's just a cold front, not a hurricane, even if we do prepare for it mentally in the same fashion.)

Photo:(1) Navigating the Yellow Banks is easy--if you don't hit one of those dark coral patches. (2) On the beach at Highborne Cay Marina.

Saturday, February 11, 2006 - Warderick Wells
They say that luck favors the well prepared, but despite that, we were lucky today. After a rolly night anchored off Highborne Cay, Promise and Seaductress were underway at 8:00 AM--just an hour until the Exuma Park announced who would be getting moorings and who would be seeking anchorage elsewhere. Janet had been able to talk with the Exuma Park the night before on their VHF radio, but this morning heard nothing...until it was too late. Both of our boats had been confirmed for a mooring, but when Promise didn't answer, they lost their slot...but did hear our name being called. So through the efforts of our friends on Promise we were able to get our mooring and we were very grateful.

So Promise continued south towards Samson Cay Marina for the night while we turned into the Exuma Park. What a place! The north mooring field is a narrow ribbon of blue in beautiful, clear water. Tiny birds were singing around us as we dingied up to the beach. This is the prettiest place we've seen yet, indeed one of the prettiest I've seen in my life. There is a 52 foot long Sperm whale skeleton on display on the beach. They have one of the those gigantic water trikes you can ride around the harbor. But if this is a theme park, the theme is pure Nature. We rode the dinghy a mile south to Beryl Beach and went snorkeling on a little reef that was full of colorful fish. Later we attended the weekly potluck at the dinghy beach where we were told that some of the best snorkeling is right here, close to the mooring field. There are hiking trails around the island and of course the famous one up Boo Boo Hill, reefs to be snorkeled, potential volunteer work to be done (much of the work of the park is done by cruising volunteers)...maybe even a few lazy days of just enjoying this special place.

Annie says: Warderick Wells is the postcard of the Bahamas. It feels like we have finally arrived in paradise. This is the most beautiful place. We may never leave. Our first snorkeling trip was great. Laura was so excited to see the coral and the fish (although a little hesitant at first). She looks so cute in her wetsuit, mask and snorkel. The guides report a pet 4 foot barracuda hangs around here; maybe we will get to see him.

Photo:(1) North mooring field at Warderick Wells, Exuma Park. (2) Beryl Beach--one of a dozen perfect, deserted beaches on Warderick Wells.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 - Warderick Wells
Today, on the holiday that honors love, we are definitely loving it here at Warderick Wells. The strong cold front passed through Sunday, and we weathered it here on the boat with winds up to 27 knots, a bit of rolling and pitching, but no worries here on our mooring. The SSB radio revealed that not all boats rode out the front in the safety we enjoyed. Many miles to the south of us off the island of Mayaguana, a catamaran named Cattitude fouled an anchor line while trying to leave an unsafe anchorage and was pushed up onto the reef. Another cat, Park Place, had already gotten out to safety but turned back to try to help the first boat and also hit the reef. In the end both boats were abandoned and will probably be total losses. [Note: Captain Ron of Kismet has the most complete summary of the disaster I've found posted in his Log 22 and Log 23.]

Yesterday the winds were still around 20 knots from the north, so Annie and Laura stayed on the boat, but I went ashore to hike the trails. Several hours later I returned after one of the best hikes of my life. The trails here are a wonderful variety of incredibly rough limestone (highly weathered karst pocked with "wells" and holes up to 25 feet deep), scrubby hills, walking along beaches, and occasional twisting paths through the palms. Once I got ashore, the cold wind was mostly absent and I hiked the whole day in just a T-shirt. I saw two different kinds of large lizards, a little gray snake, the colorful little bananaquit birds, and chattering mockingbirds, most of whom show very little fear of humans. When I first topped a hill and saw the colors of Exuma Sound for the first time, the waves crashing on the eastern cliffs of the island, I actually gasped at the pure beauty of the scene. I visited the south anchorage (which was actually the calmest place to ride out the front) and saw ruins dating back to the late 1700's.

Photo:(1) These curly tailed lizards are typically around eight inches long. (2) bananaquit. (3) The peaceful south anchorage, reputedly a favorite with pirates long ago.

Today we all went ashore and hiked up Boo Boo Hill, so-called because it is alleged to be haunted by the ghosts of shipwrecked missionaries. In more modern times it has become a tradition for cruisers to leave some memento of their visit, typically a carved or painted piece of wood but sometimes a cap, a scuba fin, a coconut, or a flag. While waiting out the front Laura and I had painted "Seaductress, Feb 2006" on a small piece of oak and today we proudly secured it to the pile atop Boo Boo Hill. From this vantage point we watched our friends Janet and Rhonda on Promise finally enter the harbor and head for their assigned mooring. Later we enjoyed talking with them and seeing Laura present them with the Valentines cards she had made. Other activities today included sailing the Marlin, our Walker Bay dinghy, around the mooring field, watching a four foot Barracuda and big Crevalle Jacks hang around under Promise, and a quick snorkel underneath the yacht Voyager, who had swung wide on the way to her mooring and hung up on a small patch of rock. He later radioed that he had gotten off and was safely moored. In other news, a dinghy broke loose last night in the wind but was later recovered some miles away out on the banks, while Annie found an oar belonging to our neighbors Allen and Louise on Christine.

Annie says: Another day in paradise. The colors are almost too much for the senses. From atop Boo Boo Hill we saw the amazing blues of the Exuma sound (which we haven't sailed in yet). Later from the rear deck of the boat I watched a beautiful sunset of pinks and orange. The white sand and the green brush of the cay are vivid against a blue sky dotted with white clouds. And tonight the full moon rose over Boo Boo Hill as the stars were already twinkling in the night sky.

Photo:(1) Laura works on our sign. (2) Ceremonial posting of the sign. (3) View from Boo Boo Hill. (4) Exuma Sound.

Thursday, February 16, 2006 - Warderick Wells
Yesterday we joined Janet and Rhonda for a hike around the island, rode the dinghies all the way around to the south anchorage and back, and then enjoyed cream cheese and salmon crackers (and some delicious Bloody Marys) on board Promise while listening to Alan Sherman (Laura has become a big fan, which is a nice time warp since most of these songs were recorded well over 40 years ago). Today Rhonda joined us in snorkeling the reef near the anchorage and afterwards we played on Whale Beach for a while. Tomorrow morning we will let go of mooring number eleven and go a few miles north to Shroud Cay, where creeks through mangroves are waiting to be explored. We may spend a night at Norman Cay and perhaps even get back up to Allens Cay to see the Iguanas.

Photo:(1) The hiking crew at work. (2) Approaching Boo Boo Beach on Exuma Sound.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 - Normans Cay
It felt good to be on the move again Friday, even though we only motored three hours north back up to Shroud Cay. The anchorage was well-sheltered for the east-northeast winds we saw. While Rhonda and Janet enjoyed seeing their friend Elizabeth Meyer sail out of the anchorage on her 1916 sloop, the Lings went on a short hike to find a freshwater well and play on a tiny beach for a while. Today we got up early to catch the tides for our dinghy exploration of Shroud Cay's creeks. We motored a mile up the northern most creek until it popped out on the other side of the Island at a spectacular beach on Exuma Sound. For me, this spot was the most beautiful I had ever seen in my life. The creeks themselves were quite pretty, lined with small mangroves growing out of the greens and blues of the clear water.

Just up the ridge from the beach was Camp Driftwood, which during the 1960's was the hangout of a reclusive sailor named Earnest Scholtes, who used driftwood and flotsam to construct a sort of Robinson Caruso camp. Alas, forty years later, not much seems to remain of his legacy. Instead, cruisers have turned Camp Driftwood into another Boo Boo Hill where they leave their vessel name. That's okay, but despite the sign asking that no glass or plastic be left, there is glass and plastic everywhere. In fact, this was the first place in the Bahamas outside of Nassau where we saw actual litter: cans and bottles strewn about. Still, you could look out over the blues and greens of the sound with the waves whispering below and imagine how the man had loved the place enough to spend years there.

After completing a loop on the creeks back to the boats, we motored north to Normans Cay, one of the most famous islands in the Bahamas. During the 1970's the cay was headquarters of a cocaine cartel, and the remains of a crashed drug plane can still be seen (barely) in one of the anchorages. We anchored off the west shore near our friend Doug on Misty Blue, who we had last seen in Nassau. Doug had been joined by a member of his Canadian sailing club, so the old gang was reunited for happy hour. We went ashore for a while to play on the beach, and I walked over to see the airstrip, which is now used for more legal activities. Motoring around the south of Norman, Annie and I saw a big sea turtle who unfortunately did not stick around for photos.

Tomorrow we are headed back south to Cambridge (Little Bell) Cay, where we hope to snorkel a cave that's said to rival Thunderball, the one used in the James Bond film of the same name (which of course we also hope to visit). We're in the middle of a fabulous weather window, with no fronts expected for around a week, so it's possible we may get down to George Town with Promise sometime soon. But what's the hurry?

Photo:(1) Creek near Camp Driftwood. (2) View from the Exuma Sound side. (3) Exploring a side creek. (4) Rhonda made us a cool sign to leave at Camp Driftwood. I picked up some trash but had to leave it since getting rid of trash is a major problem for us cruisers. I hope the park will have an official cleanup trip soon.

Monday, February 20, 2006 - Cambridge Cay
Yesterday I was perched up on the bow as the light blue water gushed by below at seven knots on another perfect Bahamas afternoon, thinking this was probably my best birthday ever. What more could a person want?

We left Norman at 8:30 AM Sunday and began motorsailing south in ten knots of east wind. When the batteries were charged, we shut down the motor and sailed at anything from five to seven knots the rest of the morning. We had talked about anchoring on the west side of Bell Island, but watched Bob on Dana E continue around towards Little Bell, which was reputed to be a great anchorage. There was one tight spot just ahead, where we motored through a 20 foot gap between a rock and some sandy shoals which were running with a good current. Then we circled around almost into Exuma Sound and back against the outgoing tide into a calm, sandy pool with excellent protection. From a beach nearby a trail leads to Bell Rock, which sits out in the surf like something from the coast of Northern California. I waded over and climbed the rock for a view all back over the anchorage. Later everyone came over for birthday cupcakes.

This morning an expedition of two boats (Janet, Rhonda, and Bob joined us) dinghied over 1.5 miles to the caves at the Rocky Dundas. The eastern swell was hitting the cliff and at first no one wanted to get in the water, but after Rhonda and I snorkeled the first cave everyone was more enthusiastic. Both caves have low, under hanging entrances that open after a few feet into a larger domed chamber with skylights above. The northern cave has two to three feet of water across its floor and contains many large stalactite and stalagmites. The southern cave isn't quite as low at the entrance--you could dinghy inside easily at low tide in calm seas--but inside the floor rises so that the chamber, although less decorated than its neighbor, is mostly dry. No lights are necessary in either cave since the skylights are large enough to light the entire scene.

Next we motored back past the anchorage and north a bit over a mile to the Sea Aquarium. This was a beautiful reef with hundreds of fish who swarmed around us looking for handouts. Laura did a great job of snorkeling, and everyone agreed this was probably the best snorkeling spot we'd ever visited, with a tremendous variety of fish, coral, and other life. On the way back to the anchorage we stopped to peer down at an upside down Cessna in twenty feet of water, a drug plane that the park wardens told us was around 15-20 years old. In a more recent but equally spooky history lesson, Bob told us last night that a sailboat we had seen moored close to the park office at Warderick Wells was found up on a reef, all sails set with no one aboard. There were belongings including a passport inside. Evidently a single-hander fell overboard and perished somewhere out there...another good reason why we always wear our life jackets and keep our jacklines ready so we can clip in at night or whenever the sea gets anxious.

Annie says: It is hard to keep track of what day it is. We used to use the cell phone to verify the date, now we have to either boot up the computer or use the satellite phone. Laura spent most of yesterday "decorating" the aft cabin for Rodger's birthday celebration and creating some unique party games. Rhonda and Janet reported smelling the cupcakes baking as they sailed behind us.

The snorkeling today was incredible. Laura's exclamations through her snorkel were priceless. Another first today, I actually got the outboard motor started on the dingy by myself. Some days I think longingly of having a washer and dryer at hand, endless water and electricity with the flip of a switch, but those days don't happen very often.

Photos:(1) Janet and Rhonda gave us this incredible drawing of Laura for my birthday. (2) Feeding the reef fish at the Sea Aquarium. (3) Rhonda in the southern cave at Rocky Dundas. Wish I could have gotten my Nikon, some strobes, and two or three helpers in there to photograph (this image is a captured frame from the video I took).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 - Pig Beach, Big Majors
Another successful day in paradise got underway at 10:30 AM when we hoisted the anchor and departed Little Bell Cay, retracing our route out around Bell Island. Promise may have touched bottom for a while at the narrow spot where you squeeze your boat between a rock and a sand bar, but by the time I got back there to help, they were underway again. Bob on Dana E had left earlier and, we found out later, had run aground at the very same spot. But whatever the danger, we were determined to reach Big Major Cay and the famous Pig Beach.

A couple of hours later, we were anchored with 14 other boats just off the beach. Suddenly, three pigs appeared out of the greenery and strolled across the sand as if this was the most normal thing in the world. We piled into the dinghy and were soon greeted by these amazing animals wading out to meet us. Bob dinghied over with some bread and one of the pigs attempted to come on board. I'd been afraid of this ever since hearing stories of a pig getting into a dinghy and refusing to leave. Other cruisers thought it was hilarious but it was three hours before the owner of the boat finally got the pig out.

We checked out some caves in the shoreline before returning to the beach with Janet and Rhonda for more pig viewing. Then we dinghied into Staniel Cay and visited the Isle General store (where we dropped off our trash for a small fee) and the Blue Store. The life aquatic was available for viewing at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we saw a huge ray, many dozens of Sergeant Majors and other small fish, and no less than six nurse sharks cruising the water beneath the docks. Riding back to the anchorage, the sun was sinking to the accompaniment of someone playing a saxophone on one of the neighboring boats.

Photos:(1) Promise under sail. (2) Annie later attempted to drive the Nemo into this cave but found it would not penetrate the solid rock walls. (3) Three of four pigs we encountered (not to mention some goats who kept their distance) on Pig Beach. (4) After a big feed, the pigs like to take it easy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - Black Point

Annie says: A day with many small adventures and an amazing snorkel. As Laura and I snorkeled into Thunderball, Laura said through her snorkel, "This is amazing, this is amazing." She is turning into quite the snorkeler. She says that next time she wants to snorkel by herself rather than hold onto my arm. I'm not sure I am ready to let go yet.

The community of Black Point (population 300 or so) is quite picturesque and very friendly. They have the nicest laundromat I have seen in several months. All the shops and restaruants are neat, clean and friendly. They even have street signs. The school children were all polite and friendly and neatly dressed in their school uniforms. I understand they have about 50 students at the school and 6 teachers. As the sun went down, the fishing skiffs came racing back to the dock with their catch and I could hear the children playing in town. This is the kind of place that could lure one into staying in the Bahamas.

I'll just let Annie's comments stand as our report of the day, and make one or two additions. First, the laundrymat in Black Point (where we obviously moved today, just a few miles south of Pig Beach and Staniel) is the nicest I've ever seen in my life, nevermind the last few months. Second, we were finally able to settle the question of which is the better snorkel cave, the Rocky Dundas or Thunderball. Alas, 007 wins again: Thunderball was the best. The fuzzy picture in the paragraph above is captured from the video I took and doesn't do justice. You've got two main entrances (like Ellisons Cave, you can do a "through the mountain trip") plus some smaller entrance holes. You've got your shafts of sunlight through the water. You've got a huge number of fish. You've got mooring balls outside and you're just a short distance from good anchoring for the primary vessel. Thunderball just could be the best snorkeling cave this side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Photos:91) Rhonda snorkels amidst a horde of hungry Sargeant Majors. (2) Walking the clean, friendly streets of Black Point, we encountered a front yard with a pretty nice mast (complete with mast steps) mounted in the front yard. (3) Visiting with Howard and Carolyn of Far Horizons at Lorraine's Cafe in Black Point, where you serve yourself cold imported beers all afternoon long.

Ship's note: took on 19 gallons of fuel today (which was actually a bit more than our tank would hold--bit of a mess) at around 337 engine hours since departing Sale Creek. Between our need to charge our batteries and make water, coupled with short daily runs between the various Cays, unlike our friends on Promise we have spent very few hours lately sailing without the engine running.

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