January 14, 2013 @Lyford Cay: On Monday morning about 1100 Roland the water-maker expert showed up with parts in hand. He drove one of the smallest little vans I have ever seen and came aboard wearing a blue smock that indicated his professional status. (I like this sort of professional dress. It shows the customer that he has respect for you and himself and that he actually thought about his work and didn’t just climb out of bed and arrive at your doorstep in the same cloths in which he slept.) Roland set to work with his assistant Enrico, climbing back into the bowels of the engine room and began ordering tools from Enrico. After a few minutes, Enrico pulled out his smart phone and thumbed away as Roland worked. I don’t know what it is about cell phones, but people just can’t seem put them down. Instead of day dreaming and waiting for an idea to immerge from the endless slurry of thoughts which is our consciousness, or watching and leaning from Roland, Enrico seem to prefer to stay plugged into someone else’s brain waves. Anyway, Roland took the machine apart and repaired it over a period of about four hours. Now it works fine. That night we went to the Lyford Cay Hotel for dinner. It is distinctly British: some of the public rooms were done in an Oriental Chippendale style reminiscent of the British Imperial age. It is a relatively small establishment built in the 50’s or 60’s, so it doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed by its size or dazzling architecture. No, this place is human scale and a little past its prime, but very distinctive. The foyer was open so that you could see the gardens and the path to the beach. It was done in mahogany with gardens all about and a winding stair case leading to the guests’ rooms. The restaurant was formal and served by professionals. There was a captain, drink waiter, waiter and many others in attendance. The chef’s assistant and the restaurant’s manager came by to be sure we were satisfied. The meal was great and the price was high, but we had a wonderful time and drove back to ARGO in our golf cart, which is the means of transport in the resort.
Highborn Cay: The next day (1/15) we pulled out early for Highborn Cay, about 40 miles across the flats to the south east. The Exuma Cays are a string of little islands at the eastern edge of The Grand Bahama Bank stretching about 100 miles from north to the south and containing 365 cays. Many cays are privately owned; Jonny Depp owns one so we are told, as does Aga Kahn, John Malone, and Tyler Perry (Rebecca says this guy is a celebrity). Highborn Cay was our first stop. We anchored here four days. One day we took a dingy trip around Highborn and to nearby cays, Leaf and Allens Cays (pics). Highborn Cay is distinctive for its many beaches, one of which is the longest in the Exumas. They are isolated, beautiful pink sand wonders laying at the edge of a turquoise sea. Allens and Leaf Cays are situated just a few miles north of Highborn Cay and are accessed through a shallow channel over the reef. As we passed over the reef, the waves broke in a characteristically confused way that indicates to the experienced eye that rocks lay below. After crossing slowly over the reef, we entered a wondrous blue lagoon. The lagoon was enclosed by the rocky cays, they with their grey rocky outcroppings, green Palmetto Palms, succulent shrubs and cacti. Sailboats had found another entrance to the lagoon and were anchored placidly in about six feet of water. We approached one boat and ask the skipper where we might find the iguanas. He directed us to the beach on Leaf Cay, just a few hundred yards away. Slowly we moved toward the beach and suddenly 30 or 40 iguanas (pics) came out from the vegetation to greet us. They were fascinating and larger than I had expected. They apparently don’t swim, so we stayed in our tender and pushed the bow as close to the shore as we could without risking having one of the creatures climb onboard. They apparently have very sharp teeth and nails. As we watched one individual, he or she (we couldn’t tell them apart) would stand in place for a moment or two, and then, for some reason known only to iguanas, scurry about and push someone else off their spot with his/her muscular tail. Some of these creatures were comparatively large, perhaps between five and ten pounds. They are a deep brown color with tightly scaled thin skin, big muscular tails, and thick legs with five fingered paws with long nails. Their heads are large with bulging eyes and a pinkish crop under their lower jaw. After watching them for about a half an hour, we moved to Allens Cay to see more iguanas, but of a different species.
The next day we took the tender to the little marina at the end of the island. It was a lovely spot (pics): a general store, restaurant, and several nice cottages to rent. If you are looking for a peaceful, isolated place on a beautiful island, this is a good prospect for you. The marina can accommodate relatively large yachts of 100 ft. or more, and the grocery store has many necessary items as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Prices are another matter: a box of Raisin Bran was $9.00., and leaving trash was $5 each for the first two bags, $25 each thereafter. Water was 50 cents a gallon.
The next day we washed ARGO as she really needed a bath. This effort took five hours, but this is not an exercise that is necessary more than twice a month unless we have been at sea in rough conditions. (An old friend of mine told me: “a person should never own more lawn than they are willing to mow”. In boat terms that could mean “no boat bigger than they are willing to wash”! As for us, I think we have reached our personal limit.) At 1600 we went fishing on the bank with Joe, the fishing guide, in the hopes of catching a Mahi Mahi, which we were told were running at this time. One of the interesting things about this place is that we have only seen one sea bird flying about (and yes, it flew over ARGO and dumped on the anchor pulpit, no kidding; proof positive that birds not only possess awareness, but a perverse sense of humor as well.) No birds could mean no little feeder fish, and as a consequence, no big fish. Joe showed up at the appointed hour in a 19 ft. crappy old boat and off we went, although reluctantly. After three hours of pounding in the waves and no fish, we headed back eight miles to the harbor in 4 ft. seas pounding all the way. As far as we know our kidneys are still attached. When we finally arrived at the marina and settled up with Joe, we headed for the restaurant. It turned out to be a terrific place, with Michigan Basketball on the bar’s TV!
The next day was nasty, with high winds and big rollers from the north. Things were so bouncy that we decided for the first time in our experiences to put out the flopper-stoppers (pics), which are large wings that are suspended underwater off poles extended from the sides of the ARGO, lessening the side-to-side roll in these conditions. It was a fair amount of work to figure out the contraption and get the wings in the water without scratching ARGO or breaking something. I mention this episode because deploying floppers is relatively rare, but they do work and we spent the rest of the day in relative comfort.
January 21 @ Warderick Wells Cay: Overnight the front passed and things calmed down. That morning we headed for the headquarters of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. It is the first and largest marine park in the world. We tied to a buoy assigned to us by the park rangers. For the first two days the weather was very warm and calm. We snorkeled about a reef, hiked the trails and swam at a remote beach. One of the trails takes you up a hill to the top of the island, which is about 200 ft. above sea level. The island has tidal sand marshes that extend to its center, with rock formed by sand and calcium carbonate. The rocks are crusty with sharp razor like edges and filled with round holes that capture rain water. Mangroves of various types are ubiquitous, although Palmetto Palms and many types of succulents are also abundant (pics). One of the locally famous spots is Boo Boo Hill, a place where boaters bring a scrap of wood with their boat’s name on it to mark their visit. Some are quite elaborate. This is a park as it should be: nothing but nature, no stores, restaurants, buildings, just nature.
Our routine is generally to sleep until we wake up, make coffee and then look for something to do. This could be boat maintenance, planning the details of our next stop, exercising, or going ashore for an activity. Here we have no internet or phone service. Later in the day we read a little, have a cocktail around 1700, and then Rebecca begins dinner. At sea or anchor we usually eat vegan. We finish dinner around 2000 and then start a movie. It is a very pleasant life indeed.
On Wednesday night a nasty cold front blew in and brought with it sustained winds of 30 mph and frequent gusts of nearly 40 mph. Our mooring line was extended nearly straight out from the bow of the boat and was chaffing on the anchor. Winds of that size make me very uneasy and I became concerned that the line might not be able to handle the stress and that the chaffing could increase to the point of tearing the line in the middle of the night. At this point it was already midnight. This anchorage is very shallow; only 4.5 ft. below us during low tide and is surrounded by sand bars and coral heads. The last thing I wanted to happen would be to break lose and drift into one of these things. I looked over our situation as ARGO swung toward the buoy. It occurred to me that I might have enough time between wind cycles to loosen the line and reposition it as to avoid the chaffing. I waited a few minutes for the swing cycle to be repeated. As the boat swung around again I began to loosen the mooring line. In an instant the wind shifted and the line was pulled from me. We were adrift in pitch black darkness! We ran to the pilothouse. It was an emergency! Rebecca started firing up the electronics and I started the engine. It roared to life. Quickly I began to move ARGO into what I thought was a safe place, but without radar and the charts I had only to guess. Rebecca was flipping switches like crazy. The two minutes it takes to start the electronics seemed like an eternity, but soon enough the electronics came alive and indicated that we were moving into deep water. At the best spot we could find we dropped our anchor and paid out about 80 ft. of heavy anchor chain in 6 ft. of water. We didn’t need to test for holding because as soon as I locked the chain, the anchor bit into the sand bottom and snapped the bow of ARGO about into the wind. At that point we knew we were safe and secure. Still up from the adrenaline, we assured ourselves that we were indeed not dragging the anchor. After a moment to catch our breaths, Rebecca made tea and brought out the cookies. For the next hour we sat in the pilothouse marveling at the power of the wind roaring outside and assuring ourselves that the anchor was set. It was an exciting experience and one that showed us that ARGO is very well equipped to handle difficulties and much easier to pilot than the smaller boats we previously owned.
The next few days were very windy and didn’t provide an opportunity for snorkeling, but we did go ashore and hike some of the trails around the island (pics). Late one evening Magne and Wendy Nygren on Tropical Bird, a beautiful 52 foot sloop, took the mooring ball near ours. They dropped over to introduce themselves, and since then we have spent several very pleasant evenings with them discussing, among other things, their five solo trips across the Atlantic and their cruising of Europe.
January 25 @ Cambridge Cay: Our next stop was Cambridge Cay (pics), a few miles south of Warderick Wells Cay. We found a spectacularly beautiful lagoon in which to anchor and we spent several days exploring and snorkeling. It has a sand bottom, so the water was a gorgeous turquoise color that you can only find in the Bahamas. The lagoon was enclosed by sand beaches and tropical islands with large monolithic rock sculptures carved by the sea over thousands of years. One of the most memorable places we visited was the “aquarium”, a famous dive spot near an ocean cut. Here the variety of fish is remarkable, and some of them are so accustomed to humans that they school next to divers looking for handouts.
There were four sailboats in the lagoon with us, all of which were Catalina 470’s. They are members of a cruising club and longtime friends. This year they met in the Bahamas. Joe Rocchio owns Onward and invited us over for pizza and potluck with the other members of the club. Joe is quit a chef and made tasty Italian pizza dough that afternoon. As soon as we stepped aboard Onward we met Tom and Dana Talkington. Tom grew up in Ann Arbor and his dad was the club pro at Barton Hills Country Club during my early years of membership there. Meeting Tom was a very pleasant surprise.
January 28 @ Sampson Cay: The next morning Joe acted as our pilot and led us through narrow waters to an open channel, saving us a trip through the cut to the open ocean, a route that is deeper but a lot longer. Our next stop was Sampson Cay, which is owned by John Malone, one of the richest men in America. After almost two weeks on the hook, we wanted a day or two in a marina and a chance to pick up some stores. The marina is very small and accessible through a tiny, narrow opening that really gave me pause, particularly as the wind was still blowing hard. Once inside without a mishap, we found the piloting challenges weren’t yet over. Anyway, despite my apprehensions, we tied up safe and sound. Unfortunately the restaurant and bar were closed for the season, and the grocery store had very little of interest to us. Around cocktail hour Susan Canfield came by and introduced herself. She and her friend, Arnie Miller, own a 65 ft. Flemming yacht named Exodus that was moored across the way. Susan spent the next day showing us all the wonders of the area including Compass Cay, which had a lovely little marina. The island belongs to Tucker Rolle, a handsome, charismatic man with many, many children who have many, many different mothers. The marina is famous for the “pet” sharks that hang around the fish cleaning station waiting for scraps. They have names such as Hook, Scar, Ross ,and Fang. They launch themselves onto the floating dock during high tide hoping to be rewarded (pics).
January 30@ Big Major Anchorage near Staniel Cay: Sampson Cay was very expensive and offered very little so we decided to move to Big Major anchorage about four miles away. Susan and Arnie and many others anchor here for months on end. This is the anchorage for Staniel Cay and the little village located there, which boasts three restaurants, three little grocery stores and an air strip. The population might be 300 souls; at any rate it is small and unremarkable except for the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, which has a restaurant and bar. It is a cute little spot. Staniel has several other attractions that make it interesting: first there is the Thunderball Grotto, the place where the James Bond movie was filmed. There are mooring balls there and anyone can snorkel into it at low tide and recall James’ adventures. Second, there is the famous pig beach at Big Major where three large feral pigs reside. The porkers swim out to meet tenders in the hopes that people will feed them. You have to be careful because they can swim fast and become aggressive, even trying to mount dinghies. Mag and Wendy (Tropical Bird referred to above) told us that he brought a can of beer ashore. One pig wanted it so he set it down so as to keep from being accosted, and the pig grabbed the beer and crushed the can in its mouth and inhaled all the contents in one big gulp. No beer hit the sand- the pig inhaled it all. Thinking the pig was thirsty, Mag offered it bottle of water, but the pig turned up its snout and walked way!
Big Major had about 40 boats at anchor when we arrived. Some were large, but most were sail boats. The island has three beaches; the dog beach, the pig beach and the people beach. The people beach has been cultivated by the long term residents of the anchorage with tents, chairs, moorage stations and a fire pit. Every evening before sunset people come ashore for a social hour. One of the couples we met has sailed the Canadian Maritimes and invited us over to their boat so that they could share their charts and notes of the area. Their information will help us next summer when we cruise there.