George Town, Great Exuma

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Author: Miranda

 

Setting sail for George Town means you have to leave the protective leeward shadow of the Exuma island chain, and head out on the big ocean. The Exumas certainly spoil all the hordes of sailors that flock there by offering endless protected anchorages along their western side, all with plenty of beautiful sights to see and explore. You could spend months just playing around this cruiser’s paradise, and, deep down, I wish we could have lingered longer. Luckily, they are a hop, skip, and a jump from the U.S., so we can always return.

Plus it was time to head to George Town to pick up my baby brother, Casey, our first visitor aboard Tayrona since leaving Florida. I was stoked! Mostly, we’ve been hopping from one project to the next since we bought the boat, and having Casey aboard meant we could finally take a break and truly enjoy our boat and our surroundings for a while. But even more than that, I couldn’t wait to spend time with my brother and feel that whole and grounded feel that only comes from being around family.

Choosing when and where to jump out into the east side of the Exumas is nothing to scoff at, so we waited until we had the most favorable wind conditions, and headed out of Rudder Cut at slack tide. This also happened to be the exact same day that Casey was flying in. Nothing like cutting it close. So, while he was navigating airports and flying down, we were navigating the 40-mile jump down to Georgetown. The winds were light, but our timing was perfect. Just as we jumped out of the dingy at our meeting spot, his cab was pulling up. If the rest of his trip turned out this serendipitously, we were in for a good time.

We got back to the boat and promptly had a celebratory Busch Light and then put Casey to work. Just a quick job- help me winch Pete up the mast so that we can measure our sail area for our new main. It was easy, and then it was back to relaxing.

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The following day we set out to explore a few different anchorages, especially those closer to some coral heads that would offer us a spot to take Casey snorkeling and spearfishing. We sailed, snorkeled, had sundown drinks, played games and then hit repeat the following day- with a little beach-time thrown in for good measure.

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On our tour of George Town anchorages, our last stop was at Red Shanks, which is a wonderfully protected little hole affectionately called the “litter box” because only the “cats” can get in due to their shallow draft. I think we shaved off a few years of my life on the way in (the depth finder hit 0.8 meters, and we ground at 0.7), but the calm waters and great beaches made it worth the mild aortic stress I suffered. Our buddies threw a bonfire on a stretch beach that Brian referred to as the “country club” attempting to trick us into believing there were tennis courts, spas, and floofy drinks with umbrellas in them. We had a blast despite his tomfoolery, and Casey fit in well with our retired but hip cruising buddies.

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We headed back to the popular anchorage outside the Chat and Chill, where we found plenty of time to play in the daily volleyball game, swim, and even hit up our first rake and scrape- the typical Bahamian ho-down where live music is generated from a wide assortment of what you might loosely call musical instruments that do plenty of, you guessed it, “raking” and “scraping” using saws, screwdrivers, and cheese graters.

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And then it was time to get off the boat for a day, so we found escape in the form of scooters! We rented two scooters from the owner of the local electronics store (yup- that’s how they roll here in the Bahamas), and tooled around the island, making it all the way from the northern-most tip to the southern. We soon realized that much of the island looks pretty much the same as the next, but it’s quite impossible to not have a good time zooming around curvy island roads with the power 150 CCs between your legs. A good time was definitely had by all despite the spats of mild panic due to driving on the wrong side of the road. Thank you British colonialism! So remember- stay left!

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We stopped at an adorable place for lunch, where we all sampled cracked conch. Which was quite tasty, despite its venereal disease sounding name. “Cracked” simply means breaded and deep-fried, and conch (the meat from the pink conch shells) has a slightly escargot flavor, which makes sense given that it’s basically a big, ocean-going snail.

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Back on the boat, we spent a few days on a quest to reel in some big, deep-water fish. I was dying to send Casey home with a picture of him posing with some beautiful mahi mahi or wahoo that he fought to bring in from the depths of the sea. The boys bought some fancy new lures in town, set up the trolling rods, and we were off.

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First we tried things out from the dinghy.

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And, we caught two barracuda. Casey nabbed the first…

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…and Pete reeled in the second.

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They look like they’d give many meals of tasty meat, but unfortunately that same meat could be laced with ciguatera poisoning, which accumulates in their bodies after years of eating small reef fish who, previously fed on the poisonous reef. So, no eating barracuda in the Bahamas, and, therefore, these two ugly mugs were thrown back. Well. Pete stayed on the boat. You know what I mean.

The fact that we caught barracuda, a shallow reef predator, meant that we weren’t out far enough in the deep to get the mahis or wahoo that we were after. It also meant that fishing in the dinghy wasn’t going to cut it. So, we tried again the following day, taking out the big boat instead.

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The only thing we all caught was a bout of seasickness, and poor Casey was subjugated to lentil burgers for dinner instead of fresh fish. After a few a glasses of rum punch each, we all felt much better and no one minded that our protein came from a plant instead of the sea.

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Casey’s last few days included a hike to explore Lee Stocking island, drinks with our Canadian buddies, a few more nights out on the town (you can never have just one rake and scrape), and a very fruitful day spearfishing with an Oregonian friend who showed Pete and Casey his favorite spots in the area.

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How lucky am I to have family members who so generously share their vacation time with me, on my boat, in the Caribbean, with my wonderful husband, and are such fun while they are here that I’d wish they’d stay for months instead of weeks. I’m so grateful that I could share a piece of this little adventure with my adorable brother. A big sister is allowed to be gushy sometimes, so, Casey, you gotta know it meant the world to me to show you around our boat, around the town, and around this crazy, new life called sailing.

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Staniel Cay to the Darbies

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Author: Pete

Location: The Exumas

 

So, I may as well start off with it. I doubt there are any blog posts in the history of all blog posts on Staniel Cay that don’t mention the family of pigs that inhabit what is now familiarly called ‘pig island’ off of Staniel Cay.

Long ago someone dropped off several generic farm pigs on the island, and they’ve flourished (no doubt through the help of peanut butter sandwiches out of the hands of tourists). Generally they lay on their fat bellies on the beach, but when boats stop by they’ll swim right out to your dinghy in search of a snack. They’ll also very promptly swim away when their beady little pig eyes realize you didn’t bring any nibblins.

It’s touristy and cheeky, but still such a crazy sight to behold. Do you think they realize what a normal pig’s life is like? Maybe they need a blog to show off their lives lounging on a Caribbean island, free from the dangers of Mr. Butcher-man to their fellow farmland pigs in the mid-west. Wait, I’m seeing some parallels here…

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The islands around Staniel Cay are homogenously beautiful. They’re low coral and rock with low scrub trees, gnarly sharp shoreline punctuated by sandy spits of beach. Here and there vertical-walled islands rise out of the water, just undercut enough to give them a mushroom appearance. Pastel houses dotted the shoreline around the town of Staniel.

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Thunderball Grotto is an open-topped cavern inside one of the islands off Staniel, whose name was given apparently by the Bond movie that was filmed there.   I haven’t seen that one in particular, but everyone tells you that when they mention it.

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Hundreds of little fish congregate around the grotto openings, like the pigs, to get handouts from the visitors. They’re curious and completely unafraid of you. It’s a little unnerving.

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The grotto is tall, open and airy with a lot of light. Dribbly vines run down from the collapsed ceiling and seawater gurgles though the exit holes. Pretty neat spot, worth a visit.

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And then we were off to the Darby Islands! They’re a little more secluded and with happily less infrastructure.

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Did some weaving around outcroppings to get our boat anchored off of some beautiful beaches… shallow draft is beautiful thing.

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Several good things to explore in the Darbys. Found another neat cave and some more mushroom islands. I felt like I should dress up in a plumber outfit and jump on top of them Mario-style.

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Also, an interesting metal statue sunk in about fifteen feet of water to be explored. It’s a grand piano and a listening mermaid. It’s shallow enough you can swim down and play a jingle on it, but the sound is a little mushy.

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In our copious free time we went out lobster fishing and made homemade crackers. Kidding about the free time. Seriously! Stop rolling your eyes!

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So, to celebrate our first lobster spearing, our buddies introduced to “Caesars” a Canadian favorite made with clamato and vodka.

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They shared their tasty beverages; we shared our lobster dip and freshly baked crackers.

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And that was it for the Darbys! Off to George Town pick up our first guest… Casey!

 

 

From Bimini to Staniel Cay

Bimini to Staniel Cay

Author: Miranda

Location: Northern Bahamas

 

We’ve been having ourselves quite a good time tooling around the northern Bahamian islands, and it’s about time we fill you all in on our adventures. After spending a week in Bimini with strong winds, we were excited to shake out the sails and get moving again.

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And, as if to say “Welcome Back!” we were greeted by two playful dolphins just a few miles south of Bimini.

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We were headed out to cross the dreaded “tongue of the ocean” by way of the Northwest Channel. The Northwest Channel is a tricky spot in which the depth falls from about 15 feet to 3,000 feet in the span of maybe a mile or two. Throw in a long “tongue” of deep water south and east of this point that works to build up plenty of big, bad waves when the winds are right, and you’ve got yourself a few days of scary sailing if you don’t time the weather conditions just right.

In addition, the channel is one of only a few ways for boats to get from southern Florida into the Bahamas (and definitely the most direct), so it can get quite crowded. Not wanting to make this passage in the dark, we anchored off a shoal on the northern tip of Andros Island and waited until the next day to have light. The anchorage was choppy and mildly uncomfortable, but we survived.

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The beating straight into the wind and waves the following day was also not all that much fun, so we veered off to Chub Cay on the southwestern tip of the Berry Islands to make for a shorter day.

We passed the time in Chub Cay by snorkeling (Pete speared his first fish! A coral hind– a type of grouper. The fish tacos were delish!), scraping off the barnacles from the bottom of the boat, and attempting (but failing) to call on our families on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving meal at the marina of cracked conch and sweet potatoes was a little pricy for us, so we made chicken curry and gin and tonics to celebrate. I doubt the forefathers ever cooked with green curry paste and coconut milk, but hell, what can you do? We forgot to plan for thanksgiving-type foods while trouncing around Miami on our provisioning runs in the heat and humidity of southern Florida. Oops.

In other exciting holiday news, I spent the morning of Thanksgiving hand-washing my undies in a bucket. Sailing is nowhere near as glamorous on a daily basis as all these blogs show, but it’s way more fun to instill jealously in all your friends than it is to show the down and dirty side of cruising. And plus, I can’t show you pictures of my undies- that would stray much too far from my naturally classy and modest nature.

Stop snickering. Stop it right now!

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It’s a barnacle playground around here:

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Chub Cay

 

Instead of hitting the malls, we spent the day after Thanksgiving on our best sail yet! Bet you can’t find that on a Black Friday sale rack! We headed to West Bay on New Providence Island with 15-20 knot winds on a broad reach, and we flew. Our average speed was 8 knots with a max of 12. I never thought it could be so incredibly exhilarating to move at approximately 12 miles per hour, but it’s quite a trip. Think of us the next time you are coasting down your driveway in your minivan at 12 M-P-Hs baby… sheer excitement I know, but remember this the next time you’re thinking, “why haven’t they made it any farther yet?”

Easier to get up at the crack of dawn when you’re met with this:

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Wonderfully flat seas all day- I could even read over lunch.

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Just a quick night in West Bay, and we were off the next day to our first stop in the Exuma island chain- Shroud Cay. Winds were stronger, more like 25-30 knots, so we sailed with tiny postage stamp sails most of the day, but still made decent time. Plenty of saltwater blasted the decks as we beat much closer to the winds and waves- sadly our downwind fun had only lasted one day.

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And since we were on topic “no-fun,” while we were reefing our mainsail, we both noticed that a tiny vertical tear had started along the foot of our sail. As we feverously tried to haul in the entire sail before it got worse, our tiny tear just keep inching up higher and higher, and before we knew it, there was a 2-3 foot tear in our mainsail. Flabbergasted, we just kept saying, “oh my gosh, we ripped the mainsail.” Pete even looked at me wide-eyed, and yelled, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” even though we were both very obviously watching the same event unfold.

On a positive note, the rains didn’t start coming down until after we set the anchor and they made for great photos.

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We had zero cell signal in Shroud Cay, so unfortunately, we had to hightail it to Staniel Cay so we could start calling sailmakers in order to purchase a new sail. We were fortunate to have nice conditions as we sailed from Shroud Cay to Staniel Cay with just our headsail pulling us along. We were surprised to make decent headway under just one sail, and we were only forced to motor-sail when we had to turn tight into the wind to make our anchorage.

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To Staniel

 

Once we arrived in Staniel, we wasted no time pulling off our mainsail so that we could repair it and (hopefully) keep sailing while we waited for a new sail to be made.

Here’s our little tear, in all her glory:

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Also, if you really want to get an up close and personal feel for how large that sail is that’s moving your 26 ton sailboat, try pulling it off in 20 knot winds. Good fun.

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But, we got her all patched up, and we ordered a new sail from Florida that should be arriving in the next weeks. We know that we could continue with the patched sail, but once we took it off the mast, we realized just how brittle and old it must be. Having a new sail will surely improve our performance and this is an upgrade that will certainly be easier done now than in a some other distant land. Ripping your mainsail sucks, but it certainly sucks less in the Bahamas than in the middle of the Pacific.

 

And, now that we’ve gotten that all sorted out, it’s time for some fricin’ fun already! I know you all love to see pictures of Pete as a shirtless seamstress, but let’s all cross our fingers for some pictures of good ole Caribbean fun in the sun sometime soon.