Now that we have arrived back in the crowded harbor at Georgetown, I can post the pictures I promised!

We’ll start with some random shots from our explorations on foot around Conception Island.

The sea and the sky are never ugly or boring.
A more picturesque tide pool you have never seen.
Karen (Harmonie’s resident botanist) recognized the flower from the underground fungus or plant at the shore side base of the dunes.
The local dune grasses have beautiful seeds.
A delicate and pretty flower on the very inhospitable environment of the dunes.
More delicate and pretty things on the beach.
Eroded coral rock is the base of all these islands.

And pictures from our deepwater fishing excursions…

Getting dinner up from 1000 feet down.
Three delicious red snapper from the bottom of the ocean.
The Bahamas has outlawed the killing of all sharks. That means there are lots of sharks. This is a good thing… except when I am trying to race them to get MY dinner to the boat!

Lastly, a couple sunset pictures, just because they are pretty…

Posted in Underway | 1 Comment

Return to “Civilization.”

After several days enjoying the remote beauty of Conception Island, it is time for us to return to Georgetown, get the deliveries that are supposed to be waiting for us, and then move on again. As if to hurry us along a large “Superyacht” that entered the harbor this morning has launched a half dozen jetskies that are buzzing around the (previously) peaceful anchorage like angry hornets.

The weather for our trip back to Georgetown is forecast to be perfect, so should have a fast and easy run. The harbor there will likely even be more crowded that when we left as the annual Cruiser’s Regatta will be in full swing. Hopefully we can get a comfortable spot to anchor, and avoid the noisiest of the parties.

One of the enjoyable parts of cruising is the planning. We have spent the last couple of evenings looking at the alternatives for our next few stops. Depending on the weather, we have several choices, each one seems better than the others.

Our next major goal is to get the the Turks and Caicos, but that is likely to be two or three weeks from now. Along the way we definitely want to revisit the island of Mayaguana, and we have intermediate possible stops at Samana Cay, the uninhabited Plana Cays, several locations on Long Island, and Crooked Island. Some of the possible stops are small settlements, but most are rather remote. Hopefully the sailing, exploring and fishing will be rewarding.

Posted in Underway | Leave a comment

The Best Eating Fish.

We have been anchored at Conception Island for several days now. A amazingly beautiful place. An uninhabited island, it is part of the Bahamian National Park system. It is actually a cluster of small islands on top of a large and extensive reef system. The park covers all of the land and the water out to 100 fathoms deep. Both above and below the water it is a very beautiful place.

For the past two days we have weighed anchor, and headed out to do some fishing. The local waters teem with a type of red snapper. It isn’t large, about a pound or two. But it is very common and eager to bite the small pieces of squid I drop down to them. To the point that if I don’t come up with three at a time I am disappointed. There are so many of them and they are so eager for food, that I feel the “tap-tap-tap” of them attacking my baits as soon as they hit the bottom. They don’t put up much of a struggle, it’s not exactly a sporting effort. This is “meat fishing.” What they lack in strength, they more than make up for with their table presence. They are the sweetest, most delicately flavored fish we have ever eaten.

There is one teeny, tiny little issue with catching them however…

They live a bit deep. OK, more than a bit. We are catching them in 700 to 1000 feet of water. Yes, you read that right. A fifth of a mile down. That’s a LOT of cranking to bring them up to the top. The three pound sinker I use to get down to them takes a full five minutes to reach the bottom. At those depths it is always pitch black, and very cold.

In addition to the complexity of the depth, there is competition! On one side of the island, as soon as we stopped the boat, the sharks gathered around. They knew what we were there for. In fact one of the sharks is already tangled in a “deep drop” rig just like I am using. In this spot with four drops to the bottom, way, way, way down there, I get one set of three fish into the boat intact. The sharks steal the others, and twice get hooked themselves in the process. They aren’t huge as sharks go, maybe five feet long, but they have teeth I don’t want to deal with. We manage to break them off at the boatside and send them on their way.

In spite of the sharks, in two days of fishing, we have added a fortnight’s worth of dinners to the freezer—and my arm is really, really tired from all the cranking.

We’ll have pictures in a few days when we get back to the “civilized” world with an internet connection.

Posted in Underway | Leave a comment

Moorings? or Anchored?

As we were getting ready to leave Georgetown a line of showers blew across the harbor. Heavy rain, and a clocking wind blowing up to 25 or 28 knots. A good breeze, but nothing we would consider violent. From our perspective in this crowded anchorage we had eyes on about 50 boats. As the wind picked up, at least five boats started to drag their anchors. Two ended up aground on the beach! Fortunately, the winds died down pretty quickly, and everybody was refloated without serious incident.

But it was a lesson. In this relatively minor blow, about 10% of the boats around us broke their anchors from the bottom. In a crowded anchorage the biggest danger is not from the weather, but from the other boats who have bad equipment, bad technique, or both.

In a sailing forum the other day someone was posting in the highly superior tone that the internet seems to encourage people to adapt that he couldn’t understand why anyone would ever pay to pick up a mooring instead of anchoring. It’s really simple. In a very crowded harbor I’ll go to the mooring field and pick up a mooring not because I have any doubts about MY anchoring equipment or technique, but because I doubt YOURS. A mooring might have issues, and might not be as good as my own anchor, but it’s reliability is WAY better than 90%.

When I must anchor in a crowd, I look at where the wind will come from in a sudden blow. That is usually 90 or 180 degrees clockwise from the prevailing wind direction. I pick a spot so I will be upwind of as many boats as possible during a storm, not during the prevailing conditions.

We are off grid for at least a few days while we explore Conception Island. If you sent us an email or have any other expectation of communication, sorry! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Posted in Underway | Leave a comment

Different Strokes

Here in Georgetown the sailors we have met and talked to are about evenly divided between two points of view: “Isn’t this an awesome place?” and, “We can’t wait to get out of here!” We are definitely in Group #2.

Many, many boats have Georgetown as their final destination for the winter. Many have been coming here every year, sometimes for decades. There are a LOT of boats here, far and away the most crowded harbor we have ever stayed in.

How many boats? A bazillion…

Why is it such a popular harbor? Lots of reasons, and different reasons for different people.

  • It is a good harbor in most weather conditions., and those are rare in the Bahamas.
  • This is about a far as you can go “Island Hopping.” Once you leave Georgetown, your next destination is going to be an ocean passage away. That is intimidating for some people.
  • Facilities here are not the best we have seen anywhere in the islands, but they are adequate, and the local businesses are very used to the needs and peculiarities of cruising boats.
  • Some people make fun of the local grocery store, but it is as good as any you’ll find on a remote island, and way better than most.
  • If you are the kind of person who quickly gets bored at an island where there are no other people, this place is your heaven.
  • The morning radio net will have announcements for everything from beach yoga, practice for the cruiser’s softball team, a golf game, a meet up of ukulele players (really!), a play date for your dog, and on and on…

One of the things that is surprisingly missing here is a selection of restaurants. There are a few, mostly very “home style.” We aren’t normally looking for an eat-out experience, but given the number of vacationing people here, I am surprised there are not more.

We will finish setting up our business here on Monday, then sail away for a week to more peaceful places, better attuned to our preferred lifestyle. We’ll return to get our loot, and head out again as quickly as possible.

Posted in Places | 2 Comments

Fun with Fish, and a New Place.

We took a roundabout route to go from Black Point to Georgetown. We wanted to arrive in Georgetown to enter an inlet that has a reputation as dangerous during daylight, and the trip is about 10 hours. So we left Black Point in late morning, and headed out to spend part of the night at “Tanor Bank”, a local seamount that had promise for good fishing.

The trip over was delightful. On the way we were treated to a large pod of spotted dolphin who thought Harmonie was the coolest thing on the ocean, for about15 minutes!

Our playful escort.

Tanor Bank is either a seamount, or a failed island depending on your perspective. It rises from over 4000 feet deep to within 50 feet of the surface. Any kind of structure like this attracts lots of fish of all sizes. The weather was delightful and unusually amenable to drift fishing at night.

One of the more entertaining things we have added to Harmonie has been the bright arch light that illuminates the water right behind the boat. You might be thinking we are easily amused, and you could just be right… We use the light to attract the evening’s entertainment. The previous night in Black Point it was a large school of 6 inch long squid hunting plankton attracted by the lights. Out here in the middle of the dark ocean the most interesting visitors were several large (3 foot) needlefish chasing flying fish across the surface of the water.

Fishing at the bank was both successful and not. I was vertical jigging in 50 to 200 feet of water. It is hard work racing the one pound jig up and down, making it dart enticingly. It can be a fun and exciting way to fish, because you have no idea what the next fish to bite might be!

I hooked a wahoo and lost him when his teeth chomped through the line. Then I hooked–and landed–two horse-eyed trevallies. A member of the jack family they put up a strong and dogged fight. I put them back in the ocean because we know from past experience that Karen does not care for the taste.

I have no idea what the last fish I hooked was. At first there wasn’t much of a reaction, just a heavy weight and a slow tug. After a few seconds he realized that things were not right, and lit the afterburners. Line peeled off the reel into the darkness. Since I can’t tell you what this fish was, you have already figured out the outcome, he broke off after about 15 minutes of arm numbing struggle. A 50% landing ratio is just not satisfactory–even with these big strong ocean fish. I have to up my game here if I am going to keep the freezer full!

We are now in Georgetown on Great Exuma Island. The anchorage here is relatively empty–only 200 boats! Sometimes it is over 400. It is a different kind of cruising experience. We generally prefer places that are isolated, if we are the only boat in the harbor we are happy. This is more of a social world where people are here to party and meet and great. The radio buzzes all day with things like people needing to set up playdates for their dogs. We have some business to attend to here. Hopefully we can tolerate the crowds for as long as it takes!

Posted in Critters, Places, Underway | Leave a comment

More on Exuma Park

We are currently anchored off of Black Point Settlement, on Great Guana Cay in the Central Exuma Islands. See our current paths here:

If anybody has been paying (Very) close attention, to my rantings here, you might be thinking, “Ah! They have been there before!” But you would be wrong… in the Bahamas they really were not always creative with names for the various islands, and I guess after you have named over 3000 of them, you can be forgiven recycling a few, like “Great Guana Cay.”

We had a fast sail down here from Exuma Park. Fast, but wet, it rained hard most of the way. I promised some picture of the park and its inhabitants, and here are a few…

First, the beautiful anchorage at Wardwick Wells Cay, the headquarters of the park. There are 22 moorings available. For a boat our size they charge $40 a night. Not a bad price for such a beautiful place.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the trails on the island. These are well marked trails, although they are mostly over eroded coral rock. Not a place for sandals, much less barefoot!

The only place on the island where you could get a cell signal to check email was to climb to the top of “Boo-Boo Hill” supposedly named for the wailings of dead shipwreck victims.

Part of the trail through a thicket of thatch palm.

The thatch palm has replaced much of the original tall hardwood forest on these islands that was long ago logged to extinction.

The park staff helpfully labeled a few of the toxic “posionwood” trees at the beginning of the trail. After that you are on your own to recognize and avoid them. They are very common along the trails. They have toxic oils similar to poison ivy or poison oak.

We never got to see the most common mammal on the island. The Bahamian Hutia. A nocturnal guinea pig like rodent about the size of a small rabbit. They were once thought extinct, but 50 years ago a small colony of the critters was found on a remote island. 13 individuals were released on Wardwick Wells Cay in 1986. I have no idea how many there are now, but the island is COVERED with hutia droppings. COVERED…EVERYWHERE

The most common animal to see are the curly tailed lizards. They are fearless, barely avoiding getting stepped on. There are snakes that prey on them, which likely accounts for the large number of them that are missing some—or all—of their tails.

The appropriately named “blue-bellied skink” is less common, and a lot shyer of people.

Land crabs are very common on all parts of the island where they can reach the water table as they dig their borrows. This one was the largest living one we saw, about 1 inch across the shell.

They do get quite large, as evidenced by this shed exoskeleton we came across.

Because the island is basically dry, with no natural sources of fresh water, there are very few birds. This was the only one we saw…

In other islands in the park where there is fresh water, ospreys are common winter residents.

In the shallow lagoons, young sea turtles grow up…

And of course after a long day hiking and exploring rough terrain, a good hammock is a great destination.

Posted in Underway | 4 Comments