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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Exuma Park

Much of the central land and sea area of the Exuma chain of islands in the Bahamas is taken up by the Exuma Land and Sea Park. Although it has been here for a while, it seems to have gotten much better organization and funding in the last few years. When we stopped here in the park two years ago, we saw very little of the organization behind it. Now, it is much more aggressively operated.

The objective of the park is to be self-sufficient in funding. To that end, they have a set of fees for anchoring and use of mooring balls in the park. To both collect the fees, and enforce the “no-take” fishing regulations they have roaming patrol boats, and to add a bit of extra muscle to that, they have a Royal Bahama Defense Force patrol boat that is based in these waters.

To add a bit of extra “incentive” when they catch someone poaching in the park boundaries, they make a big public display of it. When we were back in Florida we heard news of them snagging a large American boat fishing inside the park. Fines start at $500, and they can confiscate your boat.

Overall to us based our contacts with the patrol boat, and the headquarters staff the operation seems very well run. Tonight, we are at a mooring ball in a small, well protected harbor just outside of the park headquarters. The mooring balls are very well maintained—some of the best I have seen anywhere. Fees are reasonable, $0.50/foot/night for anchoring in the park, and $40/night for the moorings. The park equipment and facilities seem well maintained, and the people are friendly and efficient.

AND…. it is a beautiful place.

We’ll post pictures where we are back in a place with an internet connection. For now, we are doing this with the satellite phone connection.

We’ll be here exploring for a day or two, and then run further south to Georgetown where we can catchup on email, internet necessities, and groceries.

We had a problem with one of our refrigerators… I happened to notice that it was too cold. A bit of troubleshooting determined that the internal switch had been bumped from “Fridge” to “Freezer” while it was being packed. When we put the switch back to where it belonged… nothing. No cooling. The “Fridge” half of the thermostat seems to have died. It works fine in freezer mode. Hmmm….

When it comes to mechanical things, I am not a big believer in coincidences, but this time, everything I do points to the fact that the thermostat just seems to have died at the same time and from an independent cause, as the switch to freezer mode. Hopefully we can get a replacement in Georgetown.

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Highborne Cay

Yesterday was one of those rare days where all of the weather models got it wrong.. Forecast was for 10 to 13 knots, In the afternoon the actual was more like 20 to 35. It wasn’t a big deal for us, we had the foresight (OK, luck!) to have come into Highborne Cay Marine first thing in the morning before things get really exciting. The weather was the talk of the docks today.

Highborne is a small marina associated with a small, and very high end resort. They have a Seaplane dock and helipad. The only way to get here is a chartered aircraft or boat. The only things on the island are about 8 cottages, the marina and associated amenities for guests and staff.

Many of the boats here are quite large, greater than 100 feet.

Karen needed to check out the beach cabanas.

All of them…

In the “Old Days” one of the most important things an island could have was an easily accessible source of fresh water. An island with a spring was a draw for passing ships looking for fresh water, and sometimes a lair for pirates looking to relieve such ships of their valuables.

When we arrived here, the map of the resort indicated they had a spring on the southern end of the island, and we flagged it as one of the potential destinations for our daily walks.

Without really planning it, on our first stroll we came across the sign directing us to the spring. Actually, to “Da Spring” down the hill…

We followed the path down to the beach…

Where another sign made sure we’d find the way…

Karen is excited about following the next sign’s direction back into the woods…

Where we found….

The Spring!

What? You were expecting water?

We should be out of here tomorrow, with favorable winds (we hope!) for travel south. Our planned destination is Conception Cay. An uninhabited island that is part of the national park system.

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And We’re Off Again!

The strong winds left over after the passage of the cold front a few days ago are finally dying down. Instead of the 25 to 30 knots we have been getting for the past few days, it is dropping down to 15 knots. Perfect sailing weather! I have be accused of selective editing when so many of my posts include the phrase, “Another perfect sailing day!” The fact is, it is not an accident, or good luck. Without a firm schedule, we can wait, safe and hunkered down until the weather suits us.

Tomorrow we will head over toward the Exuma Island chain. It is only about 30 miles away across the deep water of the Exuma Sound, about 4 hours sailing. We’ll be in the neighborhood of Highborne Cay, where we will entertain ourselves until we get a good weather window for heading east again. Two years ago we found a couple beautiful spots in the Exumas, I’m guessing a few more will be found this time.

Since photos are always popular, here is a small collection….

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