Sunday, June 29, 2014

St Francis Resort Marina - Stocking Island, Bahamas

With hindsight it is clear that we picked the right day to sail Into the Exumas. It was a beautiful clear day with enough wind to keep the headsail full, and Don and I rode most of the 30 mile trip out front on the tramps, trying soak up what was likely to be our last open water passage of the trip.

Tom had been stressing about the entry through Conch Cay cut into the shallow and reef-strewn bay between Great Exuma and Stocking Island, location of St Francis Resort Marina, but with the sun overhead, all the reefs and shallows were clear to see and there was no issue.

The bay here is about a mile wide and stretches for many miles between the two islands, with Georgetown being the focus, in season, of a huge cruising community.  Hundreds of boats congregate here, anchoring from one side to the other, and many go no further.  For this reason it is sometimes nicknamed "Chicken Harbor"!

St Francis Resort, our end destination, is located directly across the bay from Georgetown.  It sits on a hill overlooking to the south not one but three idyllic hurricane holes, and to the north an equally idyllic white sand beach.  

For Quantum Leap this was a sort of home-coming, because she is a St Francis catamaran, and the St Francis resort is owned by the boatbuilder and his partners.  In fact, the resort's original reason for being was to be a base near the US for storing and showing the South African built boats.

As often happens, the original purpose has become more of a sideline, because this resort is very successful in its own right, and only a small percentage of the guests even know about the connection to the boat builder.  The success is due not merely to its awesome location, but to the creativity, hospitality and dogged can-do attitude of George and Jillian, the resourceful South African couple that built it and run it.

That Tom and. Bette are part of this family was clear as we pulled up and were welcomed straight onto the dock.  In actuality, there is no marina here in the sense of docks and slips.  Instead there are moorings placed in the super-protected holes.  This is where Quantum Leap will spend hurricane season after Tom and Bette leave at the end of the month.

For now however we were on the dock with the flexibility to come and go, eat and drink at the resort restaurant, and walk the gorgeous beach on the other side.

When we left Calabash Bay to sail here, Don and I still had over a week of our visit to go, and the plan was that we would touch base with George and Jillian and then head back out to explore the Exumas. Since Don and I have never been here in this famous cruising Mecca, we were quite looking forward to it.  However we weren't on the dock long when we could see Tom visibly relax...or more accurately relax to a different level...and begin talking about maybe just staying!  We realized that we could hardly whine because he and Bette have been moving constantly since they left South Africa in March!

But those first days on the dock were hot!  Really hot.  and buggy in the mornings and evenings.  And Don and I began to think about maybe making an early departure!

Fortunately, the airlines weren't having any of that idea.  I say fortunately, because the next two days saw the arrival of thunderstorms and heavy rain! So, (A)  it was a darned nice thing to have gotten in before the bad weather, and (B) the storms cooled everything off. So (C), everybody's attitude perked right up.

Probably the real turning point was the morning we four took a long walk down the beach to a sort of pool in the sea protected by a rock cliff where we ended up swimming in the rain, only getting out when the lightning started!  That was really special!

But then, just as we were making plans to head back out, Quantum started having some mechanical problems.  It seemed like as soon as they addressed one thing, another would crop up.  By this time we had all gotten comfortable with out routine right here.

So essentially, for this last week, we have been laid-back resort guests with a special floating waterfront room.  We've eaten and drunk about everything on the menu, and we've checked out all the nearby highlights: like the mini-blue hole snorkel cave cave with its swarm of ocean fish that come through a fissure that leads  through the island to some opening out to sea or the Chat n Chill Beach hangout on a nearby sandy spit where a cheeky young man makes you fresh conch salad to order!  And every day, we walk and swim in the Atlantic!  It's been grand.  

Thank you, Tom &Bette for having us.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Calabash Bay, Long Island, Bahamas

This has been a very hard trip on the two captains' electronics!  In addition to what was stolen in the. BVI, I broke my Kindle by pressing on the screen when the boat lurched, and now my trusty Canon camera is having a lens error and won't work.  

This means no pictures for the Blog.  Or no easy pictures for the Blog.  We do try to get some shots directly with the iPad and with Don's phone, but I'm unwilling to expose the iPad to much adventure and getting the pictures from Don's phone to my iPad is not easy.  Wish this iPad had the new Air Drop feature! 

So I have no photos to share of our lovely stop in Calabash Bay, Long Island.  All the way at the north end of Long Island and on the way to Georgetown, it was a logical stopover.  It turned out to be a beautiful bay!  A huge white sand beach curving in an arc of several miles had a very lovely resort - Cape Santa Maria Resort -- tucked into the north corner with casuarina pines softening the horizon.

The anchorage was huge.  An interesting formation of parallel rocks bedecked the bottom in 20-30 feet of water on our approach, and looking through the shallow clear water was like sailing in over some giant river bottom.  To the left of the resort, a huge, but shallow lagoon opened up, which we later explored by dinghy. It is so unusual to see such a body of water be crystal clear!

In the afternoon we did our dinghy exploration of the hidden lagoon, then dropped the hook in a little cove near the mouth of the main bay to snorkle.  This was a precious cove, with a battered house all closed up with a for sale sign on it, prompting a few fantasies. 

When we rolled into the water we discovered -- zowie --at rest on the bottom the largest stingray any of us had ever seen!  His body had to be a full four feet in diameter and his tail disappeared into the sand behind him.  Most eye catching were eye sockets that had to be the size of fists!  

When we tired of admiring the stingray, we snorkeled around the tip of the point, finding a nice assortment of fish and a rock formation with giant potholes scooped out of it!  The guidebook says all rock in the Bahamas is limestone.  If so, it sure takes some different forms!  

On this Atlantic side of the Bahamas at least, there is not much coral growth.  We are north of the Tropic of Cancer, now, generally considered the limit for coral (except where the Gulf Stream warms the water temps), but on this swim we did see scattered small but perfect coral formations, trying to make it in the shallows.

In the evening we dinghied ashore to dine at The Beach House, the resort's handsome restaurant.  We were surprised how small the restaurant was for the size of the resort, but then we saw lost of room service orders going out.  Our waitress explained that  the resort has villas many of which are privately owned, and many people dine at home!  Not us!  Tom and Bette had lobster, Don and I had ahi tuna in pineapple salsa.  

When we left in the dark, (after availing ourselves of their Internet), we were besieged by mozzies and no-see-ums by the zillions and we fled back to the boat, put in screens and lit mosquito coils.

In the morning, we decided to motor around to the west side of Long Island so that Tom and Bette could check out Stella Maris Marina.  by car, this would have been a very short drive, but by boat it was a several hour arc owing to various capes and shoals that had to be gotten around.  In the Chartkit, this marina boasts of being able to haul out multihulls up to 100' so it seemed worth the effort to check out, but it was a very stressful approach through water barely deep enough for our boat, with a stiff breeze complicating things by whipping up the surface making it hard to see the bottom. 

Well....once again, the guidebook was somewhat of a misrepresentation.   The approach channel was poorly marked with sticks only, so we dropped the hook while still a mile out.  Then Tom and Bette dinghied in -- a long wet ride -- only to find  the facility, when they finally reached it, somewhat underwhelming.  

Don and I stayed behind on the boat for that adventure, in part to lighten the load in the dinghy.  Don continued to work on boat projects, mostly electrical, and I did some cleaning, reading and writing.  But Tom and Bette were back quickly and, it was unanimous that we didn't want to stay there for the night.  So motored right back to Calabash Bay.  

This time we anchored much farther out to discourage visits by the biting critters.  In addition, the easterly breeze that had so stirred things up at Stella Maris, here bathed the boat in cooling breezes without the sea getting rough.  Since the summer solstice a few days before which was about the same time we lost the trade winds, we have all been uncomfortably hot a lot of the time, so this renewed breeze was very welcome.  

As the sun headed for the horizon, we were hopeful for a green flash.  It would be our last chance, we figured, before being surrounded by the Exuma islands.  in the last hour before sunset, though  we grew pessimistic as a hidden cloud bank swallowed the setting sun.  However, at the very last minute, Ina kind of miracle the big orange ball of sun seemed to find a slot just big enough to slip its fat self though and amazingly, we got our flash!  

Later, before bed, Don and I sat out forward on the tramps enjoying the breeze and the clear night sky.  Incredibly, between the moon, summer haze, and cloud cover, this was the first really good star watching night we'd had in the whole month!  While lying back and trying to pick out the summer constellations (I am much better at winter ones), we were amazed to see two starts suddenly split and move rapidly in opposite directions!!!!  Not planes...perhaps the space station?

The next morning we made an early departure, bound for Georgetown and Exumas.

Rum Cay

Our overnight at anchor between Strachan and Salt Pond Cays across from Clarence Town was one of the nicest of the trip.  A light shower rinsed off the boat and cooled the night air, while the breeze provided the gentlest of rocking motion.

Excited to be on our way, we set off for Rum Cay, about 30 miles to the northeast.  We had heard mixed things about Rum Cay, but the guidebook was glowing, and, as you might guess, Don felt there was no way we could pass up visiting a place named Rum Cay.

We anchored out in the open roadstead with just a few feet of water under the keel between us and miles of white sand bottom.  Sharing the anchorage was a 76 Nordhaven and Cat Ppalu, a large go-fast catamaran that I recognized from the old days in the Virgins.

Don and I did a long swim to cool down and burn some energy.   The sand with occasional patches of grass is mesmerizing, but not very busy.  One stingray was our sole wildlife sighting! 

In the evening, dressed up for dinner out, we dinghied over to Sumner Marina, at the very east end of the long bay.   Probably once a charming little cruising center, we discovered that the marina is currently defunct.  So much for the Guidebooks!  Several boats are tied up there, nonetheless, despite damaged docks and no services, and several large nurse sharks patrol the waters.  One of the boats in the marina is said to be a fellow who has  just taken over the lease for the place.  So perhaps there is hope for next season.  

After discovering the sad state of the marina, we found ourselves all dressed up with no place to go!  So, we backtracked to the town dock, hoping to catch a bit of local life.

It was Sunday, late afternoon when we clambered ashore.  A bunch of guys had a volleyball game going over a net stretched across the sand road.  Across the road was Kaye's bar, a very local hangout, with a sand floor inside and out. It looked plenty iffy, but the proprietor, Kaye, was a lovely warm woman who had me sign the guest book, and we managed to get cold Kilick beers and just enough intact chairs for the four of us to sit and enjoy them beneath a spreading almond tree. "No, THE almond tree," said Dru, a Norwegian girl who has stopped off in Rum Cay indefinitely, who wandered over  from her group of male pals to chat with the visitors.

The afternoon's moment of drama came shortly after when  Dru's dog took off to chase a police jeep rolling through where the volleyball net had been moments before, and an older dog following the younger pup proved not as agile at the chase and got clipped even though the police jeep was barely moving!  The thump and yelp caused all dog lovers to leap to their feet in dismay.   Fortunately, the dog seemed relatively non-plussed, with just some cuts and nothing evidently broken.  She was still able to leap into Dru's Jeep!  Good thing because I doubt there was anything like a vet on the island!

One wonders that an island of 70 residents warrants a police jeep!?!?!

For food, Dru suggested we try Ocean View, a yellow house on down the street away.  although the house was dark when we approached, Ruby, the owner, welcomed us ins, turned on the fans, and promptly pulled out some icy cold beverages.  Ruby was another super warm Bahamian lady who had, in addition to the cold drinks, Internet and some food, but the place was awesomely hot.  Fans turned lazily overhead, but do nothing to cool.  Silver air-conditioning duct work wound through the rafters, but obviously was not in use. Sweat was dripping off every one of us, and beading up on my iPad.  

Later, just about the time we were finished, a  big charter group came in from Ppalu, obviously well known to Ruby.  With their arrival, the place came alive enough that they fired up the generator AND air con!

Such is the excitement of a Sunday evening on a small island.  

Bahamas - Clarence Town, Long Island

We had a lovely, easy 24-hour trip from Providenciales to Clarence Town, Long Island, our first stop in the  Bahamas,  using, we found out later, the last of our steady trade wind allotment.  

Long Island is just that, a long, very long island: 76 miles from end to end, quite narrow, with spit and arms and capes akimbo and pocked by blue holes.  Indeed the world's deepest blue hole -- Dean's Blue Hole,  the site of some major free diving competitions, is just north of Clarence Town.

Clarence Town, is a quaint village about a quarter of the way up from the south end,  situated on some gentle hills which are topped by two rather remarkable churches, one Anglican and one Catholic, both built by the same architect/priest, Father Jerome.  The village faces east a mile or so overlooking a long narrowing bay, protected from the Atlantic by a string of islands, islets and rocks on the seaward side.  

The Explorer chart kit identified Flying Fish Marina as a place we could clear customs, so Tom brought Quantum Leap into the dock again.  It turned out Clarence Town is not an actual Port of Entry after all.  The customs and immigration officers must drive down from Stella Maris, a resort area an hour away at the north end.  However, they would do that, and did.

Flying Fish Marina was recently purchased by a the owner of a big sport fishing boat who was looking for a place to store his boat.  He has clearly masterminded a lot of new construction.  The docks look brand new...indeed woodworkers were laying a new section as we tied up.  Bright fresh paint in pink and turquoise dress up a sea wall, and every buildings is tidy.  A very large new edifice of concrete block is rising on the point, earmarked to be a new office and restaurant.  The bathrooms and showers are among the nicest and best conceived we have seen!  

So we stayed on the dock overnight, after a mid-afternoon lunch at the marina's dockside cafe.  Then Tom invited a couple of sailors, septuagenarian Jack and his delivery crew Adam, (introduced as Jack's wife's yoga instructor!), over for a beer, to pick his brain about the Bahamas.  These  path-crossing encounters are truly one of the high points of cruising.  Jack, a veteran of many years in the Bahamas, was waiting for a weather window to lay the Windward Passage between Hispaniola and Cuba, bound for Montego Bay Yacht Club in Jamaica, a regular run he says he makes every few years.  Jack  was waiting for the strong winds that brought us north to die, so that he could motor south.

The next morning, he got his wish.  Perfect conditions for Jack's needs.  Not so nice for us, as it turned out.  Without the breeze, the Bahamas in June get pretty hot!

Before we left the dock, the four of us went for a walk, following the road that lead from the marina up the hill to St. Paul's, the Anglican Church.  

This was a very charming church with familiar Episcopal trappings and views from the hilltop though arched windows. 

This church had a brand new roof, the previous one lost to hurricane damage.  The church seemed particularly bright and fresh, probably because much inside had been recently replaced.

From the Anglican Church we wandered south to the Catholic Church of St. Peter and Paul, which presents almost castle-like twin towers above sweeping steps. something you's expect to see a fairy princess run down. 

Inside, however, the sanctuary was smaller, darker and more closed in and cave-like within its thicker walls and a lower ceiling.  Views  through plain rectangular windows were not soinspiring.  Guess that's better for holding attention to the sermon!

We wandered around the local streets a bit, meeting some of the local inhabitants,

(Yes, Bette, sheep in this case, not goats!.....yes, the tails are down like stood little girls!)....

..... In and out of a small store for bread and eggs, and back to the marina. 

 When we finally backed out our destination was but a mile away, an anchorage just across the bay behind the offshore islets and rocks.  Here we enjoyed our first Bahamian snorkle and swim.

This anchorage was a very gentle introduction to the shallow roadsteads of the Bahamas.  To people accustomed to deeper waters and coral reefs, these shallow, open sandy bottoms are discomfiting.  We expect every dark spot to be a coral bommie, and they just turn out to be patchesof grass!  The water is so clear, it is like swimming in a swimming pool, but you have to work hard to find sea life to get excited about...a small conch here, a peacock flounder there.  The four of us snorkeled to the beach, walked a bit and then snorkeled back. We cooked fish on the grill and enjoyed a lovely sunset.  

Now this is the life!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rum Cay

Left Clarence Town, Long Island this morning after nice two day visit.  Motored to Rum Cay.  Don says, "How can we pass up an island named Rum Cay?"  Well....things have slowed near to a stop on Rum Cay since the marina died!  

Also died today, my camera.  Sand is the culprit. Perhaps it will resurrect.  

Meanwhile, very HOT, hot, hot.  No wind.

Very close to end destination.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Arrived in Bahamas - Clarence Town, Long Island

After a very smooth 240-mile, single-overnight trip, we are arrived in Clarencetown, Long Island.  The Explorer Chart Kit implied we could clear customs here, but the truth is it isn't a real port of entry and the officials had to drive down from Stella Maris!  We are at Flying Fish Marina tonight, then out at anchor tomorrow,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Passage Update June 19. 2014

Still working on my post from our four days in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, but I want to let you know we are departing this morning as soon as the tide comes up enough that we can! Our planned destination is Clarencetown, Long Island, Bahamas, about 225 miles away.  It should be our last overnight trip.  When we reach Long Island, we will be very close to our final destination.  We have a possible stopover along the way planned, a place we can pull up and drop the hook, if it doesn't look like we'll make it in daylight tomorrow. We didn't quite account for the tide keeping us here in the marina till closer to midday!

This has been a nice stop.  Mostly the light -- very special -- and some  very interesting people.