Bahamas Part II

The Exumas

We spent a great five weeks in the Abacos (northern Bahamas). For more on that, see “Bahamas Part I” under “Sea Stories.” We headed south in February to the more remote Exuma island chain (Pronounced ex-OOM-ah). There are a lot of similarities with the Abacos (great warm weather, turquoise and emerald green seas, and beautiful beaches), but there are some noteable differences, too.

When Pigs Fly...

Those of you who know Ty, know him to be a pretty squared-away guy... you know, he tucks his t-shirts in, stands straight as an arrow, and trims his hair to military standards... Well, folks, it only took a few weeks in the Bahamas to erase 26 years of Navy habits. Viewer discretion is advised before looking at the photo below.

Our New Look

Suzanne with a stogie is hard enough to digest, but the sight of Ty with a PONYTAIL may cause weak knees in the faint of heart.

 Ok, ok. He’s wearing one of those ballcaps with a ponytail attached... (and Suzanne didn’t inhale - promise!)

 ...Had you going for a minute there, didn’t we?!

But Seriously Folks...

The pigs don’t fly, but there really are oinkers in the Exumas! There’s a whole family of them on the small, deserted island called “Big Majors Spot.”

These guys will swim out to your dinghy, looking for food, as you approach the beach. This big mama produced these little piggies not too long ago, but there’s a sow three times her size farther up!

We happily spent several days at Big Majors -- not for the pigs -- but for the great snorkeling. Thunderball Grotto, made famous by James Bond, is just around the point. We snorkeled into the underwater cave at slack low tide carrying a bag of frozen corn. We were bombarded by

Mush!

hordes of hungry fish. What a strange experience to have hundreds of colorful little critters bumping into you! (They’re quite rubbery, actually!) The cave stretches under 2/3 the length of the small cay, with several exits into the sunlight. It’s flooded at high tide, but since we timed it right, we bobbed around inside the grotto with no problem and enjoyed the spectacular underwater sights.

More Wildlife

Allan’s Cay was one of our favorite spots. Not only was this a gorgeous grouping of three small islands, but it’s home to a rare species of iguanas, found only here. We spent several days visiting these ugly critters and snorkeling the surrounding waters.

Once a day, speed boats from Nassau would bring mobs of tourists to see the iguanas, then go blasting off. We had a peaceful front row seat all day!

The Pied Piper of Porpoises

Another unique and memorable moment with wildlife occurred while moored off the town of Spanish Wells near Eleuthera. Suzanne was playing her flute below decks, when she heard some dinghies buzzing around the boat. She popped up to see what was happening. The other cruisers told her, “Your music is attracting the dolphins! Keep playing!” So she brought her flute on deck and played to the porpoises! They seemed to like the high notes the best and would even roll on their sides to listen!

It’s Different Here

This was our first taste of real “island life.” In the Abacos, many of the islands had small settlements where we’d tie up to a dinghy dock and explore. In the Exumas, deserted islands are the norm. We don’t wear shoes for days at a time! At first it felt strange to 

accept an invitation for drinks or dinner on another boat and show up barefoot. But why bother with footwear?

Sometimes the parties were impromptu get-togethers on a nearby beach, like this one at the right at Big Majors Spot. What a great way to meet other cruisers and enjoy a beautiful sunset! At gatherings like these, cruisers exchange boat cards with their names and their boat name - just like a business card.

Parties spring up on boats at the drop of a hat.  Because food and drinks are expensive and hard to come by here, cruisers take their own drinks, snacks, glasses and ice to cocktail parties, no matter who’s hosting. 

We had ten people in the cockpit one evening, and didn’t have to supply a thing - just the venue and the music! The photo at the left is the result of a serious  intellectual discussion about the Democratic candidates for the 2004 election.

Speaking of the lack of supplies, shopping for groceries has been quite an experience. Stores are few and far between. Staniel Cay has three “grocery stores,” none of which is larger than 1/3 of a Seven-Eleven! The selection is mighty poor, and the prices are sky high (for more on that, see the page on “Cruising the Bahamas”).

A Little Unwanted Excitement

We generally prefer to anchor out, but when we arrived with our buddy boat, Callahan, at Little Farmer’s Cay, we both decided to take the easy route and pick up a mooring for the night. The first night was no problem. Ty dove down and checked out the mooring anchor -- a 4’x4’x1’ block of cement weighing about 1200 pounds. We all agreed that oughta hold us.

The next day, the wind piped up into the twenties, so the owner of the moorings recommended we move around the point to some of his moorings in a more protected cove. It seemed like a good decision, at the time.

Ever Mr. Prudent, Ty set the anchor alarm on the GPS. The alarm would alert us if the boat moved outside a 120’ radius of our moored position.  Most folks wouldn’t think to set an anchor alarm when attached to a mooring, but not our Ty...

We were sound asleep at 2330, when the alarm went off. The alarm often does this at night if we swing just a little too far. Ty always jumps up to check our position, while Suzanne rolls over and goes back to sleep! (Kind of a role reversal of the old “Mama, go see why the baby’s crying” routine).

Ty took one look around and shouted, “Jesus! Something’s wrong!” When we’d gone to bed, we were between Callahan and the small village. Now Callahan was between us and the village! We were not where we were supposed to be! A frightening mental image of the charted coral reefs around us popped into both of our minds.

The mooring line had parted under the water just like a girl’s braid come undone!  Liberty had been propelled by the steady 18 knot winds with frightening speed between Callahan and the shore (a space no wider than 200’). It was miraculous that we hadn’t slammed right into her. Unfortunately, we were quickly bearing down on a coral reef!

Not knowing where the rest of the mooring line was, Ty was hesitant to start the engine, lest it wrap around the prop shaft. Instead, he ran to the bow and let go the anchor, along with about 50’ of chain. Thankfully, it dug right in and stopped us immediately. We powered up the electronic chart and saw that we had stopped a mere 75 yards short of the reef. Had it not been for the anchor alarm, we would have been awakened by a sickening crunch.

After pulling in the ends of the mooring rode, we started the engine, turned on the navigation lights, and navigated our way in the dark to a safe place to anchor. Once the anchor was set, the post-adrenaline shakes set in. We’d been tired when we went to bed, but after that close call, it took a good two hours to settle down.

Thanks to Ty’s caution with the alarm, the outcome was a good one. It just goes to show: you can never be too cautious! (And by the way, we think we’ll stick to our own tried and true anchor from now on).

Visitors and Fish

Our good friend, Jim Wohlleber, took a break from his captain’s seat in the cockpit of a Continental Airline’s 757 to join us in Liberty’s cockpit  for some Bahamas relaxation. We sat back and watched Jim unwind by the second as we raised the sails and hopped from island to island under the warm sun. They say that “visitors, like fish, start to smell after 3 days,” but after a whole week, Jim didn’t smell nearly as bad as the fish he caught!

........... So that brings you up to date with our latest adventures.  Life is good! Until the next update, fair winds...