Thursday, February 28, 2013

Warderick Wells

This is the narrow blue highway that marks the entrance and mooring field of Warderick Wells. The blue water is about 10-12 feet deep. The light tan water on each side is about 0 to 3 feet deep. The channel is narrower in real life than the picture shows.
That’s Georgia on the left on her mooring in the middle of the blue highway. Warderick Wells is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park - the conservation area within the Exumas. There’s no fishing or collecting of any sea life within the park boundaries. From what we can tell these rules are pretty well honored and enforced. This makes the snorkeling really great. Lots of large rays, sharks, conches and lobsters. Even the smaller reef fish we are used to seeing are 25-50% bigger. Must be a good diet.
We finally got around to mounting our new dinghy chaps. These are covers that extend the life of the sun wracked vinyl tubes. The chaps have been under construction for awhile now. They are made of a lot of Sunbrella canvas and copious swearing. I wasn’t previously aware of how much swearing is involved with the contact sport of sewing.
WarderickIMG_2122It turns out we were not the only ones interested in the new chaps. Soon after we arrived in Warderick Wells this shark stopped by to examine the chaps.
I didn’t tell Chris this, but one of the reasons I wanted to go to Warderick Wells was because I’d heard there was a Hooters there. Turns out I must have misheard. The gal above is a Hutia in normal island wear – aka Hooties. This  nocturnal endangered species is basically a rat with an embarrassingly small tail. They devastate the island undergrowth and eat through the rangers window screens and spray to mark their territory. They were reintroduced to the island without their natural predator, because no one knows for sure what it was, with predictable overpopulation resulting.
The island also has native, indigenous whale bones. Chris is keeping her clinical skills up and doing a pelvic examine of this sperm whale. The sign says it was a 52 footer which died as a result of swallowing plastic trash…

At the highest hill on the island its been a tradition for many decades to leave a piece of driftwood with your boat’s name on it.

Here’s a carefully engraved one from the Pacific Northwest. We’re still hunting for the perfect piece of driftwood to put Georgia’s name on the pile.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exuma Land and Sea Park

What I should be showing you is the astounding underwater photos of the drift snorkel we did in Wax Cay Cut. The cuts between the islands have a fair amount of tidal current. We take the dinghy up current, jump in the water and hold onto the dinghy painter (tie up line) – kind of like a security blanket in the deep blue- and then drift. Back to the photos, first there’s this great picture of a small gray reef shark lurking over the bottom sand near the reef edge. Then the award winning shot of the two foot wide hawksbill turtle with his massive yellow head and beak, getting his back cleaned by three hungry and cooperative remora fish. The only issue was as I was swimming along I glanced down toward the camera case and saw that the back had popped open, flooding the poor little Nikon Coolpix that used to be dryly tucked away in its nest. Just like cell phones, you are only supposed to wash them every 6 months with fresh water, never with salt water. So far this trip has been tough on cameras. We are down two underwater cameras and one land camera.  You shouldn’t apparently wash the SD memory cards in saltwater either. The sacrifices we endure to bring this blog to our reader.
We sat through a 3 day cold front packaged and delivered from the US east coast to the Bahamas. The trouble with these fronts is that they clock the winds around typically east to south to west and finally north. So an anchorage that is normally calm and secure in the prevailing easterly trade winds can become untenable as the winds clock to the west and northwest. Normans Cay turned out to be a great place to sit this out. Lots of wind in the 20’s to low 30’s knots, but no waves. We headed south after the blow was over. The front caused the water temperature to drop to the low-70’s – clearly below the legal swimming level. Don’t worry too much about us, the water got legal again within a few days. It is now 79*F.
HawksbillIMG_2092 Chris dug out her blowup kayak and did a little creek exploring inside the mangroves at Hawksbill Cay.
 HawksbillIMG_2075 Hawksbill Cay is within the Exuma Park boundaries. They offer a lot of mooring balls to visiting boats. These help to keep the anchors from tearing up the reefs and grass beds on the bottom. There was a good wind and a bit of current when we went to pickup our mooring ball. This is the boat pole, after it got folded in two in the process during the CF of a pickup. It was a less than graceful mooring pickup.
After a quick trip into the man-cave, along with the drilling of a few holes and we have a completely repaired and functional boat pole. This one should last at least a few weeks.
Hawksbill Cay on the West side looking North.
Hawksbill had a set of houses making up a sisal plantation. These were created by Loyalists who left the newly formed US in the late 1700’s and ran the plantation into the 1800’s. One rugged place to eek out a living farming.
This is the remains of the beehive oven used for cooking. The pile of conch shells to the right were also incinerated to make mortar for the building walls.
A friendly curly tailed lizard, one of the current plantation inhabitants. These guys walk out into the trail and seem to look at you with a quizzical look – like, what are doing here mon?
The trail leads across the island to the Exuma Sound side, i.e. the Atlantic.
Here you get plastic trash being blown onto the beaches by the prevailing easterly winds, some of it from far away. Visitors to this beach, probably old hippies, use the Arlo Gutherie approach to trash: It’s better to have one big pile of shit, then many small ones. As they stroll the beach they pickup some plastic trash and take it back to this somewhat artistic colorful pile. What doesn’t end up on the beach is, unfortunately, is swallowed by many of the sea critters.
And as was standard practice in Panama, the shoes washed up on the beach are all left shoes.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hola, from Carlos Lehder

normansIMG_2033 We’ve spent a few days anchored in the cut next to Norman’s Cay. As Chris says, ‘taking in the eyegasm of the water color.” The cut is a natural passage between the thousands of feet deep Exuma Sound in the east and the shallow Exuma Banks to the west. The entrance has plenty of water for Georgia, but requires VPR (Visual Piloting Rules), i.e. you follow the water color in to stay in deep water. Once inside we have too much draft to anchor outside of the cut. This means that we change direction 4 times a day with the force of the strong tidal currents coming through here. That’s OK when the winds are light. When they blow strong and on the beam, it can make for an uncomfortable few hours.
Normans Cay is famous because it was owned in the 70’s and early 80’s by the Medellin drug smuggler Carlos Lehder. He bought the island and put lots of dollars into improvements. Like extending the run way for his delivery planes and improving the dock. New storage buildings were constructed and over 100 Bahamians were on staff. He was buddies with Panama’s Manual Noriega and Robert Vesco, who had a some nice digs on an island just south of here.
normansIMG_2027 The runway at Normans Cay. You can just see the Exuma Sound water showing up at the end of the runway.
A hangar off the airstrip. Good storage for dead planes, old toilets, washing machines and refrigerators.
We dove a plane wreck just off the Cay.
The story of the wreck is that the pilot was flying in with a loaded down plane full of fresh sod for the island renovations. He decided to do a touch-n-go landing and take off to see how difficult it would be to fly out of the strip with a load of less benign and more expensive cargo. He banked off the end of the run way and promptly dropped into the shallows of Normans Bay. Carlos witnessed this and reportedly shrugged and ordered another plane.
The island was raided by Bahamian police with backup and surveillance by US agents in 1979. There had apparently been a tip-off, as the island was spotlessly clean and Carlos was back in a few days.
He did latter end up getting arrested in Colombia and extradited to the US. His somewhat redundant sentence: life without parole plus 135 years. I think the man pissed off someone big.
normansIMG_2025 The water off Carlos’ dock. Impressive color!
normansIMG_2031 Chris getting her required beach walk on a windy day on the Exuma Bank.
Beach walk shell collecting – actually this one is about 12 or 14 inches across, too big for a pocket. The Bahamian Queen Conchs are everywhere. Every restaurant offers either Conch Chowder or Conch Fritters. Conch is pronounced conk, for you foreigners who don’t speak the language, Mon.
A wiggly ray having a morning swim under the bow of the boat seen through the current ripples.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Exumas 1

I got my eye on you! A hungry Lorikeet eye.

exumaIMG_1990 We left Nassau and did a motor sail into 15kts of SE wind to Allen Cay in the Exumas. The sail is about 29 miles. About half-way you pass over the Yellow Bank (Chris observed that it’s so named because it makes you want to pee your pants). This is a slightly shallower area that is dotted with coral heads. They are spaced out enough that was dumb luck you’d miss them all. This is me hanging in the rigging looking for coral heads to work around.
They are pretty conspicuous, looking like an oblong oil slick maybe 15 or 20 feet long and much darker than the surrounding water.
When you get to the other end in Allen's Cay the treat is the greeters on the beach. Here are the indigenous iguanas trying to chase Chris off the beach.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

More Bahamas Mon

As soon as Chris got in the 78*F water, she started kicking bubbles in my face. Just can’t get no respect.
Here’s a cute little Remora, AKA Suckerfish, desperately trying to attach to the bottom of our dinghy. They more normally pick on sharks, rays, whales and turtles for their feeding spots. This guy followed the dinghy back from the reef we were snorkeling on all the way back to Georgia.
Arriving Nassau Harbour after a good 6 hour close reach sail from the Berry Islands; with a nice band of fluffy white clouds to highlight the cruise ships in port behind the lighthouse.
Nassau is not really a big place – although it is home to 70% of the population of the Bahamas. These ships combined probably dropped 9 or 10 thousand tourist into town. Good business if you can get it.
Chris put me on another of her death marches into town. Here she is righteously posing in front of the Anglican Church – just before taking me to a dive bar to ease my knee pain. There was an interesting old plaque on the church wall to the officers and seamen of a British ship who lost the surgeon and a dozen others to Yellow Fever in 1862.
The Green Parrot Pub, pub of choice in downtown Nassau.
I wasn’t about to walk back after our Pub burger and stout, but I was still too proud to take a taxi. That left the Jitney bus. These 40 person busses run all over New Providence Island (where Nassau is). I went online before we left to find a bus map. Dr. Google failed to come up with one. But on one of the sites where someone asked for a bus map the response was “I’ve been looking for one for 25 years. They don’t exist".” So we had to figure out which Jitney to take. We stood at the bus stop for 15 minutes watching the numbered Jitneys stop, each with a list of streets and areas they go near. None of the places listed sounded recognizable. So Chris broke down and walked over to a police officer. This officer – kid maybe – was in uniform, had a gun, a bullet proof vest, a great big smile, dark glasses and came up to Chris’ shoulders. He headed us down the street 2 more blocks to where the “19” jitneys land. The pic above is the 19 Jitney driver, right-hand drive, driving along East Bay St. taking us back to the marina. Not sure it matters that much that they drive on the left here, as most of the streets seem to be one-way.
We weren’t planning on hanging in Nassau for more than a day, but weather wins again. Its supposed to blow in the high 20’s tonight with a front moving through. We thought we’d just hang and see how the weather pans out before moving on to the Exuma island chain. Plus, this way we can get the Internet photos of the snow storm in the US North East.
I borrowed a map so you can get a feel for where these islands are relative to each other. The Berry Islands, our first landfall, are too small to show up on this map. They’re above Andros and below Grand Bahamas, to the right of Bimini. Bimini, on the left, is about 40 miles off of Ft. Lauderdale.

Friday, February 8, 2013

How to setup a 3G Modem in the Bahamas

Just a quick blog to let other cruisers know what the settings are for a 3G modem, i.e. dongle, for Bahamas TelCo (BTC). First you need an unlocked 3g modem, then buy a SIMM card from your local BTC office ($15). Buy $30 worth of pre-paid cards. Stick the SIMM card in an unlocked cell phone. Dial *205#, then follow the prompts to purchase Data time. 30days up to 1GB is $30. Following the prompts actually has you texting back number replies. You will get a text message indicating you enabled the Data for the number of days you requested. Then stick the SIMM into your 3G modem and insert it into your computer. The connection application should open. The apps are a little different, but you should find an Options section with something like Profile Management, add a New Dial-up connection. Set the name to BTC, the APN to Static and Access number is *99# . The user name is btc and the password is left empty.
The good news is you can connect. The bad news is it is pretty darn slow.

EDIT: Since we’ve been here in the Exumas it looks like Bahamas Telco has done an upgrade. We now often connect at HSDPA or WCDMA rates instead of EDGE. Secondly, while the 30-day prepaid package is for 1GB of data, when you go over 1GB you get a text message indicating that your connection will be slowed down during the remainder of your 30-days. I can’t see any speed difference, so for us it will basically be 30-day unlimited.
We made it to Nassau after having a good 3 days of snorkeling and looking around the Berry Islands. Should be off to the Exumas in the morning.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Welcome to the Bahamas, Mon

We left Fort Lauderdale about 10am with very light winds and lots of sun. In a few miles we were hard into the Gulfstream. The black arrows above are the central north bound flow of this ocean river. The current was about 4 knots. The green line is where Georgia was pointed. The solid red line is the course we actually ended up on. The dashed red line is the course we wanted to be on – ie. the rhumb line from Ft Lauderdale to Great Isaac Light. That’s a lot of current push north. With a little luck and brilliant navigation skills we ended up just north of Great Isaac Light around sunset.
gulfIMG_1886 Here’s one of the giant cruise ships that ply this water constantly, the Zuiderdam, showing off a calm Gulfstream sunset to the passengers. From Great Isaac Light we entered the Northwest Providence Channel. This is all deep water and packed with tanker and cruise  traffic going to Caribbean or Florida ports.
By early morning we were ready to enter the cut at Great Harbour Cay Marina (BUllocks Harbour) to clear customs. FYI – cay  is pronounced key. The yellow flag flying is our Q Flag. Stands for quarantine or  ‘I request practique’. Once you clear customs the Q flag is lowered and the courtesy flag of the visited country is raised. Once all the forms were filled out in duplicate the Bahamian customs guy came down to the boat. Very polite and professional. Easy check-in – except for the required US$300 payment.
gulfIMG_1903 The highlight of showing up here was the greeting we got from this Manatee family. They were munching down on the underwater grass along the quay. Chris was excited enough that now we can just go home. Me, I’m looking forward to Manatee chowder at the restaurant tonight.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Getting Out Ft Lauderdale - again

“Frankly my Scallop, I don’t give a Clam”
Florida humor
The watermaker is doing well with TDS readings at 250 or so – that’s a good thing. It just took the proper low-flow membrane. Before I go on, I wanted to comment on the comments I’ve gotten on the blog picture of my Dad and me looking at Georgia. We really like getting blog comments – it’s always nice to hear from our reader. But I need to clarify a few things about the picture. Firstly, I am the handsome, young one in the picture. Secondly, my Dad is not Sigmund Freud. If he was he’d have a cigar in his mouth. He did retire from being a psychiatrist 5 or 6 years ago, at age 80.
The anchorage we are in, Lake Sylvia,in Ft. Lauderdale, is usually a nice, quite and protected place. It is nestled among the mega-million dollar homes on the waterway. However, the weekends can bring out some strange characters, like this JetLev guy.
It looks like we have a weather window to get across the Gulf Stream tomorrow. We are planning to leave from Ft Lauderdale, cross the stream and head down the Northwest Providence Channel on the way toward Nassau. We will most likely stop in Great Harbour in the Berry Islands and clear in customs there. Hopefully, mentioning this in public won’t jinx the weather.