24 March, 2008

George Town

Location: Sand Dollar Beach, Stocking Island, Exumas
Position: N23 30.868 W075 44.725

We finally made it. George Town is a real Bahamian cruising destination. There are boats here that
arrived in November and have spent the entire winter here. Others stay for a day or a week or a month and move on. There are a lot of social things to do here. One cruiser described it to us as “adult daycare”, others as “summer camp”.

The daily cruiser’s net takes place at 8am every morning on VHF channel 72. People announce volleyball, softball, pilates, beach church, dominoes, bridge, poker, etc., and all the happy hour gatherings one could possibly want.

Many of the liesure activities take place on Volleyball Beach near a beach bar / restaurant named the Chat n' Chill. Here's a photo of their menu:

Cruisers ask for help and nearly always find someone with the expertise they need. Need a part? Ask and someone is more than likely to be able to help – either with the part required or a local source. Or, as happened to us, a friend will have a guest arriving so you can have your mail sent to that guest’s address and they’ll bring it along with them on the plane.
We can’t possibly tell you everything we’ve done but we’ll share some of the highlights.

Our first night here we attended the first ever Cruisers Rock n’ Roll Raftup. A catamaran anchored from it’s stern in the middle of the harbour and a band made up of cruisers set up on the bow to play. The audience arrived in dinghies and tied off in front of the band. We were a little late getting started and weren’t really sure where to go. As we headed out into the harbour Mark said “Is that an island? I don’t remember there being an island here”. As we got closer we realized it was the rafted up dinghies! There must have been almost a hundred floating out in front of the band! Everyone brought drinks and snacks which they passed and shared around the crowd. People were dancing and singing along – it turned out to be a great party and was a lot of fun.

Once we settled in, we turned on the computer and picked up a WiFi signal. It was a pay to use internet access. The login page said to call on VHF channel 69 to get connected. We tried over the course of a day to contact them but never got a response so we decided to go into town and pay. We had received general directions to the place but after wandering around for a while we couldn’t find it. We met another couple who were on the same mission but they had talked to the guy on the phone and got better directions. The four of us walked up a back street to a yellow house which was surrounded by chickens and dog kennels. The fellow with us said this was the house so Mark knocked on the door. No answer. Mark knocked on the door and shouted “Hello”. No answer. We all looked at each other, we could tell it was the right place as it had a big WiFi antennae on the roof. So our partner in the quest pulls out his cell phone and calls the guy. “Hello” “We’re standing outside your house!!” The door opens just a crack and a hand pokes out. We dutifully lay $15 into it, it disappears, the door closes, then a few seconds later out comes the hand with a card with a username and password on it. We’ve never had to work so hard to give someone our business. We wended our way back through the chickens and dogs back into town. The Internet access, while not stellar by any stretch of the imagination has actually been okay for the price. Our best time to connect is in the middle of the night when the other cruisers are asleep.

As some of you know, in Mark’s deep dark past he used to be quite musical, playing bass in a blues band and picking bluegrass on a mandolin and a dobro, among other things. Well, when we took off cruising Mark thought he may pick back up on his musical endeavors and he bought a backpackers mandolin. Just a little something to keep him occupied if he got bored. It’s smaller than usual but has a lovely sound. He still had not really played it that much but on our way down through the Exumas he’s sat in with some other musicians and had fun beginning to relearn some songs. After our arrival in George Town he was hailed on the radio. Turns out someone had heard that he played and wondered if he’d like to play with a band in the Talent Night. Mark says well ok when is it? Tomorrow night, we’re having our first practice this afternoon on the beach. Yikes! They ended up having 2 practices and were the last band billed for Talent Night, their name? ‘The Last Minute Band’, seemed appropriate. They were a big hit and Mark is now nursing sore fingers from playing more in 2 days than he’s played in 10 years. We’re looking forward to learning some sing-a-long tunes that will be welcomed at happy hours on our cruising travels.

We’ve been in George Town for a week now and had planned on leaving but another weather front is coming through so we’ll be hanging out here for a little while longer. The wind is picking up and the VHF is beginning to come alive with “Hey! You’re dragging!” calls.

Chillin’ in George Town

10 March, 2008

Between the Majors

Location: Staniel Cay, Exumas
Position: N24 11.521 W076 27.207

We left Black Point and headed north (10 miles of sailing) to Staniel Cay. There was a front coming through and we wanted more protection from the westerly winds than Black Point affords.

Just north of Staniel Cay there are two islands named ‘Big Majors Spot’ and ‘Little Majors Spot’. Rachel chose to head up to Staniel Cay and ride out the front “between the Majors” as the channel between the two islands is known locally.

We were joined there by four other boats, one of which was some friends we hadn’t seen since we left Normans Cay about three weeks ago. While we were volunteering at the park, they went on down to Georgetown and are now heading back up the Exumas.

Not much to say about our time during the frontal passage – pretty much just three days on the boat, pointing in one direction when the tide’s coming in and the other when it’s going out. We did enjoy a few walks on the island, lots of reading, and some bouncing about as the winds clocked around ….

There are three big rocks (small islands?) between Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot. The largest of these contains the “Thunderball Grotto”, famous for its appearance in the James Bond movies “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again”, and the Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah movie “Splash”. We’ve been wanting to snorkel it since we’ve been in the Bahamas today we got our chance. Not wanting to sound too blasé the fish and the corals were awesome. People bring breadcrumbs into the grotto and the fish mill around to eat the crumbs. This makes the fish very tame and they will come right up to you and nibble at you. It’s too bad we don’t have an underwater camera.

When we leave we’ll be going out into the Exuma Sound through the Big Rock Cut. This, and most of the other cuts in the Exumas, can be a bit tricky if you don’t get the tides right. The banks west of the Exumas are like a giant table – with every tide change huge amounts of water flow in from Exuma Sound to cover the table, and then back out again as it drains. Much of this flow takes place through the cuts between islands. When the tide is really flowing it's not a place you want to be in a boat, for sure.

We are a bit behind on the Khronicles so here’s a brief update & synopsis to bring you up-to-date:

March 11 – Tuesday: N24 05.977 W076 24.147
We upped anchor and headed back to Black Point to “top off” the laundry

March 12 – Wednesday: N23 57.859 W076 18.933
Wind dead on the nose, motored 13 miles to Little Farmers Cay. Lovely little island with only 50 residents, school with 10 students K-9 grade, a grocery, liquor store and 2 restaurants. Rather a strange combination!!

March 13 – Thursday: N23 37.796 W075 54.889
Had a fantastic sail, 31 miles, down the Exuma sound with 10 knots on the beam to Emerald Bay just north of Georgetown. It’s sails like these that remind us of what we love most about living on Rachel. We spent the night in a marina for the first time since February 1st. The big draw was that the $50 slip fee included free laundry, great showers, easy fueling and free on-request shuttle to the grocery and liquor stores.

March 14th – Friday: N23 30.864 W075 44.730
We arrived in Georgetown, cruising capital of the Bahamas, and dropped anchor off Sand Dollar Beach on Stocking Island. So many boats!! We’ll tell you more about Georgetown in the next Khronicle. And this week we have WiFi on the boat!!

05 March, 2008

Too Many Cooks

Location: Black Point Settlement, Exumas
Position: N24 05.978 W076 24.137

Lady Muriel
We mentioned in the last Khronicle that many of the Black Point locals had gone to Staniel Cay to attend a funeral. It was for a local hero named Rolly Gray (pronounced like “Raleigh”). Mr. Gray was described to us by another cruiser as “sort of the ‘Babe Ruth’ of Bahamas sloop racing”. He and his boats named “Lady Muriel” and “Tida Wave” won the ‘A’ class (the big boats) in the Family Regatta in Georgetown about a million times (for his actual record, see
http://www.bahamas.gov.bs/BahamasWeb/VisitingTheBahamas.nsf/Subjects/Regatta+Winners!OpenDocument&Click= ). Tida Wave

He was called “The Grand Master” due to his dominance in the sport, and up until just a few years ago piloted one of the mail boats, also named “The Grand Master” in his honor. He was known as a real gentleman and a loving father. It sounds like he was quite a man – we wish we’d been able to meet him. We’re even considering making our way to Georgetown at the end of April for the Family Island Regatta – we hear from other cruisers who have attended that it’s not to be missed. To learn a bit more about Rolly Gray see

A fellow named Von (Vaughn?) across from Lorraine’s is building a ‘C’ class sloop (one of the smaller ones) in his side yard. Local lore has it that he built his first one at eighteen, then proceeded to take it to Georgetown and race for a win in his class. He’s now in his fifties and the
Von's Class C sloop under constructionone currently under construction is hull number six. We hunted him down yesterday evening (he only works on it for an hour or so some days after work) and talked to him about his boats for a few minutes.

He doesn’t use any plans other than some bent pieces of copper tubing that he uses for the general shape of the hull. He can only get small amounts of wood delivered on the mail boat – it’s really expensive – so he has to make do wherever possible with local materials. He’ll hold up a piece of wood - maybe part of a 2x4, maybe part of tree limb or some driftwood, look at it, cut it, smooth and shape it, and add it to the boat, all by eye. The last one he built, “Smashie”, has finished in the top three in its class in Georgetown for the past three years.

SmashieOne of our cruising friends told us that a few years ago he and his wife watched a crowd of locals help Von decide where to put one nail – a single nail - for something like two hours!! Our friends were standing outside Lorraine’s watching the proceedings (which apparently included a lot of gesturing, arm waving, and “discussion”) when Lorraine stepped outside, looked at the crowd, looked at our friends, shook her head, and on her way back inside said “Too many cooks stirring that stew”.

04 March, 2008

Washing, WiFi, and Welcome

Location: Black Point Settlement, Exumas
Position: N24 05.978 W076 24.137

On Saturday, March 1st, the wind was out of the northeast. We slipped our mooring at Cambridge Cay and had a great sail down to Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay with about 20 knots of wind on the beam.

For cruisers the four biggest draws to Black Point are: Lorraine’s Cafe, the local cruiser’s hangout; the launderette, reputed to be the nicest in the Bahamas; free trash drop off, donation requested (as much as $5 / bag elsewhere); and free water (often $0.50 / gallon elsewhere). The last two weren’t such a big deal to us since the warden had taken our trash daily while we were volunteering at the park, and Rachel has a water maker allowing us to extract all the wonderful fresh water we need from the sea. But we did need to finally have a meal ashore, check our email, and do some laundry.

We got in at about 3:30 pm, dropped anchor, waited to make sure it was well set, and dinghied ashore to check things out. There was a funeral taking place on Staniel Cay, a nearby island, and many of the locals had gone to attend.

Our introduction to Lorraine’s was “She’s at the funeral. Grab a beer from the cooler, add your boat name to the tally sheet, keep your own tab, and settle up when you’re ready to leave. She’ll be back around 6”. We had a couple of beers and, after Lorraine returned, a delicious red snapper dinner.

She has added an Internet lounge to the side of her restaurant and provides free WiFi to all comers. After dinner she told us “I don’t open until noon on Sunday (after church), but I unlock the side door at 8 am for the cruisers so they can use the Internet. Just let yourself in and, if you eat or drink anything, keep a tab and we’ll settle up later.”

Mark stopped in on Sunday morning to use the Internet while Julie attended a local church service. Later in the afternoon we stopped by again and had a nice chat with Lorraine about the restaurant, the town, how basically honest people can be when given half a chance, and how the fabric of society seems much stronger in a small town.

On Monday our first priority was the launderette which was everything we had heard. A dinghy dock so we didn’t have to haul our laundry very far, lots of shiny clean machines, and the place was spotless. EVERYONE we have met comes to Black Point to do laundry and now we know why. The owner makes a sheet of carrot cake every morning, brings it in, and invariably sells out at a dollar a piece. She also has a small chandlery / hardware store set up in the office, and she’ll even give you a haircut while you wait.

While the laundry was washing, we went to Adderly’s Friendly Grocery to pick up a few things. Our total came to $22.45 but we only had a $100 bill. Ms. Adderly couldn’t make change this early in the day, so she said “Go on, take the groceries and stop in and pay me when you can.” We had already been granted a dollar credit at the launderette as we were a dollar short without change there, too. We finally got change from the post office. The postmistress broke our $100 bill to pay for $2.50 in stamps, chatting and being very understanding all the while. We then backtracked to pay our debts.

Lorraine’s mom’s name is ‘Lorraine’s Mum’ - we know this is her name because we overheard one cruiser ask her name and she replied “Lorraine’s Mum”. She bakes bread daily. We’d been hearing about how good her bread is from other cruisers and now was our chance to find out for ourselves. We ordered coconut bread and wheat rolls on Sunday evening and Mark dinghied in just before lunch on Monday to pick them up. She bakes in her home. Loaves of coconut, whole wheat, white, and raisin bread and whole wheat rolls sit cooling on her kitchen table, waiting for pickup. Heavenly, mouth-watering smells emanate from this kitchen. After paying it was difficult for Mark to tear himself away, but, remembering that Julie was anxiously awaiting him on Rachel, coupled with the prospect of a sandwich made on that still warm bread were enough. True to its reputation, the bread was delicious! We’re definitely going to order more to take with us when we leave.

Yesterday Lorraine was having a problem with one of her computers. Mark volunteered to spend a few hours taking it apart, cleaning all the connections, and getting it all ship shape. When it was working again and we were ready to leave, she gave us a head of lettuce as thanks. Fresh vegetables are like gold down here – they only come in once a week on the mail boat and it had been nearly a week. Our fresh vegetable stores were pretty low, so the big salad we had that evening was quite a welcome treat!

As usual we’ve spent most of the rest of our time walking the island and chatting with anyone we see, two of our favourite pastimes.

01 March, 2008

Close encounter

Location: Cambridge Cay, Exumas
Position: N24 18.185 W076 32.418

We’re finally going to leave Cambridge Cay and the Exuma Park today, although we’re really drawn to stay, too. We have loved our time here but there are so many other beautiful spots that we don’t want to miss. The fact that we haven’t done laundry for a month is weighing high on the decision also!! Our next stop will be Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay.

The trail that we revitalized here is looking great. It’s now well marked and easy to walk. We’ve had lots of positive comments from users, some of whom have started calling it “The Rachel Trail”!

We’ve organized several happy hours on various beaches. The most memorable one, however, was a dinghy raft up. Everyone dinghied over to one of the vacant moorings and we all tied up together. About 10 or 12 dinghies rafted up and we all brought our own drinks and snacks. We spent a couple of lovely hours chatting and watching the 2 resident bull sharks swimming around right below us. The sharks like to come around the anchorage every afternoon at around 4:00 pm - they are about 6 feet long! At one point someone on a boat nearby jumped into the water and started to swim by his boat. We all shouted “Sharks!!” As soon as he hit the water the sharks took off over toward him. His daughter on deck looked over, saw the sharks coming, and yelled at him. He looked pretty motivated as he leapt back aboard his boat!

We often wondered where the sharks go during the day, as we’ve never seen them before 4:00 pm. The day after the dinghy raft up, Julie and some friends found out. They went to snorkel at a reef on the edge of the anchorage that was reputed to be quite pretty. They had been in the water for 20 minutes or so when Julie turned around and found herself face to face with one of the bull sharks! She kept her cool and knew that flailing around was worse than staying calm. She slowly lifted her head above the water and screamed “There’s a shark over here!” She then swam back over to the dinghy without splashing around. It’s funny - every other time she’s clambered back into the dinghy it’s been a bit of an ordeal – sort of a “beached walrus” effort. This time, however, she levitated right up into it in one fluid motion – it must have been that motivation thing, again. Luckily no-one was hurt. She and our friends dinghied over to the trail where Mark was working and we all had a nice walk to calm down. The park warden said these sharks don’t usually bother anyone, but, gosh, you’d sure hate to be the first one, eh?

A cold front has moved into the Exumas and it’s turned a bit chilly. We got up this morning and had to put on long sleeves! We looked at the thermometer and saw it was only 71 degrees F (about 21 C) – no wonder we felt cold! Brrr!!! We just know you all must feel really sorry for us .

Slipping the mooring and moving on,