30 April, 2008

Fishing Fool

Location: Little Harbour, Abacos, Bahamas
Position: N26 22.299 W076 59.825

Governors HarbourWe leave Governors Harbour, Eleuthera on April 26 and sail a long day to Royal Island (N25 30.952 W076 50.525). This is a great spot to stop off on the way up to the Abacos. The anchorage provides nearly all-round protection and there’s room for several boats. We spend a day there waiting for the winds to die down a little and change from northerly to easterly, then head out to cross 50 miles of ocean between Royal Island and Great Abaco Island. Friday Night Fish Fry, Governors Harbour

The seas are pretty rolly with 7-8 ft swells. It’s blowing around 20 knots, but it’s aft of beam (for you non sailors this means “from the side and just a little behind and about as good as it gets”) and we’re having a bumpy but good passage. It’s not too comfortable, but we’re making good time. Mark has his trolling line out, yet again trying to catch us some fresh fish. We sail and troll all day with nothing caught except seaweed.

About 2 miles from the cut to get into Little Harbour, Abacos Mark says “I’m gonna pull in the fishing line now so it doesn’t get in the way when we start handling the sails for the turn into the cut.”

He starts to pull it in. “Hey! I think I’ve got a fish on!”

He pulls it in further and sees the fish. “Hot damn! Get my gloves and the gaff! This thing is BIG!”

Julie puts the boat on auto pilot and leaps below to get the gaff, gloves and the cheap vodka. “Oh and don’t forget the camera!” The fish is absolutely beautiful, all blues and greens and yellows flashing in the sunlight. And it is BIG!

Mark gaffs it and wrestles it aboard the boat. We are right in the middle of changing the sails to negotiate the cut so we pour a little vodka in its gills to kill it and leave it on the side deck until we drop the anchor. Looking at it lying on the side deck as we enter the cut, Julie says “It’s BIG!”

It’s a dolphin, a.k.a mahi mahi. We drop the anchor, get settled, and Mark gets out the tape measure. We have no idea how much it weighs. By now the colours have faded but Julie’s right – it is BIG. 44 inches long, as a matter of fact!

Neither of us really know what to do with it since this is our first fish caught on Rachel. Julie runs down below and gets the chopping board, knife, knife sharpener, and the fishing book. It has great instructions on how to fillet a fish. So we lay the fish on the cutting board on the foredeck. It’s more than twice the size of the cutting board. It is BIG.

Mark’s on his knees on the foredeck, knife in hand. Julie’s sitting on the deck with the book reading the instructions on how to fillet out loud. This is followed by a bit of discussion as to the interpretation of the instructions. But, somehow, within 30 minutes Mark manages to have that sucker all gutted, skinned, and filleted and ready to go. We take it down below and wash the fillets, cut them into nice sized steaks and bag and freeze most of it. Then we clean up the mess on the deck. That’s BIG, too.
The BIG Fish
We had planned on a simple dinner after our long passage but what can you do? It’s our first catch and it’s about as fresh as we’re ever likely to get it, so we make the effort.

If you’ve never had a candle lit dinner consisting of really, really fresh blackened mahi mahi, Arabian squash casserole, and tossed salad, with a lovely bottle of wine in the cockpit of a sailboat in paradise as the sun sets over the ocean, our hearts go out to you.

All the while we’re eating it, though, we’re remembering how stunningly beautiful the fish was when it was still alive in the water. It sure tastes good, though ……

Sad but sated

23 April, 2008


Location: Governors Harbour, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Position: N25 11.322 W076 14.511

We moved out of our house and onto Rachel a year ago today. It’s been a wonderful year and we’re still looking forward to many more to come.
We celebrated by making brownies and inviting a friend who’s sailing single handed over for dessert.
Over the next couple of days we'll be heading north to the Abacos. We'll let you know how it's going next time we have Internet access.

Smooth sailing,

21 April, 2008


Location: Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Position: N23 21.619 W075 08.287

Almost every island in the Bahamas has a connection to the rest of the world via the mail boat. Once a week the boat arrives and it seems like everyone from the island congregates on the government dock. All the stock for the island stores arrives, all mail comes and goes, anything that anyone has ordered arrives, from washing machines to cars to palm trees is unloaded onto the dock. Trucks arrive, everyone mills around loading their goods, chatting, catching up on news. Slowly as the day progresses almost everything is claimed. From what we can see there doesn’t appear to be much security, people just show up, pick up what is theirs, and cart it off. Sometimes for a few days after the boat leaves there are still a few piles of building materials or propane gas tanks but eventually they are all taken away and the dock is quiet for another week.

For cruisers and locals this means, any mail you are waiting for will hopefully have arrived. If not, you have to wait another week unless you pay extra to have it flown in. The shops will have fresh vegetables, fruit, and eggs. Now the trick is to wait long enough that the shelves are stocked, but not so long that the islanders and all the other cruisers have picked through the new arrivals. Sometimes you are lucky and get there while the shelves still contain nice-looking broccoli, tomatoes, avocados and other scrumptious goodies.

There’s just one thing we have not yet figured out. Everywhere we have been in the Bahamas, the mail boat always arrives on a Wednesday – like Santa Claus – it arrives everywhere on the same day!!

We had a lovely 40 mile crossing over the Exuma Sound on Sunday from the Exumas to Eleuthera. The island of Eleuthera is 100 miles long and most of it is barely 2 miles wide. Our first impression was that it is much greener than the other islands we’ve visited in the Bahamas. As we’ve walked around the town of Rock Sound we’ve seen wild cotton plants growing, maybe a remnant of old plantation days. Many varieties of trees abound and lots of very pretty flowers are blooming, this may of course have something to do with it now being spring. Oh – and there’s actual soil here, too! And yards – with grass!

Today, “Terrible Monday”, also held great disappointment for us. We have been sadly, cruelly disillusioned. As we were walking around the town and doing some shopping we learned that the mail boat comes to Rock Sound tomorrow - on Tuesday!!! Oh no! So much for the “Santa Theory”!!!

Disillusioned, yet valiantly carrying on,

19 April, 2008

Flitting Around

Location: Staniel Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: N24 10.540 W076 26.926

We left Black Point on Saturday and spent the night anchored out near Sampson Cay (N24 12.593 W076 27.969) The resort there has a fuel dock and a store, so we filled our tank and stocked up on a few things. They also have free Internet access, so we sent out the last couple of Khronicles, caught up on our email, and called our families.

While we had Internet access, we checked up on our friend Natalia Avseenko (remember the free diving competition on Long Island?). We were pleased to learn that on day 8 of the competition she broke the women’s unassisted world record with a dive to 57 meters. Congratulations Natalia!

We just paid $5.53 / gallon for diesel fuel. Ouch. Good job we are getting to do a lot of sailing!! On the other hand, Julie contracted a case of swimmers ear back at Lee Stocking Island. While we were in Black Point she went to the clinic and was charged $47 for an exam, some ear drops, and some antibiotics. We thought that was quite reasonable, and we’re glad to report that she’s on the mend.

Remember Von, the fellow in Black Point who builds Bahamian sloops in his yard? He has started planking the boat that was under construction last time we were there and it looks like he’s making good, albeit slow progress. He wasn’t around while we were there, so we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to chat with him again.

A cold front was scheduled to transit the area last Sunday, followed by some fairly high northwest wind predicted to last for a couple of days. There aren’t too many places to hide around here when the wind’s from the northwest and a couple of days of it can make most anchorages pretty uncomfortable. So we made a long day of it and traveled all of 10 miles back up to Cambridge Cay (N24 17.329 W076 31.406) We were planning to continue up to the south anchorage at Warderick Wells, but when we noticed our old mooring was free (the best one in the mooring field) we grabbed it. We stayed at Cambridge until the wind shifted around to the northeast on Friday. We then headed back down to Staniel Cay, a good place to pick up a few groceries and visit with our friends on Diva.

We’d still like to head over to Eleuthera and work our way north from there through the Abacos, but with the wind expected to stay in the northeast for the next week or so, it looks like we won’t have a good weather window to do so until next weekend or later. But that’s fine – we’re not in any rush. Our current thinking is that we’ll head north back up the Exuma chain, stopping in at some of the places we missed on our way down. Then, if the wind is favorable, we’ll head across to Eleuthera. If it isn’t we’ll just go ahead and head up to the Abacos, beginning our slow trek back to the States.

We finally got our marine SSB working correctly, so we can now broadcast as well as listen. We’ve started checking in to the Cruiseheimer’s net at 8:30 am on 6227 USB at 8:30 am Eastern every few days. So, if you’ve got access to an SSB radio and are in the mood, give Cruiseheimers a listen and see if you can catch us.

Fair winds,

11 April, 2008

A Glorious Day

Location: Black Point, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: N24 05.248 W076 23.850

Today was a glorious day!

We left Lee Stocking Island at 7am, about an hour before low tide. By timing our departure for when the current was less, we had no problems getting through the cut to the sound, even though the wind was against the tide, not a good combination. All sails up, we were on a beam reach with maybe a 6 foot swell. A little bumpy but fun, we sailed the 12 miles to the next cut, Cave Cay Cut, which we planned to traverse an hour after low tide. We were running about 30 minutes late but this also went very smoothly, especially since the wind (from the east) and tide (incoming, also from the east) were running in the same direction.

We were now back on the banks side of the Exuma chain - shallow but much smaller waves and the same wonderful wind. The seas are that lovely azure that you usually only see in pictures. The wind was just strong enough to push us along at about 5 knots without the engine, but not so strong that we had to work at sailing. We had plenty of time to just sit back and relax. The sun was shining and all was right with the world.
lunch stop - Great Guana Cay
On our way down the Exuma chain we skipped most of Great Guana Cay island due to time / weather constraints. We thought we would rectify this and stop for the night about half way up the island to check out some of the beautiful beaches. The winds were perfect; did we already mention that? We made such good time we dropped the anchor for lunch and had a nice walk at Hetty’s Land, near where we’d planned to anchor for the night.

In the afternoon we raised the sails again and slowly sailed up the west coast of the island, staying as close to shore as we could, checking out the beaches, rocks and an occasional cave. We would have stopped more often but Julie had an ear ache (swimmers ear?) so we by-passed the snorkeling spots she had wanted to check out.

We were having such a great time we ended up making it all the way to Black Point at the northern end of the island before we were finally ready to quit sailing. Remember Black Point and “the perfect launderette”? After dropping the anchor, we popped open a Kalik (Bahamian beer) and sat in the cockpit, each of us with a big smile and a twinkle in our eye.

THIS is why we came cruising!

09 April, 2008


Location: Lee Stocking Island, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: N23 46.258 W076 06.409

We really want to go to Conception Cay, part of the Bahamas National Trust, that lies east of the Exumas sort of between Long and Cat Islands. But there’s no protection from a westerly wind and the anchorage can be quite lumpy when there’s a big swell. So you need to have settled weather to spend any time there.

We also really want to go to the Jumentos, south of the Exumas. These islands are pretty remote, the only town being near the southern end of the chain. Shallow water, quiet anchorages, and self-sufficiency are the order of the day there.

We’re ready to leave Thompson Bay, Long Island. We’ve been here long enough and we’re starting to get antsy. We can’t decide whether to go to Conception or the Jumentos. The weather forecast sounds both good and bad for both places, with some westerly wind predicted for the next couple of days.

The heck with it. We need to make a decision. We figure we can find some protection in the Jumentos if we need to, so we’ll head there. Some friends on another boat are already there, and some other friends are heading out tomorrow morning, so we can tag along with them. The plan is to leave Thompson Bay early and sail through the Comer Channel on a rising tide (it gets shallow in there – about 6’ at low tide – and we draw 6’), then head further south to the Jumentos.

We get up really early to listen to the most up-to-date weather, it’s pretty much the same as yesterday.

Ok, we’re going to the Jumentos – woohoo. We call our friends and let them know we’ll be tagging along.

Yes, but the wind is supposed to turn west tonight and it’s farther than we can go in a day to find any protection there from the west.

It’s only supposed to be 5 knots, it will be fine.

You know the weather forecasters always mess up and what if it’s 15 or 20?

Ok. So let’s sail to Calabash Bay near the north end of Long Island, spend the night, and continue on to Cat Island or Conception the next day.

OK decision made. We raise the anchor, let our friends know we’ve changed our minds, and start to head north.

After about an hour we are not too happy with the seas, the wind is directly behind us, stronger than predicted, and there’s a pretty big swell bouncing us around.

Darn, this swell is going to make it miserable in Calabash Bay. We could go all the way to Cat Island but there is also a big north easterly swell in Exuma Sound today which would make the crossing very uncomfortable.

We could just turn back to the west and head to the Jumentos like we originally planned?

Yes but there is still that westerly we don’t like. And now it is later and it will be dark by the time we get there. We only just had enough time as it was….

Sheesh!! What shall we do then? Silence…….Sigh………More silence……..

Well, we could go back to Thompson Bay?

No we just spent a week there and I want to go somewhere new.

In outer space, when an object is between and attracted to two other objects, it tends to follow a path that lies somewhere between the two attracting objects. It’s pretty much the same in “Rachel Land”. Drawn to both the Jumentos and Conception, we find ourselves vectoring toward….

George Town?!?!?!

Sheesh. Talk about “we’ve already been there”….

At least we can find some protection from the west there. So we go on to George Town where we spend the night. A night, we might add, that has absolutely NO wind from ANY direction, much less from the west!

It’s hot and still the entire night. We’re disappointed to miss both the Jumentos and Conception Island, but decide to make the most of it. We visit with some friends, and head out in the morning for Lee Stocking Island in the Exuma chain. We gave Lee Stocking a miss on the way down due to a great sailing day, so we’re looking forward to visiting it.

On the mend from our latest case of “indecisionitis”

06 April, 2008

Blue holes

Location: Thompson Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
Position: N23 21.619 W075 08.287

We haul anchor in Georgetown on Saturday, March 29th and have a lovely motorsail with the wind on the nose down to Thompson Bay, Long Island.

Some friends who rented a car ask us to accompany them on an exploration of Long Island south of our anchorage. They tell us to bring our snorkeling gear and a flashlight in case we find something interesting to investigate.
Beach Bums

We drive around following dirt roads trying to get lost and see what we can find and who we can meet. We were mainly in search of blue holes, coral to snorkel and caves, all of which are plentiful on this island, although almost never signposted, which makes discovery slightly more difficult and altogether interesting.

We follow some general directions, “Turn at the blue and white house” and finally see a couple of cars parked by a beach. We get out, walk to the beach and, tucked around the corner find a blue hole surrounded by craggy rock cliffs with a small raft in the middle and about 8 free divers in attendance. We start chatting with a fellow who’s watching them from shore.

He tells us that this is the deepest blue hole in the world at 660 feet, and the people on the raft are some of the world’s top athletes in the world of free diving. They’re practicing for a world championship competition being held right here, it’s scheduled for the 1st through the 11th of April. He is the head judge and expects two or three world records to be set during the competition. He tells us that Russia, Japan, Columbia, America, Italy, New Zealand, and several other nations are represented.

There’s some cloudiness in the water – it’s not the usual crystal clear water we’ve gotten used to in here the Bahamas. He tells us this presents a bit of a problem for the divers who train in the tropics. They’re not used to it being very dark ‘down there’ and, with the cloudiness it’s pretty dark at those depths. He’s hoping it will clear up in t
Blue Holehe next few days in time for the competition.

From Wikipedia: “Freediving is any of various aquatic activities that share the practice of breath-hold
underwater diving. Examples include breathhold spearfishing, freedive photography, apnea competitions and, to a degree, snorkeling. The activity that garners the most public attention is competitive apnea, an extreme sport, in which competitors attempt to attain great depths, times or distances on a single breath without direct assistance of an underwater breathing apparatus.” Read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_diving

We don our snorkel gear and go for a swim. All four of us go around the perimeter of the blue hole and end up treading water about 8 feet from the platform watching the divers descend and ascend. A woman from Russia dives 51 meters with no fins! The current women’s world record is 56 meters deep (that’s 183.7 feet!!). Another Russian woman rides a weight down to 56 meters, sits there for a time, then swims back to the surface. We are amazed that a person could hold their breath for long enough to go that deep. One fellow from Columbia in fins acts as a spotter and, when the women go down, he follows them to make sure they are able to return without mishap. He does this multiple times and doesn’t seem at all winded when he returns to the surface.

We are struck by the cooperation we see between these divers. They’re all competing with each other for national and world records, yet they all chat and work together as friends.

After watching for a bit longer we go snorkel around for a time. When we get out of the water, the free divers are on shore shedding their wetsuits. Mark strikes up a conversation with ‘Natalie’ (the young, cute, bikini-clad one, of course!) and learns that she’s been free diving for 4 years. Her Russian compatriot, Natalia Molchanova has been doing it for 18 years and is apparently a real icon in the sport – she holds the women’s world record for holding her breath – for 8 minutes!! Mark asks her about the spirit of cooperation we noticed and she tells us that, even though they all do want to set a world record, they’re also all working toward doing their personal best and support and help each other to do so. She says “We don’t do it to set the records – we do it so we can be down there – there’s nothing like it in the world.”

We ask Natalie why she rode the weight down and swam back up. She tells us it’s known as a ‘variable dive’. She rode the weight down for practice so she could sit at world record depth and familiarize herself with the way this particular dive spot looks and feels at that depth. When she swam back to the surface she counted her strokes (it took 17) so she’d know how many she’d need in the competition. Riding the weight down allowed her to experience this without wearing herself out swimming down. She tells us that sitting at world record depth for a while was both educational and ‘fun’.

The Columbian ‘spotter’ tells us he has been free diving since he was 8 years old. We are surprised to learn that few of these world-class athletes have sponsors. We’re also struck by the fact that none of these people are big or barrel-chested. They are all slight, albeit with somewhat powerful shoulders and legs. Our Columbian friend tells us that he works on his technique in a pool 3 times a week and does very hard elliptical training for 20 minutes three times a week. Running, weights, and other heavy exercise are not part of his program.
The competition
We go back a few days later during to see some of the actual competition. Will Trubridge from New Zealand breaks the men’s “constant weight without fins” record with a dive to 84.5 meters (277.2 feet). We also make friends with another Will, a competitor from Canada, and he gives us an insider’s description of what’s taking place on the diving platform. Free divers are a friendly and accessible group of athletes.

Mark takes the opportunity to chat up Natalie again and asks her more about her background. It seems that she was a Russian national champion swimmer at 15 and was asked to join the Russian Olympic team. When she refused to participate in doping and taking performance enhancing drugs, she was labeled as “unreliable” and dropped. She decided that even though she loved athletics, there wasn’t much of a future in it for her. She decided to attend university and went on to get her Ph.D. in communications. Then she discovered free diving. She has since started her own business and teaches yoga and free diving.

To learn more about free diving and see the competition results, visit
http://www.verticalblue.net and http://www.deeperblue.net. We’re disappointed to learn that our friend, Natalia Avseenko only made it down to 38 meters yesterday. We’ll check back later to see if she does better in a second attempt later in the competition.

Tomorrow we are leaving Thompson Bay. We haven’t yet decided whether we will head north and east to Conception Island or a bit west and farther south to the Jumentos. We’ll see what the whether reports look like in the morning and make our final decision. In either case, we plan to return to Georgetown for the Family Island Regatta on April 21st, then begin our trip back north toward our return to the US.

Stay Tuned!!