Settling In

We’re back on the St. Croix river, basically.  With tides.  And clear blue saltwater.  And bikinis on December 31. And beach volleyball. And exotic fish. And cruisers from all over the world.  Oh, and bikinis on December 31.

How does George Town resemble the St. Croix River, our local stomping ground?  The area  is:

  • About 7.5 miles long and 1 mile wide. Roughly the size of the St. Croix from Bayport to Afton.
  • Is more or less protected between two shores.
  • Requires moving from anchorage to anchorage to get the best, most comfortable protection from different wind directions.
  • Is least protected from the NW and SE.
  • A town on the shore provides cruising provisions.
  • During peak season is flooded with hundreds of boats.

After Arriving Thursday we had time to anchor off Sand Dollar beach (#1 above) to get protection from the howling Norther which arrived yesterday.  After the front passed the wind clocked around more easterly so we snuck in close to Monument Beach (#2) to get flatter water.

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Our neighbors include our Canadian friends on Folly, Adamante 1 and Pisces.  It is expected there will be 300+ boats in the harbor by the end of February.

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Anchoring should get interesting as boats do the “George Town Shuffle” to find advantage in the wind.  We are fortunate Endeavor can usually sneak into shallower water where the keel boats dare not.  Even the large catamarans usually have fixed keels preventing them going too shallow.

On the beach in front of us we have mini Cliffs of Dover, of soft sandstone…

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… and untracked white sand beach swept by each tide.  Endeavor is closest to the beach and we’re still in more than 12 feet of water.

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Access to free fresh water, fuel pumps, groceries and other supplies in George Town is in small Lake Victoria across the harbor. Only small boats and dinghies are allowed in.  Those coming in through the bridge have right of way over those exiting.  When we need to fill our water tanks we will anchor outside of the bridge and make several trips in with the dinghy.

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Today we treated ourselves to lunch at “Chat and Chill”, a beach bar located between #1 and #2 in the top picture.  Although popular, the bar boasted the worst burgers in recorded history, soggy, cold fries, ridiculous drink prices and more than an hour wait for those crappy burgers.  Probably best I not post a review on Yelp today.

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It did, however, also boast one of the local monster moths overhead…

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… and an inquisitive cat allowed to roam the tables. Oh, and bikinis on December 31.

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Nearby volleyball beach features “nice” pickup volleyball games.  No spiking, unlimited hits per side, etc.  About right for us elderly cruiser types.

Volleyball beach also features inquisitive rays coming right up to you.  This is why you always shuffle your feet when walking in the water along the beach:  to avoid stepping on one of these fellers.

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Lastly, we want to thank Harley on Folly for this portrait of Endeavor sailing down to George Town.

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Midpoint

Endeavor has reached George Town, our southernmost planned destination and a sort of midpoint to the trip.  With a poor weather forecast in the mix, our little Canadian/American armada changed plans on the fly and sailed 41 miles to the protected harbor at George Town rather than stop off midway at Lee Stocking Cay.

The bad forecast meant we would likely be stuck at Lee Stocking for a week and there is not much to do there!

Leaving through Big Galliot Cut this morning involved crossing large incoming waves; exciting but nothing unsafe.  As we headed south, the wind was coming off our nose:  too tight to sail above a crawl, but enough to move along well with the motor helping.

On the way we met another Gemini 105, “Category 1”, going the other direction.  They are headed up to Staniel Cay for the New Year’s regatta and will be back to George Town later.

Today was definitely a catching day.  I trailed two fishing lines and caught two tuna.  A third lept in the air and spit the lure. Of the ten or so boats moving south, several caught fish.  Pat on Adamanta 1 caught a Mahi-Mahi.  The fleet sailed through several schools of tuna, visible as they splashed and fed on the surface.

My new saltwater gear worked well, including the Lip Grip Rick insisted I get when we visited Cape Coral.  Thanks Rick, it worked perfectly!

As 2016 draws to a close, some numbers on our trip so far:

We started 150 days ago on August 1 and have covered about 3,000 miles.  Works out to an average of 20 miles per day. About 2600 miles were in the US from Bayport to Key Biscayne.  So far 378 have passed under our keels in the Bahamas.

In the Bahamas we worked our way across from Bimini to New Providence Island and down the Exuma chain to George Town.  When we leave George Town in early February we plan to visit the Eluthera and Abacos areas on our way back to Florida.  We will also take time to visit some of the more interesting islands we missed on the way down.

We are 42% through the estimated 7,000 total trip miles and 35% through the expected 426 total days.  Fuel has cost $1186, and we anchored 75% of nights, versus paying for a slip.

We will spend 4 months in the Bahamas.  We came over December 2 and plan to cross back to Florida early April.

The last time I filleted a fish, a perch, was about 19 years ago.  This time I used a YouTube video and advice from other sailors to carve out tuna steaks.  I need more practice:  the chef on YouTube flicked his knife and smooth slabs came off.  Mine looked like a chain saw was involved.  Oh well, still edible.

We knew Harley and Janice like tuna.  And we knew they knew how to fix it.  So we invited them over to show us how to prepare tuna steaks.  Those two took over our galley and whipped out a great meal, complete with spices and Wasabi.

The steaks were enough to feed four, plus the same amount went into the freezer for a future meal.

Two nights ago we introduced the Canadian Navy to the word game Quiddler. Since then we’ve had 8 people playing each night after sundowners.  Tonight the 4 of us had a rousing game, but at the end all were yawning from the efforts of the long day.

Oh, and before I forget, never make a margarita with Banana Rum and Lime Margarita mix.  (One of Peg’s experiments gone awry)

Endeavor and her crew are at a midpoint, here to rest, socialize, explore and chill for six weeks.

And the sunset said, “alleluia!”

All The Rage

A tremendous volume of water flows on and off the Bahamas banks every day.  Most flows through narrow cuts in the islands, creating fast current in one direction or the other, depending on the state of the tide.  Add together outgoing tide, incoming wind, and incoming waves going from deep to shallow water and a condition called Rage can happen.  Rage causes obscenely sharp waves which at minimum can be uncomfortable and at maximum can be life threatening.  At a boat show seminar we heard about a 40 foot catamaran being flipped end for end in one of the worst rages.

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When it comes to passing safely from the banks out into the Atlantic Ocean and vice versa, timing is important.  Experience also counts for a lot, so it is with no shame Endeavor is tagging along with our experienced Canadian friends to take the outside route tomorrow.

To get to our southern-most goal, George Town, we have to sail at least one section out in the ocean.  (Technically it is called a Sound, but I use the term ocean to convey the depth and power of the body)

We originally planned to use our shallow draft advantage and sail as far south as possible, then duck out into the ocean for a shorter distance.  Our plan had its challenges too:  some of the route was in less than 3 feet of water… not a lot of safety margin.

Instead, we staged today from Little Bay on Great Guana Cay to Big Galliot Cay.  We are here with Folly, Adamant 1 and Pisces, as well as about 8 other boats.  All are waiting for slack tide at 7:30 to 8:00am tomorrow morning (Thursday) to move out through Galliot Cut and down the ocean side to Lee Stocking Island.  Friday is forecast to blow 32 mph from the north and the anchorage at Lee Stocking is one of few in the area having protection from the north.

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The other boats came directly here, but we took Endeavor an additional 5 miles south to see David Copperfield’s piano.  David Copperfield, the famous magician, owns Musha Cay.  For the amusement of his guests he had a life-size sculpture of a mermaid at a grand piano sunk nearby.  Anyone can stop by and check it out.

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Feel free to contact David to rent his resort on Musha Cay.

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Private Helipad anyone?

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We also passed this 3-masted sailing vessel.  The rake of its masts gives it a classy look.

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Most of the detour was done in narrow, winding channels.  One long section was in water over 3 feet deep.  In the next photo it is pretty obvious where the water gets thin beside our boat!  Remember:  “Blue, Blue sail on through.  White, White, you just might.”.

In this case, might not.

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Arriving back at Big Galliot Cay, we anchored close to the beach and I did some snorkeling.  In the shallow bay Conch were plentiful.  These sea snails move slowly along the bottom, leaving tracks in the sand and ultimately producing a colorful shell. The meat of conchs is eaten raw in salads, or cooked, as in burgers, chowders, fritters, and gumbos.

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We’ve had conch fritters and they were enjoyable.  Not so much so I’m willing to dig the poor creature out of its shell for a meal.  Back to sandy bottom when this one.

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Making Tracks

Untracked beaches.  Never fully got the concept until now.  Have been on empty beaches, but virgin sand, like an untracked ski run down a snowy mountain, is something entirely different.

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The tracks of Mother Nature’s corduroy form afresh with each new tide.

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The pattern is so pure it seems a sin to walk on it.

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All of the fashionable ladies make tracks in a fast dinghy.

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Untracked sand + two little creatures equals crossed tracks.  Would love to know what the one little being was dragging. Can anyone identify these tracks?

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Incessant wind + sugar-fine sand + windblown grass + little creature = arced spirograph track with a tangent.  Amazing the tip of one blade of grass can carve a pattern.

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Morning snorkel track went under this island overbite, looking for lobster and conch.  No luck.

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Hey human, track along with us and we’ll show you Davey Jones Locker.

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Oops, time to make tracks back to the dinghy to avoid a school of these.

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Both mountain goats and Peg are built for tracking over rocky terrain.

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Shoes are a must to avoid leaving bloody tracks on the oceanside terrain.

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Tracks are quickly wiped away on the ocean side.

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The lack of tracks around this castle lead us to believe the king is off visiting other parts of his realm. The ramparts are all boarded up to deter invaders.

The wrecked boat has been aground for years and is listed in the navigation charts.  The mast is held aloft precariously by a couple of remaining shroud wires. The boat has been stripped of most useful parts but we did manage to recycle some nice stainless locker and hatch hinges.  For Peg a wrecked boat is almost as good as a Goodwill store.

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Fetch

Living on a boat at anchor is all about fetch.  To boaters, fetch is the distance travelled by wind or waves across open water.  Fetch can make the difference between a secure, comfortable night of sleep or a rolling, banging hell ride.  In general, the longer the fetch, the more opportunity the sea has to build tall waves from the wind.  Conversely, when we talk about anchoring on the lee side of an island, the intent is to let the land block the incoming waves and stay close enough to shore so new waves cannot build up.

This is the windward side of Great Guana Island, our current home, with plenty of fetch…

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while the lee side of the same island looks like:

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At Blackpoint Bay we were anchored about 1/2 mile from shore in 30+ mph of wind.  The waves slapped against Endeavor’s flat underside with the force of small explosions.

Last night, after the Christmas buffet at Lorraine’s, we decided to move Endeavor about 3 miles down the shoreline to a smaller bay where we could anchor close to shore.  I should note we moved in the dark, having checked out the route by dinghy earlier in the afternoon.  On the way, heavy rainfall thoroughly soaked my loyal first mate.  She was on the bow with the spotlight looking out in case an unlit local boat were to cross our path.  Thus, she was on the wet windward side while I was protected in the lee of the Endeavor’s Bimini roof.  Being Captain has its advantages!

By moving to Little Bay we were able to anchor 300 feet from shore in 4 feet of water (above picture).  The wind is still blowing like a banshee but there is little distance for waves to build.

Little tippy taps against the hull versus sledgehammers.

So. Much. Better.

No free Wifi or restaurants, but heavenly sleep.

Little Bay has fine white sand beaches, rocky cliffs, and a path to the ocean side.  We spent the afternoon exploring onshore and hiking over to the ocean.

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(Photo Credit Janice Armstrong)

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Then retreated back to our short-fetch paradise for some peace and quiet.

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The Funnel Effect

Its a small world, so they say.  Travel enough and you’ll cross paths with friends, acquaintances, and others.  When I was traveling for 3M I flew with Bea Arthur (Maude), Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford and Prince. Likewise, I ran into our sales manager in the Detroit airport bar and other peers elsewhere.

I came to the conclusion the chance of meeting someone you know, or know of, increases dramatically if you are on a funnel route.  Airline passengers get funneled through major hubs like Detroit, so the odds of meeting increase.

Sailing down the coastline of the Exumas is a funnel route.  Most pass through the same areas on their way south.  So it should not have been a surprise when the familiar voice called out from the laundry here at Blackpoint, “Hey, I rigged your boat!”.

Davey Marsh works at Hoopers Yachts in Lake Elmo, Minnesota during the warm season.  Late Fall he and wife Martha drive down to Florida, load up their sailboat and sail down the Bahamas chain for the Winter.  They are big into the regatta racing scene.

Before I retired I would stop in often on my way home to browse their consignment sailboats. Davey, and Co-Owners Bill and Brian, have patiently put up with zillions of questions over the years.  I’ve also bought a number of project boats from their consignment yard.  Davey and Brian rigged Endeavor’s mast when we launched at Bayport.  Martha does cloth/sail work and sewed our Textilene sunscreens.

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We also met a family from Madison, Wisconsin.  They are on a two-year voyage with their children.  Leaving from Milwaukee, they went east through the Great Lakes then down the East Coast to here.  They plan to visit Cuba, transit the Panama Canal, sail the West Coast of Mexico and US, then sell the boat and go home.

Using island-wide WiFi, last night we Skyped with son Chris, his lady Natalie, my two sisters Margaret and Cathy, their husbands Doug and Joel, nephew Jason, niece Lindsay and her husband Ricky.  This morning we connected with daughter Nikki and her husband Nate. Doesn’t make up for not being there, but the sting was lessened.

Lorraine’s, a popular cafe, puts on a Christmas buffet dinner for the visiting cruisers and we joined in.  Happy Hour started at 4:30 and dinner at six.  The place was packed and boisterous. Booze prices were reasonable for the Bahamas:  $3 beer, $6 wine, $1 pop.  The buffet was excellent, including ham, turkey, roast beef, fish, conch fritters, etc.

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Seated behind us are Janice and Harley of Folly, and Lynn and Pat of Adamante 1.  It has been a joy crossing paths over and over with these folk as we pass through the inland rivers, Florida and Bahamas funnels.

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At the moment there is a different type of funnel effect going on.  We are pretty sure all the rain in this region is being funneled directly onto Endeavor!  Our rain collector, a funnel itself, is squirting out water like mad into our containers.  Having rain wash the saltwater residue off the decks is a nice little Christmas gift from Mother Nature.

Getting a free freshwater shower on deck is a plus.  Lucky it’s dark outside so we don’t scare the two other boats in the anchorage!

Glad Tidings In Abstentia

Our main mission today was to dive Thunderball Grotto.  The grotto is a natural limestone cavern which can be entered underwater or at low tide. Light enters through a vaulted ceiling and a variety of sea-life swim in the water below, including the purple parrotfish, yellowtail snappers, Angelfish and Sergeant Majors (Wikipedia).

Diving the grotto is best done  at slack tide or else you risk being pushed out the entrance on either side by the strong current.  The easiest time to enter is at low slack tide, when you can snorkel in through the low entrance hole without having to swim underwater.

The grotto is a popular attraction, so we set up our situation to be the first in this morning.  Yesterday we anchored about 300 feet away from the entrance with another catamaran.  Slack low tide this morning was to be at about 10am, so we entered at about 9:30 and had only a few other people with us.

And the grotto did not disappoint.  Snorkeling inside the cave had an exotic feel and hundreds of tropical fish were all around.

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The bright colors of the coral formations were stunning.

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Unfortunately, of the many, many photos I shot, only a handful turned out.  The rest were blurred and unusable.  By the time I discovered problem the masses had arrived and the site was crowded chaos.  Tour boats crowded in at the entrance and we did not feel safe around the moving boats, so we left.

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A pleasant dinghy ride around the Staniel Cay bay revealed…

…a massive conch pile at the Yacht Club.  We tried conch fritters:  think seafood hush puppies.

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… a typical dinghy corral.  Dinghies are the principle means of getting to shore and to attractions.  I strongly advise anyone to have enough horsepower to get the dink up on plane with two people.  Plodding along at hull speed with an underpowered dink makes getting anywhere a chore.

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… Some sweet color coordinated cabins.

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… A graceful ray.

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And a perfect example of water color showing depth change; here going from 6 feet on the left to 12 feet on the right.

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After lunch we had a relaxed sail to Black Point.

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We were able to take a fairly direct route, crossing two miles of water 3 to 4 feet deep.  Peg did bow watch looking for coral patches and getting a little nervous in the super clear water.  She said it looked like we were in mere inches of water.

However, the Explorer Charts were correct and the route was safe for shallow draft boats.  Between reading the water color, paper charts and electronic charts, we are getting accustomed to exploiting Endeavor’s shallow draft.

Black Point is a sleepy little burg known for its self-serve laundromat and some excellent eateries.

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We spent $26.25 to do three loads of laundry and it is worth every penny.  Having clean, salt-free sheets and clothes is wonderful! The salt air inundates everything and pretty soon every piece of linen or clothing feels sticky.  Funny being able to do laundry is such a joy.

We are anchored in the bay at Black Point Settlement, along with about 20 other boats.  We will be having Christmas dinner at Lorraines Cafe, a popular local place, with our Canadian friends (Folly and Adamant 1) and many of the other boat crews.

We miss our children, family and friends dearly.  Pursuing a trip like this meant some sacrifices and missing the holidays this year is one.

We hope you enjoy the holidays with friends and loved ones.  Best Wishes, Don and Peg.

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Swimming Things

Interesting to see how different things move through the water.  Endeavor glides along, her narrow hulls presenting little resistance and producing little wake.  She was showing off today during our 24 mile sail from Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay.

It helps the sailing conditions were phenomenal. Wind strength was right, about 14 mph.  Wave heights were low as we were running along the lee side of the island chain.  The wind varied from abaft our beam to a bit forward  (from a bit back and to the left to a bit forward on the left).  The sun was bright, making it easy to read the water depth by water color.

Not a drop was splashed up into the boat and the breeze further helped dry out the cabin.

At the opposite end of the hydrodynamic spectrum are the swimming pigs of Big Majors Spot.  Well, swimming might be the wrong word… more like clawing their way through the water.  The locals breed piglets on the beach and only leave the females to forage from tourists.  This has become a cheesy attraction, with tour boats arriving every hour or so to offload small groups to feed the pigs and take selfies.

One must be careful approaching the beach:  the sows have become wise to the game and will swim out and actually try to board the dinghy.

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The feeding has caused the older pigs to become fairly aggressive.  One followed me around and gave me a friendly nip on the butt when I ignored her.  No skin was broken but I do have a small bruise.

Lesson learned:  never turn your back on a swimming, snorting, walking garbage disposal.

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Alternately, Nurse Sharks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club are obviously designed for speed.  A school lives in the small area surrounding the fish cleaning station.  They are considered safe, but we’ll respect their space.  Some tourists were reaching in to pet them, but I prefer to have both hands available for sailing, thank you.

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Then there’s Peg.  My lovely is a slim pink lycra torpedo, if a little underpowered.

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I have more available leg power, but sometimes not enough.  The current flowing through our anchorage next to Thunderball Grotto is strong enough to make swimming against it difficult.  I wanted to dive on the anchor but not end up on the next island.  The solution was to tie a 100 foot line to a bow cleat and the other end to my safety harness.  I could drift out over the anchor to snap a picture and then easily move hand over hand back up the line to the boat.

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We have heard about and seen the effects of “island time” down here.  Things move at a slower pace.  This clock at the yacht club sums it up well.

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Oo-ooh That Smell

There was something rank in Endeavor-town, and it wasn’t us.  Our reliable AirHead composting head was odiferous; not a normal state for this simple piece of gear.  Some sleuthing was needed.

The peat moss was, well, peating like it normally does.  The exhaust fan mounted on the deck next to the sail locker was fanning.  However, no air was being drawn out through the toilet like it should.

The culprit turned out to be our banging ride the other day.  Some of the water flushed the deck forced its way in around the baffles of the solar vent.  The solar vent provides additional vacuum to the head air tube and is what connects the tube to the outside world.  Water settled in a low spot on the tube, acting like a trap on a sink. Not only did it block the airflow, the water itself turned gamey.

A bit of gross cleaning later and the Airhead is back to its old non-smelling self.

Snorkeling at Warderick Wells requires timing.  Hopefully slack tide, the period when the water pauses between rushing in and rushing out of the sound, falls at a decent hour.  Today it was at 7am and 1pm.  During slack tide you have maybe 30 minutes to swim before  the current becomes strong again.  Try at any other time and it is impossible to make headway.

During our brief session we met up with this photogenic gray angelfish…

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Saw many vibrant coral formations…

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Peg tracked and briefly lost a Nassau Grouper…

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Then found it again, hiding near a cool brain coral.

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Later we climbed Boo Boo Hill to leave our mark.

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The highest point in the Exumas Park, Boo Boo Hill is maybe 50 feet tall.  The short hike passes through mangroves at the lower elevation, then palms higher up.

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A tradition among cruiser, the top of Boo Boo is the only place where it is allowable to leave a marker showing your visit.

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Doing so is an established tradition.

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So Endeavor joined in, in a eco-friendly way.

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Looking west from Boo Boo shows mangroves and the anchorage.  Endeavor is hiding behind the rise in the center.

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The ocean side is rocky and battered from the prevailing easterly winds.  There are blowholes in many of the shelves, but they were not active when we stopped.

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We think the park staff should add a couple of clarifying signs to the trail.  Just sayin’.

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Rather moist

We are having Chinese food withdrawal.  And pizza withdrawal.  And big, juicy, clog your arteries burger withdrawal.  And ice cream, ah ice cream

Maybe if we snuck on board Steven Spielberg’s yacht at night and raided the pantry…

Such is the life of remote sailors.  We are in the Exumas National Land and Sea Park, a pristine, beautiful and remote section of the Exumas set aside for preservation.  Like the Boundary Waters area in Minnesota, this is a pack out what you brung in type of place.  No water, no showers, no fuel and no trash disposal.  Just rugged beauty.

Yesterday we made the assumption 20 to 25 mph of wind was reasonable for sailing the 26 miles from Norman’s Cay to Warderick Wells.  Bad assumption.  We got spanked.  (Chris and Andrew: Just like the spanking we got when you two came up to go sailing at the Apostles.)

We are still on the Bahamas banks so the trip was made across water 6 to 15 feet deep. Unfortunately, we were beating into the wind (sailing as close into the wind as Endeavor can) and running into 4 to 6 foot waves.  Another catamaran and three monohulls were all going the same direction,  and a bouncy ride was had by all.

Endeavor was up to the bouncing.  She was sailing well and leaping over waves.  Endeavor also decided it would be fun to dive through a few waves rather than ride over them.  This, of course, sent a goodly amount of water up over the deck.  This revealed the seals on our main berth (bedroom) hatch and saloon hatch, while adequate for rain showers, was not up to a pressure wash of salt water.  The look of joy on the Admiral’s face when sea water came pouring in on her side of the bed was something to behold.  Ditto when a portion of the ocean leaked on the saloon seats.

The boat interior was rather moist.  And salty.  Oh well.

Our destination was Warderick Wells, one of the most interesting anchorages we’ve seen yet.

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Warderick Wells main anchorage is a set of mooring balls spaced along a narrow cut winding through the island.

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Mooring balls are assigned at 9am each day and are determined by a list.  You can call the park on radio or phone one day in advance to get on the list.  We called the morning we left and had no problem getting a ball.  As you can see in the picture, the deep water in the cut is narrow, surrounded by shallow banks.  Anyone entering or leaving must motor close to the moored boats to avoid running aground.

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We were happy to see our Canadian friends on Folly and Adamant 1 moored along the line. We got together for sundowners in the evening and they departed the next morning.

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Mooring balls are needed here because the fast current sweeps back and forth through the cut and scours away sand normally providing holding for an anchor.  Plus, with such a narrow area, controlling boat spacing is important.  As we approach the mooring ball, Peg’s job is to sit on the bow and direct me in, catch the mooring pendant line with our boat hook, then loop a bow line through the pendant and back to a bow cleat.  Once the first line is attached I come forward and we set a second line to the other bow to form a bridle.

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We originally hung on ball #9 and then today moved to #14 to be close to the beach.  At #9 we were swinging over a sunken boat when the tide was coming in.  Interesting to see a boat pass under you while at anchor.

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Also Interesting to see large rays and small nurse sharks swim by under the boat.  The narrow cut funnels all sorts of sea creatures past the boat.

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Yesterday, Sunday the 18th, was spent recuperating from the spanking and hanging stuff out to dry.  Today was spent putting new seals on the hatches and re-caulking the bow window.  Endeavor should now be ready for her next submarine adventures.

We plan to stay until Thursday and explore this amazing place.