Jumentos- First Impressions

We finally made it to the Jumentos!! 

The funny thing is, it is not like they are that far away or anything.  The first little island is only a two day sail from the bustle of George Town (only one if you have a shallower draft than us).  But while close in proximity to the Exumas, they are certainly not simply an extension of the Exumas. These two chains are more like at-odd siblings-one is the sweet, mild-mannered one and the other one is the untamed wild-child.  It is not so much the miles that have made it a challenge for us to get here, but finding weather cooperative enough to safely (or comfortably) enjoy these islands.  There are few anchorages that provide protection beyond the prevailing winds and none that would give 360 protection for a front. This mild spring weather is perfect. We heard lots of things about this thin string of islands, and, for a change, it seems that we could see evidence of truth in just the first day. How many times have we let our selves be disappointed be expectations.

I will start with the bad and get it over with.  We heard the anchorages, besides not a single one in the chain providing full protection, were also rolly.  And, Oh, how we can confirm!  We spent our first nights at Flamingo Cay.  It is less than two miles long but it has a few anchorages to offer.  We thought the beautiful beach lined cove at the north end would be perfect for the South East winds we had but as we entered into the anchorage a swell built instead of diminished. I’m not sure why.  There was no North swell running, but unless we were up for an amusement park ride kind of night we knew it wouldn’t work and turned about and went to the second anchorage where, to our surprise, it was flat calm.  Well, it was until it wasn’t.  By morning every unsecured item had rattled and rolled its way loose.  Even a swell bridle did not tame the motion. When the waves began breaking on the rocks behind us we evacuated right back to the first anchorage-which was now flat. It stayed perfectly flat all day, even through a tide change.  We were feeling good until we settled in to enjoy a bonfire for ourselves on the beach and it turned back into a crazy washing machine again.  From the shore we watched the boat flop from one side to the other.  We jumped in the dinghy, ran out to the boat, pulled anchor and evacuated back to the other side.  I don’t think I’m using the word evacuate in an overly dramatic fashion. So, yeah, we will agree that the swell can be an issue.  But the island is beautiful.  And I found pretty shells.

 

^^It went from this to washing machine in a few hours completely independent of the wind.  Swells still befuddle us!

^^ Why couldn’t it just stay like this?!

Now for the good. We heard there was some of the clearest water and most spectacular fishing in these islands.  This, of all the things we hoped to be true, was the biggest.  We jumped in as soon as we got ourselves anchored. The water was, as promised, tap-water clear and Keith had a hogfish on his spear before I had even finished getting my gear on so we have to happily agree. Slip under the surface and there were fish everywhere, both the pretty tropicals and the yummy kind.  Happy little sailors we were.

 

^^ Love a fish in the fish bucket!

Moving on to other rumors.  We heard there were sharks, lots of them.  This is because the commercial fishing boats come into the anchorages and clean their catches tossing the carcasses in the water, thus, attracting them.  As soon as we dropped the hook we had both sharks and rays cruising by the boat.  It happened each time we re-anchored (which, as you read above, was a lot).  So, guess we won’t be swimming off the back of the boat!  Kai caught on pretty quick that we had guests circling below and ran around deck watching them swim.  He has been on the boat since his first day with us and we have always had the netting up around the life-lines.  He trusts it 100%.  He shouldn’t, it is getting sun rotted.  We ended up putting him on his tether fearing if he fell in we wouldn’t have a chance of saving him.  Also, we’ve GOT to replace the netting!  Oh, and to add to the shark population, May and June are mating season and they congregate here.  Are horny sharks more or less aggressive?

 

 

Our first impressions, are, surprisingly, that these islands may just be exactly like what we expected and exactly what we were looking for.  Ok, rolly anchorages and circling sharks aren’t exactly perks but they were fully expected.  The water, though, so densely filled with fish and life exceeded what I hoped for.  I foresee a lot of good days ahead.

 

 

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Warderick Wells

After our night of sailing we pulled into the Emerald Rock anchorage at Warderick Wells.  Wardrick Wells is the headquarters for the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There are about 25 moorings in the anchorage but the charts say you are allowed to anchor outside of the field.  Our plan was to anchor, sleep, then go into the ranger station to inquire about a mooring in the north field.  The north field is the famous one where you anchor in narrow channels surrounded by shallow pure white sandbanks that go dry at low tide.  If you have ever looked at one of those glossy sailing magazines you have no doubt seen pictures of it.  Gorgeous. I’ve imagined taking a picture of our boat sitting in this idyllic anchorage for about 15-20 years or so.  Finally we were here! However the entrance to the north field is narrow, dotted with a few coral heads, and has a killer current to boot. The winds were in the upper twenties so we definitely didn’t want to do it unseen or while we were very tired.  Didn’t seem smart, besides we were planning on spending several days-hopefully through Christmas here so no hurry either.  We dropped anchor several hundred yards behind and to the side of the completely empty Emerald Rock mooring field and promptly crashed into bed. The pretty would still be there when we woke up.

We were woken up about thirty minutes later with the warden knocking on our boat saying we had to leave.  Apparently you must not only be out of the mooring field but a certain distance from shore too.  We moved back about 300 feet and satisfied the warden.  It wasn’t the most pleasant first impression of the Land and Sea Park but I get it, they want you to use the moorings, the twenty bucks help support the park.  We just didn’t see the benefit of using a mooring ball when we have a perfectly good anchor, wide-open sand anchorage (not harming any coral), and not interfering with other boats.

After a few hours of sleep we got in the dinghy and headed over to the ranger station to see what the Land and Sea Park was all about, where all the trails were, take a walk, and arrange plans for moving into the pretty north mooring field.  There is often a waiting list and we didn’t know if we needed to sign up on it, we could see lots of boats already there. The mooring balls are $20.00 a night or you can volunteer four hours of work for a nights stay.    On the sail over Keith and I decided that we wanted to volunteer our time if they needed something done for one or two of the nights.  He has plenty to offer mechanically and I was was planning on pulling out the Sailrite sewing machine and my supplies if they had covers that needed sewn or repaired.  If they just needed trash picked up or something scrubbed, that would be fine too-we thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some other cruisers and personally support the park too.

There are several beaches on the island to pull the dinghy up on and a dinghy dock at the ranger station.  Since we were headed to talk to the rangers we pulled up to the dock.  Walking up to the office we saw a sign saying it was $10.00 per person to land a dinghy. Huh?  In the office I greeted the ranger (interrupted the ranger from her book) and said it was our first time to the Land and Sea Park.  I was greeted back with a grunty “uh-huh”.  I said we were interested in getting a ball for the next day. I was answered with a grunty “twenty bucks”.  Yes, thank you, and how about the draft, we draw 5’8. “You will fit most places” she said.  Ok, that was vague.  The conversation continued in this difficult way. I was starting lose my motivation, but said that we were also interested in the volunteer program if they had projects that needed done.  “Yeah, you could do that” she said.  Even with more prodding I never really got who we were supposed to see to arrange that.  Then I finally asked about the sign by the dock asking for ten bucks (each), was it just for use of the dock or access to the island itself.  Nope, we were expected to pay $20.00 to come ashore.  Like as in right now. Even after seeing the sign I was a bit dumbfounded by the answer. I asked if that was on top of the mooring fees we were expecting to pay-yep.  I was quite stunned and a bit confused-hadn’t read anything about a landing fee anywhere.  What I was very sure of was that we did not stick a twenty dollar bill in our pockets to come walk on a beach!!! Hell, we didn’t even bring shoes.  Not to mention from where I stood I could see a handful of other islands with beautiful beaches that I did NOT have to pay to walk on.  I thanked her, went outside and told Keith we needed to go back to the boat.  Even if we had our wallets with us, it wasn’t happening.  I get supporting a park, the problem was after my encounter I just didn’t feel like doing so anymore.

As I walked down the stairs to the dinghy I could feel my eyes stinging with a huge wave of disappointment.  I thought I had learned my lesson on the danger of expectation, I obviously I hadn’t.  The long dreamt of photo of our boat in that anchorage was not going to happen, the days of walking the highly recommended trails wasn’t going to happen, the Saturday sandbar pot luck wasn’t going to happen, the famous cruisers Christmas dinner at the wardens house wasn’t going to happen, snorkeling the coral gardens wasn’t going to happen.   In a matter of moments I had gone from excited to crushed. My views on the park soured in just minutes of being in the headquarters.  Before we got to the dinghy the ranger called after us and gave us permission to take a walk-for today.  I said we didn’t have any money on us, we were just going back to the boat.  She said it was OK, go for a walk.  We got in the dinghy and headed back to the boat anyway, but Keith knows me well and knows how much I had looked forward to walking up to Boo-Boo Hill at least and realized I might regret not going when we had the chance.  We decided to go ahead a take a short walk, as we both knew, even with out discussion, we were unlikely to come back here. 

^^ The north mooring field.

^^ a picture of some else’s boat in Warderick Wells.

We anchored the dinghy on the beach and walked up what we thought was a trail but when we passed the back of a sign we turned around and saw that we had just come from a restricted area. S#it.  Now we are not only that jerky boat that anchored instead of picking up a mooring and the cheapskates that didn’t pay the ten bucks (each) to land, we were now the A-holes that just stomped through the protected bird nesting area. (Which I would never have done on purpose!) We made it to Boo-Boo Hill, snapped a few picks of the boat names  on driftwood, and even took a few minutes to try and find names of ones we knew or recognized from the radio. Neither of us much in the mood, more just checking the box. Obviously many (everyone else?) has had a different experience with Warderick Wells than us.  This gem, not-to-be-missed, highlight-of-the-cruise, island just completely missed the mark for us. We started talking about all the other islands that had been such a more pleasant experience and just as beautiful.  It was therapeutic and by the end of the short walk (we did find the real path back to the beach) we put it into perspective.  It’s just one island, so what if we were the only ones who didn’t fall in love with it, there were plenty more that we had. We find the Bahamians lovely and friendly, the rangers were sadly the very rare exception and hopefully we just caught them on a rough day as we had heard they were terrific. We dinghied away form the bustling main mooring field filled with boat loads of people having fun and headed back to our lone little boat way, waaayyy, out on the other side.  We laughed and kind of felt like Emerald Rock should have been name Exile Rock.

 

^^ Mark and Cindy (Cream Puff) you were easy to find!

^^ Jesse and Stacy (Smitty) you were a little harder to find! Love the crab.

^^ If you look very, very hard-out past that little island (Emerald Rock)- you can see where we anchored.  It probably looks like a spec of dust on your screen. So glad we had to wake up and move back another 300 feet immediately.

I do hesitate to even post this as I think our experience was far different than most and I don’t want to taint it for someone behind us.  That, and the whole if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all thing. Perhaps if we had just called ahead and paid for a mooring ahead of time it would have gone differently, I don’t know.  For now, we are off to find any other beach that doesn’t cost $10.00 per person to walk on.  Yes, I’m a little stuck on that-kind of blew my mind I guess. However, when you can’t find the differences between a national park and a club, maybe something isn’t right.  

 

 

Traveling Days

It’s time to make some miles happen.  We’ve got a few friends sailing over on their own boats from Florida to the Bahamas beginning at the start of the month.  They will be arriving in the northern Abacos and we are way down here in the southern Exumas, about 270 miles away (that is if we didn’t have to weave our way around a bunch of islands and sandbanks), and of course we want to go meet up with them so it is time to get moving. To meet up with our friends we sadly had to say goodbye to the ones we were already with, both The Lucky One and Smitty. This becomes one of the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle, you come together and drift apart to only hope to run into each other again in another anchorage whether its in a few days, a few months, or a few years.   Frustratingly you sometimes miss each other completely by just a few days.  We figure we have seven solid full days of travel ahead of us including one crossing from Eleuthra to Little Harbor and a couple of offshore cuts to navigate meaning we need some good weather to make this whole thing happen.  Considering we waited WEEKS for weather to get around the Whale cut, and WEEKS to make the Eluthera crossing at the beginning of the trip we know we need some luck on our side.

From Cat Island, we made a stop back in George Town and waited out a front before moving up to Lee Stocking. From Lee Stocking we made a short jump up to Bitter Guana and enjoyed the setting sun lighting up the white sand cliffs at the anchorage.  From there we went to Little Hall’s Pond (pretty enough of a place to get a post of its own). We caught three Mahi on those two passages, and had to stop fishing because our tiny freezer was full even though we are still on the hunt for a tuna.  So far we are off to a good start.  Another front passed through with reports indicating that a second one might be right behind it so we pushed north up to Highborne Cay.  This meant that once again we pretty much skipped all of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We are definitely making it a priority to see the next time!  But, we made our miles.

As I write this we are making our way to Current Cut on Eleuthera.  We started out the morning with a reefed main and reefed jib and still pulling 7 knots but the winds have settled and of course have shifted so we are barely making 5 knots with the motor.  We knew that today wasn’t going to be ideal but the anchorage last night was much less than ideal, we rolled uncomfortably all night long so it wasn’t a difficult decision to get underway at dawn this morning.  We were anchored with more than twenty boats last night  yet we were the only ones to leave this morning.  We are not sure why. We are not ones to follow the crowd or need a group consensus, but sometimes being the only sheep to leave the flock makes you start to wonder. 

It is pretty out here, and it’s much more comfortable than the anchorage. And, bonus, we moving in the right direction so all is well.  We even have it all to our selves. We should be able to make the crossing to Little Harbor tomorrow before any more weather events come through.  If we can do that, the biggest challenges will be behind us (we hope).

 

A Pirates Life for Me

Johnny Depp has exquisite taste in islands.  Maybe it’s his pirate thing, I’m not sure but we are anchored right off his island and off one of its perfect little beaches.  It is a small island, about three quarters of a mile long.  It has no airstrip or helicopter pad, no multistory mansions.  It hasn’t been carved up and dredged out to fit a big yacht. Its just simple and laid-back and is sitting in the most beautiful colored water I’ve seen yet.  I thought the little house overlooking Adderly cut on Lee Stocking was my dream house, now I’m not sure. We’ve been hanging out anchored off this one for the last few days.

Since Little Hall Pond, Johnny’s island, isn’t up for exploring itself we’ve been checking out the neighboring islands.  Actually, you can go ashore on any island in the Bahamas, even his, up to the high tide mark but we didn’t.  We did enjoy the three little uninhabited islands nearby, Kai could run freely between them all on the shallow sandbar that connected them so he got in some good exploring of his own in.  The island, and our anchorage,  is just inside the southern boundaries of the Exuma Land and Sea Park.  We’ve managed to miss the Park both the last time we were here in 2006 and on our way down this year.  On our trip back in 2006 we turned around when we got to the northern boundary and due to weather we skipped past it this year in a mad dash to find cover.  The Exuma Land and Sea Park is approximately 176 square miles and is made up of 15 major islands and numerous smaller ones. One of the big islands is Cambridge Cay,it has a large mooring field but we chose not to anchor there the first night we came up here thinking it would be crowded and instead went to see it by dinghy.  There wasn’t a single boat there!  That’s OK, we still like our spot better.  We walked on the beaches and explored about. It’s pretty, pretty. The whole area was empty, not that we are complaining, we certainly like the secluded feeling we just were surprised.  A happy surprise.  

^^If I ever live on land again, I want this to be my front walkway!

^^I can’t get enough of the colors of the water.  I don’t think it’s possible for me to tire of looking at them.  I keep trying to capture them with the camera but I never do.  The clearness, the reflections, the movement, all of it…it just doesn’t translate. 

^^What I like the most about this little guy is that he definitely looks toothless, like an old man without his dentures, yet he is holding a toothbrush.

^^secluded-at least for this area

^^Cambridge mooring field completely empty

On the other side of Little Hall Pond is a “Sea Aquarium”.  It looks just like you might envision, a stunning little coral reef swarming with bright tropical aquarium fishes.  Next to the Sea Aquarium is a sunken airplane.  The airplane itself was neat, but the coral next to it made a good snorkel too.  We had three huge spotted eagle rays swim slowly under us and saw two big lobsters walking across the bottom of the reef, out in the open.  Of all days, I forgot to put the memory card in the camera.  Ugh.  I did capture some good video when we went back the next day.  I will have to wait until I get good (and free) wifi to post them.  I promise I will, though. 

On the topic of wifi, the picture above was taken during a semi-desperate attempt to find it.  Keith is raising our hotspot up to the top of the mast while I sat at the base of the mast trying to get our email and weather downloads.  Island Life, I guess.  It worked. Not for posting to the blog or anything, but enough for weather.  But….if you just read this then I have found good wifi again and this is the first of a few back logged posts.  Thanks for being patient:)

 

Spring

The last few days have embodied everything that is “spring”.  Our morning weather routine has evolved from listening then scrambling and scouring over the charts for the next place to hide from the bad weather to listening then scrambling and scouring over the charts for the best places to dive in the good weather. A very welcome change in routine.  Instead of sweatshirts, the tank tops are out.  A couple of boats even broke out the sun shade awnings. The winds have abated and we even think the water even feels warmer, though there is still plenty of room for improvement here.  

I’ll have to say I think we made the most of the new, nice weather.  We are back  at Lee Stocking (the place with the abandoned research lab).  Within minutes of anchoring we were out in the dinghy and diving with our friend Craig who was already here and had a few prime lobster hunting spots scoped out. With the calm winds we were able to hit some of the outside coral heads in the more “ocean-y” parts. That was only the beginning, the next several days we dove until we couldn’t feel our fingertips or barley sling ourselves into the dinghy. It was everything we were craving. We saw some of the healthiest reefs of our trip including several patches of large Elkhorn coral that were a beautiful apricot color.  I can’t tell you how many times we exclaimed “gorgeous!”.  Then our friends Ben and Lisa surprised us by pulling into the anchorage too after their quick little jaunt down to kiss the very tip of the Jumento cays.  With three dinghies we were able to cover even more territory and found even more beautiful spots. To be honest the fishing isn’t easy here, you have to put in a good search, but there is still dinner to be found; conch, lobster, fish, and even crab! Remember the big spider crab we found several weeks ago?  Well, Keith found another one way up inside a coral head when he was getting a lobster.  He brought it out and we cooked it up in my largest pot.  Just like we read, it tasted exactly like Alaskan King Crab! I have a new favorite seafood.  While the days were filled with playing, the nights were filled with one spectacular sunset dinner and drinks get-together after another rotating through each others boats. 

The grand finale to our week of spring was Keith’s Birthday. The day was warm and we had mirror calm, crystal clear seas and we shared the day with our friends exploring and collecting dinner.  The sea even gift-wrapped up a fish for him; he found a Mutton Snapper caught inside an old trap, pretty easy picking.  Grouper season just reopened, so grouper it was for dinner though.  And lobster.  And homemade chocolate cake.  Keith received a cedar plug lure and a bottle of wasabi soy marinade so the challenge to catch a tuna is on!  We thought we were going to be celebrating his birthday in the islands for the past two years now, it finally happened.  It was definitely one to remember.  Tomorrow we will probably all head our separate ways, at least for a little while.  It was a fun few days to share together. Or, maybe it was fun because we shared them together.

Expectations and First Impressions

EXPECTATIONS:

We are on our way to Georgetown, Exumas.  The sail is just beautiful today, it is about a sixty mile run and we are averaging about 6 1/2 knots.  Too bad we are so distracted with getting to a good anchorage or it would just be a perfect day.  Well, we haven’t caught a fish yet.  We are about three miles off shore and can see at least twelve other boats also running as fast as they can too.  The chatter on the VHF is all about finding the best hole to hide in.  Most of them are catamarans with very shallow draft, we push almost 6 feet so we are not expecting to get into any of the coveted spots!  I just hope we get into A spot.

I don’t know what to expect at Georgetown, I’ve heard so many things yet still can’t quite put the picture together.  From what I’ve heard, I can’t imagine it’s our scene at all.  At the same time, so many people just love it so I am challenging myself not to poo-poo it ahead of time and to accept it for what it is and find a way to have fun with it.

So, here is what I’ve heard, we will see what’s true and not soon enough…. Georgetown is the largest settlement in the Exumas and the areas and islands around the town create a relatively protected range of anchorages (including several hurricane holes) over a few miles spance.  I’ve heard it is filled with hundreds of cruising boats and many of these are of the permanent fixture type, while others sail down in the winter, drop the hook and don’t move again until it’s time to head home for the summer.  I understand that there is quite a strong community presence and an endless variety of scheduled activities to keep one busy.  Be it yoga classes on the beach or technical seminars under the palms.  I guess there are volleyball tournaments and basket weaving classes too.  I keep hearing about how everyone gets together for potlucks  and sundowners.  I’m not the first person to think it all sounds like an old-folks home.  I can’t help but to assume that the same political drama that exists within a condo association might be present too.  But I don’t know we will see.  I’ve also heard that the resources available to the cruisers helps to make this an end destination for so many. Delightful amenities like that the grocery store has a free dinghy dock as does the gas station and propane pickup.  

Right now the only rumor I am worried about, though, is that all the good anchorages will be filled up. 

 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: 

I hadn’t posted this post yet so thought I’d tack on our first impressions from our first day here too….

First, the big scary storm-of-the-winter threat looks like it may be a false alarm.  Whew.  That alone does wonders for my outlook! Either way, it was a beautiful day today and we spent the day exploring the beach and trails at our anchorage.  Out of all the stuff I had heard about Georgetown, I missed the fact that it is gorgeous! It took us by surprise.  It has absolutely stunning beaches.  

^^that is the Stocking Island Monument, we are anchored near the bluff.  All of the islands around here have a monument and they are all different shapes, they were once used as navigatin aides.

^^the little dinghy dock at the anchorage. We were the only ones using it.  

^^the trail up the bluff got a bit steep at one point, a helpful cruiser donated a dock line to assist.  How sweet.

^^lots of boats, but our neighbors aren’t too close (yet)

^^Um, not sure how I am supposed to have a negative response wth a view like that!

^^this is the ocean side beach.  It is huge and white and beautiful. And best of all we had it all to our selves!

^^besides our friends on Saraid, who we were walking with, we never saw another person on the trails or beach.

^^Keith and Ben with engine talk.  Their little engine hasn’t quite recovered from its saltwater bath during the storm.  Poor thing is only running on one cylinder.

^^at dusk Keith Suggested we walk back up the bluff to watch the sunset, we got Saraid to join us. It was a great suggestion.

Yeah, so, first impressions aren’t too shabby!  We need to hang out here till about the end of the month to get our Visas extended and I think we can manage that.

 

…….and here is my view as I finish this post up:

 

Come back blue skies, come back!

Oh, and I thought it was interesting that the storm that created the derecho has now becomes hurricane Alex.