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.

Lee Stocking

 Lee Stocking Island, Exumas

We finally pulled together a few good weather days in a row and ran with them!  We sailed up to Lee Stocking Island and have had a fun and fascinating few days.  This island once housed the Caribbean Marine Research Center/Perry Institute for Marine Research.  It had been a major facility for a few decades but in 2012 the funding collapsed and the island was abandoned entirely.  It had provided the platform for many research scientist, several universities, and NOAA.  I won’t go into all the projects that were going on here, but I’m sure it’s a neat “Google” if have a few extra minutes. When the facility closed nearly everything was left in place.  Over the years anything of value has been removed but there is still an amazing amount of stuff still around.  We spent two days exploring the abandoned compound,  all the buildings are unlocked and though they are probably all beyond repair they still retained their identity.

One of the first buildings at the base of the pier had housed all the dive gear and boats for the researchers. Besides the tank filling station this building included the first-aid room, inside we found an old decompression chamber!  We were not expecting that when we opened the door-cool. The cabinets still had some first-aid supplies, obviously well picked over.  The buildings behind that were the offices.  Desks and computers were still in place and the filing cabinets were filled with research papers, grant proposals, and cost reports.  We found some of the local maps of the island and the surrounding coral beds that were being studied and used the information later for some exploring by dinghy. Our navigation charts leave off details like “stromatolite meadows”.  Other buildings housed the maintenance sheds, dorms, and the mess hall. There were lots of saltwater tanks on the property and a building filled with aquariums. The fishy’s names were still on the wall. I wonder what happened to all the fish. Keith was most interested in the generators.  Huge generators.  He and Ben poked around and oohed and awed at them and pondered how they got all the diesel needed to run them.  They also liked the “Water Works” building that housed the reverse osmosis pumps for the island.  They made 3000 gallons a day!  The leftover spare membranes and fittings still lay about. Again, we just found this so fascinating.

I worked in a forensics lab before starting this little adventure so when we came across the two lab buildings a rush of memories came back.  All the equipment had been removed save for a few centrifuges and such but the chemicals and reagents had been left behind as well as general lab supplies like glassware, pipettes, and sleeves of micro culture plates. I could have spent the entire day just sifting through the labs if they hadn’t smelled so strongly of rat pee and poo.  I found it interesting to see the QC clipboards still lying about all with dates ending in August of 2012.  All of the SOP manuals were still in the offices and I would have loved to rifle through them to see exactly what instruments and techniques were being used but again just too stinky.  It was obviously a very large, well equipped lab.  I would have loved working here–the views were probably the best of any lab world wide.

We wandered through the houses and dorms and found a few secluded postcard-perfect beaches along the way before making it back to the boat and out for an afternoon snorkel and dinner catch.  Keith noted we couldn’t have found everything yet because we hadn’t come across the tractors that would have been required for all the big equipment and we hadn’t figured out what the big crane looking thing was that we could see from the boat.  Those were uncovered on our next trips ashore.  The tractors and heavy equipment was found down by the runway next to the maintenance sheds and hangars.  It was Keith’s turn to feel all at home. We also found the island dump, amongst the discarded 4-wheelers and office chairs I came across a Gas Chromatograph (GC) from the lab, I never thought that the next one I saw would be lying on an island baking in the tropic sun.  We also found a discarded shell of an underwater ROV. The “crane” ended up being a massive wind generator that could be raised and lowered.  It’s been a long time since it’s seen some use.  Next to it we found the old solar field.  The more we wandered the more interesting stuff we found, it was a really cool place to explore!

To compliment the land excursions, the water excursions were just as enjoyable (and fruitful) and we got our much needed water fix fulfilled. The great day was capped off with a dinner of fish-n-conch-n-lobster with beans, cornbread, and Lisa’s coleslaw and maple butter cookies shared with our friends Ben and Lisa.  We were not ready to leave but again we are running from some weather (nothing scary just from the wrong direction and gusty).  That, and the last time we were in George Town we couldn’t get fresh veggies because the ferry boat hadn’t come in (weather apparently sucks for the big boats too) so my inventory of fresh vegetables had dwindled down to: (1) onion, (3) sprout-y garlic, (1/4) head of cabbage.  So we will snuggle up in our hidey hole, get some veggies, and hopefully get a chance to come back up this way again soon!

^^The pier at the Caribbean Marine Research Center

^^A building filled with aquariums, the salt water was pumped in straight from the sea.

^^We assumed these were the fishy’s name tags.

^^A few of the many maintenance sheds.

^^does this even need a caption?

^^By what remains, this one put the real one to shame as far as inventory!

^^More toys!

^^big saltwater tanks

^^The decompression chamber, at one time this place had some good funding.

^^Just samples of all the stuff left behind, like there was no time to pack, or perhaps no budget left to pack.  It is a shame that the work being done here has come to a stop.

^^one big-ass generator.

^^Lisa looking through some of the data left behind, some of it was very interesting.

^^The big wind generator and its hoist system

^^More big equipment

^^I used to run one of these (mine looked a little newer and less rusty though!)


^^When you are on an abandoned island, you can act as goofy as you want! We were flying down the runway.

^^The complex once had a staff of 50 people to keep it running, this was the view from one of the dorm houses. Gah!!

^^This was the view from our anchorage

^^This was the view of our boat from one of the old offices.

^^Sharing it all with great friends.