Spelunking in Flip-Flops

The Bahamas have lots of caves but we haven’t taken the time to really check them out.  Long Island has a little cave right by the dinghy dock giving us no excuse not to check it out, so we did.    The cave was easy to access and had decent lighting, it had the whole stalagmite/stalactite thing going on but flip-flops are probably not the recommended foot wear to go spelunking in.  The cave also had lots of bats, which were neat.  I like bats, they eat mosquitos.  I did learn though that if you use your flash on your camera to try and take a picture of them, they swarm. Fwip, fwip, fwip, fwip. I’m not sure I like them THAT much.

We also took a walk over to the ocean side beaches to check out  how rough the seas looked as we planned on heading out the next day and its been blowing stink for a few days (nothing new).  There is a little dirt road that leads to a secluded beach, no one else around, no houses, no nothing. It was another beautiful beach. Keith and I enjoyed our walk and were headed back when we saw two locals walking our way. They caught our attention with the way they were dressed.  They were both wearing jeans and they both had backpacks.  They also both had ski caps on, one even had the yarn pom-pom on top. What really had my attention, though, was that one man was carrying a large butcher knife, not a machete (that wouldn’t be out of place), but a very large butcher knife. As we got closer we smiled and waived and said “hello”. I read somewhere that waving is the truest measure of friendliness. In true Long Island fashion, both men smiled big and waived (with the butcher knife) and said “hello”.  Okay, well that went well.  Later we learned that there are several wild goats on the island, maybe they were off to get some dinner.

The plan was to go from Long Island back to George Town and on up the Exuma island chain.  Last night Saraid called us on the VHF, they thought they saw a break in the weather long enough to get down to the Jumentos and Ragged Islands, did we want to come too?  The Jumentos and Raggeds are still in the Bahamas but they are very remote.  There are no stores, gas, diesel, or water on any of the islands and there is only one tiny fishing settlement with a population of about 100 in the very southern tip.  What ever you need, you need to bring it with you. But the diving and fishing is supposed to be the best.  It’s a place we really, really want to go but have been waiting for spring and its more settled weather. The timing just wasn’t right for us our jerry cans on deck were empty, we only had a few gallons of gas and our water tanks were only half full so we were not in the position to head out with them so we donated the water we did have to them and wished them well on their adventure.  Today we both sailed out of Long Island and we watched their boat disappear over the horizon to the wild lands of fish and coral.  We agonized over if we were missing out on a perfect diving window the entire morning as we headed back to our not-so-favorite place, George Town.  In attempt to console ourselves for possibly missing out  we decided to stop and do a dive on the reefs at the southern tip of Great Exuma.  They looked so enticing on our sail past them last week.  We pulled down the sails and anchored the sailboat right off one of the reefs.  We put the dinghy in and put the tiny little 2 hp motor on it.  We puttered over to the reef expecting to be spectacular, but between the strong current and the barracudas it wasn’t  worth the effort.  Oh well, if we hadn’t stopped and tried we would have kept thinking we were sailing past something spectacular.  Now we know. We just need to get some good diving in soon.

^^This was one of the best stocked stores we’ve found in the Bahamas but the organization was a little haphazard.  Baby powder and brake fluid, why of course they should share a shelf!  I wonder how long it will take to sell all four Bingo cages?

Road Trip

Long Island is, well, long. 74 miles, I think, by 4 miles at its widest lending it self to best be explored by vehicle.  Ben and Lisa rented a little car and invited us along.  Okay!  First stop, before even getting the car, was the Saturday morning Farmers Market.  It was a true farmers market where the locals brought in fruits and vegetables from their gardens along with baked goods and handmade items.  We got fresh arugula, peppers, and even Concord grapes.  Keith got another bottle of hot sauce. We heard many of the vendors talking about how much smaller their crops were this year due to the hurricane, but what they had to offer looked nice.  

We are anchored in Thompson Bay, close to the middle of the island, and first decision was to head either north or south.  South is always good.  Chart books and guidebooks in hand and a trunk full of snorkel gear we set off.  From our first stop to our very last, we pulled over at every old church we saw.  This island has no shortage of churches new or old.  The first one was by far the most interesting and by far the oldest, dating to the 1500’s and believed to have been built by the Spanish.  We also made a few stops at some local dining spots.  We had conch salad at Seasides where you eat out on the deck and the conch is plucked up out of the water to order.  I like fresh.  We also dined at Max’s conch grill.  We liked everything about it, the owner, the menu, the food, and even the prices.  

 

See, told you…..lots of churches!

The main attraction of the day though was Dean’s Blue Hole.  The blue hole is on the ocean side of the island, tucked up in a beautiful little cove.  It is surrounded on one side by a semi-circle of high cliffs and the other side is the beach and shallow sand opening into the ocean.  In the center it is 663 feet deep.  It is the deepest blue hole in the world.  I had seen pictures but hadn’t realized how magnificent it looked until I was standing on the beach seeing it for myself.  At first I had hoped we would be the only ones there, but there were several other people there and it turned out to be the perfect time to arrive because they were not only almost all other boaters we were anchored next to  and had shared our volunteer day with but they happened to be some of the world record holders for free diving and they were there doing training and practice dives.  Several of the teenagers from the boats were also getting lessons on free diving that day.  Keith got really interested in some of the free divers about a year ago and started watching the YouTube videos and following some of the competitions, so he was pretty excited to watch them in person.  At first we were all standing on the edge of the beach just watching everything when one of the professionals asked us “didn’t you bring suits? Aren’t you going to get in?”  I said we didn’t want to get in the way, we were just watching.  She replied “no one owns the hole, you should get in!”. I am so glad we did, it was very churned up from the rough seas off shore so visibility was maybe only 25 feet, but it was definitely neat to see.  There is a floating platform over the deepest part of the hole with a crane and line that goes to the bottom for the divers to use.  We watched a few of the teens do their dives, they were going down 20+meters!  So impressive!  A trainer accompanies them and actually is face to face with them keeping direct eye contact the whole way up to the surface.  We also watched one of the professionals do a short practice dive.  

When we got back to shore we hiked up the perimeter cliffs for a better view and talked to some of the divers/cruisers.  We were about to leave when one diver was about to do a 97 meter dive.  That is 318 feet!  We stayed to watch from the shore.  Three minutes after descending the diver surfaced. He was brought up to the surface by another diver; he had become completely unconscious on the way up.  From all the videos Keith watched we knew this wasn’t too uncommon but it got scary when they started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  The diver came to and was perfectly fine just a few minutes later. Yikes.  Even without the scary part, the whole experience was momentous.  Technically, it hadn’t been on my “bucket list” to experience, but I’m calling that an oversight and penciling it in just so I can cross it off.  Although, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to go see it again either.

^^Lisa captured the best photo of the day with this picture she took, it successfully shows this magical little cove.  Thanks Lisa for letting me post your photo!

 

^^On the way down…

^^on the way up.

 

 

Welcome to Long Island

I think its fair to say we have not fully embraced or immersed ourselves within the cruising community of George Town.  Maybe we are missing out, or maybe its just not what we are looking for.  Our George Town hidey-hole and the outlying semi-secluded anchorages have kept us more than sufficiently close to all the choreographed activities.  We thought a little sail over to Long Island would remove us even more so you can imagine our surprise horror when we were hailed on the VHF radio as we entered the harbor by the “welcoming committee” complete with cheering and clapping and directions on how to find the party once we got anchored.  The look on our faces must have been priceless while Keith stammered through a “thank you” and I resisted turning the boat around and running!  After a moment though we decided that it was better to be “cheered” than “booed” so we just decided to embrace it all!  Hello Long Island!!!!

We immediately recognized several of the boats in the harbor as ones we hoped to see again and were quick to reacquaint, we also found that the “welcoming committee” was nothing more sinister than the tale-end of a good cruisers party and a genuine “welcome”.  With Ben and Lisa at our sides we ventured into town to complete our celebration of arriving in the tropics at the local bar.  I think we had all decided that this is a special island before we even pulled up our stools and ordered hogfish and conch.  We talked for a while with the owners, a husband and wife team, and enjoyed them both.  We finished the evening off with a walk up the Queens Highway and found ourselves inside the little yellow grocery store.  Lisa and I grabbed onto each others arms with our mouths gapping open- the selection of food, most notably the produce, was like we haven’t seen since the States.  Sorry Exuma Markets in George Town, they’ve got you beat!!  We squealed over things like kiwis and plums.  Too bad we had both just stocked up before leaving George Town.  Friendly is how I’d describe it here so far, very friendly.

In the morning we listened to the short and sweet VHF net and learned that a volunteer work party had been scheduled for that morning to help with the ongoing Hurricane Joaquin recovery here on Long Island.  Following through with our commitment to embrace everything here we packed a lunch and headed off to join in.  I don’t know all the details of the whos or hows yet but an ongoing coordination between the boaters and the locals hit the hardest here has been in play for a while and this was only one work day of many.  It appears that there are work parties organized several times a week.  Transportation was provided to shuttle the volunteers to the southern part of the island that suffered the most devastating losses.  There were enough volunteers from the anchorage to fill two pick-up truck beds and one car.  We were unloaded on the doorsteps of a family home and business that had survived a 10 foot wall of water passing through it.  It had filled up with debris and just about everything inside had been destroyed.  The property had been wiped clean of all the fruit and vegetables once growing on the grounds, it had over 100 pineapple plants before the storm.  It has taken four months for the electricity to be restored.  The father and sons had already rebuilt the back half of the home, where they were living, but the coordinator said that they had been so busy helping others in the community that they had not finished rebuilding their own home. We were asked to help with removing the remains of the kitchen, reframe it, and enclose with new plywood.  I don’t think everyone was unloaded before the demolition was under place, I didn’t even get a “before” photo.  There were more hands than could even fit, so the men did the construction and the women went about clearing debris.  Within a few hours the demo was done and the new frame completed including the windows and doors fitted and the outside plywood hung. The lot was cleared into two huge piles, one to burn and one for the dump.  It was sad to see so many personal items that had been ripped from the houses and strewn about, everything from the contents of the spice cupboard to Christmas decorations.  A small storage shed/laundry room that had been filled with sea water was finally emptied of all of its ruined remains.  It was a great way to meet the boaters we hadn’t met yet and get to know the ones we had better. More importantly the homeowner and his sons were very appreciative and they couldn’t wait until the wife came home from teaching school to see the work completed in a day.  They surprised us by providing not only coolers of water, sodas, and beers, but also bringing us a beautiful hot lunch from the restaurant where the daughter works.  

 

 

Tropics!

Once again we have emerged from our hidey-hole and this time were rewarded with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets but even more spectacular than that was the stillness in the air.  Sweet silence of NO wind. Ahhhh.  We shared the evening with a single dolphin that slowly swam around our boat over and over.  Kai followed him round and round, not even barking; it was like they were playing with each other.  The lull in the wind didn’t last long so we sailed down to Long Island, on the way crossing the Tropic of Cancer.  We are officially in the Tropics!  That’s a reason to celebrate right? We toasted with our friends Ben and Lisa within minutes of putting down the hook!  We didn’t even wait to make it to the local bar. 

 

^^even Kai stopped to watch the sunset.

^^making new friends.

^^this was the anchorage as we left in the morning, by the afternoon we were sailing along at 7 knots, obviously the wind filled back in.

^^Keith and I think this is the cutest little motor sailor.

^^Cheers!  Welcome to the tropics!

^^we still need our wetsuits in the tropics, though.

^^”Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”