Evan and Dan arriving at Sandy Cay.
August 1, 2006
On board the Island Link, bound, again, from Nassau to Salt Pond on Long Island (23.3404, -75.123).
Everyone onboard has a favorite conch recipe. This is Conch Salad: Hit with hammer, break hole. Cut out with knife. Cut off bubba. Cut up real fine. Dice: onion, tomato, sweet pepper, celery, hot pepper. Combine in bowl. Squeeze lemons, salt. Mix up! Bahamian style.
There will be no fishing with a pole spear this time. I’m not expecting many fish and those that remain should stay. We have bigger kayaks this time and can afford to carry lots of food. Plus, conch.
After our fiasco in French Polynesia I wanted to treat my two young pals to an easier trip. This seems made to order. With our new outrigger sail rigs we will ride the dominant summer trade winds from Long Island west across the 20 NM distance to the southern tip of the Exumas, north up the Exumas to the north tip and then take the 35 NM crossing back to Nassau. If the trades hold, we will be heading mostly downwind the whole time. Easy. It will be hot in the summer sun, but that’s when the trades blow. This will also be a chance for me to see any changes in sea life in the area since my last visit to Long Island and the Jumentos seven years ago.
This will be our second trip with the new sail rig. Theresa, Ken Fink, and I paddle/sailed the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West earlier this year in February without serious mishap, other than jammed amas and one broken mast off Matacumbe Key. I had been flying too big a jib. (Amazingly, UPS delivered another to us from HQ the next morning.) Ama is a Polynesian word for outrigger. In Florida we tried inflatable amas that were attached to tubes extending from the kayak (akas). This had been done before, but we found that extra-large waves could cause the amas to rotate 90 degrees to the water and cause the boat to stall. We wanted to be able to sail well offshore in the big waves. The solution was to join two separate amas together, above, and below, and run the tube between them so that the ama could rotate when impacted by a large wave. Jam proof.
We loved sailing alongshore over waters too shallow for regular sail or power boats. The trades held and blew us most of the way to Key West. We were hoping for the same conditions in the Exumas, although without the motels.
Thursday, August 4, 2006, South End of Stocking Island, 23.5086, -75.736
Today: Sandy (White) Cay to here. About 20 miles. Got in about 2 PM, left about 9. that’s about 4 kn avg., we had a period of light winds. Mostly 8 to 10 knots. easterly wind. Temp. kind of hot, over 30. There has been this storm brewing S. of here. It was supposed to come here, but it veered to Cuba. We would have stayed another day on Sandy Cay, it was so gorgeous- yes, sandy, but some good shallow-water diving, coral, on its southern shore. There must have been 30 different species of little fish lounging in the coral.
The crossing from Salt Pond was uneventful, except when my rudder fell off. I was able to get back there in the water and re-install it, but it still rode up and I had to use my paddle to steer. I fixed it temporarily with duct tape. Today it was fine. I did learn that you can alter the steering by having one leeboard up, one down. Generally, the boat wants to turn to windward. So, keep the board down on the leeward side.
Today we initiated using the spinnakers. I’m in the K-1 and boy, does it scoot. I reached 7.2 knots, which is quite fast. The spinnaker flops around a lot, but when it fills, it pulls well.
Iguana on Sandy Cay
The boys were blown away by Sandy Cay. As soon as we landed, we were all in the water. Coral island, long, totally white spit, big land iguanas, cacti, fish. Paradise. Too bad we didn’t stay longer.
This trip is fun. We’re in the water a lot, cooling off, just gazing at beauty. Forecast is for up to 26 knots next week. We should be trucking. I’m reading Joshua Slocum’s book: “Sailing Alone Around the World”. This is so tame in comparison.
Sunday, August 7, 2006, Glass Cay, 17 NM N. of George Town. 23.7027, -75.9935
We had quite a run today. Probably close to 25 knots. At least 20. Easterlies continue. I have to steer with the paddle as aid, hooked under my arm pit. Especially when we went around Ocean Bight, which was open to the Atlantic and deep. After rounding it we had to cross a shallow reef. Surf’s up. Dan and Evan in the big double caught a big one, broached and scraped bottom. The thru bracket that holds the leeboard broke at the rivet. We’re always breaking stuff. Never did when we were just using kayaks. They said that the wave towered above them. You are not supposed to surf in sail boats. I managed to find a line through the coral, no mishap.
However, perhaps an hour before that, I made a much dumber move. I noticed that my upwind ama was quite flat. I’ve practiced this before — I took it off to orally inflate it. I guess I was rocking too much because I was over before I could say whoa. Perhaps the waves were just too chaotic. It was easy to right it, re-install the aka and ama, pump out and carry on. Good lessons — both incidents.
We’ve been going 4 to 6 knots today, just fine. No plunging bows. A bit hairy. No coral around here. Few fish. I keep looking. Sometimes I had my mask and snorkel on while sailing. I could lean over and keep my head underwater and follow the bottom as we scooted along while steering with my feet on the rudder pedals. No matter how hard I tried, though, I ended up sailing way off course. This reminds me of when I was being trained to fly planes. The instructor would put a helmet on you so that you could not see the land below. Unless you trusted your flight instruments you would put that plane in a suicidal dive in just a blink. Unlike birds, we humans are not equipped mentally to fly without referencing the land below. I had to learn to trust my instruments. What saddened me now was that what I saw was acres and acres of dead coral. We don’t seem to be equipped to deal with long range tragedies either. All our observations and instruments point to a deepening crisis: a suicidal dive. We have to learn to trust these warnings.
August 8, 2006, Staniel Cay, Lavender cottage #4. 24.1724, -76.445
Evan doesn’t like sharks, at all. I saw one a couple of days ago and today there are 3 dark 5-footers lounging around the marina docks. People feed them. I hope that he’ll change his mind because Brad’s Reef is just a short day north of here and it is supposed to have coral. They say Thunderball Grotto near here is good.
We just popped in here, not expecting to stay, but the place looks great, and we could use a couple of days out of the sun, in luxury. Our cute little cottage cost $148 for the three of us. I guess that’s O.K. One king-size bed; Dan on the floor. The bigger cost will be the meals. Oh well, last night it rained like hell, thunder, and lightning too. It will be good to have cover tonight. The winds recently have been strong. A yachtie said yesterday 25 to 30 knots. I’d say maybe up to 25. We didn’t break anything.
August 9, 2006, Staniel Cay
Yes, Thunderball Grotto was great. We dived off the kayaks. The little island is hollowed out. You dive down and inside are hundreds of fish that encompass you. Beautiful. Like swimming into the past. Lots of different people here: people who have their own boats or rent them or are on a mini cruise. Others flew here to stay in one of the cabins. And us. Everyone dines together, the food is good, and people are friendly. Glad for the splurge. This is a beautiful place. Do we have to leave?
August 13, 2006, Hawksbill Cay 24.476, -76.764
The most remarkable cay so far, with a mile-long white sand beach backed by Casuarina trees, spaced apart as if planted for a park. I’m under one now. Its morning, but already the sun is becoming fierce. These trees are an import from Australia. Biologists here don’t like these intruders because they drop long needles, making a thick bed, and nothing can grow through them. Too acidic. We’re thankful for them.
Rough seas at the cuts between cays
We have a meter or two depth out front here, for miles. Beautiful turquoise water. Lots of small fish and some coral. There is a steel wreck stuck on a reef out about 1/2 mile. Size: between a boat and a ship. Getting here yesterday from Warderick Wells was so slow. No wind. We got really hot. We couldn’t stay cool enough to power the boats efficiently. I got to thinking about how different peoples adapt to their climate. Years ago, back in the 70s, my old pal Larry and I spent a month hauling sleds over the sea ice north of Tuktoyuktuk in late winter. After a while the cold seemed O.K. with us and we thought we had acclimatized pretty well. But when we returned south to Inuvik, we saw lots of local Inuit kids blasting around on skidoos in -25 F. with no gloves on and no hat. That was impossible for us. Another example happened at the beginning of this trip. As we stumbled through the streets of Nassau, humbled by the heat and humidity, we came across an outdoor court. There, in mid-day, in the blazing sun, were a bunch of dark-skinned guys playing a lively game of pickup basketball. “What?” we thought, “No way”.
There is a limit, though to this adaptability. As we found yesterday there is a certain temperature/humidity combination in which sweat doesn’t have any cooling effect on the body, even for people superbly adapted to the climate. (Which we are not). Yesterday was blazing hot and damp and the three of us hit that limit. The best we could do was to keep dishing sea water onto our heads with our hats. As the planet warms increasing areas are going to become uninhabitable. There have been mass migrations recently from Africa to Europe and from Latin America to the U.S. But unfortunately, this is likely to be just the beginning.
At Warderick Wells we camped at the Pirate’s Lair, which is where pirates hid out and waited for ships to attack. We didn’t sleep well because a family was moored just offshore in a powerboat. A woman, who sounded quite drunk, screamed at her kids for hours. It must have been awful for them, in that small, hot enclosure.
Warderwick is the centre of the Exumas Park. It is a terrific place where no fishing is allowed. We saw more fish and more coral than anywhere else. Probably that is why there were fish at Staniel, which is just out of the park. We also passed living stromatolites, which are rare. We talked to the people at the centre on the way up, who were friendly and informative.
August 14, 2006, Highborne Cay, 24.7063, -76.8195
This is a place for yachts. When we pulled in yesterday to buy water and groceries some big rainstorms started to come through. We got soaked. Stood around for a couple of hours actually being cold. Then four Spaniards from a huge, rented yacht went prancing by us in the downpour into the water. The two gorgeous women wore bikinis so small they hardly mattered. One of the guys took off his trunks and started flinging it with his buddy. This lasted quite a while until finally the girls ran off with it back to their yacht. The guys sauntered back a little later, past a stuffy American yachtsman, the naked guy holding his crotch. As we were cold, I suggested that we follow their example (though with trunks) and it was warmer lounging in the sea with the sky still opening up on us.
That night there was no wind at our camp and the bugs were swarming, but we enjoyed hanging out on the lawn chairs at the marina. We were just tolerated, like us with the bugs.
Somehow Dan had left behind his stove. My spare one was plugged with sand, so Evan and I shared an emergency can of Spam that we had bought at George Town and ate cereal with powdered milk. Dan got a bit sick on Gatorade and potato chips and didn’t eat anything more.
Everything is better now. We had a lot of pancakes for breakfast. The weather is looking good for our crossing in a few days. I called my sister and wished her happy birthday.
August 17, 2006, N.E. beach, Ship Channel Cay, 24.815, -76.8214
As we approached the south end of this island, one of the “Power Boat Adventure” boats was leaving with about 50 passengers. It looks like an overgrown speedboat, cruises at 30 knots, making the journey from Nassau in a little over an hour.
We went to their camp. It looks like something out of Gilligan’s Island. There is a ramshackle-looking hut on stilts and an open bar at a dock.
Tourists at Ship Channel Cay
We were greeted by Kevin, maybe close to my age, grisly. He does the video and photo recording of the day’s “adventure”. He has an Apple computer and a stock burner so he can have the customers’ CD ready when they leave. They feed sharks, snorkel (not in the same place, I hope) and drink at the bar. 50 to 80 per day. First, they visit the Iguanas at Allen Cays, then come back to Ship Channel for a snorkel with life jackets on. They didn’t, of course, mind us camping a mile or so north of here; they don’t own this place. Kevin’s girlfriend (Zee?) is pregnant, wants to have an underwater birth here. Early 20s, red hair, hippie ish. The “caretaker” is a Haitian guy, didn’t say too much. The barmaid works just for tips, is on a sailboat with Brian. Brian wanted to do his PhD in philosophy at UBC, loved the place, the inter-disciplinary approach. Wasn’t accepted. They have been here 1 1/2 months. Plan to go down to Venezuela, then Mediterranean. Searching.
We left them for this beach north of there. I didn’t want to have 50 people swarming around us. Good call, except for the incredible amount of plastic garbage on this beach, at this hook, which seems to be a trap. Otherwise, the place would be awesome. Good shade trees. Coral is in rough shape, though, just brown.
Plastic onshore, ruined coral offshore
Towards evening Kevin, two young women and two boys came over in a skiff and invited us for dinner. Lobster, conch, rice. I wondered how we were going to get back, so at least I put a small flashlight in my pocket and carried my sandals before wading out to the skiff. Also at dinner were 3 local guys, a father and two grown sons. They played dominoes with big white pieces, which they slammed down on the table. All the pieces bounced. It became dark, we all talked for a long time.
When it became time to go, Kevin announced that the tide had gone out; he couldn’t take us back, too shallow. Dan and Evan had no shoes for walking in the dark over coral. It was decided that the three fisher guys would take us back, but first they had to get to their 28-foot boat, moored nearby. Very shallow, I was the only one with a light, so they used it, and bumped over the coral (mostly dead anyway) and rocks to their boat. The young guys got off; an older guy with a flashlight got on. So now we had Smokey holding the light and Dr. No steering the boat. Smokey kept saying: “Over derr. Go over derr!” Dr. No kept saying: “Shine da light on da wata.” Smokey said: “Paddlin’ in kayak in Georgia, saw this big fuckin’ gator, thought he was comin’ for me, so I started paddlin’ the fuck outta there. Then had a few beer and fogot about it!” Smokey said he had taken in 1400 conch in the last few days. (Did I get this right? They have heavy accents) Plus some lobster. I asked him if this could last, and he said “Oh ya”. But he also mentioned that there are no conchs near Nassau. He’s training his two sons in this. His boat was seven years underwater before he got it, took two years to clean it up, put on a new upper deck. He bought a 250 hp outboard for $14,000(?) Got a boat. Sells conch at about $2 each. We got off in chest high water and had to use my little flashlight to wade in and around the dead coral. Tomorrow, we sail to Nassau, hopefully.
August 18, 2006, Ship Channel Cay
Waiting for better winds. Except for the garbage, great place to hang out. Before dusk the three of us have been sitting on the beach, sipping a little rum, and watching the sun go down. I often finish off the day by pouring a cup or two of fresh water over me to wash the salt off. If there is a breeze, we’ll stay out as night falls. With no breeze the bugs drive us into our tents, and we read for a while. Last night we finished off the rum. It was overcast and dark and Dan ended up in the wrong tent.
August 19, 2006, Ship Channel Cay
Last night I had my tent fly off, as usual. Dan woke Evan and me up. It was pouring rain and thunder. We battened down our tents and went out naked with our soap for a good wash. Man, that felt good. These are days to remember.
August 20, 2006, Nassau 25.0745, -77.313
The 30 nautical mile crossing was uneventful until about half way to Nassau. A line of thunderstorms swept across us. One opened up on me and I was suddenly very busy with the sail. The guys in the double said that the storm hit me first and I just disappeared in the wall of water while they were still dry. Then it hit them.
We had big wind but not big waves, so we went fast. Once I had control, I checked my GPS and found that I was doing 11.5 knots. That’s fast for a little kayak. The longer double outstripped me.
After the storm passed, I was worried that the winds would die or go against us, which would mean a long, overnight paddle. They did slacken for a little while, but then picked up again. By then we were maybe 12 nautical miles off Nassau, and we could see the big-shouldered Atlantis casino way off in the distance. An easy mark to steer to. We slid into Nassau at dusk, just fine.