March 25, 2003–Hello from the beautiful Exuma Cays
We departed Nassau to cross the Yellow Banks, a shallow twenty-mile stretch that takes you out of civilization and “down island” to KOKOMO. The Exumas are a chain of islands just south and east of Nassau. They cover approximately 300 miles north to south and are made up of about fifty beautiful little cays. They are just about on the Tropic of Cancer and 200 miles north of the Dominican Republic. At the top of the chain is Allan’s Cay inhabited by the endangered species of rock Iguana’s. There are about fifty of these creatures running around on the beaches. They really enjoyed eating our banana peels since we had many left from the banana TREE that Roscoe Darville gave us when we departed Nassau. Rock iguanas were often used in the old dinosaur movies. They are ugly and somehow cute at the same time. We also found plenty lobster, which aren’t endangered at Allan’s and had a nice lobster feast. Next stop was Norman’s Cay the hub of the former drug trade in the Bahamas, complete with landing strip and sunken drug plane in the anchorage, a reminder of one of the last drug raids on the island by the DEA. The plane is a DC 3 in pretty rough condition. It lies in about six feet of water with part of the plane’s body exposed. It is a great dive and hopefully we have some great video footage of the diving. Since we had our fill of lobster for a while we went on to the Exumas Land and Sea Park, an area where all sea and land life are protected by the Bahamian government. It encompasses twenty-two miles of the Exuma chain and consequently the fish and lobsters are very friendly and often very big. Our first stop was Shroud Cay, a beautiful Cay filled with narrow creeks that make great dinghy rides. We spent many days in the creeks, which end on the ocean side of the Cay at a splendid isolated beach. The current formed by the cut at the end of the creek proved to be some challenging swimming for all. We also visited the deep water pools filled with huge yellow tail snapper and enormous lobsters that don’t mind being stared at. Lobster season ends April 1st so we were hungering for more, which meant we had to leave the park. We planned to visit more on our return north. Next stop, Staniel Cay. Why? Because we know where the fish and lobster are! Knowing where the fish are is 90% of the secret of fishing. We are very familiar with the diving there and were not disappointed. On our first dive we bagged five lobster and three fish. The boys tried their hand at spearing and quickly graduated from triggerfish to big eye snappers. The lobster here are unlike the New England variety; a variation on the cray fish to be exact. They have no claws and are covered with sharp spines, which make them somewhat difficult to handle. Each one exacts its price. The size of these babies is not to be believed. The typical NE lobster for a dinner would be 1lb to 1 1/4 LB and larger would be premium price. We would not even bother with anything that small. These guys weigh in at 4 to 7 LB and sometimes larger. One crawfish for every two people and change. Ed was the great white hunter. Every time we went out fishing he had to fish for the whole village of 6 to 8 depending on who was with us. Staniel Cay is famous because several scenes in the movie Thunderball Cave were filmed here. We all reenacted the scenes with Freddie and the kids. We swam Fred into the cave at low water, sat him on the ledge and as we departed looked back and said those famous words, “Good bye, Mr. Bond!” Thunderball cave, as it is now known is actually an underwater grotto. It is a slack water event since the current rips through it. The cave has many entrances, which are better attempted without the challenge of a severe current either against or with you. Again this is an s protected area and since the fish are not hinted they are also t huge and friendly. Hundreds of Sergeant Majors can surround you all the time looking for handouts and end up nibbling on you if you don’t come across fast enough. After Staniel we called at Black Point. It was here that our luck ran out! A strong cold front came south and we had four days of really strong west wind. The Black Point anchorage was by far the worst anchorage of our lifetime. Black Point is open to the West and near a cut, which allows amazing surge to enter the anchorage. Consequently we rolled and pitched and rolled for 3 days straight. It was so wild that we slept on the cabin Floor. We could have departed Black Point at any time but we heard that the Police Band was going to show up for a dedication of the new Police Station. The Bahamian Govt. is determined to not have a repeat of the Norman’s cay fiasco that almost destroyed these islands back in the 70’s/80’s. The Bahamas are now quite safe. The ceremony was filled with Dignitaries including the Deputy Prime Minister and went on for hours. The Police band was there in all its glory and they did not disappoint us. They marched in formation all around the island complete with a dancing drum major! Despite the awful anchorage and the kids being seasick for days, we all agreed that it was worth the wait. God bless the kids, they never complained as sick as they were. So, we saw the band. They were superb as always but at 06:00 the next morning I called Fred on the radio–“Nadine, Nadine, Entr’acte. Let’s go Fred–ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!!! ” We literally escaped to Little Farmers where the protection is 360 and we finally got some sleep. As soon as the anchors came up we felt 100% better. I promised King Neptune that if I ever got Bill Gates’ money, the first thing I will do is to build a sea wall for Black Point.
Justin and Josh with World class free diver Bahama Norm Guindon and wife Ellie.–“He Dive good!!! He go deep!!! “They were just married. Congratulations!!!”
One of the joys of the Bahamas is to “Go down and Get ’em!”
Georgetown Exuma is the Mecca of East Coast cruising sailors. There were 400 boats in the harbor when we arrived in the middle of a tremendous thunderstorm. We would not normally go to such a crowded place but it was for us the “return to the scene of many crimes” and we also heard on the HAM radio net that our old diving, spear fishing guru–Norm Guindon was back in G Town from Venezuela and was getting married. We had lost track of him over the years but he had become such a legend with Fred’s kids that we just had to go fishing with “Bahama Norm”—“He Good!!! He Go Deep!!!”
“Happy Birthday Justin”from Bahama Norm.
For months all we heard from Justin was “All I want for my birthday is for Bahama Norm to come up to the boat and hand me a big lobster and say “Happy Birthday Justin””. Well he was not disappointed. It was a big one. Of course Norm couldn’t get just one – he got one for Josh too. I wonder If Fred and Monica got any of their supper that night. We all went out diving with Norm and the event is far too complicated and bizarre to go into here. Suffice it to say that Norm was Norm, Ed was Ed, the fish was big and deep (yeah right!) and Fred outdid himself for getting into trouble. Thanks to Norm, Ed is now diving to 50 ft again. Hope this email finds you well and happy – more to come from Nassau.
Pipe Creek Exuma.“Caicos Freddie, Mr. John, Enr’acte, Nadine. It does not get any better than this.
April 13, 2003 – Back in Nassau
Deborah Ray, the famous Culpeper address, came for a visit in Georgetown with the intent of a leisurely two-week trip up the Exuma chain – wind behind – back to Nassau. This was foiled by the weather. We had to spend nine days in Georgetown while the weather that you all had up north, the late season snow/slush storm came to us in the form of strong northerly winds. We even had to hole up in Pipe Creek on our way back to Nassau and today finds us pushing, fifty-five miles across the Yellow Banks to get Deborah to Nassau for at least one day of sight-seeing and shopping. It is calm today and we are making good time but this wasn’t our planned exit from the Exumas, our favorite cruising grounds. But, she did get it all! Big wind, fast exciting sailing, waves breaking over her while sitting in the cockpit, a broach under spinnaker and a mysterious taking on of water that we must track down as soon as we get to Nassau. We are not exactly sinking but it is a bit unsettling to be dashing about the ocean with the pump going off every 7 minutes. She got her share of fresh fish but unfortunately the lobster season closed the day before she arrived. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
Monday, April 14th – Nassau
As we write this, we are under way crossing the Yellow Bank for Nassau. We said “good-bye” to the lovely Exuma Cays and are heading back to Fla. for a, hopefully, very quick preparation for the trip to Europe. We are sorry that we were recently a little out of reach but the Exumas are very remote (at least where we were). The email system leaves something to be desired. While in Florida we plan to install high frequency radio email on board which will enable us to send and receive from anywhere in the world at any time. We’ll see if we can put this together in the time we have.
Love from Ellen and Ed