The last installment covered most of our stay in Warderick Wells Cay and the Exuma Land and Sea Park. As you will soon learn, we left the Park on January 23 and things took an unexpected turn. Since then we have only advanced about 10 miles further and have been relaxing at Compass Cay Marina since then.
What happened to slow our relentless voyage south along the Exumas to the fabled George Town on Great Exuma Island? Find our the “gory” details below!
Things Get Hairy (Sat-Mon, Jan 19-21)
Saturday - The first chore, was Brian’s beard trim in the cockpit. Sue did an excellent job, but now Sogno had a “hairy” coat on the transom to go with the salt and sand that could be found everywhere. Even the dinghy did not escape the downwind hair “spray.” The rest of the day was spent reading, relaxing, and prepping Sogno and our mooring lines for the strong cold front expected on Sunday. The highlight of the day was the “Saturday Happy Hour” on the Beach. Cruisers supplied the snacks and drinks, the Park supplied the ice and bonfire. Over 20 boats arrived and we had a great time making new friends on the beach and learning more about all the great places to go in the Exumas.
Sunday - Today we went ashore to get maximum Wifi strength in order to make some phone calls over the internet (Skype service is what we use.) Things worked ok, but the reliability is still somewhat suspect – at least on our old laptop. We returned to Sogno to wait for the first sign of the cold front, and it obliged promptly at 4:11 pm when all the gray clouds finally delivered a blast of wind from the North, which quickly built to 25 knots, with some occasional rain squalls. From then- turn on we turn on relaxing music, do some reading, and generally get used to the sound of the wind in the rigging. After dinner, for “fun”, we decided to watch our “Perfect Storm” DVD, which did indeed mask the sound of the outside wind, and did remind us that our weather was far from anything serious -- so far!
Monday - We had a reasonably restful night with no excitement in the anchorage. All the boats were tied to moorings but wind, current, and/or rain can still “kick” things up a bit. On the positive side, the rain washed away most of the salt and hair, and some of the sand! The wind was more in the 15-20 knot range for most of the morning. This gave Sue a chance to inventory the ship’s stores and for me catch up on “Buds at Sea”. Hopefully this installment will get posted today or tomorrow.
We Avoid the Rush South (Tues, Jan 22)
We woke to find the winds less than 15 knots. At the morning roll call, it seemed that 90% of the boats were departing to continue south, now that the post-frontal winds were dying. We were also planning to go until Brian declared the batteries weak and in need of a long “equalizer” charge to restore them to full capacity. We spent most of the morning using the engine to charge the battery, but it was apparent that we really needed some shore power to get the job really done in a reasonable time.
In the afternoon Brian went ashore to get a good Wifi signal – updating the blog and adding more pictures. Normally the Park Headquarters is a very busy spot, but today it was eerily quiet. Tomorrow we head for Compass Cay.
Too Many Navigation Aids? (Wed, Jan 23)
We were underway by 0900 with light winds from the SE, and motored the 15 miles to Compass Cay. We were looking forward to staying at the marina where we could get some badly needed water (at $0.50 per gallon) and shore power for the battery charge. This island was full of hiking trails, beaches, snorkeling sites, and had been highly recommended by Lucky Girl (John and Maryann) during our last stay in Nassau.
The approach to Compass Cay Marina was unusual, in that there were many charted private navigation marks that identified the channel. Brian was so anxious to do some eyeball navigation, that he managed to confuse two of them, and we soon were soon heading into clearly shoal waters. At that point it became clear we were cutting across a sand bar, and we quickly turned around and got back in the channel. The rest of the marks were easy to spot and we only had to sort out where the deep water was at the entrance to the marina before we tied up around noon.
We were greeted by the marina office person Karin and marina owner Tucker Rolle. They soon set us up with shore power and a map of the island trails.
The real surprise was that Gypsy Soul (Tom and Susan), a Gozzard we had seen in Vero Beach, was tied up across from us. We learned from Susan that she had been there for about a week and a half, while Tom was back in NC, earning some money for the cruising kitty. He would be flying back on Friday.
Sue headed for the laundry to do some sheets ($16 for wash and dry – yikes!!) while Brian hovered over the batteries during the successful equalizer charge for the better part of the afternoon. After that, we escaped the evening “no-see-ums” over at Gypsy Soul for “potluck” wine and appetizers. Susan volunteered to take us to some nearby snorkeling spots the next day. Life was good!
Getting Our Bearings in Compass Cay (Thurs-Fri, Jan 24-25)
Thursday - This morning we walked around the south end of the island to the large Crescent Beach on the Exuma Sound side. We explored the ruins of “Hesta’s House” perched high on a point at the end of the beach. We also saw 3 rental cottages in various stages of construction plus the “Low Tide Airport”, a tidal flat that could accommodate small aircraft at one time. By the time we returned to the marina, we joined some other boaters for a well deserved lunchtime Kahlik (the Bahamian local beer). We shortly later spied the crew of Solange IV approaching the dock in their dinghy. They had come to “swim with the sharks.” The marina is known for the tame nurse sharks who hang around with many other fish to feast around the fish cleaning station. Although it’s not recommended to feed the sharks with swimmers in the water, the sharks will come around to see what’s up, and you can pet them, and swim with them with complete safety (so far!). Kevin, James, and Caleb seemed to really like it, and there was some nearby coral heads to also check out as well (We have decided to watch only.)
The afternoon was dedicated to snorkeling, taking two dinghies. Susan (Gypsy Soul) led us north, across to Rocky Dundas, a rocky island just inside the southern end of the Exuma Park. We tied our dinghies to some park mooring balls, and plunged in toward a small cave to see the coral and fish. The cave was open to the sky so there was plenty of light to see and there was even some ledge to stand on. Although it was very calm, we did notice the surge was pretty strong as you got to the shallow end of the cave.
Our next stop was Fowl Cay (aka Chicken Cay) which was a bit south. Since it was outside the Park, after we anchored our dinghys, Susan got out her spear to see what she could catch. Sue and I were happy to just take in the colorful fish snorkeling on the surface. Brian finally got up the courage to take some pictures using the new underwater camera case. No leaks!! Next time he promises to get the camera settings right so all the pictures won’t be so blue. Sue promises to use her fins next time, which should make it much easier for her to climb back into the inflatable.
Susan didn’t spear us dinner, but we still want to thank her profusely for guiding a couple of snorkel novices.
After we got back, we “bought” our first metered water by the gallon. The water pressure was very low, so it took two hours and for Brian to slowly top off our two tanks and two gerry jugs on deck with 86 gallons. The worst part was he missed the better part of the daily dockside happy hour.
Friday - We slept great on fresh sheets – no salt, sand, or damp air! (Small pleasures are not to be taken for granted in the Bahamas.) After breakfast, we toured more of the Cay, zchecking the mangrove creek and beach. We later greeted Tom (Gypsy Soul) who had returned from his “work break” back in the US. After lunch, we walked across the tidal flats to the south (formerly a “lowtide airport”), decided NOT to do the south cliff walk and elected instead to get to the south end beaches via the low tide flats.” We were fascinated by all the snails and their tracks in the sand as they moved between tides to new rocks to “anchor” to. We got back for happy hour and had a nice talk with Keltic Kat (Pat and Tootie) about our Nova Scotia trip in 2005. They were from Halifax and we found out that our cruises up to Cape Breton had much in common.
Dock Lines, Pilings and Fingers: Not a Pretty Picture (Sat, Jan 26)
Today was NOT a good day. We were planning to leave around 10:00 for Staniel Cay where we could get a mooring or anchor out, in preparation for the cold front due to arrive on Sunday. After checking out at the office, Brian volunteered to help handle the lines for Keltic Kat who was also leaving.
While walking the boat to the end of the dock, he accidentally got his right middle finger between the cleated dockline and a dock piling while Keltic Kat was still moving. It could have been much worse, but a good piece of skin on the end of the finger was removed under the dock line pressure. Sue helped clean and dress the wound, and simple compression stopped the bleeding. Gypsy Soul contributed some pain meds, and Karin of the marina tried to locate some medical help on the cell phone, VHF, and failing that, to arrange a flight to Nassau, where the nearest hospital was located.
Luck was with us, as a local airplane pilot heard about the incident, was already planning to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and agreed to fly us from nearby Sampson Cay and drop us off in Nassau. Tucker, owner of the marina, took us in his boat to the airstrip and by 2:00 we were in the air, 2:45 we were in a taxi at the Nassau airport, and by around 3:00 we were checking in to the Doctors Hospital ER (VISA card accepted, thank you). After that it was mostly waiting: first the nurse (tetanus shot), then the ER doc (order x-rays), and finally the hand/plastic surgeon who arrived at 6pm (ironically he had been working on his boat’s electrical system all day!). Dr. Neil was pretty cool, having seen many boat “crush” injuries and he quickly presented the options, numbed the hand, cleaned up the area and did a few sutures. By 8:00 we were out of the ER, with plenty of meds, dressing supplies and lots of instructions on how to care for the finger for the next SIX weeks!! But the best part was that the prognosis was good for getting a healed finger with nerve growth and sensitivity to return over the coming months. As they say in the VISA ads: “priceless!”
Nassau: third time the charm? (Sun-Mon, Jan 27-28)
We stayed in the downtown Nassau Quality Inn (recommended by the taxi driver as good budget choice) Saturday and Sunday nights, mostly taking it easy and getting used to the idea that Brian was going to be pretty limited with his middle finger bound up in gauze and taped to a splint. Sue also got some well deserved rest from galley duties as we sampled some nearby restaurants and had some inexpensive breakfasts at the hotel.
On Monday morning, we loaded up on some more supplies at the local pharmacy, went to the mall, and bought a cheap GSM cell phone for the Bahamas. That afternoon we caught a Flamingo Airlines “5 seater” back to Staniel Cay, with stops at Farmers Cay and Grand Guana Cay (Black Point settlement). Luck was again with us. Sitting next to Brian was Dennis. He was also going to Compass Cay, and was getting picked up at Staniel. We ended up joining him with a free ride on Li’l Da Cheze back to the marina, from Lee, the owner of a sports fisherman boat (Da Cheze) at the marina and Glenn, his captain. Everyone was back in time for happy hour!
Hanging Out in Compass Cay (Tues-Mon, Jan 29-Feb 11)
As we got used to the idea that “Captain Brian” was on the “sick list”, it occurred to us that Compass Cay was a pretty good spot. First of all it was well sheltered, it had a friendly staff, a continuous stream of visiting boats, and dinghys arriving every day to tie up or “swim with the sharks.”
Here’s a sampling of how we’ve spent our time for the past two weeks :
Green Flash Happy Hours - The main occupation is to get ready to see the “green flash” at sunset. So far we’ve had a few flashes, but we’re told they could be much greener, so we keep looking.
Beachcombing - Sue had collected a number of shells and made a sand dollar pendant for herself. We’re still looking for one of the elusive “hamburger beans” that wash up on the beach occasionally. There are other “sea beans” that drift over from Africa, the most common of which is the coconut.
Fishing - No fishing in the marina -- the fish and sharks that hang around the dock looking for scraps from the fish cleaning station, are really pets. The friendly nurse sharks actually nestle together ON the fish cleaning dock when the high tide comes over the dock planking. However –-- though we haven’t gotten our fishing act together yet, the Compass Cay staff and regulars on the island really know their stuff. Even nicer is that every so often we get an extra fish and Sue cooks up a great meal. We’ve had triggerfish and strawberry grouper so far (Thanks Dennis and Marino) and when the fish is only a few hours out of the water, it’s amazing how tasty it is!
Dinghy Exploration - We’ve gone up Bone Creek, until the mangrove swamps closed in on us and it got too shallow. We had a bit of a struggle to get turned around and out! We’ve also gone outside to the north end of the island and walked up a creek to “Rachel’s Bubble Bath.” It’s a pool that gets filled with waves breaking over a rocky wall that separates it from Exuma Sound. At high tide it can get very “frothy” from the waves. We joined a group that went up there at mid-tide and enjoyed the setting and the pool.
Hermit Crabs - Compass Cay used to have hermit crab races, with the shells painted up as NASCAR racers. Now they have a hermit crab shell “exchange station” where cruisers leave painted shell that hermit crabs can move into. When we were out hiking we ran across “RON”, a hermit crab with a brightly painted blue shell, way over on the Crescent Beach side. Since we’ve been here, Gadabaut (Dennis, Gail, and dog Decker) left white shells with their names on them, and so far only Decker’s shell has been exchanged.
Other Boaters - Gypsy Soul and Keltic Kat were very anxious to find out how Brian's finger was doing. Keltic Kat came back via dinghy for a visit, and we assured Pat and Tootie that they were not at fault at all, and Brian just lost track of where his fingers were during the undocking maneuver. Rumors managed to get to Solange, who thought Brian had lost his finger, but we were able to assure them that it wasn’t that serious. Of course everyone had a story to tell about an old finger injury while boating, fishing, working, etc. Almost all were upbeat, with a happy ending! I think cruisers all know that there is always the risk of an injury, no matter how cautious you think you are, and can really relate to a cruise interrupted by even a relatively mild injury.
Provisioning – When we returned from Nassau, Gail (from trawler Gadabaut) volunteered to do some grocery shopping at Staniel Cay. Sue was able to return the favor, when she got a ride to Staniel and Sampson Cays to get groceries and some gasoline a week later. The prices are high, the selection is limited, but it is amazing the things you take for granted and quickly miss when you run out.
Laundry - If you think water is expensive, the local laundry facilities here are on another level ($8 for a wash load, $8 for a dryer load). Needless to say there’s not much of a wait, since most boaters wait until Black Point settlement. Sue was finally forced to break down and deal with both dirty clothes, and the sheets which always seem to very quickly become damp and uncomfortable.
DVDs – By now you’ve figured out we are big X-Files fans, and we have been making steady progress, and are now in the middle of Season 5, with 4 seasons more to go. We also saw the last of the 4 DVDs we bought in Charleston. “King of Scotland” was a bit heavy; given it was a dramatic glimpse at the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, but it gives one pause about how dictators are tolerated so easily in the world, as long as they don’t impact your world.
Super Bowl – No one with satellite TV was around, so there was no Compass Cay Superbowl Party. We managed to pick up some audio from the BBC, but were only able to find out the Pat’s fate, via the internet that night.
Sogno Projects - Given all the time available, we’ve been able to catch up on some marlinspike projects (whipping the frayed ends of many lines), improving the seal on our refrigerator/freezer door, some canvas work, and polishing the chrome and stainless on deck.
Reading - Besides the usual boating books, cruising guides, and equipment manuals, we’ve actually been reading real books! I particularly liked a novel “Saturday” (thanks Bob for lending it to me over a year ago!) and “Team of Rivals”, an examination of Lincoln’s political skills in becoming president and building a strong cabinet despite many personality clashes. Sue has been reading a biography of the famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead.
“The finger” continues to heal rapidly, but after two weeks, it looks like another week before we can get going. From here we will go 2 or 3 more stops until we go outside to Exuma Sound and begin the final legs to George Town, Great Exuma Island. We’re interested to see this cruising mecca where up to 400 boats gather at the peak of the season. Happy Valentines Day to all!
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Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea