Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sailing to Georgetown

The settlement of Blackpoint, the largest in the central Exumas, was small, but the people were really nice. The laundromat, whose description in all of the cruising guides had driven us here was not a disappointment. It was just like any laundromat state side, about twenty machines maybe more. Marie was in laundry least I'd like to think so.
Regatta Point at Blackpoint.
Most of the towns or settlements that we visit are not laid out as we are used to seeing back in the states, with a town center. Instead, there is merely a stretch road that is more densely developed. The common denominators are a government dock with a shed, a single road that follows the shoreline (always called "Queens Highway"), and randomly placed 1 or 2 story buildings that are either residences, stores, or restaurants, the only distinction between the three being a sign.
Mirador at anchor at Blackpoint.

We were aware of some gusty winds approaching from the north so I anchored a 7 foot draft in 6 feet of water. The bottom was so soft that my keel actually digs a little nest on the bottom, and the boat doesn't move much. Now, I can only do this when there are no large waves in the forecast. The bay is well protected from anything but a west wind. On "Thanksgiving" we were not able to leave the boat, it was so rough. On days like that I keep myself busy monitoring our position, and the anchors as we swing around with the wind, ever vigilant, there is always something that keeps me on edge.
I have come to the conclusion that our anchor line is too small, although it's correctly sized according to the charts that get published. Everything works great in fair weather, but when the wind and the waves pick up, and they're both working together, lifting the boat and lunging it back, over and over, it's only a matter of time before the line just parts. Now I have found a substantial difference between the generic rope and brand name stuff like "New England". All of the failures that we have had were with the generic line, and it does feel softer to the touch, not as dense as the brand name material of the same diameter, but being that all of the lines are of the same size, I'm just not comfortable knowing there is very little margin of safety left...I'm going one size up, and sleeping a little better.
Okay, back to our story. So, on the third day the wind died down, we went over to Loraine's restaurant and celebrated a belated "Thanksgiving". We had a very non-traditional thanksgiving dinner, "cracked conch". Let me explain something about what "going to a restaurant" entails out here in paradise. We all walk over to the house with the restaurant sign outside, and open the door, stick our head in and call out, "hello hello", and wait. If no response, we walk around the outside of the building looking for someone who looks the part of a restaurant owner. Oh, they're usually close by, in Lorraine's case she was in the backyard sitting with her grandchild. "Are you open?", this question is really meant to see if she is in the disposition to cook for us. If the response is "yes", we all walk back together to pick a table. The menus are always simply printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, one sheet. Judging from the prices and the items on the menu, I think that there must be an "Exumas restaurant convention", where they draw up a menu and set the prices, they all agree to follow this with as little deviation as possible. At Lorraine's, she had me going over to the bar to help myself on the "honor system". Our meal was good, if a bit simple.
It was time to move on to our next destination. The next morning, as we were heading out, the cruising couple we had met at Staniel Cay warned us of bad weather approaching from the west. Find a safe place to be in 2 days they advised. Well heck, our weather reports didn't indicate that?? What are they talking about? What if they're right? I remember some of the older weather reports stating this, but that all changed. Marie and I went back and forth a little, and concluded "better to be safe and just heed the warning". Our cage is still rattled from a couple of weeks ago. We decided to visit "Little Farmer Cay" as it was well protected and a short days sail from where we were.
Eva with Jr., a wood carver on Little Farmer Cay.

Little Farmer Cay is celebrated in all of the cruising guides as a traditional Bahamian village, very friendly with a population of 55 souls. It was a challenge to get to Little Farmer from the Exuma banks, all of the ways in are very shallow. We left a little stripe in the sand with our keel as we approached. These friendly souls on Little Farmer Cay have placed mooring balls in just about any place that you can anchor a boat. I found a marginally suitable spot (maybe not) and dropped my anchor, in between mooring balls.
Sunset at Little Farmer Cay.

With a little daylight left we took the dinghy to the town dock to look for a place to eat. As we walked about the small settlement, we came across the reverend, it was a she, and she led us to the church. It turns out they were fund raising and had a buffet going. We finally had turkey, ham, mac and cheese, rice and peas, a proper Thanksgiving dinner. All in the friendliest atmosphere one could ever wish for. From there we walked over to Ocean Cabin, a local bar and restaurant. As usual, we were the only customers there, and all we really wanted was internet access, but courtesy dictated that we order something, and the only thing we could think of was beer. The owner is an excellent conversationist / philosopher, and so we philosophized. Why is it that whenever I mention to someone that I'm Cuban, they want to talk about Castro? This happens so much that I knew it was coming. I am conditioned to that question "where are you from?" like Pavlov's dogs. Terry, Ocean Cabin's owner, was no different in this regard, once he knew that I was Cuban he wanted to talk about Castro. Terry was however a great diplomat about it, very balanced in his comments. He stopped midway and asked "we can talk about this, can't we?". I dare say he is the unofficial ambassador of Little Farmer Cay. If a visit to Little Farmer Cay does not include a stop at Ocean Cabin, well then you missed the boat, pardon the pun. Oh there are better locations on the island, but Terry is the glue that makes Little Farmer.
We putted around the island the next day, meeting people. We went back to the boat for lunch and the local fisherman " Aden" came by and asked if I was tied to the mooring closest to me. I responded that I was not. He then said "that mooring belongs to Farmer Cay Yacht Club. Have a nice day". Well that left me thinking...I don't want to be a bad guest. I guess I should go over to the yacht club and offer to take the mooring being as I'm too close to it for any other boat to use it, although I am the only boat out here. So, I got in my dink and went over to the yacht club. The owner was there, alone, painting the building. I mentioned that I was the boat boat close to his mooring. I mentioned that I was willing to take the mooring, and before I finished he asked "you gonna pay for 3 days?". Well, I guess he had me were he wanted, I said "okay I'll pay for 3 days." This guy was so ready to argue that he just couldn't let it go at that. He had to chastise me for another 15 minutes, to the point where I was on the brink of putting a stop to it. I went back to the boat and picked up Marie and the kids. If I'm going to pay for 3 days I'm going to use the club and its internet. As I made my way back to the club I thought to myself "if that guy says one more word about the mooring??? he's not going to like me. This time for a good reason. But, I guess that he had gotten all his anger out, and was in a better disposition by the time we had returned.
At the club, we all connected to the internet and ordered drinks. I mentioned to the owner that I had ordered some conch from Aden, the local fisherman. He said he needed to pick up some fish and lobster from him, and would be glad to pick up the conch for me, I could pay him later. Nice guy right? So, off this guy goes to fetch his order and mine. Island Girl, a charter boat that we had met at Staniel Cay pulled in to the club dock, a pleasant surprise. It was nice to have company, especially acquaintances. Captain Mark is an ex-patriot that now lives on the island of Eluthera. It wasn't long before the owner returned to the club. He regretfully informed me that Aden had not filled my order for conch, maybe tomorrow, but that he could accommodate us for dinner. Do you have any conch? "Oh yeah, fresh..." Okay we'll stay for dinner. Am I a cynic or do you get a funny feeling about this too?
Early the next morning, at slack tide, we released the mooring, and made our way out of the cut between islands into Exuma Sound. We were off to George Town, 36 miles south. It was so mild that we had to motor-sail. It's either feast or famine. We managed to make 4 knots most of the time. The kids were just loving it. As we approached Great Exuma Cay, Marie ferreted the cruising guides. With about 8 miles left to go, Marie suggests "Why don't we pull into this marina?", as she pointed to her guide book. I played it off like it didn't matter to me, what ever she wanted was fine, but that wasn't true. It is nice to mix things up, keeping a balance between adventure and comfort. Emerald Bay Marina, we'll give them call, and ask if they have room and what their rates are. The call came back positive, so I turned the boat toward shore. There was a large yacht gaining on us from behind, that I had been watching for a while now. To my surprise it was Dreamer, the yacht that we had met over at Highbourne Cay, and they were also pulling into Emerald Bay Marina. What a pleasant surprise for the kids, they loved the crew on Dreamer. I enjoyed letting them know.
Our intent was to stay a couple of days at Emerald Bay Marina, then mosey on over to George Town and inquire about a mooring that would be safe while we went home for Christmas. The marina was really nice though, free laundry, free showers, brand new floating docks, free coffee, and a luxurious clubhouse with a huge TV, and pool table. Can I say enough? Going over their rate sheet, Marie noticed an offer for a 30 day minimum stay that would be comparable to the cost of a mooring, he-he don't knock the small print. Well this is not rocket science. The marina would be more secure than any mooring, done deal. We would stay at the Emerald Bay Marina through the holidays.
Eva and Hadrian playing at "Poor Betty" beach.

Eva and Hadrian at the dock with the clubhouse in the background.

Lunch at Big D's.

A Christmas party at George Town.

That little dot on top of the mast is Marie.

Here's a closer look at my boatswain.

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