Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the Northern Exumas

I met Capt. Red at Nassau Harbor Marina, and told him of our trip and our next planned stop. The Captain runs a diving charter operation based out of Nassau, and he travels to the Exumas on a weekly schedule. He offered some tips on crossing the “Yellow Bank”, a moderately shallow body of water, about 20 feet deep, that lies between Nassau and the Exumas. If there is anything that I have learned through all this is to listen, and it’s only been 30 days. The Yellow Bank is littered with coral heads that are just under the waters’ surface. The prudent mariner will cross it only with plenty of daylight. The captain gave me the waypoints that he uses to cross the bank, and told me if these are followed you will have no problem. It was the captain that insisted that my first stop be Allen’s Cay to see the iguanas, he was sincerely excited about the trip and the kid’s adventures.

The crossing of the Yellow Bank went well, just a little rough, not too bad. Eva's mood is directly proportionate to the height of the waves. It seems that the higher the wave the shorter her temper.
Arriving at Allen's Cay in the Exumas.

We anchored about 50 feet away from Allen’s Cay in 20 feet of water. We inflated the dinghy and went to see the iguanas. The waters around these islands are just spectacular, as clear as a pool. As soon as we beached the dinghy the iguanas started popping out of everywhere.
The iguanas at Allen's Cays.
Hadrian and Eva Snorkeling around at Allen's Cay
We spent the next day exploring all the little islands. At one point we decided to take the dinghy to a reef and snorkel. Hadrian and I took our pole spears in hopes of catching dinner. The reef was just beautiful, and to my surprise there were grouper everywhere. I just had to choose which one I would invite to dinner. With a handsome fellow selected, I started towards him. He ran a little bit, but would stop and hide behind these ridiculously small rocks. He was really counting on my having bad vision, I almost felt bad for the guy. I took a deep breath, and dove towards him. He covered his head in the rock so I took a butt shot. I got him just behind the head, but he was able to lodge himself under the rock. I had to come up for air. I let the spear go, and came up. Just then a 6 foot black tip shark came aggressively at us. He bumped Eva and Marie, making it clear he was claiming the area before zeroing in on my fish. He was moving fast and menacing so we decided he was right, it was his fish. Eva was really upset. We had to calm her down and tell her to move towards the boat in an orderly manner, not splashing like a wounded fish. Hadrian took the other extreme and stayed behind just looking at the shark. I had to call him over. We all scrambled back on the dinghy and headed back to the boat to get our shark repellent. A state-of-the-art electronic apparatus that was advertised to emit a pulse that sharks could not stand. Now what they failed to mention was that the electronic pulse would be as hard on me as the intended shark. I have concluded that this shark repellent is merely a repackaged electronic patch muscle massager, the kind that physical therapists use. When I got back to the site to recover my spear, the shark was still circling. I strapped on the shark repellent, turned it on and my butt cheeks began trembling. It took me a minute to figure out what was happening. The shark figured it out a little quicker and was outta there. Keeping things in perspective I do prefer butt spasms to a shark bite.

All was well in paradise, but the next morning, about 5 am, Marie wakes me and asks that I take a look outside. Marie does not relax at anchor, she just does not trust the whole concept of throwing a big chunk of metal over the side with a line tied to it to hold the boat in place. Now, I’m not a morning person, nothing brilliant ever comes from me in the early hours of the day. Yeah, you can keep your worm, never did have a taste for them. I reluctantly got up and looked outside. “It’s fine!” I shouted and went back to bed. A few minutes later Marie wakes me again. “Please, please, take another look,” she begged. “I just looked!” “Oh please take another look,” she insisted. Having shook off some of the cob webs I went out to the cockpit for another look. To my horror we were moving fast and about 20 feet from a jagged wall of rocks that was ready to make match sticks out of the Mirador. After a millisecond that lasted longer than I could hold my breath, I sprang for the engine. I turned the key only to hear the starter solenoid rattle because we had used up the battery running the fans all night. “Change batteries, change batteries!” I shouted to Marie. As she did, the motor came to life. I put the beast into gear and backed away from the jagged wall with only 5 feet to spare. As we moved it dawned on me that we did not drag our anchor, we simply did not have an anchor! I motored the boat a half mile north to where we had been anchored. I dropped my second anchor and began trying to understand what had just transpired, digesting how close we had come to losing everything. Hadrian and I dove on the lost anchor and recovered it. Upon closer examination we realized that the edges of our anchor roller were razor sharp, and actually cutting our rope.

The next morning we awoke happily, ready to pick up anchor and head to Wardrick Wells, the national park. The wind was blowing hard so we had to use the engine to take the weight off the anchors while we attempted to recover them. Marie and Hadrian just didn’t have strength to lift anchors. So, in one of my moments of early morning brilliance, I left the engine in gear and ran up to assist them. I only succeeded in getting the anchor rope caught in the propeller. A column of black smoke came from the engine room as we fell back on the second anchor. Darn we lost an anchor, again! Well now we would have to dive and recover the lost anchor and clear the propeller. It was prudent that we had had a second anchor down or we would have been in big trouble, without an anchor or engine. Only one anchor left, I decided to place some chafing gear over the line before we went any further. I had salvaged some discarded fire hose that I could slip over the rope to protect it. Armed with a 3 foot piece of old fire hose, I knelt down at front of the boat and prepared to try to slip the section of hose onto the remaining anchor rope. I waited for the anchor line to get a little slack, and I made my move. I quickly removed the line from the cleat and slipped the waiting hose on before the pull from the waves came again. As the hose slipped into place, I got the line back on the cleat just as the next wave came, it pulled back hard on the line. I could see it stretch to its limits, water misted out, and then pop! The chafing sleeve went one way and the anchor line went the other. I sat there for a second, in total disbelief, no anchor, no engine, and rocks all around us! I ran back to the cockpit screaming a Marie, “We have to open the sails”! We managed to hastily open the genoa, and began to make for clear water. With a little newly found time to think, Marie and I went over our position. What do we do now? As I studied the charts I realized that we had to clear a reef that was still between us and safety, but the wind was not in our favor. Although the maneuver was doable we as a crew were too green and rattled to insist on continuing when there was yet another, less heroic option. We had bought some time, for now, so I went up, set up another anchor, and dropped it. This was my third, and last anchor. I had little confidence left in my anchor rope, I had no choice, but to trust it one more time, just a little longer. I called Highbourne Cay Marina and explained our situation, minus the drama, and requested a tow, and a slip at their marina. They came back on the radio, “we can be there to help you in 20 minutes.” As happy as I was to have hope so far from away from anywhere, I think that held my breath for the next 20 minutes. My saviors were very timely, bout 20 minutes as promised. However, once we had the tow line hooked up they sped off with me in tow. We were going over 7 knots, a speed I had yet to achieve under my own propulsion. You would think that they came to get me during the intermission of a football game, and wanted to get back before it started again!
The docks at Highbourne Cay Marina.
Sharks feeding around the fish cleaning station at Highbourne Cay.
Highbourne Cay Marina was really nice, the lap of luxury. They had a little grocery store, a restaurant and bar. Bicycles were available for free, and we made good use of them. Yeah things had changed for the better…for now. We made friends with the crew of a mega yacht that was there along with us. After hearing about all our recent hardship, they were so nice as to offer to take me to recover my anchors, and we did. I had quite a mental imprint of where the anchors had been lost so we found them almost immediately.
The yacht "Dreamer"
 Now remember that we had lost the anchors in 20 feet of water, and they weight 45 pounds each plus they have 75 feet of chain attached. Add to all these numbers the fact that I just turned 51, and you can put a measure on the challenge that lay before me. I was able to dive and recover the first anchor, but the sequel was just too much for me. As I dove on the second anchor, I was down about half way, when I realize this might just be a one way trip. I came back to the surface. My friend Russ, was worried about me as I huffed and puffed. It must really look worse than it is because he is not the first to show concern. Let me state that my lack of grace or aesthetics, if you will, does not reflect how I feel. In any case Russ replaced me in the water and was able to recover the second anchor. The joint effort really took the bite off of the situation for my family and myself. Thank you Russ.
This poor fellow has been waiting for the bus for a while now.
The crew of Mirador adding to the memorabilia at Highbourne Cay Marina.

If you are ever at Highbourne Cay, look for our sign.

This is a good picture of 2 lobsters and a not so good picture of me...I swear I'm not that big!

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