Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Movin' On...But Not Too Far

Hi everybody -bear with us - this is a longer blog than normal since we haven't had internet connection in over a week!!!

We are in the middle of two weather systems that are making life very unpredictable - one is a low pressure system and the other is a surface trough (yes I actually know what those are now - weather is something you take really seriously when you live on a boat since you are so at the mercy of Mother Nature!) - together they spell incredibly unsettled weather and neither seems to want to move. So for now, we're just dealing with what Mother Nature is dishing out and making the best of it - where it looks like we have several hours without showers, we make hay and hop in Hobos (our dinghy or as Norm and Vicki on Tide Hiker call it, the family car) and go exploring or we go for a hike or to the beach - until the rain comes again and we head back to the mother ship for time with the boat kitties. Puss and Boots have especially liked this past week!!

Our last couple nights at Warderick Wells were a ball - we had dinner on September Song with Mike and Harriet who are on Dual Dreams, are friends of Life's2Short and who we all met at the cruisers beach party. We only had the one night to get to know them but we laughed lots and told tons of great cruisers stories (lots of them about Todd who wasn't there to defend himself....) over a wonderful meal (thanks Stephanie!), wine and rumballs!! Hopefully we see them on the waters again somewhere!! It would be fun to have Harriet, Brenda and I drinking beers together - I don't say this lightly, but I think I'd come in third in that contest!!!
Sunset at Warderick Wells

After a short afternoon on Lucky Spot Beach (cut short by impending rain) and a beautiful sunset, the next morning we decided it was time to change the scenery.
Lucky Spot Beach
We thought we had a nice little weather window (obviously that didn't work out the way we thought...) and we headed out of the North mooring field with friends in tow - four of the Park's bannaquits seemed to want a lift - at least out to the head of the mooring field where they left us.

They were so cute - and very unafraid of us - luckily I quickly closed our hatch so they couldn't get below - that would have been an unwelcome surprise to both them and the boat kitties!!

As soon as we pulled into Hawksbill and got settled it was off to the beach and the hiking trails!!! Hobos joined Half Note (September Song's dinghy) on the beach and off we went.
Hobos and Half Note at Hawksbill
Hawksbill is still part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park so the trails were marked with little pieces of colored fishing rope and buoys hanging from the trees - very fun.

One trail went off to the north - we had unbelievable views back to the Banks at one of the hill crests and got some great photos of Gypsies and September Song!

The other side of the trail opened onto a beautiful beach on the Sound - rough and rocky and wild!!

The wildlife was also wild - geckos of various hues, lots of hermit crabs and birds calling out to us from the trees feeding on seven year apple (none of us has had the guts to try it yet and see if the myth is true - it tastes so bad that if you try it, you won't again for 7 years...why would you???)

We doubled back to take the southern trail over to another beach on the Sound - we suspected that was the trail September Song took since they had the dogs and it was supposedly a little easier.

It still had sections of marl and what we've come to call moon rock (really jagged black rocks with sink holes and spikey prongs that just have a way of jumping up and biting you!) so we weren't sure if they had turned back or not until we got to the beach on the other side and saw tons of excited paw prints up and down the beach (obviously Cassie exploring and Godiva chasing her ball!!!) The southern beach was gorgeous - one of the longest we have seen here in the Exumas and not nearly as rocky as the other beaches on the Sound that we have seen, although the waves were pounding so swimming would have been a challenge. We added our footprints in the sand and then headed back to the beach on the Banks for some serious relaxation and a cold beer!! For some reason beer just tastes better down here on a beautiful sandy beach - especially after a long hot hike!!!"

An afternoon limin' on the beach was just what the doctor ordered - the sand felt like silk and the water was turquoise and warm and luxurious - all in all a great day!! Especially given that the next day rained like something from biblical times - at any minute I expected to see an ark float by!! We have not had this kind of rain since we've been in the Bahamas - in fact for the first 6-7 weeks over here we didn't see a drop of rain!! It's making up for it now - but we all hunkered down and had a great day cooking, reading and watching movies!! Luckily the rain stopped long enough for Bob and Stephanie to head over in Half Note for dinner on Gypsies that night.

The next day we decided to do some serious exploring in Half Note and Hobos...it was just great to get off the boat again!! We wound up finding the coolest sand bar on the planet - now I'm not just talking about a little sand bar that you can set a couple chairs on if you're lucky, I'm talking about a series of sand bars that stretched for miles with little pools of crystal clear water running between them. Snow white sand with a tinge of pink in places rolling out before us with water so clear and in multi shades of blue that you wanted to drink it or take the Nestea plunge in it or just stare at it as if mesmerized!! But it wasn't just us humans that were spellbound - we had found doggie heaven - at least Cassie and Godiva thought so!! Cassie immediately was off fishing and actually found a big one in the nearest tidal pool and Godiva was gladly romping after her ball!! As I stood there in awe just trying to take in such beauty, I told Doug that no matter how the 50 million pictures I took came out (I tend to take a lot of pictures - thank god for digital or we'd be broke!), they could never even begin to do the place justice!!!

We walked the tidal pools for hours finding conch, starfish, sand dollars and even a stingray caught in a tidal pool (Cassie found that especially interesting!) - we were dying that there were so many empty conch shells that would have made an amazing horn (to make a horn you need a conch shell that doesn't have a hole in it which most usually do since that is how the local fisherman get the conch meat out) - but we were still in the Park which is a serious "no take zone." UGH - guess we'll have to find our conch horn shell once we leave the Park!! We never did find out what made those sand piles on the beach despite Bob's relentless digging down to find the creature that lived below...although it may have been those sea slugs we saw (actually they were five toothed sea cucumbers (I looked it up when we got back to the boat) - truly yucky looking things!) We walked the sand bars all the way up to where they met the Sound - there we found this little rocky island (at high tide) with a tree on it!!

It seemed so out of place among the virtual sand desert on the Banks side but I guess that's what makes this place so interesting - the scenery is constantly changing!!! As we headed back, we realized we might be high and dry given that the tide had gone out even further when we were exploring - what was there to do but crack open a beer and hang out for a little while? We checked out more tidal pools and the mangroves whose roots were growing in patterns like something from the Da Vinci Code!!

Soon enough we decided to brave it and with Bob leading (he has a depth sounder on his dinghy!!!), we were able to weave our way out and made it back to the boats before another passing rain shower.

Click here to see our location in Hawksbill Cay

The following day we weighed anchor again and steamed all of four miles to Shroud Cay (still part of the Park although at the northernmost tip - can you tell we really don't want to head north so we're taking our time!!) - after sitting out some biblical rain (my poor herb garden got caught out in the deluge so we'll see if it can recover), we headed out in Hobos to explore. Yet again we found a cool sand bar, anchored the dinghy and went walking through the tidal pools to several beaches, rocky outcrops and even into the mangrove swamps!

We were joined by Half Note after the dogs had played on the beach for awhile and we were back in the dinghies for more exploring. We found this great cave carved out of the moon rock which lines the shore of Shroud Cay - it is amazing to see the jagged rocky coast and the effects of the wind and waves!

We used our "looky bucket" to scope out some cool coral heads and reefs just off the coast as well - it's a great way to see the marine life when you don't want to don snorkels!

We even got to see several white tailed tropical birds flying over the hills (on Warderick Wells the outer part of the island was closed because it is their nesting season) - very majestic birds.

It was several hours before high tide, but we decided to hit the cut that goes through the mangrove swamps from one side of Shroud to the other.

We hit it about mid-tide so on the way in we had several knots of current against us - made for an interesting dinghy ride since we also had some shallow water and at times couldn't have the whole engine in the water!! But the trip was well worth it - we snaked through the island on a water trail that switched back on itself with red and black mangroves lining the waterway.

After avoiding the numerous sand bars and mangrove roots sticking out into the water, we came to a little beach over on the Sound where after braving the cut and the associated ripping current we beached the dinghies. There is a sand bar that fronts the cut so the water whips around it and into the cut causing the amazing current!

We walked the length of the beach on the Sound - Bob even found an Easter egg on the beach that still had candy in it!! We hiked up a little hill to Camp Driftwood and were treated to amazing views of the waterways cutting through the island!!

Reluctantly we headed back to the dinghies for the return trip which seemed like it only took a minute since the current was with us the whole way - we could have just killed the engine and used a paddle to steer! Very, very kewl!!!

Click here to see the cut we dinghied through

That next morning we had planned to kayak through a different mangrove cut but the weather doesn't seem to be very cooperative - it was windy with lots of waves and some storm clouds on the horizon. No worries - we made a big Sunday breakfast and we are just hanging out waiting for the front to move through. Then we headed off again up to Norman's Cay (all of five miles this time) for an afternoon of internet access and cold Kaliks at McDuffs!! There are plenty of worse ways to spend an afternoon I'm thinking (and few that sound much better)!!

Click here to see our location at Shroud Cay

Well just as we were dropping our mooring lines to set out for Norman's Cay, it started to rain - great timing, NOT!! But no worries - we have radar and it was moving pretty fast so we figured what the heh. Actually we just wanted to get a jump on the really heavy stuff...which came down pretty much as soon as we got in - we're starting to get sick of this weather Mother Nature if you can hear us (or read I guess)!!! We just got the anchors down off McDuff's Beach Bar on Norman's Cay and the windows opened (part of our arrival ritual - that and popping a cold beer) when the skies really opened up and the thunder and lightning started to rumble and flash. Unfortunately we're anchored with a couple other power boats - where's a sailboat with a good tall mast when you need one (their mast is taller than us so is a good lightning rod...)?? But all was not lost (of course) - once the rain died a little, we headed in to McDuffs for lunch with September Song and Karen and Chuck from Turtle II (who we had last seen back in December in Stuart, FL at a party at their house when Di and Steve on Aurora were staying there!! (small world!!) and their friends Barbara and Dick aboard Patriot - to our surprise and pleasure, both boats where anchored at Normans when we pulled in!! It's a great part of this life to continually be bumping into friends along the way!

Usually you can get internet access at McDuffs so we had brought in our computers (in waterproof bags of course) and after a wonderful lunch catching up with Turtle II and Patriot, we tried to get access to post blogs and get email - but the weather gods or goddesses were conspiring against us. As we were told, sometimes the clouds wreak havoc on the internet down here in the islands..... So it was and we decided to bag it after about 15 minutes and wait for another day. You really just need to learn to go with the flow if you want to live this life, especially if you are out of the US!!! But then again, that's half the fun of it anyways!!!

Click here to see our location at Norman's Cay

So yesterday morning after hearing a pretty good weather forecast (although we have come to take them with a grain of salt - pretty much like in the US), we set out for Rose Island which is up around Nassau. The current rips into Nassau harbor pretty good so you really want to hit it at either high or low tide when the current is slack - that and the fact it was a 40 mile trip wouldn't have gotten us into Nassau until about 3:30 pm so we decided to anchor out off one of the close islands for the night and then head into Nassau this morning so we would have the whole day to get stuff done at the marina. We haven't been at a marina since the last time we were in Nassau over 7 weeks ago!!! Of course just as we started to head into our anchorage off Rose Island, the thunder and lightning started to rip through the skies all around us. Now I never used to think twice about thunderstorms (in fact I kind of used to like them) but on a boat, they send shivers up your spine - when you are in a boat made of fiberglass and steel you are fully exposed to the elements and usually are the tallest thing on the open water - can you say lightning rod!! With the lightning crackling all around us yesterday, there was one good bellowing rumble of thunder that nearly sent us jumping overboard (OK not really but it sure did make my neck hairs tingle - maybe that was the electricity in the air!) Anyways, we got our anchors down and secure and retreated from our open flybridge to the relative "safety" of our enclosed salon for lunch and movies where we got to watch two shows - one outside and one inside! Sitting inside all snug with the boat kitties, we passed another biblical storm in the comfort of Gypsies - makes you really appreciate this boat!!!!

Click here to see our location at Rose Island

Anyways we woke to a sunny morning for a change (although that doesn't mean too much since the weather can change in a heartbeat down here) - we will head into Nassau Harbor around 9:00 this morning. Today will be a busy day of taking on fuel and water, provisioning and doing last minute errands to get our boats ready for the next several weeks over here in the Bahamas and then the trip across the Gulf Stream back to the States!! I'm sure we'll have a little time to play though - maybe even for some fresh cracked conch down at Tall Boy's stand in Potter's Cay!!! What can I say - I'm addicted and who knows when I'll be able to get fresh conch again once we leave the Bahamas????

Click here to see our location at the Nassau Harbor Club.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hunkering Down in the Park

We are sitting on a mooring ball in the North mooring field at Warderick Wells Cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park waiting out some nasty weather that is supposed to be rolling in over the next several days - Tuesday definitely does not sound fun!!! (depending on what weather you listen to, the forecast is for up to 40 knots of wind!!!). Not to worry, there is plenty to do up here and we are having a ball (as usual).
North Mooring Field

Before we left Big Major Spot, we had one more dinner with September Song and Susan and Jack from Freya - this time on Gypsies. We had some of the mahi Doug had caught on our run down to Georgetown - fresh mahi just rocks!!! Hopefully once we are out of the Park and can fish again, Doug can fill back up our freezer. We had a great night with good friends, watched a beautiful sunset and topped the evening off with brownies (Bob brought the milk since all Gypsies has on board is the powdered kind - we drink rum, we cook with milk....any questions?)
Dinner on Gypsies - Susan, Stephanie and Bob
Sunset from Gypsies in the Palace

The next morning despite some heavy winds, we set out for a different anchorage - as much as we love hanging out and getting to know a certain place, after awhile that wanderlust kicks in and we need to move on to a change of scenery. We had some following seas which in a sailboat are great, but in a powerboat, not so much - miraculously the boat kitties slept right through it!!
The Seasoned Boat Cats

I think even Bootsie has gotten her sea legs!! As we headed to starboard to turn into the mooring field, the winds kicked up (of course) and the seas hit us on the beam - luckily that didn't last for long but it made mooring an interesting feat!! However, pulling into the mooring field we were greeted by two other DeFevers - Cygnet and Utopia. September Song had met Utopia down in Staniel and as I've mentioned before, wherever 2 or more DeFevers are gathered, it turns into a party!! That night we all gathered on September Song for cocktails and met Linda and Chet from Cygnet and Kel and Herb on Utopia. We swapped stories and itineraries and generally had a great time!!
Cocktails on September Song - Chet, Doug and BobCocktails on September Song - Kel, Herb and Chet

The next day we had more boat chores to do (they never end) but took the afternoon off to do some hiking on the many varied trails throughout Warderick Wells Cay. Doug and I hiked all afternoon and hit a lot of the trails we hadn't done on the first pass through the Park.
Tammy on the "Sunshine Causeway"
We saw a lot of wildlife this time through - various birds and butterflies, geckos and hermit crabs although we still didn't see the Bahamian boa constrictor (Doug said he was just fine with that!!)

One of the great things about hiking down here are the views at every turn since the terrain is so varied. One minute we are passing through a mangrove swamp with red, black and white mangroves (yes we can actually tell them apart now!!)
Red MangrovesBlack Mangroves
and the next you are on an uphill climb through scrub palms on a marl trail with sink holes and craggy moonscape rock

and before you opens up either the calm turquoise blue water of the Bahama Banks
Bahamas Bank
Bahamas Bank

or the raging, crashing Exuma Sound against sheer rock cliffs - both are spectacular in their own way and the contrast is spellbinding, especially from the summit of a hill where you can see both laid out before you!!
The Sound
The Sound
The Sound
A lot of the trails end at a beautiful Bahamian beach many of which are marked with cairns of one form or another - yesterday we hit Butterfly Beach on the Banks and Boo Boo Hill Beach on the Sound!!!
Butterfly Beach
You also tend to see some really funky trees that grow in very weird ways along the trail

which make hiking fascinating albeit dangerous - you so want to constantly look up at the scenery and the views, but the rocky marl trails require constant vigilance on the ground to avoid tripping or spraining an ankle!!

Our goal was to head out to the end of the island but we only got as far as the blowholes (it was high tide and the seas were raging so the blowholes were pretty active - very cool!) The rest of the island was closed however for the white tail tropical bird nesting season - bummer but this is a natural park so protecting the wildlife is what this place is all about. We did learn something important though - Murphy is the island poltergeist - on one of the trails we had found Murphy's hideaway and just thinking it was a cool rock cave, Doug had climbed down into it to check it out - little did he know he was in the poltergeist's lair!!! If he starts flying around or his head starts to spin, at least we'll know what happened!!
Doug in Murphy's Hideout

The other night all the cruisers in the North mooring field had a cocktail party on the beach (in front of the sperm whale skeleton - no you just can't make this up). It is really fun talking to other cruisers - everyone has a story of how they came to live this life and where they've been traveling - and cruisers are generally a very unbashful group, eager to swap stories especially if there are cocktails and appetizers involved (and an appetizer is virtually anything you can stick a toothpick in!) We met a great guy from New Zealand and some others from Canada and Herb it turns out is from Austria (as well as several other European countries) - it was quite an international mix! But we all had one thing in common - the love of the sea and that certain kind of wanderlust!

Yesterday morning after a big breakfast (Sunday mornings if we aren't traveling we try and do a real breakfast!), we caught up on the blog and emails - there is a great internet connection in this anchorage because we are sitting right outside the Park headquarters so we are taking full advantage of it! From here on out, internet will be sketchy at best as our next couple anchorages are pretty remote - however, we'll probably be here through Tuesday which will allow me to find out if the Celtics win game 7!!! Go Celtics!!!

Yesterday was the first yucky day (weather-wise) that we've had since we hit the Bahamas - it rained on and off (not a real soaker which we were hoping for so as to clean some of the salt off the boat, but just scattered showers - just enough so you didn't want to go hiking or to the beach) and waas pretty windy. We've had tons of windy days down here but they have all been sunny so you could go and do something - yesterday we just hung around the boat and had a wonderfully relaxing day - lots of reading, popcorn, and boat kitty time. Puss and Boots hope today is a replay but our plan is to go hiking and maybe, just maybe plop our feet in the sand on some deserted beach!! Dinner tonight is spaghetti and meatballs on September Song with some new friends from the beach cocktail party - I might just make some rum balls for desert!!!

Click here to see our location in The Park.