Sunday, April 30, 2017

Allen's Cay, Exumas

Allen's Cay


We are anchored in Exuma's beautiful water at Allen's Cay. We will be here for a few days exploring and waiting out some weather. The winds went up to 15-25 knots with strong gusts which prompted a small craft advisory for this area. The waves outside are now 5-8' which is definitely more than we like to sail in. Allen's Cay has a very strong tidal current that just rips through the entire anchorage. Even with winds in the 20-25 knot range the boats still lie with the current. So Wrinkles will be at anchor perpendicular to the wind most of the day. The only time the wind takes control and moves Wrinkles bow to wind is during slack tides. When we side tie our dinghy to a boat we sit and marvel at the wake coming off Ernie T's stern. It looks like Ernie T is powering along at 4-5 knots.

Wrinkles and Island Tyme in background

The area is protected enough that we we take dinghy rides to the beautiful beaches and of course visit the iguanas this spot is famous for.

Iguana coming out for food

We pack a simple picnic and some cold beverages in insulated coolers, slather on the sunblock, grab the cameras and off we go. We beach our dinghies (we take two dinghies in case one outboard fails) on clean soft sand and then go shelling, swimming and lounging on the beach. The water is so clear you can see starfish 15' below very easily. The iguanas are abundant here and they are used to being fed by any visitors. You are discouraged from feeding them, but it appears nearly everyone does. When a large tour boat comes rumbling in to disembark about 50 people who paid to see the iguanas up close, the iguana come out of the shade in droves. They know the sound of that big boat and anticipate a great lunch. We are respecting the request not to feed them, but the iguanas still come out to greet us hoping for a snack every time. Don seems to enjoy acting as our Iguana Herder as he wields a dinghy oar to discourage the pesky little lizards.

The water is still surprisingly cool for this time of year. We really expected to be swimming in much warmer waters by now. As long as you stay in the shallower waters near the beaches the sun does warm it up a bit. So far we haven't really found good snorkeling for coral or fish. The better reefs are outside the bays, but it has been too rough to be snorkeling there right now. We hope that changes soon.

There are three really nice soft beaches and another 3-4 smaller ones that are usable, but a bit rocky. Our favorite seems to be the beautiful cove beach on Southwest Allen's Cay. It is protected from the strong winds and we are usually the only people on it.

Brenda at our favorite beach
View from Southwest Allen's Cay

So even though we are "stuck" in Allen's Cay, we are still having a ball.


Spanish Wells to the Exumas

Sunset at Ship Channel Cay

We celebrated our last day in Spanish Wells with a hearty breakfast at the Anchor Restaurant. We met Bandit at the restaurant to settle our mooring ball fees before dropping the lines and heading out toward the Exumas. We were staging for the next day's crossing at the Royal Island anchorage which is a short 6 mile run for the day. We love this beautiful anchorage and it so nice to return to a familiar spot. It takes a lot of the worry and stress away when you have been somewhere before. Once anchored in Royal Island we relaxed onboard before going over to Island Tyme for sundowners and a final route check for the sail to the Exumas.

The next morning we picked up our anchors at 7 a.m. for the 45 mile sail from Royal Island to Ship Channel Cay in the Exumas. The forecast called for west or west-southwest winds 10-15 knots in the morning with 3-4 foot seas. We knew it was going to be a bit lumpy heading southwest toward Fleming Channel, but we anticipated calmer waters once we transited the channel.

The waves were 3-5 feet with some bigger ones that our boats buried their noses into as we bashed across. Once we arrived at Fleming Channel the winds and waves were opposed to the tide which caused the channel to impart a washing machine action on us. Eventually we made our way to the calmer side of the reefs and the boat's motions settled down nicely. We got more sail up and enjoyed three to four hours of fun sailing. Once we arrive in the area known as Middle Ground and Yellow Banks we needed to really keep an active watch for coral heads. They appear as very dark spots which in the right sunlight show up pretty well.

As we progressed further south the winds kept getting weaker which eventually forced us to drop our sails and simply motor along for the last two hours. We dropped our anchors in 10 feet of beautiful clear water just off the west side of Ship Channel Cay. We were all exhausted after getting very little sleep the last two nights and a long 9.5 hour crossing that day. Other than watching the sunset and sharing some sundowners aboard Island Tyme we didn't do much that evening. The next day we put both dinghies in the water to do a little exploring. Beautiful water, private little beaches, sting rays, starfish, conch and rugged shorelines kept us entertained. A beach picnic was the perfect way to relax and reflect on our trip to date.

Gail and Don exploring
Rugged and beautiful
Ship Channel Cay beach

The group decided to stay at this anchorage for one more night as the winds were forecast to be from the east which works well there. Unfortunately the forecast was wrong and the winds decided to perk up a bit and came in from the south as a storm front passed nearby overnight. It was a bit lumpy out there, but our trusty anchors made it seem ok.

We let the sun rise high enough to highlight the coral heads in the water before leaving Ship Channel Cay and moving the short 5 miles to Allen's Cay. We motored directly into the wind and waves until we entered Allen's Cay where the water looked so much calmer. There were only three boats in the anchorage which was good to see. Our Garmin BlueChart software showed plenty of room and deep enough water for us to move in to the northeast end for the best wind protection. We were pushed a little too far north and as we began turning around we realized how strong the outgoing current was in this anchorage. Once Wrinkles was sideways to the current she slid several feet too far toward the sand bar and presto, we were aground.

Waiting on the high tide

Mike tried all the usual fixes, kedge anchor, lean the boat with sails, etc., but the ripping current had Wrinkles pinned to the sand bar. Don and Gail came over after anchoring their boat to try pushing with their dinghy, but it just wasn't going to help. We knew the tide was still falling, so we were going to get pretty stuck very soon. Some cruisers came over and tried to push with three dinghies which was appreciated, but bound to fail. We rigged up a long line off our main halyard to keep Wrinkles tipped in the right direction while we waited for the tide to turn and raise us back up on the water.

Mike jumped in the water and took advantage of the exposed bottom paint to scrape off 6 weeks worth of growth. Eventually the water started coming back and Wrinkles re-floated herself with a little assistance from the kedge anchor. We anchored in a better spot and enjoyed a very cold drink. We keep learning, but this lifestyle can be trying at times. Oh well, another lesson learned and no damage done.

The view from our Allen's Cay anchorage


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Russell Island

Once Brenda's cast had been removed and we returned to Wrinkles a visit to Russell Island was on the menu. This is an island that is connected to Spanish Wells by a one-lane metal grate bridge. Don and Gail met us at the ferry with a rented golf cart and off we went! Russell Island is where the overflow of Spanish Wellians are settling and where the housing is more affordable. It was clear that there were agricultural plots laid out but it was hard to see how anything grew. The "soil" was all rocks and sand, but nevertheless, citrus trees were planted next to banana/plantain trees and goats were used to clear new areas. The Sands Restaurant, although closed on our first day there, is our vision of an ideal island bar. Located on a small hill overlooking a crescent-shaped sand beach, the view was stupendous! We would return the next day.

Back on the cart, we continued our explore. The island is only a couple miles long and less than a mile wide, so we didn't get lost! We wandered through the Pelican Bay development where a channel was blasted through the coral. Several nice homes lined the channel. We were getting hungry, so back to Budda's we went.

The next day we decided we needed to return to the Sands since it would be open, but first we needed to stop at Kathy's for more Johnny Cakes and fresh bread. We are now completely addicted to Kathy's breads. We also dropped into the Food Fair grocery store for a few fresh items; not lettuce ($4.40 for a scrawny head or $10 for a bag of Romaine leaves). Cheese was reasonable as were summer squash and zucchini. The bread shelf included fresh bread in clear plastic bags. The labels on the shelf indicated which local had made the bread; Joan, Sally, etc.

Once our provisions were stored on our boats, we took our rented cart and wandered to the west end of Spanish Wells. There is a beautiful public park there and the sand stretches over to Russell Island. Brenda thought it would be fun to walk from one island to the next through the water. Don and Gail dropped us off and drove over the bridge to pick us up on the other side. The water never got over waist high.

Public beach on Spanish Wells

Back on the carts we explored some of the side roads we hadn't seen the day before. There are some beautiful vacation homes as well as some homes for young families. There are also two small Haitian villages. We saw one multi-million dollar house for sale with a large circular chicken coop. We laughed that the chickens had a $1,000,000 view of the water. Happy chickens lead to lots of eggs? We know Mike's sister Lisa will be drooling over the chicken coop.

A Chic Chicken Coop

We had lunch and drinks at The Sands. Such a gorgeous place. We wandered out to take advantage of the hammocks overlooking Russell Island, Spanish Wells and Meek's Patch. Breathtaking! We spent several hours there soaking up the view, great food and some cocktails.

Hammock at the Sands
Gail lovin' that lounge chair.

Back on our boats, and after a nap, we joined Don and Gail for our traditional sundowner routine. Mike blew the Conch and then Don played Amazing Grace on his iPod. We have come to treasure this time of reflection.

Another day in Paradise!


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Some Good News - The Long Version

Bahamas Fast Ferry

Brenda decided we should go back to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau for a follow-up visit on her broken arm. She had some pain and swelling which were concerning her. Since the forecast was for 4-5 foot seas and Wrinkles was safely tucked in a mooring field where Don and Gail could keep an eye on her we decided to book passage on the Bahamas Fast Ferry. We had an appointment at PMH for Wednesday, so we boarded the Tuesday ferry after Don and Gail dropped us off on shore. While we were waiting Gail struck up a conversation with one of Spanish Wells' nonagenarians (90 years old). He filled us in on agriculture in the Bahamas, local fishing practices and the growth of Spanish Wells all the while inserting jokes and smiling. He meets the ferry every day and offers a free ride to anyone who needs it. He reminded us very much of Ernie.

Captain Bird

The ferry goes about 25 mph and is big enough to handle larger waves. The seating is comfortable and they even serve reasonably priced snacks, pop, coffee and tea. It sure was a strange sensation to see the water flying by after sailing at 5-6 knots for so long. The ferry takes you right into downtown Nassau, but it docks on Potter's Cay between Nassau and Paradise Island. This means a bit of a hike if you are too cheap to get a taxi. We weren't impressed with the awful stench of rotting fish, food and garbage that was everywhere on the working dock.

After a hike that took us from the smelly docks, across the bridge to Nassau and through a dilapidated business district we crossed an invisible line on the sidewalk that marks the upscale touristy section of town that all the cruise ship passengers see. Amazing, from boarded up buildings to policemen in their beautiful white uniforms, fancy store fronts, restaurants and throngs of burnt underdressed tourists, the contrast was drastic.

After reading some reviews online Mike had earmarked The Bearded Clam bar as the place for lunch. It was described as hard to find and less touristy than the majority of the "Cruiseville" restaurants. We weren't disappointed. Uncrowded and simple with good food and cheap drinks. Perfect.

Our motel was just a couple of blocks away and Brenda was fading fast, so we made our way there. The Towne Motel is an older boutique type spot with reasonable rates. Our room wasn't ready yet, ("Soon mon, soon.") so we ordered a couple of drinks from the bar and sat outside on the porch to wait. Over an hour after normal check-in time Mike went back to the desk to see what was up. The clerk simply said, "I'll call and see." Soon mon, soon.

Pretty soon mon!

We finally got a room and we both crashed for a nap. After showering we went downstairs to the cute lobby bar/restaurant for a light supper. We met a younger British couple and had fun chatting with them over a cold beverage. The older gentleman behind the bar was a sweetheart, but it was saddening to watch him struggle with his short term memory. He would write down what people had to eat or drink and then come back one minute later to ask us what we had ordered. He delivered a beer to our table that none of the four of us had ordered. We were the only people in the bar at the time. When the four of us asked for our bills we watched as the bartender used White-Out to correct and modify our bills over a period of 20 minutes. He would amble over with one of the bills and ask us if we had this or that to drink and then go back to use the White-Out again. The British couple gave up after half an hour and went to the front desk to pay their tab. We hung in there until our bill was resolved. It was heartbreaking to experience.

Towne Motel lobby

Towne Motel

Wednesday morning we got up before 6 a.m. to get in line early at PMH. If you don't get there really early (even if you have an appointment) you could spend the entire day waiting to see a doctor. The hotel clerk was emphatic that we not walk in the dark to the hospital. Nassau at night is not a friendly place. We got a cab and arrived at PMH at 6:20 a.m. which put us 15th in line for the Orthopedic section. The first guy in line had arrived at 5:30 a.m. Since we had been here a couple of times before, we knew some of the drill. Show up early, ask who was there just before you and then line up in that order when the nurse comes in around 8 a.m.

We made it through the registration line and now had our little card that simply says "15" on it. Do not lose that card! Next you walk to another waiting area where you join another large group of patients who are also waiting to register and pay their fees. A local (volunteer?) asks for everyone's attention and introduces us as guests to their island. After a round of applause she asks the crowd, "What do we call a visitor Mike's size here?" "Big Daddy." OK, now we are getting embarrassed.

Getting everyone into some kind of order became quite an ordeal. The Orthopedic patients had numbers, but the other patients just knew who they followed in. After a lot of shuffling and moving from two and sometimes three lines an agreement was made on the order. They still tried to get Brenda to move to the shorter line under the "Over 65" sign even though she told them she was only 60. It didn't seem right to get preferential treatment.

So by now most everyone had been standing with broken arms and legs for nearly two hours. No wheel chairs in sight. There are some plastic chairs, but not nearly enough for everyone, which are either bent forward or missing the seat completely. We made it to the front of the line and paid our first fee. It is kind of a la carte billing. Pay so much to register ($32), go back and pay if you need x-rays ($40) go back and pay if you get a cast (not sure, the accounting is rather vague)....

So now we are herded back to the original waiting room where our magic number 15 comes back into play. Some time after 9 a.m. the nurses begin calling the first 10 - 20 numbers forward and then move you to (drum roll please) yet another waiting area. This time there are enough broken chairs for everyone to have a seat. You might need to brace yourself with your one good leg to keep from sliding forward off the bent seat, but after standing in line it seems wonderful.

The doctors are scheduled to show up at 9 a.m., but apparently they often show up much later. You settle into your seat and begin to wait again. At 9:45 the doctor shows up and they start bringing people into the Casting Room. We are called in at 10:30 a.m. where we join 4 other patients getting casts put on or being removed. The technician removes Brenda's cast and the doctor decides we need new x-rays. Guess what? Yup, back to another waiting room for Brenda while Mike goes back to stand in line to pay the a la carte fees.

One hour later Brenda gets called in for her x-rays and after just one hour more they give the pictures to us so we can return to the Casting Room. The doctor sees Brenda walking into the waiting area and takes the x-rays with him into the Casting Room while we take a seat. They call Brenda into the Casting Room after waiting only 15 - 20 minutes. Oh boy, we are flying now. The doctor reviews the x-rays with us and pronounces Brenda's arm healed. A new cast won't be necessary, just a removable brace and then physical therapy.

Wrist Brace Only!

Since we won't be staying in the area for physical therapy sessions, we are told (drum roll again please) to take a seat in the waiting room. Eventually we are called into the Physical Therapist's office where Brenda's wrist is bent and twisted to begin getting some motion back. Brenda has very limited motion at this time and any amount of twisting means instant pain. Brenda received instructions on several exercises that will help her regain flexibility and strength. (As we write this, mobility is already increasing and the pain, which is minimal, only appears when doing the exercises.)

We stood in line one more time to check out and get our paperwork stamped before exiting the hospital. We walked to a local medical supply store to purchase a wrist brace. We are officially done now and it is only 2:30 p.m. LUNCH!

We strolled back to The Bearded Clam and had a long leisurely lunch. Afterwards we hiked around downtown Nassau checking out the old buildings including the government ones. After a nice nap we tried the Towne Motel bar for a light supper and a drink again. Same bartender with the same heartbreaking results.

Library and Museum
Government Building

The next morning we hopped on the return ferry and headed back to Spanish Wells. It was really good to get back to this friendly and clean place after experiencing Nassau. Now we can pick a weather window and continue our adventure without worrying about Brenda's injury.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Touring Eleuthera

View from Eleuthera

Along with Don and Gail (Island Tyme) we hopped onto a morning ferry from Spanish Wells for the short ride across the channel to Eleuthera. Don and Gail had arranged to rent a car for the day to explore and re-visit some places from their trip here about 10 years ago. There is a liquor store right at the ferry dock that has pretty decent prices, so a few beers were purchased for the coolers.

Ferry leaving Spanish Wells
Ferry landing with liquor store

The car arrived and what a classic. A 2008 Grand Marquis land yacht. What a huge ol' beast she was. Some of the roads in Eleuthera are skinny little paths with shrubs projecting right out to the edge which tend to put horizontal scratches on the paint. These are referred to as Eleutheran pinstripes. So we piled into the beast with Don at the wheel chanting, "Stay to the left, stay to the left," as we pulled away. It is really hard to retrain your mind to drive on the left side of the road after 40 years of driving on the right.

"Stay left, stay left."

We visited Preacher's Cave where the Eleutheran Adventurers sought shelter after being shipwrecked on the Devil's Backbone just off shore. It is peaceful yet a bit haunting to quietly wander this stone refuge. You can easily picture the Eleutheran Adventurers struggling for survival there. They had ventured out to sea to gain the freedom to practice their religion. The thought of the survivors standing in that cave listening to their sermons and gaining strength from them is heart warming.

Later we headed south on the Queen's Highway to see some more sights. The land is rugged and very sparsely populated, but the scenery is sometimes unbelievable. You get views of the dark blue Atlantic to the north/east while on the Caribbean side the calm turquoise waters are a feast for your eyes. We stopped at the Glass Window and marveled at the power and beauty of Mother Nature. The rugged landscape is the perfect backdrop for the Atlantic to display both beauty and power. The original arch of rock has fallen victim to the ocean's fury back in the 1940's, but the remaining scene is still fantastic. The big waves come rolling into the gap exploding in white clouds of water. Wow, what a thing of beauty!

Atlantic Ocean side

Our group started getting pretty hungry at this point, so we set our sights on Tippy's in Governors Harbour. Don and Gail had frequented this spot during their previous trip and were excited to be returning. Tippy's is set overlooking the Atlantic and serves some tasty and interesting meals.

We toured Governors Harbour by car seeing both the older poorer section of town and the newer upscale housing developments. The contrast within just a mile is mind boggling.

Governor's Harbour from the older side looking across to the newer side.

The big Grand Marquis turned her nose north as we started back up the Queen's Highway. We stopped at the development where Don and Gail had stayed during their previous trip and they commented that the developer's ambitious plan never went much further than when they were there earlier. In fact, the roads and facilities were in pretty poor condition. It amazes us how many times we have seen this throughout our trip so far. A resort or fancy house that was started and then abandoned well before completion. Still, it was fun to see Don and Gail reflecting on some wonderful memories of their stay in Jasmine House.

Glass Window Bar

One last stop was at the Glass Window Bar which is located on the top of a very narrow section of the island. From your bar stool you can see both the Atlantic and the Caribbean waters. We sat there with the sun warming our backs sipping cocktails and chatting about anything and everything. What a nice relaxing way to wrap up our tour of Eleuthera before turning in the rental car and getting ferried back to our boats.