Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Treking Back to the Abacos

After two lovely weeks in the Staniel/Compass Cays area we decided to start our trek back to the Abacos. On our northern passage through the Exumas we stopped once again in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, anchored off Bell Island. We spent a nice day exploring the area…including snorkeling in the Rocky Dundas, another hollow island with a cave that rivals the Thunderball Grotto. We took a short hike to Rachel’s Bubble Bath, which is a natural “spa” created by the surf crashing through a little rocky opening and filling a sandy pool with frothy salt water. It was fun trying to stand up against the water surge and being tossed head over heels more than once.

Then it was back to Highborne Cay to await a good day to cross back through the Tongue of the Ocean to the island of Eleuthera. We crossed on a very calm day, motoring directly to Rock Sound. On the way we passed some of the time perched on the bow as the boat rose and fell through the swells…it feels a little like flying since you are hanging out over the water and dropping about 6 feet (imagine the feeling of a gentle roller coaster). We love when the conditions make that a relaxing place to sit.

We had a nice time in Rock Sound sprinkled with a few highlights, like exploring the caverns just outside of town. On the path into the cavern you pass a big blue hole before coming upon a ladder that leads down to the caves. Once underground you can wander through several large caverns with stalactites and long tree roots reaching down from above. It was quite cool and just a little creepy. The cave ceilings were covered with rather large spider webs and you definitely had the feeling something might crawl out of a dark corner at any moment. Friends later told us they found a dead tarantula in there…which I am glad I didn’t know until after we had been there.

Another day we dingied ashore to get a few groceries and, as we were tying up, met a couple from the UK named Helen and Peter. They had just started their global circumnavigation on a sailboat named Common Crossing. In the way of cruisers, we quickly became friends and planned to go for lunch the following day at a place called Da Nort’ Side. This little excursion turned out to be a unique experience. The proprietor is a woman named Rose who picked us up in her beat up old van to drive us to her restaurant on the windward side of the island. She was about a half hour late because she was coming from church and she said the preacher was a little long winded that day. By the way, the Bahamians are very devout people, with seven churches in the Rock Sound area for a relatively small population. We piled into the back of the van by climbing over the seats since the only door that would open was the front passenger side door. On the drive she played loud gospel music from the radio and recreated the sermon for us.

When we arrived at our destination we entered a quaint little restaurant with a sand-floor bar and a separate eating area festooned with brightly colored floral tablecloths and an endless array of beach finds on the walls and ceiling. It couldn’t have been better! We were also joined by the preacher (from South Africa) and a third couple named Kerri and George traveling on a boat named Marquesa (which turned out to be a very serendipitous meeting for us…but more on the later). Rose told us our dining options and proudly declared that we would all love anything we ordered (including a skeptical Lynn to whom she said “just taste it, you will be begging for more”.) Lunch was served about an hour later and was a mix of Bahamian specialties, like grilled whole snapper and their peas n’ rice. We didn’t mind waiting though, since we were seated on her lovely deck overlooking a spectacular and very secluded beach. While eating, Rose regaled us with stories of her children, all very successful people living in other parts of the world. She even gave us all some precious sea beans she found and, when we tried to refuse, sang a little song that went something like this…

“If you love something set it free, set it free, set it free…If you love something set it free, and more will come back to you…”

All in all it was a lovely day that led to more excellent days…which brings me back to George and Kerri. While chatting before lunch, Lynn and I happened to mention some of our boat woes, such as our broken freezer. George asked a few questions about the nature of the problem clearly showing he was somewhat knowledgeable on the subject. He offered to drop by the next day to diagnose the problem and we happily accepted. Well, within about 15 minutes he had identified the cause, which had an easy solution that Lynn could do on his own (we now have a working freezer.) As George was packing up I just happened to mention our inoperative furling main. George felt confident he could fix that too with a few hours of work. He came over again the next day and this time brought his wife, Kerri, along. While the boys worked, the girls chatted in the cockpit. We laughed so much that Lynn said he could hardly hear George talking! Well, he also figured out the issue with the furler and we now have a working mainsail too!!

Although we gave them lunch, we in no way felt we had repaid George for his help. Not surprisingly, he refused our offer to pay for his services saying he was happy just helping fellow cruisers. He explained that his definition of a successful day is one in which he had fun, felt passionate about something and helped someone out…a philosophy on life I definitely admire. So, now we are looking for an opportunity to “Pay it Forward.”

We continued northbound from Rock Sound the following day and headed back to Royal Island and Spanish Wells. We hopped between these two places for about 5 days waiting for a window to cross back to the Abacos. While waiting, we finally managed to snorkel on the huge reef north of the island on a rare calm day and were treated to a beautiful assortment of vibrant coral and fish (even spotting another sea turtle.)

Another afternoon we were with John from Makani snorkeling in a sandy bay on the north shore of Royal Island. John was hunting and had managed to spear two lobster, a red snapper and a grunt. He asked me to fetch his bag so I was swimming at full speed to the shore. Also swimming directly towards me was an octopus! We simultaneously spotted each other and both stopped in our tracks about 2 feet apart. I’m not sure which of us was more shocked, but the octopus immediately plopped to the sea bottom (which was only about 2 feet deep where we were) and poured himself into a little hollow in the sand, gathering his eight legs underneath his body until he was almost perfectly camouflaged in the sand. I doubt anyone would have spied him if they didn’t know he was there. I was not able to camouflage myself nearly so well, but I suppose I had size on my side. I floated there for about 10 minutes keeping a sharp eye on his hiding place lest I lose him in his disguise. He finally built up the courage to creep out, one leg at a time. He was obviously not completely comfortable with his precarious position and started slowly looking for another hideout. I followed him until he found a rocky crevice into which he completely melded his body until only his little eyes were visible. Nobody would have ever seen him there…it was so cool!

On what was promised to be a “terrific sailing day” we ventured back into the ocean on our final leg back to the Abacos. It did start out terrifically and we were sailing at about 7.5 knots on a beam reach in about 20 knots of wind, with BOTH sails out thanks to George. The wind was supposed to die down throughout the day, but in typical weather prediction fashion, it built up instead. As the wind approached 25 knots sustained we felt we had too much sail out, so we shortened the genoa and started the motor to maintain a reasonable speed. OK, some people like our companions on Makani would have continued to sail, but the seas had also picked up to probably 8-foot swells with a 5-foot wind driven chop, and we just wanted to get there as quickly as possible. So, once again we rocked and rolled uncomfortably for a few hours. And, once again our fridge door popped open and spewed its’ contents on the floor. Thankfully, no broken jar of garlic this time.

Meanwhile on Makani, as Lynn and I were hanging on and complaining about the conditions, John was single handing and fishing (Kathi had to fly home on some business.) In the same 8-foot seas he managed to hook, land and filet a 51-inch Mahi Mahi! The three of us ate two meals and he still has frozen Mahi Mahi for at least two more meals!

Reaching the Abacos felt a little like coming home. We stopped at Lynyard Cay for a few days of sea glass hunting and the usual snorkeling. Then we sought out the protection of Marsh Harbour for what turned out to be the biggest weather event of the season. The wind blew over 25 knots for 5 days, with one day of clocking wind in excess of 35 knots sustained and gusting over 40 knots. That is REALLY a lot of wind! It was certainly not all bad though because we met up with Harriet and Mike on Duel Dreams and Cindy and Jeff on Salty Dog, friends from our first cruise who we have not seen for more than four years. It was fantastic to hang out with them again. We also did some boat chores to pass the time. Once again I attempted to re-stow boat contents so nothing will fly about while underway in rough seas…an endless and never completely successful endeavor. Most importantly, Lynn cleverly fixed the fridge-door-popping-open problem.

Now we are back on a mooring in Hope Town, still probably my personal favorite place. It just has the right mix of quaint village and beautiful beaches. We will stay here for about a month with short excursions to other favorite anchorages. In the good news department, Kathi is back from her stateside travels and so we are reunited as our foursome again. And, my sister, Sheila, just sent me a note that she and her husband, Paul, will be visiting at the beginning of April…I am so excited about that. We definitely find that homesickness starts to set in about now so visits from family are very welcome. We are still hopeful that Lynn’s daughters will be coming too.

That’s all for now!