Our First Guests!! Emerald Bay and Lee Stocking Island

Nathan and Micki have been our staunchest supporters: they did NOT tell us we were crazy to sell it all and buy a sailboat. In fact, they threw us a tropical-themed going away party, and even came to St Petersburg to help us do boat projects in the yard. We wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting just anyone to stay aboard Sanitas for several days because it’s basically just camping out on the water (see: sleeping on the salon settee, cockpit showers, composting toilet….). But Micki and Nathan had been on two of our bareboat charters, and had seen Sanitas at her worst, so we knew they’d enjoy a glimpse into cruiser life. But first…. we needed to get ready to host!

We’d been living aboard now for three months, and while in the Bahamas we’d only stayed in a marina for a few days back in Bimini right after crossing the Gulf Stream. So Sanitas was a bit of a salty mess. We exited the cut at Rudder Cay with 3.5 knots of current against us (it took running our 50 hp engine at full power) and then pointed our bow toward The Marina at Emerald Bay on the island of Great Exuma.

All in all, we’d end up staying seven nights at this marina at a bargain rate of $1 per foot, appreciating our access to showers, laundry, internet, and getting a huge number of tasks crossed off our to-do list.

In fact, we worked so hard at Emerald Bay that the other cruisers staying of Dock D must have thought we were completely stuck up and antisocial, because every time they’d walk by headed to the pool or the beach we’d say “Can’t talk now, working.” Between polishing the stainless, stripping and staining more teak, defrosting the freezer, and cleaning inside and out, we weren’t allowed to have any fun!

We did bend our “No fun” rule slightly by sharing travel stories with Fellow Pacific Seacraft owner Ben of SV Loon who showed up on our dock the last full day we were there.

On the last day, we really broke the No Fun rules when we celebrated our accomplishments with some pool time and a delicious dinner out.

Finally, the exciting day arrived! We brought our rental car to the adorably tiny Georgetown airport to meet our first guests! After a Customs and immigration snaffu (who knew our visitors would need a copy of our cruising permit?) we drove to the closest beach so the Denver natives could trade long pants and running shoes for bare toes in the sand.

We spent the rest of the day exploring Exuma by car with a delicious lunch at Tropic Breeze restaurant and a stop at the Tropic of Cancer beach. We finally made it to the tropics – hooray!

Back at the marina, we gave Nathan and Micki the tour, and got them comfortably settled on Sanitas, because we were headed off-grid the next morning.

We used our newfound confidence in navigating shallow waters to cozy in close to Lee Stocking Island where we experienced the most stunning sunset we’d seen in weeks.

Nathan used the shallow sand flats as an opportunity to try out his new fly rod and fish for bonefish while Capt. Mike, Micki, and I explored the research center.

Lee Stocking was the home of the Perry Caribbean Marine Research Center from 1970 to 2012. When the grant funding ran out, the beautiful community was abandoned, leaving a ghost town of research buildings and residences still covered in flowering bushes and planting with stately coconut palms. It is a bit eerie to explore in 2019, evoking the tv show Lost with its dated PCs and file cabinets full of research material and the massive water making facilities and gardens. The living quarters were still furnished with funky 70s brown tile work, and even coffee makers and wet bars intact. I almost expected jump-suited scientists to step out from a well preserved doorway to ask if I’d hit the button, or if we’d seen a smoke monster.

Exploring was good fun, and we walked every road and trail on the island. But the best part of the day was learning to harvest drinking coconuts from the heavily laden trees that lined the main road. I’d done my research and learned there are many varieties of coconut palm trees; some that are just pretty, some good for eating the coconut flesh, and others bred for coconut water. Lee Stocking is covered with drinking coconut palms and even has a convenient wooden ladder available. We took turns harvesting as many as we could reach, drank our fill, filled our water bottles with coconut water, and brought a few back to the boat for future cocktails. The trick to harvesting is not to pull the nut off the tree, but to twist it until the stem separates easily. Then cut a little triangle in the shell and simply pour the juice out the hole. Simple!

We were a big hit at the cruiser’s happy hour that evening. “You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up. You put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning”

And we’re on our own….

After Black Point and the the fun of the Super Bowl party, Sanitas and our buddy boats parted ways for the first time since Bimini! Yikes! Leef Nu had family visit and Elixir wanted to explore the northern Exuma Islands. We on the other hand were looking forward to hitting some new spots that we missed last year. Ok, perhaps “hitting” is a poor choice of words. When planning our route, Capt. Mike asked me “Are you ready to be adventurous and try to sail where the charts say we won’t have enough water?” Honestly. How would YOU have answered that question?

But we’ve learned a thing or two in the past year. And we now know that the depth on a nautical chart marks the mean low. Yes, that’s the average low tide depth at that spot. And there are resources we can use to find the daily tide tables which indicate how much above or below average the tides will be on any given day. So Capt. Mike’s says things like “Even at low tide , we’ll see an extra 0.4 feet of water.” And of course, we can time our entry into an anchorage close to high tide to ensure we have even more water. Our chart plotter keeps a history of where we’ve traveled, so if we manage to get into an anchorage successfully and keep track of the shallowest water we see, we can follow our purple track line back out a few days later or in the dark. We’re also much better at visual piloting – watching the color of the water to determine if we are nearing sandy shallows or grassy patches or rocks or coral. So we went for it!

From Black Point we sailed south past a number of private island owned by celebrities such as David Copperfield and Johnny Depp. We carefully followed our well-planned route, snaking between sandbars and islands for the final 6 miles, keeping Sanitas carefully in the deeper water. And it was so worth it! We dropped anchor just off Rudder Cut Cay in front of a beach that looked right out of Pirates of The Caribbean.

The white sand beach had just the perfect number of palm trees. The water was the perfect shade of blue. And there was a pirate cave available for stashing stolen treasure. Arghhh.

We nestled our six-foot-draft monohull in between a few three-foot-draft catamarans feeling pretty darn proud of ourselves. Then we went off to play, snorkeling the rocks at the entrance to the cut as well as the famous statue of a mermaid playing the piano that David Copperfield installed here. It’s in the process of growing into a new miniature coral reef. I stole this picture from Jeff and Trish on Elixir because I don’t have an underwater camera, if you can believe that.

The next day, we took a short hike to the ruins of the “Green Castle” at the top of Darby Island. It’s a stunning location, with 360 degree views from the second story patio.

And it also has a very interesting history. During WWII, Darby Island was owned by the British hotelier (and Nazi sympathizer) Sir Guy Baxter. He was gifted the island by King George and he built an 8000 sq foot “Castle” on the highest point. Rumor has it he hung lanterns to guide Nazi U-Boats, dredged the channel, and built a concrete mooring to allow them to resupply with water and to hide in the island’s network of caves. Supposedly he had very advanced radio and communications equipment in the attic. The ruins of the house do retain a spooky air, so I absolutely believe it! We also toured the caves, complete with their gigantic spiders and colony of bats. I expected a giant spider to come out of the shadows and grab me, just like in The Hobbit.

Our last morning was spent relaxing on that pirate beach while I read my book and Capt. Mike built an arch. I think it was worth braving the shallows to experience Rudder Cut Cay, don’t you?

You Can’t Miss the Super Bowl

By the time the 5Fs festival was over, we were desperate for some fresh provisions. Because the one teeny tiny grocery store on teeny tiny Little Farmers Cay sold out of everything by 10:00 am the morning the supply boat arrived. No eggs. No milk. No bread. No produce. We did buy the last three limes, a liter of rum, and a ziplock bag of ice. That and my store of canned goods got us through the festival weekend. Since woman cannot live on rum alone, we backtracked north to Black Point on Sunday afternoon where Adderly’s Friendly Market set us up and we even found eggs at the Laundromat.

Have I told you about the Rocksound Laundry on Black Point? Ida Patton runs an amazing business offering everything a cruiser might want or need. Clean and well-maintained laundry machines, of course. But also hot showers, a place to charge electronics, cold drinks, homemade carrot cake and conch fritters, fishing supplies, and haircuts! I got a trim while enjoying the best view in the islands, and got tons of compliments on the cut.

We had the opportunity to meet fellow Pacific Seacraft owners in the Black Point Harbor. Amy and Roger on Shango spent five years circumnavigating the globe. (Wow!) And Charlie and Nancy on Tracey J split their time between working in a hospital in Seattle and sailing in the Bahamas. Always interesting to learn how other folks are making their sailing dreams a reality.

They invited us ashore to Scorpios for the big Super Bowl party with the enticements of a new big screen tv, chicken dinner special, and 2-4-1 rum punches. I’m not much of a football fan, but how could we turn that down? Elixir’s dinghy was giving them trouble, so little Bug towed them to shore like a prince and a princess.

David at Scorpios really does make the best rum punch I’ve had in the Bahamas, and he has the nicest, friendliest smile to go with it. His picture is a bit blurry because it never stopped moving all night.

The game wasn’t terribly exciting, and the Patriots won, but everyone in the bar was friendly and in the mood to socialize. Even the Maroon 5 half time show sounded amazing when blared at Bahamas high volume. I met another Women Who Sail friend Cindy in person after several earlier Facebook chats, and Trish and I “borrowed” a few of the Junkanoo parade costumes in the pool room when we had had enough of football.

The next morning, we moved Sanitas just around the corner to the beautiful little bay by the Sand Castle House. This beach is also in the running for most beautiful in the Bahamas, and we took our time exploring the rocks and sea creatures, floating in the cool waters, and soaking up the sun on the sand. Several new friends we’d met at the Super Bowl party had moved here too, so we threw an impromptu sunset happy hour on the beach. We made good use of the fire pit and the coconut palm tiki bar in the trees, staying ashore until the bugs drove us off the beach and back to the water.

5 Farmers 5Festival 5First 5Friday 5February

5Finally !!!

One of our main goals for the 2019 cruising season, was to make it to Little Farmers Cay in the Exumas in time for the 5Fs festival. It’s the tiny island’s annual homecoming festival, and the regatta race for Class C Bahamian wooden sloops from all the neighboring islands. It’s kind of the little brother festival to the National Family Islands Regatta that we attended in Georgetown last year. So we considered ourselves lucky to find a small weather window to leave Warderick Wells on Thursday 31 January to head south.

Slightly chaotic leaving the Warderick Wells mooring field…. the current was absolutely ripping when I dropped our mooring lines, and Capt. Mike asked where was the floating mooring ball, to make sure that he didn’t run it over or tangle the thick lines in our prop. Well, I looked to port, looked to starboard, looked forward, and looked aft but couldn’t see it. So we kept drifting in neutral, almost to the point of running aground. Finally we gave up and motored off, trying to decide if we needed to anchor and dive the boat to determine whether we were dragging a 24 inch diameter ball under our keel. But Kevin on Leef Nu dinghied over to check out our spot, and radioed to tell us that all of the mooring hardware and lines were still there, except for that big white ball. It must have popped or broken in half during the night. So THAT was what woke Capt Mike up at 4 am! We radioed the info to Sherri at park headquarters and continued on our way.

By 2:30, we were anchors-‘down near Little Farmers Cay and I’d say there were at least 100 other boats already in the anchorage. One or two of them were definitely pushing the “no anchor zone” in front of the air strip, lol. You’re the one risking your mast – not me!

We hustled to get Bug in the water and get ourselves over to the Farmers Cay Yacht Club in time for Happy Hour and FREE FOOD. Perhaps I should restate that. Where cruisers are concerned, you have to be at the front of line when free food is advertised. Our attempt to wander in an hour late was not successful. By then, the lines were long, we made our donation to the Methodist church for the buffet, got to the front of the line, and learned that all the meat was gone. So our $15 dollar donation got us each a scoop of peas and rice. Oh well. It’s for a good cause, right? And we got a chance to meet and talk to lots of fun people.

The first race of the Regatta was on Friday, and we were so excited, we couldn’t contain ourselves. We had watched the race boats come in on the mail boat and have their masts restepped. Unfortunately, the boat in this picture, Legal Weapon, got dropped and was damaged too badly to actually race.

Even though the weather was nasty with wind and rain, we hopped into our trusty Bug and dinghied out to watch the race. And out…. And out …. Only later did we learn that this was the “Ocean Race” – one long sprint from the staring line a couple miles out to the finish just off shore. So by the time little Bug made it out to the starting line, we got a quick view of the start and then and long, wet, miserable ride back through rain and waves that almost swamped us. No fun at all! But watching the start of a race up close is still very exciting. The crews start at anchor. And when the horn blows, the biggest guy starts hauling up the anchor rode, while the next biggest hauls on the halyard to raise the sail. Then there’s a free-for-all of shouting and swearing and jostling for position and to claim the best position to the wind. Be still my beating heart!

After warming up and drying off and fortifying ourselves with caffeine, we headed ashore followed the sound of dance music to the party on the lawn of the Ocean Club. Capt. Mike got scolded for assuming that the folding table covered with bottles was an honor bar, and attempting to pour his own drink. Oops. But we also had the chance to meet the captain and crew of the Long Island boat, Whitey K, and Mike gushed about how much he admired their sailing prowess. Their captain said “And we’re handsome too!” And posed for a selfie.

We learned our lesson, and watched the rest of the races from the deck of Ty’s Sunset Bar, leaving the chasing to those with bigger, stronger dinghies. Still lots of fun to listen to the trash talk between Bahamians from different islands, and to watch the betting go down. In between races, there were games, drinking, and dancing, and a pop-up conch salad stand right on the beach.

We did dinghy out a little ways to cheer on the finish of the final race. Sometimes you just gotta get right out there in the middle of things. All the more exciting because our new besties from Long Island swept the Regatta and won every race.

Ok 5Fs Festival. Your weather could have been better, but otherwise, you didn’t disappoint!

My Favorite Place in the World

Once we tackled our jack line and solar panel repairs, we could relax and enjoy our stay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – one of my very favorite places in the world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…. I would be perfectly happy staying right there in the north mooring field until I ran out of $20 bills to pay for the daily mooring fees, and emptied the bilge of cans of tuna fish for meals. On our first full day in the mooring field, the cruisers organized a beach happy hour potluck, complete with live music.

The Park was established in 1958 and protects 176 square miles of islands and seabed. It is a no-take zone for fish and turtles, which means that the marine life is glorious and varied. My favorite part of the Park is the hiking trails on Warderick Wells Cay, which provide an excellent opportunity to stretch the legs after days and nights on a tiny boat! There’s a cruising tradition to make a sign for your boat out of natural materials (no plastics, please) and to add that sign to the collection at the top of Boo Boo Hill. A half mile into our hike, I found the perfect piece of wood…. and then found myself committed to carrying it for the next five hours!

This year, I finally managed to pack enough water, snacks, and sunscreen to hike from the park office all the way to the south end on the island to Pirates Lair and Turtle Beach. It took us five hours to make that round trip – way longer than you’d expect from the mileage. But often, the trail is only a suggestion, and it’s always a mixture of sharp eroded limestone rock and dry loose sand. Even at sea level, the hiking is slow going! But Jeff and Trish of Elixir were good company, and we peer-pressured each other into continuing south at each trail intersection. Phew!

Capt. Mike thinks that Perky Turkey Jerky should sponsor our adventures. Here he is practicing his brand placement and his Vanna White skills.

Beach planks! Gotta stay in shape!

We collect photos of Sanitas’ sister ships wherever we meet them. Here’s the beautiful Island Lady – a 31 foot Pacific Seacraft captained by Cree.

For the final ritual of our stay in the park, the whole crews of Sanitas, Leef Nu, and Elixir climbed Boo Boo Hill one last time, and added our sign to the pile. We were here! In case you were wondering, our Dock 4 sign from last season is still there too.