Friday, February 28, 2014

Construction of Our Rain Catcher, Red Shanks Cays, Exuma

The rain catcher in place on top of the dodger
   It seems that when squalls are in the forecast most long term cruisers have some sort of device designed as a "rain catching system." Potable water can be scarce when cruising the Exumas, Out Islands and Jumentos in the Bahamas.  Of course a water maker is a high end desirable alternative that costs thousands of dollars to install. Since we do not have a water maker we choose to catch whenever possible. Designing a system allows a cruiser to be slightly more autonomous and remain on the outskirts of any of the Bahamian settlements. I can imagine that you're probably scratching your head thinking what is she's talking about now? Why doesn't she go to the store and buy some bottled water? Bottled water in the Bahamas is expensive and we are not always near a settlement. Often we choose the outskirts of the more settled areas. Rain water is free and it can be caught directly on the boat. No need for a trip ashore. A rain catching system is just what it sounds like. It is a device, usually designed according to a boat's "sweet spots" where rain water collects. Designing a system to capitalize on the boat's rain catching abilities is the challenge. Of course rainfall in the Bahamas can also be challenging.Winter is the dry season.
Notice the hose attached to the bottom of the scoop

     We'd been thinking about designing a system for awhile. After a few rainfalls we monitored the direction that rain water flowed when it pooled and ran off the dodger. It seemed that water favored a dip in the dodger design and ran to either side forming a stream that ran down the sides onto the deck. I had been pondering the issue for some time hoping that something would spark an idea for a working template.
   Joe mentioned that we had an unused clear shower curtain aboard that could potentially be used for something. I opened the package, folded it in half and noticed that it was about the width of the dodger. I placed it on top and it saw that it would work perfectly. It even had pre made holes that we reinforced with duct tape. Last summer we installed stainless safety handles on the outside of the dodger. When the shower curtain was folded up and tied inside the handles it formed a scoop for catching the water that  ran off the dodger. Joe installed a drain in the low spot of the shower curtain and attached a longer hose that ran from outside nto the cockpit for ease of changing jerry jugs when they filled. We tied off areas inside the stainless safety handles to form a pocket for catching runoff and taped areas that leaked with duct tape.

     It was a fun afternoon designing the project and I'd hoped that it would work. That night squalls were forecast and hit with a vengeance. Howling winds, torrential rain, cracking thunder and blinding lightening. In other words, the works. One thundering boom woke us from a sound sleep. I was anxious to see how "our project" prevailed. During most of the night I was awake. Not from the anxiety of the storm but, due to excitement of how much rain water was running into our fresh water drinking supply! At dawn Joe was up and about listening to Chris Parker's weather forecast while making coffee. I asked how much water was caught during the storm. He glanced into the jug and said, "Some." He didn't make a deal about it and i was disappointed. When I got out of bed I checked the 6.5 gallon jug and couldn't lift it! Apparently, Joe had peeked into the jug, hadn't lifted if and didn't realize we'd caught nearly seven gallons of drinking water overnight during the storm.
The rain catching system as seen from inside the cockpit


Filling water jugs with the hose in the cockpit

      This morning after listening to our forecast for squalls and high winds the rain catcher was once again put in place on top of the dodger. In anticipation of squalls a trip to the grocery store in the George Town settlement was our first order of business for the day. The settlement is a couple of miles by dinghy from our sheltered anchorage in Red Shanks Cays south of George Town. It was a wet ride back to the boat in the dinghy. I suppose Joe and I are showing our true New Englander colors by preparing for any kind of storm by buying bread and milk, beer, wine and quite a few vegetables since the trip to Exuma Market is such a distance. So far we have been living on recipes from the meat and chicken that I canned in New England last summer. We have not purchased any meat during our stay in the Bahamas and I have become quite a creative cook. We have been fishing and Joe caught a Crevalle Jack last night. Not one of the tastiest fish. The Mahi Mahi still eludes us but, we still have time and hopes of landing the big one.
IMG 8977
Night fishing from Simple Life

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Black Point to Little Farmer's Cay, Exuma, Bahamas

The dinghy dock at the laundromat at Black Point
    One of my fears during our recent return to the Bahamas after a ten year hiatus was that the smaller family island settlements where I'd enjoyed the remote islands and the friendliness of the people would have changed dramatically. I feared that the once sleepy settlements would have become over run with tourism and new construction. In reality, as it seems that history repeats itself, over time not much has changed here in the Exumas. Some modern improvements have made a cruiser's life easier. The addition of a laundromat at Black Point was surprising. Ten years ago one of the ladies in the settlement had a washing machine in her home and took laundry in for a fee. She dried the clothing on a clothesline and it felt rough and somewhat stiff as though it had been washed in salt water. Maybe it was. The new laundromat is clean, has WiFi, a TV, book exchange and is located on the peaceful waterfront in Black Point with the convenience of a dinghy dock! Laundry with a view. This improvement made a couple of hours of chores seem less undesirable and time sped by in a flash.
The laundromat at Black Point 


     Adderley's Friendly Market is the same. The building is small, sparsely stocked and the owner is still  friendly. Free water is available to cruisers from a road side spigot across from the harbor. It was the same spigot as ten years ago. Cruisers lug jerry cans that they fill with the island's RO (reverse osmosis) water daily back to their boats during a stay in the harbor. The best feature and a veritable Black Point institution is Lorraine's mum who hasn't aged a bit over the years who bakes fresh coconut bread daily in her home for $6.00 per loaf when ordered on the VHF radio in the morning. The freshly baked bread is ready for pick up each afternoon and each customer is cordially invited into her home to breathe in the aromas of her friendly, fresh baked hospitality.

View of Exuma Sound from Little Farmer's Cay
    Little Farmer's Cay was a short hop south from Black Point. The Little Farmer's Cay Five F Festival where local Bahamian's from nearby islands race Bahamian sloops during the day and celebrate their heritage with Bahamian food and music well into the evening was scheduled on the weekend and we'd hoped to attend. The local VHF stations were abuzz with news of the upcoming two day event. It seemed that everyone was headed to Little Farmer's. By Thursday morning we'd heard that over 150 boats were in the anchorage in anticipation of the festival's start on Friday. The Five F Festival began in 1986 by the family of Terry Bain and his wife who own and operate the Ocean Cabin on Little Farmer's Cay. Joe was concerned about anchoring space with the large numbers who were already there and with more likely to arrive on Friday. We decided to remain at Black Point and try our luck at spear fishing with a plan to arrive at Little Farmer's on Sunday after the crowds left for other islands.
Joe taking "a look around at Black Point



      SignsI don't enjoy crowds so, I was not disappointed when Joe wanted to wait until the masses dispersed from the Festival. As it turned out, when Simple Life arrived in the harbor the locals were still "recovering" from the festivities and things had quieted down. The settlement was small with a few traditional Bahamian homes clustered near the mail boat dock. Apparently, everyone had left the island. The anchorage was wide open and looked good to us. Our arrival was early enough to allow time to explore the small island and settlement. A few dinghies were on the beach and we figured that was the place to land. A local Bahamian told us that one road led in and out of the settlement and that we couldn't get lost but, he did warn us to look both ways before crossing the landing strip that intersected the island road to town. Fortunately, we heeded his warning since a private plane was taxiing for take off when we were making our approach toward the intersection.

Taking precautions before crossing the runway at Little Farmer's

The Oasis Convenience Store at Little Farmer's

Joe and Terry Bains owner of the Ocean Cabin Restaurant 
     The Exuma guide had recommended a stop at Terry Bain's Ocean Cabin Restaurant & Bar. It described it as a not to be missed establishment. Terry is the charming, local owner of the Ocean Cabin Resort which was originally established by his grandmother. It's a colorfully decorated, well built place overlooking the harbor that serves traditional Bahamian fare along with Terry's famous mixed drinks. Terry graciously posed for photos with Joe and me while we enjoyed this unique family island experience. Next year you can bet that we'll be tucked into the anchorage well before the expected crowds arrive. Everyone said it was an event not to be missed. That's OK because now it seems there is something else to look forward to next year when we return to our new favorite island in the Bahamas.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Friends to the Rescue in Cambridge Cay, Exuma

Rachel at Cambridge Cay in the Exuma Islands
                                                                                                                                                                                           There are no guarantees for "smooth sailing" in life or when cruising in the islands or anywhere for that matter and anyone who has sailed for any length of time knows with almost certainty something is bound to break along the way. When an incident occurs it's comforting to know that there's a community of cruising friends who will undoubtedly offer assistance or at  the very least advice. The SSB (single sideband radio) community has proven to be one that will not only offer advice but, will ponder your maintenance issues until they've been resolved. Another advantage of cruising has been the true friends we've made along the way. We're all in the same boat and at times rely upon each other for moral   support, knowledge and occasionally, a helping hand.

     Recently, while spending time at Big Major's Spot we put out a query over the SSB net airwaves relating to our malfunctioning outboard dinghy engine. During a grocery shopping expedition from Big Major's to Staniel Cay Joe purchased gas for the dinghy outboard. After adding the new gas to the tank there was clearly an issue. The engine would start, run for a few minutes, sputter and peter out. Even though water in the gas was suspected Joe attempted to rule out other possible culprits by changing the fuel filter, spark plug and Racor filter. Nothing worked. I must give him credit because he refused to give up even though the situation was discouraging. Throughout the long afternoon, Joe continued to work tirelessly on the outboard. "It's new, it's a Yamaha and it shouldn't be having issues!" I agreed but, being without a dinghy on a boat is akin to being marooned in a house without a car. There are no trips ashore, no visits to friends boats, not jaunts around the harbor. It's quite isolating unless you have a penchant for swimming ashore and once you're arrived you're obviously dripping wet. Where could you expect to go at that point other than a wet T-shirt contest?

Markand Julie
Mark and Julie from Rachel at Cambridge Cay, Exuma Islands
     The query that Joe asked on the SSB net concerning our issue with the outboard resulted in positive results. Our friends Jim and Laurie aboard Kismet were anchored at nearby Cambridge Cay catching up with old friends Mark and Julie aboard Rachel. Evidently, they'd overheard our plea and invited us to join them at Cambridge Cay where Mark, an outboard engine aficionado offered to assist us with a professional diagnosis. Feeling relieved Joe prepared for our next day mid-morning departure north to Cambridge.

     The sail to Cambridge was quick and painless until we reach the narrow coral head studded passage into the anchorage. I was unprepared for the tension of negotiating a zig zag rock and coral strewn, unmarked passage entrance. There were no navigational marks. Close attention had to be payed to the charts, GPS and "eyeball" navigation. I'd developed a slight tension headache when we'd  finally reached the safety of the anchorage.

Joe diving near Cambridge Cay, Exuma
    Most of the anchorage at Cambridge Cay has been taken up by Exuma Land and Sea Park moorings. Mark and Julie work as mooring hosts for the Park so we chose a mooring close to theirs. Mark arrived shortly after lunch, listened to our tale of woe and the sputtering engine. He felt that the least invasive approach was prudent and offered a water filtering funnel and a fresh gallon of gas to facilitate the diagnosis. The boys let the engine run for a while and it was clear that gas was the culprit. Joe spent the next two days filtering the gas that was purchased. He did get a dive in at a couple of interesting spots and was most relieved that the outboard was once again running and reliable thanks to the kindness of friends.

     The experience reiterates the importance of self-reliance when cruising in this area. Carrying spare parts, repair manuals, patience and the ability to problem solve. When all else fails it's great to know that a community of friends is there willing to offer a helping hand.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Staniel Cay, Exuma Islands, Bahamas

Joe sailing Simple Life from Warderick Wells to Big Major's Spot
    Two familiar names are synonymous with Staniel Cay in the Exuma Islands. James Bond and the movie
Thunderball of which the underwater scenes were filmed in the Thunderball Grotto off Staniel Cay. Joe and I sailed from Warderick Wells to anchor for a few days off Big Major's Spot (a cay on the Exuma Banks near Staniel Cay) with hopes of diving at the Grotto. The Grotto is actually a fish and coral filled cave that can be accessed only with snorkel and mask at low tide due to the stalactites at the cave's entrance. As you can imagine this is a popular dive site with small tour boats arriving from nearby Staniel Cay at low tide. Even though Staniel Cay can be accessed only by boat or plane, a boat load of 20 sunburned tourists kicking about in the cave can wreak havoc with a positive dive experience. We'd hoped to arrive at the site just before or after the dive boat. As things turn out, it was a rather choppy day and we opted to wait for a calmer day.
Simple Life at anchor at Big Major's Spot

     While surveying my onboard provisions I made note of diminishing supplies. I tend to get anxious when food stores are dwindling. This can happen quickly when three meals a day are served and eaten aboard. It was time to go ashore in seach of food. My memory of Staniel Cay's "grocery stores" had escaped me since it had been ten years since we'd last arrived. I remembered the Blue Store and Pink Store. No lights inside, hot with minimal provisions because the mailboat was late and hadn't been to Staniel Cay in a week. Ah yes, we have definitely arrived in the Exumas. Yesterday after locating both stores we bought a potato at the Blue Store and Joe bought ginger beer for dark and stormys. There was nothing else to buy. I was happy I'd canned all that meat prior to leaving New England this summer.

     A few cruisers stopped by Simple Life in the anchorage later that afternoon and told us that the mailboat which was bringing supplies and more to the Family and Out Islands was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday but, had a problem with an onboard crane. Thus the reason for the bare shelves and supply delay. Maybe it was time to squeeze in a short dive.
Dive site

     This morning while enjoying our morning coffee I'd spotted several dinghies speeding from the anchorage around the rocky outcropping of Big Major's toward the direction of Staniel Cay. Apparently, the mailboat had arrived. Joe and I scurried about, packing bags for groceries, finding the wallet, sunglasses, hats and backpacks. Joe started the outboard and we were off in a flash. The warm, wet dinghy ride was at least a mile away from the uninhibited island of Big Major where we'd anchored. It was nice to have a 15 hp engine and a hard bottomed Caribe inflatable dinghy to pound through the chop on the southeast side of the island. Just as we neared the dinghy dock the engine conked out. We'd recently purchased gas and feared the gas may have been tainted with water. It would have been impossible to row had the engine quit earlier in the chop. Joe planned to fiddle with the engine but, I was on a food mission. We needed to get to Isles General Store (another store) NOW! Other cruisers were arriving too, and that meant less food for us. We walked up a narrow hill, down a narrow lane, crossed a narrow bridge and came to the store with no lights or air conditioning inside. A line paved with sweaty but, cheerful cruisers went from the cash register toward the back of the store. Everyone was excited about the tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and other fresh produce. We needed eggs, half and half, bread, milk, broccoli, onions, peppers and apples. The Bahamian woman at the counter added the cost of supplys with a calculator as each cruiser placed their items In front of her to be weighed and accounted for. She also left the "checkout" at intervals that added up to ten minute intervals to restock shelves when supplies started dwindling due to the high volume of customers. We all waited patiently, without complaint. As I said, it's the Bahamas and life moves at a much slower pace down here.

Warderick Wells, Exuma Land and Sea Park, Bahamas


     Don't let the title of this blog mislead you. There are no death defying amusement rides, no trained dolphins confined to aquariums and no crowds. The Exuma Land and Sea Park is an above par example of nature's perfection without extensive human intervention and it's accessible only by water. Warderick Wells is also quite a distance from any civilization. The park headquarters at Warderick Wells has one residence for the park ranger and his family. All visitors, mostly cruisers who arrive under their own power in their own vessels anchor near Emerald Rock or rent moorings in the north or south anchorage. Cruisers must be equipped with their own food, water and fuel since nothing is available other than natural treasures in the park's surrounding seabeds and extensive hiking trails throughout the remote island. In 1959 the Bahamian Parliament set aside this 176-square mile area which includes 15 large island and numerous smaller ones with the Bahamian Trust. Within the confines of this large area no fishing of any kind is allowed. As you can image, the fish and wildlife are all protected making this a spectacular place to snorkel and observe nature's finest underwater world.

View of Exuma Sound from Warderick Wells

     The water in the Bahamas is clear and the water in Exuma Park is gin clear if that's imaginable. The best way to describe the area is the it is meticulously conserved and a remarkably close to nature as it was intended. While anchored a Warderick Wells we snorkeled with friends at two reef sites and hiked the islands; craggy limestone terrain. We were the only visitors at the reef where two sharks appeared out of nowhere among an array of colorful corals and fish. I was pleased that I'd bought a full spring wetsuit back in the States. We were in the water for over an hour and even though the water temps were in the high 70's it became chilly after on extended period of time.

Joe diving in the anchorage at Warderick Wells


        The wind shifted gradually to the south during our second night in the anchorage. With no protection from land the anchorage became bumpy during the night. Of course the wind always shifts at night! After a somewhat restless sleep and a two day stay, it was time to move on in search of a more protected harbor and to discover new islands. As we sail south we plan to throw a line in the water with hopes of finding a hungry fish or two for our dinner table. If the fish elude us we can always resort to our cache of canned meat. Here's to hoping for a hungry fish.