In January we made out way back out to the Exumas and since it had been a while, settled on exploring some of our favorite spots again in the Exuma islands. On the first episode of ‘the Wanderbird Chronicles’, we lost crossed over to Norman’s Cay and immediately lost our starboard stabilizer in a wind storm.
Fortunately I was able to find it and retrieve it and we haded south down to Bitter Guana Cay, a quiet spot just south of the popular Staniel Cay and famous Pig Beach at Big Major. Paul met us there, choosing to avoid the trip crossing over from Florida and then our friends Charlie and Jeff came for a few days.
We cruised out to the Banks and anchored for a day and did some fishing and showed them all area hot spots. It’s nice when visitors are so willing to do everything and anything, from under water spelunking to spear fishing.
When they headed home motored south to Georgetown and spent some time enjoying the more developed island and re-discovered the ‘abandoned’ resort on Crab Cay.
All this and more on episode two of the Wanderbird Chronicles. If you’re a friend of Wanderbird, be sure to subscribe on YouTube for all the updates.
Luke discovered a local guy who, if I’m remember the story correctly, was an aircraft engineer who quit to build a better mousetrap, or this case, a better fish trap, or more specifically pole spear, spear guns and now, dive fins.
We were out in the Bahamas and Luke had to run back to Florida for a part for the boat, and while he was there he picked up a few new titanium pole spears. Not 30 seconds in the water I caught a beautiful snapper for dinner and a short time later a grouper that allowed us to feed everyone on board for a couple meals. The poles are longer, lighter, far less prone to any corrosion and way more effective at putting food on the table.
Once back in Florida we decided to upgrade our plastic free diving fins with the Black Reef Spearfishing carbon fiber fins. My first time trying them out, I decided to take the GoPro and do a quick review. To summarize – I’m loving the fins. They’re sleek and powerful and a real step up from my basic plastic fins.
I’m still working on the next two editions of the Wanderbird Chronicles – where we enjoy the company of friends and show them our favorite spots in the Exumas, then motor to the ends of the Bahamas and encounter a nasty storm that steals our anchor!
While out in the Bahamas last winter I took to trying to collect a bit more video to put together some stories about our times cruising the islands. It’s such a wild and unique experience. In my work I normally film and pass off the footage to the production and so I’m not burdened with the consuming work of editing. With this project I have to put in the time to tell the whole story. To collect the sound, choose the music, create narration.
It’s a highly self-reflexive process and one that takes me far too long to complete. As it is now July and here we have Episode 1: Lost Stabilizer in Bahamas Wind Storm.
It feels this way, here in the Jumento Cays. Like we’re on the edge of the world. Perhaps just by comparison to the Exumas, where we’ve spent most of our time. Near Staniel Cay there are mega yachts and swimming pigs and an occasional tour boat ripping past, dumping out screaming vacationers for their instagram moments. In Georgetown the string of mast lights could be a distant city skyline and we’ve often had to wait for traffic through the tunnel to reach Exuma Marketplace for provisions. We would revel at the occasional small, green turtle or nurse shark searching for scraps.
Out here at Flamingo Cay it’s hard to tell the difference between a cay or just a rock. The thin strip that make up the Jumentos runs North East from the Ragged Islands to Long Island. The West side is shallow, from 3 to 30 meters with corals scattered like an asteroid field. The east side drops immediately to hundreds of meters, then thousands. The deep waters and strong tides foster rich fishing grounds. We thought the sighting of a massive loggerhead turtle was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but after several others and some enormous green turtles, we realized it’s the nature of this place.
And then there are the sharks. Not the distinctive, flat, bottom dwelling nurse types, but larger, sleek reef sharks and maybe the occasional bull shark, though it’s hard to identify precisely when you’re doing all you can to remain still and calm and ignore the indelible reputation the media has imprinted on these predators. Fortunately it was tracking the school of fish that swam past and ignored me completely.
People rave about the bounty of the Bahamas. I heard a Florida local comment about how it reminds him how Florida ‘used to be’; so rich with fish, lobster and conch, ripe for the taking. The limits for lobster in the Bahamas is no more than 10 tails per person at a time. Several years ago on the White and Yellow banks of the Exumas we would find numerous rocks crawling with lobster. This year, after swimming many coral outcroppings on the same bank, we found a total of two lobsters – one was a female, not with eggs, but we still released it back, hopefully to bear more offspring.
In the Jumentos we did find many more, including a massive female with thousands of eggs (left to her business) and ledges teaming with spiny antenna. The water is deeper and the current stronger and the entire process of snaring these creatures much more challenging. But commercial fisherman have no doubt mastered this and a few small boats passed our purview, no doubt loading up to return the bounty to hungry tourists up north. The fishing grounds have pushed out this way, to the edge of this world. Hopefully the endeavor is more sustainable than the Flamingos which once lived here, but are reportedly ‘good eating’ and all but relinquished to reserves on other islands.
As we fished and explored, we checked the weather often, as we do. Twenty five knot winds from the northeast; definitely not ideal on this thin strip. Flamingo Cay affords some protection as it run northeast itself with a few spurs to the west. The other boats bugged out, some to the north, presumably to Georgetown and others south to Buena Vista Cay. We’d seen far worse conditions and besides, our 350 pound anchors and monstrous chain had held us when Hurricane Michael grazed us in the Chesapeake. So we enjoyed the solace and near perfect, windless days. Grouper, snapper, lobster and sunsets that made us feel like we were on another planet. Massive underwater structures built by the tiniest of creatures fostered daydreams of alien worlds.
A short chat with the last remaining sailboaters in our surveyed bay confirmed our plan. They agreed this spot should be quite comfortable for the coming blow, though they were headed south on their journey. We settled in and I explored a nearby cave and beach. As the winds picked up into the night it appeared predictions were merely that – a best guess, even with advanced weather models.
Around 9pm the anchor alarm signaled that something was off. We checked the distant cliffs with the spot light and they appeared much less distant. The winds were far more North apparent than predicted, which in turn pushed us towards the rocks rather than into deeper water. Luke made the call, we had to move.
Moving the boat in the Bahamas can be a challenge in the best conditions, with coral heads littering the depths like sea mines, giving them their nickname ‘bommies’. When the winds are sustained at 40 knots and gusting higher with wind and rain, the situation could go from bad to worse. A quick mental assessment suggested that staying where we were could be disastrous.
Luke’s background in flight makes him an excellent captain, especially when it matters most. When this tempest hit, there was no support or help for at least 50 miles either direction. “Take a breath”. We both paused and prepared. Luke took the flybridge helm and I prepared to haul up the anchor. He applied power in bursts and started to move us away from shore with each cresting wave. Hauling hard on the anchor, it seemed to come quick and I assumed we were moving up on its position, but instead of the satisfying ‘clunk’ of the anchor resting into the pocket, the end appeared up the hoss pipe, a clean shackle on its end. The anchor was gone.
I yelled up to Luke and immediately prepared to let loose the port anchor as he repositioned the boat, both of us desperately hoping for enough luck to avoid any of those bommies. Once he was happy with our position he signaled and I released the brake on anchor number two with plenty of scope. We surveyed the area as best we could and settled down for a restless night waiting for the winds to let up.
By mid morning I was able to swim the area and could see our anchor had dragged a bit then taken unexpected bite in the unforgiving, sandstone bottom. The chain was hooked around a rock, not ideal, but secure and had held us through the night. We settled for a day and the following I swam the bay looking for fluke tracks in the sand, to follow them back to our starboard anchor. Sure enough it was there, the shackle blown apart. I secured a buoy and we waited another day for wind.
A few boats streamed in from the south, no doubt having ridden the storm in the better protected Buena Vista Cay to the south. We moved closer to the anchor and prepared a rescue operation. For about two hours, several sharks circled the boat, but when I went to attach a heavy line to haul up our anchor, they had gone and only a massive, green sea turtle came by to inspect, swimming casually, not three feet from me.
We hooked a line to the anchor and used the aft winch to haul it and boat along side each other. Luke deployed the davit and minutes later the anchor was on the upper deck, secured for the trip home.
We’re thankful to have alarms and spotlights and dual anchors. It’s hard to imagine how sailors from years ago survived, but I’m reminded many did not, as I notice the wreckage of a sailboat just on shore near where our anchor rested several days. Our Starlink satellite connection continued to remain connected through the ordeal. Imagine, we could have live streamed. Every experience is a lesson learned.
Those of us that live on the water know this term well. We sculpt much of our lives around the weather.
We’re extremely lucky to have the technology we have today. GPS and advanced weather predictions help us make better, safer decisions. After the refit we had our usual pre departure scramble, though amplified by three years of parts and pieces to sort out. Each morning we refresh weather data on TimeZero, scan through different models on Windy and check the wave predictions on BuoyWeather.com. We weren’t planning a major crossing, 24 or so hours total run, across the gulf stream, past Bimini, a quick customs check in Nassau then a final pass over the bank to Staniel Cay.
All of this requires a few things to line up. The winds on the gulf stream should be light and from the south, lest they rake across the current and make for short period waves. The boat can handle quite a bit, but after a refit and not having run in a while, we preferred a comfortable crossing. Timing needs to be just right to make Nassau during custom’s office hours and allowing for a mid-morning, sunny departure to cross the bank; a shallow (12-20 feet deep) sandy stretch between Nassau and the Exumas that is littered with coral heads that can be within a foot or two of the surface and require good, vertical sunlight to see and avoid.
As we ran our errands, collecting parts for a few final projects, offloading various unneeded items to storage and a late night run to provision, we kept checkin the weather and watching lake-like conditions on the Atlantic gulf stream fading, our window shrinking.
Finally, we finished the preparations, well enough. A number of projects still open, to be finished along the way. We wound our way over the tunnel, down the New River, under the 17th street causeway. Terry, on the Lauderdale water taxi, expressed her joy at seeing us moving again; and offered to come along as a deck hand, not knowing it was no day cruise, but an open-ended departure.
A collective sigh of relief as we passed the port and out to sea, the auto-pilots working ‘well enough’ but still in need of tuning. The sun set behind Miami and Fort Lauderdale, dark encroaching from the east and the stars rose over Bimini as we passed just north of the island in the night. Across the familiar, shallow bank, shoal markers, Bahamas freighters passing in the night, until the towers of Atlantis appeared on the horizon along with the sun.
We found a temporary slip at the Yacht Haven marina in Nassau. Having completed the cumbersome registration process and payment online, we then had to wait an hour for a customs official to come to the boat simply to collect an additional fee. Another window ahead, was diminishing, but fortunately we departed just as the clouds opened and we could make our way south, across the banks and opted to anchor on the east side of Norm’s Cay, right at the edge of our weather window.
With the anchor set and the outriggers launched, Luke decided to try out using the paravanes as ‘flopper stoppers’ to stabilize the boat form the slight roll caused by the incoming swell. As the winds picked up to about 30 knots overnight, we slept, safe and sound. In the morning however, the line to the port ‘fish’ (paravane) was dangling in the wind.
I was happy to be in the water, albeit mission at-hand, to find the 50 pound, aluminum stabilizer plate somewhere on the seabed. The poor water clarity made the search tough, but after a couple hours I was able to locate and mark the escapee with a buoy, then return with a line to winch it from the seafloor. The plate was resting on a rock covered with coral, which was a bit disheartening as we try to avoid impacting the places we visit and carefully choose our anchorages. Coming in with growing winds, it was hard to see that there were a couple rocks in the area but after removing the paravane, I suspect the shackle pin broke free and the plate glided over to rest where it landed. The plates are designed to work as underwater gliders, balanced to fly through the water like a paper airplane.
With the winds, dying it’s on to Staniel Cay to meet Charlie and Jeff, in bound from the cold NorthWest.
With our three year refit coming to a close, we’re finally reaching the point where Wanderbird is ready for sea trials. The shake down cruise was under debate. The Bahamas were calling to us, but finally it was decided it was better to remain in easily towable waters, in proximity of all that Lauderdale has to offer for parts and repairs.
After an intense scramble to finish a few essential punch list items, provisioning and welcoming a few guests to help out, we had a smooth run out the New River on a busy ‘News Years Day observed’ Monday and down the coast to try to catch up with our good friends Chris and Amanda Weingarth, talented woodworker and canvas maker/yacht repair specialist respectively. They have both contributed to Wanderbird over the last few years and are the most upstanding and reputable in their fields with their company Weingarth Customs.
Having never taken Wanderbird south of Lauderdale along the Florida coast we were happy to have Chris and Amanda’s guidance and as we passed the unmistakable ‘Stilts-ville’ at the entrance of Biscayne Bay we were pleased to see a tender approaching fast, with open, welcoming arms, ready to pilot us into the anchorage.
No shake down is official without some issues, and they started as the anchor was set, thankfully in calm and serene conditions. The chain drive on port windlass made a loud ‘bang’ as a link decided it had simply had enough of this world. Fortunately we carry spare linkages and after an hour of greasy work, we were saved having to haul 300 pounds of anchor and 75 feet of very heavy chain by hand… again – which is a story from another trip, for another time.
After a restful evening and pancakes and coffee with the Weingarths and their friend, they headed north and we motored 12 miles south to Elliott Cay at their suggestion. With the tender in tow, we we dropped the hook just outside of the no-wake markers off the national park and I free dove to inspect the new raw sea water intake covers and running gear while Luke and Dave continued with projects and Justin reorganized the Galley.
In the morning we ran Paul to shore to get steps around the lovely national park while Dave, Luke and I went for a quick exploratory swim. We picked Paul up and in the small vessel harbor at the park when something erupted like a M-80 in the water, just behind the tender. We realized the harbor was full of Manatees and we were relieved that our inboard tender was merely a nuisance and not a danger to the beautiful animals as we moved carefully away to leave them to their grazing. 
By mid-day we were cruising north again, dead calm until we rounded out of Biscayne Bay and into some easterly winds that kicked up some mild seas on the beam, reminding us of all the little things that need to be secured to prevent clinking and clunking inside cupboards.
Up the new river in the evening, making the usual radio calls and hearing no reply, we encountered a water taxi passing the gondola on a blind corner, neither of which had responded to our security calls and Luke had to back down and hold to allow them to complete their maneuvers. It’s always shocking how few vessels monitor the essential channels 16 and 9 on the winding New River, particularly commercial vessels. The water taxi captain did come back and apologize saying his radio was ‘out of reach’. Best to keep that within reach when running on a river with sections with names like ‘Danger Bend’.
Back in Lauderdale we went back to work, preparing for the next adventure, further afoot, further afield.
Luke carried on for several weeks with the air conditioning compressor project – we had to remove the new compressors to install a new rack as well – apparently they don’t make the 4 ton any longer, so they sent us three 5 ton compressors which called for a different mounting rack and manifold.
Paul, Jacob and Tyler came into town for the holidays and we spent some time entertaining with Luke escaping to the engine room whenever he could and I at my desk catching up on programming work. We locked onto a weather window to cross the gulf stream and it was the usual scramble to prepare: running around town buying parts and provisioning for 6-8 weeks in the Bahamas.
At around 2AM on the 8th we cast off the lines and made our way down the New River. The stretch of river that once brought me to a borderline breakdown with it’s narrow, winding waterway, has become a pretty relaxing cruise, particularly in the quiet hours of late night or early morning, depending on your perspective.
We crossed to Bimini, arriving at 10AM and anchored just south of South Bimini, given the swell from the north. Luke took our passports in to clear customs while Jacob and I had a swim around the boat and made breakfast. We immediately headed north to round Bimini to the bank and make our way across the shallow waters, past the Berry Islands and around the west side of Nassau then along it’s south coast to cross the White Bank for the Exumas. Evening was upon on by the time we could see Norman’s Cay so we anchored just south and in the morning, traversed the cut to anchor near the plane wreck.
We geared up and took Jacob and Justin to free dive the downed drug plane, then over to the pristine beaches on Norman’s, which Jacob refers to as ‘fake beaches’ – due to their postcard-perfection.
We moved south to Shroud Cay and were delighted to find deep enough water to get within a few hundred yards of shore. Luke jumped on the radio to arrange for a mooring at Warderick Wells the following morning. The weather was a slightly cooler but still comfortable enough to take the tender to explore the tidal river that cuts through Shroud and Jacob and I enjoyed swimming with the current back to the sea.
The next morning we motored another hour south and began to negotiate our way into the narrow channel at Warderick Wells, littered with a few sailboats on their assigned moorings. I stood on the bow with the hook ready to fish the mooring line when Luke called down that the bow thruster was not responding. I raced to the lower helm to see if the controls there would illicit a response. Nothing.
Now at the stern, I watched the shallows behind us as Luke negotiated a tight turn with only the single prop and rudder, around a larger sailboat and back out to open waters. Upon investigating the forward bilge, a hydraulic line to the bow thruster had given out, dumping nearly 50 gallons of fluid into the bilge and rendering our hydraulic driven systems offline. No anchors, no crane to the pick the tender, no bow thruster, no windlass winches for docking. Fortunately the steering is on it’s own hydraulic system or we would have been hand tilling the hefty bird!
We radioed back to the Exumas National Park office and they suggested a first-come-first-served mooring back at Shroud. Upon approach we could see that these tie-ups are another 100 yards closer than we had anchored the night before. Those further out were already taken by very shallow-draft catamarans, but the charts indicated similar depths, so we carefully worked our way in and secured to a mooring within 50 yards of shore.
Luke spent that afternoon on the phone with his hydraulics contact back in Fort Lauderdale. He decided we needed to remove the hydraulic pump and seal the opening that would be left. The next morning Luke manufactured an aluminum plate and gasket and we used a come-a-long to hoist the heavy pump off the engine so we could get the engine running without ruining the expensive pump and avoid the $7,000-$10,000 towing back to Nassau.
It was late by the time we had everything ready and crossed the banks. The hour made it challenging to watch for coral heads – a required duty when crossing. Typically one makes this move in the mid-day, with the sun high, so these massive coral out-croppings are clearly visible, as dark black areas below the surface. With some luck and a keen eye, we made it into Nassau around 7pm with dead calm conditions, perfect for docking sans bow-thruster.
Two weeks in, the hydraulics are adequately repaired for now. A local outfit created new hoses, cleaned up the bilges and loaded new fluid. The weather was initially near perfect and then turned quite intense, with strong winds and in the meantime Luke cut the end of his thumb off testing a generator fan he was replacing.
Today we wait for UPS to deliver a final generator part and then.. south to Georgetown.
Every time we researched ‘things to do in the Exumas’ the number one hit was pig beach. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a beach on an island called Big Major that is occupied, dare I say infested with, pigs.
Rumors fly about the origin of said pigs, including something to do with shipwrecked pirates, but the most plausible is that they’re there to lure in tourists — and lure they do, as there is often in excess of 20-40 boats in the well protected bay and at least as many hungry pigs of all sizes.
We avoided the pigs for as long as possible, instead exploring the natural beauty of the Exumas over transplanted farm animals that some claim are ‘incredibly clean’ but I can tell you first-hand, from raising one as a kid for FFA, pigs are not clean animals. In any case, my sister was visiting and wanted to see the pigs, so we obliged.
She, her husband Cliff and my niece Evaline came for about a week and they picked the absolute best possible stretch of days. The intermittent winds we had experienced since December completely gave way to just a few knots here and there – I think the wind meter peak memory may have logged a whopping 10.
Our first stop was a night at the Exumas Land and Sea National Park just off Shroud Cay where we spent the next day cruising in the tender through the northern cross-island, tidal river, from the banks to the sound.
We followed up the peaceful float with an exhilarating free-dive through a narrow channel at maximum ebb tide – something my friend Lucas thought up while visiting a couple weeks before. Luke dropped us off on the up-stream, banks side of the channel and followed us as we drifted with the fast-moving tidal flow. Looking down at the terrain flying past and diving 15-20 feet with the tidal push, I think we got a taste of what it’s like to be a dolphin!
The timing works out perfectly if you do the river float at high slack tide and then cruise to the channel north of Shroud and float from the banks to the sound side when the flow is moving at top speed.
That afternoon we headed south and slightly back west onto the banks and found one of those dark spots between Nassau and the Exumas and dropped anchor off a pretty large reef about half the size of a football field.
While we snorkeled around, showing my niece how to free dive and observing sea turtles, skates and abundant fish, Luke busied himself by catching a massive yellow-tail Jack. The fish, combined with the lobster we snagged the previous week on the last day of the season, made for a meal fresh from the sea.
I prepared the jack the same way I had a couple days earlier using some snapper: baked with salt, pepper and paprika and then topped with a lemon-herb butter, but the fish was quite dense and hearty, more akin to swordfish or the like and may have been better off thinly sliced and done up another way. A couple days later I treated the family to the last of the snapper for comparison and we all agreed the flakey, delicate, white fish was better with that preparation.
As we prepared to pull up the port anchor an odd noise came from the winch. You become accustomed to the various ship noises how things should sound. A strange drip or motor draws immediate attention. This clunking, grinding sound was bad news. Luke and I spent the next hour-and-a-half using a hand-cranked come-a-long winch to pull the 400 pound anchor and 75 feet of heavy chain up. Luke would pull winch the tackle up a few feet and I would turn the massive chain reel, lock it down, then we’d move the hook a few feet down and start again. Thankfully Wanderbird has two of most every system otherwise we’d have been headed right back to port.
We carried on down to Bitter Guana where we gave the family a taste of island life on Staniel Cay with some lunch and light provisioning at the Pink Pearl. We realized that the tide was right that afternoon for Thunderball Grotto and everyone agreed that snorkeling through the cave, with the beam of light streaming through the opening above, was quite a treat. The cave was filled with fish and the coral outside the east entrance was still abundant, though clearly suffering a bit from careless boaters and snorkelers.
Sunset on Bitter Guana with a short hike amongst the Iguanas rounded out our day and we were free the next morning to head north, back into the Exumas Land and Sea Park, this time picking up a mooring ball at Warderick Wells.
Arriving at Warderick we radioed to the park headquarters and were assigned a mooring ball directly in front of the office. This meant we needed to navigate the narrow, populated channel to ball 17. Tide was in our favor at slack high tide, but it was tough to tell which route we should maneuver around the other boats. We asked for advice from the ranger but she was unable to provide any advice as the shifting tides dictate the best route.
We worked our way in, past the first stretch along the right side and as we shifted to the left for the second line of boats, I found Molly laying on the floor of the upper deck – her way of dealing with the stressful situation.
We made our way around the shallow shoal in the middle of the bay and spun 360 to line up with the mooring ball. A couple of attempts with the hook – a bit of a challenge from the high bow of Wanderbird and we were tied up in a beautiful spot, close to a brilliant snorkeling area.
While checking in we were happy to discover that Saturday evenings the park hosts a pot-luck and we really enjoyed meeting folks from all over and learning about their travels around the globe.
We spent a couple days exploring Warderick Wells and left our mark on the famed Boo-Boo Hill. On the far side of the island, I was lucky to experience a low tide that allowed me to swim into the caves that drive the blow holes. A tiny, private, sandy beach accessible only by jumping off a cliff into the sea and lit only by a skylight in the sandstone, formed by thousands of years of pounding waves.
Our last night there I made a batch of spaghetti using some ground, grass-fed beef. The scent of the blood from the beef attracted some attention below the surface and we discovered a black-tipped reef shark and a large school of jack swimming around the back deck.
We made our way back, stopping for a night at Allen Cay where we watched the Yankee Clipper sail off in a spectacular sunset. With much sadness my sister and her family departed the next afternoon and Luke and I headed immediately back to Fort Lauderdale via brief stops at the Berry Islands and Bimini for rest and to allow a massive storm to pass.
We waited for the north wind to shift around to the east before we attempted to cross the Gulf Stream and while it was likely far better one day later, it was still a wild ride with a healthy northern swell.
Back up the river, the Fort Lauderdale New River docks welcomed us back into our same slip near Avenue of the Arts and the next morning we couldn’t wait to get back to our favorite OB Breakfast House where the staff greeted us like old friends.
Perhaps it was a different tidal shift or more favorable weather – or it could have been the company, but the beach we found off Norman’s Cay was as picturesque as the finest postcard on the revolving rack at the best gift shop in Nassau. If it wasn’t for Paul’s penchant for routine, tracing the same pattern step-for-step, I may not have realized we had visited this beach before, only last time it was littered with garbage washed by the prevailing Eastern wind off Exuma sound and an excessively low tide had rendered the sand with an unpleasant odor.
The ocean has a way of constantly changing, both itself on the surface and the shores it touches. Paul’s two top company employees had joined us with their wives and we spent several days back on the northern Exumas, first anchoring between Allen Cay and Highbourne. We picked that spot because the winds were predicted to shift from the south and it provided better protection. That evening everyone decided they wanted to try Xuma, the restaurant on Highbourne, though as we made the crossing I worried they regretted the decision.
The only reservation available was 8:30 which meant a pitch-dark ride with a cross wind and a potentially treacherous run, part-way through the cut to reach the marina, or at the very least, a very wet ride. Donna was quick to realize that her seat, on the front, left of the rigid-inflatable tender, was the wettest and Lisa did her best to stay low in the bow of the boat. While we had the Garmin GPS to find our way, we found that the iPad with Navionics was better suited to work our way between the rocks and shoals that provided protection at the popular anchorage and before long we were winding our way between mega-yachts to the docks.
Dinner at Xuma’s was quality as expected but we were disappointed our friends couldn’t get the full experience of the view in the dark. The tender ride back was equally wet but everyone enjoyed the sense of adventure you get from successfully charting across a dark expanse, until we could find the lone, incandescent anchor light in a web of LEDs, then clamor off the dinghy back into the security of the Wanderbird at anchor.
The next morning the winds had indeed shifted and we made our way along the sound where we tried our hand at anchoring south of Norman’s, between it, Wax Cay and Boot Cay. We weren’t sure just how the Bird would shift in what we expected to be fairly strong tidal currents given the deep and narrow channel so we anchored slightly out from the crowd.
Luke and I dropped our friends at the beach and headed back down to Highbourne with the tender to fuel up. Along the way, as we cruised at top speed, two globs of dark, black ink shot up from the shallow water, nearly hitting us in the face! We circled around to see if we could tell what sea creature had fired a shot across our bow, but found nothing and speculated it was an octopus startled by our passing.
At the marina our tender continued to give us grievance and the fuel line broke. The helpful dock attendant gave us a rag to allow us to run the fuel line directly into the can, which worked surprisingly well and we made a quick stop at the boat for repairs before picking everyone up.
The sea floor in the area looked less than ideal with some rocks so the next morning I donned the free-diving kit and jumped in to have a look around. The current was indeed significant and it was a struggle to swim forward where the chain was along some rocks but the anchor appeared well seated. As I drifted swiftly past the boat, admiring the fish and terrain below, I saw two enormous antenna leering from a small cave. Our friend Dustin had instructed us to watch for this tell-tale sign of a lobster and this one looked to be large enough to collect free-diving, albeit about 25 feet or more below the boat in a strong current.
The next 30 minutes are a saga best illustrated by photo and followed up with generous application of butter and garlic. Lisa and Donna took care of preparing an excellent lobster appetizer while I worked on dinner and I think we all enjoyed being provided for, at least the first course, by the surrounding sea.
The next day we explored the aforementioned pristine beach and snorkeled the nearby drug-runner plane wreck which was quite a treat – alive with a plethora of aquatic inhabitants. A popular but highly recommended stop if ever in the area.
As evening approached we put forth the idea of trying the nearby MacDuff’s restaurant. The guidebook suggested either a walk around the airport to the west-facing beach or a short ride around the point where we could beach the tender. We opted for the latter and encountered small waves hiding a consistent smattering of rocks.
Once we had everyone wet, but onto shore, we were presented with the task of securing the tender for a couple of hours for dinner. Beaching it was out of the question and anchoring past the waves and swimming in would prove for a wet and uncomfortable dinner in the cool evening air.
Luke and I headed back around the point where a marina was under construction and we found a quiet corner to stash the boat and walk along the runway back to the restaurant.
After a pleasant meal we all proceeded back in the dark along the air-strip, myself now bare-foot having donated my flip-flops to Paul whose shoes had been left behind. Unsure about the sea conditions rounding the point, we tried to find a route to the beach on the leeward side and while searching, we stumbled upon a Doosan trackhoe which delighted Pat and Todd who insisted on getting a photo for their heavy equipment dealer, even while in the dark, wind-swept shores of Norman’s Cay.
As he posed for the photo, the ground gave way under Pat and he fell some eight-feed into a hole, thankfully filled with soft dirt. Once Pat had been pulled from the ditch we found our way back to the tender, loaded everyone up and skirted the shore, barely dodging the break along the rocks.
We wrapped up the trip by motoring back to Nassau where everyone wanted to make generous donations to the Atlantis casino, ride the not-so-lazy river and engage in the comforts of the massive Nassau resort.
My parents arrived in Nassau with a few days overlap before Paul returned to the bitter cold spell passing through Washington State. Dad was particularly excited about visiting, having already wished people ‘happy holidays from the Bahamas’ a month earlier, while still in Southern Oregon.
Once provisioned we departed East from Nassau just as the winds let up for the first time in a few days for a nice, calm run across the bank towards the Exumas. We pushed a little further south than our last excursion, directly to a spot off Pipe Cay. We spent a couple days exploring the area – the waters between Pipe and the other nearby Cays is shallow and was a good spot for Mom’s first attempt at snorkeling, though there isn’t a great deal to see in that particular spot.
After pouring over the maps we found what looked like a better protected anchorage further south off Bitter Guana Cay, but we’d be relying heavily on the navigation charts to work our way past an outer shallow shoal to the slightly deeper spot closer to the island. We approached the cut from the north then turned south towards the visible cliffs on Bitter Guana, hugging the shore within about 100 feet, which is a little nerve-wracking in a large boat in 25 knot winds, though they were fortunately easterly, pushing us off-shore, albeit towards the shoal.
All went as planned and we scooted in with just a couple feet below the keel to drop anchor in what turned out to be one of the most lovely spots we’ve stayed yet.
The next few days I felt like we might have been in the Galapagos. The island is home to rare Iguanas that surrounded our afternoon beach encampment and the snorkeling along the rocks brought the folks closer to fish, coral and other sea-life. I crossed the island to the east side and marveled at the heavier seas crashing on the harsh limestone shores.
It was here that we first encountered the invasive Lion-fish, several of which were hovering around the coral heads near shore. Having recently purchased some Hawaiian slings, a legal type of spear-fishing pole, Luke cleared one fish which was hanging out near a very full fish trap that we left untouched. Had we done the research earlier, we would have taken it back for Lion-fish tacos (more on that later).
After enjoying Bitter Guana and the food and grocery stores at nearby Staniel, we moved further south to the bay at Black Point off Great Guana Cay. We indulged in some Pizza at Dushaun’s and the next morning went looking for the bread maker we’d read about. On the way in I helped retrieve a local man’s bicycle which had rolled off the pier into the sea as children gathered around a man cutting slices of coconut for a Saturday morning treat.
At Lorraine’s Cafe we asked a local woman about the bread and she pointed to the small, white house behind Lorraine’s and instructed us to knock. A voice beckoned us into the small, homey kitchen of an elderly Bahamian woman pulling fresh bread from the oven. Several loaves were lined up on the counter, of which we purchased two at $7 each, one supposedly coconut and one cinnamon, though in the incredible French toast they produced the next few days we tasted both coconut and cinnamon in both loaves.
We anchored next between Little Farmer’s Cay and Little Galliot Cay and set about hunting for Lion Fish, with the intention of indulging in fish tacos while basking in the good deed of clearing reefs of this invasive fish. Apparently a single fish can reduce the reef population by 70% or more, as it has no natural predators in these waters.
Luke was successful our first evening and came up with a large, red striped specimen which he set about carefully cleaning, avoiding the toxic spines that protect the fish from nearly every conceivable angle. After removing one very nice looking, white fillet, the fish slipped off the back deck, so our dream of fish tacos was relegated to a tasting.
I marinated the fish in lime, cumin, garlic powder, salt and a dash of chili powder for 15 minutes, then pan fried the fish for 2-3 minutes per side until opaque. It was excellent and we were hungry for more!
The next day we tried again, first in the same location then scouring the local area but came up empty handed. Disappointing since our first encounter up north we had seen at least 4 among their rocks and reefs, but equally comforting that the area is not entirely overrun.
At one point I noticed a tender hovering near the back deck and emerged to meet a couple from the sailboat Foxy Lady. The husband in this duo had apparently been a captain-representative of George Baker, the original builder of Wanderbird. What a surprise it must have been for them to see her profile across these azure waters, thousands of miles from their last sighting: a boat show in Rhode Island many months earlier. And to see her now fulfilling her mission of exploring distant shores after having been intricately involved in her build so many years ago. We chatted a bit and they headed off to tag sea turtles for the University of Florida on a nearby island. What a wonderful way to spend the day!
We’re now two weeks into my parent’s 3-week visit. The tidal current shuffled us around and last night we moved a hundred feet to deeper water before the very likely event that we’d end up sitting keel-in-the-sand. We’re now contemplating Georgetown or Long Island before making our way back to Nassau next week.