Monday, February 28, 2011

Time in Providenciales (Provo)

Friday 25 February – Monday 28 February

Provo is a big Island, 38 sq. miles compared to the 3-5 sq. mile Islands we have been to, it is a “cosmopolitan” Island catering to the tourism business. Everything is spread out along the beaches so there is no one shopping district / downtown area like most Islands. The hotels (major resorts unto themselves), rental villas, restaurants, and shopping districts are all relativity new, all competing for their share of the tourism boom. Unfortunately many are also empty and several major projects have stalled out (ran out of money). They also had some major damage from 2 hurricanes in 2008, Hanna and our old friend IKE. But they are very optimistic about new investments coming back to the Island. South Side Marina is a long way away from everything. Luckily Simon the manager / harbourmaster and his wife Charlyn are most accommodating and will drive marina guest to the store(s) whenever they need to go !! They go above & beyond to help you out. On Friday morning we went with Charlyn & Liz from another boat to the grocery store. Now we had just been to one on Great Exuma, BUT I can not say this enough we never pass up the opportunity to check out a grocery store, especially after hearing how wonderful this one was. Well it was like walking into a store back in the states, except I think they had some produce that you would not find back in the states. So even though we were just going to look to see what they had and what we might need we came out with a basket full of items. Next Liz had to stop at the Do It (aka Home Depot) store. The truck was barely stopped before Steve jumped out to head in to see what he could find. Back to the marina and now we have to find a place to store all the goods we purchased. We keep saying lets use some of the stuff we have before buying anything new, but then we think this could be the last time we see this item so we buy it. Get things put away, wash the deck of the boat as it is covered in salt from our crossing from Exuma. The marina also has a happy hour every night starting at 5, so we go over to mix & mingle with the other boaters here. Saturday we had planned to rent a car, another couple, Tammy & Joe, wanted to do the same so we decided to all go together in the marina “rental” car (better price then the rental car companies). We have a fun day seeing the sights of the Island, seeing a lot of the different areas. Meeting up with Simon and a few other boaters for lunch at Da Conch Shack. Then touring more of the Island before stopping at the grocery store on the way back as Tammy & Joe had not been yet, and yes we did get a few more things :). Make it back to the marina shortly after the evenings HH as started to join in. Sunday we go diving, there are a multitude of dive operations and sites surrounding the island. Four of them operate out of this marina, our first choice was booked up so we went with Ocean Vibes. It could take years to see all these reefs have to offer, dropping down a thousand feet from the shallow waters of the bays to the Atlantic. We got to enjoy 2 sites seeing the amazing coral walls and the small & big fish that call it home, wish we had time for more. 
Sunday night starts with the marina's nightly 5 o'clock HH, that's the good and bad part of being at a marina enjoying meeting and visiting with other cruisers, but we sure go through a lot more alcohol then when we are anchored out. Monday we spend the day plotting courses to take us to the DR, cleaning, laundry, and making meals to heat up over the next two days while underway. Tuesday March 1st 7 am departure at high tide for 8 hour trip across the Caicos Bank to anchor at Ambergris Cay.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

West Caicos & Provo

Tuesday 22 February – Thursday 24 February

We are away from the dock and heading east out the channel from Emerald Bay at 7 am motor sailing in light winds and calm seas. By 7:20 we are in the deep blue waters of Exuma Sound and our depth finder can no longer read how deep the water is (love that !). We are making good time and by 11 we pass the north end of Long Island and turn east/southeast into the even deeper waters of the Atlantic. The wind is now right on the nose so we roll up the genoa sail. It is a beautiful day and night to be back on the water again even if we have to motor sail. At first all the stars give us some light to see by but by my midnight watch the half moon gives us plenty of light to see by. A quiet uneventful night with one cruise ship passing us close enough to set off the radar 6 mile alarm. Not that I had any trouble seeing it approach from the distant horizon, kind of hard to miss all those lights on a dark sea. Sometime around 5 am,1 hour before my watch, as I am trying to sleep the winds have shifted enough to bring out the genoa sail and I now have to brace myself in bed as we heel over. Just before Steve gets the weather update with Chris Parker over the SSB radio at 6:30, the engine stops!! I am in the cockpit wondering why Steve shut it off from down below something I did not know could be done (other than with the kill switch) and he is down below wondering what I did. Turns out that one of the fuel tanks ran out, and due to the way we were heeled over the other tank could not feed over. We are just off the west coast of Mayaguana, so tack over to allow the fuel to flow to the other tank. Try starting the engine back up with no luck, Steve changes the fuel filter and still it won't start. Next he bleeds the air from the engine & fuel injectors and we are back up and running within an hour. Back on course pretty heeled over so put a ½ reef in then later 1 full reef to keep us more level. Another boat we met during our stay at Emerald Bay told us about a GREAT anchorage on West Caicos. The Ritz Carlton has built a resort on the north side of the Island, and dredged a marina that like so many places in the Bahamas ran out on money before completion. It is a great straight in shot with plenty of water, we are anchored by 4:15 after a 33 hour trip. Sure wish we could go ashore & check it out but we can't since we have to clear customs first which can not be done here. So we raise our Q flag and just sit and relax and enjoy a beautiful sunset in our “private” West Caicos Marina Basin. Get a good nites rest before entering the SHALLOW waters of the Caicos Bank on Thursday. Thursday we do not have far to go but we have to have the sun at the right angle to watch for the numerous coral heads and we have to arrive at the marina entrance at high tide which is at 2 pm. Quick run out in the Atlantic from West Caicos up to the Sandbore Channel to enter the banks to travel along the south side of Providenciales. The water here is more like Abaco clear not Exuma clear, still the dark patches of coral stand out pretty clearly. We had talked to Simon the harbourmaster for the marina earlier after his cruisers net verifying the high tide time, and he said he would come out to guide us in from the 2nd waypoint where there are a few really shallow spots to go through. Sure glad he did as there was still one spot we hit bottom at. We made it in fueled up and were docked by 2:30. Thursday's they have a cruisers BBQ here at 5:30, reminded us of our old TMCA gatherings. They had the grill ready to go for whatever you wanted to throw on and everyone brings a side dish to share. They provided ice (for drinks), plates & utensils, and ice cream for desert. We had a fun time meeting other cruisers in the area. It was a great way to spend our 1st “official” night here in our 2nd foreign country after leaving Kemah 11 months ago.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Hanging out at Emerald Bay

Friday 11 February – Monday 21February

Our mail never arrived on Friday, in spite of Fed-X telling us it would. Saturday, Tanya from the marina was finally able to reach Troy the delivery guy by phone to find out he was still in Nassau and would be on the evening flight back to Exuma. So we will be staying here waiting for the mail. A front with some strong winds is predicted over the next few days so we switched out our dock lines to the stronger nylon ones. Steve worked on an air leak in the fuel line to the generator, thought he found the problem by splicing a new piece of hose in, but it continues to get air in from somewhere?? By 5 pm the winds have picked up to 25+ knots. Sunday is a cloudy, windy day so we decide to walk down the road to a restaurant we were told was just maybe 2 miles away. We found Big D's after 4 miles and being Sunday of course they were closed. It was a good day for a long walk and we caught a ride ½ way back to the marina stopping at the Pallappa restaurant at Grand Isle for a late lunch. Monday we had decided to rent a car and tour the Island. Heading to George Town first. Driving a car with the steering wheel on the right, and on the left side of the road is a strange feeling. It does not take long to see the sights of George Town, the capital of the Exuma's but still a very small community. We stop at the grocery store to see if they have anything different. We do manage to pick up a few things (we have a car) but glad we have the convenience of the grocery store at Emerald Bay with their decent selection. Watching the cruisers take off or put on their weathers at the dinghy dock for the trip across the harbour to the anchorage makes us glad we can provision at Emerald Bay instead of George Town. Stop at a marine store to get a replacement block for the one on the traveler that had broken. Too early for lunch so continue south to Little Exuma and Williams Town stopping at a couple of heritage sites along the way. Back to George Town for lunch at the Club Peace & Plenty. Back north stopping at the boat to drop things off then figure we might as well see the north end of the Island. We drive up to Barraterre and Rolleville, seeing almost every settlement on Great Exuma all in a day. Back to the marina by 6 and YEAH our mail has just arrived. Better late then never which could have been the case as the driver told the marina staff he no longer works for Fed-X and was just being nice by delivering our mail. We missed a good weather window last Friday so even though we now have our mail we will be staying here a few more days until winds & waves are better for heading out. Plenty of walking paths along the beach & golf course, and with free laundry and the big showers not a bad place to be “stuck”. Enjoying the use of the cruisers lounge for “game night”, to watch cable TV, doing a few more boat projects, having happy hours with other boaters, meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones as we are waiting on the weather. It has been a very pleasant & fun stay here at Emerald Bay but 2 weeks at a marina is 1 week too many. We have a good weather window on Tuesday & Wednesday February 22nd, 23rd so we will be taking advantage to make up some miles. We will bypass some Islands in the Bahamas we were going to try to stop at and do a 40 hour passage down to the Turks & Caicos Islands.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Emerald Bay Marina, Great Exuma

Sunday 6 February – Friday 11 February

We leave Farmers Cay Sunday morning around 9:30 heading out the cut to the Sound. All morning boats have been heading out, many heading back north to Black Point & Staniel Cay and many like us heading south, it has been a while since we have seen this many boats out moving in the water. We have been hearing for some time that George Town long known as the cruising Mecca for sailors / boaters has been out of fuel. The owner of Exuma Fuel died and his family is fighting over the company that is also in bankruptcy, so they do NOT know when they will get fuel there again. This is a major concern to boaters going south as the next fueling spot will be in DR. George Town is also the last major re-provisioning place until the DR. So everyone has been telling us to stop at Emerald Bay 10 miles north of George Town, they have fuel and a great grocery store also. It is a marina, no room to anchor but they have “non-service' docks (no power or cable TV) for only a $1 a foot. This INCLUDES very nice showers where they provide pump jars of shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving gel, body lotion, sun screen, hair dryers etc. etc.. The $1 a foot also includes FREE laundry, 4 washer & dryers, free Wi-Fi, complimentary shuttle to the grocery store, cruisers lounge with TV & pool tables. The list goes on and on so this is where we are heading, pulling into the MARKED channel about 2:30, stop at the fuel dock then over to our slip (floating docks). There are several other boats we know already here and a few more coming in. Get our welcome packet and run down of the facilities from the harbourmaster, rinse the salt off the boat, and it is time for HH. They are having a Super Bowl party in the lounge but we & 2 other couples decide to go over to the Pallappa Restaurant & Bar at the neighboring Grand Isle Resort. Back to marina for nice long showers, stopping in to say hi to the group watching the game before heading back to the boat. Monday morning is maintenance day, changing the oil & filters on motor & generator. After lunch head over to check out the grocery store, pick up a few things. We have requested our mail to be sent here so we will be here at least 2 more days so will do major re-provisioning right before we leave. Monday night group of us gather in the cruisers lounge for HH. Comparing tentative schedules, some south some north so we can stay in touch as much as you can in the cruising world. Tuesday morning we defrost the freezer, then visit with Anne & Terry for a while before they pull out to head to George Town. Boats are starting to come in so we lend a hand with several tying up, next thing we know its 2. So we have lunch then go over to the dive shop to talk to them about a dive on Thursday we heard about from another boat. While signing up they inform Steve who has been diving for over 30 years that his PADI card is only good for up to 40'. This is the first time he has ever had anyone question this and they are very worried about liability since the dive shop is run by the Sandals Resort. They were going to do a 2 tank dive one to 100' to see a wreck and one to 35' to see the sharks. So they said we could pay ½ and just do the shark dive. Head over to the beach for a walk along the beach and a swim. Stop by the grocery store for a few ingredients for the nights dinner and to see what new things they got in with the days delivery. A day can make a BIG difference in selections here in the Islands. As they have already unpacked several things we looked for the day before, and are still unloading. Back to the boat and to showers in the big shower rooms. The marina is filling up fast !!!! A lot more boats have come in during the day. Wednesday the morning passes before we know it, at 2 we go over to the dive shop for a 30 minute refresher course in the pool, Steve remembered everything I needed a little reminder on how to manually inflate my BC. One of the boats had been collecting $ and organizing a ice cream social for 3 so we go to that and visit for a while having a little ice cream to cool us off. Back to the boat for dinner then stopped by the lounge where a few boaters brought their instruments up to hang around & play. Friday we are up early to go for our dive, get there at 7:45 for 8 am departure but two guys were late so we left at 8:30. A 90 minute ride over to Long Island, they do the deep wreck dive first while Steve & I and another diver hang on the boat talking with the 2 crew on board. They have provided fruit & pastries so we don't mind the short wait. Next we go to “shark reef”, and a few sharks (Black Tip Sharks) are circling the boat as we anchor. They instruct us to go straight down, kneeling and gathering on the sand bottom. Well I need more weights to get down, so I yell to the dive master & he gets one & puts it in my BC. I always have trouble equalizing, so I have to descend very slow, sometimes coming back up a little before continuing down. With having to stop for the extra weight and now descending slowly, everyone is waiting at the bottom for me to get down. I was so worried about trying to equalize, the sharks swimming around did not even bother me. With a little help from the dive master I join the others and have finally gotten my ears equalized. We swim around a reef seeing all kinds of fish and coral, then back up under the boat where they have lowered 2 bars along each side of the boat. So we have 6 divers on each side hanging on to these horizontal bars as the sharks circle all around us and the boat. They stay at least 3'- 6' (feet) away but are giving us an unbelievable show. Now if we were out swimming or snorkeling and came across a dozen sharks circling us I would most likely die from fright. BUT Black Tip sharks are not very aggressive and divers go out there several times a week so unless you wiggled your fingers or toes in front of them it was really pretty safe. Once we were all back on board they threw some food over and the sharks came up to eat so got a few pictures, since we could not dive to 40' with our camera. No fighting amongst the sharks for food, even some little fish came up to eat and the sharks did not even bother them. They serve lunch, sandwiches, water, soft drinks, still pastries left. They even give you a choice of a glass of white wine or champagne to toast a great day & dive(s). Back to the boat around 3:30 to find no mail delivery. Steve calls them up since it shows the package still in Nassau, but they say it is here in Exuma and should be delivered by 5. By 6 still no mail and the office is closing up, hopefully tomorrow. Friday throw in another load of laundry (it's free), Steve calls Fed X and gets the local delivery guy's phone # (yes they gave us his #) to call him to find out where our package is. We have been leaving messages all morning on his voice mail so HOPEFULLY we will get the mail in time to head out to George Town this afternoon.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Little Farmers Cay

Wednesday 2 February – Saturday 6 February

After a nice relaxing ride out in the sound coming in the channel proves to be a little more stressful as we get a few feet off the channel and run hard aground, luckily on a mostly hard sandy bottom with small rocks. Several dinghies come over offering help to pull us off. The tide is coming in pretty quick so we think it might be better to wait a few minutes. But Terry the owner of Ocean Cabin who we had been talking to about a mooring comes out in his skiff and pulls us off with our halyard line from the mast. The confusion coming in was from Terry directing us to go to what he thought was an empty mooring ball, but another boat had taken it without his knowledge, and Steve looking away from the chart to call him back asking again where it was. Terry shows us where to drop the anchor and by 3 we are settled in, a little close to a cat but Terry assures us that we will be okay. Relax a few minutes before heading in to Ocean Cabin, that is full of cruisers already here for the Little Farmers First Friday in February Festival (5 F's celebration). Thursday morning we here on the VHF radio that they will have a book & DVD swap down at Farmers Cay Yacht Club at 12:30, we have several DVD's we have seen and will not want to watch again so go by to swap them out and have some lunch, meeting a couple of other cruisers. We walked to the marina by the east side road so go back via the air strip on the west side. Glad we got here on Wednesday as boats are anchored all around the Island and still coming in. We head over to Ocean Cabin for a meeting about the weekend events, and meet more cruisers. By 4 just as the meeting is ending we meet up with the folks we met up in Black Point, by now the happy hour has started back at the yacht club so everyone heads over there for HH, where we also see Anne & Terry again. Back to the boat at sunset for dinner. Friday the mail boat comes in a little after 8 blasting music through our anchorage announcing their arrival. Steve goes over to the marina to watch them unload, he describes it as organized chaos as two boats, a pickup truck and tons of supplies are moved off the mail boat by crane onto the dock, and from there to shore by the small army of racers and supporters that came on the mail boat with them. The dock isn't quite wide enough for the pickup at the spot where they land it, so they lay down a couple of planks catty corner on the T head to support the left side wheels. The operation of the crane and riggers would be considered wildly unsafe in the US, but they get the job done, and no one is hurt. The supplies unloaded include about a ton of food and alcohol, TVs, air conditioners, giant speakers for a band, generators, bicycles and a baby goat. These people have come to PARTY! They have one race today and with our binoculars we can see them lined up out on the banks. These are small wooden sail boats and they start with their anchor & sails down, then get them both up at the start. As we go ashore Friday afternoon the locals have set up vendor tables and are selling fresh conch salad, shell jewelry, t-shirts, straw baskets, wood carvings and of course alcohol. We work our way up to Ocean Cabin where Steve is talked into participating in the man’s best legs & best buns contests. It was a pretty funny event, he made 3rd runner up in the legs contest but did not make the 1st cut in the buns contest. Meeting more cruisers is really what this event is about, as we meet boaters we have run into before and new cruisers. At 5 we head down to the yacht club marina for HH and open mike jam session where cruisers have brought ashore their musical instruments for entertainment. We have dinner there and head back to the boat in the dark but only a short ride away thru the anchorage. We hear the music from on shore to the early morning hours. Saturday is another beautiful day for the races scheduled, we take it easy in the morning then head over to Oven Rock to meet up with some others to take a walk to a cave on the southern part of Great Guana Cay. The cave goes down about 90' with 2 freshwater pools at the bottom. Back up from the cave we head over to the beach to go for a swim and cool off. Hike back across the Island to our dinghies and head to the pavilion at the airport for the race awards and a cooling beverage. We get entertained by a band from Great Exuma Cay and get to watch a couple of planes land & take off as we are all gathered to the side of the runway. The 5 o’clock dinghy raft-up as been canceled due to the high volume of speed boats in the area of the channel we would have blocked. Head back to the boat after another day of fun & adventure.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay

Monday 31 January – Wednesday 2 February

After a short 2 hour trip we are anchored off Black Point Settlement by 2:30. This is a quiet non-touristy community on the 2nd largest Cay in the Exuma chain after Great Exuma, but only has this small settlement on the north tip of the Island. As with many of the Islands it is generational land, having been given to freed slaves and passed down over the years. A good majority of the young men work off Island, on one of the neighboring Cays. We are pleasantly surprised on how many of these small Islands & / or settlements are now using reverse osmosis (R/O) for water, making the best of the beautiful salt water they are surrounded by, not bad considering they have only had electricity for 16 years. There are 3 restaurants/bars that rely on the cruising community and offer free Wi-Fi in their locations to encourage patronage. We go into “town” to have a look around stopping at Lorraine's Cafe. We meet Beth & Scott from S/V Painkiller a name we had been hearing over the VHF radio since October in South Carolina. We were traveling along the same route even crossing over to the Abaco's around the same time, just never ran into them anywhere before now. We also meet Tess & Tony from S/V Endurance, and Stuart & Tony from S/V George E. It is funny how the cruising world works you sometimes know someones boat before you know them. Heading back to our boat we stop by S/V Quality Time to visit with Anne & Terry who we had met up at Warderick Wells. Tuesday morning we get some exercise as we hike out to the bluff at Dotham Cut. We go out via the “trail” along the west side beaches and rocks. Once again climbing over rocks feeling like we are walking on the moon. The contrast between the beautiful blue waters and the sand beaches and rock cliffs are an experience to behold. I let Steve know I am NOT going back via the rocks and we need to find the path that leads us to a road heading back to town. Well as with many of these Islands the paths are NOT so easy to find. We can see what looks like a path from up on the bluff, but once down in the foliage it can not be found. We wade through the flats (thankful it's low tide) to finally reach the gravel road that leads to the dirt road that finally leads to the paved road back to town. Three hours only 5 miles, I am exhausted. Stop by the grocery store to pick up a few fresh veggies as the mail boat was arriving as we left on our hike. Quick trip back to boat to get laundry & computers and back into town. Another way the town caters to cruisers is having a really nice, clean laundromat. Throw in a couple of loads & back to Lorraine's with our computers for lunch. Today is NOT a good internet day, as the signal keeps dropping, so finally we just give it up. It is a community of very trusting and kind people. Both at Lorraine's and the laundromat, that also has a small store attached, the owners will leave you to help yourself. At the laundromat, Ida will leave and tell you that if anyone needs anything she will be upstairs. At Lorraine's, the beers & soft drinks are in a cooler and you let her know how many you had. If you do not like the way she makes your drink, you can go behind the bar and fix it yourself. Later we join Tess & Tony on Endurance, with Beth & Scott and Stu and Tony for sundowners and a pot luck dinner. Enjoy a beautiful sunset with great food, drinks and conversation into the evening. Wednesday Tess calls up on the radio to follow up on a conversation from the night before to see if we all still want to walk over to the “Garden of Eden”. The 8 of us meet at the government dock at 9:15, for a short walk along paved roads to what has been named the “Garden of Eden”. The property is a huge patch of mostly flattened limestone with the the front having all different driftwood sculptures, and the back having all different fruit trees growing up from holes in the limestone. Willie the artist is not home but Betty is and explains all the different trees & plants to us. Another unique Island adventure. On the way back we stop by Regatta Point a small cove with a nice park pavilion and dock, probably used for Island events. Walk back to town, Steve and I head back to our boat as we will be leaving this afternoon to head down to Little Farmers Cay, there is plenty of 6' anchorage but limited anchorage space in deeper water so we want to get there early to find a place to anchor before all the other boats start coming in on Thursday for the weekend festival. We are underway by noon heading out into the sound where we are in 100'+ water most of the way down, so have a relaxing trip down.

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