Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back in Florida and the ICW: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It's been a week and a half since the last blog.  We've been anchoring out constantly, so internet is hit-or-miss.  But we also just don't have much to report. Reader beware: rants will follow, peppered with sailor-quality vocabulary.  Just so the Wilsons are warned.  :)

The Good: Communication!  Now that we're back stateside, we can talk to people again.  I've talked to my parents almost every day since we've been back.  Trevor can finally call his BFF and start catching up on what he's missed.  And even though we don't have it every day, we do have access to internet.  So we can check our email every once in a while.  Though I'm a slacker friend and keep not calling people (I'm sorry; I promise I'll try to call sometime!), I do like knowing that I can call when I finally get the inkling. 

The Bad: Traffic!  Florida is full of boaters.  Fast boaters.  Inconsiderate boaters.  There are a few nice ones, but they are the exception (and usually are cruisers and therefore not Floridians).  I don't know what the deal is.  The bigger the boat, the bigger the douchebag driving it.  Compensating for something?  I think so.  Compensate with a shiny car, and get out of my way, you jerk!  And the weekends are the worst!  The douchebaggiest boaters come out on the weekends, in hoards.  They rush by in their big (why so big???), fast boats, sending huge wakes to knock us sideways and spill our coffee.  We've taken to finishing coffee before we get underway.  And now I have a sippy cup to prevent spills (it's a "straw bottle", but sippy cup is more fun to say), and the sippy cup makes one-handed drinking easier when at the tiller (unscrewing a bottle cap is hard with one hand!).  Right, we were talking about inconsiderate morons, not sippy cups.  They're inconsiderate morons!  (Now we're back on track.)  Do they ever look behind to see the effects of their wake?  Do they?  Of course not.  They're too busy spying out the next boat to dodge, or ogling a bikini-clad chicky.  Yesterday, we were passed by a speed boat driven by a guy with bigger boobs than me (I'm no Baywatch girl, or anything, but still).  This guy works way too hard to look good driving his boat around.  Spend less time at the gym and more time learning to drive your boat without being an ass!

The Ugly: Muddy Water!   Remember those pictures of the Bahamas, with their gorgeous, crystal-clear water?  Remember that?  It was a long freakin' time ago.  We're back in the ICW, and that means murky water.  Muddy grossness all the time.  Back in Tennessee, we swam in muddy water all the time.  Though dirty, it was fresh water.  Now we have muddy and salty.  No fair!  It's hard to wrap our heads around jumping in that water to take a bath.  How can we be cleaner after going in there?  Thank goodness for the solar shower!

The Good: US Prices!  Food, fuel, and water were crazy expensive over in the Bahamas.  Okay, water wasn't expensive, but we did have to pay for it.  I'm sure those of you who haven't left the States are thinking fuel is expensive here.  I saw $3.47 for gas today.  We were paying $6 over there.  I'm sure I'll grumble over the prices when I start driving a car again, but for now I'm happy to be back!  We fueled up about a week ago, and it cost us $25 for 5 gallons of diesel, a block of ice, and a bag of ice.  And water was free!  We were super happy about it.  We went to the grocery store and spent $25.  We got so much food!  Produce, meats, bread!  And that was a Publix.  Imagine how much food we would get at Aldi.  (Oh, we can't wait to shop at Aldi when we get to Chattanooga.)  We're afraid of packing on the pounds since we can afford food again.  But we're able to buy more produce (Bahamians are not really into the whole vegetable thing), so maybe we'll eat healthier.  Maybe.  Oh, and we have ice!  All the time!  Because it's only $2-3 for a bag (or block - they have blocks here, too!).  Oh the joys of having a cooler that's actually cold and not just "kinda cool-ish".  And Trevor gets cold beer now.  Happy Trevor!

The Bad: Jerkwad boaters going fast and rocking us with their wakes.  Oh wait, I already covered that one.  But they're really obnoxious. 
The Bad: Weather.  It's hot here!  And humid!  I guess that's normal for June, but I gotta whine about something, right?  It seemed like the wind blew all the time over in the Bahamas.  So while it was warm, it was usually not too hot.  And we could always go for a swim in that gorgeous water.  (Oh, how I miss it!)  But when the wind doesn't blow here, it's miserable!  The first week we were traveling, the wind was dead until the afternoon.  Once the breeze picked up it wasn't so bad, and sleeping was very comfortable with a nice wind.  The last few days have been a little better.  It's been breezy right from the get-go.  Ah, not so sweltering.  It also lets us fly a sail (usually), so we pick up a little bit of speed.  Until the current turns against us.  Blast you, unfavorable current!  We hate those currents when they're against us, but love them when they work for us.  But I guess with breezy mornings, we get crazy afternoons.  Thunderstorms.  We've been fortunate so far and haven't been smacked down like we were outside of Palm Beach.  Yesterday, we drove for about 2 hours in the rain.  Then anchored in the rain.  But the boat was cleaner!  Until we pulled up anchor this morning.  But that's back to the muddy water rant, and we've already covered that one.  (Did I mention it's salty and muddy? Ick!)

The Ugly:  Scenery.  Up until a couple of days ago, the scenery was craptastic.  Nothing but big buildings, lots of development, and HUGE houses.  Why does anyone need a house that big?  Don't you have something better to spend your money on?  Like, I don't know, a boat to go on that half-mile long dock you have?  And do these people have solar panels on these giant McMansions?  Nope.  As we've moved north, we've seen a few more solar panels.  And they make me happy.  A couple of houses have had entire roofs covered with solar panels.  Way to go, rich people!  That's how you lead the way to greener living!  If the rich people don't do it, how do they expect the rest of us to do it?  Solar panels are pricey!  (Trevor and I are determined to have at least a few on our house, when we get a house, one of these days, in the future.)  Right, I was talking about scenery (or lack thereof), not ranting about rich people.  They're probably very nice.  Even though they don't like us anchoring near their houses.  Scenery.  Yes.  It was bad.  Hotels, businesses, giant houses (not even pretty, they all looked the same, and boring).  Then we hit Mosquito Lagoon.  It's not exactly scenic, but at least there were no buildings.  But when we got north of the lagoon, oh yes, here are some people with their priorities straight.  I don't know what the town/neighborhood/whatever was called, but it was awesome.  Quite a few double-wide trailers (and a few singles), some small houses, all of them immaculately kept and with a nice dock.  The houses weren't big, but these people obviously took pride in them and loved them.  They were in good repair, nice paint, a little landscaping to make it look homey.  A beautiful area.  And people used their docks!  Even on a weekday, we saw many people on their docks.  Fishing, snuggling, or just enjoying the day.  It was a nice change to see.  And the scenery has been better ever since.  There have been a few cities (Daytona isn't so scenic from the ICW side), but there's been much more wildlife.  Yay for wildlife!  Except mosquitoes - I hate those blood-sucking bastards!  Oh, yesterday, we saw huge jellyfish.  They were probably 12 inches in diameter, just drifting along with the current.  It's weird to see jellyfish in muddy water.

The Good: Dolphins!  Maybe two or three times in the Bahamas, we saw dolphins.  Here, we see them all the time!  Sometimes just one or two swimming off in the distance.  But occasionally, we'll see a whole pod!  As we were coming into New Smyrna Beach, we saw a bunch of them.  When they swam over a shoal, it was too shallow for them to get underwater, so we saw their dorsal fins wiggling as they scooted across the shallows. So cute!  Even after a big (or not) doofus speeds past us and knocks us around, a dolphin always cheers me up.  They're just so happy.  This morning, we had a double rainbow, and dolphins swimming under it.  So happy it was ridiculous!  Like and '80s cartoon or something.

We miss the beauty of the Bahamas, no doubt about that.  But we are happy to be back in the States.  We've missed family and friends.  We've even seen people!  We got to see my cousins Dee, Jim, and Jon while we were in Palm Beach.  It was awesome!  And two days ago, I saw Tammy (wife of my old dock buddy JD) while she was on vacation with her family.  We played miniature golf (excuse me, Adventure Golf!) and had a great time.  If our luck holds, we might get to see David and Alice from Alice Mae while we're in St. Augustine.  They've got other things to worry about right now, but if we don't get to see them this time, we'll see them when we come back down.  And St. Augustine is gorgeous!  Lots of tourists, but the city itself is pretty.  And we had pizza for lunch!  Our first pizza since we got back, and it was delicious!

We're making our way north at a pretty decent pace.  We expect to be in Brunswick, GA by next weekend.  It'll probably take us a day or two to get the boat ready to sit for a month.  A solar panel to install to keep the batteries topped up, removing all perishable food, general cleaning.  But then we'll rent a car and head back to Tennessee!  We're excited about seeing family and friends.  We can tell our stories to a new, appreciative audience.  We'll sleep in beds.  We'll do laundry until absolutely everything is clean.  We're even getting a 7-months-later Thanksgiving dinner with my family, since we all missed Thanksgiving last year.  (Traditional Thanksgiving anyway - my dad still raves about the arepas London's husband made us last Thanksgiving in Mobile.)

Being back in Florida is a huge change.  But we'll take it.  The good outweighs the bad and ugly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

High-Seas Excitement! Adventures in Returning Stateside.

So we were anchored at Chub Cay, right?  The wind had been blowing pretty much out of the east.  Then Friday afternoon, the wind shifted.  It started howling out of the north.  We weren't very well protected from the north, so it got a bit bumpy in the anchorage.  Fortunately, the water to the north is pretty shallow, so the waves didn't have a chance to build up too much.  But it was still a little exciting.  Then the sailboat anchored behind us started to drag, Isle Escape.  And the little broken-down sailboat that had 3 anchors out, remember them?  With the wind shift, they were now behind the boat that was dragging.  Luckily, there was no collision.  But Isle Escape's anchor did catch one of the 3 that the little boat had down.  Anchor tangle! No good!  They managed to get untangled, but then started dragging again.  Oh no, there's a catamaran in the way!  But they started their engine, hauled up anchor, and moved to a new spot.  A couple of times, they dropped anchor but then started dragging.  So eventually, they gave up on that anchoring business and went into the marina.  We were all relieved.

At some point in the night, the wind shifted the opposite way.  South winds, what the what?  And yep, they were howling.  It made us uncomfortable to have a 180-degree wind shift.  Would the anchor hold?  If it were deep sand under us, we would have no worries.  But it was grassy sand.  Not such good holding.  Fortunately, our totally awesome Delta anchor held through it all!  Best investment ever!  Neither of us slept very well that night.  It was uncomfortably wavy, and we worried about the anchor.

The next morning, the wind was still out of the south.  We were up at the crack of dawn, sipping coffee and waiting for Chris Parker to come on the radio and tell us about the day's weather.  Around 7:00, we headed out right behind Amata Marie.  We would have 13 miles of deep, open water before we hit the banks.  Would this south wind make it horrible?  Nope!  It was actually pretty nice.  There was a big roll that rocked us back and forth, but not as bad as when we left the Exumas, or when we left West Bay.  Alright, this banks crossing is looking good!  Once we made it through the northwest channel onto the Great Bahama Banks, the waves calmed considerably.  And the wind shifted again.  West.  Right in our faces.  Rats!  We managed to use the main sail for a little while, but eventually we were going straight into the wind.  So it was pure motoring.  Slow and noisy.  But we were making progress.

It's 70 miles or so from Chub Cay to Bimini.  With a good wind we could make it in a day.  We did not have a good wind.  It was apparent by mid-day that we were not going to make it by sundown.  We could either go through the night and get to land while it was dark, or we could anchor on the banks.  We opted for the latter.  It's exciting to anchor 25 miles from the nearest land.  We caught up with Amata Marie just before sunset and dropped anchor in 15 feet of water.  Did I mention the wind shifted again?  Northwest this time.  It managed to chop up the water a little more.  So we were not comfortable, the boat rocked and rolled all night.  We weren't worried about the boat or anything.  The deep sand made for excellent anchor-holding.  And even if the anchor did drag, where were we going to go?  We were in the middle of nowhere!  So it was discomfort, not stress, that made it the second restless night in a row.

And then the sun came up on Sunday.  We had about 5 minutes of amazing sunrise, and then the clouds obscured our sun.
Sunrise on the banks
We had coffee and breakfast and headed west.  We made it into South Bimini mid-afternoon.  Hello, Bimini Sands Marina!  This was our first time in a marina in 2 months.  It was so weird to pull the boat into a dock!  But we managed and got tied up and fendered.  Then we helped Amata Marie in.  Holy crap, it's hard to dock a 44-foot, 20-ton sailboat!  I thought mine was tricky.  Makes me happy for little bitty Earendil.  It didn't take us long to don our swimsuits and take advantage of the swimming pool.  Our first time in fresh water since who knows when.  It was nice to get out and not feel the desperate need for a shower.  But it was also weird to sink in the water and not float on top.  Changes!  We all went out to dinner down at Bimini Beach Club.  Our last dinner in the Bahamas.

And then came our last sunset in the Bahamas.  I'll admit, it was a little sad.  We've had some amazing sunsets, even a green flash once.  And this would be the last time for a long time that we'll get a sunset over the water.
Our last sunset in the Bahamas
After showers and laundry, we enjoyed our last night of hanging out with Jim, Nancy, and Tim on Amata Marie.  We've been traveling with them a long time, and we're going to miss them terribly.  Our little Bahamas family is finally broken up.

Monday morning, we were up at 5:00 getting the boat (and ourselves) ready for a 6 am departure.  We managed to get out pretty much on time.  The seas were calm, the wind was light.  It was shaping up to be an amazing Gulf Stream crossing!  We had a slight west wind in our faces for several hours.  It wasn't enough to slow us down, just enough to keep it from getting unbearably hot under the sun.  So we motored.
Sunrise over Bimini

Reflection of the clouds in the calm, glassy water
In the afternoon, the wind died completely.  And it was hot out there!  I mean, really hot!  We were terribly tempted to turn off the engine and jump in for a swim.  But out in the middle of the Gulf Stream is probably not the safest place to swim.  So we sweltered.  I went inside and had a nap.  When I came back up, the wind had picked up out of the south.  Just enough to cool things off, not yet enough to put up a sail.  It gradually picked up.  Trevor suggested raising the main sail.  Good idea!  So we hoisted the main and gained a half knot.  Then a whole knot.  Yeah, buddy!  Cruising on.

We had "land ho" around 1:00, but we were still far from our destination.  Once we saw the Palm Beach skyline, we knew we were only a few hours away.  And the wind continued to build out of the south.
And they kept building.  And the waves grew with the wind.
It was a following sea, so it just pushed our back end around a little bit.  But it wasn't scary.  Yet.

When we were about 10 miles out of the Lake Worth inlet, the clouds started building up, too.  Hmm.  We had the full main sail up, and I knew if the wind picked up too much, we would have to reduce sail.  But we also needed the sail up to keep our speed up.  The sooner we get into land, the better.  It also gave us much-needed stability in a 5-to-6-foot chop.  So we left it up.

When we were a mile from shore, we knew we wouldn't make it in before the storm hit. I decided life jackets were in order.  When the wind hit about 20 knots, it was past time to take the sail down.  I noticed the sail already had a little tear up at the top.  This is when things got exciting.  The wind picked up fast.  Trevor was up on deck taking the sail down, and the wind kept getting stronger.  He managed to get it lashed down to the boom when a big wave came at us from the side.  "Hold on!"  I didn't see it, but Trevor said our gunwale went underwater.  Yikes.

We were 1/2 mile from shore, just getting into the channel to take us inland.

And then all hell broke loose.  The wind roared out of the south, bringing a couple of waves at least 10 feet high.  Fortunately, they were swells, not chop, so we just rode up and down them.  Whoa!  Then came the rain.  Heavy, blinding rain blowing straight into our eyes.  We couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction.  The wind howled like I've never seen before.  I guessed it had to be 50 knots.  Holy shit!  Thank goodness we took the sail down.  It would have been completely shredded in those winds.  We had to put on sunglasses just to keep the rain out of our eyes.  I don't know if you've ever had rain blown into your eyes at 50 knots, but it hurts.  The wind howled, the boat rocked, and we held on!

We had the SeaClear navigation software pulled up on the computer, so I had Trevor keep an eye on it to make sure we stayed in the channel.  With the wind and rain, we couldn't see where we were.  Every once in a while, I could pick out the blinking lights on the channel markers.  With that poor little 8-horsepower motor fighting against the wind and waves, we weren't going much of anywhere.  My only goal was to keep us upright and out of the shallows.  There was nothing to do but keep going as long as we could.  If the worst happened, we were wearing life jackets and would swim to shore once the storm let up.  But we just had to keep going.  And it's a good boat.

I have no idea how long the storm lasted.  20 minutes?  30?  It seemed like forever.  I just drove and hoped for the storm to go away.  It started to slack just enough for us to see shore.  We had made maybe 50 yards progress while the storm blew at its fiercest.  Trevor said something about us making it in to the shelter of the channel soon.  I told him the storm would blow over by the time we made it to shore.  And I was right.  As we motored past the jetty into the inlet, the wind eased off and the rain slowed to a drizzle.  Thank goodness!

As we made our way inland, a Coast Guard boat zoomed out past us to go save someone.  We heard on the radio that a catamaran with 4 people on it had capsized in the storm.  We were passed by two towboats bringing people in.  I thought those guys were going to be busy for a while.  I remembered a little fishing boat going out past us as we were trying to beat the storm in, thinking they were idiots for going out in that mess.  I'd say we were idiots for getting caught out in it.  But we did all that we could.  That little sailboat only goes so fast, and we tried so hard to get in.

But we survived the storm!  With no damage except a small tear in the sail, we came out better than we could have hoped.  It was, by far, the worst weather I've ever been in.  That estimation of 50-knot winds?  I was right on.  Reports came in later of 55-mph winds on land.  And we made it through!  All thanks to an excellent first mate, a solid little boat, and an awesome captain (screw modesty, I kicked ass that day)!

Two and a half months in the Bahamas.  75 miles across from Bimini.  And a half mile from being back stateside, we get pummeled by a wicked thunderstorm.  Thanks for the warm welcome, Florida! 

After the storm was over, we made our way into the ICW.  On our way in, we were awarded with a double rainbow (not full-on all the way across the sky, but double rainbow nonetheless).  We earned that rainbow, I say.  Then we anchored, put on dry clothes, called families, and enjoyed some nerve-calming sangria.  What a day.

Tons of boats and big, tall buildings. Welcome back to Florida and the ICW.

Yesterday, we moved to a marina.  Docked like a couple of pros.  In the afternoon, my cousins came and picked us up.  Now we're hanging out with Dee, Jim-Bob, and Jon.  Sleeping in a big, king-sized bed that doesn't rock.  Enjoying a noontime Bloody Mary.  Yep, life has gotten pretty sweet.  We're enjoying a little bit of down time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chillin' at Chub Cay

Monday morning, we left the gorgeous (if not cruiser-friendly) West Bay and headed northeast toward the Berry Islands.  Last time we came to the Berrys, we saw the northern islands.  This time, we were aiming for Chub Cay.  The seas were rocking and rolling when we left, hitting us on the side and knocking us around for the first hour or so.  But then they smoothed out a little, we got the rhythm down, and it turned into a really nice, blue-water day.  Around noon or 1:00 we had "Land Ho!!!" as Whale Cay came into view.  Then the rest of the southern Berry Islands materialized in front of us.  We figured out which one was Chub Cay and headed that way. 
We'd been told the little cove on the west end of the island was a pretty nice anchorage, so we tried it out.  There was a catamaran already anchored here, so we tried to give them plenty of room.  The first time we anchored, we felt we were too close to the channel, so we picked up and moved closer in.  Ah, that's better, no worries about getting hit by a mailboat or fishing boat.  When we dove on the anchor, it didn't look like it dug into the sand very well.  It's grassy here, so it's a little harder to anchor really solidly.  Thank goodness for our Delta.  We swam around, scouting out sandy patches.  When we decided it was plenty deep to move farther in, we fired up the motor and hauled up the anchor.   We got close to a sandy spot, and Trevor dropped the anchor.  When we snorkeled on it this time, we were still in grass.  We missed the sand by about 10 feet.  But the anchor seemed pretty solid, so we decided to stick with it.  We've been through some pretty strong winds since, so it seems we made a solid decision. 
Then Amata Marie followed us in and anchored between us and the catamaran. Seemed like a snug fit, but we're all good.  Over the last few days, more and more boats have come in here.  It's a new spectator sport, watching new boats anchor.  Some are successful, some are scary. 
A shiny, shiny sailboat came in and dropped anchor a couple of days ago.  The boat was so shiny, my first thought was "charter boat".  They backed down on the anchor, but the captain ("dad") said they were dragging.  I don't think so.  Then he said the current was pretty strong.  Current?  News to me.  So like many guides will tell you to do, they dropped a second anchor.  Bahamian mooring?  Not quite.  The execution was all wrong, and the second anchor was completely pointless.  And everyone else in the harbor had down one anchor.  These crazy people were obviously quite new.  Charter boat still seemed pretty likely.  Then the snorkelers entered the water and tried to set the second anchor.  Wha???  Needless to say, we were so glad these guys were behind us and not in front of us.  They left the next morning.  Thank goodness.
And yesterday, a tiny sailboat was towed in.  Jib was torn, no engine was on the back.  Yikes, not a good day for these guys.  They anchored right in the middle of us.  I didn't think there was room between us and Amata Marie, but apparently there was.  Sailboat Tetris!  Then the guys went ashore.  After a while, it was apparent that their anchor was dragging, so Trevor and I snorkeled over it.  We could see the 100-foot long ditch it had cut through the sand and grass.  Whoa.  When we got to the anchor, it was a CQR on its side.  Why didn't these guys snorkel over their anchor and check it out before they went ashore?  No idea, but Trevor and I managed to reset their anchor for them.  Heroes!  Meanwhile, the guys came back out and dropped 2 more anchors since they'd been dragging so much.  Danforth anchors.  These are great anchors in mud and sand, but they do not like grass.  With Trevor (not either of the guys from the boat) snorkeling, they managed to get one of them to set (more or less).  Then we got their story.  One guy has been sailing on his boat for a year and a half.  His friend joined him not long ago.  According to the captain, his friend had managed to break many critical systems in only 5 days.  He hit a reef, their rudder broke off, their sail tore, their engine wasn't working.   A heap of trouble.  I think this might be one of those friendship-ending kind of trips.  Who's to blame?  The guy who was driving?  Or the captain who let him hit a reef?  Seems blame can't be assigned only to one person.  But I'm an outside, what do I know?
Besides excitement in anchoring, we've done a little bit of fishing.  There's a pretty awesome reef about a half mile away.  We spearfished on that, no one particularly successful.  There were huge, delicious-looking fish everywhere, but we were not so successful with the spearing.  As a consolation prize, I managed to snag us a couple of bluestriped grunts.  Man, those things are good eating.  Small, but delicious.  I made fish tacos out of them.  If the sun comes out today, we might just go back out and try again. 
As for our future plans, it looks like we might just be leaving tomorrow.  The wind is supposed to die down tonight and stay calm for a few days.  So it could be crossing the banks tomorrow (and maybe Sunday), then heading back across the Gulf stream to Florida.  There's a good chance we'll be back in the States Monday.  Woohoo!  We're psyched.
We've loved the Bahamas, and we'll miss them when we're gone.  The water, beautiful, clear water.   But in the States, we'll have phones that work and grocery stores that are affordable.  We might even go into a marina or two.  We haven't stayed in a marina in 2 months.  We haven't plugged up to shore power in over 5 months.  We never would have thought it.  Go us!
Next time I blog, we'll be in Bimini or Florida.  Yay!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dear Exuma Cays: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Farewell, beautiful waters of the Exumas

It's been a while.  Internet in the northern Exumas is hard to find, and expensive when found.  Last time I updated, we were in Black Point. 

We stayed in Black Point just one night.  Long enough to do laundry, get some groceries (and ice!), and have a cheeseburger.  The next morning, we moved on up to Big Majors Spot, just outside of Staniel Cay.  Last time we were there, it was insanely crowded.  Sailboats, trawlers, motorboat, and megayachts.  Dinghies, runabouts, and tenders (think really big dinghies) roared by at all hours, kicking up a wake and making us nervous for our anchor line.  That's when we started employing the kellet to keep our anchor line down and out of danger.  That was last time.  This time was so much better!  Way fewer boats, no tenders, and plenty of room to anchor.  It was pretty sweet.  And Amata Marie was already there, so we had company.

Since it was less crowded, we decided to try spearfishing around some rocky islands on the north side of the anchorage.  There were just a few coral heads, but we fished them to our little hearts' content.  Jim and Tim from Amata Marie came with us on the hunt.  We managed to get 2 or 3 bluestriped grunts, a Nassau grouper, and a lionfish (guess who got that one).  Jim also found a little bitty lion fish.  He wasn't too concerned about spearing it because it wasn't big enough to eat.  I have no such qualms when it comes to those guys.  I speared it and wiped it on a rock for the birds to eat.  That brought me up to 5 lion fish.  We cleaned up and dinghied over to Amata Marie, where Tim showed me the proper way to clean a fish.  Yay for finally learning how to clean a fish!

On May 27, we moved up to Warderick Wells.  We didn't want to fight the crazy currents around the main mooring field (or pay for a mooring ball), so we anchored around the Emerald Rock area to the west of the island.  The next morning we headed in to shore, taking advantage of the end of an outgoing current.  We hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill.  This is a place where cruisers can leave their mark, or at least a piece of driftwood with their name on it.  It's an impressive pile of boards commemorating all the boats that have passed through.
Boat boards on Boo Boo Hill
We made a board, too.  But there's a story behind the wood itself.  When we left Chattanooga, we had this little rectangle of plywood, just a scrap we'd used to catch drippings of glue, paint, silicone, whatever was dripping from any project at any given time.  It sat on top of the cabin, just because we forgot to throw it away before we left.  It stayed all the way down the rivers, through Mobile Bay, across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Keys, across the Gulf Stream, over the Great Bahama Banks.  It wasn't glued or fastened down; it just stayed there.  We thought it was our lucky board.  But then I thought about all the rotten weather we'd had with that board up there.  Maybe it was an unlucky board.  While we were in the Berry Islands, Trevor cleaned it up and sanded it down, thinking we'd paint something on it to change its luck.  We didn't get around to it until we started thinking about a board for Boo Boo Hill.  We used our lucky/unlucky board to leave our mark in the Exumas.  It seemed appropriate to leave something there that had traveled with us since the beginning.  It's nothing fancy, but it's us.
Trevor and me and our sign atop Boo Boo Hill

Earendil's sign on Boo Boo Hill
That afternoon, Amata Marie joined us, as well as Juno.  We took the dinghy out to the Malabar Cays to do some snorkeling.  I've never seen so many conch!  Big ones, too!  We were in the Land and Sea Park, so we couldn't take any.  We also saw some good-sized fish, including some huge mutton snapper and a dozen or so barracuda (creepy buggers followed us around).  I think the fish (and conch) know they're in a safe place and never leave.  We came back in and snorkeled on some of the coral heads around Emerald Rock.  Pretty nice, with colorful coral and lots of fish.  But no lion fish, fortunately. 
The next morning, we headed up to Shroud Cay, at the north end of the park.  We skipped it on the way down, but we were told it's a must-see with creeks going all the way through the island.  So we grabbed a mooring ball and took the dinghy across the northernmost creek.  It was indeed pretty cool.  It's odd to see blue water in the middle of an island.  But the creeks run from the Sound side to the Banks side, flowing with the tides.  We battled an incoming tide until we got to the other side. 
East end of the creek on Shroud Cay
Once we got to the other side, there was a crowd of people, so we just turned around.  There's supposed to be a really nice beach there, but we've seen beaches.  Didn't want to play bumper boats.  We also wanted to get up to Norman's Cay that afternoon.  The trip back was considerably faster since we had the current going with us.  We got back on the boat and headed north. 

And then the wind shifted.  We'd had a great day with good breezes and small waves.  But suddenly we were fighting into a chop.  Where did this come from?  And the southern end of Norman's Cay has quite a few coral heads to dodge, and they were tricky to spot in the rough seas.  But we managed to make our way through and anchored really close to shore (hooray for shoal draft!).  It was a little rolly, but considerably better than the choppiness of the last hour.  We also had a seagull following us, occasionally trying to land on the dinghy for a ride.  Once we anchored, the water was calm enough for it to land and rest a spell. 
Trying to land on our light

Petey (Trevor named it) taking a rest
We were anchored near some coral heads, so the next day we tried some spearfishing.  We saw lots of fish, but couldn't get close enough to spear any.  A few hours later, I took the dinghy and tried fishing like a normal person (hook and line).  With hot dogs as my bait, I caught a good-sized French grunt.  I caught a tiny grunt and then noticed a barracuda lurking.  I put on a bigger hook and used the little grunt as bait.  The barracuda just yanked the thing right off the hook.  I caught another little grunt and tried again, this time putting it on the hook more securely.  I tossed the fish right in front of the barracuda, and he nabbed it!  Hooked pretty strongly, he fought with a vengeance, but I held on.  Then the wire lead let go.  Alas, no barracuda for dinner.  He was probably too big to eat anyway.  When I caught another tiny grunt, I cut it up to use as bait for more catchable fare.  Though I had seen a ton of snapper when we were snorkeling, they were nowhere to be found when I was fishing.  I did manage to catch another French grunt and a bluestriped grunt.  And three makes dinner, so I went home and cleaned them.  (It went much better now that I knew what I was doing.)  Fried grunt makes an excellent dinner.

The next day, we headed up to Highborne Cay just after Amata MarieJuno stayed behind until the next day.  After dodging coral heads, we headed a couple of miles offshore to skirt around a rocky bar before we turned back in toward Highborne.  It was rough out there!  Choppy and splashy and not fun.  Trevor and I agreed the conditions were like the first time we tried to cross from Bimini to the Berrys (we turned around that time because it was too rough).  Since we only had a few miles to go, we toughed it out and were very happy to drop an anchor next to Highborne Cay.  This was where we first landed in the Exumas a month and a half earlier. 

The next day (Wednesday, June 1 - the first official day of hurricane season), Trevor took a couple of dinghy trips in to the marina for fuel and water.  Toward the end of the day, we snorkeled over a nearby coral head.  Trevor spotted a lion fish, which I was determined to kill, so he went back and got the spear for me.  It took me a few tries (I'm not very good aim with a spear, really), but I finally got it.  Now I'm up to 6 lion fish killed!  It was a bleeder, so we took it back to the boat immediately.  Before we headed back to the coral head, a nurse shark showed up.  I think it smelled the blood in the water and came to check for snacks.  Even though nurse sharks are the most non-threatening of sharks, I didn't want to continue spearfishing with it hanging around.  So we called it a day.  The fish was too small to eat, but I cut it up for bait.  Juno showed up that day.  We thought we would be traveling to Eleuthera with them, but we've decided to take a more direct route home.  The wind was going to be blowing out of the northeast for a while, so we would have been stuck in Highborne until it changed.  And with some potentially big stuff brewing down south, we've decided to get back to the States before the weather gets bad. 

Thursday morning, we were up early to listen to the weather.  It would be our last chance for half a week or so to get out of the Exumas.  We put a reef in the main sail (something we'd never done before) to reduce sail area since it was forecast to be pretty windy.  Less sail means less fighting if the wind blows hard.  We also took off the big rainbow genoa and put on the smaller jib.  We were ready.  We left around 7:30.  So long, Exumas, it's been grand!  The first few hours were pretty rough.  The waves were coming at us from the side, and occasionally they would knock us around.  Mostly it was just a rough ride.  As the day went on, we were able to put the waves more behind us, which made it a much easier ride.  Trevor fished most of the day, trolling a lure behind on the yo-yo (Cuban hand reel). 
Around 1:00, it was time to turn off the engine and check the oil.  Naturally, while Trevor was below doing other things, the yo-yo jumped, indicating a fish was on the line.  Then the line started unrolling.  "Trevor, I think you have a fish."
"I have a fish?"  He looked and saw the line going out.  "I have a fish!"  He jumped into the cockpit and excitedly reeled in his fish.  It was a fighter.  Turned out to be a good-sized yellowtail snapper.  I've been wanting to eat one of these since we got to the Bahamas, so I was just about as excited as he was.
Trevor super excited about his catch. And what a beauty it was!
The good fishing continued the rest of the day.  He caught a big barracuda.  It was too big to eat, but he had to douse it with tequila to subdue it enough to take the hook out.  Then he caught a smaller barracuda, but it was at the upper end of the edible size range, so we tossed that one back, too. 
The smaller barracuda.  Look at those teeth!
As we got closer to New Providence Island, the water got a little smoother.  At one point, I ran right through a bunch or coral heads, dodging in between them.  The yo-yo jumped big time!  I was afraid we'd caught a coral head with the hook, but Trevor pulled on the line and said it was fighting.  A big fish!  He pulled and pulled on the line, slowly bringing in this fish.  I looked at the GPS, and the fish was slowing us down a little.  Whoa.  It broke the surface a few times, but we couldn't tell what it was, just that it was bigger than the other fish he'd caught.  Finally, he brought it into the boat, and look how much of our cockpit floor it took up!

Trevor's big catch in the cockpit.
We radioed Amata Marie to let them know dinner was on us that night.  When we described the fish to him, Jim told us it was a mutton snapper.  Good eating.  Both boats were pretty psyched about that night's dinner.  We were also psyched about getting out of the waves and into a harbor!
With that fish, Trevor and I decided we were done fishing.  As we neared blue water, a couple of dolphins played around under our boat.  Only the second time we've seen porpoises in the Bahamas.  As we got close to the entrance into West Bay, a dive boat was on the mooring ball that was right in our way.  So we went around behind him and tried to find the entrance.  The wind had picked up wildly by this point, and the water was rough.  There were also clouds sporadically overhead, so it was very hard to see the way in.  To make it worse, we were heading straight into the wind.  So Trevor went up front to take down the jib while I tried to find the space between the coral heads and the shallows.  I managed to make my way in to the right cut and dodged another coral head as Trevor took down the main sail.  Amata Marie followed us in, and it was a little harrowing for them, too. 
But we all made it in okay and were very happy to anchor.  Once we made it far enough into the bay, the water calmed considerably.  Trevor and I snuggled up close to shore.  When the depth finder read 3', we dropped the anchor in a sandy spot.  (Our depth finder reads about a foot and a half less than actual depth.)  We drifted back to where we had about 5 or so feet under us.  Nice.  And the water that close to the beach was smooth.  Ah, that's more like it.
Then we loaded up the fish (and rum and Kool-Aid - our new favorite drink) and headed over to Amata Marie for dinner.  Tim was nice enough to clean the fish for us.  He's a pro at that sort of thing.  With the 29-inch and approximately 12-pound mutton snapper, I was way out of my league.  Tim managed to get 10 steaks out of the fish.  10 steaks!  And these were not little steaks either.  Add 2 fillets from the yellowtail, and we had more fish than Trevor and I could handle!  The 5 of us ate half of the big fish for dinner that night, and the rest went into Jim & Nancy's freezer.  Our ice would never hold out long enough for us to eat that much fish.  They've always been very generous sharing their fish with us, and it was nice to finally return the favor for once.  What a day!

Yesterday, Jim shuttled the rest of us to shore so we could go shopping.  We didn't realize how far it was to civilization.  There are houses all around us, but there's a big, spiky fence along the road for miles.  So we walked and walked.  We found a convenience store a couple of miles down, where we were happy to have a quick refreshment before walking the rest of the way to the grocery store.  And then we shopped!  The prices were almost like US prices!  We stocked up on fruits, veggies, junk food, and Kool-Aid.  All the essentials of cruising.  :)  We got a ride back to the beach, and Jim shuttled us back out to the boats.  Last night, I made West Bay Stew for dinner.  It was a soup I made last time we were here, and I happened to have the ingredients again.  Smoked sausage, an onion, a can of tomatoes, a can of corn, and a pack of onion soup mix.  It was tasty this time, too!
Today, Trevor scrubbed the bottom of the boat.  Now we're going to be so fast!  I sat around and read.  Tough life.  We'll be heading out of here Monday or Tuesday to get to the Berry Islands.  From there, we'll cross the banks again back to Bimini.  Should be a better trip across than last time.  And then, we'll cross the Gulf Stream and get back to the States.  It's weird to think we could be back stateside by this time next week.  We'll just have to see what the weather does.
And here's a picture of Trevor with his awesome catch!
Trevor and his prize mutton snapper.