Our Colourful Ocean
George Town has been a wonderful place to relax, stock up on a few things but also to prepare for the next leg of our journey. We have had very easy days of sleeping in and very full days of hanging out at the beach, hiking the many trails on Stocking Island and exploring George Town and a good portion of Great Exuma Island.
And all of this has been with our pup Ocean alongside. She has truly made this trip so much more colourful and fun.
When we were planning this journey, so many years ago, we knew we would have our dog with us. We have always sailed with our dog, first Brecken and now Ocean, and they have been nice companions to have along. But easy? Well, having a dog on board means extra gear, extra cleaning (the dog hair is no joke!), extra trips to shore and extra worry about safety and comfort. With this bigger journey, there is also the extra expense and work to meet the requirements for entering a new country. So far, we have only had to enter the USA and the Bahamas (both were easy) but in the next three months we will be entering and exiting several countries as we make our way south to Grenada. Many of these countries require a vet check before arriving and another once we have landed, plus a check on her vaccinations and identification. Plus, a pet permit and, of course, import fees. Yeesh. So, is it worth it? YES!!!
The biggest surprise for us with this journey is how much better it is with Ocean on board. It is incredible to us how many more people, locals and cruisers alike, that we get to meet because of Ocean. She always gets attention. Her size is the biggest draw with locals. They can’t believe such a big dog is so sweet. Add to this her beautiful dark fur and a frisbee, well, it is the rare person that walks by without wanting to meet her. All of this is making her a bit famous. Our first day in George Town, we were strolling down the street and we heard a shout out to “Ocean!” as a local car passed us. Wow, we hadn’t even met anyone on shore yet! Does Ocean enjoy all this attention? She loves it! Meeting people is definitely her jam. She has even started to join in with a good old howl during the evening sundown conch blowing.
A few people have asked some logistical questions about our Ocean girl. So here is the low down on the top five questions:
How does Ocean get her daily exercise? Oh my gosh, this is rarely a problem. She swims, she hikes, she strolls around town. Long sailing days actually end up being necessary rest days for her. Time to catch up on some much-needed sleep!
Where does Ocean do her business when we are on a passage? She has a pee pad at the bow. She uses this for her nightly business and also when we are on a long passage.
How did we get Ocean to pee on the boat? Ocean is stubborn so this took a long time and lots of tricks. We started with collecting Ocean’s pee and pre-scenting a piece of carpet at the bow. No go. We then got a fake grass pee pad. No go. We even tried waiting her out but, after 41 hours, she peed but on one of our boat cushions. Geez. In Miami, we bought two pieces of sod and put them on her pee pad. Surely, she would go on actual grass? Nope. But she did figure out that we wanted her to pee and that she would get a treat if she “looked” like she was peeing. This started a round of “fake peeing” that we had to correct. Finally, we took the advice from another sailing couple to “super saturate” her. Every fifteen minutes we gave her a cup of water with tuna flakes in it and then took her to her pee pad. It took three hours but she finally did it. The celebration was huge! She now consistently goes on her pad, which has made all of us rest much easier.
What about the salt water? Yes, salt water is terrible for dogs. They can’t drink it of course but having it on their skin, fur and paws isn’t good either. It dries out their paw pads and makes their skin red and itchy. We always make sure we have lots of fresh water for Ocean to drink, whether we are on shore or on the boat. She also gets a fresh water rinse off EVERY TIME we return to the boat. This gets both the salt and sand out of her fur and off her paw pads.
How does Ocean stay safe when we are underway? She wears her harness or lifejacket and is tethered to the boat. She also stays only in the cockpit unless the conditions are calm or we are at anchor. Luckily, Ocean is a very chill sailor. No matter the conditions, she doesn’t get anxious. No, she just sleeps. 😊
In amongst all of this Ocean fun, we are planning and preparing to head further south. We are watching the weather carefully and have connected with some buddy boats who are also making the same journey. We hope to find the right weather window to head to Long Island early next week. After Long Island, we will continue through the southern Bahamas to Great Iguana. Then we have a 160 nautical mile (30+ hours) to the Dominican Republic. The journey continues!
A 24-Hour Wild West Wind Battle
We have been blessed with good weather so far in the Bahamas. Truly, it has only rained two days in the last six weeks and we have only had to deal with two wind storms. The first, we rode out at a private dock in Coral Harbour on the South-west tip of New Providence. The second occurred just this week and it was a doozy.
We decided to anchor at Black Point Settlement for the start of the wind storm because it offered us the most protection from the forecasted strong east winds and high waves. Also in the forecast was a quick (6 hour) clocking of the winds where they would swing from east to south-east then to the west before settling in from the north for a day. Finally, the wind clock was expected to go back to the prevailing east wind, albeit much lighter with the storm having dissipated. Our anchorage offered great protection for all of this…except that small window of west wind. We considered moving anchorages for the west wind but, unfortunately, the Exumas doesn’t have many anchorages where we would find the wind protection that we needed. And, really, why move? To protect ourselves from a little uncomfortable rolli-ness for a few hours? We, and 50 other boats that stayed, felt that we could deal with a small slice of discomfort.
Yeah, no. Mother Nature decided that we needed to learn a lesson.
That west wind did come but she didn’t make it a quick visit and she brought a pretty sizable sea state along with her. From late evening on Sunday until mid-afternoon on Monday, Wild Horses was rolled and pitched, slapped around and banged abruptly. To say it was uncomfortable is a massive understatement. The movement, I imagine, was akin to being inside an unbalanced washing machine. The winds were the worst over night, which made sleeping impossible. I tried to sleep in our cabin in the V berth (bow of the boat) but the abrupt slamming from side to side and then front to back and then kitty corner to kitty corner (I am not exaggerating) was just too much for me. I mostly camped out in the salon, close to the keel. This is the least rolly part of the boat but it still didn’t afford me enough comfort to sleep. Looking out into the darkness, I could see that every boat was being thrown around violently. Everyone in the anchorage was having a very sleepless night.
Well, except Mike and Ocean. Ocean didn’t wake up at all and Mike woke up just to do a deck check every few hours (checking that our anchor was still well set and that the boat and dinghy were properly handling the motion). Yeesh! My crew are definitely the saltiest of salty sailors!
Morning light didn’t bring much relief. The westerly battering had switched to a northwesterly battering and we could see the angry sea state better but that was all. We continued to endure the washing machine until early evening, when the wind started to abate.
Then we heard the stories. Steve from Lola had spent a sleepless night managing his anchor snubber (shock absorber for the anchor chain) which unexpectedly broke and needed a quick repair. Except his second snubber then broke. And his steel bow roller for his anchor bent from the force of the battering. Yeesh. Another boat that had anchored in shallower water had their keel slam violently into the sea bed. There was no apparent damage but the experience was unsettling. The good news was that not a single boat dragged and no one reported injuries beyond scrapes and bruises. Whew!
The following day was February 14th. The winds were back to the east and had dropped to a favourable 15 knots. The sea state had calmed considerably and the sun was shining. Ah, the joy. Our perfect Bahamian weather had returned and we were going to make the best of it with an eight hour sail to Georgetown. The trauma of the last 24 hours was quickly forgotten as we made our way through Dotham Cut at the north end of Great Guana Cay and put out our sails. The open ocean with following seas and a gorgeous northeast wind pushing us along seemed like a great Valentines Day gift.
We arrived in Georgetown just before dark and anchored off Stocking Island. This busy harbour is a real eye opener after the quaint little anchorages and towns of the northern and central Exumas. To our west lies the town of Georgetown. It has lots of great shopping including easy access to groceries, restaurants, and liquor stores 😊. To our east, south and north, well, there are about a gazillion anchored boats. The Georgetown anchorages look and feel like a busy little metropolis. Dinghys zoom between boats, the beaches are a collection of get-togethers, there is chatter, music and lights on many of the boats. The vibe here is welcoming, alive, active and social! This is fun! As much as we like our quiet anchorages and sweet little towns, having a lively home base for a while isn’t a bad thing.
We will be in Georgetown for the next week exploring, provisioning and resting up for the next leg of our journey. We will soon be headed to the southern Bahamas and then onto the Dominican Republic.
Waiting Out Another Wind Storm
We started last weekend exactly how weekends should start…with a great boater’s get-together! The annual 5F “Cruisers Dinner” at Farmer’s Cay was put on by the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club (FCYC) and was a fun event with free food and drinks. Yes, you read that correctly! Instead of charging a fee, donations were collected for the Farmer’s Cay All Age School. Wonderful! Certainly, that donation box got a lot of action, which made the event even more special.
The dinner was a very casual affair with grilled chicken, beans and rice and, of course, Bahamian mac & cheese. So much goodness on our plates! There was some room inside FCYC for people to sit and dine but most people hung out outside, sitting on rocks or along the sea wall to eat. And accompanying the delicious food? Lots of great conversation! Both Lola (Steve) and Sensai (Ted and Evelyn) were there but we also got to catch up with On Y Va (Elise and Ghislaine), a boat from our home dock at Trident Yacht Club in Kingston. On Y Va had started their adventures in the Bahamas six years ago, returning home every summer but enjoying their winters in the warm Bahamian waters. We also got to chat a lot with new friends we had met along the ICW and a few others that we met in the Bahamas. Conversation is very easy with our fellow boaters – we have so much in common, so much to discuss and everyone always has big smiles. Kindred spirits for sure!
Truly though, the highlight of the 5F festival was the sailing. There were two days of dinghy races held on Friday and Saturday, with many expert local racers from all over the Bahamas in attendance. Their boats are traditional Bahamian wooden boats, about 5 metres in length, powered by a single large sail; however, the most interesting bit is how the race starts. We are used to boat races starting with boats already under sail, jockeying for position near the start line until the start gun is sounded. Not here! These boats start out at anchor. When the start gun goes, the crew weighs anchor and the sail goes up. This adds so much more excitement to the race. What a treat to get to watch it all unfold!
With the Regatta finishing up on Saturday, many of our fellow boaters (there were close to 200 attending the festival) began to leave Farmer’s Cay. We were all well-aware of a strong winter wind storm that was forecasted to hit the Exumas in the coming week so getting to a protected anchorage was top of mind for everyone. Many boaters used the good weather on the weekend to relocate, either further south towards George Town or northward to one of the many protected anchorages in the Exumas. For us, we were delighted to have a perfect wind on Sunday to sail to Black Point Settlement, about 2 hours north of Farmer’s Cay. It was a beautiful one tack sail with a 21-knot wind pushing us along. As the anchorage came into sight, our buddy boat “Lola” hailed us on the VHF saying “Here we are, along with 100 of our friends”. Yup! It was a busy anchorage! Many of us from Farmer’s Cay had the same idea, including Sensai and On Y Va. Right away we knew that riding out this wind storm was going to be fun 😊.
Black Point Settlement is a lovely little village. We had skipped this anchorage on our way south but loved that we now had the opportunity to check it out. One of the things we have come to enjoy about the Exumas is that each town has their own character and you only come to appreciate that uniqueness when you stroll around, meeting the friendly locals and checking out the buildings and terrain. Black Point Settlement has lots of children around, very curious and excited about our pup Ocean. It was great fun to chat with them about their island, school and, of course, Ocean! We also got to meet a few ladies weaving baskets outside their home. Both are retired teachers and now they enjoy spending time on their craft, while chatting with passersby and keeping a pulse on the goings-on in their town. There is so much beauty to be discovered on these islands, beginning with the incredible waters, terrain and food but mostly with the residents, young and old, who share it all with us.
The strong winds are forecasted to hold through the weekend, so we will be staying put. Black Point Settlement is the perfect protected anchorage for the weather, while also giving us easy access to groceries and long walks. Oh, and they just happen to be having a Superbowl party at the local yacht club on Sunday and, well, we can’t miss that! 😉
We now know first hand why people love to come to the Bahamas. It is a quiet paradise for those that like to linger in tranquility and is jammed-pack full of excitement for the more adventurous. In terms of exploring, Mike, Ocean and I fall into the second camp. We are outside from the crow of the first rooster until the last conch shell has been blown (i.e. sun up to sunset 😊) and we have had more “holy toledo” moments than I ever thought was possible. Active or not, most of us boaters are out here day after day saying “this can’t be real”. I mean, the water alone must have over 40 shades of blue and green, some of these colours I have only ever seen in a Crayola premium pack of crayons.
Our time at Staniel’s Cay was no different. We were anchored just off Big Major Cay, right in front of Pig Beach, for five days but it went by so quickly. They were five awesome snorkel-beach-play-explore amazing days! Being just off Pig Beach, our first order of business was to check out the swimming pigs of course! We could see from our boat that lots of people were walking on Pig Beach, getting up close with the dozens of pigs but we had heard that the pigs are very food-aggressive so we decided to do our exploration from the safety of our dinghy. Plus, we wanted to bring Ocean along and, well, she is also food-strong. The last thing we wanted was for Ocean to fight one of the pigs over a piece of carrot! Luckily, we still got a close-up of the pigs since they have no problem swimming out for their food. They are certainly not the pot-bellied pigs I was expecting. No, these pigs were of the “hog” size. And, man, they were great swimmers!
The next day we got to meet a few of Steve’s friends, Ian and Isobel, who are long-time boaters. They gave us some great tips on navigating our new boating world and even stopped by one night with an extra Bahamian lobster for us that Ian had speared that afternoon. Delicious!
Ian is also an avid kite-surfer and we got a chance to watch him and a few of his friends kite-surfing off a sand bar, just a little west of Big Major Cay. Oh, and for anyone thinking that this boating lifestyle is just for the younger set, all of the kite-surfers were over 60. Ian, himself, is 69 and he spent a good 3 hours surfing and flying into the waves.
For us, the best experience of Staniel’s Cay was had on Monday. Thunderball Grotto. Wow. We got to the famous James Bond underwater cave at slack low tide. What is slack tide? During a rising or falling tide, you have current flow. Slack tide is when the current stalls and the half hour on other side of slack tide is a very weak current. This was important because the current around the Grotto can be extremely strong, making swimming and snorkeling very challenging. Exploring the Grotto during a rising or falling tide would be more about survival than enjoyment. Yikes! Oh, but our timing around the tides was perfect and we were treated to a beautiful caving experience. The Grotto was mesmerizing and the snorkeling was incredible. It was like being inside an aquarium, with the many fish swimming just millimetres from our fingers and toes. And the coral, stunning shades of pink, grey and black all around us.
In amongst all of this exploring, we spent a lot of time walking along the beaches and through the small village of Staniel’s Cay. One favourite haunt was the “Liquormat” where Mike, Steve and I would share a cold beer after a big day of exploring. What is a Liquormat? Well, it is a half liquor-store and half laundromat. Brilliant! We certainly gave one half of the establishment a good portion of our business. 😉
On Tuesday morning we decided to take advantage of the perfect winds and sail our way down to Farmers Cay, about 3 hours further south in the Exumas. This weekend is the 5F Regatta and Festival. This is a big draw for boaters in the Bahamas so we wanted to get anchored there early. Plus, it gave us some time to explore the town and the sights before they got too crowded. In case you were wondering, the 5F is short for “First Friday in February at Farmers Cay Festival”.
Our big venture yesterday was the large cave at Oven Rock. It started with beaching the dinghy, then a 15 minute hike through the low, bushy terrain and up a small hill. The path was rugged but defined enough for us to find our way. Once at the top, well, that was the cherry on the top of a lovely hike. A slight opening in the rockface revealed an incredible cave, complete with a pool of water, bats and lots of stalagmites and stalactites (icicle-shaped deposits from floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor). It was an incredible experience to wander the cave. Mike even jumped in the pool for a swim!
The town of Farmers Cay is a sweet little village with several craft shops and a few people selling seafood but not much else. The residents of Farmer’s Cay are a welcoming bunch and the store owners were quite chatty about the town and their wares. We are very much looking forward to joining them for the 5F festivities, starting with a “Cruisers Dinner” tonight!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.