After three nights in Black Point Settlement, we left on a high tide and headed south. Often our sail plan is dictated by what we need in the way of provisions or fuel and that day was no different. We were low on gasoline for our generator and although Black Point was a fairly big town by Exuma standards, it had neither a gas station or a marina so we left this excellent anchorage, intending to stop at the first town with gas for sale. A radio call from friends, Larry and Beverly on Chandelle, a Swan 46, let us know that Cave Cay Marina definitely had gas so we sailed on down to Cafe Cay, a privately owned island with big development plans.
The Cave Cay Marina has substantial concrete floating docks in a small key hole bay which is probably the best hurricane hole we’ve seen in our travels south. But, other than the deserted docks, the gas pump and a few empty guest houses, this place is pretty uninhabited and it was obvious that this was yet another very slow moving Bahamian construction project. The surveillance cameras at the bay’s entrance and the Beware of Dog signs posted everywhere ensured that we got our gasoline quickly and spent no time exploring this island. When we asked the attendant where the dogs were, he gestured over his shoulder and said “oh, I think they might be running around up the hill, not sure.” We’d been forewarned that they were big dogs and more likely to snarl at us than wag their tails so we were happy to just get the gas and leave.
That night we anchored just off Cave Cay with four other boats and although we swam and snorkeled off Strathspey‘s swim platform, we didn’t go ashore at either Cave Cay or Musha Cay right next door. Both these islands are private and discourage visitors. In fact, other boaters told us that if we’d anchored in the lee of Musha Cay, we would most likely be asked to move. Musha Cay has been owned by a string of movie stars, at one time Oprah. And now, most recently, a group of lesser known celebrities make their home there. No matter, we had a quiet night just around the corner from the cut and then the next day, we exited the calm bank side waters of the Exumas and headed south to Lee Stocking Island, a quick 10 miles south.
Lee Stocking Island is a long skinny island that is home to the Caribbean Marine Research Center. Once through Adderly Cut we headed around to the calm western shore of Lee Stocking. Each day we’d been seeing fewer and fewer boats at our anchorages and Lee Stocking was no exception. There were three boats anchored in front of the marine research center and a few others who had tied up to the few mooring balls maintained by the center. We continued on past all of them and headed another two miles down the shoreline where we dropped our anchor in complete solitude just off a little crescent of beach. This was one of those “oh, we’ve arrived” moments that make us realize that we’re really and truly sailing in the sunny south. We’ve had a few of them in the past few months, the first one being upon our arrival on the Bahama Banks, when the deep black water suddenly shallowed to 10 feet of brilliant blue. The second time was when we arrived in Warderick Wells and realized that we’d completed all our long southerly passages and were finally able to relax and enjoy the 28°C water and 30°C sunlight. And now here at Lee Stocking Island; it’s our first anchorage where no other boats were in sight and it brought a satisfied life-is-good sigh to both of us.
Our arrival at Lee Stocking coincided with a very weak cold front passage which resulted in absolutely no wind the following day. Five miles of mill-pond flat water stretched between Lee Stocking Island and the Brigantine Cays to the west of us and we jumped to take advantage of this.
The Brigantine Cays are a string of uninhabited islands surrounded by water that is too shallow for Strathspey to navigate but no problem for our dinghy. The flat water made for an easy twenty minute skim over to these deserted islands and we spent the morning there snorkeling and wading along the beach. Blair tried his luck at spear fishing again and is just starting to realize that there is a definite skill to snagging wary fish.
After some excellent snorkeling, we dinghied down to Barraterre, the northern most settlement on Great Exuma island and were disappointed to find both the grocery store and restaurant closed. We weren’t surprised though. Here in the Exumas, a store’s operating hours can be posted as 9-5 but often, at any time during the day, if the owner has an errand or wants lunch or perhaps even a nap, everything shuts down. If you wander around looking puzzled, often a neighbour or someone passing by will help out by showing you where the owner lives or pounding on his door or pounding on his neighbour’s door to say there is a customer. At that point the store gets opened with nary a guilty look or apology. This is the way it is and welcome to the Bahamas and island time. In this case, the owner did not surface and we got back in our dinghy and headed back to Strathspey for a late lunch and a swim to cool off.
Although we were all by ourselves at Lee Stocking Island, in the distance periodically during both day and night, big outboard skiffs ran back and forth ferrying people to work up and down the island chain. These people work at the various resorts between Georgetown and Staniel Cay and commute via these boats. It was an interesting contrast; here we were sitting in our bathing suits in Strathspey’s cockpit, enjoying the fine weather, but for the locals, this is winter and through the binoculars we could see them bundled up in long pants and hooded jackets. Everyone we talked to in Black Point Settlement visibly shuddered when we said we’ve actually been swimming every day.
We left Lee Stocking Island and moved around the corner to Leaf Cay for one night and then headed back out Adderly Cut, turned south, pulled out our sails and headed for Georgetown. Blair, ever the optimist, set up his fishing rod and trailed one of our fancy blue and green lures in hopes of catching a fish. The rhyme goes “Red and black, Wahoo attack, blue and green, Dolphin machine”. To cover all bases, he put a red and black lure on our Yoyo, a simple little setup that is just a step above tying a line to your toe. We had a hit on our fishing rod line but when Blair reeled it in, the line was missing both our expensive lure and the metal lead, indicating something with sharp teeth was toying with us; perhaps a big Barracuda? While Blair was digging out another lure, we snagged another big one on our cheap little Yoyo. Blair reeled in 25 feet of line, hand over hand (yes, hand over hand – this really is a simple setup) and hauled it out of the water just in time.
In that brief two minutes, something big had chomped a good six inches off the end of our dinner. We went through our standard procedure, me dancing around looking for both vodka to subdue the fish and a giant ziplock bag to slide him into and Blair excitedly speculating about what kind of fish it was and how many pounds it weighed. Not much vodka was required to subdue this poor fellow as without a tail, it was a little hard for him to flap around. Blair dug out our fish book and we’re happy to say that it was a 2 foot long Wahoo. I immediately wrapped the fish a few times in the ziplock and put him in the fridge ’til Blair could clean and fillet it.
We continued sailing down to George Town and had an uneventful passage through Conch Cut to leave Exuma Sound and get into sheltered waters. From the cut down to Georgetown it was a long eight mile zig zag between waypoints to avoid shallow water but so exciting to finally be here in Elizabeth Harbour. Georgetown is on the west side of Elizabeth Harbour and has a small anchoring area and one marina. On the east side of Elizabeth Harbour is Stocking Island where the majority of boats anchor. We pulled into Exuma Docking Services marina and set up a spider web of lines to hold us in place between pilings and a short spit of a dock. The next day, I flew home to Ottawa to tend some important home fires while Blair stayed onboard Strathspey.
The population of George Town is around 900 normally. But by March, it swells to well over double that size with the arrival of easily 400 boats, eager to spend the winter in Elizabeth Harbour and enjoy the social scene, scheduled activities and stateside level of groceries. For me, the easiest way to judge a grocery store is usually based on whether they have capers and the main one, Exuma Markets, has a good stock of them. So, in my shallow cooking/eating focus, I’m thinking this is a good place to be.
Interestingly, the result of way too many cruisers squatting here in George Town is that there is a definite social strata and a more noticeable level of organization. In fact, some of my more cynical friends, including Blair, might even venture to say there may even be a tad too much organization here in George Town. Blair is now spending a goodly amount of time in Georgetown on his own. He’s met quite a few other boaters and has a pretty good take on the social strata and tribal interests of the transient boats that take over this area every winter. Blair figures the boats are grouped like tribes, according to the beach they are anchored nearest. There are four beaches on Stocking Island: Monument, Hamburger, Volleyball and Sand Dollar and large groups of boats are anchored off each of these beaches. There is another anchorage down in Red Shanks, south of Crab Cay, plus there is a hurricane hole with moorings that run about $200/month. Each of these anchorages have their own character and attract similar minded boats hence the tribal aspect. I figure it’s not an issue for us as the lack of sewage pumpout facilities here will make our stay a short one once I return from Ottawa. Cuz here’s the rub – the boats dump sewage straight into the water in the George Town area and swimming is verboten if you value your health. So, stellar grocery store aside, we will be moving on once I return from Ottawa and we re-provision Strathspey.
In the meantime, Blair’s been meeting some interesting cruisers, getting to know some of the locals, trying many different ways of preparing Wahoo for dinner and doing his usual excellent job of maintaining Strathspey. All this while I’m enjoying -17°C weather up north.