I Have a New Website

It has been a long time since I have visited this blog and it was fun to read about our first couple of years cruising. I found that it was easier to post on FaceBook and more difficult to post on both places. However, I have just started a new website about diving and snorkeling and the critters you can see.

Spiraserpula--What's That!!???

The boat’s unique name is the result of Bill’s desire to follow the time honored tradition of naming a boat after a wife, girlfriend, or daughter, with a “logical” twist (as in If A=B and B=C, Then A=C). The logic follows that If a worm is named after Gayle AND the boat is named after the worm, THEN the boat is named after Gayle. Indeed Gayle has a marine worm named after her, Spiraserpula plaiae in recognition of her discovery of the species-specific structures found in the worm’s tube. The logo shows the structures in the tube for Gayle’s worm. The tongue-twister name is often perceived as Sassparilla which we have learned to respond to. So far we have not met a boat named Sassparilla.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What HAVE we been doing over the past month??

I have settled into a sorry state of blog-sloth since we got to George Town.  The days go by and by, races were won (we placed third in the Around the Harbor Race),guests came and went, we play volleyball in the afternoon, go to town to look at the internet and get more books from the library.  One new thing here is broadcast TV.  And OH--I have NOT missed that one!  The present plans are to head south as soon as the wind turns.We were going yesterday but ...maybe Saturday.  It is unusual that the fronts are reaching down this far this time of year.  We have had some very unseasonably cold days--some in the 50s.

While our guests were here we took off to Long Island, Conception Island, and Lee Stocking Island.  on the way we caught 2 tuna.   There was beautiful clear water at Conception and Lee Stocking, however it was disturbing to see the coral so unhealthy at Conception (a national park far from any civilization).  You may have heard me talking about Lee Stocking Island.  Ten years ago I was sent to the marine research station there for a week. (tough duty)  This was my first exposure to the Exumas and I left a part of myself there.  In particular, there is a beach that is probably my favorite place in the whole world.  From the beach is a path that will take you to the highest place in the Exumas, Perry's Peak and the view from there is nothing less than spectacular.

It appears that the research station has closed down.  While we were there, a charity group was packing up furniture to remove from the island. The office is empty.  Someone appears to be maintaining the moorings. Snorkeling and diving are still good there.  The coral looked well--even the Elkhorn reef near shore on the Exuma Sound side looked better than anything I saw on Conception.

Hopefully our next stop will be another place I love--Inagua.


Monday, March 4, 2013

WE WON?????!!!!!

I thought it would be a fun, new experience to join in on the George Town Cruiser’s Regatta. Bill agreed that, since we were here, we might as well and; we signed up for both days of racing.  We had never raced before and, frankly, Spiraserpula is designed as a comfortable cruiser, not a sleek and sexy racer.  We have good-naturedly endured having her described as a floating seawall, or a 3-story condo only because those describing her as such were VERY good friends.   In spite of being assigned a large handicap, we really did not expect to place (well maybe a third) but looked forward to a couple of fun days of sailing.  Our friends from Mosey, Ken and Darla agreed to crew—they are power-boaters and also racing beginners, Darla had never been on a sailboat. 
The day of the first race, Saturday, March 2, dawned with a light breeze and overcast skies.  This was the “Around Stocking Island Race” a course of 18.6 miles starting in Elizabeth Harbor, heading out a cut at the south end of the harbor to Exuma Sound where we were to head northwest to re-enter the harbor at Conch Cut, then back to the start/finish line.  The weather forecast an increase in winds during the day with a chance of squalls.  We took down most of the enclosure to reduce drag and left our 200 ft of anchor chain with our dingy to lighten our load and keep our anchor site.

Our ship of racing greenhorns passed the start-line hoisting the Jolly Roger, threatening the committee boat with the cutlass and belaying pin, and demanding them to “surrender your rum!”  Spiraserpula ran down the harbor before the wind, easily passing one boat in our class and leaving another far behind—we started to think that maybe third place was a possibility—at least we would not be last.  We expected a more favorable wind angle as we exited the southern end of the harbor and headed into Exuma Sound for the long upwind leg—the third place seemed a possibility.   However, after rounding the southern marker, we inexplicably slowed down, barely making 6 kts when we were expecting at least high 6s if not 7 or more.  Boats in our class and the class starting after us passed us—even the one that was way behind.  One boat used a racing maneuver that our lack of experience had not prepared us for and we were a bit intimidated by it.  Bill started working the sails, catching every gust, while Ken steered—but we still barely kept up.  Our hopes for other than dead last finish were now based on regaining the obvious advantage we had on the downwind leg to the finish line.  After rounding the northern marker and re-entering Elizabeth Harbor Spiraserpula did pass one boat in our class and finished closely behind the others.  We all agreed it had been an intense and fun experience—we had forgotten to eat lunch! 

During the trip back to the anchorage, the wind picked up and we sailed back at 8 kts—go figure!!  Of course that made picking up the anchor chain and hooking it back to the boat quite exciting.  In addition to the wind, the engine water pump decided to self-destruct an impeller and Bill had to maneuver the boat with one engine.  We could not have done it without the help of Ken and Darla! 

The after race party was scheduled at 5pm at St. Francis Resort, not too far from our anchorage.   By that time the wind had picked up to 25-30kts—the expected blow had come in sooner than forecast.  There was talk over the radio about postponing the party but few people wanted to do that.  We donned our foul weather gear and headed to the party in the rain.  Luckily the way to the party was sheltered by the island so the waves were not too bad.  Ken and Darla had plans to meet with some friends who were leaving soon so they did not attend.   After drinks and some excellent chicken wings and conch fritters everyone was ready to hear the race results.  We were the last class announced and heartily cheered as the third place and second place winners were named—not us.  We silently speculated who the first place winner was but could hardly believe it when Spiraserpula was called out!!!  There were several comments, among the congratulations, about the enthusiasm with which we accepted the trophy, blue flag and cap, and… a nice bottle of rum!  I am still pinching myself as I look at the trophy sitting on the shelf.

So-----Dare to call Spiraserpula a floating seawall again!!!!!  Next race is Tuesday.

PS—We saw the race statistics today.  Spiraserpula held her own in the unadjusted times. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tied to the Internet

We have been in Black Point for nearly 2 weeks now watching boats come in and out every day.  The internet is very good here which makes taking care of the house business much easier.  It still restricts us from travelling around though.  The weather has been mixed--mostly blowing but only bad enough only a few days that we had to stay on the boat.  Our poor courtesy flag has just about been beat to death.

Jim and Jane made it here a couple of days ago and yesterday we took them out to the little patch reef around the northern point.  Jane has a CAMERA and she let me use it so I am posting some underwater picture of the patch reef.  There is also a nice drift dive that we will do today and maybe get some conch.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Southward Bound

We returned to the “lobster reef”, this time to look around with SCUBA.  Although it is shallow (15-25feet deep), it still is so relaxing to just go down and take time.  The lobsters were still plentiful (but they were safe since we have no more room in the freezer and it’s illegal to hunt lobster with SCUBA).  Without the camera, I do a lot more looking under rocks and just observing—which is kind of nice.  The fish come around and are less nervous without the lens in their faces.  Queen Angels, in particular, are frustratingly friendly when they are not being photographed.   I sank to the bottom and soon saw a couple of yellow-headed jawfish.  These curious looking fish have big goo- goo eyes and a froggy mouth.  They hover above holes in the sand into which they disappear tail-first as you approach them.  As I laid on the bottom watching them, a large school of jacks approached and swam around me as if I was just another rock.  After the jacks passed I lifted up my head and saw hundreds of jawfish hovering as far as I could see in the clear water.  I have never seen this many.  Bill motioned me over to see that he was being pestered by a 2.5 foot remora. 

After spending a week in Highborn, we had still not met up with our friends Jane and Jim.  They had gone to Nassau to pick up her sister, Judy, and we had last seen their SPOT track going to Rose Island just east of Providence Island but had no internet since Morgan’s Bluff.  Every day we turned on the radio and did several position requests—always got “no reply”.  So we decided to proceed to Shroud Cay hoping to meet up with them as some point.  About half-way to Shoud Bill yells out “I got a reply!!” and sure enough, there they were just ahead of us.  They had left Rose Island and headed south past Highborn, planning to visit the iguanas at nearby Allen’s Cay before taking Judy back to Nassau to the airport.  We turned around and spent the evening with them at Allen’s.  The second largest lobster tail made enough pasta sauce to feed all five of us. 

We did finally get to Shroud Cay and spent a couple days snorkeling little patch reefs.  There were beautiful mangrove creeks, just right for kayaking.  The wind was picking up and shifting to the north and dark clouds appeared.  Obviously the front that was not supposed to get that far did.  The anchorage got pretty choppy and we had no idea how long it would last so we decided to pick up and leave for Wardrick Wells Cay.  The wind held promise of a real sail (we had not had one yet in the Bahamas) but we started late and needed the engines to get us to anchorage before dark and just as the sun hit the horizon we anchored just east of Emerald Rock. 

Wardrick Wells is the headquarters of the Exumas Land and Sea Park, a national park and marine protected area.  There is no fishing or lobstering allowed and many of the reefs have convenient moorings.  There is also internet available, although it is poor quality and $15/24 hrs.  The wind kept up from the NE but we were tucked in behind a hill and pretty quiet.  We spent a day walking the trails and overlooking the spectacular pounding surf on the eastern side of the island. 

Having internet was dipping into Pandora’s Box.  Oh ignorance is such bliss!  Our real estate agent had just received information that we needed to act on so now it was necessary to get to somewhere that had decent, preferably free, internet.  So we were on our way to George Town prematurely.  Darn internet!!

The wind was still blowing 15-20 from the NE when we left Wardrick Wells, the sails filled and the engines went OFF—for the first time!!!  We averaged 8kts to our first destination, Black Point.   Wow!! That’s what its all about!! 

Black Point is a small settlement on Great Guana Island.  There are many islands in the Bahamas named “Guana” something or other.  I looked it up on Google and it is a contraction of Iguana—the lizards found on some of the islands.  Black Point has the cleanest, nicest Laundromat in the world and since we had not done laundry in a month, we were in dire need of it.  What better way to do laundry than to load up then sit out on the porch and look over a beautiful harbor.  We have found internet to be very good here so we may be able to get our business done without going right away to George Town

The wind has been blowing almost a week now and it appears it will continue to blow.  I know Jane and Jim were hoping to meet us at Shroud.  We’ll find them sooner or later.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

When You Wish Upon a Reef.......

Morgan’s Bluff is quiet, internet is available, and there are lots of things to see on land and in the sea.  Considering the persistent east winds, we knew that crossing over to the Exumas was not going to be fun (so what’s new).  So we kept delaying our departure, watching the weather, hoping for a good sailing day.  Fortunately the reef about 2 miles north made a bumpy dingy ride worth it.  Some places are overgrown with algae but then, a little ways further, you come upon beautiful dense stands of living elkhorn and staghorn coral.  I also noticed many new colonies of staghorn coral, probably settled in the past year or so, growing on the old dead coral. 

If we were going any further we would just have to suck it up and go.  We knew that after we got to the Exumas, we would be sheltered from the east wind and would be able to leisurely sail south.  So Sunday, the 13th, we made a relatively short trip to West Bay on Providence Island then a longer trip to Highborne Cay on Monday, the 14th.  Needless to say, the wind was at our nose the whole time, we slammed and rocked in the 2-4 foot seas, but we made it in time to watch the sun set over the most beautiful water in the world.  We were hoping that we would meet up with our friends, Jim and Jane on their boat Adventure, but last we saw from their SPOT they had headed to Rose Island near Nassau

The attraction at Highborn Cay is the beautiful reefs.  We anchored near the northern part of the island where we would be near the reefs and Allens Cay where the iguanas live. On the west side of the island are large patch reefs in shallow water with remarkable coral coverage.  On the eastern side is more of the same but on a larger scale.  The east winds made it untenable to go on the outside so we thoroughly explored the inside reefs and Wednesday afternoon found a large patch reef just crawling with lobsters.  I tried several times using the prod out with a stick and then grab method but was not successful—they had pretty good holes and the depth (about 20 feet) made it a somewhat challenging free dive when there is so much work to do.   

Now a little regression here:  before we left, we bought a new point for our pole spear.  Last year we found that the three-pronged point we had was inadequate for spearing anything but soft lionfish.  It didn’t have barbs enough to hold a lobster (spearing lobster is legal in the Bahamas on snorkel) and it bounced off bigger fish.  So Bill bought this big, manly, double-barbed sharp tipped point (not cheap either) that would work for sure.  We had great expectations for this tip but when we got to Morgan’s Bluff Bill found that the new $40 point was not compatible with our pole.  –Bummer. 

Here we were looking at tons of lobsters and fish and we still didn’t have the right equipment!  Just as the sun was getting low and we were heading back toward the dingy, Bill was wishing mightily that he had a proper pole for his point----what was that---he saw a funny looking loop on the bottom—that’s not normal.  I saw him make a deep dive all the way to the bottom (which was about 20+ feet there)--he rarely does that because he does not have the breath-holding capacity.  He came up with something—could it be a pole spear?   YES—AND, can you believe it, it fit the point!!!!

So Thursday morning, the 17th, we went back to the reef, knowing that King Neptune wanted us to have lobster dinner.  I had the 3-prong that I was hesitant to use but Bill shot 2 right away (this is way too easy).  We noticed a couple of nurse sharks hanging around (certainly they were drawn by the bleeding lobsters but they never approached us).  The third lobster was a big one—about a four pounder—and Bill ran out of breath before he could get it out of the hole.   I have the greater breath-holding ability so he asked me to go down and get it out.  The lobster was firmly hooked on the pole and, while I was preparing to make the dive I saw the pole disappearing into the hole as the lobster backed further into the reef.  OH NO!!  No way can we loose this spear!!  I dove down as the rubber loop began to disappear into the hole, not even stopping to clear my ears, reached out and grabbed the rubber loop.  Now I had the pole but the lobster did not want to come out.  He was big and strong and held on while I yanked the pole.  Even I have to come up to breathe every once in a while and that time was coming soon.  For a moment, I could not figure out why the pole was not moving—oops the other end was hitting a rock.  I moved it and yanked one more time –got him!  Back to the dingy and in the bucket with that one. 

We noticed that once a lobster was speared in a den, the other lobsters in the den (some that we had not even seen) would start crawling out.  Research done while I was working showed that lobsters avoided places where there were injured lobsters.  This is because an injured lobster attracts predators (it was shown that injured lobsters get eaten more often than intact ones) and who wants to be shacking up with someone who is advertising that he is available for dinner.  This made it easy to get our limit including another big one.  This was my first experience spearing lobster. 

Spearing is not sporting but dinner is not a sport.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Looks Like No Underwater Pictures This Year

Wind is still up here but the barrier reef gave enough shelter from the waves for us to go out there today.  The Andros Barrier Reef is the 3rd largest in the world and extends the whole length of Andros Island.  I was so excited and prepared my camera yesterday but when I got into the water a large stream of bubbles came from the top of the housing.  Somehow the o-ring had mis-seated and I didn't notice it---I said lots of bad words as I brought the camera up to the dingy.  I rinsed it out when I got back to the boat but I have little hope.

I did find, though, the fish let you get much closer when you are not sticking a camera in their faces.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

And This is Fun Because........????

Sunday we waited, anchored at Pumpkin Key, searching for any sign that one of the forecast models was right.  We were looking for winds to diminish later in the day and remain in a more southeasterly direction.  What we knew is if we could not call it today, there was a significant probability that it would be days before another decent crossing day would come.  Finally about 4:30 we turned our stern to Angelfish creek and headed out to sea as the sun set behind us.  Hurray!!  We are really going!!

Although the winds had diminished a bit the seas were choppy and sandwiches were in order for dinner.  Since this was going to be a half an overnighter I went to bed expecting to wake up around 12 or so to help with the anchoring.  Around 11:30 I was tired of trying to sleep while being flopped around and slammed like a rag doll being played with by a dog.  As we approached Bimini, the seas calmed and we entered Nixon Harbor ready to be done with this passage.  Unfortunately, the anchor went down 3 times before we found somewhat acceptable holding on the hard bottom.  I suspect that, in the calm, the chain was holding us in place well enough—and at that point, at 2am, we really didn’t care.  Why is this FUN?

Monday morning I awoke in time to see the sun rise over the clear blue water.  There is something about that color!  We hurried to get into town so that we could check in and leave for Morgan’s Bluff.  Winds were forecast to pick up sometime later and blow right on the nose for several days so we wanted to make the shelter of Morgan’s Bluff, preferring to be stuck there instead of Bimini.  I was tense about the check-in with customs and immigration.  The permit for the cat had not arrived in time and I was fearful of what delays and costs would result.  Turns out there was a small delay and Samantha had to pay another $10, then, much relieved and thankful, we were on our way.
Winds were still calm when we left Alice Town but it was right on the nose and we didn’t even bother putting up the sails.  We even broiled a port loin on the grill and had a decent dinner.  However, soon after I settled into bed, the rocking, rolling and slamming began.  With currents and winds against us, we first planned to arrive at Morgan’s bluff at 2am then 4am then whenever.  I somehow slept but didn’t rest and I was tired of it all by 1am so I got up to discover we were still 5 or 6 hours away.   I drank some caffeine and let Bill have the fun of trying to sleep.  There was no moon until about a quarter to four so it was pitch dark and none of the marker beacons along the way were working—even at the entrance to the harbor the markers were gone and we navigated the channel by GPS in the first light of sunrise.  Anchoring was straightforward but I had caffeine at 5 or so and was unable to sleep right away so I watched the sun come up and piddled around a bit and finally crashed out. 

There were 4 other boats in the harbor and one of them looked a bit familiar.  Soon after we woke up around noon we heard someone hailing us from his dingy.  It was Keith and his boat, Dolphin Leap!!  Last year this same time, Keith had sailed into this same harbor announcing over the radio that he had caught a large Mahi and needed help with eating it.  We had also seen him in Georgetown but he left before we did.  We invited him aboard and caught up on what had happened over the past summer and fall, then made plans to meet him on his boat for drinks. 

Now it was snorkel time.  The cool water woke me right up and my gills were feeling pretty good as I reacquainted with the critters and fish.  Just as I was about to get out I noticed an area where a channel had been cut out of the hardbottom.  Large rocks were strewn along side of this channel and…..what did I see but a couple of pair of antennae poking out from under one.  I quickly surfaced, got bearings and returned to the boat to get lobster catching equipment.  The two I caught gave me a run around but my luck won out and we shared fresh lobster and drank martinis on Dolphin Leap while watching the sun set. 

And THAT”s why we think this is FUN!