Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Virginia on the Hornpipe (part 2)

DAY 6: January 16, 2013

Marsh Harbor to Fowl Cay Preserve, to Great Guana Cay, Fishers Harbor

Nadine, Shana and I took Dinghy Bob to shore for the morning while the boys stayed aboard the FHP to take care of a few projects.   Nadine met up with Brian Higgs, a former Island School student to run errands including filling the propane tank ($25), filling water jugs and the scuba tanks we use to keep Dinghy Bob afloat.   The Higgs made their water and air compressor available to our crew, and explained to Nadine a few items about resources on the Abacos.   Apparently they have an “endless” supply of water, or at least more water than most islands due to a larger fresh water “lens”- an aquifer that sits on top of a salt water aquifer.

In the meantime, Shana and I made use of the Internet at “Java” coffee shop, a homey spot near the harbor that hosts local artists works and provides homemade baked goods and quiche.   We met up with Nadine, ran a few more errands, then headed back to the boat.

The guys were ready to get going and we pulled out of the harbor around mid-day, headed for some of the best snorkeling in the Bahamas at Fowl Cay Land and Sea Park, an hour east.

No sooner had we left the harbor than Rob handed the helm over to Shana, our newest sailor.   She stepped up to the plate admits an onslaught of instructions from various enthusiastic other 1st time sailors (myself included!)   She managed to dodge various oncoming boat traffic, as Rob led the other crewmembers in hoisting the sails.   It is a credit to Captain Rob and First Mate Nadine, that they so easily hand over control to us newcomers, inviting us to jump in with our feet first, allowing us to feel comfortable and have fun learning in what could easily be a stressful environment with anyone else in charge.

We made it to Fowl Cay in no time, quickly lunched and suited up for our snorkeling adventure.  Dinghy Bob was fully inflated and ready to go, but unfortunately the GoPro I had attached to my head in an underwater housing was out of batteries!!  Bummer, because when then 6 of us jumped out of the dinghy into the wavey turquoise ocean surges, we were treated to a pristine fortress of elkhorn coral, supporting a multitude of fish and coral species.   This protected area is some of the most productive and undisturbed coral reef environments in the Bahamas and is virtually unaffected by fishing and boat traffic.   Although some species of coral look similar to trees or plants, it is actually a colony of tiny animals that build communities and apartment buildings out of minerals. Coral itself is incredibly fragile, and grows only a few inches a year.   We had to be careful not to touch or bump the branches and fingers reaching out towards the surface.

We observed a multitude of different fish species, some swimming in schools, some in groups of two or three, others alone.  Species observed included trumpet fish, a huge black margate, Nassau grouper, schoolmaster snapper, enormous 3ft rainbow parrotfish, various phases of other parrotfish (likely stoplight and rainbow), a green turtle, blue heads, another juvenile damselfish, yellow checked rasse, foureye butterflyfish (that looks like a feather), fairy basslets, and sergeant majors.   Coral observed included lots of elkhorn, brain corals, and common and venus fans.  Also lots of beautiful purple sponges, whos long arms and branches waved gently in the current, and various aquatic plants.

We snorkeled for about 1.5 hrs, then headed back to the FHP.  It’s amazing how snorkeling can sap your energy, although at the time one feels quite absorbed in all the amazing visual sensory information.  You swim along, sometimes only inches above the complex of coral, sometimes crossing between reefs over sandy bottoms 20 ft below, and everywhere dozens of fish species retreat a few feet away as you approach, some fish as big as your hand or arm, many smaller than your finger, and occasionally, a huge fish the size of your leg.   Have you ever seen one of those tanks at an aquarium, with all the fish packed in there swimming this way and that?  Now picture yourself in that tank, and you have the reef at Fowl Cay.

As our snorkeling adventure wrapped up, we traveled northwest to Great Guana Cay and harbored for the night.   Nadine and I hadn’t made our daily painting yet, so we broke out the paints as the sun sank below the horizon, and shed an intensely orange glow on the quaint pastel houses lining the harbor.   We furiously put paint on paper, but soon it was dark.   By the light of our headlamps we tried to imagine the scene we had just viewed, and recreate it on the paper.   Or at the very least, try to push our paintings out of the realm of middle-school art, and towards something more polished we wouldn’t be embarrassed admitting was ours!   That is the challenge of plein air- work fast to capture the light and mood of a scene before it changes.

DAY 7: January 17, 2013

Guana Cay to Hope Town, Elbow Cay

We were getting reports of strong winds moving in over the next few days, and decided to look for a more sheltered harbor.   We took off from our anchorage at Great Guana and headed southeast a few hours to Elbow Cay and Hope Town.  Dinghy Bob needed some more work… 



We approached the harbor at high tide, which turned out to be a good thing, as we weren’t keen on running the Fishers Hornpipe aground.  The FHP draws 7” of water, whereas a typical sailboat of this length would draw 6”, and there was only a narrow shallow path we could take to enter the harbor.   At high tide we were only inches from scraping bottom.      The channel into the harbor turned out to be magical, and many “oos and ahhs” emanated from the camera snapping crew.  

We pulled up to a mooring in the tight secluded harbor.  Not long after we arrived, we saw a small dingy motoring up to the boat.   The skipper greeted us, and Rob and Nadine invited him aboard.  The first thing he said was, “I haven’t seen this boat since 1978!”  Turned out he was just glancing out in the harbor when he saw the FHP moored amongst the dozens of other boats.   He wasn’t 100% sure, and did a reconnaissance ride around her stern, where her original name is clearly written.  “Would you say this boat is well known?” inquired Rob.  “Heck yes!” cried our new friend, “this boat is world-famous!”   Brad Gunn was his name, and he proceeded to tell us how he had met Reuel Parker (pronounced “Rule”), the boats builder, at a marina in Norfolk, VA back in the day.   After Brad took off, our crew headed into town to check out the snorkeling on the Atlantic side.  

We walked through the narrow streets of Hope Town, many only wide enough for a golf-cart, and soon came to a beach where a bulldozer plowed sand up to the rocky shoreline.   The sun was out, and it was hot.  We snorkeled around for a few hours without wetsuits for once.   The reefs were not nearly as gorgeous and teaming with fish as Fowl Cay had been, and I began to realize we may have been a bit spoiled by that paradise.  These reefs were pretty typical, with some elkhorn coral, and brain coral, and various common species of fish swimming around.  It was still beautiful and fun.

Towards the end, I spotted a shark swimming over a sandy patch between the reef I was exploring and the next one over.  He was about 4” long, grey with a pointy-head and pointy fins.   I had the GoPro camera rolling, and thought I got a shot.   He was about 15 yds away.   I calmly watched him swim past, and then the adrenaline kicked in, and I bee-lined it the other direction!   Looking back, I wish I had followed him at a distance for a little ways just to get a better look.  Rob apparently saw the same shark, and identified him as a reef shark.   It was pretty exciting!


Nadine and I got out our paints and made a quick sketch before the bulldozer started disturbing the scene.  We all packed up and set off to explore the town.   Curtis, Ted, Shana and I explored for a while, fascinated by the beautiful pastel colored cottages, all with quaint, brightly colored shutters.   We stumbled on a cute public park/garden with titled stepping-stones and huge coconut trees.   One wall was lined with coconuts, and we took one for dinner.   Another highlight was the brand new art center, a gallery space featuring paintings of local scenes.   The two adorable pink buildings were worked over with teak and cedar, and Curtis was beside himself with excitement at the gorgeous carpentry.



Back at the boat, Nadine and Rob had another visit from guests who knew Reuel Parker and had partied on the FHP back in the day.   After the guests motored away, Rob picked the crew up from the dinghy dock, and we all returned to the boat, where Nadine and I made a coconut-tofu curry with the fresh coconut.   Nadine and Rob were excited to have met so many people who knew the boat.   When they bought the boat, they knew it was a one-of-kind vessel, and the accompanying book written by Reuel which documents the early adventures of the FHP indicates what a wild ride it had been on.   But surprisingly they had never met anyone who knew the boat.   Finally, here was solid evidence that the Fishers Hornpipe is indeed a celebrity, akin to Michael Jackson white glove, or Jimmy Hendrix’s fender guitar.

DAY 8: January 18, 2013

Rest Day, Hope Town, Elbow Cay

 Although the weather wasn’t bad in harbor (only overcast and a bit windy,) reports were rocky outside the haven of Hope Town, and we gladly took a rest day to further explore the cute town.

We started the day with a morning jog through town and south along the paved island road.   I hung back at my own pace, while Rob, Nadine and Curtis powered ahead to check out some potential surf spots.   I returned to the Hope Town Coffee House, a very nice establishment offering wi-fi, but no power outlets for customers.   I was starving, and had a smoothie, quiche, and one of the best cups of coffee I have ever tasted.   The crew met up with me there after their run, and spent some time on the Internet.

We returned to the boat, us ladies changed into skirts, and headed out again.   Curtis, Nadine, Rob and I climbed to the tope of the Hope Town lighthouse, one of the most picturesque lighthouses in the Bahamas.   It actually runs on kerosene, and at night flashes a gentle light in a circle through several huge glass lenses.   We climbed the steep steps and a ladder all the way to the top, where a circular balcony wrapped completely around the top.  It didn’t cost any money, there were no security guards, and we didn’t have to sign a waver to climb it.  Hard to imagine this policy going over in the states…



Ted and Shana rented bikes, and biked the length of the island, stopping for a picnic lunch of conch fritters on a picturesque beach.   Rob and Curtis set off with wetsuits and spears in hand to catch some dinner.  

Nadine and I spent a couple hours scrubbing the rust stains from the side of the Fishers Hornpipe.   I learned that one of the marks distinguishing this boat as Ferro Cement, is the tell tale rust stains sprouting from the rebar and chicken wire which comprise the boats structure underneath ¾” cement.   Indeed, we were the only boat in the harbor with rust stains.   We used a (highly toxic) chemical compound that reacted with the iron oxide to remove it.   After 2 hours, the FHP was looking better than it had in the 3 years since it’s last paint job.   I cleaned of a substance that looked like bird poop, but which we identified as vomit from some unfortunate sailor…

After the major cleaning job, Nadine and I were desperate for a rinse, and although it was getting chilly and overcast, we headed across town with our soaps and shampoo for a dip in the Atlantic.   First we stopped in the newly completed art center to admire the oils and watercolors of several traveling artists who come to Hope Town to paint and teach workshops.   We particularly enjoyed the work of Arnie Casavant and Walt Bartman.   The most common subjects were the adorable cottages and house of town, and moody evening paintings of sky and clouds.   If only Nadine and I had more time to paint amidst all the fun outdoor activities we so love to do!   It was good for us to see some other interpretations of the landscape we have been working on capturing with our plein aire on this trip.   We said goodbye and thanks to the gallery attendant, Robbie, who was freezing in the 75-degree weather!  He was headed home to make a fire, and we had to laugh.

The ocean was cool, but not so cold that it makes you cry out in shock.   It was just a huge bathtub for us, and it felt great to get cleaned up after a great day.

I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I’m sure it was good!   We were pretty exhausted after a long day.

DAY 9: January 19, 2013

Hope Town, Elbow Cay to Tilloo Cay

We carefully motored out of the narrow Hope Town harbor at high tide.   We said goodbye to the sweet little town we all enjoyed so much.    We had a pretty good wind, and hoisted the sails.   We sailed first west back towards Marsh Harbor, then cut south and southeast sticking to a deeper channel in the Sea of Abaco.   We watched other sailboats, passing some, and being passed by others.  Catamarans seem to be pretty popular although they don’t look as classic and single hulled boats.   They have more room and more stability, but are more expensive with two engines.

It took several hours of zig-zagging through the channel to get to Tilloo Cay, but I loved the sailing.  Nadine continued her project sanding the main companionway doors which each have a seahorse inlayed in the front.   They were covered with countless layers of varnish, which after many years of weathering now looked dark and crackly.   She worked with a palm sander to get down to the bare wood.   Our motor began to overheat, and we shut it off while Rob and Curtis got out the wrenches to start tinkering.   At that point we had a pretty nice headwind, and opted for tacking back and forth to make way.   The boys cleaned out the water intake valve that feeds cold seawater into the engine to cool it.   Rob turned off the inverter that powered the sander and computers, and the engine began to cool off.

Towards late afternoon we reached Tilloo Cay, and as usual Rob dove into the water to check the anchor.   He continued on with his spear gun towards some rocky islets.   Ted and Curtis joined him on a spear-fishing expedition.  Right away, they speared several lionfish, that pesky, but tasty invasive species.   Nadine took the standup paddleboard out to shoot some pictures, then Shana took it for a run, and I snorkeled around a bit checking out the reefs.  

When the guys returned from fishing, they had several lionfish, as well as two beautiful conchs!   One was only a few years old, but was mature enough to harvest.  The other must have been 15 years old, with a huge worn grey shell that was the most beautiful shade of magenta pink and soft yellow.   Ted astutely noted the shells similarity to a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.   Rob demonstrated how to harvest these mollusks with a hammer, and cut out the large muscle considered to be a Bahamian delicacy.  



The conch muscle itself looked rather like an organ, and was the size of human heart.   It was pretty tough meat, and needed to be prepared prior to cooking by hammering gently with a mallet.  This task happily fell to me, and I enjoyed pounding the meat, which gently broke apart into soft stringy flakes.   Rob then battered them and deep-fried them to a golden crisp.   They were delicious!  A very delicate, almost sweet flavor, and a wonderfully unique, softly chewy texture.   Rob also deep-fried the lion-fish, and French fries- a truly delicious deep fried Bahamian meal!

DAY 10: January 20, 2013

Tilloo Cay to Snake Cay (Snake Cay Dock)

Some of the crew jumped in the water for a morning exercise swim.  I took the standup paddleboard out for a trial run.  I found I was able to balance in the calm, still morning, and paddled around for a while.  I saw a barracuda, a turtle poke it’s head up, and small stingray.

When I returned, we set off east towards Snake Cay where the boys hoped to spend some time bone-fishing.   As we approached the Cay, all hands were on deck looking out at the beautiful clear water.  Someone saw a turtle swimming by.  That was soon trumped when Shana cried out “sharks!”   Up ahead we saw two dorsal fins poking in and out of the water, and they turned out to belong to a bottlenose dolphin and her half-grown calf.   We slowed the boat and approached, and the two dolphins swam up to the boat and checked us out.   Several crewmembers jumped in with snorkel gear, but the mother and calf weren’t too interested in communicating, and swam away.  It was a lucky sighting.  

As we approached the shallow anchor area, Rob cut the engine, and said, “we’re probably going to run aground…”   A moment later the boat rose up a bit, leaned to the starboard side and stopped bobbing.   We had run aground on the sandy bottom.   We spent some time putting the engine in reverse with three crewmembers standing on the bowsprit.  Rob swam to the nearby rocky shore with a climbing rope attached to the bow, secured the line, and three of us heaved on the stretchy cord, slowly spinning the bow the boat into deeper water.   She was free, and we motored back to deeper water and set the anchor.

Rob and Ted took off in Dinghy Bob hoping to catch some bonefish in the shallow mangrove lagoon just east of the cay.   Bone-fishing is supposedly similar to fly-fishing for trout, and bonefish are reputed to be one of the most difficult fish to catch.   Shana got on the standup paddleboard and also headed over to explore the lagoon.   When they returned, they reporting sighting several large Eagle Rays in the narrow cut between the Sea of Abaco to the east and the lagoon to the west.

Curtis, Nadine and I got our snorkel gear on and jumped in the water on a spear-fishing expedition.   We soon found a bunch of lionfish hanging around to gobble up all the tiny fish fry that congregated in the shallows.   Curtis set his sights on one, while Nadine discovered two large lobsters under a rock only 3 ft down.   She managed to spear the first one right away, and Curtis got his first lionfish.   They held them up in triumph, and I filmed with the GoPro.   Nadine worked hard, and was able to get the second lobster!  They were huge and beautiful.   Curtis found he had a knack for spearing the lionfish, and nailed 4 more.   The rest of the crew returned from bone-fishing, and were impressed with our catch so far.   But it had only just begun!   The guys set themselves to rid the area of all lionfish, no matter how small, as a gesture of goodwill towards the indigenous fish fry that would undoubtedly be gobbled down by the invasive.


Ted and Rob suited up and attempted to spear several more lionfish hanging around a rock under the FHP.   One spear got stuck in the rock, and Rob had to get his scuba gear out to retrieve it.   Nadine and I headed up the lagoon on Dinghy Bob, while everyone else continued spear-fishing in the cut.   As we blasted around the shallow mangrove lagoon, we saw a great blue heron, and some flying fish.   I spotted the silhouette of a turtle out of the corner of my eye, and we turned around to follow him for a few minutes.  Nadine said he was a really big green turtle specimen, about two feet across.  She wasn’t too surprised, as this is great turtle habitat.   He could sure swim fast, and he wasn’t interested in us, so we left him alone.

We returned to the cut where everyone else was snorkeling, and we started searching for the Eagle Rays.   Towards the mouth of the cut, we finally saw one, a huge sting-ray covered in white spots like a leopard!  It was easily 4-5 ft across, with a very long strait tail like a fencing sword.   I had the GoPro out in the water, and we followed the ray for a minute, at one point motoring directly above it.  I got a fantastic shot with the GoPro.  It was really exciting to see such a big, beautiful creature.  

The guys had speared several more lionfish, as well as FOUR more huge lobster!!   (All of us are covered by a fishing permit that applies to the whole boat.)   Rob had seen 5 or 6 more lobster, but we had plenty for the night, so we left them.   What a tremendously productive wildlife area!

Nadine and I were on dinner duty, and we cooked up a feast.   We boiled the lobster tails for 13 minutes, blackened the lionfish fillets in an iron skillet with paprika and chili powder, with a side of penne noodles and alfredo sauce.   For an appetizer, we made a lionfish ceviche salsa.  Ceviche is made by chopping the fish very small, then soaking it in lime juice for 30 minutes.  The acidic juice cures the meat, which turns white and firm.  It is a technique I will take home with me for sure.   This huge meal and busy day induced food comas all around, and we struggled to get to bed before we fell asleep around the table.


DAY 11: January 21, 2013

Snake Cay to Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park,

Pelican Cays to Marsh Harbor, Great Abaco

My last day in the Bahamas…  for now!

We got out of Snake Cay as quickly as possible in the morning as the no-see um flies (biting midges) were excruciating in the still air.  The sea was a glassy pancake.   We motored towards Pelican Cays were we hoped to fit in some more snorkeling.  

Once there, the waves were so roll-y, that Nadine suited up and was in the water right away, the rest of us soon after.   We snorkeled for a good hour or so, the reef was quite nice.   The biggest find was by Nadine- she saw 5 eagle rays swimming in an arrow formation like a flock of birds!!   The huge 6-ft wide spotted stingrays moved along the seafloor, some 30 ft down, sifting food from the sandy bottom.   She tried to flag some of the other snorkelers down, but most of us were far away with our faces pointed down in the water.   Rob saw her from the boat, and jumped in with his GoPro.  He was able to one great shot of an eagle ray close up by diving down close to it.   It was pretty amazing!!

After our snorkel, we headed around the bend to a small island where the waves were calm and boat settled down.  As we approached the anchorage, I stood on the bow sprit, and saw a nurse shark lurking on the seafloor.   We anchored nearby, and I took the standup paddleboard to look for the shark, but never found him.   Rob took his surfboard to the far side of the island where the Atlantic waves might be surf-able.   Ted, Shana and Curtis all went ashore to explore the little islet.   Nadine and I opted to stay aboard, realizing it was probably our best chance to make a painting that day.   We painted the islet, and the white-capped waves lapping against the shore.  I feel I’ve gotten better over the last two weeks at capturing the colors and texture of this watery world, and I was happy with my sketch, realizing it would be my last painting for this trip.

With no wind to speak of, sailing was out of the question, so we had a few hours to motor.   As we pulled away from the Pelican Cays area, Rob noticed the engine was again overheating.   We turned it off, and drifted for about 15 minutes, waiting for it cool off, while Curtis and Rob tinkered again, and added more coolant.   Then we were off, and headed for Marsh Harbor.  I worked on this blog below deck for much of the trip.   Nadine and Curtis varnished the two doors to the main companionway.   She had sanded the old varnish all the way off to the bare wood, which now glowed red with 6 inch dark brown (mahogany?) seahorses inlayed.  

As we approached Marsh Harbor, Rob hoisted me up the mast in a small seat.   “If it feels good, do it!”   The view from 30 ft up was fabulous, and the flat seas made for a calm ride, even though every inch of movement down below translates to a foot of movement at the top of the mast.   I shot some great pics of the boat, said goodbye to the gorgeous blue water and pastel clouds, and was lowered back down.

Once in Marsh Harbor, Rob noticed a small sailboat to our starboard side that looked to him like a Reuel Parker design.   When we were close enough, Nadine read the name and realized “Island Girl” was indeed a Reuel Parker boat!   She took the standup paddleboard over and visited with the sailors aboard.   What a fun coincidence.  Then, Nadine, Curtis and I went to town for some errands.   Ted and Shana fixed up a great meal on the FHP, and I wrapped the evening with some packing.  

Nadine would drop me off in the morning on shore, where a taxi would carry me to the airport, and I would begin my long journey back north to Canada, where cold temps promised eternal sweaters and long-johns, long nights and skiing.  

Living an island life might be one of the best places to get in touch with the serenity inside ourselves.  There seems to be a flow to life here that is unhurried, conscientious, restful and low stress.  (Isn’t that what the resorts are selling?)   But it turned out to be the most practical way to slip into life on a sailboat, where our days flowed by in fluid continuum.   I had to remind myself on the flight down here to detach myself from the many stressful circumstances in my own life, shed them like a second skin and slide into a simpler, more meditative mentality.   I wonder- will I step back into that skin upon my return to reality?  Or can I maintain some of the peaceful aura of life in the islands?   But for now, I was still on the Fishers Hornpipe, rocking slowing to and fro in my bunk, absorbing the rocking of the water, the subtle movement seeping into my mind and my bones, as the sound of the ocean is preserved forever inside the shell of a conch.



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

HopeTown and unexpected visitors...

Onward to Hope Town, Abaco

We decided to celebrate the arrival of Ted and Shana Woods by enjoying dinner at ‘Snappas’, a local restaurant just down from The Marsh Harbor dingy dock.  Locally caught fish was just what the crew was craving.  As I walked up to the bar collect the tab I heard my name from an unfamiliar direction.  As I turned around I was welcomed with a huge smile and open arms from Brian Higgs, a former Island School student.  He joined us at our table, met the crew and offered a wealth of information about fishing and snorkeling spots.  We took his advice and made plans to snorkel at The Land and Sea Park near Fowl Cay the following day. … which turned out to be one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots  I’ve seen in The Bahamas. 
(Ted and Shana in Hope Town)
A cold front of SSE 15-20 knots followed by 20-25 knots was on its way.  With this weather forecast we decided to seek a protection in Hope Town Harbor.  We made an early trip into Marsh Harbor to collect some last minute supplies such as propane, water, compressed air (for inflating the dingy)
The strong winds blew us approximately 4.5 knots across the passage and we arrived in Hope Town at 11:30, just in time for high tide which is what The Fishers Hornpipe needed to navigate through the 1.7 meter deep channel into the harbor.  We turned on ‘Twinkie’ to increase our accuracy and Virginia, Curtis and I retrieved our cameras and shot photos like we were the paparazzi.  Pastel painted shabby-chic cottages whose colors are borrowed from the environment speckled the hillsides.   According to Curtris “just pick up a shell or look at a sunset and take any two colors out of it and you’ll see Hope Town” The shallow narrow entry opens up to a wide calm harbor filled with boats seeking shelter from the storm.

 Little did we know that The Fishers Hornpipe was a ‘world class vessel’ according to our unexpected visitors….

Upon arrival into Hope Town Harbor Rob grilled cheese sandwiches and we ate lunch in the spacious center cockpit.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a dingy motoring towards our ship.  As the inflatable motor boat got closer Brad Gunn greeted us with a smile and told us he is a former crew member of The Fishers Hornpipe and long-time friend of Reuel Parker, the builder of this ferro cement vessel.  ‘This is a flash back from the past’ he explained and continued to talk about his experience on the FHP in Norfolk, VA in 1979.  Brad now splits his time between living on his boat, Mothra in The Bahamas and Maine.  We were all eager to hear the early stories of the ‘Horny Piper’ as told in the book ‘Voyages of The Fishers Hornpipe’
(Brad Gunn in the aft cabin)

Later in the afternoon we were greeted again by some old friends of Reuel.  Rob and I heard some chatter above deck and were surprised to see three people snapping photos of the FHP on their I Phones.  They said they could identify The Fishers Hornpipe by it’s shape from across the harbor and needed to see if it was the real deal (we began to feel like celebrities’ in the harbor).  Ryan is a boat builder who worked under Reuel for many years.  Wayne owns two of Reuel’s boats and Jamie is a long-time friend.  They were anxious to see the boat the Reuel Parker has talked so much about, his first hand crafted sailboat. 
  (Wayne, Jamie and Ryan on the bow of the FHP)

We set sail back towards Marsh Harbor and anchored on the western edge of the harbor.  We looked around to admire our surroundings when Rob noticed a familiar looking boat anchored to our starboard side.  Island Girl, another Reuel Parker design…. what another unusual coincidence!
(Island Girl)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sailing to the Abacos- Days 1-5 (as told by Virginia Moore)

Our Crew:
(Rob, Nadine, Virginia and Curtis)

T-minus One Day: January 10, 2013
Arrival in Eleuthera

Curtis and I arrived at Rock Sound, Eleuthera at 4:30 on Weds the 10th.  Nadine picked us up from the airport, along with several other people headed to the Island School.   The first lesson I learned is that in the Bahamas you can’t ride shotgun on the right side of the vehicle, because that’s where the steering wheel is.  

The drive to The Island School took us about 30 minutes, and with Curtis and me riding up front, Nadine gave us a tour of Eleuthera from the vantage of the only road on the mile-wide island.  The Queens Highway appears on all the islands, equating to Main Street.   Eleuthera has two intersections, and we were headed for the southernmost fork in the road, where we headed east to Cape Eleuthera, former home of a resort, and now the biggest sustainability project in the Bahamas.  Operating under a Net Zero philosophy, the school recycles or reuses all waste produced, including bodily waste.  The school is virtually off the grid, with all energy consumed coming from the multitude of solar panels that line the rooftops and form parking bays.   Water is also heated by solar.

The Island School (notice the solar panels)

Curtis and had our first glimpse of our new home that first night under a new moon curtain of gleaming stars.  The Fishers Hornpipe is a 40-ft ferro cement, full-hulled cutter sloop, 55 ft if you count the front and back.   The interior hosts three cabins sleeping 6, a workshop area for maintenance and repairs, and a beautiful main galley with a horse-shoe bench built into the stern, overlooking an open kitchen.   The interior is worked over with beautiful wood accents, shelving and inlays.   Windows and skylights provide light and breezes.   The engine runs on diesel and charges the two 12 vt batteries, as does a small solar panel on deck.   The heavy hull stabilizes the boat as it cuts through the waves.

DAY 1: January 11, 2013
The Island School on Cape Eleuthera to Governor’s Harbor in west-central Eleuthera:

We set sail from the Island School on Cape Eleuthera around 10am, only an hour behind schedule.  We had aimed to leave at 9 during the high tide when we could get over some shallow areas, and leaving when we did meant the prevailing winds and the current were not in our favor.  With the addition of a years worth of algae, barnacles, oysters, and goodness knows what else growing on the hull, we made only 1.2 knots for much of the time.   There was a significant amount of navigation to get through some shallow areas, so we opted to motor for the first few hours before hoisting the sails when we turned north into the deep water and bee-lined it for Governors Harbor.  

Sailing for Governors Harbor, Eleuthera

The sailing was easy and quiet, with a steady easterly breeze of 15 knots.   The sun was out, and we listened to reggae and chit chatted.  Curtis and I explored the boat and enjoyed dipping our feet in the surf on the leeward port side.   We all took turns at the helm, and Curtis and I practiced steering toward points on the horizon while using the GPS to keep on target.   Later in the afternoon, Nadine and I got out our paints.   I made a painting of clouds in the west as the sun set from the stern.

We dropped sail as we angled in to Governors Harbor, with Nadine steering, and Rob showing Curtis and I how to bundle the sails.   We found a mooring, and Rob and Curtis dove into the water to wrap the anchor there.  Nadine and I also took a quick dip, reminding ourselves that the somewhat chilly water was much, much warmer than any water in Lander, WY, or Canada.   Music was emanating from shore, where a BBQ was commencing.   It was Friday night, and the sounds of Bahamian “rake and scrape” were spun by a local DJ.   Our deflated canvas dingy known as “Dingy Bob” hung lifeless off the stern, where a fresh layer of caulking dried along his seams.   With no way to get to shore dry, we opted to remain on the FHP and make our own dinner and play dominos as the DJ spun island sounds. As we fell asleep in our bunks, the DJ opted for the timeless sound of Michael Jackson to lull us to sleep, and played on well into the night.

DAY 2: January 12, 2012
Governor’s Harbor in central Eleuthera to the Current Cut on Northern Eleuthera:

We set sail from Governors Harbor around 7am, well before the party-goers woke from their slumber on shore.   We headed west out of the harbor, then north-west towards “the current cut”, a gap of around 300 ft dividing Eleuthera Island on the East, and Current Island to the West.   Along the way Rob noticed a dolphin swimming along the starboard side.  The curious creature inspected the boats hull, then swam around the bow to the port side, surveying our progress, but soon swam away.   Didn’t have a chance to snap a photo, but we were all thrilled.

FHP approaches the "cut" with Rob at the helm

GPS of the FHP sailing through the cut!

We made it to the cut at 2pm with Rob at the helm.   This little novelty came highly recommended by his father “R Mac”, who had swum the current cut many years before.   We literally sailed through the cut at a whopping 7 knots, the current speeding us along through the narrow, deep channel.   The sides were high rock walls promising plentiful aquatic life and excellent snorkeling.   We anchored to the North-east of the cut, and quickly lunched, eager to get in the water.

We snorkeled through the cut 3 times.  By the third time the current had switched directions, and it was more like a swimming treadmill than a ride.  Nadine found an octopus curled up on the sea floor about 3ft down.   It was so camouflaged against the white sand and speckled rocks that I couldn’t even see it until she reached out and poked it gently.  Rob is a great spear-fisherman, and is able to hold his breath for several minutes while diving after fish.   He saw some snapper, but ended up spearing 2 lionfish, an invasive species that happens to be pretty good eating.  We saw lots of fish, including a black grouper, a damsel fish juvenile, a sting ray, butterfly fish, needle fish, scrawled file fish, blue-heads and some moon jellys, among countless other species we are not advanced enough to identify.  The current along the edge of the channel seemed so gentle and fun that Curtis and I wondered why the guide book recommended the current cut to “expert swimmers only”.

We swam back to the boat as the sun approached the horizon, and Nadine and I were able make a quick painting of sunset and approaching clouds before it got too dark to see.   Rob fixed up a delicious dinner of deep fried lionfish, with black bean burritos and salsa.  Yum!!   We played a couple rounds of hearts until our eyes were too heavy to read the numbers.   It was 9pm.  Time for bed after a great day!

DAY 3: January 13, 2013
The Current Cut on Northern Eleuthera to Royal Island harbor.

We had a slow, easy morning on the Fishers Hornpipe.   Rob fixed up a delicious breakfast of banana pancakes and spicy fried potatoes.   (Seems like he’s been doing quite a bit of cooking!)
Then we headed out for some exercise involving swimming the cut and jogging back around to swim it again. Rob saw a turtle. The current was picking up.  Nadine, Curtis and I got swept into the main current in the middle of the 300 ft channel.   The current was very powerful, and it dawned on me we could get swept out to sea!   I started to get pretty tired (and a bit scared!) as we were swimming without flippers.  We were swept past the main pull-out area, but were able to make it to shore, with lots of encouragement from the team.  It was definitely for advanced swimmers!   We jogged back to the put in, and jumped in again, this time swimming close to the bank where the current wasn’t so strong. 

Rob, Nadine and Curtis led me through an intensive “boot camp” workout.  I guess this is an added benefit that I was not expecting!   We swam the current, went for a jog back to the beginning, swam again, jogged again, added calisthenics, then swam back to the boat.  When they said, “do 40 reps”, I did about 25… These friends are very healthy and strong, and it is an inspiration!!   Good way to start of the new years resolutions.

In the afternoon, we sailed to Royal Island, which took about 4 hrs.   Royal Island has a beautiful protected harbor, and there were about 4 other sailboats there, several were Canadian.   Nadine and I swam to shore and explored some old ruins from a long gone resort.   We walked down a dirt road about a quarter mile and saw the Atlantic Ocean and a green heron on the other side.

The Ruins on Royal Island

Nadine and I got out our painting supplies and made a painting of the ruins.   It was beautiful, with colorful flowers (bougainvilleas?)   The buildings were made of old limestone with painted tile floors.   Trees grew up the walls, and plants sprouted from the rooftop.   Curtis joined us after spending some time scrubbing sea-life off the keel with Rob.   At sunset we returned to the boat and settled in for the night.  

VA enjoys a cold beer on Royal Island with FHP in background

DAY 4:  January 14, 2013
Royal Island Harbor to Leonard “Skinnard” Cay on South-Eastern Abacos.

We decided on a midnight departure for Abacos.  We would be working in 3 hr shifts, beginning with Rob and me, then switching to Nadine and Curtis.   The trek was expected to take 14 hrs, but we made it in 11 by “motor sailing”, and kept a speed of about 5 kts.   Going at that speed helped even out the waves and made steering easier. We saw 5 huge cruise ships lit up like Christmas lights, traveling in row like ducks, and seven shooting stars.   I made a rookie mistake, and left my windows open, so my bed in the boats bow got soaked.   Curtis and I enjoyed using the stars as points of reference to help us navigate.   Looking at sky, we felt that we and stars were the only things standing still, while the waves and water and boat pitched wildly around like a magic carpet.

The sea was choppy, with rolling waves.   The boat pitched forward and backwards, up and down, then rocked side to side as it slid down waves.   Unfortunately Nadine gets seasick, and this bouncy ride gave her quite a case.   After three hours on the rolling water, she was heaving into a bucket…   But bravely she took the helm, and tried to work through it.   She has several techniques for coping with seasickness.   My favorite is that she will walk around the boat with her eyes closed to avoid seeing everything moving.  This means she gets bounced back and forth blindly as she gropes for handholds through the cabin.   She is a brave woman, and although she might have wished to throw herself overboard that night, she toughs it out for the love of adventure and exploration.

The sun came up at 6:56am.   Later in the morning we saw 7 or 8 sailboats in a row, they all passed us on the right, and must have left from the Abacos that morning, but not as early as us.   We pulled in at 11:30am to the very first anchor spot available at Leonard Cay.   Dingy Bob was patched and seemed to be holding air, so we rode him to shore and walked around on the “Death Rock” picking up sponges.   
The crew surveys the Atlantic Ocean and "Death Rock"

Nadine collects sea sponges

The FHP harbored at Leonard Cay

The FHP and neighbor at Leonard Cay

We got to back to the boat in a drizzle, and around 5:15, Nadine wondered, “Is it too early to start dinner?”   “No!” we all cried.   We were starving and exhausted.   Rob made a great meal of egg fried rice with veges, and we devoured it, and soon hit the sack. 

DAY 5:  January 15, 2013
 Leonard Cay to Marsh Harbor, Abacos:

This morning Nadine and I got up early painted the morning light.   Then we sailed north between the eastern Cays and Great Abaco Island to the west.   Lots of hidden sandbars and shallow areas made navigation tricky.   Nadine did a great job steering through the switchbacks.  We tacked left and right, and were able to hoist the Genoa jib.  
The FHP with Main sail, Staysail, and Geonoa Jibs

The FHP heads downwind at full sail

Virginia rides the waves on the bow sprit

Curtis on the bow sprit about the hoist the Genoa sail

We are here in Marsh Harbor!   We are here to restock our food supply, get on the internet, and pick up two new crewmembers.   We are excited to welcome Ted and Shana from Bozeman, MT!!   We will have dinner in town tonight, and I hope to try my first “cracked conk”, a local specialty.   We don’t have a plan for tomorrow yet, but I imagine it involves sailing…  We are operating on island time, and are blowing with the wind…

Boats harbored in Marsh Harbor, Great Abacos, Bahamas

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kick off to 2012 on The FHP!

Below is a sneak peak of the most recent adventure on the FHP. On New Years day friends from Eleuthera, Wyoming, Massachusetts and New Zealand gathered in Nassau to turn the sails south and cruise the exuma chain.

check it out here....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five Days in the Exumas!

Clouds on The Passage From Exumas Back to Eleuthera

When you smile with a snorkel mask on your face water trickles in through the wrinkles next to your nose and slowly fills up the mask with water. If you are SCUBA diving this means you have to look up towards the surface and breathe out through your nose to clear the mask of water. The more you smile or laugh the more you clear your mask until, if you are playing underwater backgammon against your friend Benny Urmston, you are stuck in a downwards spiral of dice rolling, hand signals (not always polite), laughing, and mask clearing.

Overall our summer trip was fun and relaxing. We finally got chance to experiment with different sail combinations and pints of sail and found the FHP to a pleasure to sail in relatively light conditions. The weather was HOT and depending on the bugs some of the crew found it nicer to sleep on deck in the breeze.

Nadine On Deck, FHP
The crew was Ashley, our winter trip sailor/blogger extraordinaire, Benny, from The Hass expedition, Nadine, and I. Ashley, as usual, was completely impervious to seasickness and made some delicious curry for dinner. Benny spent as much time in and under the water as possible as he is about to spend the next six months in Antarctica.

Small Key Near Norman's Key
Nadine and Ash in a Sea Cave, Exumas Land and Sea Park