Bonnie and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the ICW to the Bahamas
Sailing the Bahamas and Exuma Cays – ICW South part 3
After two weeks in Nassau, wind-bound for most of the time, we awake on January 7th to find fairly calm conditions and everybody else preparing to depart, so off we went, heading southeast for the Exuma Cays (Cay is pronounced the same as key or quay, and means the same thing). The first few hours were fine, but then we had to change direction and beat straight into big seas for five hours. At the end of that I was soaked to the skin from spray coming over the boat and we were very glad to drop the anchor just at sunset at Highbourne Cay. Next day all the other sailors were talking about the passage being the worst they had ever done. One of them asked if we had ever been out in anything as bad and I don’t think she believed me when I said “Yes, often, but usually we were freezing to death along with it.”
The next day, Tuesday, January 6th, was a day when everyone we met on the beach said “Finally we are in the place we set out for.” It was paradise: long, gorgeous, sandy beach with the most beautiful seashells, lots of friendly people from all the boats coming ashore for a look. The day was sunny but still windy. The only mistake was taking Stig ashore for a run. We came back a couple of hours later and found him in hot pursuit of some poor little crawling thing. When we picked him up he was panting from the heat. We got him back on board right away but he wouldn’t take a drink. Here we were with the First Aid book trying to decide whether he had heat exhaustion or sun stroke. Since cats don’t sweat, the signs are completely different. We doused him with water, which didn’t seem to do anything for the situation. Then Jim read something about giving the patient salted water. I opened a can of tuna, gave him the liquid, which he drank in a flash, and we had our usual sandwiches for lunch.
We dinghied a mile to Allen’s Cay to see the iguanas which roam the island. What a strange sight! They look like prehistoric creatures. Their skin is hideous, but with fascinating iridescent shades. We went snorkeling, which was a big improvement here over Nassau Harbour. Jim found us a bunch of conch, the famous local shellfish. These are the big, curved shells with the pink interior. Getting the meat out is a major project, but he followed the directions we got in broken English from a Montreal couple earlier in the day. The next step is to pound the flesh with a wooden mallet, which we had been warned to bring for the purpose. Finally, he made chowder and I wish I could say it was delicious, but, honestly, this stuff makes squid look good!
After this great day we had a truly miserable night as the boat bashed around in a rough chop. Another night when thoughts of shoveling snow held much appeal. We couldn’t wait for morning to come to go somewhere we would have better shelter, so we chased the first boats which started moving. An hour later we met up with friends who were headed to Exuma National Park and followed them into Warderick Wells. This place was fabulous. We were very hot, so right away we changed into bathing suits. Jim snorkeled down to take a look at the mooring we had tied to and I was stepping down the swim ladder when I turned around and found a five-foot barracuda just about goosing me. Later we learned his name is Bubba and he’s a bit of a pet, but let’s say I was a little bit startled at the time.
We had a lovely couple of days here, meeting lots of new people and sharing news with the other Canadians about the big ice storm back home. We dove on a little reef which had literally hundreds of different kinds of fish of all sizes and colours. It looked like a television promo for diving in the Bahamas. Jim spotted several lobster but we were in a park so dinner was pasta once again. One of the more unusual examples of animal behaviour featured the two big dogs (sisters, part Great Dane and part rottweiler, but very gentle) who live here with the young couple who are the park rangers. We were in a place which is like an enclosed pond, with a rim of deep (15 feet) water, but very shallow in the centre. At low tide, the middle dries and these two dogs swim from shore so they can run along the crescent of sand which is out of the water for a couple of hours. They play in the water all day; fishing, I suppose.
It was time for us to get going south again, so we came out to the east, into the deep waters of Exuma Sound. It was good to be back in real ocean, after the very shallow back on the west of the island chain. This night we went into Galliott Cut and anchored behind a small island. It was the first time in the Bahamas we (I mean Jim) picked out a place all on our own and navigated our own way to it. We were very pleased with ourselves and once again resolved to ignore the guidebook which makes everything sound so difficult. On Sunday we had an early start for a great sail , down past Bell Island and Little Bell Island, to George Town.
George Town is super. Jim says it reminds him of Brigus, Newfoundland, if you can believe that. It is about the same size, has a saltwater pond in the middle, lots of colourful houses and friendly locals. There the resemblance ends. Right now there are about 200 boats at anchor; the number will double by March. The town revolves around the visiting sailors and it is amazing how much is available here. Every morning there is a fifteen-minute cruisers’ net on the VHF radio which gives weather, the American version of international news, local activities (aerobics, beach walks, barbecues), requests for help with broken boat stuff and adverts from the local businesses. In the latter category, a couple of women end their live ads by singing little jingles. It’s pretty cute. We have already learned that we should have bought more rum mix and snack food in Nassau but we are delighted with the fresh homemade baking. My favourite is coconut bread.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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