The Great Bahamian Bank - Day 1, Thursday, January 1, 2004 We awoke after New Years to another beautiful Bahamian day. Today we were going to cross the Great Bahama Bank, 57 miles of ocean between 6 and 12 feet deep. The Northwest Channel, the eastern most part shouldn't be done at dark as there is only a small opening between two very dangerous reefs. Most boats end up anchoring somewhere miles from land due to the vast amount of ground that is unable to be covered in one day by a small sailboat. I wanted to get going early as we would be slowest boat in our four boat armada. Sirius, Highlander, Freedonia and Bumbre would all be crossing the bank today and we hoped to anchor together for safety sake. After going over and getting the scoop from some dive boats on the "local cut", the way out of Bimini harbor at low tide we decided to head off. Jen wasn't to sure about leaving before high tide, but I knew that if we wanted to get across the bank in two day we better get going so we headed out. Everyone else would be following at various times, but we were the guinea pigs to try the "local cut". I follow the direction on how to get out, but before I got to the critical point, I bailed out and left the "high tide" way. I did this for two reason, the first was that I saw I was past the shallowest part of the channel entrance into Bimini and the second reason was there was a 50 foot sailboat hard aground directly in my path on the "local cut" route so I figured it was safer to go the old fashion way. We made it out safely and soon we were headed between Turtle Rocks and passing the concrete ship on our way onto the banks. It was a beautiful day with light winds from the east, so we couldn't sail, but we put on the auto-pilot and opened our books. All around us was turquoise blue water as far as the eye could see. It was nice and calm so it was sort of like taking the slow boat to china across a huge lake of pool colored water. We had left about 10am, Freedonia and Highlander had left soon after, but they took the longer Gun Cay cut route, and Sirius had waited until high tide at about 12:30 to leave, so at 4 o'clock we were still the lead boat and we could just barely see Highlander and Freedonia on the horizon. We had planned on going on for a few hours past dark to get in as many miles as possible before anchoring, but soon we got a call from Freedonia that they wanted to anchor for sunset. This is normally an idea I would think was terrific, but we were still 40 miles from the NW channel light and we wanted to make sure to get to Chub Cay before sunset. Jen really wanted to anchor with a group, so it was decided we should stop, but get going very early the next morning. At 4:25 we laid down the hook a mile off the rumb line between the two main cuts on the east and west. It felt too early to stop, but when you are anchoring in the middle of nowhere, it is wise to do it with a few other boats so you can easily be seen by any passing mail boats or drug runners. About an hour later Freedonia and Highlander pulled up and anchored near us and before we knew it Sirius was there too just before all of the light left the sky. The banks were pretty calm, with the seas only about 2 feet. We had some dinner and went to bed, as I planned an early start to make sure we got off the banks and to Chub Cay (57 miles away) before dark. The Great Bahamian Bank - Day 2, Friday, January 2, 2004 Soon after midnight Jen and I were awakened by the build up of the seas. The boat was now pitching in 2 to 4 footers and the movement woke us up. I went up on deck to check the anchor and noticed that the wind had picked up to 10 to 15 out of the east. We were heading east which meant we would have to plow into the wind and seas, which Bumbre doesn't do so well. I was worried about having to spend another day out on the banks. I planned on raising anchor about 4 in the morning, but with this new development I wanted to get going ASAP. Jen didn't want to get out of bed, so I sat there calculating how long it would take us to get to Chub at different speeds. It looked to me that if the conditions stayed the same we would get into Chub after dark, which is something that is considered a no-no in the Bahamas as there are no navigation aids to speak of. I tried to raised Jen out of bed at every opportunity, but it wasn't until after four we got going. It's not that she was sleeping, because that would have been impossible in these swells, it was more the night traveling that made her stay in bed. If there are only a few hours before daylight, she feels much better about getting underway in the dark. I went up on the bow to pull up the anchor and wasn't happy with what I saw. The waves were making almost burying Bumbre's bow with each bob up and down. This made pulling up the anchor a daunting process. Jen pulled the boat up slowly so I could pull up the slack on the line, it took awhile as I had let out a lot of scope (anchor line) so not to drag anchor. Finally the anchor was up and secure and we headed into the weather. We were not making good time and at this rate we would not make Chub by sunset, we would be lucky to get through the NW Channel before sunset. The NW channel is the end of the Bahamian Bank, it is a skinny channel surrounded on both sides by reefs and shoals. It is unwise to attempt to navigate it at night, so if we didn't make it to the NW channel before sunset we would have to anchor on the banks once again. This was a prospect that upset both of us greatly. As we headed off across the bank we watched the anchor lights of Highlander, Freedonia and Sirius fade into the night. At the same time we watched some navigation lights get closer and closer, it seemed a boat was heading directly toward us. This is always a scary thing when traveling at night for you can't really tell what the other boat is going to do. The best thing to do is try to steer the straightest course possible to pick up his navigation lights so you can pass safely. Fortunately we must have done something right as soon he was to our stern and we had only blackness ahead. As we chugged along slowly the sun started to raise through ominous looking clouds and we heard the others on the radio. It seems they had come to the same conclusion we had, that there was a good chance of not making it off the banks today, so we all pushed on toward the NW Channel hoping to make it threw and on to Chub. About mid-morning our luck changed and the wind switched to the NE. This meant we could put up our canvas, which immediately took our slow 4 knots and turned it into 6.5 knots. If the wind held we would not only make it into Chub that day, but we would make it in the afternoon, well before sunset. Then our luck changed for the worse, we were motor sailing to make the best time and I noticed that at this heel the diesel fuel gauge was reading almost empty. I know we had close to half a tank, but when heeled the fuel goes to one side or the other. On the starboard tack like we were on now, it tends to read even lower. This worried me because it is always scary to look at the fuel gauge on empty and the other reason was if the fuel intake on the engine was to take in air it would be bad. On a diesel engine, air in the fuel line makes the engine choke and stall. Then to restart it, the engine has to be bled. This isn't an easy prospect underway, but I crossed my fingers and did nothing to lesson our heel because I wanted to keep our speed up. Soon I heard the engine start to lower in RPM's, it seems my fears were genuine, and the engine went dead. Nothing is more of a worry to your already frightful first mate then the prospect of not having an engine. As I looked into Jen's worried face I told her it would be fine I just needed to bleed the engine. This might have been no problem for a seasoned mechanic or even a more experienced cruiser, but I had never bled an engine before. In fact I had only been taught how to a few weeks before in Miami. Nervously I exposed the engine so I could start the process of bleeding her. I was very nervous about it, and wasn't even totally sure that was the problem. Our little Westerbeke is fortunately a very easy engine to bleed, having an electric fuel pump, makes the process go much faster (so the mechanic in Miami said) and after I guessed I had successfully done it I asked Jen to try the engine. She turned right over and I smiled proudly to myself. We decided to leave her off so I could put in the extra 5 gallons of fuel we had, as well as to conserve fuel. Putting in fuel while underway is one of the most silly things you can attempt to do, but sometimes it is unavoidable. I wanted to put the fuel in so hopefully we would not run into the same problem again, so slowly I attempted to put some fuel in the tank, some of it even made it in. Some showered me while some went into the water. diesel fuel is a gross oily fuel and now I felt covered with it, but the operation did bring the fuel levels in the tank up to a more comfortable level. Since our speed had dropped during this operation Jen thought it was wise to start the engine again so we could get back up to speed. Also, we could not get to were we were heading successfully with sail alone because of wind direction. Although the charts don't indicate any shallow water right off the rumb line, it is not a given. Sailing to windward was also putting us closer to Russell Light, which marked a shoal we did not want anything to do with either. The other boats in the armada were starting to catch up to us rapidly and the thought of watching them fade off into the sunset while we went along a 3 or 4 knots didn't excite either of us. So we started up the engine again, then it promptly dyed. All the swearing in the world would not make it start again, I tried! I went back below and again tore apart the companionway to expose the engine. Again I bled it, but this time I did a more thorough job. When I asked Jen to try it again it cranked right up, this time we left it on. Our spirits soared as we cruised along and the morning clouds lifted to revel a beautiful day. We slowly watched the others catch up to us, as we passed through the NW channel Sirius and Bumbre sailed side by side toward Chub, 15 miles away. We soon were entering the anchorage and we put down the hook around 4:30. We were anchored off a beautiful sandy beach, right behind Sue E, from Philadelphia. We had heard there wasn't much to see in Chub so we planned to head out tomorrow to see if we could make it to Nassau or Little Harbor (another island in the Berries). We were exhausted from the days activity, so we had some dinner and headed off to bed early. Nassau, perhaps not, Saturday, January 3, 2004 We awoke the next morning and headed into the marina to pick up some diesel.We wound our way through the skinny channel leading into the Chub Cay Marina, and found the fuel dock to our port as we entered. I swung around so to tie up on our starboard, where our fuel fill is. As I slowly pulled up to the dock Jen jumped off of the bow gracefully. I had to duck under the bimini and over the rail, while feeding the rope under the rail at the same time. This is an acrobatic maneuver I have done thousands of times without incident. Something told me this time would be different from the start. As the stern slowly swung into the dock I started to maneuver, but as I went over the rail and fed the line underneath my foot slipped off the rail. I know I had to choices, try to grab on the rail or another piece of the boat and get my feet wet or just down into the water. While option one sounds much better there was a greater risk of hurting myself so in the end I decided on option two and before I knew it I was soaked head to toe. This was a first for me, and the shocked confused look on Jen's face told her story clearly as well. Not knowing what to do now I quickly surfaced and grabbed hold of the winch and hauled myself back aboard. This was something I had tried numerous times to do while swimming around the boat and could never do. It is amazing what the body will do when it has to or is embarrassed and wants to hide away. fortunately the wind was blowing the boat around so pinning me under the dock wasn't an option. Soon we had the boat tied up, but on the port side instead of the starboard. A dock attendant appeared in a van. I was relieved that he had arrived late this morning to work and missed my embarrassing event. Usually, Bahamian's loose time schedules annoyed me, but today, I saw how it could work to my favor. After getting fuel we headed back out and talked to Sirius, they to were interested in heading to Nassau and said they would follow us out. We rounded to point and immediately had waves around 2 to 4 feet, but the wind was ok so we kept going. Our plan was to try to go to Nassau and if it got to rough we would go to Little Harbor, which is an island in the Berries about 15 miles from Chub, closer to Nassau. We saw Sirius head out and immediately head back in so we knew we were on our own. This was worry some because we had no way to get weather except for NOAA forecasters which didn't really follow exactly where we were since it was the forecast for south Florida. As we weighed our options we lost what protection we were getting from Whale Cay and soon the waves were cresting at about 10 feet. Jen didn't notice at first because she was down below on the radio with Sirius, but as soon as she came up on deck, we turned around. What she saw were wave after wave of 8 to 10 footers coming at us on our forward port side. She did not like this and soon we decided to just pack it in and turn back to Chub. We had to time our turn for a moment when the waves weren't so high, but soon we were headed back to Chub surfing down the very waves which had just made us turn tail back to Chub. It took us no time at all to get back and soon we were anchored again in our familiar spot behind Sue E. We launched the dingy and decided to have a look around Chub now that we would be here a few days. This was to turn into a common routine over the next few days. Soon after we got in Highlander and Freedonia decided to have a look for themselves to see if Nassau was in the cards, before there masts even disappeared around the point we saw them turn around and head back in. It appeared we may be here awhile. Lazy days in Chub, Sun-Mon, January 4-5, 2004 For the next few days we tended just relax and look around Chub. While Freedonia and Highlander went out and found lobsters, Sirius and Bumbre lazily walked around the island. We checked out the airport, actually walking across the runway as a plane was readying for take off and investigating a failed venture called Flat's Shack on the beach near the airport. There were small bowls of $4 ice cream at the Chub Cay Club and we helped ourselves to showers and water. All in all we had what we needed, but the trip to Nassau was one of the last long sails before going to the Exumas, and it has a reputation of being a terrible slug to windward. So we all wanted to get it done ASAP, but we knew we had to wait for the weather which didn't seem to be cooperating. We were catching up on our reading and sleep after our days on the bank, and soon more people started to arrive and we got to meet them, but basically we were ready to head out. Early in the morning on Monday we saw Allways Sunday pull out of the marina and start to head across. Allways Sunday is a 38 foot Catamaran we met in the Dismal Swamp. We talked to them on the radio and they said they were pushing on to Nassau after crossing the bank last night. We got reports from them as they went and the conditions sounded much like they had been when we had first tried, even worse perhaps. Being a large catamaran, they kept going. Soon Freedonia and Highlander were ready to go, as by this time we were all tired of Chub Cay, but Sirius and us were not going to be persuaded to head out again in rough weather. We would again sit on the beach and milk Chub for all it was worth. That night I meet David on Sue E. We had been anchored behind him for a few days and my laziness got the better of me, so I had never gone over and introduced ourselves. He finally did and we soon learned that he is a crafty veteran at this. His wife and he live in Philly and for twenty years have been taking the winter off from the Bar-B-Q business and coming to the Bahamas to enjoy the good life. He informed me that tomorrow looked good and he was going to set off at dawn, so the stage was set for a mass exodus. Today's the day, for everyone, Tuesday, January 6, 2004 We awoke to find Sue E preparing to go, Sirius and Bumbre had put up their dinghies yesterday and now we were waiting for one last weather report. It looked good and about 7 we weighed anchor and rounded the point. What we found was an ideal day, with light wind just bearing off enough to reach into it and a bunch of other boats leaving from Chub. Soon the seas seem to start to give birth to sails from all directions, as boats that were tucked into holes all over the Berries started to emerge and set their sail toward Nassau. The chatter on the radio was lively as boats started to catch fish, we were having no luck with our to lures behind us much to my dismay. We all continued toward Nassau, enjoying the ideal day for the crossing. I had changed lures in hope of changing my luck when it happened. Just like in Jaws the reels drag slowly let out a bit, I stared at it as it did it again. I got up to check it and just as I reached for the rod line started to be taken from it at lightning speed. I looked back and saw a huge fish what I believed to be a tuna emerge from the water. My excitement soared as I thought about fresh fish for dinner, but first I had to get him to stop taking all the line. I started to tighten the drag watching as the line on the spool got less and less. Before I could tighten it enough I watched as the last bit reeled off the spool and pause before it snapped. Jen had seen the fish raise a few times as well and when the line snapped looked at me with the look that said, "No fish dinner tonight?". Unfortunately there was to be no fish dinner that night and if anyone catches a tuna with a couple hundred yards of line in it's mouth, I had it first. We continued on and before we knew it we were asking for permission from Nassau Harbor Control to enter the harbor. In Nassau and other bigger ports in the Bahamas you have to get permission to enter. We were cleared and we sailed in with Sue E and Sirius. Sirius and us were headed to Bayshore Marina, a marina with less amenities then most places, but a great price of 75 cents a foot. We got there and soon were heading into our slip which was plenty wide enough, but the channel into the slip was a bit tight. After barely making it in we were tied up and climbing up onto the docks via the bow. Bayshore doesn't have is finger piers which make it a lot easier to climb in and out of your vessel. Come to think of it, Bayshore doesn't have amenities at all, it is just a safe place to tie up your boat so you won't have to let down your dinghy. After paying, Jen and I went over to the Nassau Yacht Haven next door to mooch some showers. Mooching didn't happen, but we were able to pay $3 a piece to be let into them without begging. Once clean we were ready to go out on the town, we went over to the Nassau Harbor Club (another marine) to see if Highlander and Freedonia were around, they weren't, but soon we were enjoying some drinks aboard Mrs. G. We had met Herb and Marcia, on Mrs. G, in No Name Harbor before we crossed and had again seen them on New Year's Eve in Bimini. Having connected up once again we decided to have a more formal meeting with drinks on the stern of Mrs. G, their 43 foot trawler. After a drink with them we stopped by Allways Sunday who were docked right next to Mrs. G. Allways Sunday was the cat Jen and I followed into the dismal swamp that first day leaving Norfolk, Drury and Jen aboard had taken off from their home in Toronto to sail down the Caribbean chain. We hadn't seen them since Elizabeth City expect taking on the radio in Chub so we had a drink and went out to dinner at the Poop Deck with Allways Sunday and Sirius. We had a nice night celebrating our fortunate deliver to Nassau. Soon we parted company and went off to bed, for tomorrow we had to start getting ready to head down to the Exumas. Preparing and Partying in Nassau, Wed-Fri, January 7-9, 2004 Nassau is a city, not like what we think of a city in the US, but for the islands Nassau is a big city. With this comes city problems. We had stayed in a marina because of hearing horror stories about people having their dinghies stolen off the back of their boats and boats being broken into in the anchorage. Marinas are supposedly safer. Marinas are also convenient for the only real reason to go to Nassau, getting whatever else you need before heading off to the islands where you can't get anything anymore. We wanted to look into getting a few things, like a shortwave radio to get weather and an anchor light to hang low down off the boom (so locals Bahamian boats and dinghies don't run into you in the night, they don't tend to look up at the mast). We also wanted to check the Internet and get propane, do laundry, your basic chores before heading off. So this is what we did, and when we weren't doing that we discussed when we might be able to leave Nassau. Since so many cruisers come through Nassau they have things organized for you to do, one of them is the cruiser's lunch at Crocodile's. We attended this with Sirius and were able to catch up with some people like Kelpy and Grace. Before long we were ready to get out there and just had to wait for some good weather. To pass the time Jen and I did the tourist thing on Friday and headed into the main part of Nassau where the cruise ships are. The sailboats tend to hang out on the eastern part of the city where the marinas are, but today we walked into town and found out why. We had been to Nassau before on a small cruise ship, but it must have been a slow day, today was not. We could see three huge ships at the dock and from the sight in town there must have been more, for the streets were full like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We were embarrassed to be down there for being on your own boat gives you an air of being less of a tourist and more of a part time resident. Here you were just a tourist, and to the locals that meant you had money to spend. We did not, but we had planned to go out to lunch at a little Greek place we had been to before when we had visited. After lunch we looked around the straw market and in some Duty Free liquor stores. Here while looking for some Cuban cigars to buy we discovered the secret of Nassau. Every liquor store has some liquor out to taste. This is usually flavored rum, but sometimes you will find a place that you can taste anything you would like. So as we walked along looking for some cigars we tasted a few different cordials as we went. I can only imagine a group a college friends discovering this fact out and stumblingly from liquor store to liquor store in a sort of bar crawl way. I wonder how many missed the boat after such an hike through the Nassau streets. There seem to be liquor stores on every corner. It seems that is what you do in Nassau, because that night, Sirius, Allways Sunday and us planned on going to the Green Parrot for Happy Hour. Happy Hour at the Green Parrot is from 5 to 12 at night, so it is hard to call it a happy hour, but the drinks are cheaper none the less. So off we went across the harbor to Hurricane Hole to enjoy Happy Hour at thew Green Parrot. There we looked at the Mega-Yachts nearby and wondered where all the money comes from. Scheming on how to take one of these yachts for a little spin the night passed quickly and soon we were home. We hoped the weather would stay good for today had been a good day to cross, but we had a few things to do. Tomorrow if it stayed nice we would cross the final 35 miles to the Exumas. There we would be able to do 10 mile runs in the crystal clear water, snorkeling and enjoying the islands. This was the reason we had travel all this way, to get to the islands where the water is clear and warm. Tomorrow with any luck we would be there and I for one couldn't wait. Yellow Band or no Yellow Band, Saturday, January 10, 2004 Crossing from Nassau to the Exumas there is only one real obstacle, the Yellow Band. The Yellow Band is an area of coral heads that lay in about 10 feet of water. It is said that none lye over 6 feet, but who wants to find out. The coral heads are small, ranging from the size of a car to the size of a semi and are shattered around in no real pattern. There are ways to avoid the worse part of these heads, by going south around them, but it adds to the length of the passage. The was a cold front due to come in soon and I had no desire to add to the length of our passage. But as we left Nassau that morning with Sirius that was the conversation. Back and forth we went, and in the end Bumbre went toward the Yellow Band and Sirius turned south. The main reason we kept going was we had no desire to flirt with the cold front by staying out longer. Since you don't want to even attempt to go over the coral heads you have to go around them. This means spotting them in the water before you get to them. In normal waters this would be a daunting task, but in the clear waters of the Bahamas it is very easy, with one exception, you need the sun to be high in the sky and not in your face. We had left Nassau at the time the guidebooks say to so to get to the Yellow Band when visibility was good. It wasn't that great when we reached the band, but with me on the bow and Jen on the wheel we went about navigating the band, for nothing was stopping us from getting to the Exumas. Visibility wasn't great, but I could spot the heads with enough time to have Jen turn around them. I was up on the bow spotting for over an hour, before heading back to check out our position. Even with visibility not as good as it could be, Jen could see the heads from the cockpit, and it was actually better than we had anticipated. After we had passed through the band seeing very few heads we were now on our way to Highborne Cay. Sirius and Bumbre had decided to stop at Highborne because of the cold front coming through. Highborne has a marina which meant if the cold front was bad we could duck in, and because Mr. Lundy at Bayshore Marina told us it was a better anchorage then Allen's Cay our other destination option. I wasn't sure I believed this, but we decided on Highborne anyway even though I had no thoughts of going into the marina. We anchored out on a SW wind about 15 knots, the anchorage was rolly and uncomfortable, but our anchors were holding. Sirius came in about an hour later saw us rolling and decided on the marina. We put out two anchors and waited. The winds slowly picked up and started to clock around to the north and the anchorage was getting more and more uncomfortable. The swell and surge seemed to be coming from every direction, where normally it follows the wind in the anchorage at Highborne it seemed to sneak around every point and over reefs, hitting the boat from all sides. This makes you feel as though you are in a blender, for the boat was pitching in every direction. The winds continued to clock around and by nighttime the winds were from the NW, this still put a coral shoreline on our stern about 100 feet away, which meant there would not be much sleep tonight. The seas hit us from every direction that night, but the wind stayed relatively light (under 20 knots), but that didn't mean we were comfortable. Both of us slept on the settees in the main salon, one of us getting up every 15 minutes to have a look at things. We gauged if we had drifted by watching to megayacht, one lit up in the marina and one that had so many lights on it looked like a giant Christmas tree, was anchored outside between the island and a reef. He was so big that even being basically exposed to the wind and sea he wasn't even rocking (at least we couldn't tell if he was unlike ourselves). It was pretty uncomfortable and the wind was suppose to pick up tomorrow. Northers' no sweat, as long as you're not in Highborne, Sunday, January 11, 2004 We didn't exact awake the next morning, more over we just got tired of lying there on the settee's and decided after checking the anchors once more it wasn't worth getting back into bed. We planned to go into Highborne that day to see the island, since Sirius had a slip we figured we could walk around with them and not get in trouble. A lot the Exumas are now private islands with very small resorts on them (one or two small cabins usually), so in less you are a guest or paying them in some way they don't want you just walking around. I launched the dingy, but with the swell I didn't want to chance putting on the engine, figuring we could just row into the beach. After launching it I realized that rowing in such a swell and strong tide would be fool-hardy, so Jen and I went below to read until the wind calmed down. This continued on for quite awhile until in the afternoon Jen decided that having the dingy out in this swell banging against the side of the boat was unwise. Unfortunately I had to agree with her, this meant going back up on the pitching deck and hauling the dingy back onto the deck. Once this was done we resumed our positions reading below. One might picture a "Norther" in the Bahamas much like a "Noreaster" in New England. This would be correct only from the point of view of where the wind is blowing hardest from. Where a "Noreaster" in New England brings with in cold nasty and rainy/ snowy weather, a "Norther" in the Bahamas happens frequently with a nice sunny clear day. The temperature in somewhat colder, 70's instead of 80's, but overall it tends to just be a windy day. There is rain involved in many "northers" I believe, but so far in the Bahamas every "Norther" we had experienced brought little or no rain. That didn't mean getting off the boat was any easier and soon Harry and Fran felt sorry for us and came out to get us on there dingy. Harry was surprised, for from the shore the anchorage didn't seem to bad, except you could see us rocking, but once out there the swell appeared and he was amazed at how much rocking we were doing. Jen and I were happy to have the chauffeur service in and we looked forward to being able to get ashore to have a look around. We were soon walking along the island roads, amazed by the new marina and that was basically on a deserted island. There were 13 workers living on Highborne Cay to look after the marina and two guest cottages. They are putting a store down near the marina and soon it would have showers as well. We walked up to the nicely stocked store, which is now near the generator and maintenance area, but will soon be moved down to the marina into a new very nice building overlooking the marina and anchorage. The store was well stocked and for the Bahamas but seemed overly expensive. The girl working there informed us that they had one cottage for rent and soon would have another. The owners cottage was also for rent, but because he tended to just drop in unexpected they didn't rent it. Prices seemed reasonable at $700 to $1000 a week. You basically have your own island, but there was no restaurant to go to, just plenty of Bahamians willing to cook you a local feast for a fee. We then started to walk up the hill and before we knew it we were at what we assumed was the owners cottage. We thought nothing of trespassing on the property to get a look at the spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding area. From there we counted the boats in Allen's Cay and watched the waves crash on the lee shores of the islands. We continued our walking tour surprised to see wide roads and new things happening on such a small island. We couldn't help to wonder who owned the island for there didn't seem to be any one large privately owned establishment. We figured his bankroll kept it afloat and he just came down and enjoyed his own private community. Where does all this money come from? It is a question I was asking myself more and more lately. We had some drinks on Sirius before Harry took us back out to our rocking boat. For a few hours we could forget the hell we were experiencing on Bumbre for the past 24 hours. After two days without sleep and the boat pitching and rocking, we were about insane and ready to get out of Hellish Highborne! Jurassic Park here we come, we hope, Monday, January 12, 2004 Meeting new friends on Leaf Cay Allen's Cay Iguanas Jen didn't even want to see them Feed Me (like he needs it!) Ruins on Leaf Cay, Bahamas That's one big Palm Tree! Today Jen and I were ready to go. The winds were still out of the north about 10 to 15, but we wanted out of this hell anchorage. Talking to Sirius they seemed ready to visit a new island as well. I had wanted to go to Allen's Cay first on the way down, but we choose Highborne because we had heard, wrongly, that it had more protection. Allen's Cay is famous for have a bunch of prehistoric Iguanas living on two of it's cays, Leaf and SW Allen's. It was only a short run up there, but unfortunately it was against the wind and seas. Jen and I didn't care we just wanted out of this hell anchorage, so about 10 we went to start the engine - nothing. This was not good, we had just left the only place to get things fixed for miles in Nassau and now our engine wouldn't start. All boats make an annoying beep or buzz before you start them, and ours was not doing this now. This usually meant one thing, dead batteries. Jen and I were shocked because after our problems in Baltimore we had been so careful, but it appeared now that we were not careful enough. I called Sirius to see if anyone in the marina had one of those portable jump starters and he came back to inform me that the marina had a battery they could loan me, so I had to row in to get it. So I rowed in and picked up the battery, and once back I hooked it up. Jen turned the key and tried the engine, but got nothing. Now I was concerned, because what I really understand about engine had just been exhausted and still it just lay there doing nothing. Soon I figured out that it wasn't that the batteries where dead, but that the engine panel was getting no power. I pulled out a few different books on marine diesels and boat electronics that I had and figured out how to start the engine without the panel. With this successfully done I now just had to figure out way the power was not getting to the panel. Even with my basic knowledge of electrical systems, I knew it was most likely a loose wire. opening up the main electrical panel and ignition panel just revealed a maze of wires, most of which just looked confusing. I concentrated on the main red and black wires that went to the ignition switch, but on the ignition panel they quickly disappeared into a taped mass of wires leading into nowhere. The main panel was less confusing as I had been into it many times wiring something or another. I had wired a new anchor light the other day and I suddenly realized that must be it. I pulled out a wire the other day, messing with the anchor light. Amazingly I found a loose wire immediately and could see where it had come from even, so I hooked it back up expecting the magic sound of the engine buzz when Jen turned the key. What I got was silence. I was now pretty stumped, so I decided to do the smart thing, instead of tearing apart the whole electrical system I would start her up bypassing the ignition switch and take her into the marina. There I might get lucky and find someone who could help, at the very least I could return the battery they loaned me without rowing it in the dingy. We headed into the marina and tied up at the fuel dock. From there I left Jen to return the battery and see if we could find someone to help. Harry and I talked it over and our knowledge was soon exhausted. We had checked a few things with a voltage meter and were coming up empty - things were not looking good. I walked up to the main office hoping to find someone who might have some knowledge in marine electronics. What I found was a nice man who liked Diet Coke and said he might be able to help. So after he finished his Diet Coke we headed off to look it over. Where as I was a novice using my voltage meter he yielded the device like someone on a mission. He checked things here and there and there and here. What he found was nothing really unusual, the alternator seemed to be giving a slight charge, but seemed to be working. After about a half hour he went to look at the ignition switch. There he got nothing, no volts at all, this puzzled him as much as I was puzzled. He asked what I had done and I told him about the anchor light, then he asked if I had a wiring diagram of the boat. Amazingly, I did, and once I got it out he started to pour over it. Soon he seemed to understand where the problem connection was. I had no idea where to find that area and as he was just about to give up when he started to look behind the engine. Quickly he found a loose plug in the back. That is when it dawned on me that I had put a new zinc in the heat exchanger in that area while in the anchorage. He looked at me with a look of disappointment for me not informing him of this a hour ago, but I just shrugged. Soon the connector was connected again and we heard the formilar buzzing of the panel before you start the engine. She started right up and I couldn't thank our new friend enough, all he wanted for his time was for me to return the favor for someone in the future. That is the way with cruisers and most anywhere you go with another boat in the harbor you can find someone who can not only help fix a problem, but is only to willing to help out for nothing more then a friendly handshake. Today this cruiser saved me a dreaded trip to Nassau for a loose wire and I felt so relieved. It was now 1 o'clock and time to head to Allen's, I wanted to see some Iguanas. For the use of the Highborne Cay fuel dock I did purchase some diesel while I was there, a whole 2.7 gallons, before untying the lines and heading out behind Sirius. The wind was strong from the North and soon after we headed out we were bashing into the waves. It was only about 5 miles up to Allen's, but it took us awhile with the wind and the waves, but once inside the anchorage it was much calmer and I found a nice spot to anchor off of the beach on Leaf Cay. As soon as we arrived we noticed the Iguanas lying on the beach sunny themselves. These are probably some of the most well feed Iguanas in the world and even from the boat you could tell they were. You aren't suppose to feed them, but this is a rule no one seems to follow. When you beach your dingy, before you have pulled it up on the beach, you are surrounded by 20 or so Iguanas. Jen wasn't sure she wanted to see the Iguanas but after I dove our anchors I convinced her to take the short dingy ride with me to check them out. Once on land we were quickly surrounded and they just crept closer looking for their usual snack. It was sort of a miniature Jurassic Park all around us. We had nothing to give them so we attracted them by pretending to. This can be a dangerous business for the Iguana has a strong bite. Fortunately, they were too smart and realized we were trying to fool them once they got close. But if you picked up something off the beach and held it out like food, they came running from everywhere. I don't know what was worse, actually feeding the Iguanas when you are not suppose to or faking them out with shells and pieces of old lemon. Either way, they were funny little guys when they ran up to you looking for feed. On the beach we meet a couple bringing back their charter boat from the BVI. They had been unable to sell her after the charter contract and decided to just bring her home to California. To do this they were sailing her to Fort Lauderdale where they have a ship you actually sail onto then they secure her and take her to where you want it to go. They had sailed up from the BVI and now were closing in an Nassau, the last leg of there journey. Soon we both turned our separate ways and headed back to our boats for a good night sleep after two days. One Conch, Two Conch, Four for Dinner, Tuesday, January 13, 2004 We were now settling into Exuma time. This is where you wake up every morning and decide whether you want to stay or go. This is usually after the weather report. Then you just sit back and see what mood strikes you. We had all the time in the world now and no real place to go anymore, so we decided to stay another day. So we relaxed in the morning and witnessed the unfortunate invasion of our home. Every anchorage becomes home to all anchored there, and of course the boats with you become your neighbors. The unwritten codes are many, and most are not followed. Things like anchoring too close and cruising around in your dingy too close to a neighbor are just things you are suppose to understand not to do. If you don't you become the talk of the anchorage. That is until you get invaded by day tourists. In Nassau one of the many tourist things you can do is go on a Powerboat Adventure. We had seen the ads in Nassau, but had no idea what a Powerboat Adventure consisted of. I found out while enjoying my morning. A Powerboat Adventure is where you pay who knows how much money to get a ride in a large cigarette type boat to Allen's Cay. Here they beach the boats and the swarm of 30 or so people they have crammed on the boat get off and investigate the Iguanas. As Jen and I are polishing our chrome rails we witness this as they pull up on the beach we anchored off of not 50 feet away. Eventually another one pulls up and the beach is packed. It is a pretty weird seen out there in the middle of nowhere. Jen wondered how they made the trip to Nassau and back (35 miles), where as I pointed out the four (yes four) 250 hp outboard engines on the back. This seemed like over kill to me having 1000hp, brought to you by four separate outboards, but I am on a 28 footer with 13hp, so what do I know? I do know that two engines means two headaches when things go wrong, so I can only imagine how this guy feels when things aren't working correctly. After about 20 minutes they packed up and left, making sure to crank up there 1000 hp to impress us with there power. Afterward we headed over to SW Allen's Cay to look at the Iguanas over there and investigate the only major foliage on any of the three major islands - a large palm tree. The palm tree stood out in the middle of the island from afar and close up it lived up to it's billing. For it stood much higher than anything else on the small shrubby island. This was also my first real chance to dive for lobsters. The weather in Highborne had kept me away, but today I was ready to go. I put on my snorkeling gear and swam off the south side of the island toward some reefs there. The tide we ripping along as I searched and dove looking into every nook and cranny, but found nothing. After about 45 minutes I started to feel like shark bait. Every time I turned around I thought I would be staring one in the face. There was never anything there, but I slowly made my way back to the beach, just in case. On the way, I saw a big Conch shell. Certain it was like the others, (empty) I flipped him over, amazed to find the claw of a conch receding into the shell. Conch have claws sort of like a bird claw that sticks out near the entrance to the shell. So now I had a live conch big enough to eat. Excited about my "catch" I through him into the big mesh bag I carry tucked around my waist and continued in. Soon there was another one, certain that this one was going to be empty as it was only in a few feet of water near shore, I flipped him over again finding a live conch inside. Happily I scooped him up as well and went to Jen on the beach to show her my catch. At first she thought the bag was full of lobster and a huge smile filled her face. It only slightly evaporated when I told her it was just conch. Neither of us had ever cleaned a conch, but Sirius had directions on the proper way, so we soon where dinging over to them to show them our catch. We decided to go into the beach to on Leaf Cay to clean the conch and then I could dive some of those reefs hoping again for lobster. We went in and I watched the conch opening operation wearily. But soon they had one out and I must say an uglier creature I have not seen. Harry took the knife to it as Fran read the directions on what to do next. Cut off eyes, intestines etc. seemed be the way, followed by cutting away the brown skin. So basically once you remove the conch you have to sort of peel them like a potato, it was nasty business so I went back to lobster hunting. I was diving around the coral that surrounds the island and when I went around one corner I found a five foot nurse shark sleeping. Nurse sharks are really nothing to worry about for us humans, but a five foot anything in the sea tends to make a lot of people unsettled. I decided it would be better to look elsewhere and not disturb our sleeping friend. I headed a little off shore to have a look at a reef out there. On the way I came across a King Conch. It is the pretty shelled cousin of the Queen Conch, so I picked him up and tossed him in the bag. After my swim I again joined the crew ashore who had now attracted a crowd with there conch cleaning. I showed them the King Conch and was informed by the watchers that they were not edible (I have since heard conflicting reports on this), so after everyone had a look I tossed them back to the seas. He would have made a nice shell to keep, as he is majestic. We make a practice never to take anything from the sea that we will not utilize fully - this means killing species just for their shells as well. We now had two conch fillet that appeared sort of like chicken breasts when you are done cutting them up. The only thing left was the beating. It seems conch are very tough, basically being a big muscle, so you have to tenderize them. To do this you beat them with something. Not having a meat tenderizer, I planned on using a rubber mallet. I had heard you have to beat them for a good 30 or 45 minutes, but once back at the boat a few quick swings with the rubber mullet seemed to loosen them right up. So instead of 30 minutes, I had maybe 5 minutes of beating with a rubber mallet, highly recommended over a long 30 minute beating. Now it was just up to Jen to make the conch salad that Star had taught us in Bimini and we would head over to Sirius for our first feast of locally caught cuisine. After I pounded the conch I watched another powerboat, this time a private boat, beach themselves to look at the iguanas. The tide was going out and by the time they were ready to go. It seemed their boat was a little dryer then they expected it to be. So the whole anchorage watched as the three guys struggled to remove their boat from the beach. On the way over to Sirius for dinner we saw a dingy from another boat do the nice thing and help pull them off. Soon they were on there way and the anchored boats again had there own private neighborhood. Dinner was good and we headed back over to Bumbre full of conch salad and coconut rolls. It looked like tomorrow we would head down to Norman's Cay to have a look at what the drug lord Carlos Leder had left on the Norman's when he used it to run drugs in the early 80's. De Plane, De Plane, Wednesday, January 14, 2004 Small Island near Norman's Cay Norman's Cay Anchorage Sunset Abandoned Norman's Cay Club Macduff's Beach Mall Famous ditched drug plane in anchorage Macduff's House, trespassing again... Jen at Macduff's Norman's Cay Airfield After a leisurely breakfast we pulled up anchor and headed off to Norman's Cay, a little over 10 miles down the way. The Exuma's are nice and close, which means you only have to do a long passage if you want to. We planned on seeing as many of the islands as weather would permit, so it was going to be a lot of short runs for us down the chain to Georgetown. Norman's Cay was made famous when in the late 70's the drug lord Carlos Leder landed on the island with his henchman and basically took over. When he was forced out in the early 80's what he left was the ruins of the old Norman's Cay Club, a wrecked plane in the anchorage and a lot of folklore. Now besides the private residences in the North part of the island the only inhabitant seems to be Macduff, the owner of a small hippy like resort on the island. The anchorage in the south runs like a river through tidal flats to the north of Norman's Cay itself and a few small coral islands to the south. The plane is right in the middle of the tidal flat next to the anchorage. I wanted to anchor right next it, but Jen forbid that so we entered Norman's and decided we should anchor near our old friend Sue E. We put the hook down with little trouble and immediately I wanted to go and dive the wreck of the plane. Diving the wreck didn't excite Jen, but a trip to the beach afterward, did so we headed off. We circled the wreck in the dingy first, and it didn't seem to look like much, just a little fuselage and the tail sticking out of the water. I anchored the dingy and dove in leaving Jen floating beside it. What I found was that the plane was still intact under the water. Time had taken some pieces here and there, but overall it was in good shape.I swam around it and look at the propellers and the cockpit, which still had the co-pilot seat there. The back of the fuselage was open and underwater so you could swim into it like a cave. It was really eerie, but really interesting at the same time. The whole time you are looking at it you wonder about the stories about how it got there. The story that seems the most popular is that the DEA was after the plane and instead of landing it at the airstrip where the DEA could land and seize it, they just ditched it in the tidal flats and dove on it later to retrieve the cargo. Whatever the reason, it now sits there for everyone to enjoy and tell stories about. After diving the plane we headed up into the tidal flats to the beaches to the north of the anchorage. We found a nice beach and went shell collecting, finding all the shells you can never find in the picked over beaches of the states. We enjoyed the afternoon and soon we headed back to the boat to enjoy another sunset. Now that we were in the islands at sunset you tend to hear a conch shell being blown by a boat in the anchorage. Here at Norman's there were two such boats and we enjoyed the sunset with the volley of conch horns in the background. Macduff's Margaritavilla, Thursday, January 15, 2004 Today the plan was to dive the plane wreck with Sirius and then head in to get some lunch at Macduff's. From listening to everyone on the radio it sounded like they all planned to head to Macduff's for lunch. So after the dive we headed in to investigate the island and head to lunch. The islands ruins include the old Norman's Club Resort, which looked to be a very nice place at one time, but now is in ruins, just rotting away. Macduff's is on the western coast of the island next to the airstrip. You entered the gates and you feel as though you are in some sort of hippie commune. The buildings are painted sort of pastels and the bar/restaurant is done in typical island style. immediately I liked Macduff's. It is one of those island places that is hard not to. We sat down for lunch and were sort of greeted by who I suppose was Macduff's wife. She was ready to take our order even though we had hardly even looked at the menu. She seemed quite put off by our indecision and when she asked about drinks and we started to discuss it her annoyance was obvious. I felt like I was in a New York Bistro holding up a waiter with 30 tables. She was the only person there working at the time, but the stress of cooking and waitressing and Macduff's I would hardly call high pressure stuff. We ordered quickly hoping to please her and get her going to do whatever it was she had to do. Soon we were joined at our table by the crew of Grace. Hans, Ria (his girlfriend) were sailing there 27 foot Vega down the Bahamas and perhaps across the Caribbean Sea to Panama. They were all in there mid twenties and enjoying the trip with the many friends that seem to be joining them along the way. We ran into them first in Bimini and then again in Nassau. Hans is a good sailor, teaching it in Washington State in the summer, but now with his own boat he pushes hard, liking high winds where he can sail over light comfortable passages. Ria, his girlfriend, has no experience but takes the tough sails with a smile and now that they are in the Exumas she, like most first mates aboard, is very happy and her smile only grows. We had a nice lunch at Macduff's with them and afterward I planned to dive with Hans and his brother Mike on a reef between Norman's and Shroud Cay. We headed off after lunch in our dingy. The winds were 10 to 15 from the NW and soon we were in 2 foot seas in the small dingy. It was a wet ride, but eventually we did find the reef just north of the Exuma Park border (where you are not aloud to fish). We dove the reef with a very strong current, but we were hopeful being a pretty remote reef. After about a half hour and tired, having only seen a big Barracuda we returned to the dingy empty handed. We were disappointed and on the way home we stopped again so Hans could have another look for Grouper or Conch. We found nothing, so soggy and wet we returned to the anchorage. Disappointed in again having no lobster for dinner we cooked up dinner from our stores and went to bed with dreams of heading down to Hawksbill Cay the next day. The daily ritual, Friday, January 16, 2004 Mailbox near beach on Hawksbill Cay Jen on hill overlooking the anchorage Grace heading in to anchor Jen looking over Exuma Sound Hans and Ria (from Grace) on Hawksbill Bumbre at anchor, Hawksbill Thursday started with thoughts of moving down to Hawksbill Cay, which has an anchorage exposed to the west. This makes the daily ritual of listening to the weather a more important affair. Every day we get up by 7 to listen to the weather report delivered on the VHF on channel 06 at 7:30 from Highborne Cay. Then at 8 on channel 14 we listen to Blue Yonder's weather, which is a cruiser who delivers the weather from Overyonder Cay. Her weather is really good and more informative then most so that is usually the one we go by. Soon we will be to far down the line and we will have to get our weather from elsewhere, but this pattern is followed by boats all down the chain. After the weather is given you thank them on the radio and prepare your day. This is a daily event especially on days where you are planning to move. If you think weather forecasting in the states is bad, just try to get an accurate forecast in the Bahamas. because it is so bad you have many cruisers who get weather faxes and information on their boats and forecast it to the other cruisers. This may sound chancy, but their weather is usually the best anywhere and as long as you play it safe and get to a good anchorage for the wind direction you will be receiving. Today was suppose to be northwest winds, but it was actually blowing southwest. Neither of these was a good direction for the anchorage on Hawksbill, but the wind was so light (about 5 to 10) that we decided to give it a shot. Sirius decided against it, so we headed off by ourselves again to Hawksbill around 10. We pulled out of Norman's just a little after Grace who was heading to Shroud Cay, just south of Norman's before going on to Hawksbill in the afternoon. Soon after you leave Norman's you entered the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. This is a group of islands, some private, some park land, that is a Bahamian National Park. When you are in the park you can't fish, take shellfish or anything from the park. Shroud and Hawksbill are both in the park, so we would be visiting a uninhabited island, but I couldn't try to catch dinner. The ride to Hawksbill was smooth, passing Shroud and Elbow Cay, before turning into Hawksbill. The anchorage is just a wide exposed cove with a reef to the north of it, so it is really exposed. We entered the anchorage easily avoiding the few coral head at the entrance before putting down the hook between two other boats just off the beach. It was beautiful, anchored in 7 feet of clear water you could see the bottom like the water was hardly there. It was calm, but since the wind was still from the west there was a light swell coming in, but not too bad. Along the shoreline there were little white sand beaches separated by rocky coral heads. One of the rocky parts rose up to about 50 feet and looked over the anchorage. Atop it stood a rock monument standing there like someone watching over you. Needless to say Jen thought this anchorage was one of the most beautiful she had been to ever. I thought it was pretty close to not being an anchorage at all, but as long as the wind stay light it would be a great one. The guide books talk of a good fresh water well on the island and the explorer chart even has it on the map of Hawksbill. Now that we are in the islands fresh water to fill our tanks can cost from .50 cents to over a dollar. A lot of times this water you buy is just rain water or R/O water made from salt water. Free water is free and we all know sailors like free, so we loaded up our dingy with jugs and rowed into the beach we were anchored off of. Ashore we walked to a path that lead up the small hill to the monument, on the way there is a mailbox. Strange to see a mailbox on a deserted island I figured it was maps put there by the park. We opened it up and found notebooks, inside the notebooks was a sort of guestbook to sigh left by other cruising boats. There were a few of them, so we signed them with the pen left there and headed up toward the monument. The hill wasn't very high, maybe 50 feet and the monument was just a pill of rocks really, but from this small hill the view below was spectacular. The few boats anchored there looked to be in the most pristine of places. Even little Bumbre looked stately down there in the clear turquoise water. We soon found ourselves rowing to another beach having been unsuccessful in founding the well near the first one. Here we saw many remnants of water jugs which gave me the feeling that many others had been foiled while looking for this well. After wondering through the barrier interior of Hawksbill for awhile we started to feel as if we were on a episode of Survivor and the "well" we were going to find at the end of our search wasn't the sort of well we wanted to fill our water tanks on the boat with. Soon we gave up and after spending some time on the beach we headed back out to the boat, defeated. Back on the boat we hung around and read until about sunset when we looked up and saw Grace majestically entering the anchorage. They motored around looking for a good spot to anchor, with a draft under 4 feet the looked for spots nice and close by throwing out a lead line as they went to find out there depth. Soon they were anchored near shore , but quickly moved as the swell was to much for there small boat, this process would repeat itself throughout the night because of there size and tonnage. We had a little dinner and headed off to sleep, soon the wind had died down and the anchorage was perfectly still, we slept well that night. The Search Continues, Saturday, January 17, 2004 That morning Hans on Grace asked me if I wanted to join them in the search for the well. I did of course, but first we had to see if we got a mooring at Warderick Wells, home of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. There was a blow forecasted and we wanted to be in the protection of Warderick Wells' North Anchorage for it. We did get our mooring and soon Jen and I were dinging in to again search for the elusive well. Our delay had kept us from the fruitless search south of where we were yesterday, now we were searching around the creek we were anchored near. Jen and I followed Hans and Ria until we were on the beach on the eastern side of the island. We found no well, but the beach was wonderful. You never get tired of finding beautiful white sand beaches that are completely deserted. This one was one of the most beautiful yet. A quick walk looking for shells and we headed back out to the boat. We wanted to get to Warderick Wells at a decent time, so we got back to the boat had a little breakfast and raised anchor. We never did find that silly well, but because of it we explored the island and found other things more valuable then water, a least at that point. We had a calm motor/sail down to Warderick Wells, being followed in by Sirius. On the way up the channel we were passed by a huge 84 foot motor yacht, giving us a 5 foot wake without even thinking. Pissed off we soon heard him on the radio calling for a mooring. Well of course we knew we had gotten the last mooring and soon we saw them turn around and head back out. Fortunately this time they slunk by us slowly defeated, we just smiled and headed toward our mooring waiting for us in the North Anchorage. We arrived with Greg and Pam on Freedonia there to help us tie up. They had been there awhile working as volunteers in the park. They waiting at our mooring in their dinghy waving hello to us. I was on the bow, reading the water and ready to grab the mooring line. Jen was at the helm. The channel into the mooring field is very narrow, with the boats at mooring taking up most of the good water. I got so busy waving to Greg and Pam that I forgot to be reading the water for Jen. Soon the waves of Greg and Pam were not so friendly any more, as they became more like motions to MOVE OVER!!!! As Jen consulted the depth sounder and noted, we were almost aground. Looking back at the water while at mooring, it was obvious where the deep water lay, but coming in it was a bit harder to see. We looked forward to doing some volunteering here, as if you volunteer for the day, your mooring fee is waived, and I hoped I might be able to help them with their web site. As we tied up, Bubba swam by. Bubba is the 4 foot barracuda that lives in the waters around the anchorage. It seems that he likes to swim down the line of mooring balls each day around 3 to have a look at the new boats. After we tied up I dove in the water to have a look at the lobster under a wreck near mooring number nine. Freedonia was on mooring number 9 and he told me they lived down in it. I dove down and saw to huge lobsters living in holes on the wreck. The wreck was a boat that burned to the waterline after a generator fire. It now sits on the bottom and serves as a house for the lobsters. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a "No Take" zone, which means no fishing, conching or lobstering. Seeing those big lobsters down there is tempting, but after diving the other islands and seeing how fished out it is, you tend to respect what it is they are trying to do here. At 5 on Saturdays they have a cocktail party at the park headquarters. We prepared ourselves for the weekly event and the chance to meet some of the others in the anchorage. We headed in and were confronted by a porch full of people baring snacks. These parties are bring your own, drinks, snacks, everything, then everyone shares, well the snacks at least. The party went on and we met a few people, as the sun went down the ritual conch blowing occurred and soon everyone was heading back to there dingies to get back to their boats before darkness. We headed back as well to get some rest, tomorrow would be our first day volunteering and we were looking forward to it. Hard Labor, Union Style, Sunday, January 18, 2004 Jen at Exuma Park Warderick Wells, North Anchorage Creek on Warderick Wells Bill (from Highlander) leading a nature walk Harry (from Sirius) enjoying the Bananaquias Genvieve and Larry playing hooky at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club Genvieve and Miroslav (from Mercator) at Happy Hour Harman and Larry at Happy Hour Jen sand hogging Black Dog represented on Boo Boo Hill Bumbre represented on Boo Boo Hill We awoke the next morning and got on our best work clothes. Today we hoped to be put to work doing manual labor or perhaps a website. I picked up my cinnamon buns that I had ordered the day before at the office and saved them for tomorrows breakfast before the work was given out. The program works like this, you come in at 9 and get assigned a job (if they even need volunteers) and then you go to work. If two crew members work a half day you get the mooring for free that day, otherwise one would have to work all day. As jobs were being passed out I sat back not knowing what to think. There were close to 20 volunteers and the Warden seemed to have a lot of things for them to do. Soon I was placed on stone moving duty. Stone moving duty was basically pretty simple, they were building a stone walkway up to the headquarters. Me and three others had to move the stones (by boat) from the wardens dock to the beach near the walkway they were doing. This seemed easy enough and by my estimates we could have had it done in maybe a half hour. I soon realized this was not the plan. My foreman was union or as union as you can get on Warderick Wells, so our job was to move the stones slowly to the boat and stack them. After we spend a bunch of time stacking maybe 12 stones we had to break to chat and rest. Then we would move the stone slowly onto the pallet in the boat tied to the dock, this took a bit of time and once done we would chat again before two of us headed to the beach on front and the other two went by sea. On the beach we would pull the boat on shore before chatting again, then we would slowly unload the stones and stack them near the walk. The whole operation of moving the stones seemed to take an amazingly long time, then we would chat again before all hopping back into the boat to repeat the process. We did three loads doing this and by the end we had used up most the the morning. While we slacked on the work part we did get to know each other pretty well and that was nice, for getting to know somebody at the party was much tougher. Along the way I ran into Jen and she had managed to get the best job of all, inventory. She had to followed around Larry, a volunteer who had never left, and take pictures of equipment, buildings, boats and anything else of insurance value. This was also to be used as an overall inventory for the park. It was a good job without much sweating, which seemed to be the main thing cruisers wanted to avoid with their volunteer jobs. Larry, the volunteer who never left, was an interesting story. It seems he was working on a boat that got stuck in the park because of bad weather. So they started to volunteer. After a few days it seemed Larry had really taken to the place and so they told he he was welcome to stay, so he grabbed his bag and has been there ever since. Larry does everything. Illegal Haitians off the coast? He goes and gets them with the Bahamian Royal Defense Force. Someone needs to be picked up in Staniel? He's there. Water line breaks? grab Larry. We even saw him changing zincs for some of the boats in the anchorage. What a guy!!! Jen worked with him to do the inventory and she quickly realized that he knows the inner workings of the park. But it made their job hard as Larry always seemed to be getting called away to do one thing or another. Before we knew it the work day was done and we headed back to the boat for lunch. The rest of the day was pretty easy as I went for a quick snorkel and we hung out. Soon our days here would get long and it would seem we were the first ones on the island and last ones to leave. It's easy to get sucked into the scene once you're here. In the afternoon we decided to join everyone on a nature walk lead by Bill from Highlander. He did this sort of thing back in his home in Kentucky, so he wanted to give it a go here. On the walk we learned a lot from Bill who helped explain the mysteries of how mangroves survive in saltwater and that the islands were once covered in timber, cut down by the European to build ships. The walk ended at Boo Boo Hill, a famous hilltop for more then one reason. It is told that sailors who have died in this waters are buried on Boo Boo Hill and haunt it to this day. Now I suppose because of this cruisers from all over leave there mementos of there boats atop Boo Boo Hill, so once at the top it is filled with boards and bouys with the names boats who have passed through. Once there the walk ended and we found our way back down and out to the boat. That night we were invented to Grateful Attitudes (my foreman's boat) for a drink. So Sirius, us and the couple aboard Mercator joined them for a drink. They had a 41 foot catamaran, so all of us mono hull people were only to happy to go over and hang out in the comfort of there boat. They are a very nice couple and we enjoyed the evening, but of course we had to work in the morning, so off we went after a few drinks and some corn chowder. Website, then what are you doing carpentry for, Monday, January 19, 2004 The day started out the same as any day, Jen getting her inventory job back and I was a carpenters helper. I was putting up hand railings in the wardens home when he walked by, I took the opportunity to introduce myself and tell him that I was a designer. My wife had already laid the told him, but now he was meeting me for the first time. It seemed he was very interested in redoing the website, and didn't understand way we were wasting my skills doing carpentry. He just had to get in contact with the old webmaster. So I went back to my job wondering if anything was going to come of the encounter. A few hours later while taring a roof for an electrical panel he came up and told me to be at the house at 6:30 for a call with the old webmaster. So it looked like the website was a go, no more sweating with the others. At 5 there was another cocktail party on the porch, our social life was much more involved here then Boston and it seemed every night was another occasion we attended. This one was quicker and less formal, not even making it to sunset. So we headed up to the Warden's house a bit early. Once there we found the house a flutter with activity, with Ross from the Defense Force, Larry, and other it was going to be a full house for dinner. Larry fixed us a drink and soon Ray, the Warden, headed me the phone. A quick call with the old webmaster confirmed that I would be coming into work with a computer tomorrow and not a hammer. Afterwards dinner was served and we sat down to a feast of everything the grill could cook. Afterwards we sat down and listened to some of the Wardens stories about the park. We had only been at the park for a few days, but it was really starting to feel comfortable and we looked forward to getting in for work in the morning, at least I did. Soon we headed home, the anchorage was dark and we dingied out passing the other boats quickly swinging on there mooring balls. By now we pretty much new everybody by name and in the morning we all would parade in once again for work. An Office Job?, Tuesday, January 20, 2004 Today I started my office job, I was lead up to the office on the second floor of the Wardens house and there I was stationed. A cold front was blowing a lot of wind around outside, so for now it was quite ideal. So I started the task I will not bore you to much with, the designing of the Exuma Park Website. Jen continued her inventory job for which her and Larry were very successfully extending out as long as possible, mainly because Larry always got called away to do other things. Tonight it was our turn to invite people over, so we had Sirius and Mercator (Genevieve and Miroslav) over for Conch Fritters (caught by Harry and Fran in Normans). This is a process of making a batter with cut up conch in it and frying it in oil, a messy process on the boat. We successfully did this with Jen the dietitian actually frying the fritters. Afterwards bed for it was going to be another 9 to 5 tomorrow and I needed my beauty rest. The daily grind, Wednesday, January 21, 2004 By now I had gotten out of the loop of the day to day volunteer work, which was to bad, but I now had my own daily grind. You see the warden's house is a tough place to work as it is a busy place. Sometimes Jen would be typing the inventory next to me or I would be discussing the site with Judy or Ray, but the hardest thing about working in the wardens house was that everyone seemed to be a great cook. Sitting up stairs was torture as the house was always filled with the smells of something cooking. Many times I would get to sample these things, but just sitting up in front of a computer with those smells coming up it didn't matter how full I was I wanted some. If I stayed to long I was in danger of plumping up a bit. I worked away through the hardship for tonight was a meeting of the minds. They were going to look at the work so far and give me feed back. At four the minds of the park met with me and discussed the website, it brought me right back to my working days and it was scary. We went through the website section by section, page by page, trying hard to stay the course. It is easy when you ask a general question about something like a website how the grandest ideals in the world come out, I was trying to keep it simple and suddenly there was talk of thousands of research reports. This project was looking as if it might take all year. After a couple of hours the meeting finally broke up and we were reward with fresh pound cake just baked. Afterwards I picked up Jen from Sirius and we went back to the boat. Jen received no pound cake which got me bad looks. I hoped to get the website done soon for we hoped to leave by Friday or Saturday, but things didn't look good for that. Why wasn't this a trash burning party?, Thursday, January 22, 2004 We had been at the park so long now we started to have a routine, get (5 o'clock for me), eat breakfast, go into volunteer (I would go start to the office), and work. So unfortunately a routine had developed, at least for me because I had to sit in front of a computer. Jen days varied and she started to take advantage of my full days of work to take time off from volunteering. The projects for volunteering had gone from three of four projects at once going on to just one, sand hogging. You may wonder what sand hogging is so I will enlighten you. Sand hogging was brought about by the need to raise and level the water tanks on the island. Once a retainer wall was built around the area (done earlier in the week), sand needed to be brought in to fill it. You would think sand in the Bahamas was easy to come by, but not when you don't want to cause erosion on the beaches near buildings, so a system of taking a small Boston Whaler out to a remote beach and filling buckets with sand was developed. This was commonly referred to as sand hogging. Once the sand was gotten it was motored back to the beach near the water tanks and hogged up to the site. It was a long tedious process. When the sand was brought back to the beach it was expected that everyone would help unload it. Most helped the first load or two but by the third or fourth load the numbers would start to decline to the point where only the boat hogs themselves would be loading and unloading. Needless to say sand hogging was not a desirable job. I of course hidden away in the office got to avoid all of this, but most did not and the big joke around the park was how to avoid sand hogging. This tactic for getting sand also had a downside, loading to much sand in the buckets would cause the boat to ride low, and any large wave could swamp it. This was proven true once early on during sand hogging when Harry from Sirius was driving and a wave swamped the boat and shorted there radio. After that the buckets weren't filled quite so much. Tonight was a a beach on the beach hosted by Miroslav and Genvieve on Mercator. They were going to have a bar B-Q, so we were all going to head in at dusk for that. On the way back to the boat we ran into Larry, who was soon called in for a haircut. Haircuts on the island are done by whomever says they will and Larry had been looking a little scruffy so he elected to get one along with Ray, another long term volunteer. The electric clippers were brought out on Ray which made Larry nervous, this made him proceed to his place to get his on scissor. When he returned he started cutting his own hair with them. This of course was not a good idea and after making a few cuts we could watch no more. We headed off back to the boat to get ready for the fire on the beach. The beach fire was simple enough and we sat with a few other boats cooking baked potatoes in the fire. We soon realized our mistake, after dinner was cooked we discovered we should have brought in some trash to burn. We had been in the Exumas for awhile and there is no place to get rid of your trash yet, so the way people do some of it is burn it. We all had now understood the error of our ways, this should have been a trash burning party, now none of us had brought in our trash and we were sitting in front of a perfectly good trash burning fire. Anyway we enjoyed the night taking with the other boats and the Royal Defense Force guys stationed at the park joined us as well. Soon the Warden and Larry pulled up in his patrol boat and Larry stepped off. We talked with the Warden for awhile before he left and Larry returned, it seemed he thought this would be a good time for us all to have a snort of rum. So we sat there drinking rum and listening to Larry tell us stories about the park. Before long the stories of ghosts came out and the lore of how Warderick Wells is haunted was passed about. Soon we all got in our dingies and made our way back to our boats, hoping that the ghost of Bubba the Barracuda didn't come by. Refrigerated Bread, Friday, January 23, 2004 Friday was much the same as the other days for me, I went over to work on the website. By now the site was quite far along and the clean up work was starting. The Warden had been taken to Staniel for his flight to Nassau and Larry again had to go to pick up two new Royal Defense guys. Jen decided it would be fun to tag along and get some groceries. There were also a few other volunteers who had to go, one to the nurse to check on an injury and others. So off they went about eleven o'clock to Staniel, one of the bigger settlements in the northern Exumas (about 150 people). The day was pretty uneventful until Jen got back around 3. She bought a chart book and some vegetables as well as some bread. The bread which was rapped in a plastic bag had cracked in half and piece were flaking off of it. Jen explained that the "fresh" bread had been in the refrigerator and she had been a bit suspicious of it's freshness. Well at dinner that night we tried some and her suspicions were confirmed, this was not fresh bread. Our $3 loaf of bread was a bit dated, but no mold was there, so I made it my duty to finish whatever bread didn't flake off when cutting it. It made fine breakfast bread with a little peanut butter, but didn't fare as well with sandwiches. This was our first night on the boat in a long time and I took advantage of it by going to bed before 8. Was that a shotting star?, Saturday, January 24, 2004 By now we were ready to head off to explore other islands, we had enjoyed our stay and looked forward to returning, but now was the time to head further south. There was one problem, I wanted to make sure everything was looking good with the website. So I did what I could making revisions and getting feedback. Eventually I told them we would be headed on soon, the website couldn't be finished until Tom, another head guy, came back from the states. This would not be until the beginning of February, so we made plans to do what we could before I left, probably Sunday or Monday. So I took the afternoon off to do what you are suppose to do in the park, enjoy it. Sirius and us went snorkeling at some of the nearby reefs. Since the park is a no take zone you get to see lobsters, grouper and other fish and sea life not so abundant around the other islands. We enjoyed the afternoon and while snorkeling the last reef of the day got to see a nice big Barracuda swim by Harry from Sirius head. I followed the barracuda and looked around to see Harry no where in sight. It seems he didn't enjoy having that barracuda so close to him. I continued to follow him until I reached a school of large Jacks, just swimming around. Soon I was back on the dingy and we took the girls over to the area I saw the jacks to do a little dingy snorkeling, they didn't seem interested in swimming once the barracuda showed up. Afterwards we headed back to the boat to get ready for the cocktail party on the porch. While getting ready we were joined by Bubba the Barracuda, who camped out off our stern for a hour and we got a lot of nice shots of him through the clear Bahamian water. I got in the dingy and stuck my head in the water to get a better look. You don't realize how much a dive mask magnifies until you put your head into the water to look at something that you know is 5 feet away and when you put your head in it appears to be in your face. Soon we were going in to the party on the porch, most of the others who had been there last week had now moved on and only a few boats remained from the original crew. We enjoyed meeting the new people, but it seemed strange, like some people were missing. Larry showed up late having to go out on patrol. Most had gone home, but we sat down to have a snort with him. A snort is not what you may be thinking, it is having a bit of whatever it is the other person is drinking, here it is rum. So we all had a snort and listened to more stories about the park. While we were sitting talking on the porch I saw this brightest most impressive shooting star I have ever seen. Jen had never seen one before and hates when I inform her that I have seen a beautiful shooting star. Suddenly Larry asks quietly, "Did anyone see that?" "You mean that shooting star?" I asked. "Was that a shooting star? Jen asked. The shooting star was bright and seemed to last a long time for a starring star, it was like one you may see in a movie, were they seem to over do it for effect, but here in the clear skies of the Bahamas with no lights but anchors lights from boats there was no need to over do it, this was just what they looked like. Once we realized we had all seen it we realized that what we saw really was an incredible shotting star. It was a great top of to the night and before we new it it was past 9 and way past our bedtimes, so we bid Larry adew and headed of to bed. Our contribution to Boo Boo, Sunday, January 25, 2004 The next day we awoke and I went in to see if there was any work to do on the website. After a quick once over I took the day off, Jen and I had laundry to finish and we had to go up to Boo Boo Hill to put up our sign. I needed to finish it first, but hopefully I could get that done soon. We had walked up Boo Boo Hill a few times during our stay and every time we seemed to recognize more boat names on the plaques left there. Most people use a sharpie pen on a piece of driftwood to write there boat name to leave on-top of the hill. I had found a suitable piece of driftwood the other day at the bonfire and since then I have been craving Bumbre's name in it. At home I liked to crave signs, so I figured it would be great to do the same hear. I soon learned that craving at old piece of wood that isn't exactly the right sort of wood is tougher then I hoped. Soon I was chiseling it out with a hammer, instead of doing it nicely with craving and inlay tools. It turned out fine and after some sharpie to color the letters it was finally complete. Now all there was to do was place it at the top. We walked up in the afternoon to the top of the hill. It is only maybe 75 or 100 feet, but it is still high for the Bahamas. Once there we had to find a suitable place to place it. This is tougher then you think for there are hundreds of the signs places all over and you want yours to be invisible without blocking others. This has lead to the top of Boo Boo Hill being littered with the plaques of boaters. It goes on for 15 yards or so and signs are laying of the rock some 5 feet high. We found a nice spot that faces the path you walk up so Bumbre's plaques is one of the first ones you come across. After placing it there we really felt our time to leave has come and we planned on doing just that tomorrow. That night we were invited to Mike and Bonny's boat, Milliuem Oddessey, for dinner. Miroslav and Genieve were there as well. Mike and Bonny had been down to the Bahamas in 2000, hence the name of there boat and were now doing it a second time. It was great to again hear a different view and stories about sailing down to the Bahamas. We enjoyed a good spicy spaghetti dinner and pictures of Junkanoo in Nassau before heading off ourselves for bed. Going down the sound feeling good, Monday, January 26, 2004 Showing off my soon to be Conch Horn Shell Bell Rock off Cambridge Cay Cambridge Cay Anchorage Exuma Sound shore of Cambridge Cay Rock Cairn at the southern tip of Cambridge Cay Making my first Conch Horn Practicing on the horn After a quick stop to see if there was any last minute things I could do for the website we were off. I promised to come back and finish it off after Tom had gotten back from the states. He had the latest text to put in and wanted some changes, so we were going to want for him to launch in February. We said our good-byes to Larry and the others. I even got roped in to doing so sand hogging while down on the beach during our farwells. Soon we were back on the boat and headed off out to the Exuma Sound. The winds were from the south and we wanted to head to Cambridge Cay, just 10 miles south. You can only enter it by the sound side, so we went that way over the more protected banks side. It was a bit rough and the wind was a bit to much out of the east so we had to tack a bit, but we made it all the same. The cuts from the sound to the lee of the islands on the bank side are always a bit tricky and after a few large swells which pushed us pretty far over we settle in. We found the makeshift range that leads you in past the reefs and bars and rounded the point into the anchorage. There were about 10 boats at anchor here and we found a nice shady spot behind them and anchored. We were a little near the point for my liking, but the holding was good on the deep sand so we were happy. Sirius anchored a little in front of us to our port and we settled in. No sooner had we gotten in then we were invited to the yacht club for cocktails. Down here quote "yacht clubs" spring up where ever there are a bunch of boats at anchor. They are basically what most would refer to as cocktails on the beach. Someone long ago must have joked that they were starting a yacht club when they did these happy hours and the name yacht club stuck. So now when you get a bunch of boats together at an anchorage and have cocktails on the beach, you are meeting at the yacht club for drinks. Strange but true. Soon Harry and Fran picked us up and we headed into the yacht club. We were greeted by all the others boats in the anchorage, and were soon overwhelmed by names and boat names. Keeping up with all the different people you meet and what boat they are from is a tough job. We have started to write down the boats in the anchorage and put down the names of the couples on the next to the boat name. Many times you only meet the people once, but since everyone tends to go to the same places, you see many of these boats over and over again. Fortunately Jen is pretty good at remembering them, and even I am getting better. You have to, because chances are the next island you go to you are going to run into somebody you have met. We talked and talked then before to long we were again one of the last groups on the beach. Sunset breaks up these meetings pretty quickly and the no-see-ums, combined with people desire for dinner gets people moving along. But it is a nice informal meeting of all the people in the anchorage. We headed back and decided to stay another day to explore a bit around Cambridge. The reports we had gotten from the other cruisers were favorable so we had a full day planned. Little Harman Horner, Tuesday, January 27, 2004 We awoke that day and headed out in the morning to the Coral Garden, a snorkeling spot set up by Exuma Park where there is good coral and fish. The winds were fresh so it was a bit of a rough ride, but we made the 1 and a half dingy ride in good time. Once we got there we tied to a dingy mooring and got to snorkel. It was quite choppy so Jen and Fran decided to pass, but harry and I got and were soon surrounded by little Sergeant Major, a small white and black stripped reef fish, who are used to being visited by humans and expect to be fed when they are. We brought nothing, but a boat we had met last night on the beach brought some food so we watched as the fish engulfed there feeder. I dove down and found a lobster hiding in some coral, but since it was part of the park we only watched him. Soon we again packed up and headed over to a sunken plane near by. The plane was a same single engine Cessna type. I dove in and found it rolled over on it's nose, you could still read the numbers on the side, so the plane didn't seem to have been there long. I glanced over while looking at the plane and found a 4 foot Barracuda staring at me about 10 feet away. We looked at each other cautiously and he started to swim away. I dove under a few coral heads looking for interesting things to look at but soon found myself back in the dingy where Jen was looking at the plane threw a glass bottom bucket. After our snorkeling adventure Jen, Fran and I decided to explore Cambridge Cay on foot. There where a few tall hills and a nice sandy beach on the sound side that we wanted to have a look at. We went to shore and found the path leading over to the sound side of the island. It was lined with conch shells, which so many paths in the Bahamas are. I had taken an interest in finding a conch shell without the hole punched in it where you extract the conch. I wanted one not for the beauty, but for a conch horn. Every night since being in the Exumas I have heard the distant volley of boats in the anchorage blowing there conch horns. While at Warderick Wells I had learned how to make a conch horn and was now interested in trying it out. It seemed that conch blowing took know musical talent, so I figured I would be able to pick it up pretty easily. Now the hard part of all of this is finding a conch shell with no hole in it from extracting the creator. This is hard in a place where eating conch is a national pastime. I looked at the hundreds of conch lining the trail, but found only one with holes. Conch after conch didn't fit my needs. You can make a horn out of a holed conch by filling it with epoxy, but I wanted an all natural conch, so I continued to search until there were no more conch lining the trail. Soon we got to the beach and I saw a lone conch sitting at the end of the trail. I approached it thinking yet again I would found the customary hole. To my pleasant surprise I found a whole conch, untouched by human hammering and I gladly scooped him up to make him my own. We continued on our walk finding nice vistas that gave us a 360 degree view of the area. The anchored looked so peaceful below and you could see the islands both north and south for many miles. Soon we were at the north point of Cambridge, and I climbed down into and eddy in the limestone cliff where I found flotsam from passing ships including, lumber, sandals, hats and other eiry things. I climbed out and we went up to the top of the point where there is a Cairn. Cairns are piles of stone shaped like a pyramid that you find all over the islands. I don't know why they are there or how long they have been there, but there is hardly a point or high spot on any island without one. We have seen many of them lining trails and other such useful things, but many just make a summit or a point with no other reason then to do so. We backtracked on our walk and soon found ourselves back at the dingy. I was anxious to get back to the boat and start making my conch horn. As soon as we got back I got out the tools of the trade, a hacksaw and a screw driver. The process seemed simple enough, count in five spirals from the end on the conch shell and cut the end part off. Then bash an opening inside with a screwdriver, carefully trying to blow it along the way so not to do to much or to little. Once you get a sound you like, you have your conch horn. It is pretty easy to do, the hard part is knowing how to blow the conch so you don't cut off to much. Somehow I managed to blow it and knew I had a horn, that didn't mean I could blow it on cue, sometimes it my sound a bit sad, but eventually I started to be able to sign it better and better. Most conch horns are brought out each night as the sun goes below the horizon. My first night participating in the daily volley was not the greatest, and Jen proved that her musically talents were far superior then mine. Over the next few days I was to get better and now regularly don't embarrassment myself at sunset. Socked in at Cambridge, Wednesday, January 28, 2004 That night a northern started and the anchorage got rough. By morning we were bouncing around not wanting to do anything because of the weather. So we didn't do anything, we just played cards, read and did some chores. We were hoping to be able to move today, but the weather dictates that, so today we stayed, hardly moving from the boat. The 1 mile Mad Dash to Conch Cut, Thursday, January 29, 2004 Pink and Blue Stores on Staniel Cay Fran & Harry visiting the Pig Beach on Big Majors Pigs and Cats on the Pig Beach A brave soul feeding the wildlife Sally B built on Martha's Vineyard Emerging from the water with some Lobster/Crays Displaying my catch (great tan) Fran eying the catch The beach-goers welcoming the hunters home Club Thunderball in the Grotto Freeing my hermit crab friend Ruth the rule Superbowl winner We awoke that morning with plans to head down to Staniel Cay and stay there through the Super Bowl. The winds this morning were 15 knots from the east northeast, which didn't seem the best to good out on the sound side so we went in the dingy to investigate. We landed the dingy on Cambridge and walked across to the sound side, there we were faced with pretty good sized ocean swells, that didn't excite any of us, so we figured we would try the shallow southern entrance which lead right into Conch Cut where we could then go over to the sound. On our way back to the boat we talked with another boat in the anchorage who said that the cut was tricky and should only be done in good light when you can read the water. That sort of light was not going to happen until the afternoon. Most boats were going to run down the coast of Cambridge on the sound side and go into Conch Cut and over to the banks side. It was a short run of a little over a mile, but nobody seemed to excited about it. We decided to do it because we would have a lot of company as most boats in the anhcorage were planning on heading out that way. We raised our anchors with four other boats and we all headed out together. As we passed through O'Briens Cut we would disappear in the swells only to pop up on the other side. Soon we were able to turn south and raise some sail which although the waves were more on our beam the sails now made the trip a lot more comfortable. We all raced along as fast as we could and got to Conch Cut in no time. From there we proceeded to the calm water on the banks side and settled in for a nice sail to Staniel Cay. A couple of hours later we were approaching Staniel hoping for a decent anchor spot. Staniel is one of the few small communities in the Exumas so if cruises want to watch the Super Bowl they flock to them. We wanted to get there a bit early to got a decent spot to anchor. Our friends on Freedonia informed us that there was room right there in Thunderball Grotto. The James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed in Staniel and we were going to be anchored right next to the famous cave used in the movie. We put down the hook near Freedonia and settled in. It was a small area for anchoring and after Sirius and Bumbre anchored we had four boats tucked into it, Freedonia, Chinook Arch, Sirius and Bumbre. We all knew each other, so we were happy to be close to a bunch of formalier boats. We headed into town to see what we could find at the stores. The mail boat was in on Wednesday so we figured we might be able to get some decent stuff at one of the three small markets. These small islands have to import all of there food, which comes in once a week (you hope) on the mail boat. Once in the stores hardly have the items out of the boxes when it gets swarmed over by cruisers. Most of these settlements only have a few hundred people in them, but it seems the locals didn't need to rush into the stores (they probably put in orders) as it is a ritual only followed by cruisers. Usually the day after the mail boat the pickings on fresh things like vegetable, fruit or meat are pretty slim, but you just can't help but go in and see what they have got. We had another major concern, we had run out of propane at Exuma Park and had been living off either things cooked on the grill or our friends on Sirius. Staniel was the first place to fill your propane, so we quickly loaded up the dingy with our propane bottle and headed in to Isles General Store to get it filled. In Staniel there are actually three little markets, about the same size all carrying the same goods. If one has run out of tomatoes usually one of the others may have them, while one my have bread the other will be out, so when shopping you usually have to go to all three. We started at Isles General Store, which is more of a everything you need store, with propane filling, laundry services, food, hardware and others assorted services it is sort of the one stop shop. But it's groceries are limited so after stopping there we headed up to the Blue Store. The Blue Store is named because it is painted bright blue and when you walk in you find a nice tile floor and painted selves. Things are neatly arranged in what seem like some sort of order. The markets here are usually one room smaller then your average convenience store back home. You can always find staples like canned Corned Beef and Bahamas Goombay Punch lining the shelves, but fresh vegetables or bread is a toss up. Jen had been to the Blue Store before having come down to Staniel on the Park boat with Larry, for me it was my first visit. The Blue Store is nice, but in the end we had gotten all we needed at Isles and ended up finding nothing new we needed at the Blue Store. Right next door to the Blue Store is the Pink Store, this is starting to sound like a Dr. Suess story. The Pink Store is somewhat a shade of pink, and as I had not been to it yet I wanted to investigate it. I had heard rumors that the Pink Store left same things to be desired. We entered the pink store and I found a dark room hardly lit with unpainted shelves made of what amounted to old plywood and driftwood. It shelves also held an assortment of wears but the order seemed more like chaos with Rum next to the canned Corned Beef. After a quick turn threw the few isles we bid the Pink Store farewell and headed off back toward our dingy. Soon we stopped by the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to get some diesel in a can for the boat. Sailing is a big deal to Bahamians and many race the famous Bahamian Sloops, so most settlements have a "Yacht Club". Don't confuse these places with the stuffy boring yacht clubs of the US, these are many bars and restaurants where cruisers hang out, they usually have a dock with fuel and sponsor Bahamian sloop races for local boats. Today we bought some diesel from them and had a beer at the bar with some of the boats we had met in Cambridge who had also headed down to Staniel. Afterwards our chores done we headed back to the boat, our propane wouldn't be ready until tomorrow so we prepared for another morning with no coffee or tea, the hardships of living on board. Thunderball Mr. Bond, Friday, January 30, 2004 The James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed in Staniel in 1964. It is still it's most famous moment. Decorating the yacht club are pictures of the filming, there is a Club Thunderball, a Thunderball Marina and of course the famous Thunderball Grotto. We were anchor in the grotto, right next to the underwater cave used in the movie. The morning started with a dive on the cave a slack low water which is the best time to go as the tide runs hard through the cave. So at around 9 Greg from Freedonia, Harry from Sirius and I headed off to investigate the biggest tourist attraction in all of Staniel. You enter the cave through small opening in the rock barely a foot out of the water at low tide. Once inside the cave height increases, but the real show is underneath the water. The cave is filled with little Sergeant Majors, the little striped reef fish so common in the Exumas. Once inside they rush at you expecting food. Since most people seem to bring in a healthy amount they weren't to get any Cheerios from me. Some body had thought to bring in one of there favorite snacks, cheese wheez (so I have heard). Where they found cheese wheez in the Bahamas I hadn't a clue, but the fish loved it. I enjoyed swimming around they and watching the others waste there processed cheese as I got to just enjoy the show for nothing. Soon even fish eating cheese wheez grows tiring so I headed back out to the boat. Today was to be another day of chores, picking up the propane, getting water and throwing out the trash were on the list. These things may sound like simple tasks to you that should be able to be completed easily with a lot of time left over, but in the Bahamas living on a boat nothing is as easy as it sounds. Water first of all costs between 30 cents and a dollar a gallon. Unlike in the states where you just pull up to the dock and throw a hose into the boats water tanks here it is a bit harder. Most places don't have docks and if they do you may want to think twice before pulling up to them as they may not be so safe. So you end up loading your dingy with 5 gallon jugs and any other water carrying device you can find on a boat (empty 1 gallon milk jugs are great for this). Then unload them (empty) and carry them to the water source, that never seems as close as it should be. Once filled you have to haul them back to your dingy which is tied to the dock about five foot climb down. It has usually drifted underneath the dock and needs to be fished out, once fished out you then need to get in the dingy and load the now full five gallon jugs into the dingy without getting a hernia. After this you pay whatever ransom you want they want for the water and head out to the boat. You would think this would be the end of the journey, but no, now you have to get the heavy full jugs on the rolling boat from a pitching dingy, never easy, once you have achieved this goal you then must fill up the water tanks on the boat before going back in and doing it all again because you wouldn't want to leave the anchorage without everything on the boat filled with water or you will just have to repeat the process earlier then you would like. Trash is another interesting island chore, most places don't want it because there is no place to get rid of it. Marinas only take it from paying guests, so it is a big game to be anchored out and get away with bring in your trash without getting caught. Most of the time you just have to haul it around to places like Staniel which do take trash. We had not been able to throw away trash since getting to the Exumas, so trash was important to us. We only had one not so big bag which is pretty good, but we still wanted to stop hauling it around in our sail locker. Staniel was the first place we could do that. A lot of cruisers burn there trash or dispose of biodegradables overboard, but being newbies we still were getting into this habit. When we got to Staniel we had two options for getting rid of our garbage, pay the Yacht Club or Isles General $5 to get rid of it or walk it to the dump ourselves. Conveniently the dump was shown on our chart, so we elected for this rout. It was about a half a mile walk and since we hadn't seen the interior of the island at all we figure way not. I hoped for the added benefit of interesting wildlife at the dump, like the famous bull who lives at the dump on Union Island in the Grenadines, sadly when we got to the dump on Staniel there was nothing bu a pile of trash. So we added ours hoping next time the dump may house a wild pig or something. We now had all our chores done and even though when finally had propane we decided to go to Barbecue night at Club Thunderball. So we signed for the meal and headed back to the boat exhausted from our chores. Swims and other activities filled the day until at about 5 we got together with Harry and Fran for drinks before heading into dinner. Club Thunderball was quite the seen filled with cruisers many of whom we now knew. Greg and Pam on Freedonia soon introduced us to Ashland and Wendy on Sally B. This would normally have been just another introduction to fellow cruisers who happened to be our age, but this was different. It seemed Ashland and Wendy had built the 32 foot wooden sailboat in Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard. Ashland had worked on building two much bigger custom wooden boats on the Vineyard which I had read about in the paper, but at the same time was building his own boat not two miles from my house. They were now cruising down the coast in her, under wind power alone, quite a feet in the engined powered world we now live in. We talked about the Vineyard and there plans through dinner before losing a few games of pool afterward. They invited us over to have a look at the boat the next day, an invitation I looked forward to. Pigs on a beach, when lobsters fly, Saturday, January 31, 2004 Today was to prove to be a full day, for the day before I had heard there was a beach around the corner that had pigs living on it. Surprisingly out of Sirius and Bumbre only I was excited by the though of seeing pigs swimming out to your dingy from the beach. It seems the nurse at Staniel had told horror stories about cruisers getting bitten by the pigs. Those scare tactics weren't going to work with me and with or without my comrades I was going to see a bunch of pigs hanging out on the beach. Fortunately it didn't come to that and we started off around the point to find said pigs. No sooner had the beach come into sight then I could make out something large and non-human moving on the beach. Could it be? When we closed in you could plainly see it was, there was a pig on that beach. Not just one pig, but a whole family, and not just pigs, but a bunch of cats as well, what a bonus pigs and cats frolicking on the beach. We brought our dingy as close us we dared and soon the largest one started to swim toward us. This made Jen a a bit uneasy. It seems that people had taken to feeding the pigs as well and just like the fish now any dingy that pulls within pig sight (whatever that may be) get a large pig swimming toward it looking for fed. We of course had brought none and now put ourselves in danger of becoming the feed. Fortunately a woman much braver then me get her husband to pull up to the shore in the dingy and she hoped off. This woman was immediately surrounded by all the pigs looking for a handout. She had some food, but not for the pigs, she was actually trying to feed the cats. This crazy woman was hitting the pigs on the nose when they went for the cat chow. Somehow she managed to get back aboard her dingy without upsetting the pigs to much for she still had all of her limbs. After our excitement with the pigs we went to Sally B to have a look at her. She was easy to spot with her dark black hull and tan bark sails she was a throwback in a sea of glass boats. We were greeted with a smile and an offer of tea from Ashland, he is from England and true to his roots likes his tea even in the 80 degree heat of the Bahamas. Having never had tea with an Englishman before I gladly expected and soon was enjoying hot tea in the cabin of Sally B. She was a beautiful boat, done in the old style, he even found an old propane stove and little wood stove to put in. Truly this boat was everything he had dreamed he wanted her to be, classic and beautiful, yet functional and easy to handle. We enjoyed looking at her and asking the questions I'm sure they had heard a thousand times, yet they answered them us if it was the first. Soon we parted ways hoping to catch up with them in the future, as it is funny how people paths cross. Afterwards Jen wanted to head to the beach, so we went off to a beach on the sound side of Staniel. I brought my diving gear in hopes of getting in some fishing but not to much hope in that. The beach was a long hot walk and we meet the couples from Freedonia and Highlander there. They had just gotten back from fishing and hadn't caught anything, so I decided to have a look not to hopeful of finding anything, but just wanting to get into the water. Soon after heading in I found some healthy looking reefs and started to dive down looking into nooks for lobster. Not to long after I started I found one hiding in a small crevasse in the coral about 10 feet down. I quickly slang my spear and shot. Incredibly I missed him from pretty close, it had been years since I had shot a sling spear and those years must have played on my aim. I went down again and fortunately a lobster is a slow creature, for he was still there and this time I did not miss. I pull him out of the hole firmly on my pole and started toward shore. On shore I finished him off and put him in a bag to search for more. About this time I saw Greg and Bill from Highlander and Freedonia starting back out. They saw my catch and started searching around the reef I was searching. Soon I had found another and quickly disposed of him as well, this one was much bigger and was only about 5 feet down. With my bag full I swam around a bit more not foinding anything else and headed back to the beach. There Jen was excited to have her first fresh caught lobster in the islands. I was happy to have finally been able to find some after searching long and hard since we got to the Exumas. I decided to go back out and have another look around at some reefs further out, but as soon as I headed out I was face to face with a small barracuda. He was only about a foot and a half long and he seemed to follow me everywhere I went. Greg had mentioned him to me before I went out and now this curious little fish was annoying me as I didn't want to turn my back on him. So we faced off he swimming just out of my range with my spear. I didn't want to swim away, so I decided I'd just try to get him, but his curiosity didn't get him any closer then my spear could reach. Finally I gave up when Greg and Bill started in with there catch. It seems the second times a charm as they came in with two lobsters as well and we were all happy to have dinner tonight. We headed back to the boat with our catch, inviting Harry and Fran over to enjoy the catch to repay the lobster they served us on Chub. We cooked up the lobster just like Star thought us in Bimini, cutting the tail lengthwise and marinating it in lime and garlic. It was excellent and the two tails were plenty to feed the four of us. After having such poor luck with fishing in the Northern Exumas it was great to finally get something.
Senegal is a favorite destination among tourists to Western Africa. With its eventful history, serene plains and farmland, luxurious seaside resorts, and bustling capital Dakar, Senegal stands out among its neighbors and peers as very much a "go to" spot. Dakar is a modern spacious city with an intimate feel, hopping cafes, and friendly atmosphere. It's a city of more than a million residents and yet feels very open and easy to maneuver (and to escape, if you so choose). Check out the the beautiful gardens of the Palais Présidentiel, or the bustling markets Marché Kermel and Marché Sandaga, both full of fruits and vegetables, crafts and a variety of local fabrics.
Cap Skiring is home to some of Africa's finest beaches and best resorts. It's also home to much of Senegal's large and growing ex-pat population and Western tourists. It may be more like Monaco than traditional West Africa, but if you're craving a break and want a little taste of luxury, this may be the place for you.
Ile de Gorée is notable for a number of reasons; including its good beaches; friendly atmosphere; and small, laid-back community. But the most important aspect of this island isn't what happens in the present, it's what happened in the past. Ile de Gorée was one of the last stops for African slaves before being shipped to a life sentence in the United States. It's worth a visit.
Traveler's warning: The Casamance region, Senegal's southern farmland, has a large number of rebel groups and bandits, making it a potentially unsafe place to travel if you're not prepared. Do your research, find out what specific areas are most affected when you're there, and use common sense.
Traveling in Senegal
Traveling to and within Senegal can be done readily by air. There are a number of airlines to choose from, including Bamako, Banjul, Abidjan, and Bissau. For the cheapest flights and most efficient planning, use a travel agent, and be sure your exit fee is included in your ticket.
Road links to Senegal include Trans-Gambia Highway, though, in some cases, you may find the ferry service between Dakar, and Banjul and Ziguinchor to be faster, more comfortable, and safer--if more expensive--than the bush taxis. Within the country, buses are available, as are minibuses (though, it's worth mentioning the cars rapides are actually slow and dilapidated minibuses that are best avoided). Hire a taxi to take you where you need to go; renting a car is expensive and trying--that is, not advised.
Due to poor road conditions, the best overland route to Mali is by the Mistral International train, which departs Dakar once weekly and has good first-class seating and a dining car. One important tip: you'll need to show your passport at each border crossing; it may be taken on the train by an inspector, but you must retrieve it yourself at the office. When your passport is taken, find out where you can pick it up... They will not remind you, so it's on your shoulders to keep track of this essential item.
Weather in Senegal
Travel to Senegal between November and February, when when the air is cool and dry. But be wary of the harmattan winds coming off the Sahara, which can add some discomfort. For water-based activities, such as diving, February to April are the best months. The best bird watching can be done from November to April.
Republic of Senegal
Population: 10.3 million
Government: Republic under multiparty democratic rule
Square Miles: 75,750 sq mi (196,190 sq km)
Capitol: Dakar (pop 2 million)
Official Language: French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, Mandingo
People: Wolof (36%), Fula (17%), Sérèr (17%), Toucouleur (9%), Diola (9%), Mandinka (9%), European and Lebanese (1%)
Religion: 96% Islam, 6% indigenous beliefs, 2% Christian
Major products/industries: agricultural and fish processing, phosphate mining, petroleum refining, construction materials
by Matt Scott The Tran-Siberian Railway is the ultimate rail journey, the longest in the world, possibly the coldest if you go at the wrong time of year, and the only rail journey that travels across two continents on a single trip, all while staying in the same country. Without leaving your seat you can clatter along almost a third of the globe; the Trans-Siberian is an excursion of almost mythical proportions. There are three routes that travellers can take to explore the expanse that is Siberia: The 6,000-mile-long Moscow-to-Vladivostok route, and two others that leave Moscow heading toward Beijing: one going through Mongolia, taking six days and travelling almost 5,000 miles, and one that runs via Manchuria, which takes almost a week to complete. I was intrigued by the country that was once the home of Genghis Kahn. I knew almost nothing else of Mongolia, and that only added to my interest. My journey started on a Tuesday night at Yaroslav Station in Moscow. Platform 3 was packed with traders loading the train with rugs, stereos, clothes, underwear, and a host of other goods that I assumed were going to be sold on the way. I expected to see many world-wise travellers in the station, waiting to take this epic journey, but there were none. And it seemed I was the only person who had not brought at least half a carriage worth of goods to peddle. I pushed my way past bags, of what smelled like horse blankets, to find my carriage. The compartment was about as big as the bathroom at the Moscow hotel. There were roughly eight compartments to a carriage. Each compartment consisted of a small table next to the window and two beds on either side, with another two beds suspended from the sides of the carriage, but stowed in an upright position to give the illusion of space. There was no one else in my carriage as I went through the ritual of removing my hat, gloves, coat, and the several other layers I was wearing to keep out the Russian winter. It was early January, and the outside temperature was below -20º. I went into the corridor and looked out the window at the remaining passengers loading their wares. Until I reached Ulan Bator in five days time, this was going to be the way I would see the world. Travelling by train can be unique that way: the cultural experiences often come from inside the cars, and train travellers often have the most interesting stories to tell. Suddenly, I was torn from my thoughts as several people walked into the compartment behind me. Confusion started as seven of us tried to lay claim to the four beds in the compartment. There had been an obvious case of overbooking and we chatted politely as we waited for the ticket collector to see who would be thrown off the train. Luckily no one was turned away, and three of us were moved to other carriages. I went to first class: still with a toilet at the end of the carriage and no shower, but the compartment had only two beds, and for the moment I had it to myself. Not bad for a $200 ticket. I spent the evening alone in my compartment, sipping strong Russian tea from the samovar at the end of the carriage. The high-rise flats of Moscow turned into countryside dotted with small towns. Russian Orthodox churches appeared in almost every town we passed through, lit up against the surrounding hills that were covered in snow. Yet there was barely enough time to appreciate this beauty before it passed by and another view filled the window frame. This was how much of the journey was taken up: looking out the window admiring the scenery. Every morning I would open my curtains wondering what new view would greet me as the train moved through the Urals into snow-covered forest to the Russian steppe and the large expanses of nothingness. It was hard to get bored of the scene and the anticipation of another beautiful sunset, knowing that you’d travelled almost a thousand miles and another time zone since the previous night. The Trans-Siberian makes frequent stops to pick up new passengers and let others alight. Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Ulan Ude, near Lake Baikal, are just some of the great cities the train passes through. However, stopping for only an hour so at a time, there is little opportunity to sightsee except at the stations. If you miss the train leaving, it can be a week before another will take you to Mongolia to catch up with your luggage. I chose to stay close to the train, observing (and often avoiding) the hustle that met us at stations where traders sold their goods. Old women often came up to the doors of the train offering hot meals of chicken and vegetables or meat and potatoes, as well as soup and biscuits. A three-course meal could be enjoyed from your window if you didn’t want to visit the dining cart that day. Other people would approach with crafts such as decorated glass and crystal, paintings, fur hats, or other specialties of the region. Many workers in the local factories were paid part of their wages in the products they produced; selling these items to the train passengers was a good source of income in the struggling economy. I often swapped some of my own possessions for snacks: a pair of warm socks got me a huge bag of berries that I enjoyed for the rest of the journey; my book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, got me a new pair of gloves. At the end of the first day someone joined me in the compartment. Elenor was a young woman from Perm who was on her way to visit her sick mother in Ulan Ude. Her English was as broken as my Russian, but we got along well. We spent the day talking about her children and what I was doing in Russia. She would often tell me how I reminded her of her ten-year-old son and when I fell asleep on my bed she draped her shawl on me and gently sang Russian songs. Elenor had a supply of shopping bags that she was selling at stations to pay for her journey. As the train pulled into another stop we would both lean out of the windows waving the colorful plastic bags and yelling "Sumki, Sumki!"--Bags, bags! I never sold many, but then, neither did Elenor. Visitors would often pop into our compartment to chat, bringing gifts of vodka or chocolate. While I only understood part of the conversation, the talks were always animated and very enjoyable. Moving between carriages to meet other travellers, I would take along my bag of berries as a guest offering. I was keen to experience Russian cuisine and eat the food I found in the stations or the restaurant car; I’d often trade packs of dehydrated meals that I had brought along just in case. It was a continual source of amusement as we poured hot water into the foil packs, and a full meal was ready in minutes. Before leaving the U.K., I was worried that my Russian would not be strong enough to help me mix with local travellers. My language was bad, but I was warmly welcomed anywhere I went on the train. I never met another Westerner, and I can’t say that I minded. The days passed too quickly, and the boredom I once feared never set in. I was hoping to finish my second book and swap it for something at the last station, but I could hardly read a page before my eyes would drift toward the window and I’d became lost in what lay outside. I had been waiting eagerly to see Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, and Elenor woke me as we passed it. This huge body of water was covered in ice and stretched to the mountains on the horizon, but it disappeared within minutes as the train turned a corner and we headed back into the forest. We soon arrived at the station in Ulan Ude; this was Elenor’s stop. We said our goodbyes and she left me one of her shopping bags to remember her by. I promised to write but after she’d gone I realized I never took her address. Sara, "the only female doctor in Mongolia" (or so she told me) now occupied the other bed in my compartment. A gentleman from near Lake Baikal, Valery, also joined us for the brief remainder of the trip. He talked passionately about the lake and how "you can catch fish with just your arms." He also brought food from the region: caviar, black bread, cured fish, biscuits, and other delights that we tucked into eagerly. The three of us shared stories and exchanged English and Russian lessons until we reached the Mongolian border late that evening. The border crossing took almost six hours; we ate and drank numerous bottles of vodka. The border guards were cheery and shared the vodka as they checked our passports. They chatted to us in three languages: English, if they were talking to me; Russian, when they talked to Valery; and Mongolian at all other times. I thought I understood perfectly, but maybe that was just the vodka. The last night on the train passed quickly, and I slept until we reached Ulan Bator--the capital of Mongolia--the next morning. I was hoping to enjoy a last breakfast in the restaurant car and get the chance to say goodbye to many of the people I had met during the journey, but as we got into the station there was just enough time to gather my belongings before being ushered off the train. While the trans-Mongolian route of the railway continued for 1,000 miles to Beijing I would not join it for another four days. In that time I would have the chance to look around the capital city, then hop on another train for just one more day, completing one of the longest rail journeys on the planet when I arrived in Beijing.
Sunlight finally filtered through the leaves, allowing my first glimpses of Lombok Island: lush tropical vegetation shaded the road and sparkling water flooded the rice fields. Our bemo--an Indonesian minibus--barreled down the mountainous road toward the port village Bangsal, from where my travel partner Toby and I would board the ferry to our ultimate destination: the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan. We were now quickly approaching the ocean, the scent of the fresh salty air giving it away. Our paradise island, and the promise of a relaxing vacation, lay just around the bend.Off the Northwest coast of Lombok, Indonesia, reside three small islands: Gili Meno, Gili Air, and Gili Trawangan. Since the 1980s international tourism in Gili Trawangan has increasingly replaced agriculture and fishing as the dominant economic activity. Now a popular tourist destination, this island is known for its clear water, coral reefs, and abundant sea life, excellent for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. Though only 2 km long, Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three tiny bodies of land. It provides the most tourist facilities and has the reputation of being the "party island" of the group. Budget travelers and tourists alike flock to the island to enjoy the affordable tropical paradise Indonesia is famous for. Toby and I had barely even set foot on ground in Bangsal when an enthusiastic group of locals flocked to our bemo with offers of private charter boats to the islands. We declined, opting instead to wait for more travelers with whom we could share the costs of the voyage. Having given up on us as easy prey, the crowd reluctantly returned to lazing away under the morning sun. By early afternoon, we had accrued an eclectic group of twelve adventurers from all corners of the globe, and together we set sail for Gili Trawangan. Forty-five minutes later our captain anchored the boat in the waist-deep waters near the beach, forcing us to wade into shore, backpacks balanced precariously over our heads. Apparently this was the usual method of disembarkation. On land, however, we received quite a reception, as what appeared to be half the island’s population greeted us with warm words and smiles. Moments later, without a word of encouragement on our part, a guide grabbed our baggage and whisked us away to find a losmen--a basic Indonesian accommodation. Various lodging options exist on Gili Trawangan, ranging from rustic huts on the beach to fancy hotels. Toby and I toured the whole island in search of the perfect hideaway, and we finally settled on a charming bamboo bungalow. The chairs on the small verandah facing the ocean were ideal for observing the pink and orange colors painting the dusk sky. A large mosquito net hung over our clean double bed and the connecting concrete bathroom had a shower. Later we found out it only spouted out seawater, and the result was a week of itchy salt-coated skin. Our host repeatedly assured us no other cottage on the island, save the expensive resort down the street, had fresh-water showers, a "fact" we should have investigated, since some of our companions lodging elsewhere managed to continually look as fresh as the tropical flowers outside their bungalow. But our losmen was secluded and we very much appreciated the serene atmosphere of the northern end of the island, in part due to our distance from the mosque. In a predominantly Muslim country, proximity to a wailing temple is always a consideration when scouting for quiet accommodation. While the morning calls to prayer are often haunting and beautiful, on this trip, I was eager to avoid bolting upright at dawn to these songs of the faithful.
Accepted as a state religion in Indonesia since the 15th and 16th centuries, Islam--the Arabic word for "submission"--is now the professed religion of 90% of the people who inhabit the archipelago. The religion was superimposed on Hinduism and indigenous beliefs, producing the unique hybrid that now predominates in Indonesia. Though a less orthodox form than that of many other Muslim countries, the same "Five Pillars of Islam" still exist: to submit themselves to Allah, to fast during the month of Ramadan, to give alms to the poor, to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, and to pray five times a day. These calls to prayer influence everyday life and can be heard throughout the day (usually from a cassette recording) summoning faithful Muslims to submit to their one true God. The calls are loud and clear, permeating every nook and cranny of the little village on Gili Trawangan.
The Indonesians are a generally tolerant breed of Muslim, differing mainly from many other sects by how much freedom they allow their women: they are not segregated from the men nor are they forced to wear jilbab--the traditional Muslim head covering for women. However, tradition is still strong, and if a man and woman are spotted together after dark and are unmarried, they are immediately escorted by the village people to the temple and are forced to exchange wedding vows. The Muslim women’s lives consist of an endless stream of household duties and they are seldom seen outside their homes unless engaged in domestic chores.
I awoke early on our first morning and decided to explore the island before breakfast. I quickly noticed that Gili Trawangan consists of little more than the village and the main tourist strip along the beach. This main drag has all a traveler could want: Internet cafes, secondhand bookshops, candlelit restaurants, cozy bars overlooking the water, and movie lounges. Ironically, squeezed in between these modern facilities are traditional family-owned warungs--little food stands--and diners that serve local dishes such as nasi goreng and gado gado.
I finally strolled onto the main square of the island, expecting it to be deserted at six in the morning, but I was surprised to find it busy with the hustle and bustle of a morning market. Boats were docked nearby, having delivered fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and fish from the main island of Lombok. Traditionally clad Muslim women, draped in brightly colored sarongs, bartered with conviction. Once their sales were completed, they carried away their purchases by delicately balancing the baskets on their heads, graceful despite their heavy burden.
Some women loaded their products onto cidomos, horse-drawn vehicles adorned with ribbons and bells that swayed and jingled to the animal’s gait. The horse was linked to the cart by wooden poles fastened to a harness made of a used tire, and the eye blinders were fabricated from a recycled Sprite bottle. Impressed with their innovative spirit, I was even more enchanted with their general attitude toward life: they are a relaxed, tolerant people, and are warm and gracious hosts of their land.
The days that followed passed blissfully as Toby and I settled on the beaches of Gili Trawangan. Ivory sand lined the coast, and palm trees swayed in the breeze, providing ample shade from the heat of the blazing tropical sun. Coral reef exploration took up whole afternoons as we followed multicolored fish on their search for food. We swam and played like dolphins, diving into schools of parrotfish to watch them scatter and regroup. Toby dove with a hawksbill turtle, and we both observed the wanderings of a large black eel.
We even snorkeled during a thunderstorm. While most visitors and locals dove for cover with the threat of approaching showers, Toby and I rushed to our bungalow to collect our gear. The warm rain poured over us as we explored the life below, calm and peaceful compared with the tempest above. We swam up to a boat anchored offshore and hung from the sides like monkeys, climbing on board and jumping off again. We reveled in the warmth of the sun and in the cleansing power of the Indonesian waters. We had adopted jam karat, a sort of "rubber time" illustrated in the relaxed Indonesian pace of life.
We rented our snorkeling equipment from the "Blue Marlin Dive Shop" in the center of the tourist strip. During the course of our stay on the island, the store proprietor often extended an invitation to their party on Friday night. Giving into their relentlessness, and to our curiosity, we finally accepted.
We arrived just after midnight and by then the party was in full swing, music heard blasting from afar. We walked through the doors and bumped into Sean, our perpetually intoxicated Irish friend who managed to articulate the following sentence: "It’s a sausage party in there. Enter at your own risk!" Having warned us, he staggered down the stairs, no doubt in search of fresh air.
Our curiosity piqued, Toby and I entered. With widening eyes we observed the scene before us: a sea of half clothed sweaty men on the dance floor, grinding to the beat of the techno music. It seemed to be the whole male population of the island, and the men easily outnumbered the women 20 to 1. The only ladies in the room were tourists, each surrounded by a group of admiring Indonesian men. Their women, bound by faith and domestic duty, stayed home. Within twenty minutes I’d seen enough and left Toby to fend for himself. The lack of tourism in Asia in recent years was apparent. What had no doubt been a vibrant party scene in the past was now reduced to a mere remnant of it.
I bought a flask of rum from the warung across the street and joined a lively group of people chatting under a bungalow. Some of them were fresh off the shuttle boat, while the island had claimed others for weeks, even months. I played bartender that night, fixing rum and cokes until the early morning hours. Some of the best conversations of my trip emerged from that night, as travelers from around the world shared their adventures and dreams.
The day came when Toby and I finally broke free of the island’s grasp. It had held us captive for far longer than anticipated, but we were happy to oblige. Prized as an unspoiled paradise island, Gili Trawangan delivered what it promised: striking white beaches, brilliant blue waters and coral reefs, friendly people still very much in tune with their beliefs and environment, and a wide range of accommodations and restaurants.
A perfect alternative to the expensive beach resorts many tourists opt for, this island offered affordable luxury, peace, and serenity, without sacrificing the Indonesian culture and spirit.