Monday, February 27, 2017

Nassau, Rose Island, Allen's & Norman's Cays

Well, on second thought maybe Nassau doesn't get its own post. Everything you'll hear about it is basically true. It's crowded and dirty, crime is a problem, much of it is crumbling and shambolic except for the faux-tropical parts that have been gussied up for the cruise ship passengers (of which there are too many) where there is little but jewelry stores and souvenir shops. From a boater's standpoint the marinas are fairly basic and expensive (except Atlantis which is deluxe and ridiculously expensive), and the anchorages are crowded and wake-ridden with fair-to-poor holding. But that said, the people are pretty friendly, there are good supermarkets and liquor stores for reprovisioning, the chandleries are well-stocked, there's a free dinghy dock with trash disposal and wifi (!), there's good cheap air service back to the States, and it's a convenient jumping-off point to Exuma. So all in all Nassau is a tolerable place to get stuff done and get out.


Unfortunately we ended up spending close to a week there, or at least Dawn did. We arrived the morning of Saturday Feb 18th to take advantage of a weather window and because Steve was flying out the 19th; we put Windbird in a marina and I flew to Atlanta on the 20th for some more medical appointments on the 21st and 22nd; and then we had to wait for a weather window on the 24th to cross to Exuma. But it all worked out rather nicely, as I'll relate below.

Regarding all these medical appointments - it's nothing serious. If you read my other blog you know I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease four years ago and have been on Remicade ever since. It kept me completely asymptomatic but beat down my immune system to the point that I was getting persistent skin, eye and ear infections. Finally my Minnesota gastroenterologist took me off Remicade late last year - just as I was transferring to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. So while I've been busy preparing the boat and now starting to cruise, I've also been busy getting to know a new team of caregivers, undergoing various tests, and establishing a new care routine that keeps me asymptomatic and able to work and sail with minimal side effects. I'm now on a drug called Stelara, with which I will inject myself every 8 weeks (instead of going to a hospital for an infusion as with Remicade - way more boat-friendly). I'm also seeing a dermatologist and ophthalmologist to clear up the lingering effects of my time on Remicade. Obviously actively cruising in another country presents some significant scheduling challenges, but so far everyone at Emory has been enormously accommodating (if a little bemused over my unique requests). My next appointments are on March 24th, which coincides with my parents flying out of Georgetown, my next FAA physical examination, and a 4-day trip I've bid to reset my landing currency and replenish the cruising kitty.

While I was in Atlanta I stayed with our friends Kevin & Jeannie Heine. Kevin is a Delta MD88 captain who was my training partner when I was a newhire; we've since become good friends and they've been on sailing trips with us twice before. While there, I discovered that Kevin had the next two weeks off work and they were belatedly deciding where to travel, which was an unbelievable coincidence since our friends Brad and Amber had just canceled their own visit to Windbird in early March (they're still hoping to make it in early April). So with the V-berth free, I proposed that Kevin and Jeannie fly to Nassau in two days time and stay with us until March 6th, when they'll fly out of Staniel Cay. And that's what they decided to do.


Kevin & Jeannie landed in Nassau on Thursday and showed up at Harbour Club Marina just before noon - right in the nick of time as I was preparing to take Windbird off the dock before the stern current made that too tricky of a maneuver. We repositioned to Rose Island, a few miles east and a world away from Nassau. We tucked behind the reef in the north anchorage there but it was still quite choppy and rolly all night. At least we got in some great snorkeling on the reef and a few nice walks ashore.


Friday morning we were anchor up at 9am and soon headed southeast amid an entire flotilla of boats that had been holed up in Nassau all week. Among these were Bret and Teresa on Elusive, whom we had met in Great Harbour Cay and ended up docking next to at Harbour Club. The wind was initially out of the west at 12-15 knots and we got in several hours of sailing before it faded; we motorsailed the last three hours. The dreaded Yellow Banks turned out to be a rather easy obstacle: we never saw less than 13' at midtide and the coral heads were widely scattered and easily seen and avoided. We entered Allens Cay just after 3pm and found the main anchorage quite crowded already. I didn't even bother trying to find a spot to anchor on the shallow margins, and instead tiptoed over the shallow bar into the deep channel just west of the main anchorage. There were a few Bahamian workboats anchored there, but just north of them we found a nice spot with good holding. As the day went on a few other boats anchored in the same channel, but not too close.


Dawn and I launched the dinghy, loaded up Piper, and went looking for a spot to take him potty. You aren't supposed to take your dog to Leaf or SW Allens Cays because they are home to endangered Exuma Iguanas - but there were no landable beaches on any of the other cays except for a small one on the main Allens Cay, and it had iguanas on it. At last we just went around to the backside of Leaf Cay where there was a nice beach with no iguanas visible, had Piper do his business, cleaned up after him, and scooted him back to the boat. No beach time for the pup here, which is one reason we only stayed one night.

With Piper back on the boat, Kevin & Jeannie joined us on the dinghy and we visited the front side of Leaf Cay, which was positively overrun with iguanas. We had heard these ones could be aggressive, and indeed one ran up to Jeannie and bit her on the finger. No major damage done, though. There were quite a few cruisers on the beach, including Chris and Ariel, a couple on a Morgan 44 "S/V Someday" who we had met in the Berries along with their cute dog Zoey. They have the Nautical Dream YouTube channel that looks pretty good though I haven't had bandwidth to watch much yet. We invited them back to the boat for sundowners and chatted till late after dark.


The next morning Kevin, Jeannie and I dinghied over to Flat Rock Reef to snorkel. At first glance it was disappointing - more scattered coral heads than an organized reef system. But as I snorkeled back into deeper water, I found quite a bit of good stuff with a ton of fish. Once we got back to the boat we raised anchor and made our way gingerly through several cuts and a couple shallow areas to the Exuma Sound. It was about the same distance to Norman's Cay as going via the banks, and with no wind to occupy us sailing, we decided to try our hand fishing. We fished a green & yellow ballyhoo on about 80 feet of 80# test from a Cuban yoyo setup, trolled at 5.5 knots under power between the 80- and 100-foot contours. I got a few probable nibbles and one definite strike, but no bites until a few miles south of Norman's Cay cut. At first as I started reeling it in, it felt like something small...and then it started to fight HARD! It made a run to starboard, so Dawn slowed down and turned the boat to port to keep the fish on my side - and then the line went virtually slack. I thought I lost it, but as I reeled it in I could see a limp fish at the end of my line...and a much bigger fish still following closely behind! I stopped reeling for a bit to see if I could tempt the monster with its now-dead prey, but no such luck - it lost interest and dropped behind. So our hour of trolling yielded about 60 seconds of excitement and a small bonito with a good chunk out of it.

Norman's Cay Cut is fairly narrow but easily followed as it is quite distinct from the shallows on either side. We came in about an hour after low tide and there was already quite a current running onto the banks. We snuck across a 7' spot and anchored towards the west side of the channel in about 10 feet of water with lots of room to swing. It was a gorgeous anchorage - the only downside was nearby excavating equipment apparently working 24/7 to dig a channel to the new marina being built just east of the airport. Speaking of the airport, I landed my Piper Pacer here (and Kevin landed his rented Cherokee) two years ago. Pretty cool to be back by boat. It's a gorgeous anchorage and we were near the most picturesque little cay with a sandbar awash at low tide and a memorial bench on its bushy hillock. Soon after arrival we piled in the dinghy to check it out, and I visited it with Piper several more times over the next couple days.

OK - sorry for the long post, I'm going to end it here & resume in a day or two. We haven't had reliable internet access since Nassau (and there only by going to Starbucks) so I'm a bit behind. I'll update this post with photos tomorrow (Tuesday), if the internet here in Warderick Wells stays usable.

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