We have been waiting for the arrival of some spare parts for our Mastervolt generator which will be flown in to Staniel Cay in the Exuma island group of the Bahamas. The package is coming in on a small charter plane, Watermakers Air, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Distant Shores II anchored off Thunderball Cave at Staniel Cay
There have been delays with the shipment so we've been hanging out at Staniel Cay longer than we'd planned but it is a great place to be with lots to do and see despite being a small settlement with a population of a couple of hundred people. Not a bad place to be delayed.
The Farmers Market at Staniel Cay
The Exumas are a 120-mile-long island chain-within-the-chain of the Bahamas Out Islands, strewn like a string of pearls extending north toward New Providence from Great Exuma. With the clear aquamarine water of the banks to the west and the deep sapphire water of the sound the water colours are the most stunning you have ever seen.
The cottages at Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Nurse sharks hover beneath the fish cleaning station hoping for goodies.
Staniel Cay, although small, is a hub in the Exumas. Centrally located it is a good base to explore the islands to north and south. Staniel Cay Yacht Club is a gathering place for boaters, both power and sail as well as private pilots who fly in to the landing strip and stay in the club's cottages. There are other cottages, hotels, boutique resorts and also villas for rent in Staniel Cay. A couple of other restaurants too.
Taste and Sea Cafe, Staniel Cay
Rental at some of the cottages includes a small boat for getting out to the attractions on the surrounding cays. One of these is the grotto called Thunderball Cave since a scene from the James Bond movie, Thunderball, was filmed here. The cave is full of fish and to add to the beauty streams of light filter in from the ceiling overhead.
Sheryl surrounded by fish in Thunderball Cave
“Pig Beach” on Big Major Spot, the next cay to the north, is another favourite anchorage where you can feed the swimming pigs - the most unusual marine life!
One of the swimming pigs at Big Major Spot, Staniel Cay
On July 4th, American Independence Day, Staniel Cay Yacht Club put on a special dinner, party and fireworks that we attended with fellow cruising sailors.
It was a beautiful evening with so many attending they put tables all down the dock – Paradise for boaters!
In the summer there are more powerboats than sailboats and some of them such as Party Girl pictured below are pretty impressive!
When the atmosphere gets overly festive and you feel like finding a quiet place, it's just a 40 minute sail up to Pipe Creek, a collection of little cays with ribbons of blue water where you can anchor surrounded by sparkling sand bars.
Our favourite spot is in a shallow bay off Thomas Cay in Pipe Creek where we this week we filmed a couple of segments for a new how-to video we are producing about anchoring. It will be released at the end of the summer.
Anchored off Thomas Cay in Pipe Creek
We'd love to know what your top two concerns about anchoring are? We want to be sure we're covering everything a new boater should understand about anchoring as well as techniques that experienced sailors would like to brush up on. Please send us an email. We value your comments.
July 10th is the Bahamas' Independence Day and there will be more festivities to enjoy here. Hopefully our package will have arrived by then so that we can continue north to the Abaco island group, our next destination...
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Musha Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Following the festivities of the Long Island Regatta in the Bahamas in early June (see previous newsletter) Paul and I sailed back to George Town, Great Exuma, to wait for the arrival of friend Kuno Kurschner flying in from Vancouver, Canada, to join us for a few days of sailing together before we head north this weekend.
George Town has an international airport so it's a great place to have friends and/or crew fly in to meet you right in the heart of what we consider the world's most beautiful cruising and diving destinations.
Currently (June 2014) there are direct flights from Toronto to George Town via Air Canada on Sundays which for us Torontonians is fantastic but there are also great links from the USA from major hubs and several airlines and small charter companies fly here as well so there are lots of options. Many Europeans find the Exumas a pretty easy to reach too. Click here for more information about flights to George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas.
Right in the main harbour there are several beautiful natural anchorages off Stocking Island, Crab Cay and others but with easy dinghy access to the shops, restaurants, and many services found in George Town.
Within minutes of meeting Kuno at the airport and settling him onto the boat, a friendly dolphin appeared and Kuno started his visit aboard Distant Shores II with a magical half-hour in-water dolphin encounter. Paul has had fun playing with this dolphin and has filmed her playing with people and dogs on previous visits to George Town. (See newsletter.) You'll see the footage in episode #122 of Distant Shores season 10.
Paul and Kuno Kurschner at the helm of Distant Shores II
Kuno and his family cruised in the Caribbean and Bahamas several years ago aboard their sailboat, SV Blue Moon. His wife, Renata, kept a really good blog called “Once on a Blue Moon – Travels Around the World” that you will find interesting if you're planning a similar voyage.
After a day in George Town doing some more snorkeling at the Mystery Cave in Hurricane Hole 3 close to the Chat and Chill Beach Bar, a cruiser's favourite, we had a lovely downwind sail north in the sound up north to Rudder Cut Cay where we entered the banks and later anchored off Cave Cay for the night.
Next day we motor-sailed back south on the banks to Lee Stocking Island on the banks side of the Exumas looking for sand bars where we could dry out the boat to inspect the cutlass bearing which needed adjusting. But with the large moon tides we couldn't find a spot that would dry out sufficiently to beach the boat for a long enough time so anchored at Lee Stocking Island off the abandoned marine research centre.
Sangria sundowners aboard SV Distant Shores II anchored off Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas
The day before Kuno was to fly home we continued south on the shallow banks side of the Exumas to Barreterre (pronounced locally as Barry Tarry) at the north end of Great Exuma where we re-entered the sound for a close-reach back to George Town to see Kuno safely back to the airport for his flight home to Vancouver.
Dive on Angelfish Blue Hole
To conclude our own visit to George Town, Great Exuma, the last one for this season, we organized a scuba diving outing with Dive Exuma, the local dive operator in George Town, to do a dive to 90-feet into the Angelfish Blue Hole. You can snorkel over the entrance in Hurricane Hole #3 between Kevalli House Marina and Cottages and the St. Francis Resort and see the many fish that hang out there but Paul wanted to get down into the caverns to film the experience for an episode of Distant Shores season 10.
An hour to an hour and a half after high tide is the best time to dive here, Dive Exuma manager Tamara McGaw-Robinson told us. The water in the blue hole is flowing out of the hole at this time so when the current picks up you will be forced out, not in, to the tunnels that run under Stocking Island. (The flow of water in the blue holes are different to the surrounding currents due to their configurations.) Also the water from the sound is extremely clear and full of nutrients that attract many fish and often eagle rays so this is the best as well as safest time for diving, filming and seeing the most marine life. At other times of the tide the water is flowing from the sandy banks so the water is slightly murky and not as appealing to marine life plus the currents can be dangerous.
It's less than a 10-minute boat ride out to the dive site for the Angelfish Blue Hole which is in a very flat protected bay. The surrounding water is also quite shallow so is good for snorkeling too making this a great dive for all levels of divers, especially family groups where not everyone might be an advanced diver but everyone can have a fun diving experience together at the same location.
Paul descending into the Angelfish Bluehole, Stocking Island, Exumas, Bahamas
In fact, a new diver did training at the surface in 10-feet of water for her Open Water Dive Certification with dive instructor, Danielle Scott, while the rest of the group did the advanced bluehole dive right in the same place.
The dive in Angelfish Bluehole was an exhilarating dive with a small friendly group of divers visiting from Alabama. (They limit this dive to 4-6 divers due to the confined space in the bluehole). Paul had free-dived into the entrance at about 15-20 feet but was in heaven exploring the large cavern and tunnels further down using tanks.
There were indeed grey angelfish feeding on the sponges as well as many other fish such as this grouper.
Grouper at the entrance to the Anglefish Bluehole, Exumas, Bahamas
As the current started to build it became a real effort to move around the hole and dive master and boat captain, Jonathon Robinson, finally called an end to the dive which is about 45 minutes in length.
We are now back on board, Distant Shores II, stocking up the boat for our trip north through the Exumas to the Abacos.
Stay tuned for more adventures cruising in the Bahamas!
For the last week we have been anchored off Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbour at George Town getting caught up on writing, editing and boat maintenance projects. George Town is a good base for cruising the Exuma Island group of the Bahamas and is the main town with grocery stores, chandlery, banks, restaurants and marine facilities.
Despite it being a cruising centre there is a lot of natural beauty and getting off the boat to stretch our legs we have enjoyed beach walking and running as well as interesting snorkelling right in the harbour.
Here are some images from our outings...
The beach on Stocking Island is 3 km of white sand and you hardly see a soul here.
There are lots of walking trails on Stocking Island as well which are maintained by volunteers from the cruising community.
There are numerous colourful reefs in water shallow enough for snorkelling as well as deeper reefs for Scuba diving.
There are also shallow caves and blue holes like the Mystery Cave on Stocking Island where you can snorkel as well as scuba dive. Exuma Divers in George Town can supply all the gear you need for scuba diving and lead interesting dives to the blue holes and fantastic reefs in the area.
It’s crucial to watch the current when you’re diving around blue holes. Go at slack water so you don’t get sucked in!
You’ll find many schools of fish around blue holes such as these Spade Fish which are the size of dinner plates at the Mystery Cave on Stocking Island.
We have been anchored in George Town on Great Exuma in the Bahamas for a few days now. It feels like coming home! We have been here many times since our first visit in 1990, on our first trip south. It is a great harbour and as always is welcoming, friendly and fun!
This time we had a special treat as we have had a couple of encounters with a dolphin that visited us right in the anchorage!
This is a young female dolphin and she seems to enjoy swimming with us. Two days in a row she swam around the boat and nearby vicinity for over an hour.
She almost seemed to dance, swimming at our very slow human pace - always maintaining a discreet distance of a couple of feet. What an amazing feeling to swim up close to a large marine animal.
Our neighbours have a cute little Schipperke who is quite a good swimmer and really likes swimming with the dolphin as well!
Note this shot from down under the dolphin, you can also see the dog on the surface!
The dolphin came up close and Bella the Schipperke paddled madly along trying to catch up.
Bella is quite good at spotting the dolphin and immediately heads off in her direction.
Getting a bit tired (after swimming for an hour) Bella hitched a ride on her owner’s back, Peter from SV Freebird...
Watch Freebird’s YouTube video showing Bella and the dolphin playing together on another day.
What a special time to have a dolphin come and play! As sailors we know are very lucky to get such experiences!
Here is a weird story! (but its totally true and happened this week!)
A fisherman is out fishing on a sunny Caribbean day. He has a handline and 2 hooks with fish heads for bait. He is looking for a big fish.
After a while he feels a hard strike. This must be something big! He plays the fish... its HUGE! Perhaps he get a view of this beauty, almost three feet long. Looks like a very large snapper. But playing it for a while this large fish finally breaks away. Line snapped, bait and fish gone!!
Then what? That’s the last the fisherman knows - the one that got away!
Fast-forward a day or so (to yesterday)...
It’s a crystal blue sky day, where the turquoise water of the bay where we are anchored in the British Virgin Islands looks so inviting....
I grab my mask and snorkel, jump off the stern of Distant Shores II to swim to the nearby reef. But before I go I take a look at our hull and see what looks like a fishing line apparently wrapped around our propeller.
When I swim down to look I find a huge fish hiding behind our keel and prop. There is a hook in his mouth and a second hook with bait and sinker dangling from the first on 3 feet of line.
You can see the second baited hook hanging directly under the fish’s mouth.
He looks like a large dog snapper. They grow up to 2.5 feet. This one is full grown (comparing to our rudder just behind him).
He gets nervous with me there and swims forward to hide behind our keel. It’s tough to swim with a weighted hook dangling from his mouth... (don’t worry, this story has a happy ending!)
Hiding behind the keel...
Now perhaps the weirdest part of the story... how a lifting keel saved a dog snapper!
I swim down to check and he’s gone!
But no! He has found our keel housing, the place where our keel swings up into the bottom of the boat’s hull when we lift it. The cavity is 2.5 meters long and just wide enough for this large fish to slip inside. Here he is well up in the keel housing with the other baited hook still dangling out.
As he tries to back out from the keel well, he comes on the other side of the keel lifting pennant. So now the fish plus hook, line and sinker is tangled around our keel mechanism. Who would dream this could ever happen?
But it finally gives him something to pull on and he pulls out the hook!
The last I see is him swimming away free - you can see the second hook dangling on the left... (told you there was a happy ending)
Now there is one hook, bait and sinker dangling from the keel, and another hook caught around our keel mechanism!
So today’s boat project is to clear out the tangle.
Imagine if I hadn’t seen all this unfold... We’d lift the boat for a haul out/bottom painting, and find a fishing lure and line wrapped around our keel?! How the heck did that happen??
Since I was carrying one of our underwater video cameras, all this is recorded and will be featured in Season 10 of the Distant Shores Television series. Check out some of our other adventures on DVD and download at www.distantshores.ca
Paul & Sheryl
Aboard Distant Shores II, BVI
He was cruising the reef and we got to swim with him for more than half an hour!
Its about 4 meters deep here. Sheryl comes to take a look.
He was browsing on the bottom and got used to me being around.
He went back to biting away at corals on the reef.
Investigating the camera on the tripod... is it edible?
Going up to take a breath - only once every ten minutes or so.
Such a privilege to see an animal like this in the wild!
Enjoying the reef.... All around the bay is nice snorkelling in clear water. No swells so it is good for beginners too.
The reef right behind the boat has some great fish and very clear water. This is a trumpetfish.
Trumpetfish hang still and pretend they are waving corals...
Here’s a Porcupinefish - a member of the Pufferfish family. He’s about half a meter long.
A "Scrawled Filefish". We have only seen these a few times in all our years of diving. They grow up to almost 3 feet long. This fellow is over 2 feet long.
Sheryl swims in a school of silversides.
I dive down under the boat. This is a different anchorage - deep water at about 18 meters to the bottom.
Enjoying the reef.