Sunday, May 25, 2014

The One Finger Wave

After Warderick Wells Cay and the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park we move north to Highborne Cay where we anchored for a couple of nights to wait for the wind to die down a little.  Highborne Cay is a popular jumping off point from the Exumas to Nassau or the Eleuthera Islands.  Motivator was headed for Spanish Wells north of Eleuthera.

The most direct way to Spanish Wells is through Current Cut.  The guidebooks do a good job of scaring many cruisers away from this route, but it is actually very easy to predict the current.  When the tide is flowing on to the banks, the current is east bound.  An ebb tide produces a west bound current.  Motivator picked up 5 knots through the cut!

Spanish Wells inhabitants are descendants of Loyalist who fled the colonies during the American Revolution and English puritans who arrived in 1648.  Their accent is unique to the island, not quite British, Bahamian, or American.  They have been quite successful at fishing.  If you go to a Red Lobster Restaurant in the US, you are probably eating a lobster tail shipped from Spanish Wells.

Spanish Wells is the only Methodist island in the Bahamas.  Due to the Methodist influence, it was a “dry island” for years.  That policy is slowly eroding and now Budda, proprietor of Budda’s Liquor Store, actually has a license to sell alcohol from the tiny room on the side of his house.

Out on the point at the eastern cut there is a new restaurant/bar that opened within the last year.  Shipyard was doing a booming business the night we had dinner there.  Talking to Jay, the bartender, we learned that as a new establishment they are being very careful so as not to give the more conservative residents a reason to complain.  

Spanish Wellsians, while a very independent lot, band together for the common good.  When they wanted a better grocery store and pharmacy they combined resources to build Food Fair, one of the better grocery stores in the Bahamas.

Cruiser friends invited us to join them for dinner on the front porch of one of the local homes.  It turned out the chef was the part owner and chef on a lobster boat, the Cracker Prince.  Thursday evenings, when he is not lobstering, he cooks for guests.

For more casual dining there is Budda’s Snack Shack.  It is a bus converted to a kitchen that turns out one of the better hamburgers I have ever had.  Fast food restaurants will have a difficult time making inroads on Spanish Wells.

 Golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation on the island.  Everyone seems to have one.  The golf cart repair shop is a thriving business.

Bicycles and scooters run a close second to golf carts, however our circus bikes still received stares.  At The Gap, our favorite breakfast place, I started to lock our bicycles but then notice that the mopeds and golf carts all had the keys left in the ignition.

Spanish Wells is probably the most crime free place on the planet.  Building materials are left unlocked at the hardware store.  When I asked locals about crime, they all said my house is not locked and you can leave your wallet on the street and someone will return it to you. 

 Rental cottage on the beach

Tourism has not found Spanish Wells.  Yes, there are a few rentals and a limited number of cruisers find their way to the island, but the locals still outnumber the tourists.  That is not to say the residents are not friendly.  Almost every passing golf cart driver raised their index finger to wave at us.

By the time we left, Pollie said I had perfected the Spanish Wells one finger wave.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Replay Value

Warderick Wells Cay North Mooring Field

Certain movies like Captain Ron, with Kurt Russel you can watch more than once.  Other movies like Cut Throat Island, with Geena Davis are hard to sit through the first time.  We say movies like Captain Ron have “replay value.”  Islands are the same way.  Some you want to visit more than once, while others not so much.

One place that certainly has replay value for us is the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.  Fifty years-ago, a twenty-two mile stretch of the Exuma Cays was set aside as a reserve.  It is a no-take zone, meaning no fishing, shelling, conching, or lobstering is allowed within the park boundaries.

It seems most of the park’s creatures know the rules.  The lizard above was happy to pose for the camera.  On previous trips we saw huge lobsters waving their antenna as us as if to say, “Niener-niener-niener, you can’t touch me!”

                                                           Source: Wikipedia

We even had a visit by one of the island’s hutia at a beach cocktail party.  You are not supposed to feed the wildlife, but the little guy we saw appeared to be accustomed to begging food from cruisers.

While we did not seem to intimidate the park’s smaller creatures, some of the larger ones intimidated us.  I was attaching the dinghy’s towing harness to the lower pad eyes, when Pollie noticed we had a visitor.  Please note how close the pad eyes are to the water.  The shark swam around inspecting our towing harness, but then lost interest when I was no longer sticking my hands in the water.

Hiking the well-marked trails on Warderick Wells is always an adventure.

We did find out, however that their estimation for the length of time a trail will take is a little on the optimistic side.  Evidently they had timed a mountain goat making his way around.

 Pollie found the hike exhilarating.

While I found a bench perfect for communing with nature while enjoying a cold beer which Pollie carried for me in her backpack. 

This outfit should scare the sharks away!

It is a land and sea park.  Besides hiking trails the park boasts great areas to snorkel.  A variety of sea life can be observed, and near Cambridge Cay they have their own sunken drug plane.

The crew of Izzy R told us about a feature not on the official park snorkel guides.  A sunken wreck between moorings number 9 and 10 in the north mooring field.  That was handy because we were assigned mooring number 9.

The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park definitely has replay value!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pink, Blue and Yellow Stores

Motivator’s next stop after The Marina at Emerald Bay was Staniel Cay (cay is pronounced key) for light provisioning.  Almost everything in the Bahamas is imported, so there are shipping costs and stiff import taxes added to all products.  We therefore try to bring everything we will need especially snack foods and toiletries which seem to be very pricey

From Emerald Bay to Staniel Cay we elected to travel on the “outside” because the wind was out of the west.  After two years in the Caribbean easterly trade winds, wind out of the west seemed strange.  Throughout the Bahamas shallow draft boats usually have the choice between traveling in the protected water of the banks, dodging skinny spots and coral heads, or cruising outside in the exposed deep water.

Pigs receiving restaurant scraps

The first night Motivator anchored on the east side of Big Majors Spot. The next morning the wind started clocking back around north to east.  We then moved to the west side of Big Majors Spot off “Swimming Pigs Beach.”  The first time we were here, we took our dinghy over to the beach, only to discover that the swimming feral pigs are rather large and somewhat aggressive.  Pollie says, “They have stinking breathe, big gnashing teeth and huge gaping maws!”

In the Caribbean where we were usually the only motor yacht in the anchorage. At Big Majors Spot we counted nine motor yachts.  The “stink boats” outnumbered the “rag hangers.”

The only provisions we really needed were salad supplies, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Of the three, lettuce is usually the hardest to find in the islands.  We elected to start with the “yellow store” which is best approached by dinghy.  At approximately 800 square feet (two car garage), it is the largest of the three stores.  On the way there, we passed Tida Wave, one of the winning Bahamian sloops at the Family Islands Regatta in George Town.  The “yellow store” was a strikeout on lettuce.

The other two stores have to be approached from land.  It is best to park the dinghy at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and walk the coast road to the “pink and blue” stores.  On the way there, we discovered that we had missed the local farmers market by only a couple of days.

Signage for the stores is somewhat lacking, but we knew the way from previous visits to Staniel Cay. 

The “blue store” comprises of about 600 square feet with one cooler and one chest type deep freeze.  We were pleased to find the “blue store” was under the next generation of management.  It was cleaner, better stocked, and prices were clearly marked.  It had lettuce!

With our lettuce in hand, we skipped the “Pink Pearl Super Market.”  Last time we visited the prices were not marked and at checkout the total was exorbitant.  Also, the pot smoking grandmother at the cash register tried to short change us.  We did notice that her house had been restored.  Last time, two years ago, she announced they were waiting for money from the “government” to repair hurricane damage. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

No Reservations Required

Marina at Emerald Bay, Bahamas

Motivator’s crew seldom makes reservations at a marina.  We usually just show up and expect the marina of our choice to have a slip available for us.  So far we haven’t been turned away.  When we arrived at Emerald Bay, the dock master gave us directions to D-dock and then told us to pick an empty slip.

Port Louis Marina, Grenada

The only exception has been Port Louis Marina in Grenada.  Port Louis also has an abundance of empty slips, but they only have one dock that meets Motivator’s power requirements, and it fills up with other U.S. boats.

Ocean World Marina, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Most marinas stick to a pricing schedule that would make one assume that they have to turn away business.  At Ocean World Marina we were a little miffed at their deteriorating facilities and creative new revenue streams.  They were “estimating” power and water charges and adding a 10% “Dock Tax” to the bill.

Puerto Bahia, Samana, Dominican Republic

Puerto Bahia Marina was one of the few marinas that appeared to be adjusting their pricing to reality by actually reducing slip fees.  It seems developers jumped on a marina study done in 2005-2006 that predicted a shortage of boat slips.  Then, new boat sales were increasing by 38% per year so the thinking was that people were going to need a place to park them.  And then there was that little problem in 2008.

I was discussing empty marinas wanting high slip fees with Bob on Tide Hiker, and he asked this interesting question.  “Why don’t marinas price slips like airlines price seats?”  It is the same principle.  Once that aircraft takes off with an empty seat that is lost revenue that will not be recovered.  A boat slip that sits empty overnight is also lost revenue.  It would be easy enough to hand Mr. & Mrs. Cruiser a rate sheet that says if we are 40% occupied the rate is X, 60% is XX, and 80% is XXX.  Airlines do it, but they are sneaky about it.

Unfinished power cabling

The marina pricing subject came up with Tide Hiker’s crew when I mentioned we were stopping at Emerald Bay for a few days.  Bob looked at me strangely and said at $2.00 a foot, that place does not have enough to offer.  I agreed and assured him that Motivator’s crew is usually only comfortable in the $1.00 a foot range or less.  I then explained D-dock at Emerald Bay.  Because the cabling was not finished before the last bankruptcy, they only charge $1.00 a foot on D-dock.

Let me see if I have this straight?  It is $2.00 a foot for the opportunity to buy power from them at an outrageous rate, or you can run your generator and pay $1.00 a foot.  In Motivators case I think I can run a generator when I need to, cheaper than $49 per day.  But, that is just one of Emerald Bay’s unique features.  Surge is the other issue.

Seawall at Emerald Bay

Frank Lloyd Wright once said that an architect’s greatest tools are sometimes an eraser and a sledge hammer.  In Emerald Bay’s case it might take a few sticks of dynamite.  To facilitate all of the condos planned for around the marina, the developer poured concrete seawalls encapsulating the bay.  Swell from the northeast or east enters the bay and has no place to go but to bounce off the seawalls.  A natural beach would be a wonderful improvement.  

Port Zante Marina, St. Kitts (Reasonable at $.75 per foot)

We really do wish the marinas of the Caribbean and the Bahamas well.  While we are very comfortable anchoring out, it is nice to be able to pop into a marina occasionally for repairs or provisioning without worrying about spending the retirement savings in one spot.