Ins and Outs

A boat is just a moderately slow island.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had the chance to appreciate the similarities between living on a boat and on a small remote island. Life in either environment requires management of a fairly basic set of resources. Food, water, fuel and supplies/parts are key inputs — and all are in limited supply, expensive, and available irregularly and infrequently.

Like some boats, many islands (including Staniel Cay) have their own reverse-osmosis water plant powered by either electricity (locally generated from diesel fuel) or solar power. Andante does not have a water maker so I lug 10 gallons (80 lbs) of water from shore every few days.

Trash and sewage accumulates and generates bugs and smells on both boat and island if not regularly offloaded, buried, burned, or otherwise dealt with. I did not see any evidence of recycling in the central Exumas but did find myself anchored downwind of the dump on several occasions. Based on the number of derelict cars and machinery strewn about the islands I expect the cost of shipping waste off the island is prohibitive.

Visiting boaters deal with these resource issues as best they can knowing they will eventually relocate to somewhere else where food and supplies are plentiful and water is free and poop disappears down a pipe never to be thought of again. But the islanders have to live with these constraints all the time. The friendly laid-back nature and great patience of the out-island Bahamians seems a perfect coping mechanism for the many things they cannot control.

Food and fuel for both boat and island depend on regular mailboat and tanker deliveries. Fuel (especially gasoline) and certain supplies and foods (especially fresh stuff) can quickly become scarce when weather or mechanical difficulties prevent the arrival of the weekly mailboat. Here a mailboat is preparing to offload supplies (including food and liquor but also cars, building materials and propane tanks) at the government dock on Staniel Cay. Always best to shop the day after a mailboat comes!
The east-facing Atlantic beaches collect a substantial amount of plastic waste including fishing gear and packing materials from commercial ships. The biggest chunks are often collected (sometimes by visiting cruisers) and piled up for eventual removal. By whom? To where? I don’t know. The small bits most easily ingested by wildlife will persist in the soil for a long time.
Osprey nest on White Point partially built from plastic trash.
It is very expensive to move heavy equipment to a small island for a building project. And if that piece of equipment fails or becomes obsolete it must be similarly expensive to remove it. Here just off Samson Cay is seems somebody decided this front-end loader was of no further use and would make a nice artificial reef. It is far enough from shore to be certain it didn’t get here under its own power. And it was a really strange thing to come across underwater in an otherwise barren area.
On Andante I collect trash and dispose of it ashore when possible. In the Black Point settlement a trailer is provided to boaters by the community for trash drop-off for a small donation. Unfortunately these small islands don’t have the ability to deal with large quantities of trash other than by burying it or burning it. Not sure what happens to on-island sewage. Probably septic tanks. On the boat sewage gets manually pumped overboard when well away from land.

Oven Rock and Little Farmers Cay

Close but far away.

Some days ago we sailed a few hours south to Little Farmers Cay, a small island with minimal services that has not yet been fully corrupted by tourists and comfort-seeking cruisers. I hesitated to make the trip because this can be a tricky area to approach in a deep-draft boat. In the end I decided to anchor Andante far away and dinghy in to avoid the shallows and strong currents. We found a nice spot in the lee of Great Guana Cay about 1.5 miles north of Little Farmers and just north of Oven Rock.

Oven Rock is a big chunk sitting by itself on the beach of Great Guana Cay. The rock has an almost rectangular hollow in the western face that does make it sort of resemble an oven. Our reason for visiting wasn’t the rock but a very pleasant hike across the island with a stop in a cool cave in the middle. There is a freshwater pool in the cave that is supposed to be swimmable and diveable. I did neither but did enjoy the cool air and the intricate rock formations. The view of Exuma Sound was pretty spectacular from the rocky windward beach.

Then I took dinghy another mile or so south to Little Farmers Cay. First stop was the Farmers Cay Yacht club to look around and take a long walk. The only connection to town from the yacht club requires walking the length of the 3000 ft runway — but the runway is open on three sides to beautiful blue water so it was a very enjoyable walk to nowhere. At the southern end I turned around and walked back, then used dinghy to go a little further south to the cute and quiet government dock that was swarming with sea turtles. No throngs of tourists or visiting cruisers here — yet — which makes the whole place feel more remote than it really is. Which is just fine with me.

Dinghy at Oven Rock, Great Guana Cay, Exumas. The “oven” is on the opposite face of the rock so nothing to see here. Move along.
View from the top of the hill on the hike across Great Guana. Exuma Sound is on the right. There is a small, shallow lagoon with a nice white sand beach fed by breaking waves from the sound.
Inside the spooky cave. The water is fresh and very clear and the ceiling and floor are covered with interesting formations. I didn’t see any bats.
The Farmers Cay Yacht Club is a tiny laid-back place with one of the nicest dinghy docks I’ve run across.
Dinghy at Farmers Cay Yacht Club.
Walking the runway. It is long, straight, mostly flat, and not at all smooth. I didn’t see anyone land during our visit — and I was definitely looking over my shoulder — but understand the runway is used regularly by private planes and charters.
Little Harbor on Little Farmers Cay inshore of the government dock. Much evidence of fishing and conching activity. At lunchtime there were locals sleeping in hammocks tied to pilings on the docks. Very peaceful.

Here and There and Back Again

Lots of random movement. And lots of sunshine.

For the past week or so I’ve been moving almost daily from island to island in the central Exumas. The weather has been nice with consistent easterly trade winds that allow easy north and south sailing. All of this movement has been within a day’s sail of Staniel Cay and Big Majors Spot and I’m starting to think of this area as home. The anchorage is roomy and protected and its easy to get fuel, water and food — so I keep coming back after spending a few days away in quieter, more secluded spots.

The Black Point settlement on Great Guana Cay (just a few miles south of Staniel Cay) has a great natural harbor and some nice facilities for cruisers including a couple of restaurants, a small grocery store and possibly the most scenic laundromat anywhere. This is the government dock and dinghy landing.
Clearly conching is a local industry. There were hundreds of shells on the beach near the government dock.
Black Point is known for their boat builders and sailors. This one is called “Smashie.”
Just opposite the harbor there are some dramatic rock formations in Exuma Sound. This is the windward side of the island and the surf was pretty intense.
Cool blowhole I understand the spray is much taller at high tide.
One of several green turtles that hung out around Andante while anchored in Black Point.
A bit further south is White Point. No settlement here but a huge and gorgeous beach that was great for walking.
At the end of the white sand beach the rock was particularly jagged and sharp.
Back at Bitter Guana Cay in a small cove a little south of Iguana Beach. One of my favorite anchorages so far. Will be back soon.
Andante in a small cove on Bitter Guana Cay. I like the contrast between the shallow Exuma Bank and the deep Exuma Sound.
No sharks. But cool ripples on a windy day.
Today we sailed north to a nice snorkeling spot near Soldier’s and O’Briens Cays in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. Probably the clearest water yet. And some giant sea turtles.
Fishy fishy fishy fish.
Beware discount airlines.

Bitter Guana Cay

I’m not sure what the ‘guanas are bitter about. This place is gorgeous.

The island is a protected habitat for endangered iguanas. Most are 2-3 feet long. They generally move around pretty slowly but I’ve been surprised at how fast they can scamper when something exciting is happening.
The island has some pretty tall (and seemingly fragile) limestone cliffs. The view from the top is pretty spectacular, both on the protected (west) side facing the bank and on the windward side facing Exuma Sound.
This guy was pretty curious about the camera. I learned yesterday (via a friend with first-hand experience) that they will bite if you try to feed them by hand.
We are less than 3 miles from the settlement at Staniel Cay (top of the photo) but the little anchorage feels very isolated. Exactly what I was looking for.

Not sure how long I will stay here. For the first time in a while the weather is not pushing me in any particular direction. I may just stay put for a while and enjoy the environment for a while. I’ve found a few little patch reefs that I’d like to explore this afternoon. Will take the camera with me and try to share what I find underwater.

Shroud Cay to Staniel Cay

Wifi is a first-world problem. But its still a problem.

It has been tough to find a solid internet connection for the past several days. I’m not really complaining but have felt guilty about not posting anything for a while. Sometimes WordPress works over a weak cell connection and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, its been blowing like stink for almost a week and today is the first chance I’ve had to get ashore to an establishment with a fair internet connection. I’ll keep it short and let the photos speak for themselves.

After leaving Highbourne Cay we spend a couple of days in the lee of Shroud Cay, one of several islands within the Exumas Cays Land and Sea Park. The island is riddled with mangrove-lined creeks and little passages that lead to shallow internal basins and some beautiful sandy beaches. Dinghy and I did some exploring and saw lots of fish and rays and a few sharks. Very few birds.
There is a big contrast between the flour-sand beaches and the razor sharp coral rock. Next time I’ll remember my shoes. Andante is the distant white blotch in the center of the picture. You can tell from the clouds in these pictures that some weather was coming. We didn’t stay long as there was no protection here from the north or west.
Shroud Cay, like Highbourne, is readily accessible from Nassau by large fast motoryachts. So even with weather closing in there was no shortage of big boats full of loud people.
We had a fantastic six-hour sail south to Staniel Cay. We are actually anchored just west of Staniel near Big Majors Spot, famous for its beach of swimming pigs. The anchorage (known and charted as “Bay of Pigs”) has a good-holding sand bottom and is reasonably protected from most directions. The water is crystal clear and every now and then a shark or a ray will swim by. We chose to ride out the storm here — and we did fine.
Although it was still blowing 30+ at Andante’s anchorage, Dinghy and I were able to find some small sheltered beaches to explore. We also went ashore on Staniel Cay and walked around the small town and filled our fuel and water jugs and bought some local bread and vegetables.
Yes there are really pigs on the beach. I didn’t see any swimming but then I didn’t bring any food to taunt them with.
The Staniel Cay Yacht Club is a gorgeous spot that is welcoming to cruisers of all styles. They provide a nice beach to land on, have fuel and water for sale and will take your trash for a few dollars per bag. And wonderful fast free wifi — I’m writing this while sitting at their bar.
Finally and just in case you think its all fun and games… The diaphragm in Andante’s fresh water pressure pump decided to retire without notice. I didn’t have an exact spare but was able to fabricate a temporary replacement from some scrap rubber. It works OK for now but probably won’t last long.

Its hard to guess when I’ll have good wifi again so this may be the last post for a while. The plan for the next week or so is to head from Staniel Cay / Big Majors towards the settlement at Black Point a few hours south. Along the way I’m hoping to find some secluded anchorages and do a little snorkeling while the weather is nice.