Nargana, Our Visit To The “Big City”

After our friend Karen headed back home, Scott and I decided to head over to the “big city” of Nargana. On the morning net, we regularly hear cruisers mention stopping at the larger, more populated island for fresh produce, water and other items. At only an hour or so from our anchorage in the Coco Bandero Cays, we thought it was time to check out Nargana for ourselves.

One of several larger and more populated islands in the San Blas archipelago, Nargana is joined to the neighboring island of Corazon de Jesus by a covered, concrete bridge. Here’s an overhead view.

Being a “big city,” we were greeted by a sizable cell phone tower, but unfortunately I still struggled with a decent signal (what are these stupid towers made of??)

Not long after we had anchored, a local man stopped by in his ulu. Frederico lives on the island, and offered his help with anything we may need during our stay. His primary income comes from offering laundry service, but thankfully we have a machine here on board. After chatting with Scott a bit, Frederico told Scott where to land the dinghy when we went in for groceries, and then made his way back to shore.

Never meeting a river he didn’t like to explore, Scott took off the next morning to see what the nearby Rio Diablo river had in store (I stayed behind, to fight with the maddening, in-explainable internet service). He found the usual thick jungle-lined shorelines, but also discovered several graveyards through the trees.

Toward the end of his exploration, the sun came out brightly, casting beautifully clear reflections in the water.

That afternoon, we headed into town in search of fresh produce and bread (Guna bread is made with coconut water, and it’s the best!). As we approached the dock, there was Frederico, waiting for us to land. His house is located on the the outer edge of the island, with a view of the anchorage. He’d seen the dinghy heading into town, and came to offer us a tour. Having no idea where to go in search of produce and bread, we thought, why not, and accepted his offer.

Frederico walked us down one of the island’s main streets, passing a heated volleyball game and many gardens.

We ended up at the water’s edge, where there were several graves. Frederico explained that the raised burial sites were important people, but we didn’t quite get the who and why.

He showed us a beach where many turtles come to nest and hatch each year, and then we made our way back to town, walking an old airstrip that used to service the island.

Our quest for bread and produce was lengthy. We’d had no success on Nargana, so it was across the bridge, to try our luck in Corazon de Jesus.

The bread wasn’t too difficult to locate on Corazon de Jesus, although we’d never have found it on our own. Many of the bakeries and tiendas are run out of, or blend right in with homes on the island.

Finding produce was not as easy, or productive. We’d seen several supply boats in town as we came in, but there was nothing to be found but some beat up cabbage, carrots and potatoes. There’s always talk of fresh stuff disappearing the day after it arrives here, and apparently this was true.

After walking both islands in the midday heat, we enjoyed a beer in the shade with Frederico before he walked us back to our dinghy. He raises funds to aide the handicapped people on both islands, and we were happy to donate to his efforts as a thank you for his help in town. I snapped a photo of our friendly guide with Scott, who is a giant in the San Blas; for that matter, in all of Mexico and Latin America.

Our last quest was for gasoline, and we’d been told that Paco’s was the only game in town. Frederico hopped into the dingy to help us locate the pier (again, we’d have never found it on our own). It was quite the place, definitely not your usual gas station. While gasoline was siphoning out of a barrel and into our jerry cans, Frederico grabbed a seat.

With two out of three things checked off our list, we headed back to Sea Life. Off of our bow was the crowded Nargana shoreline, but behind us were beautiful views of scenic islands in front of the mainland mountains.

Before leaving the next morning, I sent Scott back into town to get some more guna bread, so we could stock the freezer. Again, Frederico was there at the dock to greet him, and it was a good thing. They visited seven places, before finding bread. Apparently, it’s not usually ready until early afternoon; very different from the bakeries in other countries, where fresh loaves are available first thing in the morning.

With the big city visit complete, we headed back to the swimming pool anchorage. Our friends Dani and Tate (s/v Sundowner) were expecting a guest with provisions in tow, and some of the loot was for us. On the way, Scott decided to put his fishing rods out, to see what might happen.

As luck would have it, he snagged a little tunny tuna. The poor thing threw up some icky liquid, as I performed my designated “documentation-of-fish-catch” photos. Knowing that Dani and Tate are fans of sushimi, we decided that the fish would make a nice welcome dinner for their guest.

We arrived just in time for Michele’s arrival to Sundowner by panga, and headed over to collect our goodies. It took a little leg work and a bit of water travel, but we had quite a productive and satisfying 48 hours: bread and gasoline in the big city (along with some river exploration), and now butter, pretzels and bacon! Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Exploring New Anchorages

After our stay in the eastern Holandes, anchored in the Swimming Pool and then Hot Tub, we were ready to explore more of the many anchorages here in the San Blas islands. Our friends, Dave and Sharda, (s/v Morgan) were anchored in Esnasdup, located in the southeast area of the San Blas, so we decided to head over and join them.

The Guna islands of the San Blas have very unique names. Many end in dup (pronounced “doop”)…Esnasdup, Miriadup, Salardup, etc. We’re told that “dup” means that there is a well located on the island.

More than one of these islands have the same name. There are several Banedups, Miriadups and Waisaladups, just to name a few. This can make trying to meet or locate friends challenging…”which Banedup are you anchored off of?” “Is that the Waisaladup in the western Holandes, or near Green Island?” Cruising is a constant state of learning and adjusting.

To get to the southeast islands, we had to come out from the protection of the reefs, and cross open water. We rolled across the large swells, and I was glad to have taken time to secure things for big water. Soon we were behind the protection of another reef, and in sight of Esnasdup. These islands are closer to the mainland of Panama, with views of the mountains in the distance.

In keeping with the multiple names theme, Esnasdup has a “pool” of it’s own, located between two islands, and just behind the reef. Dave and Sharda were anchored in the pool, and we dropped anchor there to join them. It was great to enjoy views of the reef off our bow, and still have the mountains in sight behind us.

As usual, the islands surrounding us were beautifully scenic, and we often saw the locals in their ulus, fishing in the area.

There was talk of a full moon trash burn on a nearby beach, so I spread the word to make it an appetizer pot luck as well. I wracked my brain to come up with some sort of table, because the alternative was for everyone to hold their dish in one hand and pass it around, drink in the other hand, while trying to eat at the same time (this has happened).

I came up with my own “MacGyver” idea, to fashion a table from items on board Sea Life: a piece of plywood we had under the couch cushions, and some milk crates that were being  used to store provisions…well done me!

As expected, Scott was less than thrilled to have to empty said milk crates of their contents, and to use his piece of plywood, but he helped me gather the stuff, and then hauled everything over to the beach. He also went over early in the day, to clear the sand of driftwood and other things, opening up more usable beach space.

Everyone was very happy to have somewhere to put the food, and the night was great fun. All trash was burned, and the moon was beautiful. I was busy talking and eating, so unfortunately, no moon photos.

Scott came up empty for fish or lobster in the area around Esnasdup, so we purchased eight lobsters from a local fisherman…for 15.00! Howard has become very intrigued by lobsters, and he had quite a stare-down with one of this bunch.

With more windy days predicted, we decided to leave the exposed location we were in and head for an anchorage nearby, off of Green Island; there was also talk of very good internet there. We didn’t find the good internet (none at all, actually), but did find a scenic spot to anchor off of Kuigaladup (say that three times fast), near Green Island, still enjoying the mountain views behind us in the distance.

Scott took the dinghy over to Green Island, for a walkabout (not all of the islands are cleared well). It doesn’t take long to cover these small islands, but he had fun wandering around for a bit, and stretching his legs.

Scott burned our trash, and we took the time to sew up some canvass covers for our grill and the inflatable dingy motor; he cuts, I sew (Howard’s latest sleeping/fighting box is under the table).

 After the winds subsided a bit, we headed back to our spot in the pool at Esnasdup. I talked up a gathering on nearby Gorgidup, a tiny little island with a gorgeous beach. Most everyone in the anchorage planned to go, this time sans food. Our friends Jack and Monique, on s/v Aloha, offered to take several of us on a short sail over to the island. It was a terrific way to arrive!
We enjoyed the afternoon on this beautiful island, and also had a pretty serious sand bocci tournament!
As the sun set, Aloha was waiting, to sail us back to our boats. It was a great day with our San Blas friends.
The coming forecast was for winds to nearly die off for at least four days, so we set our sights on the Coco Bandero Cays. The anchorage is pretty bumpy in most any wind, so with calm conditions coming, it seemed the perfect time to visit the islands. We approached the Cocos, and were immediately excited about them…what a beautiful sight!
There are five islands that make up the Coco Bandero Cays, and we anchored close to one with a “resort” on it. Overnight visitors were dropped off and picked up several times during our stay, which initially worried us. Thankfully, we hardly noticed or heard them.
The rest of the beautiful islands were uninhabited, except for a modest fishing shack used by local fisherman traveling through the area.
Our friends Jon and Shannon (s/v Prism) were anchored behind us, and Jon “shared” our generator power, to do a welding project for his wind generator. It’s definitely not the first time our cockpit has been used as a workshop!

As usual here, after a few hours of work is done, it’s time for play, so Scott, Jon and Shannon headed out to the reef on a fishing mission. Shannon came back with a crab and a huge lobster, and Scott speared  more crab than we could eat!

These big guys taste just like the blue crab that we get from the Chesapeake Bay back home, so of course, we ate them Baltimore-style! (fyi, the wooden mallets were not enough, so we had to break out the hammer from Scott’s tool box)

I spent two days on the beach of my favorite cay, while Scott explored the reef. The calm winds made it brutally hot, but the views were worth it; and, cooling off in that gorgeous, clear water was heaven.

I’m the first to say that our trip is much more of an adventure, than “living the dream,” but on days like this, with a beach all to myself, and the only sounds from nearby birds and gentle waves lapping at the shore, I definitely feel “dream” vibe.

We had another trash burn gathering on the beach with our friends, and then moved toward the back of the anchorage, allowing us to leave early the next morning, without having to worry about traveling through coral in the low light as we left the area.

Our overnight spot was just as scenic, and Scott enjoyed a snorkel on some nearby patch coral.

We loved our time in the Cocos, and are so grateful for the stretch of near flat wind while we were there, something very, very rare this time of year in the San Blas. Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Christmas And New Year’s Eve. In The San Blas Islands

We’re alive and kickin’, here in the San Blas islands! Internet service is more available than expected, but usually requires precise placement of a cell phone (used as an internet hot spot) at the highest outside point possible. It’s a familiar sight here, to see phones encased in plastic bags, hanging from, or being hoisted up a mast. At best, the service comes and goes, making uploading challenging, with the strongest hours coming in the middle of the night…oy! Some people have boosters installed on board, to up the strength of the signal. Others travel to anchorages that may have better service.

We do not have a booster, and are trying not to spend our time chasing the internet, so getting a signal worth doing anything, for any amount of time, is basically a crap shoot.

I’ve finally caved, and have spent several all-nighters (with nap breaks during weak service periods) while we’re in a location with decent service, to catch up a bit, and share what we’ve been up to for the past two months. Yes, I guess I could have written a post without photos attached, but that would just be mean.

We made our way from Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland, to the eastern Holandes Cays in the San Blas islands, where we anchored in the Swimming Pool. Named for it’s shallow, clear blue water, the pool lives up to it’s name. The anchorage provides an nearly 180 degree view of the surrounding reef, and the breaking waves are easily heard day and night.

The views behind us were just as beautiful, with the colors of patch coral in the distance.

On our first morning at anchor in “the pool,”  we had a visit from Venancio, one of just a few master mola makers in the San Blas. We’d been told to keep an eye out for him, and were surprised to see him so far east.  Venancio told us that he makes the eight hour round trip to the eastern Holandes from the island where he lives, just once a week, so we were lucky to catch him.

Venancio came aboard with a trash can full of molas, and some beaded bracelets. He took each mola out, and explained it’s design as he laid them out for us to see. They were beautiful; full of color, and all hand stitched.

We chose several of our favorites, and then Venancio packed up his trash can, loaded it aboard the ulu (wooden canoe) and covered it well, protecting the molas from the salt air and spray.  Mola purchase in San Blas..check.

The week before Christmas, we heard a general announcement on the vhf that there was going to be a cruiser gathering on Barbecue Island, located at the front of the anchorage, just behind the reef. We were excited to meet the other cruisers in the anchorage, and arrived with an appetizer to share with the group. The weather was perfect, and we met many new friends. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

Once the sun set, locals on the island, who run a small “resort” (I use that term very loosely) lit a bonfire for us. Their fire starting was far from skilled, as we watched them spray the huge pile of wood and palm fronds with gasoline! (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

As expected, Scott spent many hours in the Aluminum Princess, exploring the anchorage and the area around the expansive reef.

He always has his pole spear handy, as his snorkeling outing often turn into hunting expeditions…many times successful ones!

Scott dropped a lobster head into the water behind the boat, to see what might bite. It seems that Triggerfish find them pretty tasty. Regulars here in the San Blas refer to Triggerfish as “Bob.” Maybe because there are many in the waters here…not sure. Bob likes lobster.

On windy days, current would run through the anchorage at close to four knots, making swimming very challenging. Scott’s solution was to take the Princess to one end of the anchorage, tie himself to it with a 30 foot line, and drift along behind it, as the boat made it’s way back through the anchorage in the current.

He  caught quite a few very large conch like this, having just enough time to get to the bottom and grab them before being pulled along. Neither of us were up for the job of cleaning conch (eewww), so we shared them with some of our new friends in the anchorage…and joined them for some fresh ceviche as a thank you!

We would get regular visits from the Gunas, in their ulas (dugout canoes). They usually had molas and jewelry for sale. We already had more molas than needed, but were happy to fill their water jugs with fresh water, and occasionally a juice for small children. They also took our aluminum cans, to sell to the Colombian trader boats who recycle them.They both row and sail the ulas, and the women’s traditional dress is beautiful.

There is no trash removal service here in the San Blas. Bottles are broken into pieces (the theory is that the pieces will eventually turn into sea glass) and dropped overboard when in deep water (at least 150 feet), along with steel cans (anything that will rust away). This isn’t just practice reserved for the San Blas islands, the U.S Coast Guard has similar requirements for trash removal offshore.

All other trash here is burned. Being new to the San Blas, we weren’t sure which beaches were acceptable for this, as all of the islands here are owned by Guna families, whether they are inhabited or not. Until we learned the rules of trash burning etiquette, Scott improvised.

Channeling his inner “MacGyver,” Scott fashioned a rack from a wire coat hanger (I’m shocked that we had one on board, although he probably had it squirreled away for just such an occasion),and placed it in the bottom of an old varnish can. He punched holes in the bottom for air, and voila!, a burn can for the grill was born.

This would have been the perfect solution if we burned every day, or made less trash, but we do neither of these things. Instead, Scott would spent two hours or more burning everything from paper to an old pair of shorts.

Positive…our trash burned down to a tiny pile of  ash. Negatives..it took hours, and we had to close up the saloon, to avoid being choked out from the smoke.

Luckily, or new-found cruiser friends invited us to join them for a trash burn run. We followed them about 20 minutes from the pool, to a beautiful spot, where they meet to burn trash. Fires are made near the waterline, so that high tide will wash away the leftover ash.

We soon realized that trash burning here is a social event. Once the trash has burned, and while we wait for the ashes to smolder and cool, it’s time for bobbing with drinks in the clear blue water; now that’s my idea of a day’s work!

By the way, wearing some kind of shirt is a must in the water here  (unless you’re our friend, Sharda, who is blessed with skin from Trinidad!). I learned this the hard way, frying my shoulders and back from the reflection of the hot sun off of the water.

When we first arrived, there were few boats in the anchorage  here, but during  the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. the numbers grew.

 

Of course, Christmas would not be complete without lights! We lugged along our holiday lights, and Sea Life was quite a festive sight in the anchorage. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

After enduring a stretch of windy weather in the pool, with the accompanying currents and insane salt spray, we decided to change locations for the next go-round. After the new year, we headed around the corner to the Hot Tub (yes, from the pool, to the hot tub..tough times).

With more protection from the winds, the water in “the tub” is much calmer, and the current much less strong. In addition to more beautiful views, the water is supposed to be warmer than in the pool, hence the name. However, we found it to be much cooler…ahhhh, refreshing.

 

 

Scott found a great honey hole around the corner, catching lobster and Lionfish. They are invasive, so he tries to kill them whenever he can. Lionfish are also good eating, but challenging to clean, due to their poisonous dorsal fins.

Once again, Scott used lobster tails for bait, and attracted a huge Bob! He grabbed his pole spear, and shot it right from the cockpit, without even getting wet. Unfortunately, Big Bob did not go down without a fight, flopping and bleeding all over the cockpit when Scott removed the spear tip.

Scott delivered this massive fish to our friends, Jon and Shannon, on s/v Prism. They were waiting for a new dinghy motor, requiring them to row everywhere.

In case you’re wondering, Howard is enjoying life in the San Blas. He keeps an eye on us from one of his favorite perches, up under the solar panels, and loves when the fish light goes in the water each night.

So our first few weeks in the San Blas were off to a great start. We made many new friends, and enjoyed the beautiful views. More to come, as we explore new anchorages. Here are more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing And Relaxing In The Albuquerque Cays

Please forgive the lapse in posting. In addition to battling spotty internet service, I am switching to Google Photos and also honing my skills in Photoshop. Bear with me while I familiarize myself with these things, as I’m far from computer savvy. Until I rename my albums in Google, the links to more photos at the end of previous posts won’t work, so if you get the urge to “walk down our memory lane”, hold off for a bit.

Now, on to catching you up……The water surrounding the Albuquerque Cays was gorgeous! 

Clear, Bahama-blue water reflecting off of shallow white sand bottom, framed by green and brown of the surrounding reefs. The whole area is encircled by darker shades of deeper blue water, with the bottom easily visible 30 feet straight down below us, and 80 feet out at an angle.

 

We anchored in front of the larger cay, where the military “Flies” base is located. The island is so thick with palm trees of all sizes, shapes and shades of green that you cannot see any sign of life or shelter on it, until a small glow of light appears after dark. We never tired of admiring the view, it was straight off of a calendar page.

 

Of course, Scott got right to fishing. On his first venture out he caught a glass eyed snapper (which we enjoyed several times in Providencia) and a decent sized mangrove snapper.

 

 

The reefs weren’t terrifically colorful, but they were very, very healthy. Scott commented on how big the fragile, larger coral was (elk horn, stag horn, etc.). Some of the monstrous brain coral was so large that it broke the surface in places. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many fish, and lobster were non existent. We assume that the commercial fisherman have depleted the supply, setting up their own lobster traps farther out.

However, Scott was not discouraged, and ventured out nearly every day. I tagged along one morning, to get some photos and enjoy some bug-free sun and reading while he searched the waters below.

 

 

After an hour or so, Scott came back empty handed. He’d noticed the head of a large snapper peeking out of a hole, and waited for it to exit. When the fish made a move into open water, Scott shot it through the back. Unfortunately, the tip of his spear broke off, rendering it useless for another shot as the wounded fish swam away.

Scott came up into the dinghy angry and frustrated, wanting restitution for his tip. That fish was going to be dinner, come hell or high water! We headed back to Sea Life, where a new tip was put on, and a mission was set. I skipped this go-round, preferring to stay clear of the battle ahead.

Back at the scene of the crime, Scott found the large snapper again in his hole and fired another shot. This stunned the fish, and it came out of the hole swimming aimlessly. Scott seized his opportunity, and took a final shot that went through the snapper’s gills.

With his restitution in tow, Scott swam hard for the surface, not wanting to share his kill with any lurking sharks or barracuda. He was glad that the snapper wasn’t at it’s full strength, because the fish fought hard on the spear all the way to the surface.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was quietly enjoying a book. When I rose to close the shades against the hot afternoon sun, I heard the dinghy motor and saw Scott approaching. He triumphantly raised his kill (too large to fit in the five gallon bucket) for a photo.

Here is his first snapper…

 

And the trophy snapper…

 

The fish was fat, heavy and long. At 23″, it was more than enough for several dinners, starting with yummy fried fish sandwiches (on my homemade ciabatta bread!).

Now that the fridge was full of fish, and his hand was feeling the pain of battle (bruising between the thumb and forefinger), Scott took a day off. We both relaxed, watched movies, napped and admired our surroundings.

 

 

Aside from the occasional lap against the hull and the sound of waves crashing on the outer reef, our days were dead quiet at anchor here. The Flies only ventured into sight in the late afternoon, when they spent time line fishing from the beach. Except for the glow of a nightly campfire, we didn’t see or hear the commercial fisherman either.

The sun light on the small cays at dusk was beautiful, and for the first time since we were in Key West, in January, we had an open view to the horizon for sunset.

 

Scott enjoyed hours of stargazing each night. Even with light pollution visible from San Andres, 40 miles away, the stars were thick and brilliant. The Milky Way wound clearly through the sky above us, like someone up there had spilled their morning glass of full fat.

We could have stayed for weeks, but it’ was time to move on and continue the journey to Panama, our most southern location to date. Here are more photos of our beautiful anchorage in the Albuquerque Cays. (**for those who may not know, click on the first photo, to scroll through the album with larger views of the photos)

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Scott’s Fishing Adventures In Providencia

I meant to post this before we left Providencia for San Andres, so here’s a brief flashback…

Fishing for Scott has been challenging since we left the Bahamas. Most areas we visit are part of protected waters, so there is no fishing allowed at all. Other times, the area has just been over-fished, and there isn’t much available to catch.

During a passage, Scott always hopes to put out his lines and catch some dinner; but again, things haven’t worked out since the Bahamas. It’s either too rough (we have to put the boat in neutral to reel in the lines, and in rough seas that’s not a pleasant choice), or dark. During daylight hours, if not on watch, Scott usually tries to catch some sleep. The few times the lines have been in the water, he’s been “skunked,” coming up empty.

When we arrived in Providencia, Scott was determined to change his luck. He headed off to fish a reef on the north end of the island, rallying some fellow cruisers in the anchorage to join him. The “fleet,” made up of two dinghies, headed out early one morning, determined to come back with dinner.

After a few hours, Scott and Kevin returned triumphant; Scott had caught a yellow snapper. Hours later, Jack and Lee followed. Jack graciously shared his catch with us, giving us another snapper. It was now time to clean and cook these things.

Scott isn’t crazy about cleaning fish, and even though we had an agreement that it would be my job (since he is the killer/catcher of the fish), I cannot stand the idea of cutting into and removing fish guts, it just icks me out. Thank God for Kevin, who is fine with doing this job, and has become the official fish cleaner. So now Scott and Kevin catch said fish, Kevin cleans them and I cook them; a great system!

Lobster had completely eluded everyone here. There were just none to be found. We learned that the locals travel miles out to catch them, which was too challenging for the guys, with the strong winds that were stalled over us.

However, as luck would have it, we were returning from a farewell pizza dinner for our (Baltimore!) friends Lee and Rachel (s/v Satori), when it was discovered that there were lobsters under a sunken palette beneath the town dock.

Not wanting to get in the water at night fully clothed, the guys immediately began the arduous job of trying to spear the lobsters from inside the dingy (Kevin doesn’t leave home without his spear, so it was nearby and at the ready).

There was a lot of head lamp use and body contorting, as well as much dialogue on where the lobsters were and how to get them. You’d think we’d been adrift in the open sea for weeks, and hadn’t eaten.

Finally, Kevin managed to spear two lobsters, the mission was deemed a success and we all headed home.

Scott and Kevin were quite proud of themselves.

They were not the largest lobster, but made for a nice appetizer the next night at dinner. Ya take what you can get!

Days later, Scott and Kevin again headed out to the east end of the island, and Jack joined them.

This time Scott returned with two snapper, and Jack again shared a third one with us. Hooray…fish tacos!

Wanting to try some deep sea fishing, Scott and Kevin took the Aluminum Princess out to the west side of the island, just inside the reef. They were back at the boat a very short time later, which only means one thing…injury.

As the guys were trolling, they caught a mackerel. Kevin grabbed one side of the double hook, to remove the fish (he’d used a double hook, I don’t have the skills to elaborate), the other hook went right through his thumb.

Scott cut the hook off and pulled it out, and convinced Kevin that yes, it was worth going back to bandage. After cleaning and dressing the injury, they went right back out to resume their search for fish. Unfortunately, the mackerel was the only keeper of the day. Kevin’s thumb was deemed inedible, and a barracuda caught later was thrown back.

As we routinely climbed the stairs toward Morgan’s Head, to stretch our legs, Scott kept noticing a lone coral head at the back of the anchorage, which intrigued him. Thinking it may be a lucky spot, he and Kevin headed over. Jackpot! They’d found the honey  hole! The coral head was full of grouper, lion fish and snapper, making a great feast for three!

We ate from the honey hole several times after that. In an hour, Scott could run the dinghy over, catch a few fish and be back onboard (stopping at Kevin’s “cleaning station” first). Now that we’re in San Andres, the honey hole is just a memory. Here it’s back to protected water and slim pickins.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Tour Boat Mayhem

When we arrived in Isla Mujures, I was amazed at the number of tourists. In addition to those staying on the island, it seems that just as many travel over from Cancun on the ferry. I’ve mentioned that we are anchored near what I call the I-95 for tour boats. It’s a day-long, constant parade of all types and sizes.

The catamarans are loaded so full, that they appear to be sinking.

Passengers are swung out on parachute sails, and then drop in the water…oh what fun!

Unfortunately, all of these boats converge on the same areas for snorkeling. We are amused by the daily “mosh pit” of panga boats, that gather in the water behind us.

I’m not kidding, they are on top of each other.  We’ve heard that boats feed the fish, keeping them in the area, but I can’t imagine that these poor snorkelers see anything but each others masks!

On the other side of the mangroves, we can see masts of the catamarans, gathered with their herds of passengers.

They too, eventually make it around to the waters behind us.

Anchored within spitting distance of each other, the snorkelers trail in the water like breadcrumbs.

Our favorite images are ones like this. A refugee boat on steroids.

We are thankful to be on our own boat, with the ability to snorkel in areas that aren’t so inundated with life jackets and fins. However, if there is a snorkel trip in our future, Scott is prepared with a list of questions. Before signing up, he’ll want to know how many boats, how far apart and how many aboard!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

 

Spear Fishing & Thunderball Grotto

As you know, Scott had been busy honing his spear fishing skills while we’ve been in the Bahamas. Sizable fish have eluded him so far, living too far down for him to spear and retrieve in one breath.

We have, however, been enjoying many lobsters, and he recently speared his largest one yet!

A video of the kill..

He also spent some time snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto. Underwater scenes from the James Bond movie, Thunderball were filmed here. They recommend that you go a a slack low tide, making it easier to get into. Of course, Scott decided to do his own thing and go at a higher tide. It was the best light option, but made it harder to get inside and there was also a pretty good current going through. Again, worth the hassle for the photos.

Check out this video of Scott squeezing through sharp edged openings, swimming through underwater holes and sliding along rocky walls….with fish, and perhaps a shark.

As is common around here, the day included minor bleeding.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Lobster, Lobster, Lobster!

This week has been quiet. Aside from our trip through the mangroves on Monday (you can see our path on the Where Are We Now page), Scott’s done a lot of snorkeling and spearing of lobsters, which has made for yummy lunches! We’ve also been doing the  usual, boat maintenance and assorted projects (painting and varnishing).

Scott has been waiting to get a chance at spear fishing, and he’s finally gotten his chance here in the Berry Islands. He ventured out on Tuesday, and here is his day’s catch:

The conch shell was beautiful, and temping to keep.

We really wanted a conch shell that we’d found on our own, but neither of us wanted to attempt to get the conch out…ick. So we tossed it back.

But all in all, a good catch!

Scott is now on a mission to hone his new found spearing skills on some fish. Unfortunately, the fish and lobster seem to move around daily. We think that they are trying to stay one step ahead of the many jet skis that buzz around the wrecks that are near us.

There is a private island for Royal Caribbean in sight, just to the north. When the ship is anchored, there is a flurry of activity: parasailing, glass bottom boat tours and jet skis. Luckily, only the jet skis come in our general direction. We mainly see boats taking workers back and forth between the ship and Bullocks Harbour here.

We went to dinner in town, at Cooliemae’s. Her restaurant sits up on a high hill, with a great view of the sunset..and our boat at anchor!

On Wednesday, we planned to go to the Atlantic side of the island and anchor there. The water here is very clear, but it’s a greenish color, reflecting the grasses on the bottom. After our trip to the beach, and seeing the gorgeous blue water (comes from a sandy bottom), Scott wanted to change locations. We started out, but the head sea became too uncomfortable (head seas are the worst), so we turned around to wait for a better window.

On Friday, we took the Aluminum Princess to the dock at Bullock’s Harbour and went for a walk through town. There are just a few businesses scattered around the area: three very small grocery stores, a police station, a hardware store and the government building which houses the post office, clinic, and court offices. Of course there are also three or four bars and take away stores, where you can get something simple to eat and a cold freezer beer! These Bahamians are geniuses! We ducked in more than one, to try and cool off during our sweaty walk…freezer beer hit the spot.

Tomorrow morning, we plan to try again for an anchorage on the Atlantic side. It will take 5-7 hours, depending on the waves and our speed. Going into a head sea tends to slow us down, adding time to the journey. We’re leaving at 5 am, so fingers crossed we get there without too much banging around. Here are a few photos from this week.

Catch of the week: Lobsters! And a catch and release conch.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

On To The Berry Islands

October 31st

We woke to another day of clear, glassy water. Scott says its like boating in your friend’s infinity pool. With today being much calmer than yesterday, we can see the bottom very clearly. This video was taken in 20 feet of water!

Not your neighbor’s infinity pool (of course we wouldn’t really know for sure, having never been in an infinity pool)!!

Scott spent most of the day walking back and forth, staring in the water and remarking how calm it was and how he could still see the bottom. When he wasn’t walking back and forth, he spent time sitting out on the pulpit (his new favorite viewing spot).

We have had two fishing rods out each day, testing our luck. Late in the morning, we heard the whir of something on the line. Scott started to reel it in, and there was definitely resistance on the line…yay!…dinner! Alas, it was a barracuda. A big barracuda. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to take a chance on eating it. Barracuda usually carry a large amount of ciguatera, a toxin found in fish that feed along coral reefs. The fish cannot rid themselves of the toxin, and it accumulates gradually in the fish with age. It was a big guy. The lure in this video is nine inches!

So…we didn’t want to eat it, but also didn’t want to cut the line and lose our lure (not having an arsenal of these things). Scott did not want to get close to that mouth, so he used several long handled tools to get it off of the hook. It was quite a fight, as the thing was nasty and mad, but he came away with the lure! We called it a day, and brought the poles in.

We noticed that our little castaway birds were still with us, and later in the afternoon our stowaway numbers grew. A seagull decided to take a break and perch himself at the end of our paravane. Soon enough, there were five of them fighting for space. I roused Howard up from his travel sleep, and showed him what was going on. It was quite the sensory overload, and I was worried he might have a stroke. He settled into the port side pilot house window, to take it all in.

It became quite a loud, shrieking show, but the gulls finally left as we approached land. However, Howard started to look at the roof of the pilot house, thinking that they must have settled up there. God knows what will ensue when he goes out once we anchor. He’s likely to spend the rest of the night searching for them.

It was an enjoyable and eventful eight hour day, and we are now anchored in Bullock Harbour, off of Great Harbour Cay.

We plan to spend a few days here. Scott wants to snorkel near a submerged plane wreckage, and jump into a blue hole; both are right near us. There is a beach on the east side of the island that we want to check out, as well as a beach bar or two. Plenty to keep us occupied!

Catch of the day: Barracuda!

Here are photos from today’s journey. By the way…Happy Halloween!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Keeping Busy In Fort Lauderdale

Forgive the delay in posting. It has been a busy week, and I am just catching up. We have spent the week here as usual, visiting friends, running errands and provisioning and doing boat projects (yuck). We rented a car, to do our usual Home Depot, West Marine, grocery store, etc. stops, in addition to some pre Bahamas appointments.

First up…an International Health Certificate for Howard. We went to a local vet, who listened to his heart, and deemed him healthy. Either that, or Howard’s hissing and open-mouthed panting deterred him from further examination. Either way, we have certificate in hand, and are good to go!

Next, we went to our “appointment” with Customs and Homeland Security here. There is a “Local Boater Option” that you can apply for, allowing you to call into customs when arriving back into the country, versus physically going to an office. This would give us more options of where to come back into Florida. We could enter the keys without stopping to find a customs office, or having to come into Miami or Fort Lauderdale first.

Finding the building was the first challenge. They do a terrific job of hiding it, no number or sign on the building, and no signage leading up to it, along the road. We did pretty well, only having to do one u-turn. Once inside, we were told that each of us had to have an online application, something that I did NOT find on the site, and I searched and searched. Applications can only be done online, of course, so I got out my phone, and started searching for the form.

The agent was nice enough to wait for me to complete the form and get a confirmation number, so that we could still both be approved. We were expecting our “appointment,” with some kind of interview. Instead, once the agent saw my online confirmation, he handed us each a card with our name and a number. Done. Now when we’re back in U.S. waters, we just have to call a number on the card and give them our name and the number that was assigned to us. We expected it to be a bit more thorough, but are glad that it went so quickly, and that we are now “cleared.”

Now it was onto the usual stops….Our West Marine visit was like a sightseeing tour! Scott had been to the Fort Lauderdale location when he was here buying Sea Life, and was anxious for me to see it. It is HUGE…like a Sam’s Club!

The departments here are so large, and the amount of in-store stock amazes Scott. Very little is actually kept on the shelves at locations in the Baltimore area. More often than not, Scott has to have whatever part or supply we need brought into the store for pick up. I couldn’t believe the things that were here, that are not offered in any of our stores at home. Not even the “larger”ones. I am now even more sad for our Canton location in Baltimore.

We also hit Sailorman, another marine consignment store (or as the sign says, a “new and used marine emporium”). Scott plundered around inside, again lamenting that he didn’t have access to a place like this while doing our refit.

I was again amazed at all of the stuff..

While I did a run of Walmart, Target, Petsmart, etc., Scott surprised me by painting the decks himself. A small area against the pier still needs to be painted, but we can do that at anchor, when we don’t need to get on and off on that side. The paint needs several days to cure, so we need to keep foot traffic to a minimum. What is done looks sooo clean and nice!

We met Mark at Outdoor world, where he helped Scott choose some fishing rods. (we hope to catch a lot of free dinner over the next few years!). Afterward, we went to his house, where Shannon grilled us up some great food while Mark and Scott put new line on the reels.

Mark also passed along some of his older fishing equipment to Scott, and purchased some lures for him. We now have a good start toward catching our dinner. I’m sure that Mark, the fishing guru, will be on speed dial for emergency help and questions. Thanks SOO much to him, for all of his time and help!!

We also caught up with our friend, Mike Efford. When we traveled south in 2008, Mike was living on a really cool tugboat named Mi-T-Mo. He traveled back and forth between Baltimore and Hollywood Florida, spending winters down here and summers in up north. He was a great host to us when we were last here, and we have kept in touch since. Mike is a retired Maryland pilot (Marine, not airline. They come aboard large ships, and navigate them into the harbor) and a wealth of knowledge. We have enjoyed spending time with him over the years.

Mike picked us up and drove us to a great Irish bar for dinner. After a meal and extensive boat chat, we went with him to meet one of his boating groups. They were having a meeting at a nearby restaurant, and we got there just as it was ending…perfect timing! We had a few drinks and met some of the group, and then Mike chauffeured us back to our boat.

Here are some photos from the past week, including more of both West Marine and Sailorman!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”