Monday, March 31, 2014

Exceptional Acts of Kindness

Lady Marie provided a nice focal point 
for a beautiful sunset at Water Cay.
“Conch?  Wish you’d told me earlier.  I cleaned 150 of them this morning,” George told us when we dinghied up, inquiring about the gargantuan mollusk.

George welcomed us aboard Lady Marie, his commercial fishing boat.  We anchored next to him in Water Cay, Jumentos. 

While relatively well provisioned for the remote Jumentos and Ragged Islands, our hope was to supplement the holdings of our miniscule freezer with freshly caught fish, lobster and conch, especially given it was quite possible we’d be unable to access any non-perishables other than what we brought with us from for 1-2 months.  We figured in a less populated area increased the odds of accessing nature’s bounty.  But we’re still greenhorns when it comes to living off the land.

Conch we harvested on Water Cay, and one
other mollusk later rejected.  My crock
gives a sense of scale.  The three Queen Conch
yielded a total of a cup to a cup
and a half of meat.
“That’s okay,” we assured George.  “Can you give us conch prep lessons on the conch we caught?  Guiding us with the tools we have?”

Turns out George is friendly with cruisers, though we got the sense they didn’t ask for lessons.  He wanted to excavate the conch for us, using his trusty claw hammer.  We don’t have one of those, so we stopped him and asked if he could help us figure out how to do it with our ball peen hammer and a particularly robust standard screwdriver and new, long sharp fish knife.  George shrugged his shoulders and pitched in. 

He demonstrated on the first conch, explaining the knocking is between the second and third row of node from the conch spire (top) to create enough of an opening to access the ligament that holds the conch in it shell.  The next step is to slip a knife into the hole and sever the ligament, so the conch can be pulled out of the shell by its hard claw.  George’s eyes got big when I pulled out my fishing knife.  “No!” he exclaimed.  “You just need a butter knife.”  George pulled out a small knife.  With a cut and a claw yank, out it came.  From there, George again waved away my fish knife, instead using his buck knife to complete the final surgery, cutting away the eyes, guts and tough conch skin. 

Conch midden (pile o’ conch shells) at Water Cay.
That’s a LOT of conch!
I insisted on tackling the second conch.  “Yeah, my wife thought she could clean conch too,” chuckled George. 

Pathetically, I attempted to hold the conch and center-strike the rounded end of our screwdriver handle with our hammer.  George determined he needed to hold the conch in place.  Then he needed to keep my screwdriver affixed to the correct sopt without slipping.  Then he took the screwdriver and the hammer and created the opening, just to assure himself it was do-able, which, of course it was.

I tried again…. Again, George finished it. 

We all concluded conch cooking would be Galley Wench Tale duty, but conch cleaning would fall to Wayne.  Eventually I hope to be able to tackle it once the conch body is removed from its shell…. And perhaps a claw hammer might magically appear in Wayne’s toolbox in the future, At that point I’d consider trying again. 

Our conch, pretty side up, aboard George’s boat, 
Lady Marie, awaiting excavation lessons.
“Do you eat barracuda?” I asked George, bummed about tossing ours back.  “No,” he replied.  “We keep catching them,” I explained and we’re not sure what to do about it.”  “Do you like hogfish?” George responded.  “I’d be happy to try it,” I said indicating to Wayne to pull out his wallet.  George gave us two generous hogfish fillets, and a small lobster tail, too.  He refused payment or any other thanks than our boat card.

“Want to see what a commercial fishing boat looks like?”  We took George up on his tour offer.

We promised to look George up when we got to his home island of Eleuthra later this spring.  He gave us his wife’s email, “If you can find her, you can find me,” he said with a smile.

Back at our boat, Wayne asked, “Do you feel mighty, having landed those conch?” I shook my head, no, adding  “Maybe when I find some big enough to eat AND learn how to extract and clean them.”  “Oh, yeah,” Wayne corrected himself, “I found all of them.”
“Love of my life,” George shows us the photo
of his smiling wife, Linda Marie.

Fortunately my first attempt at conch salad was far more successful than my conch harvesting, excavation and prep.  It was every bit as delicious as the conch salad I ate four days in a row in Potter’s Cay, Nassau. I rubbed the hogfish with minced onion and fresh ginger, then steamed it (recipe from Scott & Wendy Bannerot’s “The Cruiser’sHandbook of Fishing), cooking the lobster tail in the steaming water.  Then I flash-fried the hogfish in a skillet with a little hot peanut oil, and served it all up.

It was one heck of an anniversary dinner!  In fact, we were unable to finish the hogfish or attempt the lobster that night.  The leftovers made a perfect base for brunch the next morning, gluten crepes with bĂ©arnaise sauce.  George didn’t know it our anniversary, though I’m sure it would please him to it.

Pointing to the photos of his grandkids George tells us
he cried when one moved to the U.S.  He hopes to see him
this summer, after a three-year absence.
“We are the recipient of so many acts of kindness,” Wayne reminisced that night, a tad watery-eyed with gratitude. 

We are alternately touched, grateful, and feeling a bit unworthy of so much generosity.  We are also inspired to tip the balance -- to find ways to pay it back and pay it forward. 

We observed that same kindness later that eve and the next morn, as George checked in on us, warning us Water Cay was not a safe place to stay for the forecasted winds. “If it gets to 25 knots, With gusts, they may clock 50 knots. Waves get up to 8-10 feet in this anchorage.  You’ll wind up on the rocks!  Don’t stay here!” He left at first light, radioing us while underway.

George transformed big, ugly hogfish into
this mound of fillets in seconds.
The powerboater next to us, Pay Day, demonstrated that kindness again, supporting a neighboring sailboat, Allegra, who needed a tow back to Georgetown, a two-day trip.  Allegra’s propeller shaft broke; it would take a haulout to repair it. Georgetown was the nearest haulout facility.

George, thank you!  We hope to meet you and your lovely wife in Eleuthra.

Also, thank you Milltown Sailing Club (especially Slavic and Walt), Matt Keller (who co-owned  our first sailboat with), Seattle Women in Boating, Gary in St. Lucia, Lili and Tomaz of Heron, fellow Pearson owners, Allen and Michelle of Incommunicado, too many folks to thank on the Pearson forum, Marc Blackburn of Nivana, Scott and Kim of Bella Blue, and Ron and Dee of Ursa Minor and of course, Wayne’s Dad. Honestly, we’re not sure how to thank you all enough for taking us under your wing.

First conch salad (ceviche, basically)
Galley Wench Tales made.  Yum!
Location Location

March 31, 2014, BAHAMAS.  Currently we’re in Hog Cay, Ragged Islands near Duncantown. (N22.14.920 W75.45.106).  This is a retrospective from our first stop in Water Cay, the Jumentos (N23.017.48 W 75.42.996) where we sailed 42 nm from Thomson Bay, Long Island.
Our anniversary dinner:  conch salad with avocados,
hogfish and lobster tail.  Thanks George!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Snaking Thru Grand to Great… Bahamas Banks

sailing the great bahama banks cruising destinations
Whoo-hoo!  Wing-on-wing downwind from
Long Island to Water Cay Jumentos!
Bahamas Ragged Islands and Jumentos are remote!  Here's mini taste of our first day.  More to come as internet access allows!
cruising destinations cruising life
Sunset over neighboring commercial fishing boat,
Lady Marie in Water Cay Jumentos, BAHAMAS.

cruising destinations cruising activities
Yes, the water really is that amazing color
sailing the Great Bahama Banks!
Location Location
March 30, 2014.  BAHAMAS.  At the moment, we're parked near Duncantown, Bahamas Ragged Islands.  Most likely we'll be here until the winds shift from North and East to Southerlies; currently forecast for late this coming week.

We’re baaack!

cruising life cruising destinations cruiser communications bahamas
Phone booth, Thompson Bay Long Island; the
last location our cell-phone based hot spot
worked.  Funny, in the U.S. these phone booth
are antiquated.  Here, they’re still viable.
“Is there cell coverage in the Jumentos or Ragged Islands?” I asked a few telecommunication folks.  “”Yes, it’s getting better all the time.  There’s even a BTC [Bahamas Tele Communications] in Duncantown [Ragged Islands, population 70]).”  After checking near daily for a restock to come in, I paid BTC (aka Batelco) $99 for an Alcatel Droid phone / WiFi hotspot, plus bought 2 $30 2 GB packages for cell-tower-based WiFi access.

I was optimistic.  I was excited.  I was silly.  So what if US cell phone coverage often reached well out into our waterways?  This was the Bahamas.

Wayne was pragmatic.  Wayne was right.  “Make a post that you’ll be out of communication for a week or so.”

I did.  But I have my hot spot, I thought….

Did I mention Wayne was right?

And then?  Hog Cay neighbors Wayne and Sharon of My Sharona tipped me off to the secret of connecting in the Raggeds where there is enough of a signal…. Switching the phone network setting from GS3 to GSM only.  It works!!!! Slowwwwly; but it does work! (Posts may be updated with more photos when access is better.  Check back!)

“Why didn’t tell me in Georgetown when I asked about the Raggeds?” I asked.   “They don’t know in Georgetown,” Sharon explained.  “Buena Vista, Double Breasted and Water Cay all sometimes work.  Don’t forget to reset your phone when you leave the area, though.”  Aha!  Thanks Sharon!

For the curious, here’s the rundown of access

  • Thompson Bay, Long Island:  good thing we used the cell phone hot spot at night; it was out by morning.  -- March 21-22, 2014.  Worked the 21st; down the 22nd.
  • Water Cay, Jumentos:  no cell phone service. -- March 22-24, 2014.
  • Flamingo Island, Jumentos:  no cell phone service. -- March 24-26, 2014.
  • Buena Vista, Ragged Islands:  limited cell phone service. -- March 26-28, 2014.
  • Hog Cay (Duncantown area) – March 29 – now… works now that we know….

Location Location
March 30, 2014.  BAHAMAS.  We're in the remote Ragged Islands off Hog Cay, near Duncantown.  Hog Cay (Lat/Long N22.14.5 W75.45.3).  Here's our stops since the last post
  • Water Cay n23.01.748 w75.42.996
  • Flamingo Cay n22.53.020 w75.52.154
  • Flamingo Cay n22.53.373 w75.51.944
  • Buena Vista n22.24.811 w75.49.800
  • Buena Vista n22.25.705 w75.50.062
  • Raccoon Cay House Bay n22.21.300 w75.48.846
  • Hog Cay n22.14.5 w75.45.3


Friday, March 21, 2014

Temporarily Incomunicado…. Maybe

cruiser lifestyle communications

Will my off-brand Bahamas smart phone / hotspot work better
in remote areas than this relic we saw in Bimini?  Dunno yet.
One of the most challenging aspects of cruising is less about the not-haves even though our boating lifestyle is a close cousin to car camping.  For me the hardest part is losing touch with family, friends and community for long stretches. 

We are often out of phone range. When we are in phone range, we’re nervously watching the minutes tick by with the financial severity of a parking meter in Times Square.  As for internet coverage… we hope for the best and presume and more often than not experience the worst.  At best, we figure doing much more than the bare basics (checking weather reports, email, semi-regular blog posts – forget video downloads or accessing any memory intensive websites) will quickly run us out what little internet bandwidth we have.

While it’s quite possible the Bahamas low elevations and increasingly prolific cell phone towers may enable somewhat regular access via phone and internet even as we rapidly distance ourselves from “civilization,”  but we’re not betting on it.

Given that, don’t be surprised if a week or so goes by without hearing from us. Please hang in there and keep checking back (or subscribe).  When we’re this far off the grid, we appreciate our connections all the more.  We will be back soon!

Wayne & Dana of s/v Journey

Location Location

March 21, 2014, BAHAMAS.  Today we sailed 37 miles from Bahamas Georgetown area (N23.31.011 W75.45.526), to Thompson Bay, Long Island (N23.20.70 W75.09.60),.  Tomorrow we’re headed to the Jumentos Water Cay (N23.01.15 W75.45.15), then off to the remote, relatively unpopulated and and wide-flung Raggeds, where we’re currently planning to spend as much as a month or more.  Cross your fingers our Batel Alcatel smart phone / hotspot meets our internet needs while there!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trussed & Mussed in Georgetown

cruising life docking challenges fixed dock Bahamas

Our boat’s only 36 feet, but the dock finger’s still well
short of where we’d normally step onto a dock.
Okay, I admit my sailing skills are less than stellar, despite my time aboard.  I’m far more comfortable “on the hook.” Grabbing a bobbing piece of line on the end of a long pole and through the chalk on our bow aka, setting a mooring ball anchorage is getting easier.  But while I’ve never been crazy about docking, I didn’t realize how much easier I had it with the Pacific Northwest’s floating docks, especially compared to fixed docks, which is what we’ve encountered in every marina and fuel dock in the Southern Florida and the Bahamas we’ve gone to so far (Marathon FL, Bimini, Nassau, Georgetown).

cruising life docking challenges fixed dock Bahamas

Compare the length of Wayne’s leg to the length needed to step
from boat to dock and vice versa and keep in mind I’m
a half foot shorter.  This is typical of a fixed dock, prevalent
throughout the Bahamas.  Wayne takes a big step;
I practically rappel.
For the fortunate uninitiated….

A floating dock goes up when the tide goes up, down when the tide goes down.  So the distance from your boat to the dock will always be the same.  A fixed dock, and the ones we’ve seen here are generally propped up on something akin to telephone poles, don’t go up.  That means if your boat is comparatively dimunutive, like ours, best case, high tide, the step’s maybe a foot or so from dock to boat.  When the tide drops, the distance increases, often here to about 3 feet.  Usually there is no ladder, handle or peg to grap when crossing the void.  Just a post.  While Wayne just takes a big step, I find myself desperately seeking a way to hug or grab the pole, the way a drunk might embrace a lamp post.   I feel like I’m rappelling.

cruising life docking challenges fixed dock Bahamas

Two of the five lines it took for us to tie off in dock.  The rear of
those two starboard side  lines is the 360 degree
water-bound post.
My sphincter muscles clenched as we approached Georgetown’s Exuma Yacht Club (EYC).  Wayne was more concerned about getting past the shallows into the marina; my fear was in docking, and leaving the dock.  We were overnighting at EYC to avoid subjecting Wayne’s folks to an oh-dark-hundred bone-jarring and potentially wet 5-horse-driven slow 2-mile dinghy ride with suitcases to catch their 7:20 am flight out.  We enjoyed cruising a week with them, and wanted their sendoff to be as stress-free as possible.

Fortunately, dockmaster Clevon and a passing cruiser made our trip in blissfully uneventful, despite the tight fit and the need for five dock lines to truss us into position.

cruising life docking challenges fixed dock Bahamas

Three of the five dock lines on this side.
Leaving, however, was another matter.  A steady onshore wind sneered at our wimpy reverse, quickly slapping our bow perpendicular from our desired direction.  We found our stern mounted dinghy and solar panels pressed against the side of a vacant parallel slip.  Several folks stopped to help.  “We’ve all been there,” one commented, reassuringly.  We eventually righted ourselves for exit with several cruisers and Clevon’s help; he hopped aboard to push us more forcefully off the dock.  At last, away we went.  The problem was, Clevon needed to get back!
“I never get to go sailing anymore; too busy working.  This is great!” Clevon quipped, beaming.  His ride alas, was short lived.  A minute later, we dropped him off at Exuma Yacht Cub’s end dock, free of obstructions in the prevailing wind direction.

crusing activities exuma bahamas

Phil, Wayne’s Dad, relaxing before the no-see-ums and
then mosquitos attacked in port at Georgetown.  He and wife
Gunnel were not there to witness out messy exit.
Given our full fuel, water and propane tanks, no incoming guests, and enough time to minimize the need to motor, we’re betting it will be quite a while before our next docking adventure.

cruising life, hiking, cruising destinations exuma bahamas

Gunnel in Rat Cay cave two days prior.  Next to her is a
tree growing out of the cave’s limestone floor and through
a skylight in the cave!
Location Location
March 20, 2014, BAHAMAS.  At the moment, we’re off Volleyball Beach by Chat n Chill Georgetown Bahamas area’s Stocking Cay (N23.31.011 W75.45.526), in vast Elizabeth Harbor.  It’s about a 10 minute dinghy ride from Exuma Yacht Club (N23.30.212 W75.46.076), right in the heart of Georgetown.  We are headed to the Jumentos and Raggeds for a while, starting tomorrow morning, March 21st.  Cross your fingers our Batel Alcatel smart phone / hotspot meets our internet needs while there!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Conked at Cruiser-Friendly Library / Book Exchange

cruiser destination cruising life georgetown bahama

Nikki the all-knowing cook at Georgetown library.
“Our shelves are bursting out at the seams,” she said.  “Kindles, you know.  It’s ok to take more books than you bring, just let me see what you’re taking first….” 

Georgetown’s library is a cruiser-friendly library / book exchange, open weekdays 10-12 am.  I was returning the just finished Bahamas multi-generation historical novel “Wind from the Carolinas,” on indefinite loan with a $20 deposit.  I snagged several Harlan Cobens, my latest easy reading guilty pleasure.  They got the nod.

“Do you have any Bahamian cookbooks?” I asked, hopefully,  “Especially with conch recipes.”

“Nikki’s a great cook,” one librarian said.  “Just ask her.”

cruiser destination cruising life georgetown bahama

This book’s a keeper, for the history,
 illustrations and the recipes.
“Cookbooks are there,” Nikki pointed.  “Conch?  It takes some extra looking.  Mostly though, you just need to ‘beat the crap out of it,’” we finished the sentence together.

With some help, I found Dee Carstarphen’s charming “The Conch Book:  All You Ever Wanted to Know About the Queen Conch from Gestation to Gastromony, ” rife with woodcut-style illustrations and recipes.  There was even a white conch chowder” recipe, exactly what I was looking for!  It even gave pressure cooker times.

For $9 I bought about a cup of conch (about 3 small ones) in Georgetown, beat the crap out of them, and made a modified version of the chowder (more milk, more of the smoky bacon we got from Prime Island Meat & Deli) in a pressure cooker, saving about 40 minutes over traditional stovetop cook time.

Charming woodcut style illustrations are interspersed
throughout “The Conch Book”
We weren’t that hungry, but there were no leftovers.  Thumbs up, all the way around, including from Wayne’s Dad and his wife Gunnel, currently visiting.

“Now you gotta catch some of those conch yourself,” Wayne teased.  Like our fresh-caught mahi mahi, he is fast becoming a fresh-caught seafood convert.

If only my hunter-gatherer skills were as good as my galley prowess.  There’s no where to go but up.  Maybe Wayne’s Dad will lend us at least magic fishing touch on his visit.  Fingers crossed.

No photos of the end result for this white conch
chowder recipe.  We devoured it too quickly!

cruiser destination cruising life georgetown bahama

These conch piles are scattered throughout the Bahamas.
This one’s at Stocking Island, across from Georgetown.
Location Location
Pre-posted March 14, 2014 from Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas, Stocking Island roughly N23.31.877 W75.46.377 just off Chat and Chill / VolleyBall Beach.  However, by the time you read this, we're not sure if we'll working our way up or back down the Exumas chain with Wayne's folks (who arrived eve March 11th) until we bid Wayne's folks a fond adieu March 19th in Georgetown.