27 April, 2015
Sooooo….. Donny didn’t have the mooring balls that we reserved. Dude. Didn’t you say that you were coming yesterday? Would we mind just taking the end of his “T” dock for the price of a mooring ball? As we sidle in, there’s a welcoming party in the form of the half dozen liveaboards that call Donny’s home, ready to catch our lines. Nose to tail, “Erben Renewal” and Alizann take up the whole “T”, and then some. 1600, but it’s 5 O’clock somewhere. Time for sips and meet the neighbors. Donny tells us that John, our neighbor who singlehands his 48’ DeFever is a “scientist who can fix anything”. Turns out he’s a physicist who comes here every winter, and has done some wiring on the dock and some repairs on Donny’s outboard-nice guy. The next day, Suzanne and I decide to ride our bikes up to White Sound, where the Green Turtle Club and Brendal’s Dive Shop are located. The GTC is a destination resort that features deep sea fishing charters and diving. After the Green Turtle, we ride over to the Bluff House Marina, which was owned by the sister of the owner of the GTC and fierce competitors (Ahhh, family dynamics). Their bar was on the Ocean side, so we stopped for a Coke and some Conch fritters before our ride back. On the way back around Black Sound, we stopped at Abaco Yacht Center to check out the yard, as a few of the folks that we had met the previous month hauled their boats there for the summer while they went back to the States (just thinkin’). Unfortunately, their lift was a smidge too small for The Girl. Before we got home we stopped at Leeward Marina, where a couple of Krogens were tied up. Unfortunately, no one was on board, but we did discover that “Tintean” was docked there also (see “self-appointed dock mistress” Dismal Swamp blog, November 2014). Sarah filled us in on the local happenings, and let us know that the New Plymouth Liquor Store and Café was a good spot to hang out in the early evenings. We rode right past Donny’s and into New Plymouth to check out the town. Established in 1786 by Loyalists seeking shelter from the revolutionary winds sweeping America, it’s the largest town on Green Turtle Cay. Like many towns that we’ve visited along the Sea of Abaco, the folks here eke out a living by fishing and the tourist trade. After our tour of the hardware store and grocery markets (do we see a trend here?), we head to the Liquor Store AND Café for some conversation with the locals. Sarah and her hubby, Ken, were also in attendance. In the evening, we headed to the Sundowner Bar, as we heard that their pizzas were good (we were getting tired of fresh fish). After a half dozen fruity rum drinks and 2 pizzas with the Erbens, the 4 of us walked home, only to find out that Steve’s credit card was missing. He wasn’t sure where he had seen it last and spent the night racking his brain about it. By morning, he had concluded that he’d left it at Sundowner’s, having dropped it at the bar to start a tab. When Suz and I picked up the tab, he forgot all about the fact that his card was still with the bartender. We planned to head out to the bay to anchor for another night, and since he remembered where the card was, he figured that he’d dinghy in at 1600 when they opened. Meantime, Donny had called the owners at home (they weren’t there), and left them a message. Sooooo……..while all this drama was going on, Suz is going to take a few pics before we leave. “Do you know where the camera is?” “Yeah, it’s in the backpack”. “Where’s the backpack?” You get the picture. The camera, a couple hundred pesos, Suzanne’s I.D.,a credit card and very importantly, our Woody’s of St John, USVI long-neck, zip-up beer koozies are all in the pack which I conveniently stowed under the table at Sundowner’s. Now things are serious. Suz and I figure that our chances of recovery will be better if we remain Donny’s customers for another day or so. Not sure if I mentioned that Donny is a third generation Green Turtle resident and either knows or is related to everyone. S & J head out on the tide, and we stay. Long story short, the pack returned, all contents intact, around 1400. S & J recovered their card as well, a testimony to the honesty of the folks around these parts. That evening, Suz and I join Donny, Julie and some friends of theirs for desert at their house. They had just finished a dinner of BigEye Snapper which they had caught that day while bottom fishing in 600’ (!!) of water. Some specialized fishing rigs. Electric reels, five pound sinkers, and little strobe lights to attract fish that attached to the 150# test braided line. Even with the electric reels, it took 7 minutes to reel in from that depth. Donny related that they fished as deep as 1000’ with these rigs. While at Green Turtle Cay, we had a visit from Roberto & Maria, Krogen friends from Rhode Island, who were over at a marina in White Sound, enjoying a visit with their son. Also, while on a dinghy ride over to White Sound, we discovered that “Salacious” was anchored there, and we were able to have a short visit with Jim, Louise being on shore doing laundry (see Cumberland Island blog). While cruising, it’s all about the friends you make along the way.
We took off the next morning on the tide, and met up with “Erben Renewal” out in the bay for our cruise up to Manjack Cay, a private island where the sign on the beach said “Trespassers welcome”. Over the next 3 days, Steve, Suz and I went over to the Atlantic side to snorkel and scuba. We saw lots of critters, including lobsters (out of season), the biggest Hogfish Snapper any of us had ever seen (no spear with us), and several good sized Grouper, as well as the usual assortment of reef fish. One day, while snorkeling, I spotted 2 juvenile Spotted Drum, which are truly beautiful fish (which we had never seen on over 300 dives). The highlight, however, was 6 Eagle Rays flying in formation through a chasm in the reef over a sandy bottom. Suzanne was the lucky observer. She was in the water first, and saw all 6, while Steve, second one in caught a look at 3, while the slowpoke, Yours Truly only saw the 1 which was lagging behind. The 4 of us hiked the island, which has several trails, forged and maintained by the folks in the 6 households on the isle. I never get tired of walking deserted beaches, but all of the flotsam and jetsam littering the high water mark truly drives home a point. We simply NEED to stop manufacturing non-biodegradable containers. They never go away, and keep piling up and cluttering our environment.
Thursday, the 23rd. Short travel day today up to Powell Cay where it’s said, is some good diving/snorkeling. By 1115, we had the anchor down, and were headed over to the Atlantic side of the Cay. We use our “look bucket” (a 5 gallon pail that I cut the bottom out of and replaced with clear plexiglass. When placed in the water, it’s like a glass bottom boat as you look down through it) to find promising spots without getting in the water. The reef here was coral on top of limestone, with some really cool chasms cut throughout, dropping from 8’ to 35’ over sandy bottom. The effect was pretty cool, with the bright sun filtering through the water, causing the multicolored coral and fish to shimmer. I spotted a large Grouper, and yelled to Steve to come over with his Hawaiian Sling (spear). The chase was on, and it turned out that there were 2 Groupers hanging out together. Steve and I stalked them for about 15 minutes, as they swam from one hidey hole to another, then down to the bottom at 35’, changing color from green to brown to striped as they moved to different surroundings. Steve dove for a couple shots, but couldn’t get one off as the fish darted into a hole or swam into deep water. It seemed like the fish knew our limits and were just teasing us. Finally, in frustration, Steve asked me if I wanted to try. I’d never done it before, but jumped at the chance. That Grouper was just sitting on the bottom with his stripes on, knowing that he was out of reach. Hyperventilating to the point of dizziness, I dove down, and swam along the bottom with as much nonchalance as I could muster, as this was a “head game” now. My lungs bursting , I turned and lined up a shot as the fish presented me with a good target. Bam! The spear hit him, but bounced off his spine, falling harmlessly to the sand. By now, my head was swimming and finning to the surface took forever, seemingly in a tunnel as my peripheral vision was dimming from lack of oxygen. The Old Machine ain’t what he used to be. Could swim 50 yards under water and not break a sweat-not no mo’. I tried to swim down and retrieve Steve’s spear, but just couldn’t do it. He finally did, and we called it a day. Game, set and match Grouper. The Captain’s birthday celebration that evening consisted of frozen Painkillers and apps, followed by Greek salad and homemade spaghetti (my favorite) washed down with a couple bottles of Ecluse Cabernet. I was about to burst when Julia whipped out her now-famous Tequila (Ta’ Kill Ya’) Lime pie for desert. For the man who needs nothing, my birthday gift from S & J was a bag of Kettle chips and a Cuban. Yeah, Baby. It was breezy with some swells churning up the water the next day, so we’ll come back for those Grouper next year, when they’re bigger. Instead of snorkin’, we all piled into the tenders, and rode over to Spanish Cay, a private island a couple of miles distant. We poked around the marina and resort there, and had lunch at their bar. The Grouper was excellent. After lunch, we all headed back to the boats. Suzanne and I hiked across Powell to the ocean side of this uninhabited island and a deserted, couple mile long sand beach. After that, we hiked a trail up to a bluff overlooking the boats and snapped a few. After our shore expedition, Suz and I just sat on The Girl and read until dusk, when S & J came over to talk about the weather. No kidding. As we head north, finishing up with The Sea of Abaco, there are fewer options for anchoring in certain weather conditions, and it’s nice to have a “Plan B” if necessary. Comparing notes, it was reassuring to see that we had come up with the same options and conclusions as S & J. The weather conditions looked to be rather unsettled for the next week, with multiple Lows marching across the Southeastern United States and heading our way. We agreed that unless things changed dramatically, we wouldn’t be crossing back to the States very soon, but when that window opens, we’ll be through it. Saturday, the 25th, we’ll be off to Alans-Pensacola Cay (used to be 2, but is now 1 island after a hurricane).