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Monday, March 30, 2009

More photos from Atlantis

- Royal Towers - the main hotel building of about seven on site
- The kids admire the manta rays, amazing fish
- The company we keep, our neighbours in the marina
- The childrens water play park. The bigger slides and rides are great too but we didn't get any photos!

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Sunday, March 29, 2009


Here in Nassau, we have finally booked into a marina for the first time in over a year. My famous unwillingness to spend money, coupled with Gesa's dislike of manoeuvring the boat into narrow spaces and marina berths, has kept us happily at anchor for almost every night since St Lucia.

So why does this morning find us paying two hundred dollars a night to tie up to a few bits of wood and concrete?

Because this is Atlantis, that's why! The Atlantis resort is a huge complex of hotel, casino, aquariums, swimming pools and water rides. Book into the marina and everyone on board gets a pass to all of this - it's actually cheaper to pay for the berth than buy day tickets for the family, so here we are.

We had a fun day here yesterday. The aquarium and water rides are sort of intertwined, so you can ride a water chute that goes through a perspex tube that runs through the shark pool, for example. The most gentle ride is the 'Lazy River', a mile long route that you ride on an inflatable ring, involving some rapids, tunnels, waves and so on. Max loved it so much he rode it four times. Issie initially played here drama queen 'I'm scared' card to maximum effect then got over it and rode a couple of big slides before spending much of the time in one of the pools splashing happily.

More today, and we'll take the good camera with us an post some more pictures.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where there's a well, there's a way.

We have spent almost two weeks in the Exumas Land and Sea Park, a beautiful and pristine 176 square miles of water and islands. The park headquarters is on an island called Warderick Wells, where we spent a couple of nights on a mooring in superb harbour where the deep water winds around like a river, bounded by shoals and sandbanks. The water here changes colour dramatically with the depth - which is one way we navigate - and the moorings were in a dark blue curve bounded by light blue tending to cream and then yellow as the sandbanks rose to the surface. Beneath us were coral gardens, inquisitive lobsters, lurking turtles and groups of huge Eagle Rays cruising at the turn of the tide.

Ashore was equally fascinating, as the island has a series of nature trails with many information boards describing different features of these cays, their history and wildlife. We walked up Boo Boo Hill, the highest peak in the area, for stunning views all around and out across the deep Exuma Sound. Waves from the Sound crash into the island, eating away at the softer rock and leaving cliffs pitted with holes, from millimetres to metres across. In some places, this erosion combines to form blowholes, where the waves crash under the cliffs and force air up through holes in the rock. Issie stood over one, wearing her dress, and you get a perfect Marilyn Monroe effect. Up on the peak of the hill, boats have traditionally left a token, usually their boat name on a piece of driftwood. We found some wood, some old washed up rope, and made our own little sign to add to the hundreds already there. It was fun to pick out the names of folks we knew from our cruising.

After a lovely couple of days, we went north to Hawksbill for a couple of nights and then onto Shroud Cay. Both are uninhabited, wild places. Hawksbill has ruins from a plantation built and abandoned many years ago in the days of the American revolution when Loyalists from the Americas left the newly separated colonies to start again on these islands. The living was harsh and one can imagine that the intense beauty of the area quickly paled as the realities of finding water and growing crops soon became apparent. It could be argued that they picked the wrong side, and might have been better breaking with the crown and making it in the good new USofA.

Shroud Cay stands in contrast to the more hilly Hawksbill, it is very low lying and the interior is mostly salt pond and mangroves where the sea floods in and ebbs away twice daily making it a precious nursery for all manner of sea life. We took the dinghy into the interior and followed a fascinating creek that led all the way to the far shore. On the far side are traces of 'Camp Driftwood', a camp built in the sixties by a vagabond sailor who washed up on the island. By the late seventies he was joined by a couple more and the little camp was quite a well known landmark. It came in useful to the Americans, too, when drug enforcement agents made enough friends on the island to be allowed to set up a sophisticated camera to spy on Normam's Cay, five miles to the north. Here Carlos Lehder, a Columbian drug smuggler, was running the largest smuggling operation in the area, flying pot and cocaine in from Jamaica and Columbia and on again to the USA. The camera at Camp Driftwood recorded the details of all the planes coming and going from the nearby airstrip but the whole operation came to nothing because, in 1979, enough of the Bahamian police were in the pay of Lehder to let him know when the raid was coming and his island was as clean as a whistle. By 1983 the Americans had found other ways to curtail his smuggling operations and Norman's Cay fell into disrepair. Lehder was finally extradited from Columbia in 1987 and jailed in the USA for 135 years. We visited Norman's Cay and will post some pictures later.

Back on Shroud Cay, quiet and nature reign. On Ty Dewi, our thoughts turn to the water tank. We have now been almost three weeks since filling up in Georgetown and a small leak lost some of our remaining supplies. We can get more water a few miles up the coast, at fifty cents a gallon, but interestingly enough there is a well here on Shroud Cay. It seems worth investigating, so Max and I go ashore. Up a short trail we find a big pothole, with a low cement and stone wall around it, full of water. Lower a bucket on a rope and you bring up a few gallons of the softest, sweetest water you could taste. We planned to fill a couple of five gallon canisters and just see us through to the town water taps of Nassau, a week away, but we had heard that the water there could be a little brackish and Gesa suggested that we might as well fill up here since the water was so good.

So it was that we took five of our canisters over and spent a couple of hours filling, carrying, shipping to the boat, pouring, returning, repeating until we had moved seventy five gallons of water from the well to our tanks. It was a good workout, and the kids enjoyed playing on the beach as we did so.

We're also low on groceries, having spent so long in this beguiling park we are almost completely out of fresh food and relying on the tins and packs we bought in Puerto Rico back in January. Gesa has become tremendously inventive and can whip up a delicious meal from a pack of crackers, tin of sardines, leftover tinned peaches and some condensed milk. Well, we're not write at that stage but we have had some surprisingly good meals as we dig deep into the food lockers.

Right now we are at Highborne Cay, an overnight stop before we head over to Nassau and the lights of the big city. At last we will have supermarkets, laundry and other such 'delights' to look forward to. About forty miles to sail tomorrow, not huge but an early start and a fair day at sea. The wind is set to ease and swing well behind us, so we look forward to an enjoyable day's sail.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

How d'you eat Conch anyway?

..asks one of our friends. Therein, of course, lies a story or two.

Conch is the big water-snail of these tropical islands. You pronounce it 'conk' round here - the quickest way to identify yourself as a tourist is to talk about eating conch at Norman's Cay. It's conk at Norman's Key if you say it right. Anyway, if you are not eating it in a bar or restaurant, here's how to make a good conch salad.

First find your conch. They live in grassy sand, about ten to twenty feet deep. Get out your snorkel mask, ask around and head out in the dinghy to the recommended spot. Once you see some, dive over the side and go have a closer look. The shells must be large, when they are mature - over three years old - the shell gets a well formed lip at the edge, and it is only then that they are legal. For a good sized salad you'll need a two or three conch for four people. So grab the conch - they don't run away so it's pretty easy - and load up the dinghy.

Head back to the boat, peel off your wetsuit, grab a knife, hammer, tupperware box and head for the beach. Don't wear a shirt, you're going to get a bit messy. Use the hammer to smash a hole in the end of the conch, bits of shell and gloop will splat back at you. Cut the meat you see then reach in the wide end of the shell and pull the poor guy out of there by it's foot (Conch have a hard shell like foot they can use to move and to close off their opening, unless someone has bashed a hole in the other end etc etc)

You'll now be holding an unpleasant looking mess of mollusc. You have to cut off all the bits that aren't white meat (and there's plenty, I won't go through what they are) and get left with a lump of meat with a grey skin around it. That skin peels off eventually, after much swearing, slipping and tugging.

The resulting meat is rubbery and tough, you wonder why people bother. But marinate it, or pound it a bit, and it's pretty good. For the salad, simply chop the raw meat into small quarter inch cubes, marinate in lime juice for half an hour, and mix with chopped red onion, green pepper, fresh tomato and a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Very good.

You can also make 'crack conch' which is just the meat pounded, breaded and fried. Conch fritters are deep fried with tempura type batter, and there's various other options.

As with so much seafood, harvesting is a controversial business. Four or five for us every so often isn't an issue, or certainly shouldn't be, but commercial fishery sees local boats going to an area and clearing out pretty much every mature conch to be seen - fifteen hundred at a time isn't unusual. Frozen and canned conch is readily available, but I doubt that this is sustainable. A conch fisherman can break and clean a conch in about twenty seconds (it takes me five minutes for each one of the slimy slippery little devils) and we often see piles of freshly cleaned shells on islands we visit. I have seen some piles containing large numbers of undersized shells - it's illegal but it does happen so I have to wonder about the future of the fishery, if not the species.

Whilst there are still a few around, though, we enjoy the occasional salad from what we can catch but steer clear of buying anything commercially fished. We also get the benefit of the shells, which can be made into a conch horn. Seal up the hammer hole with epoxy, cut the narrow end off and file it flat, and you can play it like a trumpet. Issie went, with our friend Maik, to a little beach workshop in Georgetown to learn how to make them and we now have a good one on board. Max blows it to announce the sunset, to welcome and say farewell to friends' boats in the anchorage, and for any other reason he can think up. He's pretty good at it too.

So that's the story about conch. Probably not worth the effort, really....

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We walk up a famous hill on the island of Warderick Wells.

"Now, this is called Boo Boo Hill" we say.
"Mummy's got two of those"

There are actually places called Booby Hill on some islands, as the Booby is a local sea bird.

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Max is playing with some little plastic sea creatures. There are two killer whales.

"Two killer whales meet in the ocean...."
Oh oh, I think, there's gonna be a fight.
"....they're going to make babies"

He's been playing with his sister too long.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Issie is 7

We celebrated Issie's 7th birthday whilst at Staniel Cay, with morning cards and gifts, raising the birthday flags, a visit to the swimming pigs, a little party ashore with our friends from Fowl Cay and a dolphin cake carefuly carved the night before.

Hard to believe that our little girl is a third of a way to twenty-one already.....

Click picture for big version.

(explanation of swimming pigs...on a beach on an island with the strange name of 'Big Major's Spot' there live about six pigs, belonging to someone on the main island of Staniel Cay. These pigs forage on the island but these days they do better by waiting for cruisers to ome by in their dinghies and feed them scraps. They often swim out to the dinghy and eat from the salt water, who knows how they manage to survive on that, but I guess you get ready made salt pork. They are now part of the local tourist industry and I suspect that the owner is delighted to get his pigs fattened for free by the visitors food)
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Family album

Some nice recent photos of the kids.

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Wedding anniversary photos

- We went up to the resort with the kids in the afternoon and were able to play in their freshwater pool. Ahhh.
- My beautiful wife of nine years
- The dining room for dinner
- Us

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Sharks at Staniel Cay

The fishermen at Staniel Cay are keen to offer you lobster and other delights. It's outside our budget, usually, but we enjoy the sideshow when they clean the fish, conch and lobster and throw the remains into the water.

The sharks and rays have got used to the free food and hang around all day in the shallows.

They are nurse sharks - harmless creatures that feed on crustaceans and leftovers. The rays are sometimes stingrays but they too are almost totally harmles unless you sneak up on them and surprise them into an attack - which we have never had happen.

On a shallow beach where rays come in, you can often stand in the water and stroke the wings of the stingrays as they come by.

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Campfire on the beach

We met up with some friends on another boat and had a lovely sunset campfire, toasted marshmallows etc. etc. Click to see the bigger photos.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Elegant and Sophisticated

Not normally adjectives that get applied to us right now (or ever to me) but last night we got close, arranging for the kids to be looked after on another boat and slipping across the water to the Fowl Cay Resort, a private island that has lovely houses for up to thirty guests together with a beautiful dining room and bar. Last night they had just four residents, four other dinner guests and us, so we were treated to wonderful relaxed service in gorgeous surroundings.

The food was superb, a five course meal rounded off by an exquisite dessert on a shared plate just for the two of us - they had twigged that it was our anniversary and there was a lovely card for us at the table. Typically I'd spent half the day wondering what cocktail to have - we get lots of rum punch, pina colada and other rum and fruit things so I wanted something a little more sophisticated. The barman suggested a dry vodka martini and since we are half a mile from where part of the Bond film 'Thunderball' was filmed, it was of course shaken, not stirred. And perfect. I had another. You see what a tough life we have, obviously.

It was an anniversary dinner we will remember for ever, and one of the best meals we have ever eaten. Next time you're in the area, we suggest you should dine there one evening.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And then the sun came out

We've just enjoyed a couple of wonderful days here at Staniel Cay, made special by the people we have met around here, and gilded by the sunshine that has finally decided to appear, together with lighter winds. Add that to an absolutely beautiful place and it's a recipe for paradise.

We're anchored at the oddly named Big Major's Spot. It's a delightfully sheltered island with three little beaches, each of a different character. At the southern end is Piggie Beach, as we call it, because it is home to the locally famous swimming pigs. A group of six or seven porcines live on the shore here and have got used to being fed scraps by visiting sailors. At the merest sound of a dinghy engine they appear on the beach in anticipation and, apparently, if you go early in the morning when they are hungry they will swim out and try to get into your dinghy to grab the food you've brought out. We haven't managed to get up early enough (blame the time change, honest) and get more docile pigs, but it's still a sight to see.

The next beach along has been our Cocktail Beach. This is because on our first night here we made contact with Adamant, a boat built and sailed by friends of friends. In the way of this cruising life we had been told of their travels and that we were in the same waters when we hear them on the VHF radio. We call up and chat too, and arrange to get together here. When we do, there's a group of about eight loosely connected boats going to the beach and taking preferred drinks along with them. We join and have a great evening. Over the years, people have left a picnic table and about eight chairs on this beach, and built a little fire pit, so we go and chill out without being so rustic as to have to sit on the bare beach and get sand in our salads. We make new friends and even find babysitters for our wedding anniversary in a few days time. Very nice.

The third beach is empty, and makes for a great playground for the kids and a new friend they made when over on the main island of Staniel Cay - the kids met five year old Emma who is on holiday for a week with her parents, and their little cottage comes with a small powerboat so they zipped over to see us and spend an afternoon on the beach. We had a lot of fun.

Staniel Cay itself has about a hundred residents (many of these islands have less people than our volleyball club back in Cambridge!) and is based around a little yacht club / marina that dates back to the fifties when there really was almost nothing here. A delightful little village and community thrives here now, based a little precariously around the tourists that arrive by yacht or at the tiny airstrip. We walk the main road, buy a few things at the store and have a drink at the yacht club bar. Outside, by the quay, some guys are cleaning fish and lobster and throwing the unwanted bits into the shallow water where fifteen nurse sharks and a couple of big rays cruise around collecting scraps. The kids are fascinated.

Tonight we met up again with friends who we'd met in a bay a few miles south and we decided to take some food and drink back to cocktail beach and light that campfire. We had a magical evening as the sun set over the ocean and we toasted marshmallows as the last rays of orange light reflected off the anchorage.

Tomorrow is our ninth wedding anniversary. Many of you were at that wonderful party back in Cambridge in 2000 and we remember it very fondly. It's a short time but so much has happened in the interim. To celebrate we have booked to go to dinner at the Fowl Cay Resort. It looks amazing, and we have heard very good things about it - we are likely to be two of about six guests and twice as many staff so we're looking forward to a very rare break from the scruffy cruising with kids life that we normally enjoy. We've found other cruisers to babysit and will have to dig out some smartish clothes for the occasion.

If you want see where we're going, look at and look for Fowl Cay, Exumas. I'll report back in a few days....

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cold and tired

The sun has just come out and the wind eased, so we are feeling much better, but we spent the week since Georgetown being cold, tired and a bit hacked off.

It's a relative thing, of course. For us to complain it's cold when the air temp is 23C (74F) and the water about the same is going to sound a little funny to most of our northern hemisphere friends. But it has been overcast, cool by normal standards and windy, oh so windy. A near constant twenty to twenty-five knots (that's almost thirty mph) for a week is hard work and it drains us. Our desire to leave Georgetown and push north into the quieter islands led us to make a couple of trips that were fine for Nick and the boat, but left Gesa ready to hop on a plane and meet us in Florida.

Leaving Georgetown in a fresh breeze, we picked our way through the complicated exit to the harbour, with reefs, shoals, sandbars and coral heads to avoid en route. As soon as we are clear of the tricky bits, we settle the boat on course and Gesa says bye bye, she's downstairs on the saloon couch to avoid her seasickness getting the better of her. The kids are in normal passagemaking mode - aft cabin, video on, demanding snacks every ninety minutes. I set out both fishing lines, keep watch and read a book. Three hours to our destination.

We're half way there when the fishing line zizzzes out (sorry, yes, this is another fish story, skip to /endfish is you want). I spin the boat around to stop her, grab the rod and start reeling in. It's hard work. Gesa appears to help. She gets the gloves and the gaff - a pole with a big sharp hook on it that you use to spear the fish and drag it aboard - and the winch handle to deliver the last rites to the poor thing. She then offers to bring in the second line so it doesn't tangle, which is a very good idea.

I fight the fish. It's strong, very strong. Gesa has finished reeling in the other line and it has taken it's toll, working head down in these big seas has set off her seasickness. I can't help anyway, so keep fighting the very feisty fish. Gesa leans over the other side and returns her breakfast to the fishes. Well, to the ones that aren't being dragged sideways by my hook. Eventually I get the fish within about twenty yards of the boat and can see it - it's huge. A mahi-mahi, dolphin or dorado depending on your choice of names, and about five feet long. I'm amazed how big it is as it jumps out of the water trying to escape. As I get him closer I start worrying about how I'm going to gaff him and drag what is probably forty pounds of fighting machine onto the boat without Gesa's help, and in that moment I am distracted enough to let him have some slack on the line. Stop fighting and the fish wins - he jumped and got off the hook. Probably a good thing.

Gesa returns to her berth with an air of resignation and a look that doesn't bode well for me later. I return the boat to course, reset the fishing lines and off we go again. It's not fifteen minutes before the reel goes out again, I stop and reel in the fish. This time no-one comes to help me and I'm glad to get a more sensibly sized mahi, bring it alongside, gaff it and fling it into the cockpit. Time to go again, but might as well get in that second line, we don't want any more fish than we can eat. Well, don't you know, there's one on there too. This one is smaller still so it's easy to flip on deck without the damaging gaff, and I'm able to set it free to fight another day. Lucky fish.

I haven't had time to deliver the last rites to the fish in the cockpit, so it's still flopping around there, and has attracted the attention of the kids in the aft cabin. One window of that cabin looks into the cockpit well where the fish is, so they are sticking their arms through the window to touch the fish and shrieking every time it flops. Remember this is a three foot long fifteen pound lump of muscle with sharp fins, so I quickly put an end to that game and its aquatic participant.

Back on course and sailing again, I clean the fish. Issie and I are delighted to find it is a female with huge amounts of roe, so it's mahi cavier and fish egg sausages for us. The other two are less taken by this delicacy but we all enjoy mahi in all it's forms for the next few days.


The final stage of this twenty five mile passage is to get into our anchorage. This area is a hundred mile long string of low islands on the edge of the Great Bahamas Bank. There are occasional narrow gaps between the islands, known as cuts, where you can move from the deep, sometimes rough, waters of the Exuma Sound to the shallow, coral and sandbank paradise of the Bank. The trouble is all caused by the moon, which does its best to drag the waters of the sound onto the bank, and off again, twice a day. The resulting tides squeeze through the cuts at high speed and make life especially difficult if the tide flows out against the prevailing wind, when nasty sharp waves set up and can, in extremis, endanger the boat.

This is our first proper cut we have done. Rat Cay Cut is a little different in that it runs a bit north-south so is less affected by the problems of wind against tide, and thankfully I have got my tidal calculations right so we arrive when the water is flowing with us, with the wind, onto the banks. The cut, despite being only a hundred yards wide, is a pussycat. A nice expanse of smooth water beckons and we pass easily between the vicious rocks on either side. Inside we follow the dark blue, deeper water around and seek out an anchorage. A little gentle running aground in soft sand makes Gesa's day but we eventually tuck up comfortably near a beautiful 'hanging island' where the tide has eaten out the soft rock at the base of the island leaving a sort of rock mushroom with a narrow trunk supporting a big cap of limestone. The water colours are fabulous, all around us going from sandy yellow, through all possible shades of turquoise and light blue, into deeper blues and greens. This place would be great if only it wasn't so windy.

The following day we set out again and the wind has risen another few knots. This time the cut is no pussycat. It's rough, steep seas and both wind and tide against us as head out with the engine at full throttle but still just making headway out to sea. The boat rises over the crest of a wave to crash back down into the front of the next one. The waves are well over ten feet, just twenty or so feet apart. It's tough but we eventually break free of the grip of the current, hoist sail and turn on course. I offer Gesa the chance to turn back and wait for calmer weather but we both know this isn't due for three days. 'After what I've just been through to get out here, no way are we turning back' she says. And disappears down below for the rest of the offshore journey. It's too rough to fish anyway, so I just read and actually enjoy this weather, the boat is loving it and going very well, the sun is kind of shining and at least we are using this wind to our benefit instead of sitting at anchor being blasted by it.

The cut at the far end worries me though, I read all three pilot books and double check my tide tables. It's narrow and complex once inside, with a couple of nasty sandbars. As it turns out, the cut isn't too bad and we are safely inside but I do want to get out of the strong currents running though the obvious anchorage and look to get behind the island of Little Farmers Cay. Unfortunately, to do this you have to hug the south shore of the rocky island more closely than you would think wise, and we miss that turn, taking a finger of deeper water instead. We realise what we have done but, tired and ready to anchor, we decide not to try again and take one of the earlier anchorages. It's fine, but we are hit by most of the force of the wind and the current runs hard, forcing me to wake up at two am to watch the boat swing round when the tide moves from ebb to flood. I need to make sure that the about turn of boat and tide doesn't shake our anchor free. It doesn't, of course, but it's a disturbed night none the less.

The next morning we do move behind the island where it is lovely and calm, and that is the start of our much more relaxed recent days. The weather has got better and better, we've met some great people and seen some lovely places, which I will write about soon, if you really want more words (pictures, I know, pictures!). The forecast is for gentle winds and sunshine for at least a week which is great. Roll on the Bahamas.

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More treasure

We've been getting good at this treasure thing. Our friend Helen, when with us in Culebra, found a strange articulated ring when snorkeling. We all guessed it was some cheap piece of stainless bling, but she has since found out that it is white gold and pretty valuable, a nice find.

On Volleyball Beach in Georgetown, we are playing a game when we hear a discussion involving Issie next to the other court. As experience shows that such discussions could be going either way, Gesa heads over to see what is going on. As it turns out, Issie has found some money and on of the people there is a regular in the Georgetown community and has already agreed to keep it safe, announce it on the radio net the next day and we hope that someone claims it. All we learn is that it is a 'substantial sum' of cash and if it's not claimed it'll be Issie's of course.

The next day it is announced, and not claimed. We have already decided that Issie should have a little as a reward for honesty and the rest go to a local charity, so I dinghy over to the boat holding the cash and they are pleased to hear that. It turns out that it is well over a hundred dollars, and the cruisers there have good links with a local charity through the annual regatta. Issie gains a ten dollar reward, and we learn that she was very honest and proper, not even wanting to touch the cash, just pointing it out to the nearest adult.

Hopefully a good lesson learnt, but we did think what if. What if you are walking a beach in a lonely island and you find ten dollars washed up on the shore. A fairly easy question. A hundred? Probably still pocket it. A thousand? Ten thousand? Get more difficult doesn't it, especially in an area where drug running is still a profitable and regular activity. At what number of dollars do you turn it into the local police? Discuss!

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Georgetown, crusiers country club.

If you cruise this area, you see a few other boats at each anchorage. You hear that there are a thousand or so boats in the area, and wonder where they all are. Then you go to Georgetown, Great Exuma.

The area was clearly settled by a bunch of people keen to ingratiate themselves with the British crown. Georgetown, in Elizabeth Harbour, has a useful protected sea-pond called Lake Victoria.

Elizabeth Harbour is actually a mile wide by eight or nine miles long, bounded on the east and west by islands and sheltered by coral reefs and islets at each end. This means that the whole area is well protected whatever the wind and sea does. It's a superb natural harbour, the sort that naval captains dream of. And yachties. On the west side, the town has grown to provide most of the services we all need - good supermaket, hardware, internet cafe, banks and a few good places to eat. It's smallish and very friendly. You take your dinghy into Lake Victoria by going under a low and narrow bridge covering a cut in the barrier limestone, and then the little lake inside has a few good dinghy docks, totally protected. The dock for the supermarket even offers free water, a fabulous thing in these islands especially when it has been made by desalination and is as pure as it comes. The line for the tap is sometimes six dinghies long and a nice social gathering point.

On the other side of the harbour is the playground. There were over three hundred and fifty boats anchored up and down the length of the barrier island, off beaches with names like Hamburger Beach, Sanddollar Beach and Volleyball Beach. You may guess where we anchored.

Many boats are here for months, if not permanently. Retired Americans and Canadians, not quite ready for a gated community in Florida, migrate south each autumn to this gateless community in the sun. Some leave their boats here and fly home, others sail back, but the place has a core of folks who spend months here with nothing to do and so many of them have found the ultimate thing to do, which is to organise things to do for themselves and others. Every day at 8am the radio bursts into life with a lively 'cruisers net' giving weather, local business info and the activities for the day. The regulars take turns to run the net for a week, some sounding more like the local FM radio station - This is WZPSX broadcasting to you from beautiful Georgetown - and it's go-go-go. Pilates on Volleyball beach at 8am, dog walkers gather at Monument to let the pooches poo and pootle, boules at 10am (there were fifty people playing boules one morning) and much, much more.

We took the kids and our volleyball to Volleyball Beach and had a great time. We were instantly welcomed into the fraternity - "that's the casual players net, come over this way where we play 'regulation' games" - and we fell into a routine of doing necessary stuff in town in the morning, then onto the beach for daily volleyball games and a beer before dinner. There was so much more we could have seen and done during our week in town but the kids made friends, did a lot of playing on the beach and we just kicked back and enjoyed playing volleyball again.

I think the compressed, high activity, country club style atmosphere would tire for us pretty soon, still being in our move on and see stuff mode, but we can see how it attracts so many people to Georgetown. As another sailing family, especially with the travelling we've done in the past year, we were welcomed and accepted into the community and got the feeling that anyone would have done anything to help out if we needed things.

We made new friends, met up with people we'd chatted to earlier in our Bahamaian travels, and even met some wonderful people we'd last seen in Cuttyhunk, Mass., sadly they arrived the evening before we left so we didn't get a chance to have more than a brief chat but Georgetown is certainly the crossroads at which all cruisers meet in the end. There are worse places to get stuck for a while.

Conscious of the lack of photos recently. Hard to find wifi, but one day we'll catch up, sorry.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Mystery Boat

We were anchored at Conception Island, that paradise within paradise, uninhabited island. There was one other boat there when we left for a dinghy trip; when we returned there was a new arrival. We pass by and I notice a small person on board. KID BOAT!! It is now essential to go over and say hello as this invariably leads to group gathering on the beach and the kids will look after each other so we all get some grown-ups time to chat.

As we approach, Mum is on deck with a couple of kids and we say hello, we're here with kids too, what age are yours? Well, she says, we have six so take your pick. Six kids? Wow. We chat briefly about the island, they note that the weather is about to change so they might leave the next afternoon, and then dad appears to announce dinner is ready. With eight at the table it's probably a logistical exercise to match any major military event, so we say goodbye and why don't we catch up in the morning and go to the beach or something. Sure, she says, that would be good, and we go back to our boat.

The next morning we are having breakfast when they all get in their dinghy and head to shore. They go to a bit of beach nearest them, which doesn't bring them directly past our boat, and we guess they'll catch up with us later. After an hour's walking on the beach they return to their boat. Fair enough. We go to the beach ourselves, further along.

Whilst we are playing, we see their heavily loaded dinghy come past again, this time heading out to the reef where we guess they swim or look at the coral from the boat. Later they come back, not too far from us, and return to their boat. An hour later they up anchor and leave.

Now there's a natural explanation that with six kids you hardly need any more company, but even so it was a little strange not to have any more contact. We took to making up crazy stories.

"Oh my, it's that British boat we've heard about, you know, the one with the crazy kids and weird parents. Let's get out of here as soon as we can"

"Hey honey, we should go see them in the morning." "No Bob, you know what the witness protection guy said, we've gotta stay out of the way for a year or two. We move on tomorrow."

"Noah, we should really go say hi." "No honey, they aren't like us. We don't want them corrupting the kids with crazy ideas about evolution or anything. Let's just do the home school stuff in the morning then go"

"D'you think they saw my other three wives? We'd better go just in case, those FBI folks can't be far behind now"

"I think they believed they were our kids, but we've gotta get these haitians off the boat sooner rather than later."

Additional explanations welcome......

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