Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sailing on Stray Cat

We are a family of five from Upstate New York. Aside from Mom who had some sailing experiences in the Virgin Islands as a kid, and Dad whose done a lot of motor boating in the Adirondacks and on the St. Lawrence River, we are neophytes to the world of Caribbean cruising. We met up with Captain Mark and First Mate/Chef Carla late on Saturday night, April 17, at the Nassau Yacht Haven Marina. Captain Mark gave us the brief tour of the boat, and scheduled us for the full safety check in the morning. Our staterooms are beautiful and comfortable. To have a head available for each stateroom is a real plus, and the toilets are electric, which are so much easier than the pump heads Mom grew up using.

Sunday morning dawned with cloudy skies and a bit of a head wind. We took off after our safety discussion, and headed for Norman Cay. The passage took most of the day, and the sky was overcast for most of it. It rained on Atlantis, but not on us. Carla warned that you can get the worst sunburn on cloudy days, because you are not thinking about sunscreen. So, we all slicked up...except for Dad. Guess who got burnt? When we got to Norman Cay, we swam to the beach from our point of anchorage, and saw two rays, one small and one large, both peacefully sleeping on the sea floor. We brought back a beautiful conch shell to the boat. Carla made us a delicious dinner of grilled Mahi Mahi with mango salsa, followed by her secret-recipe rum cake.

Monday morning, we left Norman Cay and headed to Staniel Cay. Another long passage, but great weather, and we got to Staniel Cay at night time. We anchored off a small beach accented by a wreck of a yacht. We swam ashore to check out the wreck, and found it had been stripped of everything. Meanwhile, Carla had called ahead to arrange an afternoon, two-tank dive through Staniel Cay Divers for the next day. That night we ate grilled skewers of beef tenderloin, shrimp and scallops, and turned in to rest up for the busy day ahead.

Tuesday morning, right after breakfast, Captain Mark took us by dingy into Pig Beach. Carla loaded us up with baggies full of leftovers, and warned us to feed the wild pigs from the boat...she told us of a particularly nasty run-in she'd had with a pig that involved her getting bitten in an unfortunate (posterior) location. Then, we had a fabulous white bean and chicken chili lunch on board.

Mom and Dad joined three other people for our dive with Jake and Joelle, our dive-masters from Staniel Cay Divers. We had a really rough crossing to Danger Reef, where we geared up while eyeing with some trepidation the seven or so reef sharks circling the waters we were about to jump into. Jake told us not to worry, and suspending common sense, we jumped right in. What an awesome dive -- probably the best one we both have ever experienced. Immediately after getting to neutral buoyancy, we saw a large loggerhead turtle get caught in the mooring line. One of the divers got him freed, and to thank him later, the loggerhead swam right into his underwater video camera while he was filming! There were two large remora swimming on the loggerhead's underbelly -- it was an incredible creature. As Jake assured us, the reef sharks were massively unconcerned with our arrival in their territory, and we quickly - astoundingly - got used to swimming with them. Among the numerous kinds of tropical fish we saw, we spotted a huge spiny lobster, a massive crab, four or five Goliath grouper, and my favorite - the parrot fish, of all varieties and color. The next dive was on Jeep Reef, named for the Jeep that had been sunk there. Less fish, less coral, but still fun. We were very tired, but excited, about our dive adventures, and took some underwater photos which we pray will develop well.

On returning to Stray Cat, we learned that Captain Mark had taken the kids on a tour of the area, showed them Johnny Depp's island retreat, returned to feed the pigs at Pig Beach, and, following a pit stop for ice cream at the Yacht Club, a swim off the boat. We ate a hearty dinner of chicken parmagiana and turned in, exhausted. A brief word about sleeping aboard the Stray Cat -- I mentioned that the beds are very comfortable. They are all fitted with fans which, with the hatches open, provide a soft breeze that lulls the guest to sleep quickly. The staterooms afford a measure of privacy which is unexpected. Our kids would retreat to read in their berths, and they were unaware of anything else going on aboardship unless we knocked firmly on their doors.

The next morning, Wednesday, we did a snorkel around the Grotto, which is a beautiful cave that was featured in the James Bond movie, "Thunderball", as well as the Tom Hanks - Darryl Hannah film, "Splash." The tide was low and the current was light, so it was a perfect experience for all ages. We left for Sampson Cay, where we loaded up on more sunscreen. One of our kids is a fair-skinned redhead, and so we perhaps slather on a bit more sunscreen than the next family. But if we have one important packing tip, it is that you can't bring too much lotion. I am writing this on Friday, and aside from Dad's unfortunate first day, we are all sunburn-free. It makes for a much more enjoyable vacation if you're not in pain and feverish in your cabin for the week. After Sampson Cay, we traveled to Compass Cay where we put into the Marina. There, Carla re-provisioned us with scraps from dinner the night before, and we fed the nurse sharks right on the platform at the dock. It was incredible how they would hold their mouths up vertically out of the water to receive the food from our hands. Then, we took the beach trail to the most pristine, beautiful beach on the other side of the island. The sand was bleached white, and soft as silk. The water was that light-green/blue that we've only seen in the Bahamas. There was nothing and nobody but us and four plastic Adirondack chairs which we hauled into the gentle surf and thanked God for the experience of the nature that surrounded us.

We left Sampson Cay, and made passage to Walderick Wells, the home of the Exhumas National Land and Sea Park, part of the Bahamas National Trust. There, we anchored and Captain Mark brought us by the tender to the beach where the skeleton of a 52 foot sperm whale had been rebuilt after it had beached and died on the other side of the island in 1995. After a late afternoon swim, we returned to the Stray Cat, and enjoyed another delicious feast. The next morning, Thursday, we had a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, and put on our sneakers (the first time all week!) to do the hike up to Boo Boo Hill. The night before, we had scavenged a piece of driftwood, and using a Sharpie, inscribed our family's name, hometown, "Stray Cat" and the date of our landing on the wood. When we got to the top of Boo Boo Hill we left our homemade marker along with the others on that makeshift monument. We were slightly disappointed to see that none of the markers that preceded ours was marked with a year earlier than 2007. When we returned to Stray Cat, Captain Mark explained that there was some controversy about the popular monument, and it had been cleared to keep the area more in keeping with its role of a National Park. However, the community of cruisers protested, and the tradition was rekindled. Hopefully, our marker will still be there when we get the opportunity to return to this area. When we got back to the sperm whale beach, we visited the Park Office, where we found engaging warblers who ate the crumbs from our packed granola bars directly from our hands. There were curly-tailed lizards everywhere, and one faced off against a very large hermit crab for the scraps that dropped from the warblers' beaks. We left Warderick Wells about eleven am, and headed to Highbourne Cay.

After anchoring at Highbourne, we all donned our snorkel gear and visited the reef near our boat. The coral there was beautiful, and Captain Mark gave Mom and Dad spears and a quick lesson with the fish chart as to what to bring back for dinner. We decided to search for yellow-tail snapper or hogfish. Immediately, Mom saw a small hogfish, but not sizeable enough to do anything with. Then, towards the end of our snorkel, she saw three yellow-tail but wasn't fast enough to spear one. Luckily, Carla had all of our culinary needs taken care of - lobster tails and filet mignon!

The next morning, Carla told us she'd seen sand-dollars off the stern, so we jumped in and collected lots of souvenirs to take home. We set sail for Nassau, with an eye to visiting Atlantis on our last night, and returning home on Saturday. This has been an amazing, wonder-filled trip and we are eternally grateful to Captain Mark, First Mate/Chef Carla and Stray Cat herself for making this vacation one of the best we've ever had!

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Thanks for a Great Voyage

All the best to you both, and thanks again for a great voyage, Jim

11 March 2010
Up early with plans to sail up to Allen Cay to snorkel. 'Snapped photos of
a houseboat moored nearby, all of us wondering how it got there and how it
could "sail" through the seas. Sailed north on the jenny in a brisk wind.
Stopped at Sampson Cay for fuel and food, and then continued north. We
tried twice to anchor near Allen Cay, but the winds were to strong. We
reversed our course and set off south again for Highborne Cay-navigating a
very tricky channel to get there. We zigzagged through the coral heads
until we came to Swallowtail Bay where we anchored for the night. After a
feast of stir fry and a wonderful pasta dish, we went below to listen to a
howling wind. we felt very much sheltered in our cocoon for the night.
12 March 2010
The weather was somewhat threatening, as a storm was expected that night.
Needing fresh water from the marina on Highborne Cay, Captain Mark
skillfully maneuvered Stray Cat through a shallow cut in the coral reef to
the harbor on the opposite side of the island. We docked, took on water and
groceries and set sail toward Rose Island. We radioed ahead to Dancing with
Dolphins (Wes and Janice's cat), receiving confirmation of the storm, now
expected at dawn. The winds were gusting 15 to 20; we set both the jenny
and the main for a glorious sail! The winds abated a bit and then felt it
almost stop as we cruised through the cut into the sheltered lagoon of "the
donut" (their affectionate name for that end of Rose Island). Several of us
walked around the beginnings of a resort, currently on hold for a turn in
the economy. admiring the extensive bulkhead work. We returned to a
delicious dinner of marinated chicken, prepared by Seddon and barbecued by
Captain Mark. We could hear the wild wind beyond the trees that sheltered
13 March 2010
The front went through at dawn as predicted, with lots of rain, thunder and
lightning. In the morning, however, we went topside to blue sky. After
Marybeth's eggs and bacon, we reversed the cut at full speed to negotiate
the narrow route out into high seas--en route to Nassau and civilization. I
think we were all a little sad, if not resigned, at the thought of leaving
the out islands of paradise. We reached port mid-morning, and made plans for
a day in Nassau. Four of us set off over the high bridge to Paradise Island
to explore Atlantis, while Jim and Seddon who'd just been there at New Years
sought out the Straw Market. Buying an Adventure Pass at Atlantis, we set
out to explore the resort. It was a mob scene of activity, but it was huge
enough to contain it all. The aquarium was like no other -the fish, eels,
rays and sharks all swam in gigantic tanks set in caves and underwater
lagoons which meandered all over the property, interspersed with pools and
splashing waterfalls. It was amazing, we all felt that seeing a schematic of
handling all that water would be fascinating. We hiked back over the windy
bridge high above the harbor to return to the marina for showers. Jim and
Seddon returned from their day in Nassau that included Fort Charlotte and
conch fritters on the beach. We "dressed" for dinner at East Villa, a
restaurant virtually unknown to tourists, that Mark recommended, where we
enjoyed a true banquet of Chinese food. We taxied back to the boat for our
last night aboard Stray Cat.
14 March 2010
Because of daylight savings, we got up early-some rose at dawn-for a light
breakfast; lugged our duffel'sLate up from below. Farewell photos and hugs all
around. We'd had a wonderful charter, filled with many, many memories of a
week together, in the hands of our capable captain and mate.
Thanks so much, Mark and Marybeth!

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