Thunderball Grotto!

Sunday, the 22nd of February was likely to be our last day in Staniel Cay. The next day we planned to start inching our way northward, back to Spanish Wells to await a weather window to cross the Northeast Providence Channel back to the Abacos. We hoped to take a week to ten days to do that however, stopping for several days in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.

The day started with a dinghy ride to the yacht club to go to church. There is only one church on Staniel Cay, the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. It was unlike any Baptist church we’ve been to in the states. The worship was almost identical to the worship I and my wife grew up with in the Pentecostal church. There was a lot of shouting and praying loudly and singing the same chorus over and over. We stayed for the worship, prayer and offerings, but had to leave prior to the preaching. It was noon and we had a busy day planned. We walked the quarter mile or so back to the yacht club and had lunch. Cindy loves the club sandwich (which is, in fact, excellent) and I love the blackened mahi sandwich. Mmmmm! We then sat in the dining room for a little over an hour for wifi access. I was able to put up another blog and get one ready to publish for the next day. Afterwards, we watched a couple feed frozen squid to the nurse sharks out by the yacht club docks before picking up a couple of bags of ice and heading back to Beatitude.

Beautiful Bougainvilleas

Beautiful Bougainvilleas

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Staniel Cay

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Staniel Cay

Blue Reflections on the Wood Ceiling from the Stained Glass

Blue Reflections on the Wood Ceiling from the Stained Glass

Looking out the windows of the church: Blue beyond Blue

Looking out the windows of the church: Blue beyond Blue

Staniel Cay Marina, taken on our walk back from church

Staniel Cay Marina, taken on our walk back from church

The Dinghy beach from our lunchtime table at the Restaurant

The Dinghy beach from our lunchtime table at the Restaurant

Enjoying lunch time

Enjoying lunch time

DSCN3742

Nurse Sharks hanging out in the marina

Nurse Sharks hanging out in the marina

The weather today had finally calmed to 10-15 knot winds. So… we decided to snorkel Thunderball Grotto. This spectacular, sunlit, underwater cave was made famous by the 1965 James Bond film, Thunderball, starring Sean Connery as Bond. There is a cool picture in the yacht club of the film crew hanging out. There are three entrances to the grotto, all of which are underwater at high tide, requiring one to dive briefly underwater to enter the cave. At low tide however, one can snorkel right in. We decided to go at low tide since Cindy would not be up for diving to enter.

Dinghy ride back to Beatitude

Dinghy ride back to Beatitude

So, around 3:15 we reboarded Dalí to head over to the grotto, which is right around the corner from our anchorage. Before leaving our anchorage, however, we took a side trip over to Hog Beach where we were the only boat around. A large hog immediately hit the water and started swimming toward us for food. While feeding him, we actually drifted quite a ways from the shore. I was a little concerned about the poor pigs stamina in being able to make it all the way back to the beach. I shouldn’t have however. His swimming muscles are obviously in shape as he handled it with no problem.

One more time with the swimming pigs!

One more time with the swimming pigs!

Please feed me!

Please feed me!

Once at the grotto, we dropped our dinghy anchor in about 12-15 feet of water and jumped overboard. Unfortunately for Cindy, she just could not get comfortable this time with her mask and snorkel and decided to get back in the dinghy. I went on in alone. It really was magnificent. Several holes in the roof of the cave allow sunlight to shine in from above. Hundreds of fish, used to being fed by snorkelers, gather around you upon entering the cave. There was a great variety of fish inside: Sergeant Majors, French Grunts, Squirrelfish, Rainbow Parrotfish, Yellowtail Snapper, Queen Angelfish, Wrasses, and many more. The water was clear and beautiful. At first there were two other people in the grotto with me, but they soon left and I had the place to myself. How wonderful it was!

Thunderball Grotto

Thunderball Grotto

Ready to enter Thunderball Grotto.

Ready to enter Thunderball Grotto.

Inside Thunderball Grotto

Inside Thunderball Grotto

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

A look at the top of the Grotto - several holes through which sunlight fills the cave

A look at the top of the Grotto – several holes through which sunlight fills the cave

Before returning to Beatitude, I snorkeled briefly around the exterior of the grotto, enjoying the beautiful coral and a few more fish. Once back in the dinghy, Cindy wanted to drive Dalí back to Beatitude. I gladly let her as she does not drive it nearly enough to be really comfortable with it. So, that was good. Upon our arrival to our mother ship, I jumped in the water once again for a little more fun. I snorkeled up to our anchor and noted that it was still buried, but had twisted in place in the spot that we had dropped it five nights ago. The wind has done nearly a 360° since then. It was cool to see the patterns in the sand made by our anchor chain radiating out in each direction. Along the way I spotted a crab playing with our anchor chain. I also spotted two flounder, well-disguised in the sand. Once I took my eyes off them, it was difficult to find them again.

A fan coral outside the grotto

A fan coral outside the grotto

Outside the Grotto

Outside the Grotto

Cindy in charge of Dalí

Cindy in charge of Dalí

Our anchor firmly set in the sand

Our anchor firmly set in the sand

Impressions from our chain anchor rode

Impressions from our chain anchor rode

Cindy enjoying the water off the back of the boat

Cindy enjoying the water off the back of the boat

After playing for a while in the water, I ascended the swim ladder and rinsed the salt water off of me and the snorkeling equipment. I then radioed the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park to be put on a waiting list for their moorings in the park. Tomorrow, we plan to weigh anchor and head a few miles northward.

Sunset over the Big Majors Spot anchorage

Sunset over the Big Majors Spot anchorage

Setting sun

Setting sun

Wind and Weather – Three Days at Staniel Cay

Thursday, February 19, was spent exclusively aboard Beatitude. There were 25-30 knot winds blowing out of the northeast for the entire day. We heard calls over the radio in the morning of boats drifting and needing assistance. The waters on the Exuma Bank were white-capped and choppy. To attempt to go anywhere in the dinghy would’ve entailed a wet ride. So… we just decided to hang out on our floating home. We made water, prayed, read Shakespeare, played games, played and sang with the ukulele, watched movies, read books and magazines, did some laundry, ate three good meals, and did just about whatever else struck our fancy.

Wind jostling boats in the anchorage

Wind jostling boats in the anchorage

On Friday, the winds calmed slightly for the day, enabling us to dinghy back into Staniel Cay. We took Dalí over around 11 a.m., bought some more wifi service at $10/100mb, posted another blog and had lunch. Cindy had a great club sandwich, while I enjoyed a delicious blackened mani at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. I carried a couple of jerry cans over to the fuel dock for some regular gasoline for Dalí. While Cindy continued to use her wifi (mine was quickly used up by uploading pictures for the blog), I thought I’d try the third of the three grocery stores at Staniel Cay, Blue Wing Groceries. I can’t say that there was any great difference between the three. Each had a limited variety and quantity of food items, but they were adequate. Our dinghy ride back over pretty much drenched me. The wind and waves were at just the right angle to cover me with spray and splash. It is usually Cindy, siting at the bow, who gets wet. Today, it was my turn.

Cindy, poncho-clad, ready for water on our dinghy ride

Cindy, poncho-clad, ready for water on our dinghy ride

Sitting in the Yacht Club Restaurant for lunch and wifi

Sitting in the Yacht Club Restaurant for lunch and wifi

Looking through the window into the yacht club

Looking through the window into the yacht club

Saturday turned out to be another very windy, albeit much warmer and sunnier day than the day before. The temperatures climbed to around 76°, but the winds returned to the mid-20s. We thought we would take a dinghy ride over to the yacht club for wifi and lunch again. But by the time we had reached the half-way point, I was soaked to the core. The wind driven waves were coming over the side of Dalí in bucketfuls. At that point, we waved the white flag of surrender and returned to Beatitude for another boat day. Our boat days have actually been quite pleasant – filled with reading, painting, music and movies. We’ve enjoyed a little Jane Austen movie marathon over the last couple of days. So far we’ve watched Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park. Jane Austen was brilliant.

Yacht Club Restaurant

Yacht Club Restaurant

A view from the fuel dock at the yacht club.  This is the dinghy beach where everyone  parks their dinghy

A view from the fuel dock at the yacht club. This is the dinghy beach where everyone parks their dinghy

Cindy doing wifi on the yacht club porch

Cindy doing wifi on the yacht club porch

Saturday night marks our ninth straight night at anchor. That is, by far, a record. I believe we had stayed out at anchor previously for, at most, four nights consecutively. We will likely stay around Staniel Cay for another day or two, and then begin to inch our way northward through the Exumas. Within ten to fourteen days, we plan to be back in the Abacos. I can’t begin to describe the beauty of the water in the Exumas, or for that matter, the Bahamas in general. My mouth is agape and my soul is awed by God’s created grandeur. Magnificent!

Artists at work (at least one)

Artists at work (at least one)

Beautiful sunset at Big Majors

Beautiful sunset at Big Majors

Swimming Pigs!

Last night, we retired around 9 o’clock. We were so sleepy and exhausted from the previous night’s adventures. Ten hours later, we awoke refreshed and ready for our first day of relaxation in the Exumas, a chain of islands described as “an emerald necklace bedecking the periwinkle and turquoise waters of the Bahamas. Geologically, the Exumas are the remains of a giant underwater mountain range of limestone. There are 360 or so cays (islands) that make up the Exumas, one for each day of the year.

After our morning discipline of prayer and Shakespeare (right now we are reading the horrifically tragic and moving play, Titus Andronicus), we did some laundry with our bucket and plunger and hung it out on the lifelines to dry. We then filled up the near empty gas tank on Dalí so that we could take her back and forth to Staniel Cay. Soon after, we hopped in the dinghy and motored 150 yards over to Hog Beach.

The laundry "machine"

The laundry “machine”

Galley shot

Galley shot

Laundry hung out to dry - Makes Cindy nostalgic - reminds her of when her grandma used to hang clothes out on the line

Laundry hung out to dry – Makes Cindy nostalgic – reminds her of when her grandma used to hang clothes out on the line

Hog Beach is a beach on the northwest side of Big Majors Spot. It is the home of a group of freckled pigs which have become accustomed to visitors coming to feed them. They will swim out to your boat asking for handouts. Curious visitors are all too anxious to accommodate them. When we dinghied over to see them there were two other small already there. One up on the beach with its inhabitants hand-feeding the pigs on the beach. These hogs are obviously not dumb. They refused to swim out to our boat when they could stand on the beach and be hand-fed. We gave in and walked up onto the beach to interact and feed the pigs. They can be a little overaggressive in seeking handouts, so you have to be a litle careful with your fingers… and hips! (One of the guys on the beach said one bit him on the hip.) After the boat left that was on the beach however, we backed off into the water. When the piggies realized they would indeed have to work for lunch, they hobbled out into the water and swam to our boat. Who knew pigs could swim?

"Here Little Piggie!"

“Here Little Piggie!”

Sandy snout

Sandy snout

This pig soon after tried to eat Cindy

This pig soon after tried to eat Cindy

Cute pig

Cute pig

"Give me something to eat!"

“Give me something to eat!”

Pearls cast among swine?

Pearls cast among swine?

Pigs do the pig-paddle

Pigs do the pig-paddle

Swimming pig

Swimming pig

From there, we took Dalí around Big Majors Spot to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where we found some wifi and ate lunch. The lunch was delicious and not badly priced for the Bahamas. Or, maybe it is just we are getting used to the exorbitant prices. Who knows? This is the first time we had to pay for wifi, and the first time I’ve ever not had unlimited wifi when available. We had to pay $10.00 for 100 megabytes of data. That’s plenty to do email. But not enough to look at many photos or videos on line, not enough to FaceTime or Tango, and maybe enough to do one blog post. I did check my email and Facebook messages and was able to put up one blog for my 10 bucks. Cindy checked email and Facebook and briefly Tangoed her mom and sister. Before we were ready for it to be finished, our 100 mbs of internet usage was gone.

The Bar area at Staniel Cay Yacht Club

The Bar area at Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Petting the nurse sharks.  They weren't very cooperative with me petting them

Petting the nurse sharks. They weren’t very cooperative with me petting them

Sharks and a ray by the docks at Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Sharks and a ray by the docks at Staniel Cay Yacht Club

Out front of the Yacht Club

Out front of the Yacht Club

A rose among bougainvilleas

A rose among bougainvilleas

With no more wifi, we decided to go for a walk around town. There is not much here. There is one church and three grocery stores (if you call them that). There is Isles General (where we shopped yesterday), the Pink store, and the Blue store – each much smaller than your typical convenience store. We then returned to Beatitude. Upon our return, we gathered up our now-dry laundry and decided to let out a little more scope for our anchor. We had out 70 feet, which is about 5:1 here. But over the next three days the wind is going to pick up to 20-30 knots, so we wanted to be comfortable that we were secure. Again the anchorage is massive, and although there are 30 boats here, no one is within 200’ of us. There is good holding in sand everywhere. So, we let out our scope to 105’. This turns out to be about 8:1. With all chain, we should be well set for the predicted weather.

Posing with the proprietor of the Pink Pearl Grocery

Posing with the proprietor of the Pink Pearl Grocery

The beach en route to the grocery

The beach en route to the grocery

The Staniel Cay medical clinic

The Staniel Cay medical clinic

While extending our scope, we saw a nurse shark pass beneath the boat several times. So, after we were done, I decided to go for a swim by the boat. Unfortunately, the nurse shark disappeared. He apparently did not like company. I swam out to check our anchor and decided to do a little bottom cleaning while I was in the water. The water is lovely and comfortable. I jumped in without my wetsuit and was just fine. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The clarity is remarkable. I apparently made the water look really good, because soon, Cindy jumped in to enjoy it as well. I was quite proud of her jumping in to swim since we had seen the nurse shark next to the boat a few minutes before (and yesterday we saw a ray swim beneath the boat). She did swim and enjoyed it for a brief while before we’d had enough for one day, and climbed back up the swim ladder and onto the boat.

Checking the anchor

Checking the anchor

This photo clearly shows the bridle attached to the rode and the anchor chain leading forward

This photo clearly shows the bridle attached to the rode and the anchor chain leading forward

Doing a little bottom cleaning while in the water

Doing a little bottom cleaning while in the water

Cindy enjoying the cool Exuma waters

Cindy enjoying the cool Exuma waters

We grilled some hot dogs for dinner, and afterwards enjoyed a dinner of reading, game playing, and watching Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Just before dark, the winds veered around to the north and increased in intensity, dark clouds covered the sky, and rain began to lightly fall. It should be a noisy and rolly night of sleep tonight as Beatitude rocks and bounces to the wind and waves.

The blue water outside of our escape hatch beatifully frames our Mary icon.  This reminds me of the Blue Madonna at the Ringling Museum of Art.

The blue water outside of our escape hatch beatifully frames our Mary icon. This reminds me of the Blue Madonna at the Ringling Museum of Art.

Sunset

Sunset