Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bottom Harbour to Allan’s Cay, Bahamas

30.2 nm
Wind: NE 5 knots, dying to calm
Seas: A gentle ripple
Latitude: 24°44.86’N
Longitude: 076°50.29’W
Maximum speed: 5.6 knots
Maximum speed under sail: 4.1 knots
Average speed: 3.5 knots

On our way out of the harbor this morning at dawn, sailing among the coral heads under main alone, we passed three other boats still lying at anchor. Later on in the morning, still dawdling along under full sail in a bare five knots of wind, as we were passed by one of the same boats under main alone and motor-sailing, Karl began to make bitter quips about our stubbornness. In these situations, he becomes sarcastic and I become oblivious, attempting to pretend that we can actually make it to our destination under sail.

It has become the dynamic of our journey thus far: to sail or to motor? That is the question. I read too much of the Pardeys before leaving. Far, far too much. I’m still, even now, tormented by the romantic vision of full sail, of actually being able to use the wind to get us somewhere, rather than pistons and turbines and petroleum.

We ended up motoring today, as even I did not relish the prospect of being stranded out on the Exuma Bank after dark, but we left all our sail up. We’re becoming far better at motor-sailing, though, actually using our sails to gain speed so we can keep our engine at a lower RPM, use less diesel, and save money. Our sails probably gave us about two knots today, and we were able to keep the diesel at barely above an idle.

The anchorage we’re in tonight, the first of the Exumas, is gorgeous. We’re anchored off Leaf Cay, a tiny island sprinkled with a handful of sand beaches. Along their edges are sun-blackened partially petrified old conch shells, and each beach is covered by hundreds of red-faced iguanas that rush you for tasty treats as soon as you set foot ashore. Up on the hill, led to by a overgrown concrete path, is an abandoned building, covered by grafitti of the cruisers who have gone before.

As usual, upon getting into harbor, the first thing I did was dive in the water to check the anchor, and then snorkel around the coral heads and rocky outcroppings. There are zillions of conch here. Sitting in the sand, I could count ten within a hand’s reach. They’re all baby ones, though, so the protection campaign must be working. People are obviously still taking them--scattered among all the live conch crawling around and making paths in the sand are little bits of crunched pink shell from the ones that have been eaten. They’re a lot cuter than I thought, their little eyes sticking out on stalks from their shells until you pick them up, and then they retreat into their shell and stare out at you with fear. I’m glad we’re not allowed to take them, even though Karl and I would have had a delicious dinner of conch salad tonight if we had. Someone warned me about cutting their little faces off while you’re cleaning them, and I admit, the idea doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe I’m just a softie.

We did catch another barracuda today, though! I pulled this one in, and let it go. A real upper body workout, let me tell you. As we get hungrier, and farther away from fresh food, I’m going to be more and more tempted to eat one of these barracudas. They can’t be that bad, right? The ciguatera’s supposed to be rare. Or at least to take some conch--as we get farther out, to the less-visited islands, if there are this many and there are some big ones, I might suppress my conscience. I understand how people can’t believe that they’re being over-fished when you see just how many of them there are. The ocean floor is crawling with them, like giant snails. But I suppose that’s exactly why they’ve been over-fished.

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