Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Jumentos - Fishing and Flashing...green flashing that is!

I felt my sphincters constricting as I silently repeated the mantra of I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…..unlike the Little Red Engine that could however, Pat and I were on the verge of becoming the Catalina Sailboat that couldn’t. Up to this point everything was going perfectly, we had timed our departure from Georgetown to coincide with the tides, the weather was benign and apart from a finicky chart plotter everything on the boat was working. Now exactly 3 hours after leaving the safety of Georgetown Harbour, I found myself staring down the twisting swirling, almost dry maw of Hog Cay Cut.

Hog Cay is a non descript chunk of rock that marks the southern extremity of Little Exuma Island. The cut which bears its name is the gateway to the west side of Little Exuma and must be traversed by any vessel wishing to explore the wilds of the curving chain of Cays known as the Jumentos and Raggeds. It is a narrow 100 foot wide S shaped pass that hosts a roaring current at all times except for a few minutes at slack water. At the western end of the pass is a coral bar that carries just enough water for our 5 foot keel to pass over it if we didn’t find the odd rock or two that were sticking up. Once over the bar, there is another 3 miles or so of absolutely featureless and uncharted shallow water. The alternative to going through the cut was to take an extra day going to Long Island and then back tracking through a less threatening pass known as the Comer Channel.

Since friends whom we respect as sailors and navigators had traversed the cut recently and provided us with a series of GPS waypoints which we could use to navigate the bends, we decided to time the tides and make the attempt to get through. Of course the GPS chartplotter which had been acting up, but still functioning following a software upgrade, decided to quit working the moment we crossed the threshold into the cut. Suddenly instead of following GPS way points we were now committed to eyeball navigation with Pat standing on the bow pulpit as the lookout scanning for toothy rocks. The depth sounder numbers decreased steadily and rapidly until it showed a mere 2 feet under the bottom of the keel as we came out of the last turn and approached the coral bar. Pat was calling back steering instructions as the depth sounder dropped under 1 foot of clearance. As I held my breath, I kept telling myself that many others had made the passage without mishap, otherwise the banks of the channel would be littered with the hulks of broken boats.

Reason however has little place when your home is suddenly less than the height of a beer can off of a rocky ledge and the current is sweeping you along at several knots despite the engine being in idle. And then we were over the bar. The bottom turned back to sand, but the depth sounder stopped changing at about .9 feet and now there were only miles of smooth white sand in front of us. At least if you hit sand, you won’t break anything so I breathed a little more slowly. Fortunately I had noted a heading to steer during the planning stages of our trip and now I reverted to blind faith and pilotage as I followed a dead reckoning course towards deeper water. After what seemed like an eternity the depths slowly rose and we found ourselves on the banks heading towards our first landfall in the Jumentos.

Unlike the Abacos and the Exumas, the Jumentos are unpopulated with the exception of the small fishing community of Duncan Town at its southern extremity about 100 miles from our current position. Annually not many more than 100 cruising boats pass through the Cays in search of the clearest water in the Bahamas and the absolute solitude afforded by very few other locations on the planet.

For Pat and me the trip into the Jumentos was a logical stretching of our skills. The Florida Keys was the beginner class, the Abacos were the intermediate and the Exumas were the advanced class. By traversing the cut we were off the grid literally and figuratively as we were going to be completely untethered from any land based support for the duration. In fact the only outside contact we had during our time in the Jumentos was via SSB and HF radio back to Canada each morning.

Since few make the trip, the islands are completely deserted and the beaches are largely untouched. Most importantly however the water is crystal clear and the fish and conch are teeming in the waters. On Flamingo Cay, which is our favorite spot to-date, it was possible for Pat to pick conch in knee deep water and for me to hunt fish by walking off of the beach with my spear. We have also discovered the delicacy that our fish books call Queen Trigger fish but the Bahamians call Turbot, a fish that is as tasty as it is pretty.

As our supplies started to run down, we were slowly making our way towards Duncan Town where we had hoped to replenish our onions and eggs. The plan was to pick up a few supplies and return to the solitude of the islands for another several weeks, but serendipity marks the life of the cruising sailor. One evening I was dialing a frequency on my SSB to call a friend who was heading north. Instead of making my intended contact, another familiar voice popped on line and inquired what our plans were for the summer.

I explained that our cruising license for the boat and our tourist Visas for the Bahamas would need to be renewed by early in May, so our intention was to stay in the Jumentos until then and then either head back to the US for a day, or cross over to the Turks and Caicos and then return to the Bahamas to restart the clock on our documents. The voice on the other end of the radio said “why don’t you consider Cuba, it’s actually closer than any of the alternatives and you’ll be amazed by the warmth and hospitality if the people. And yes you can replenish your eggs and onions for a fraction of what you would pay in the Bahamas.

The light bulb in my head illuminated with loud click as my brain began to evaluate the logistics of making the 75 mile hop across to Cuba. In the end I’m not sure if it was my stomach or my sense of adventure that clinched the deal, but suddenly we found ourselves securing the boat and staging for an over night trip across to Cuba. The surprising thing was that the decision was made, the plans were finalized and the departure date was set in a matter of a few hours. It seems that the confidence Pat and I have gained from living off the grid in the Jumentos has kicked our cruising reflexes into high gear. I guess we have made the grade so Cuba here we come!!

Have a great week, I know I will!


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1 comment:

Janice & Steve said...

Way to go guys! Enjoy your travels. We are back in the US for a few months caring for my father.