Checking out New Smyrna Beach

5/4/17
New Smyrna Beach, FL
Position: 29 01.635N, 080 55.233W
Posted by Bill

We spent a few days in Vero Beach and after some high winds blew through we left on 5/2. We stopped in Cocoa/Cocoa Beach and anchored at position 28 21.118N, 080 43.219W, really close to where we have anchored in the past. This is a standard stop going both north and south. There is not much to do there, at least for us, and the restaurants are not the best, so Tricia made homemade gnocchi, Matt made jalapeno popper dip, and Shirley made a salad. We had an outstanding dinner on the boats!!! The next day we made our way north to New Smyrna Beach, just south of Daytona Beach. We have never stopped here before but have heard so much about how nice of an area that it is, so we planned it as a stop this time. Motoring in the ICW can be boring at times, but it was nice to have calm seas for once, but not so fast. We got hit by a nasty squall that lasted around 40 minutes, with 35+ knot winds, blinding rain and 4 foot seas in the ICW!!! It was crazy! Fortunately, waves were on the bow and not on the beam. We saw tons of dolphin and manatees along the way. Here is one of several dolphin that swam beside the boat for about 20 minutes…something we always get excited about:IMG_1899 cmp

We pulled into New Smyrna Beach City Marina and went ashore for happy hour. There are some really good places to eat here. Today we hit a great place for breakfast, and great place for happy hour, and a great place for dinner. All were in a short walk from the marina in the downtown area. Another round of storm fronts moved in, or we would have walked to the beach, where we hear there are some really good places to go as well. We’ll save it for next time. The downtown area reminded us a lot of Fernandina Beach, with many shops and restaurants. We will stop here again for sure. It looks like we have a couple of days of high winds again, and we would stay here if we could for another day, but the marina is booked and we have to move on, so we will take a whopping perhaps. The next stop is Marineland and then on to St Augustine for a few days.

Here is a picture of the marina, and of the downtown area:
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We can’t seem to get a decent break from the weather this year, but next week is looking really good! We are excited!!

Back in the USA

4/28/17
Manatee Pocket, Port Salerno, FL
Position:27 09.267N, 080 11.703W
Posted by Bill

Well…we made it back safely.

Our good friends and traveling partners, Kurt and Sharon on Byrd Ketcher, joined us in South Bimini the day before we left. It was a great reunion and a good time was had by all!! We had a 2 day window of good weather and sea state, and we picked the best sea state forecast. It was supposed to be seas around 2 feet and light winds until the last 1/4th of the trip, and then just over 2 feet with winds in the low teens. We left on 4/26 at first light and had a great passage for 3/4ths of the way…just as forecasted. However, the last three hours sucked bad. For that period we were in the Gulf Stream, which is a 3-4 knot current that runs north. Our one rule that we will never break, “don’t travel the Gulf Stream with any kind of wind with a north component (N, NW, NE)”. The reason is that a wind opposing that strong of a current creates steep, tightly spaced, waves that kick your ass. Winds were supposed to be SE so we thought we were good to go, but they ended up being NE when we got there. We also had a N to NE swell running which was amplified by the NE winds, which were 15-20 knots, and whipped up by the stream. So….once again we had 6 foot BEAM SEAS, short wave period, and steep! You guessed it…ass kicking. It amazes me that we have not be able to count on any forecast data this year. We use 5 different sources and interpolate, but they have all been wrong when we have counted on them.

Needless to say, we made it to the Lake Worth Inlet and ended up anchoring in North Palm Beach at position 26 50.268N, 080 03.326W. We were so beat up and exhausted that we just collapsed on the boat and crashed early. If you are a blog follower, this is the same anchorage that we pulled up the remnants of a house boat with our anchor a few years ago. I was a little nervous this time, but we stayed away from the spot that we anchored before. Yesterday, we went ashore, had a great breakfast and hit the local grocery store. It is always a culture shock coming back to the US from the Bahamas, especially at the grocery store with all of the options available, and fresh produce. Just to give you a general idea, you go from this:DSC_0439 cmp

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Yesterday we motored the ICW to Port Salerno, and Manatee Pocket. We enjoyed dinner and drinks at the Twisted Tuna. It was fun, and nice to have the options and prices that the US offers at its restaurants. Here is a shot of the anchorage:DSC_0053

We are starting the trek back up to Southport, and expect to be there before Memorial Day weekend.

Eight bells for Linda Hilty

4/28/17
Port Salerno, FL
Posted by Bill

“The sounding of ship’s bell is well rooted in the history and tradition of the maritime industry. The bell marked time onboard and divided the day into shifts or “watches” for the crew. At the end of the last shift, the end of the last watch, eight bells rang out – Eight Bells and All is Well. A sailor’s time for rest.” – Source: Boat US web site.

It is with great sadness that I write this post. We arrived back in the US 2 days ago to the news that our dear friend and “family” member Linda Hilty passed away. Linda, her husband Jim, and their sons, Neal and Shawn, have been lifelong friends and have always been considered part of the immediate family. We have enjoyed more than 12 years of family vacations, and many good times together. She was one of the nicest and most helpful people I have ever met, always very giving, and there to lend a hand. We will always be grateful to have spent the time we did together, and also for the many times they helped my Mom. Our hearts go out to the family. We feel terrible that we could not make arrangements to leave our boat and travel in time to PA for the services. One of the last times we were together was when they came to see us in the Keys and we went to Key West together. It was great fun. Here we were at the Green Parrot bar:
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Linda will surely be missed, but never forgotten!

Another round of ass kicking

4/23/17
South Bimini, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

We really love cruising in the Bahamas. Our favorite place to be so far is the Exumas. When we originally set sail 3 years ago, we thought we would do the Bahamas and the Keys and then work our way through the Caribbean. We have chartered boats in the Virgin Islands several times and also flown to many other places in the Caribbean for vacations over the years, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting into. Once we got to the Bahamas, we realized that there is no need for us to go further, and we may not…we shall see. The Exumas are beautiful and you can find seclusion. You can also find food, trash disposal, fuel, and visit some small towns to eat out and/or check out the culture. The biggest problem we have dealt with is the weather. The first year was not as bad as the last 2, which have really made it difficult to see and do all of the things we wanted. We get pinned down by weather for 5-10 days, have a couple of days to move to another place, only to prepare for another 5-10 days of bad weather. By bad weather, I am talking mostly winds and the resulting sea state. We are not fans of getting rocked and rolled for days at a time, and unfortunately, you find you are getting your ass kicked while underway and at anchor. After awhile, it just gets to us. This year my new cruising goal was “not to get my ass kicked”. Sometimes that means you have to sit somewhere for a long time. I know that this is just part of the deal, and I would not trade our experiences if I had it to do over again. We feel so fortunate to have seen the world like this. If you are thinking about going cruising, just know that this is a major pain in the butt, and some people go back to dirt dwelling because of it.

There seems to be more mega-yachts, boats in the 150-250 foot range, in the Exumas. Most of them appear to be chartered. The typical passengers are not cruising savvy, which means, they don’t understand common courtesy or respect, for other boaters or for nature. They congregate in certain spots that have become tourist attractions, and are essentially ruining the experience for everyone else. The Bahamians naturally cater to this crowd because most of their livelihood is dependent on tourism. Passengers are rude, arrogant, with a “we own the Exumas” mentality. We will not go back to some of these places because of it. The mega-rich are also buying cays or islands, and making them private. Fortunately, the law through all of the Bahamas is that 50 feet above the high tide line on all beaches are public property, so you can still enjoy the beach and water. From what we have read and heard, the privatization of the cays is changing the culture and feel of the area, and not for the better. One of the cool things that we noticed at some of the settlements like Blackpoint, is that you see the children outside playing…swimming, riding bikes, and having the same kind of fun we did as kids. You don’t see them consumed in the world of electronics like kids in the States are. They are out interacting with everyone in the streets. There is also no need to worry about their safety besides drowning or something like that. There is no crime. It was an interesting contrast. Traveling with Matt and Shirley, Grady (their white lab) is always an attraction wherever we go, especially with the kids. You don’t see many large dogs in the islands, and all of the kids want to pet him and walk him. They all asked “does he bite?” first thing upon seeing him!

Back to the weather….we got pinned down in Spanish Wells for 16 days, and for most of the time we had winds over 20 knots and open water seas to 9 feet. Spanish Wells is one of our favorite towns in the Bahamas, so there could be worse places to get stuck. We ate at Budda’s often and also wallowed at the beach on the west end of town. We also read a lot. Several times it looked like a weather window was opening up, only to slam shut. Some of the locals made comments about how bad the weather was, how long it was lasting, and how abnormal this was. We chose to abandon our plans to go through the Abacos and started looking at windows to cross the Gulf Stream back to the States, figuring we would take our time going back up the coast to Southport and enjoy some of our favorite spots along the east coast. This approach led to a plan to make passage to South Bimini, and cross to West Palm Beach. A couple of crossing weather windows came and went in the course of a week, and finally we saw one for April 25th through the 27th. Unfortunately, most routes from Spanish Wells to Bimini were 2 day hops, and we settled in on a direct route in an overnight passage. Even with an overnighter, we had to get to Bimini before the 25th and there wasn’t a very comfortable passage in the forecast to get us there. We opted to leave at dawn on the 21st and arrived in South Bimini 24 hours later, 6 hours ahead of schedule. The reason we were so far ahead of schedule is because the winds were higher than forecasted and we had good sailing. The bad part is that the sea state was not anywhere close to the forecast. After weeks of high winds, the seas didn’t have much time to settle, and to top it off, we had to go across an area where 3 oceanic bodies of water meet: the open Atlantic, the Tongue of The Ocean, and the Northwest Passage. To make matters worse, this area is thousands of feet deep, and the water goes from thousands of feet to 20 feet in ¼ mile of where it meets any land. You might be able to imagine the sea state that this creates even when there is no wind. In the middle of where all of these waters meet, we encountered very steep 6 foot seas coming from almost every direction at once, lasting for hours. It was miserable at best. Matt and Shirley had waves breaking into the dinghy hanging on the back of the boat. The bottom line is that we made it…yay…and nothing broke, and no one was injured. When we arrived in South Bimini, we slept, took a walk on the beach, and sat by the pool for the afternoon. Everyone was exhausted. Today it is raining and we are chilling on the boats. As of today, it looks like the best crossing weather is going to be Wednesday, so we are planning to depart then. These weather windows are usually very short, and they change more often than not, so you have to take the first good day you get, or you could be sitting for weeks at a time again.

We had hoped to spend more time in the Bahamas, but we are anxious to get back to the States as well, especially with tropical storm systems starting to develop in the Atlantic already. We certainly don’t want to weather those out here in the Bahamas.

Enjoying Spanish Wells

4/7/17
Spanish Wells, Bahamas
Position: 25 32.465N, 076 45.384W
Posted by Bill

Our last day in Rock Sound was productive. They have a decent grocery store and liquor store, and we bought a few things we needed. We then went to dinner at Rose’s. Rose has a small resort and restaurant on the Atlantic Ocean side of Eluethera, and has a great reputation for good food at a reasonable price. It was too far to walk, but Rose comes and picks you up at the dinghy dock. She fixed a fantastic dinner in her own kitchen, and we ate overlooking the ocean. Then we all crammed into her little car (Grady included) and she took us back. If you ever get to Rock Sound, don’t miss going to Rose’s.

We departed at dawn on the 4th with about 6 other boats, everyone trying to work the weather windows to get where they want to be. We were going to head to the protected anchorage at Hatchet Bay, but we made a change of plans as we were sailing, and opted to try to get through the cut at Current Island on the north side of Eleuthera. The seas were following and the wind was around 15 knots, so the motion of the boat was not too bad. That, plus the fact that we really didn’t care much for Hatchet Bay the last time we were there, so we turned further north and skipped it. We needed to get through the cut at Current Island close to slack tide, as the current can really rip through the cut, enough that smaller boats may have a hard time making forward motion. We were making such good time with the wind and following seas, and arrived at the cut more than an hour before slack, in spite of us slowing way down for the last couple of hours on the way there. When we went through, we had a current against us of almost 3 miles per hour, which wasn’t a problem, and we opted to drop anchor on the north side of the cut at position: 25 24.857N, 076 47.299W. Tricia made home made pizza dough, and Sofia Jeanne brought salad and toppings, and we enjoyed a real treat. Actually, now would be a great time to comment on how well we eat on board. Traveling with Matt and Shirley, we (for us, it is Tricia…not me…lol) have been taking turns making a main course, and everyone brings sides. Sometimes it is Mexican food, Chinese food, shrimp and grits, fish, etc…and then we have days where we just bring our individual meals to one of the boats and cook everything together. Most of the time we eat together. The people cooking make some really good food! After that, we play cards or just hang out and shoot the shit. It is really nice traveling with such good friends.

Being at Current Island put us closer to Spanish Wells, so our trip there on the 5th was only a couple of hours. With the winds we expected, we couldn’t comfortably use any of the nearby anchorages, so we tried to get a mooring ball in the mooring field, to no avail. There was a waiting list. Sometimes this happens, especially when a weather front is moving in, like it is right now! We opted to take a slip in the yacht haven marina. They just finished renovating it last year, complete with swimming pool, guest houses and a restaurant/bar. It is really nice! Unfortunately, it is $2.50 a foot per night….yuk! We figured we can stay a few days until a mooring frees up, or until a weather window allows us to move on. We thought that we had a window on the 8th and 9th, but it is looking mighty uncomfortable for a 10 hour ocean crossing to the Abacos. We are still debating, but it is looking like we will hunker down here, especially if we can get a mooring ball…only $25/day. The next week is around 20 knot winds out of the north/northeast for an entire week…not good weather to try and travel through the Abacos, so that is a factor as well…might as well stay here. It is easy to want to stay. Spanish Wells is one of our favorite places to visit when looking for a town/settlement atmosphere. The people here are extremely friendly. There is no trash laying around, houses are kept up, yards are tidy and mowed, there aren’t dogs and roosters running around all over the place, all which is prevalent in towns/settelements throughout the Bahamas. There are good grocery stores, marine parts, and a few good restaurants. There are also nice beaches. We haven’t quite figured out why this place is so different, but it is a good different. We have been enjoying the pool, real showers (also nice and clean facilities), and being able to just walk off of the boat to shore. We also hit our favorite restaurant and happy hour several times at Budda’s. If we get weathered in here longer than a week, we may have to skip the Abacos and start to work our way back home.

Here is a picture of the pool area and our slip:
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Goodbye Exumas…Hello Eleuthera

4/3/17
Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas
Position: 24 51.870N, 076 09.788W
Posted by Bill

We left Big Majors Spot on 3/30 and moved a few miles north to Sampson Cay, one of our favorite anchorages. We moved to get some protection from south and southeast winds that were coming, but Sampson didn’t give us very much protection because of wrap around waves and bouncing off the rock walls behind us. We did enjoy the sand bars behind the anchorage. A great weather window was forming, so we moved back to Warderick Wells to stage to cross to Eleuthera. We picked up mooring number 12 on 4/1, and went swimming off of one of our favorite beaches. It is finally getting hot here and the swimming was wonderful! We had a very calm and peaceful night, thankfully.

Yesterday we left Warderick Wells, slipped out the inlet and made our way to the bottom of Eleuthera Island. We actually raised both sails!! It was the best ocean crossing we have ever had…calm seas and a nice gentle breeze. Both boats tried to do some fishing offshore, with no success. We tried a cedar plug that our good friend John Reddington gave us to try, but no luck. We went around the cape of Eleuthera and into Rock Sound Harbor. There is a nice settlement there with excellent provisioning, including a grocery store like we find back in the States. Most grocery stores in the Bahamas are like a small convenience store and there are very few stores like those we have come to take for granted in the US. We tried to do some shopping yesterday and also go to dinner, but almost everything was closed on Sundays, so we will catch up today. We are also going to wait out a short bout of strong winds tonight, and shoot for a 2 day run to Spanish Wells if weather allows. Longer term, we plan on taking the first good weather window to cross the ocean to the Abacos and then work our way back to the US by late April/early May. As always, we will travel based on the weather.

Sunrise on Exuma Sound yesterday:
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I still marvel at the color of the ocean when you get off shore. Here is an example of the water at about 4,000 feet deep:
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A couple of pictures of the town at our anchorage in Rock Sound (including Sophia Jeanne):
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We had really spotty internet access in the Exumas this year. I think something was wrong with the cellular data service while we were there. We should have good access from here on out, which will help with the blog!! Thanks for following us.

Back to Cambridge Cay and on to Big Majors Spot

3/29/17
Big Majors Spot, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: 24 11.143N, 076 27.549W
Posted by Bill

Since we only stayed at Cambridge Cay one day and lucked out getting a mooring in Warderick Wells for the bad winds, we decided to go back to Cambridge for some snorkeling. One note about the weather we waited out. It turned out that it was a serious low that was being watched for tropical storm/hurricane possibilities. It was nasty winds over 35 knots for several days. Glad we were in a protected area.

There were 4 areas around Cambridge that we wanted to go see: a snorkeling spot called the Sea Aquarium, a plane wreck to dive, underwater caves at the Rocky Dundas, and a swimming hole called the Bubble Bath. We picked up the same mooring that we had the last time we were here, arriving on 3/27. The next day we hit the Sea Aquarium. It was appropriately named as it was like snorkeling in a large aquarium. More pictures courtesy Sofia Jeanne:
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It was great snorkeling, until the hordes of tour boats arrived, dumping boat loads of adults and kids who did not know how to snorkel. They were splashing all around scaring the fish (who would come right up to you if you just floated there), and standing on the coral (which kills it). We ended up leaving a bit sooner than we wanted and went over to the plane wreck:
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We tried to go to the caves, but the water was too rough to get close to them, so we settled for some wallowing at a deserted beach.

We left the next day and stopped at the Bubble Baths on Compass Cay. We almost missed it because we could not get the anchor to set properly. After the 3rd try we had it good enough for a couple of hours. The Bubble Bath is a tidal pool that is fed by the ocean at mid to high tide. The water splashes over the rocks and creates a frothy surface on the water. It was very cool:
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Tricia and I enjoying the bath:
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From there we headed over to Big Majors Spot. We needed to get some fuel and dispose of trash before the next leg of our trip. Big Majors is a dinghy ride to Staniel Cay. Sofia Jeanne stopped at Staniel and topped up on fuel and water and then we anchored at Big Majors. Big Majors is the home of Pig Beach and although we didn’t stop at the beach this time, Shirley got some pics:
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Staniel is a hot spot for big yachts. Many anchor at Big Majors. Most people want to eat at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, so the place is usually full of tourists and big yacht people. It creates a vibe that is not consistent with the Exumas, unfortunately, many are arrogant and full of themselves. We didn’t come to the Bahamas to hang with those folks, so this is not one of our favorite places. They also launch their wave runners and power boats and buzz through the anchorage at full speed, rocking and rolling everyone…not cool. They do clean fish right outside the yacht club and there are always a lot of sharks. People were swimming with them…idiots!!!
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I usually refer to this type of behavior as “the thinning of the herd”.

Snorkeling Warderick Wells and a trip to Boo Boo Hill

3/26/17
Warderick Wells Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

In spite of the weather, on our stay here, we have been able to do some snorkeling and some hiking . There are several snorkeling spots around Warderick Wells that are pretty good…tons of fish and coral. Matt and Shirley have an underwater camera and captured some good shots. Courtesy of them:
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If you read the blog last year, you may remember the legend of Boo Boo Hill. The short version is that some people hear the ghosts of nearby shipwrecks at night and if you throw a piece of driftwood with your boat name on top of the hill, you can have safe passage beyond Boo Boo Hill. We hiked up to the top, updated last year’s piece with a 2017 added, and Matt and Shirley put theirs up too. Ours was next to another buddy boat from last year, our friends Bob and Cat on Sea Lyon. The view is great from up there!
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Along the hiking trail we ran in to this little curly tail lizard on a rock pile:
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Once again waiting out weather

3/24/17
Warderick Wells Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
Position: 24 23.796N, 076 37.937W
Posted by Bill

We had about three days of really nice weather ahead of us, followed by four days of nasty, kick your ass winds, out of the north east and east. We decided to leave Blackpoint a day early and go to Cambridge Cay, and try to grab a mooring. Cambridge is in the south extreme of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, a protected marine sanctuary. As stated in previous blogs, it is a “no take zone from both land and sea”. Their motto is “take only photographs and leave only footprints”, and is the most beautiful place by the sea we have ever been (including all of our Caribbean travels). We had never made it to Cambridge, and really wanted to go this year as it is situated by the best snorkeling in the Bahamas, and is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the Exumas. We arrived on 3/21 and grabbed a park mooring ball at position: 24 18.103N, 076 32.351W. We had really good east protection and not bad north east protection for the coming blow. We radioed Warderick Wells Exuma Park HQ on the way there and got on the waiting list for a mooring in the North Field at Warderick Wells Cay, which we had tried to get before the last major weather event, but failed, but if we couldn’t get in the North Field in time for the blow, we knew we would be good at Cambridge. We arrived in mid afternoon and took the dinghies around and identified the best snorkeling spots, which we would snorkel the next day. We figured that we wouldn’t be able to get into Warderick Wells as the wait list gets long when weather is approaching, but were confident we could get in after the blow. As luck would have it, Exuma Park HQ called on the radio the next morning and told us we and Sofia Jeanne both had moorings in the North Field! The North Field was a 3.5 hour trip from Cambridge so we were going to hit one snorkel site at Cambridge before we left. At the last minute, I had a hunch we better get to Warderick before the park office closed at 4:00 just in case there was a mishap with our reservation, and we took off around noon. Sure enough, when we arrive at Warderick Wells, only one of our mooring balls is free. Calling the park office on the radio, they informed us that they moved us to different moorings and didn’t tell us. We got better spots and I was glad we decided to get there early to get it all cleared up. We took mooring number 9, and had enough time to mix Painkillers and do some happy hour wallowing at a nearby deserted beach:
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One thing we like about the Exumas is that there are secluded beaches all through the cays and islands. You can find your own personal wallowing spot.

Yesterday, we took the dinghies around to the south side of Warderick Wells Cay to Pirate’s Lair. It is absolutely beautiful there. On the way back we hit a few snorkeling sites seeing some really pretty fish and coral, and of course hit several wallowing beaches.
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The north mooring field, where we are tied up:
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The winds started to pick up around sunset, as forecasted, and it has been blowing 25 to 35 knots since. We pretty much just stayed on the boat today and we are glad we are in such a protected area from the winds! It should die down to 20 to 25 knots tomorrow and then under 20 on Monday, so we will do some land based exploring and hiking.

Some more pics from the last week

3/21/17
Great Guana Cay, Blackpoint Settlement, Exumas Bahamas
Posted by Bill

I looks like my battery and internet access will hold out long enough to post some more pictures and tell a quick story. First the story. Yesterday, we were getting ready to go ashore and explore a blow hole and some beaches. I glanced at the depth sounder and it showed .1 feet below our keel (bottom of the boat). We had 8-10 feet of water where we anchored, and I checked the area that we would swing as the wind changed, never seeing anything under that, and not seeing anything but sand. I looked over the side of the boat and there was a large mass of black and brown, which is usually rock or coral. There was enough wind on the water that I couldn’t make out what it was. I first suspected some large sharks or sting rays, as they are prevalent in the anchorage, and the mass seemed to move. I grabbed Matt and Shirley’s look bucket, and it turned out to be a bait ball…hundreds, maybe thousands of little 2 inch fish, hovering in the shade of our boat. The ball was about 40 by 10 feet and so thick that you could not see through it. They moved with the boat. A number of small ballyhoo swam outside the ball, picking off a meal. They stayed all day…amazing. I have never seen anything like that before.

More pics.
A sample of the many large yachts we see traveling the Exumas. These have 25 to 30 foot center console “dinghies”, several jet skis, and lots of other toys for the guests. This one had a slide:
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While anchored at Sampson Cay, we explored Over Yonder Cay next to us. It is a private resort, complete with golf course. Here is a view as we approached:
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One of the beaches at Sampson Cay. Our dinghies pulled up on shore:
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A sunken plane at Normans Island. Too bad the current was too strong to snorkle:
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Sunset at Sampson Cay:
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