Georgetown to Conception Islandľ February 23-March 6, 2006

Click on the above thumbnail for a map of points visited during this time period.

Two faces of Southern Bahamas

Chuck:

In this part of the Bahamas, at this time of year, extreme contrasts in experiences are possible.  On the one hand, we have the almost frantic level of activities in the George Town area in the weeks before and during the Cruising Regatta.  We mentioned last time the weather seminar and the Eileen Quinn concert;  due to a minor editing error the relevant pictures are included here.  The remaining pictures of George Town activities merely scratch the surface of all those that were available.  Every day there are many many announced functions, most of which we abstained from.  We did partake of a dessert celebration, billed as a "Fat Tuesday" event.  There are three major anchorages along beaches on the inside of Stocking Island, and the Fat Tuesday pig-out (my term) was held on "our" beach:  Sand Dollar.  So gazillions of folks whipped up gazillions of desserts and brought gazillions of dinghies to the beach, where the desserts were all laid out on a train of tables (that had been set out by one of the many volunteer committees.)  Barb contributed an absolutely delicious peach cobbler, which was totally consumed very early in the event.  In addition to a dessert, each dinghy brought their own paper plates, plastic ware, and drinks.  Barb had brought smallish plates, and so we each had only seven or eight "samples".  :-)  As the sun set, falling temps sent us all back to our respective boats, where not until much much later did Barb and I have a modest supper of pizza.

Not pictured, but another type of sponsored event was a series of yoga sessions.  Barb partook of those while I took the dinghy into George Town in order to run (solo -- unorganized.)  So she became mellow while I , with essentially the same time investment, became a sweaty fellow.

Another organized event was the session in which we learned how to make conch horns.   I have started several, but have not yet filled in the holes that result from the removal of the delectable creature from its shell.   I am hoping that the filling process will improve the sound; at this point my attempts to salute the sundown resemble a wounded moose with constipation.

Many of the participants in this annual "camp for grown-ups" come year after year.  One such fellow got the idea that what was needed was a signpost depicting the distances to hailing ports.  And so announcements were made each morning (on the Regatta "net"), urging the creation and depositing of such signs.  On the designated afternoon a crowd gathered to construct and erect the signpost.  I dinghied over with a portable drill, and was able to lend a hand.  If you look closely at the resulting handy-work, you will notice that "Savannah" is near the top!  :-)

On the very eve of the Regatta itself, Barb and I decided we had temporarily had enough of organized camp, and so we fled some 48 miles to Conception Island, a prime example of the other face of the Southern Bahamas.  (We ventured over by ourselves; Dream Weaver is on her way to South America, Seaclusion is in the Abacos, and Cocoon is entertaining a friend in the northern Exumas.)  There are very few anchorages at Conception, and none serves in all weather, and so the number of visitors to this unpopulated island is modest.  But there are extensive shallow reefs that are perfect for snorkeling (and spearfishing)-- the Southampton Reef runs north for 4 miles! -- and there are at least four mooring balls in 70-80 feet on the west side that were placed by professional dive operations, and that mark the coral edge of a vertical wall that drops to infinity.

There were four vessels when we arrived, and up to a max of maybe fifteen while we were there.  Three sailboats we already knew, and so we had several cocktail hours on Tusen Takk II (more commodious than the rag flappers), one of which morphed into a full-fledged pot luck.  With the crew from Quixotic also on our dinghy, we went on an exploratory trip up a wide shallow mangrove-lined creek, where we saw mojarra fish and many turtles, which may be slow on land, but were incredibly quick -- as in hundred-yard-dash-quick -- in the clear shallow waters.  Of course we also walked the gorgeous beaches, where Barb found sea beans -- rather large decorative beans that float over from Africa (cf. picture) -- and I did much hunting (snorkeling) with the boys.  (It is illegal to hunt on scuba.  The guide books also all say that Conception Island is a Land and Sea Park, which would mean that fishing or spearing of any kind is illegal within the Park boundries.  However, as soon as we arrived we noticed that others were hunting.  We repeatedly asked, and were repeatedly told, that in fact at this time Conception is only a Land Park, and that fishing and hunting are permitted.  I was skeptical, until someone told me they had been so informed by a staff member of the Exuma Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells.) 

I am a much better scuba diver than snorkeler.  (I enjoy breathing.)  But I did manage to spear one lobster and one grouper.  Very modest compared to the take of my companions.  I'll be practicing holding my breath in preparation for the next hunting expedition.

I also did a solo scuba dive on the vertical wall, and came up with such an enthusiastic report that Barb accompanied me on another dive on the morning (3/6) of our departure back to George Town.  We saw lotsa creatures, including a completely tame hawksbill turtle that let me get close enough to touch (but I didn't), a five-foot reef shark that didn't let me get that close, a pair of huge yellow jacks that apparently "lived" under the coral head upon which we had descended -- at least they acted like it was their home, since they continued to cruise in the very immediate vicinity -- and scads of other fish whose names we know, but unless you were an equally avid diver, you would not care to have recited.

Why did we leave such an idyllic paradise?  Weather.  Another front coming, with stronger winds eventually clocking around to the west and then northwest, from which we would have no protection in our Conception anchorage.  And so as I write this we are underway back to George Town, where we will re-provision and watch for a weather window to facilitate passage to another less-traveled isle.  Tune in again later to see how that works out.

[Note added later:  we brought along from the States 18 gallons of gas for the dinghy, and that is just about exhausted, so upon arriving back in George Town I purchased 12 more gallons.  The cost?  $58!  But everything is expensive in the Bahamas, not only because of high transportation costs, but also because the only taxes they have are sales taxes and import duties, so most things are double what they would be in the States.]

Chris Parker - our weather expert

Eileen Quinn concert at George Town - Volleyball Beach

School children throwing water balloons at teachers - school party

Fat Tuesday celebration on Sand Dollar Beach - Stocking Island

Fat Tuesday desserts - we all went home with a sugar high

Sign post being put together

Chuck and partners carrying sign post

Planting the signpost at Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island

Chuck pointing out the Savannah sign on post

Everyone admiring the signpost

Chuck helping to build a brace for heavy signpost

Chuck and his conch horn

Our dinghy and anchorage at Conception Island

Beach on ocean side of Conception Island

Pristine beach at Conception (other direction)

Barb and her seabeans

Close up of sea beans (floated over from Africa)

Chuck the mighty hunter searching for fish and/or lobster

Hooray! Lobster for dinner

Dan from Quixotic and kids building a sandcastle at Conception

Sunrise on our last day at Conception