The last two weeks in March we enjoyed the Jumentos, or Ragged Islands, which have become our favorite cruising grounds in the Bahamas.  After a long sail south from George Town on March 16th, we spent a week anchored in the beautiful bay off Double Breasted Cay.
The huge anchorage here is fairly shallow, and in order to tuck up as close to shore as possible we ended up with less than a foot under our keel at low tide each day.  The Double Breasted anchorage, which offers protection from every direction except the northwest, is actually bounded by five cays - Double Breasted to the east, Loggerhead to the north, Pigeon to the west, Margaret to the southwest, and Maycock to the southeast.  There are extensive shallow sand flats between these cays, and long gorgeous beaches abound.  The water here is remarkably clear, especially when the breeze settles to under 10 knots.  One evening while enjoying a surf and turf dinner (grilled lobster tails and steak), we watched crabs cavorting on the bottom, fighting over pieces of steak that we tossed in for them.  We also were able to take movies of sharks and sting rays circling the boat, and see sea stars plainly visible from the surface.  One bright night we even could count the links on the anchor chain lying on the sandy bottom!  The sandy flats and beaches here provide endless opportunities for dinghy exploration, beach combing, playing, and taking private walks while the boys are doing their school in the morning.  Sandcastles get built and wash away, day after day.  The protected bay is a great place for the boys to sail their dinghy, Independence, and the kids from Side by Side even joined in for some dinghy sailing a couple of days.
The Jumentos are known for having an active, inshore population of sharks, and the Double Breasted anchorage has several that seem to swim through regularly.  Last year we had two lemon sharks that called the bay home, and this year the two lemons seem to have been joined by a couple of reef sharks, so at times we saw up to four sharks swimming around Liberty.  Generally they come in the afternoon, but sometimes they do visit even in the morning or evening.  These sharks were on the small to medium size, with the largest maybe five feet long.  One day while taking a dinghy ride to the west end of Margaret Cay, while zooming along in maybe 12' of water, we saw a huge dark torpedo shape off to the right.  Without coming down from a plane, Dave swung the dinghy around to get a closer look.  As we slowed down, we came up to a massive bull shark swimming lazily along, not startled in the least by the dinghy.  This shark was nearly the length of our dinghy - close to 10' long - and very solidly built.  A couple of slow flicks of his tail and away he went, leaving us feeling a little lower on the food chain.  Just 24 hours prior Dave had spent a couple of hours in the same general area diving for conch.  He was glad not to have seen this denizen of the deep in such shallow waters.
As much as we enjoy Double Breasted when we are the only boat, this year we shared the anchorage with up to five other boats, including our good friends on Side by Side.  Of course, when this happens, the opportunity for sundowners on the beach followed by a fire for roasting marshmallows and burning trash is always welcomed by all, and we did enjoy one big get-together on the beach when the anchorage was full.  It was a potluck spread, with plenty of lobster dip, conch curry and other epicurean delights.  For potlucks (as compared to happy hours) we each bring a substantial dish or two to share, plus our own drinks, plates and silverware.  The beach at Double Breasted Cay has an eclectic mix of "tables", "chairs" and other doo-dads constructed by cruisers from flotsam that has washed up on the windward shore.

One real pleasure at Double Breasted Cay and the Jumentos generally is lobster hunting.  The lobster, or "crawfish" (as the locals call them), season closes from April 1 through July 31, so the end of March is a good time to fill the freezer.  Dave went out hunting several days during our stay at Double Breasted, sometimes joined by Chris and Josh, sometimes by Marc from Side by Side, sometimes alone.  We hunted around crevices and coral heads in shallow "inside" waters (within the protection of the cays), and also in the sometimes deeper waters "outside", on the deep water side of the islands.  This was possible when the winds went light and variable, offering the opportunity to hunt for the big ones on the outside.  In reality, we sometimes find really big lobsters in knee-deep water on the inside, but the outside tends to be hunted less, offering the chance to bring home several "bugs" on a good day.  On his best day hunting "outside" Dave brought home five lobsters and a nice Nassau grouper, and another day while hunting with Marc he got another five bugs.

Josh also shot his first lobster at Double Breasted Cay, a really big one!  Chris got a couple too, and it finally happened - we got sick of eating lobster!   How many times in a week can you enjoy lobster salad, grouper with lobster sauce, conch and lobster gumbo, grilled lobster and steak, pasta with lobster, lobster bisque, hogfish with lobster sauce, lobster dip with crackers, and more?

By the end of our week at Double Breasted, a cold front came through, turning the winds to the northeast and sending some swells into the anchorage from offshore, so we decided to move about five miles north to Spanish Well Bay at Raccoon Cay.  We had anchored in this beautiful little bay last year, and remembered that we could tuck up very close to shore to avoid some of the swells that tend to wrap around the small cays of the Jumentos.  While Dave and Marc hunted lobster and conch one day, Nancy, Chris and Josh were joined by Angie, Parker and Sabrina from Side by Side for a hike inland to a blue hole.  Blue holes are believed to be salt domes or caves where the "roof" has collapsed and seawater has flooded the resulting cavern.  The blue hole at Raccoon Cay is probably 100 to 150 feet across, with high craggy rock sides.  Last year Dave was too chicken to swim here (something about big sharks and strange currents that could suck us down, or some other nonsense), but since he was hunting, everyone enjoyed a nice swim in the warm waters and the kids enjoyed jumping off the rocks.
Meanwhile, Dave and Marc were snorkeling around in some very shallow waters that used to be home to some very big lobsters.  Dave remembered a specific rock in knee-deep water where last year Josh spotted three lobsters, two of which we enjoyed (while letting one go - it's never good to "clean out" an area).  This year, Dave found another three lobsters making their home in the same rock, and again let the small one go, and in the process also pulled out a monster bug!  Less than 30 minutes later, Marc pulled out an even bigger one in even shallower water.  After we each had gotten four nice bugs, we turned to conch, filling the dinghy with our limit in just a few minutes.

We had pulled in to Spanish Well Bay with another engine problem, this time an apparent leak in the fresh water cooling system.  The custom catamaran Phoenix was anchored nearby, with Henry and Karen on board, and prior to cruising they had owned a catamaran building business.  Henry, at 79, is a real wealth of boat knowledge, and he offered to help Dave troubleshoot and repair the problem.  They figured out a "quick fix" that didn't necessitate dismantling the engine, and it seems to be holding up for now.
We caught up on internet chores, and began mentally preparing ourselves to file our taxes.  We visited Maxine's store, where Dave, Chris and Josh each enjoyed a pint of ice cream (with the next closest ice cream being located in Cuba, Maxine sells a fair amount of this cold treat to visiting cruisers).  While chatting with Otis and some other lobster fishermen who were cleaning their catch at the dock, Otis spotted Dave eyeing a nice hogfish they had speared, and he generously sent it home with us for supper that night.  The next day Phil, his son DiMarco and his cousin Ty (Maxine's son) stopped by while we were anchored at Hog Cay.  We enjoyed cold beers in the cockpit of Liberty while visiting with them, and they gave us their only catch of the day, a blackfin tuna, that they had caught while trolling offshore.

On Sunday, we worshiped with Side by Side at the local Anglican Church in Duncan Town.  Even though it was Palm Sunday, we eight cruisers joined only four locals and the pastor for services.  More cookies to go around, however - once again Nancy baked a big batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies.  The one local boy at worship that day remembered her Rice Krispie treats and cookies from the year before!

From Spanish Well Bay we traveled 10 miles south to Hog Cay and Duncan Town, the only settlement in the Jumentos/Ragged Islands.  We had visited Duncan Town twice last year, making friends, spending a day at the all age school, and worshiping twice on Easter and Mother's Day.  We anchored at Hog Cay, about a 4 mile dinghy ride to town.  Last year, we were the only boat anchored at Hog Cay, but this year we joined a crowded anchorage - 11 other boats had beaten us here!  Of course, with that many cruisers, a potluck dinner on the beach was in order, so we whiled away another evening of good friends, good food and good drink while watching the sun set on the blue-green waters of the Great Bahama Bank.
Over the next couple of days we visited the school again, where Chris, Josh and Parker joined a rousing game of basketball with the local kids.
On Sunday afternoon, we enjoyed a nice 15 mile sail from Hog Cay to Buena Vista Cay, where we anchored for the night off the long beautiful beach.  A good night's sleep prepared us for a very long day of sailing on Monday, as the winds were forecast to turn north later in the week and we wanted to get to Long Island for Easter weekend.  Underway early Monday morning, we sailed the 85 miles to Long Island in 15 hours, arriving just after 10 pm, and motoring only four hours (getting the anchor up, transiting the Comer Channel
with shallows on both sides and the wind too close to the bow to sail comfortably, and then into Thompson Bay to anchor).   We had one exciting experience on the passage.  While crossing Man O War Channel (a deep water cut between the banks and the deep waters of the Crooked Island Passage), the swells built to over 5 feet and the wind came way aft of the beam on one short leg as we steered outside a shallow coral bank.  Of course, the winds had piped up just before, gusting to over 20 knots apparent.  One big swell picked up our stern, allowing the boom to swing to amidships and then slam back hard enough to break a steel pin holding two parts of our mainsheet block together.  As a crew we worked together well, grabbing the mainsheet to
Much of our two weeks in the Jumentos was spent in the company of Marc, Angie, Parker and Sabrina Johnson on Side by Side.  They are in their fourth year of cruising, and are planning to return to Saratoga, New York this summer to go back to land based life.  Their kids are about the same ages as Chris and Josh, and we have really enjoyed the opportunity to forge such a good friendship with them in the last two cruising seasons.
Passages:

George Town to Man o War Bay, Raccoon Cay, Jumentos (3/16/10)
85.9 nm, 15 hrs 21 mins, engine 7.3 hrs, avg spd 5.6 kts, total distance to date 8964 nm

Hog Cay to Buena Vista Cay (3/28/10)
14.1 nm, 2 hrs 25 mins, engine .8 hrs, avg spd 5.9 kts, total distance to date 8996 nm

Buena Vista Cay to Thompson Bay, Long Island (3/29/10)
85.5 nm, 15 hrs, engine 4.0 hrs, avg spd 5.7 kts, total distance to date 9081 nm
arrest the swing of the boom before it hit our shrouds hard, then rigging a temporary mainsheet out of our long, stretchy anchor bridle line.  With the mainsail still up and the load transferred to the temporary sheet, we steered around the coral bank, altered course to bring the wind more to the beam, then used a small line to jury rig a repair to the mainsheet block after using a boat hook to bring in the part of the block that separated and ran out to the end of the boom.  It took about 45 minutes to get the mainsheet block repaired and put back into service, and we managed the entire ordeal without lowering the sail, changing course or slowing down (any of which may have actually made the repair more difficult).
Thank heavens, the rest of the sail was uneventful, and we had our anchor set in the soft sand of Thompson Bay by 10:15 pm.  We had sailed in and out of Thompson Bay a couple of times last year, so felt comfortable coming in after dark.
We enjoy our dinghy explorations.  On the trip to the west end of Margaret Cay, after passing the big shark, we found a beautiful, totally secluded cove shaped beach, bounded by high sharp limestone on each side, with a very large sand spit running off one end and close to the beach at one point.  This spit is completely submerged at high tide, but exposed at low tide.  The grassy banks around this sand spit were filled with conch, and the spit was littered with baby conch left high and dry when the tide was out.  Dave enjoyed returning the little ones to the water, although it seems they must be quite capable of surviving the low tides out of the water.  Chris and Josh found a little cave in one of the big rocks on the edge of the beach that they climbed down into.  Its sandy bottom was dry at low tide, but under water at high tide.  On a later trip to this same beach Dave picked up a bunch of big conch in knee deep water.  After exploring the beautiful little beach and sand spit, we dinghied around the corner to a much longer beach that took the better part of an hour to hike up and down.  On the way back to Liberty we decided to try to get through what looked like shallow flats on the south side of Margaret Cay.  The water got more and more shallow, first forcing us to pull up the motor, then forcing us out of the dinghy to walk, pulling it behind us.  On the way, we saw conch, huge sea stars, stingrays, and even a couple of baby sharks cavorting in the shallow water next to a beach.
We took another long dinghy trip to Johnson Cay, one of our favorite anchorages from last year.  The anchorage is exposed to north winds and swell, so we were unable to anchor here on this trip, but together with Side by Side (whose last name is Johnson), we dinghied the mile and a half over one day.  Johnson Cay has a truly pristine beach with talcum powder soft sand on a lovely cove, and fairly tall hills to hike up for views of the surrounding reefs and islands.  We hiked over to a windward side beach to collect sea beans and hunt through the beach trash for treasures.  The kids found a large round plastic fishing float, and after collecting 10 old rum bottles they were soon bowling on the beach.  Back on the lee side beach the kids found "broomsticks" and were soon leaping off the sand hills in their own version of "Beach Quidditch" (the game played by Harry Potter and the wizards of Hogwarts School).  On the way back to Liberty we dragged a lure behind the dinghy and caught a couple of jacks that we enjoyed for supper.
Only my footprints in the sand
Creatures under our boat:
Six-Keyhole Sand Dollar
Sunrise Tellin
Two-Spined Sea Star
Blue Crab
The water is so clear, you can count the links in our anchor chain on the sand.
Chris took Parker out sailing one afternoon.
Sabrina, Josh, & Parker built a fort in the rocks.
One of two lemon sharks (and his accompanying remoras) that visited our boat daily
Dave snorkels for conch in the shallow, grassy water
Beautiful sandspit off Margaret Cay
Baby conch stranded at low tide
Pulling the dinghy through the shallow flats
Variegated Cushion Sea Star
Cushion Sea Star
Southern Stingray
Welcome to Johnson Cay!
A view of the ocean from the top of Johnson Cay
Beach Bowling on Johnson Cay
Josh reels in a bar jack dinghy trolling
View of the Jumento Cays looking southeast from atop Johnson Cay
Chris catches air on his Buoy Broom
Josh, Chris, Sabrina & Parker play Beach Quiddich
Josh flies off on his Spike 2000 Stick
Potluck on Double Breasted Cay
Sunset over Pigeon Cay
What a catch!
Chris got two near Hog Cay
Will these work for dinner?
Dave shows his morning's catch
Josh got his first lobster at Double Breasted Cay
Inland Blue Hole on Raccoon Cay
Josh & Chris jump from the rocks into the blue hole
Josh, Nancy, & Chris swimming in the blue hole
Potluck on the beach at Hog Cay
Enjoying a beautiful sunset over the Great Bahama Bank
Josh jumps for the ball
Josh, Chris, D'Marcio, Nino, Aaron, & Parker
What action!
Fishermen clean their catch at the town dock
Josh helps make cookies for church
The Anglican Church in Duncan Town
Some ladies come to church in golf carts
The congregation this Sunday, plus us parents
Chris, Josh, & Parker playing Monopoly
Our mainsail against the blue sky of the Bahamas
Good friends Angie, Marc, Sabrina, & Parker
Gorgeous Sunset at Double Breasted Cay
Side by Side & Liberty at anchor
Pristine Beach in the cove at Johnson Cay