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Bahamas, April 2008
Exumas Land and Sea Park 
Boat - FC Big Kahuna

Content:

1. Boat and Cargo

2. GPS and Charts

3. Logistics

4. Trip Log

5. Wind, Sail and Optimal Route

6. Radio

7. Weather

8. Gear

1. BOAT AND CARGO

2003 FC Big Kahuna had almost enough capacity for this 2-week trip. With my 155 lbs, empty bags carried on board, all the gear, fuel, food and water (20 liters + desalinator PUR 35), Kahuna was overloaded by 20 lbs at the beginning of the trip. I didn’t notice any effects of overload - the boat was not sitting too low. 2.5 lbs of food was consumed daily, reducing the weight  (plus 8 lbs of water daily, but 2 times it was refilled back to the initial amount).  The problem was insufficient cargo room. Swimming fins, spare paddle and small deckbag were on the deck, everything else - under deck, and it took me a lot of time and thoughtful placement of gear whenever I moved the camp.  If Thermarest was rolled ¼” thicker than usual, or some bag not shoved in ½” deeper - then suddenly there wasn’t enough room for some item and I had to start from the beginning.

Placement of the gear, from stern to bow:

Small blue flotation bag at the very end of the stern.
Small yellow FC drybag with repair materials and tools, plus a backup Mini-Trangia alcohol stove, and an ultimate backup - Sierra Zipp stove. Both backup stoves are without their pots.
Snorkel tube and mask.
2 blue narrow drybags 33 cm flat width - one with FC backpack and Longhaul Longren bag, and another one - with some food.
On the top of 2 blue bags - cockpit cover and PUR 35.
2 * 10-liter MSR Dromedary water bags and 10-liter clear vinyl drybag with more food.
On the top of Drom bags - cart wheels. (Later one wheel was placed vertically under the foredeck, fore of the pedals).
 

Cockpit:
Orange tent poles bag and 2 sets of aluminum nested tarp poles from Campmor (one set is near the keelsen and one - at the starboard lower stringer). The set of poles near the keelsen contains 20" * 0.5" stainless axle of the cart.
Behind the seat - cart frame. It is small, you won't find anything like this in stores, though steel version of German "Oker I" is almost same compact.
Sponge - it stayed like this, inside the seasock.
Bicycle pump for cart, attached to the top of the fore rib with its stock clamp.
 

Bow:
40-liter flat-bottom drybag with clothes, sleeping bag, all-band radio etc - placed crosswise. I could use a 30-35 liters drybag - I just happened to have this old 40-liter bag, and it was filled approximately to 30 liters.  Sponsons had to be partially deflated to push this bag in or out. I deflated them partially anyway on overnight stops, due to hot sun. One wheel was placed aft of the bag - vertically.
Grey fabric bag (not a drybag), with water-resistant food - sealed beef jerky and energy bars.
Shore runners on top of the grey bag.
Behind the grey bag: black pouch with the kitchen - stove Primus Easyfuel (converted to propane), GSI cookset and thermos cup, and underneath - pouch with 8’*10’ Silnylon tarp and ropes (tarp poles are in the cockpit).

Orange bag with tent and fly - no poles
Fore of the last bow rib: 6 ft blue sleeping foam; under the foam - green Thermarest seat pad (a.k.a. night pillow); behind the foam - 6 ft Thermarest Prolite 4 sleeping pad. No room for floatation bag in the bow, but all these items provide some floatation.  

 There were also 2 small propane tanks squeezed in between somewhere - same as 16.4 oz green Coleman tanks, only in tall narrow cylinders, about L9” * W2” (see 8. GEAR section at the bottom of the page). On some photos in the Trip Log you can see a yellow deckbag. Looks puffy, but it is very light. This is merely a daypack with the front/bottom end tapered to fit kayak better. I can still use it as a daypack when walking around some town, if I have to. The bag itself weighs 1/3 of a regular vinyl deckbag, and contains GPS, maps, energy bar, sunscreen, water flask etc. Rain jacket takes half of that bag and is to be blamed for the puffy shape. This is not a waterproof bag, and neither are most of designated deckbags. Its content isn’t crucial - if I loose the whole bag in storm, I can still continue the trip.  

2.GPS AND CHARTS  

My GPS Garmin MAP 76CS has a built-in Base Map, but it’s just a mockery, don’t count on it - most of Exuma islands are not shown there. But it shows coordinates and bearing with built-in compass. I didn’t buy unlock coupon for Bahamas section of Blue Chart - wasn’t sure that would go there again. Instead, I made laminated copies of charts from the book “The Exuma Guide” by Stephen J. Pavlidis.  Stitched together like a notebook (charts only), it was convenient in use.  Paper charts or maps do not pinpoint your location instantly, but they show larger area than tiny chart fragment on the GPS, and are better for route planning. The book itself provided some useful info, but it’s difficult to absorb everything before you go there. I read it and left it home.  

3. LOGISTICS  

Logistics was a pain - due to remoteness from the West Coast, poor local transportation network and the need to buy a stove fuel upon arrival by plane, yet without spending too much time in Nassau.

My put-in point was ferry beach on the island called Staniel Cay, close to the Exuma Park. There is no public transportation directly to the Park. There are landing strips on some islands, including Norman’s Cay, but only Staniel Cay has regular air and ferry connection (called Mail Boat). “Cay”, pronounced as in "Key", means any island big and flat enough to build a house. Smaller islands are usually, though not always, called rocks. Literally, “cay” is a coral reef or a sandbar, and all those islands are petrified coral reefs or sandbars indeed, - no matter what size. For some reason I haven’t seen a lot of live corals in Exumas. 

Only one commercial airline serves Staniel Cay: Flamingo air http://www.flamingoairbah.com/schedule.htm , phone 242-351-4963.  There are 2 daily flights departing from Nassau at 9 am and 2 pm (shown correct on the website).“Arrival” time for 3 different islands is shown at 12.00 and 4 pm, respectively, leading you to a wrong conclusion that the morning flight arrives at 3 different islands at 12 pm (and the afternoon flight arrives at 3 different islands at 4 pm). This is, of course, nonsense. They meant return back to Nassau at 12.00 for the morning flight and 4 pm for the afternoon flight. Roughly, expect it to arrive to Staniel at 11.00 (morning flight) and 2.40 pm (afternoon flight), leaving somewhere 15 minutes later. There is no way to tell precisely when it arrives to Staniel, and you can’t hold this against them - Staniel may be the first or the last stop en route.

I decided to take a mail boat from Nassau to Staniel and return back to Nassau by air. My overnight flight from Vancouver arrived to Nassau at 2 pm and the mail boat was supposed to sail at 5 pm.   According to the
Government website
there is a weekly sailing from Nassau to Staniel on Tuesday, and this is the only correct information on the website. The boat is Captain “C” - not Lady Francis, and departure is 5 pm - not 1 pm.  You have to phone the Dock Master Office 242-393-1064 (I did), and ask day, time and name of the mail boat that sails from Nassau to Staniel Cay. The mail boat docks are at the Potter’s Cay in the east end of Nassau harbor, under the Paradise Island Bridge.  The passage to Staniel takes 8-9 hours - it is a slow boat, with an old loud diesel. The price was $50, not $40.

On the return leg my flight from Nassau to Vancouver was at 3 pm, so I needed to be at the airport no later than 1.00 pm. I could’ve taken the morning Flamingo flight from Staniel, arriving to Nassau at 12 pm. But what if Flamingo is late? Besides, 11 am departure from Staniel means skipping breakfast, landing with Kahuna at Staniel at dawn and hurriedly dissembling and packing everything in. I didn’t want to hurry, and decided to fly from Staniel to Nassau at 2.40 pm the day before and spend one night in a cheap hotel in Nassau.

It was difficult to catch the mail boat on return leg. In theory, it leaves Staniel on Friday before midnight, but it may as well be several hours or few days later.  The day of departure from Nassau is firm - it is Tuesday (unless they changed it permanently); departure time is less firm - 5 pm or a few hours later (again, unless they changed it).

There is also Watermakers Air, it flies on the shared charter basis from Fort Lauderdale:
http://www.watermakersair.com/ . Staniel Yacht Club page provides a different phone number for Watermakers Air: http://www.stanielcay.com/flights.asp . This didn’t work for me, as I didn’t fly through Ft. Lauderdale.

Booking the flight from Staniel to Nassau is a kind of ordeal. Flamingo website offers online booking, but it doesn’t work. I filled out online booking form and pressed “Submit” button. Nothing.  There is an email contact on the website, I emailed - nothing.  I phoned, was told that they would fax me an “authorization form” for credit card payment, which I should sign and fax them back. 2 days went by - no form. Calling again, asking to fax me the form - 5 minutes later it arrives.  Faxing it back, calling if they received it, then calling again, as she had to “go upstairs” to check the fax and of course didn’t bother to call me back, and eventually I was told that my form was received. Throughout my conversations with them when I mentioned emails and online booking forms, it didn’t ring any bells - probably nobody reads those forms and emails.
 

4. TRIP LOG - SORT OF  

Make no mistake, Bahamas have all the traits of a third world country. Postcard impression of prosperity comes from reach foreigners cruising these waters and buying island houses and the whole islands, - and from scenery, beautiful indeed. The capital city of Nassau looks and feels pretty much like Mexican Tijuana across the border from San Diego, only Mexicans have better customer skills. There are few downtown blocks with expensive stores and offices of offshore companies, but the rest of the city is dirty, neglected and not very safe. There is one exception, though - Paradise Island. This is a separate part of Nassau, connected with the downtown by two bridges. Most of the Paradise Island is occupied by vast grounds of majestic and apparently expensive Atlantis resort.  Except for staying in Atlantis, I don’t know who and why would choose Nassau as a vacation destination over places like, say, coastal Florida.  To me Nassau was a necessary evil - I had to catch the mail boat, because couldn’t bring a stove fuel from Vancouver in airplane, and didn’t want to rely on small General Store of Staniel Cay. Besides, early morning arrival of the mail boat to Staniel Cay left me more time to assemble the kayak and paddle to the nearest campsite on another island. I had a gut feeling that there would be nowhere to camp on Staniel, and the feeling was right.

April 15 - Nassau, Propane and Mail Boat
2 pm, arrival to Nassau. Busy airport without signs of renovation in the last 15 years - peeled off paint, rusty pipes in washroom, shredded upholstery of waiting lounge chairs. There are no luggage carts of any sort. Toting bags is a serious business. Porters with warehouse-looking carts charge $15-$25 for 60 yards ride from luggage carousel to taxi stand, depending on the client looks and number of bags. With only 2 bags and carryon, each bag way bigger than an average beachcomber’s bag, I wasn’t quite a catch, conceivably. Their evasive behavior implied extra wait or extra charge or both, - so I took my kayak cart out, converted it into a
luggage cart, and went to the taxi stand. 

Cabbies don’t use meters and there is no consistency in fares. 10 miles ride to downtown (cruise ships terminal) costs $20-25, to the docks at Potter’s Cay 2 miles farther - $25-30. They would approach you and offer a ride. You may try and bargain - they will be surprised, the consensus is that all foreigners are packed with money, but you may try. I needed to buy propane en route to the docks. Normally propane is sold in hardware or welding stores, which had to be located first. For the first cabby this was too much of intellectual effort and he passed me to another one halfway to the docks. The second cabby was younger, with grey matter not damaged by rum yet, capable of listening. After my explanations about “propane, or, in the worst case, pure alcohol”, - he said: “You need Bahamas Welding and Fire Store”. BWF store had blue 1 lb (16.4 oz) Worthington propane cylinders made in the US. The name of the street sounded like William, I tried to find it later via Google, and looks like it’s “Wilto”. Any local driver should know this BWF store. They close at 5 pm.
 

Photos below: Mail Boat

When you spot your mail boat (there is a dozen of them at the dock), ask cabby to pull closer to the stern - this is where passengers enter.  There are “porters” or “sherpas” at the dock too, different from the airport types. They help loading cargo, moving heavy bags and crates without carts and getting a few bucks for the whole load. There is a derrick in the bow, operated by crew, but a lot of cargo is moved manually by crew and “sherpas”. There are steep stairs to the upper deck with sleeping cabins. This isn’t a cruise ship - no elevators. Chances are that ticket person won’t let you take all the bags to the cabin, and will order to bring it to the cargo hold in the bow - the boat crew will lower it down into the hold.  She allowed me to take only carryon backpack to the cabin - good thing that I had my snack and fleece jacket there. It was 20C (68F) cold overcast evening in Nassau on April 15, and with Northwest wind it felt colder.  There boat has  a dozen of cabins with bunk beds, in my cabin 3 beds out of 4 were taken.  No bed sheets, just mattress and pillow. I didn’t ask, might be they had some sheets, - I had to sleep all dressed anyway, it was so cold. The departure was delayed until 9 pm - fine with me, after overnight flight from Vancouver I wasn’t eager to arrive to Staniel right on schedule, which was at 2 o’clock in the morning.  Filled 2 water bags from water tank near the boat kitchen. The whole 5-gallon cooler tank fits into 2 Drom bags, so it’s better to fill them when the tank has just been replaced, and not to fill both bags at once. The washroom on the ground floor was dirty as hell, but another one on the upper deck, for passengers, was clean and had a shower cabin. Mail boats are crucial for local islanders (not for the “upper crust” with private aircraft, of course), and are subsidized by Bahamian government. I was the only “tourist” aboard - Bahamas are black, so foreigners are easy to identify.

April 16 - arrival to Staniel Cay, assembling Kahuna
In the darkness at 5.30 am Captain “C” arrived to Staniel Cay, fighting sidewind and knocking a few boards off the dock.  She was approaching slowly, but apparently was heavy enough for the old dock. The crew didn’t unload anything until 6.30 or 7 am, when cargo receivers woke up and began arriving to the dock. North wind was still blowing.  At about 8.30 am they lifted my bags out of the hold, and I went ashore to assemble Kahuna.
 

Staniel and Big Majors Spot (right photo). 

The original aerials are here. They sell high-resolution aerials, thumbnails are free, and so is Google Earth.

There is a church on the hill next to the ferry dock (to the right if looking from the dock), marina "Happy People" to the left, and a small beach between the dock and marina. To the South of the church there is a creek leading to the island General Store and airport. I didn"t have to buy anything - already had water and fuel. At dawn the skies cleared a little, and I burned legs, neck and behind the ears before I knew it - assembling and loading a kayak is mostly kneeling and squatting job. Overnight flight from Vancouver, change of climate, 3 hours jet lag and so-so sleep on the mail boat. Moving slowly, brains on autopilot, making assembling and packing mistakes, - eventually it took me 6 hours to finish assembling and packing with short breaks for rain and snack.

Staniel Cay, beach at the ferry dock (right photo)
N24 10.124 W76 26.690


Note: all GPS coordinates are either actual campsite, or (usually) - the closest landing.


The colors are real - white sand and turquoise water. Orange thing is not a tent - just a tent fly. With MRS Hubba Hubba you can set up the fly alone as a quick shelter.  Brief showers were passing 3 or 4 times on that day.  Immediately after I've set up the fly, police cruiser showed up and lady officer warned me that camping wasn't allowed on this island. I didn't fly with my boat all the way from Vancouver only to camp on some tiny beach next to the ferry dock, or what do you think? So she left.
 

Captain "C" left around noon (right photo).
Those seagulls on the photo are the only ones that I saw throughout the trip - shallow island bays are void of fish, marine plants and seagulls.

Wednesday is like a holiday for Staniel and dozens of other islands in 30 miles radius. People from remote settlements arrive in boats to small Staniel stores (there are 2 of them - Blue Store and Pink Store), to buy fresh food and pick up goods that they've ordered with the mail boat. If you miss mail boat arrival, don't count on any fruits, cheese etc for a week.  

Luckily, I didn't need any of this. At 3 pm I was on water. One of local expats, coming for groceries from his remote lair, told me that the closest wilderness camping was the "swimming pigs' beach" on Big Majors Spot, 2 miles away.  It was a good news. I didn't feel like paddling too far on the first day. Northerly headwind subsided a little. Exuma islands stretch from Southeast to Northwest. The Park begins 9 nautical miles North of Staniel.

Note: all miles are nautical, 1 nm = 1.85 km.

Here is some more info on Staniel. 

 

 Left photo: First camp. 

Big Majors Spot, view to the South
N24 10.728 W76 27.174

This island has a shape of a horseshoe open to the West. I found a spot on the outside of the Southern end of the horseshoe - much closer than “Pigs’ beach”. It was protected from the North wind, 1 mile from the dock. You can see Staniel with Batelco cell phone tower and Staniel Cay Yacht Club. Big rock in the left corner of the photo is Thunderball Cave - some James Bond episode was filmed there. So-so camp with small patch of sand exposed in low tide, otherwise sharp rocks all around. I had to unload Kahuna and carry it over those rocks to the flat area. There were salt ponds behind my camp (seen on the aerial photo).

1 mile to the North, around the point, there is a big void of the Big Majors “horseshoe” with 3 sandy beaches suitable for camping (I didn’t see any houses) and you can use a cart there. The 1st cove is the “pigs beach”. Few pigs live on the island - I think, abandoned farm animals that grew wild - and swim to pick up handouts from boats (yes, they swim).  I saw them on the other side of the salty pond across from my tent. You may camp on the "pigs beach", without much privacy. There is an anchorage close to the beach, a lot of yachts are always there. Besides, pigs are a local attraction, and I didn’t want to be a part of the show.  3rd beach, the farthest one to the North, looked like the best, though I didn’t land there - just paddled close on the last day of the trip.
 

Next morning (right photo).
Sailing capital of the world, they say…

Very clear water. There was almost no wind first week except for mild North headwind in the first day, and my progress was slow, so I’ve scrapped the initial plan to paddle/sail all the way North to Norman’s Cay and then return to Staniel.  Instead, I’ve opted to spend extra days on some islands, and then set course back to Staniel somewhere in the middle of 13-day trip - which happened to be at Warderick Wells, halfway to Norman’s.  May be this was a Divine Intent - almost all the way back I had to paddle against the wind. Imagine if I had to paddle from Norman’s.

So, my route was a loop: Staniel -Warderick-Staniel.

There are no more dates in the Log. Descriptions of islands are in approximate order from South (Staniel) to North (Warderick). Some photos were taken at the same island with a week interval, because I stopped at some places twice - on the way North and then when paddled back South. The whole route was about 50 nm (25 nm each way) including intentional and unintentional deviating. Not counting assembling and dissembling days when I only paddled 1 nm between the Staniel and Big Majors, I had 7 paddling days (+ 5 days of rest), covering about 7 nm (14 km) on a paddling day,. It wasn’t an awfully long route. Most of my return leg I had to paddle against easterly headwind and sidewind, and my speed was laughable. There were often strong currents rushing through the “cuts” in the chain of islands, - mostly side currents, as I paddled along the chain.  

Pipe Creek: N24 14.050 W76 30.919. Nice protected cove at the Southern end of Pipe Creek Island. Compared to Big Majors, it looked nice from the water, secluded beach with palm trees. A lot of mosquitoes and no-see-ems, locals call them “sand flies”.  The buggiest campsite of all.  Bugs were annoying on many islands here, but this campsite was # 1 for sure.

Two boats (below right)): The red "boat" is a piece of bow deck of some vessel looking like an old scuba diving catamaran. The rest of the ship is rusting a hundred yards away with other garbage. 

 

 



 

Morning of the departure day (right photo). 

On all these photos footprints in sand are mostly mine. I always had the whole beach to myself.

My campsite (photos above) was in the Southernmost cove of the Pipe Creek. There were other beaches without any development nearby. 

There is a site N24 14.340 W76 31.125 0.4 nm North of the previously mentioned cove, next to the point South of marina - I stopped there for lunch on the return leg. I wouldn’t camp here overnight - nice shady area, but this flat area is several feet above the beach. There are few beaches suitable for overnight camp between this point and the cove on the photos above.

Rocky Dundas: N24 16.659 W76 32.470
Lunch stop - first stop in the Park., Coordinates show so-so landing on the first Dundas, and another island is few hundred yards to the North.  2 small islands, no development, but don’t camp there, unless you’re absolutely desperate. You would have to land on the tiny patch of sand at the South shore of the first Dundas - more a shoal than a beach, and lift the kayak 2-3 ft up to the flat area. Better make it to Little Bell Island (a.k.a. Cambridge Island) or to Halls Pond Cay.

This Park is weird - fishing and harvesting plants or seashells is not allowed, but since the establishment in 1950s they’ve sold and developed the whole islands within the Park boundaries.    

After small Rocky Dundas, Bell Island was the first big island in the Park on my route. Huge, with coves and hills - all private, as I’ve suddenly discovered (should’ve read the “Guide” better). 3 pm, time to find some campsite, so I had to paddle father on. I didn’t even need to come close to Bell - few villas were perched right on the top of the hill. Unsightly concrete and glass structures, flat, 2-storey, looking like some store at gas station or a small office building, visible from many miles away. 

North of the Bell Island is Solder Island, with development so dense that it made me wonder. Later I read the “Exuma Guide” more carefully, and found that the entire island was owned by one investor and all villas were for rent, all-inclusive. 

Farther to the North is Halls Pond Cay. There are 3 of them - Little Halls Pond, Middle HP and HP.  Little HP had a house in nearly every cove. Apparently, people “grandfathered” into the Park, as some of them lived there for many years before.

Sometimes there was no house in view, but cheap patio furniture - couple of lawn chairs on the beach. I know the trick. They want you to believe that they own the cove, and/or were picnicking there, and left for a few minutes. I doubt they owned it. Owner would’ve put a house, or a boat dock, or a permanent picnic gazebo, or at least “No trespassing” sign. And they were not picnicking either - when sometimes I made a lunch stop or washroom stop at such places, the chairs were covered with dust. At 4 pm it was time to find an overnight camp, and I didn’t want to camp there. There is usually a trail from house some hundred yards away, and I didn’t want to wake up next morning to find that they were picnicking there indeed.

Middle HP didn’t have accessible landing.

Snake Cay across from the Little HP - group of small islands, camp-able, no development, but I didn’t like it. No shade, muddy bay, poor protection from wind, and I could see some attractive beach in the distance - it turned out to be the southernmost cove of the Halls Pond Cay (photo below).
 

Hall's Pond Cay (South Camp):
N24 20.477 W76 34.493
 


Next day I walked up the hill to check the East shore (photos below). It’s open to prevailing Easterly winds - that day it was calm, but you see the foam - you wouldn’t like launching a kayak from there.  The hill was about 40 yards above the sea level, but these rocks looked like petrified corals.  May be million years ago the ocean bottom really raised that high.  

 

 

 

 



Below, Left photo: Fruits look like mango - but they are not. Bitter taste, probably not edible. 


Right photo: shot from the top, facing Northeast.
Halls Pond is about 3 nm long (6km). The northernmost cove of the island (not seen on the photo) is all developed, and later I read that the entire island was private. In any event, there were no signs of development in any of 5 or 6 coves, except for the northernmost one.
 

 Photos left and right: same South Camp on Halls Pond, departure day.

 





Below:
Hall's Pond Cay (West Camp): N24 21.075 W76 34.907

The cove on the West shore of Halls Pond. I stopped here on my way back to Staniel. Better protected than the South Camp. Conch shells can be huge. The footprint is size 10. Locals pronounce it "konk". Edible, if you know how to get to the "animal". Not this one, of course - it"s been drying here in the sun for years.  

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Little Bell Island (Cambridge Island): N24 17.862 W76 32.060

No photos of Cambridge - I used film camera, and was out of films when stopped there on my return leg. This is where I should’ve stopped after having lunch on Rocky Dundas at the beginning of the trip, before the Halls Pond Cay (or instead of). I wish all the islands in the park were like Cambridge - no development and no mosquitoes. I don’t know why no mosquitoes.  There are few groups of tall conifer shrubs, perhaps some pine, don’t know the name, I camped under one of them approximately in the middle of the crescent beach. Shallow lagoon, as usual.  When I was sitting under the “pine’, two manta rays drifted in and hovered in 2 ft of water. Overall, there wasn’t a lot of marine life in these lagoons - they are too shallow. Sometimes I saw big conchs grazing in shallow water - you can actually see it moving, leaving a trail in sandy bottom. 300 or 400 yards away, at the southernmost end of the beach, there was a garbage bin and sign marking the head of the trail leading to another beach on the Southeast shore. Next day I followed the trail, it was nicely marked, the beach on the other side was exposed to Easterly surf.   It is worth taking a walk - preferably at sunset, when it’s not too hot. I think Park personnel is doing their best, but with lack of funding they can only do that much. Bahamian government is obviously more interested in real estate business than in nature preservation.

On the Brian’s Island to the North of the Cambridge I stopped for a lunch on a tiny beach on my way back, but didn’t see any place suitable for overnight camp. No houses in view either. There is a snorkeling site North of O’Brien’s Cay, called “Sea Aquarium”, reportedly worth seeing. Unfortunately, it was too windy that day.
 

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Pasture Island between Bell Island and Little Halls Pond Cay.

I stopped there on my way back to Staniel and immediately saw iguanas. I knew that they lived on Allan’s Cay way up North, but didn’t know they were on the Pasture Cay.  After I’ve landed, I’ve noticed sign “landing, camping and harassing wildlife is prohibited”. Since I had already landed, I’ve made a shot. I’ve read they have poor eyesight, that’s why come closer. When I made a step closer, they retreated without hurry.  When I sat down to have some rest and snack, in a few minutes they reappeared again. This one is 2 ft long (not counting the tail, of course), and isn’t the biggest of the colony.  There was also a very little one, so apparently they are thriving there. Don’t feed them.
 

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White Bay (left photo).

N24 21.701 W76 36.160 or N24 21.670 W76 36.327

Lunch stop. Most of those things on the photo are conch shells - even those looking like rocks. Small island between Halls Pond Cay and Warderick Wells. Reportedly, private. No development. Coordinates show 2 possible campsites - with flat area for tent and beach free of rocks/shells.
 

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Warderick Wells Island, Loyalists' Beach
N24 22.586 W76 37.254

across from London Gin Rock (right photo):


Black thing on the palm tree is GSI pot in the foam "pot cozy" - this GSI set is more then adequate for a solo traveler and is described in
Baja 2006 Journal (scroll down to the Gear section at the bottom); on the other side of the tree - 10 liter MSR Dromedary bag. Both are on the tree on purpose. Pots have some leftovers of food, and I didn't want to attract critters - I saw some furry ones in the night, like rats or hamsters. Drom bag is easier to use when hung on the tree - and critters won't get to it too.  

Lizards are big there, and bold.  Immediately as I’ve brought my stuff ashore, they started checking it all around. I had to shoo them off my seat and out of my “picnic basket” (carryon backpack - works as a table, keeping food and sand separate).
Carryon is described in the “Gear” of the Baja 2006 Journal. Green pad on the black thing is a simplified version of my “FC Multipurpose Camp and Kayak Seat” - no backrest in this version. Full version with backrest is shown in the GEAR section  below.
 

 Loyalists’ Beach is protected from prevailing easterly winds, but being that long, it is TAD open to northerly winds. For better protection go to Rendezvous Beach across from Emerald Rock.

There are many marked “explorative trails” on the island, signs with names of plants etc. No wonder - the Park Headquarters are there. A hundred yards North from my campsite there was a trail leading to “Beryl Beach” further North, shallow muddy lagoon drying in low tide.  Along the trail I found why the island was called “Wells”. There are “wells” in the rocky soil - small ponds filled with salt water, very accurate round shape, 10-12 ft in diameter, deep, like some wells indeed.
 

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Next day I made a day trip to Park Headquarters and other places nearby.

Right photo: leaving for a daytrip.

I left the camp with tent etc - this island is uninhabited. Once or twice I saw yacht people with snorkeling gear few hundred yards away, apparently going from the trailhead North of my camp to some shore rocks at the South.  There are no locals - the only settlement is 2 houses of the Park Headquarters with a dozen or so personnel, few miles away, with no direct trail. PFD is under the stern bungee cord - well, Kahuna is a stabile boat, the day is hot, the bay is shallow, warm and calm. On crossings through open areas with all the gear I wore my PFD.
 

First on the list was London Gin Rock across from my camp (in the center of the 1st photo). I thought that out in the open there might be bug-free campsites. With a few exceptions, if it's called "rocks", it is small and rocky - no flat area for a tent, and hardly any landing spot; Hammock enthusiasts won't like it either - there are no trees. This beach is the only landing spot, and it is tiny, 20 ft or so, almost disappearing in high tide; Coral rocks around the beach are very sharp. At best, rocks like this one can be a lunch stop in calm weather and nothing more.   

 

 

 

Right: East shore of Narrow Waters Cay across from the Park Headquarters (those 2 houses).  

Huge beach and anchorage with a lot of yachts. You can camp on the beach, but there is no shade and not much privacy.  Often these cays have a ridge with palms 50-100 yards from the shoreline, and then lowland in the middle of the island. To find a shade for a lunch I had to climb the ridge and sit on the 30 or 40-degree slope.  



N24 23.454 W76 38.250 East Shore of Narrow Waters
(right photo):
So-so campsite South of the previous beach. You can see landing on the right. Follow short trail uphill and to the right - tent site is in the shrubs about 50 yards away. The rocky point in the middle separates East and West shore of the island.  The bay is muddy and can dry in low tide, but most of the time there is enough water to land a kayak.
 

I tied Kahuna to the rocky point (center of the photo above) and went snorkeling. Rocks like this one are the only places where you can see some fish.  I didn’t see any fish from the boat when paddled around the point, but spotted these - anemones or whatever they are, looking like bunch of orange penises, for lack of a better description (right photo ). Complete with some opening at the top. Only when I dove, I saw fishes around the rock - all shades of rainbow, like in aquarium.


This was an exception rather than a rule - those bays are shallow with sandy bottom void of marine life There are just some small seaweeds and these mysterious mounds (right photo ),1-2 ft in diameter, looking like a giant wasp nest, and apparently something dead. You can also see ubiquitous "konk" in the bottom right corner. 

 

West shore of Narrow Waters N24 23.497 W76 38.282
(right photo):
Looks nice on the photo, but not much shade, and lagoon is shallow. - coordinates show one of suitable tent sites about 50 yards North of the “Paradise” trailhead. The whole beach is OK for camping, but I prefer having a flat area with shade or palms to tie the tarp. Both East and West bays are too shallow for swimming, except for the area around the rocky point. “Paradise trail” leads to the East shore, ending between the “lunch beach” and “camp beach” shown on the previous photos.  

************  

Alligator Cay across from Narrow Waters with very shallow and very muddy lagoon on the East shore didn’t look attractive at all. This was the North end of my route. Farther to the North there lies “The Wide Opening” - 7 nm open crossing and then - Cistern Cay and the Northern half of the Park.  

************  

Coming back from Narrow Waters, I stopped at the Working Beach between two houses of the Park Headquarters shown on the lunch stop photo above.  I needed to dispose of garbage (one grocery bag per week, I had only one at the moment), and to fill one Drom bag with water. There was a sign “Work Beach, authorized personnel only”, which I noticed after I landed, and there was nobody in the hot afternoon to check my "authorization" or chase me out. At the back of that shed on the photo there were 2 taps, one with chlorine stench, and another one connected to system of pipes looking like rain water collector, and it tasted like rain water. In the house to the left I found teenagers - probably kids of the personnel, asked about borrowing some rain water from the tap behind the shed - they didn’t care about rain water.  So I filled 10-liter bag. Garbage bin is usually on the Whale beach to the North of the Working beach (it wasn’t there this time), and another garbage bin is behind the working shed. While I was there, 3 Klepper doubles rounded the point and landed at the Rendezvous beach.  They didn’t stop to talk, and I didn’t want to chase them. One with Balogh sail (no outriggers), one with S4 rig, and one I don’t know what sail, it was too far. I didn’t see any other kayaks during the trip. 

 ************  

The very last camp of the trip was same Big Majors site as in the first day.  This landing is only protected from northerly winds. This time the wind was easterly, some waves were splashing in a small cove, but not too heavy. Coming from the North, I already saw protected “3rd beach” and “pigs’ beach” before this landing, but decided to camp at the same crappy site again (not very wise). It was the closest to the ferry dock, and I wanted to paddle as little as possible on the day of my flight to Nassau. 

 ************  

April 29 - Flamingo flight to Nassau

Arrived to Staniel Cay at 9 am, paddled past the ferry dock, into the creek and to the ramp (see aerial photo at the beginning).  There is a boat ramp just off the public road that leads from the ferry dock to the airport. The ramp is about 100 yards from the airport, across from the high dock of the General Store.


Alternatively, you can land on the General Store beach next to the high dock and get to the airport through the bridge 50 yards away, also seen on the aerial photo.

This airport is merely a landing strip with maintenance hangar and gazebo for passengers. Unloaded all the gear into carryon and Longren bag, towed 2 bags to the airport gazebo. Longren bag is roomy - I just threw all the bags and drybags in without re-packing. Then towed the kayak. In the shade dissembled the boat, emptied the drybags and packed everything in. Two hours later torrential rain fell, and I was glad to finish the packing under the roof. 

General Store - don’t know what it has to offer. My flight was at 2.40. The store closed for lunch at 12.00, was supposed to open at 2.00 but didn’t. I had some interest in this store.  I needed alcohol fuel for tonight supper and tomorrow breakfast in Nassau hotel - didn’t plan on going out. Propane isn’t allowed on planes, but alcohol in small plastic bottles normally is. Besides, I wanted to know what I could count on in this store, in case of future trips. There was a sign advertising some hotel on the upper floor of the store - in case if anybody would have to spend a night on Staniel. Probably cheaper than Staniel Yacht Club cottages.

Half hour before the expected departure time a lady in golf cart arrived (she works for Flamingo Air), and checked the tickets. My fax copy of the “Authorization Form” worked as a ticket.

Flamingo 9-seat plane arrived at 3 pm and taxied to the stop 50 yards from the gazebo. At about same time the Watermakers shared charter arrived to pick up passengers to Ft Lauderdale - small plane too.  In a small aircraft I was prepared to pay extra for luggage, but they didn’t care. May be in Nassau or Ft Lauderdale they do.  My cart was already dissembled and packed in. Carried all the bags to the aircraft one by one - carryon backpack, FC backpack (good thing they both are backpacks, with shoulder straps). My Longren bag didn’t have optional backpack shoulder straps (you can order them if you like), but it was narrow and rigid with paddles and sail rig, less than 45 lbs, and I carried it on one shoulder.  I had more luggage than any other of 7 people on the plane. Somehow the pilots found a room for all 3 bags - if it were a Klepper double, they would’ve probably charged extra. 

50-minutes flight to Nassau, $20 cab to the hotel. The hotel is half-mile before the Potters Cay dock. Next day it was $28 back to the airport. Everybody carries a cabbie license in his back pocket, moonlighting whenever he’s got a minute and charging whatever he finds appropriate.

At $56 hotel “Harbor Moon” was the cheapest in Nassau, so I didn’t expect much. It is for locals, not for tourists. Located at the corner of East Bay street and Deveaux Street (pronounced “Devou”). I phoned in advance 242-323-7330, but got impression that reservations weren’t necessary in a place like this. Rooms are all on the 2nd floor, no elevator. Without camping food my backpacks weren’t heavy. Door locks are cheesy, but there is 24-hour clerk downstairs - she has to buzz everybody in twice - first into the lobby, and then to the stairwell. The paint in bathtub peeled off, plug missing, air-condition noisy but works, shower works - I didn’t need anything else. Small fridge with many cigarette burns was perfect to put a Trangia alcohol stove on.  The hotel is on the main street - East Bay Street, next to the docks.  There is a City Market 25 minutes walk to the East of the hotel, with hardware store (closed when I got there), Lowe’s Pharmacy etc. Bought 250g (8 oz) bottle of pure alcohol at Lowe’s.  There was no desperate need to forage for fuel - there was a Chinese restaurant next to the hotel. I just had some camp food and tea left after the trip, so why not… Besides, the restaurant wouldn’t be open in the morning.

April 30 - departure to Vancouver

My flight to Vancouver was at 3 pm on April 30. After the breakfast I went to check the West part of Nassau.  Downtown begins few blocks to the West of the Harbor Moon.  6 or 7 blocks with high-end stores and cruise ships terminal - classic tourist trap.   Then it suddenly ends approximately at Nassau Palm Hotel at the East Bay Street and Nassau Street, 20 minutes walk from the “Harbor Moon”, before the Arawak Cay.   There is a beach there, and across the harbor - a lighthouse marking the end of the Paradise Island. At $100+tax the Palm Hotel is equivalent to Vancouver’s so-so motel. Harbor Moon didn’t charge any tax, which surprised me - hotels in Nassau reportedly have taxes and “automatic gratuities” totaling 20%.  Probably, because the “Moon” is for locals.

If I were to go “one notch up” from the “Moon”, it would’ve been “The Towne Hotel” - somewhere close to downtown and harbor, $75+tax with breakfast included.  It is for tourists, tidy, and according to many reviews has only one drawback - noisy nightclub across the street on Fridays and Saturdays.  There is nothing cheaper than the "Moon" - there are no more hostels in Nassau

 5. WIND, SAIL AND OPTIMAL ROUTE  

I was told that usual wind pattern was East and Southeast tradewinds. From what I saw - yes, winds are mostly easterly. But there can be no wind at all, or heavy wind from the North for a day or two. Winds straight from the South or West are infrequent.

I had 11.3 s.f. downwind Pacific Action sail, shortened to make it compatible with a short Kahuna deck. It was a reversible modification - I replaced top halves of the mast with shorter rods and folded the sail at the top, reducing the sail area to about 8.5 s.f.  This small downwind sail was of very little help in this trip - in total I used it less than 10 % of time. 

First half of the trip I paddled “North” (more precisely, Northwest). That week PA was useless because there was no wind (except for the evening of the very first day, when I paddled against the dying Northwest wind). 

Second week when I was going back “South” (Southeast), on most of days there was a moderate tradewind about 10 knots from the East, shifting +/- 20 degrees to the Southeast or Northeast.
Downwind PA sail was useless again. Almost all the way I had to paddle against the wind - my return leg was due Southeast, if you look at the map of Exumas chain. Only occasionally I could use PA sail, when the wind was well in my stern quarters. PA is efficient in a wider angle of tail winds than Spirit sail, but wind still has to be at your back - say, no more than 60 or 70 degree angle to your course. In strictly beam wind the boat without leeboard drifted too much to the lee.

Ideally, I should’ve used Balogh upwind rig - with easterly winds it would allow me sailing North and South at will. When wind dies, paddling with outriggers is not too efficient, yet doable, and when it does blow, I can make several times longer passage in one day than if I were paddling. With an upwind sail the most efficient course would’ve been due “North”, from Staniel to Norman’s Cay or Allan’s Rock.  The question is - how to get to Nassau or Florida from Norman’s or Allan’s?

I can think of 3 return options:


1) Sailing back to Staniel, thus making the trip twice longer. Return leg will be mostly upwind sailing. On some days there can be straight headwind with no chance of sailing, on some days - decent sailing at beam reach or even broad reach, and on some days - no wind. But if you have plenty of time, this may be the simplest and the cheapest way. 

2) Crossing 30 miles to Nassau due Northwest, landing on the beach near Palm Hotel described above, and carrying bags 200 yards to the “Palm” or taking a cab to “Harbor Moon” or “The Towne”. There is a payphone at the Eastern end of the beach, but you need a Batelco debit card. The beach is dissected with breakwaters into 3 or 4 sections, the Easternmost section has exposed boulders in low tide, but the middle section looks okay. This is 30 nm open crossing (58 km). It can blow straight headwind from Northwest (it was, in my first day) - and then you have a problem. Or there can be no wind, and the crossing will take 12 or 14 hours, with night landing. You don’t want to hang around there in the night - Nassau isn’t Hawaii and this beach is at the very fringe of the “tourist” area.

3) Watermakers shared charter from Norman’s to Ft Lauderdale. This won’t be cheap if you are the only passenger to board at Norman’s (if they will pick you up at Norman’s at all). If I were to try it, I would phone Watermakers few days before the trip. Then phone Watermakers again a few days before arriving to Norman’s - some Staniel yachties might make their mind in the very last moment.  In the worst case scenario, the charter of the whole plane (Watermakers or another) would cost over $600 to Nassau and a bit more to Miami or Ft Lauderdale.  Batelco office on Staniel Cay sells some “SIM cards”, - I’ve been told this is necessary to make you cell phone work. If your phone isn’t compatible, you have to buy a Batelco cell phone - reportedly the most expensive cell phone company in the northern hemisphere. There are land phone lines too, and Norman’s Cay has a marina, so must be some phone service.

For a group of 2 or more people with big kayaks like double Klepper or Folbot it makes sense to charter the whole plane
on a certain date from Norman’s to Nassau or wherever you need,  and leave yourself plenty of time to arrive to Normans. Phone connection is still desirable, in case if you need to make changes.

4) Again, for group of 2 or more people - charter any powerboat from Norman's to Staniel, and then - by Flamingo Air to Nassau or Watermakers to Ft. Lauderdale.  

6. RADIO  

Staniel Cay tower transmits Nassau marine weather report at 8.00 am - advertised on VHF Ch 16, then switched to Ch 10.

I also carried all-band radio Kaito 1103 (Chinese version of Sony 7600GR), 1 lb weight, size of a thriller book - in case if I miss the 8.00 report and some hurricane is coming (an unlikely occurrence in April). The radio was very useful during a boring job of pumping fresh water through PUR 35. No FM reception on these islands. There were some AM stations from Florida and other places, and the most relevant was 850 Khz AM station from Ft Lauderdale - news, talk and weather. Kaito 1103 also had a bunch of SW stations from all
over the world. This radio was more than I needed for this trip.  

7. WEATHER 

It might appear that those palms on the photo are casting some shade, but it's useless - too far inland, shore breeze doesn’t reach there and bushes are dense and thorny. It was 26-28 C (80-81F) during a day - in the shade, of course. Nights were about 23-24 C (74-75F), but with high humidity it was sweltering. Rain didn’t help - immediately after it’s over it is warm again, and even more humid, and with any sun at such moments it feels like a steam room. High humidity combined with heat isn’t fun if you are not born there. Almost the entire trip I felt like some overcooked potato, tired even without doing  anything. On a cloudy day with 10-knot trade winds, when it wasn’t too bad on water, the air on the beach was still and hot.  

First few hours upon arrival to campsite I usually relaxed in shade, drinking cranberry “cocktail” - dried cranberries in filtered water, with crushed vitamin C tablet. Sometimes with snack. Then, with sun lower in the sky, I would set up the tent and make a supper. There is not much shade in these places, but one can usually find some after 2 pm - mostly if you sit or squat; those palms are short, and other shrubs are shorter yet.  The best shade provided  southern pines - if they were pines - up to 30 ft tall, they have no trunk and look more like a shrub than a tree (shown to the right on the 1st photo of Pipe Creek).

Also -  mosquitoes and  “sand flies”.  With one or two exceptions, bugs were annoying on every campsite. These islands are low, often with marshlands in the middle of island, and winter temperatures never drop below freezing - ideal breeding conditions for them. They usually come around sunset and stay until it gets too hot in the morning.

Rainy season is May through October, and hurricane season - June through November. In my trip from April 16 to April 30 there were quick showers in the first day, then torrential rain for one hour on April 23, and the last 3 days of the trip - lukewarm rain every day, sometimes for one hour, sometimes longer - rainy May was approaching. Northern Bahamas receive more rain than southern, and Exuma Park is in the Central-North Bahamas.  

8. GEAR

 New items added to the gear in this trip, or not described yet in previous trip reports:  

Sand anchor.  

All the campsites were on sand. Tent pegs don’t work on sand. This sand anchor works well on sand or small pebbles. Everybody has some old grocery bags, so let them serve one more purpose before going to landfill.  Throw 6 or 9 of them into the pouch with tent pegs - it will survive 2 week trip. Dig a hole 1 ft wide * 1 ft deep, put a grocery bag in there, fill it with sand taken from the hole, tie the tarp or tent lines to the bag handles (or tie the bag handles to the tent loop) and perform a ritual dance on the top:   

The photo above left shows tarp at the Hall’s Pond. I’m carrying only 2 poles, and there are different ways to pitch the tarp using only 2 poles. Sand anchors will hold whatever you tie to them - tarp or tent line.  



Multipurpose Camp and Kayak Seat and Sleeping Pillow  

The kayak seat is from Feathercraft Kahuna, everything else is either homemade or purchased aftermarket. FC seat with added cart parts works as a camp seat. Thermarest seat pad has a double use as a sleeping pillow (covered with some T-shirt or whatever; there is no need in pillow cover when you have a sleeping bag over it). The cart is described here .

Place cart upside down. Buckle the backrest straps up to the cart axle. Buckle the seat straps around the cart legs or around the axle. Doesn’t matter with wheels or without, but to prevent the axle from sliding out when carrying the seat, I usually attach the wheels.

Green Thermarest 12”*15” seat pad can be placed lengthwise on the backrest or crosswise on the seat.  Not perfect, the seat/backrest angle tends to open wider after a while, and you need to pull it up again, but it is MUCH better than just a seat pad without any backrest. You can’t carry camp chairs like Crazy Creak in FC single, but this contraption is close enough. My cart is homemade, but there are similar commercial designs.

The seat of FC K1 has staps holding the back to the seat, so the task becomes easier.

Often I used a simplified version - just FC seat with green Thermarest pad. 


MSR Dromedary water bags, 10-liter   

There is nothing new about them, - just some comments. They have 2 weak points:

1) The smaller cap with spigot,  located on the wider cap, often leaks around the thread.   I’ve put a plumbers Teflon tape around the thread and never open this smaller cap. Instead, I’m using a spigot.
2) The spigot may incidentally flip up open when you are loading or re-arranging  cargo. To prevent this, I’ve put a short sleeve of 1” OD clear PVC hose on the spigot cup, with the rim few millimeters higher than the spigot cup. Tied to the bag with a thin lanyard through the hole in the rim above the cup, it is quite unobtrusive. Shown  with the sleeve off, hanging
on the lanyard (bottom photo).  

Top photo: on one of the bags I've replaced the spigot cap with a water tap cap (available in stores), but I don't think high of this tap. The tap is easier to flip up open incidentally (not dangerous, just more likely than the spigot with PVC sleeve). Or you forget what side it is "Open" - though the supplied safety lid will stop it from leaking. All this is serious when water is a problem. Besides, I don't like my gear getting wet, even if it's fresh water.  








Brunton Eterna 6 * 30 Waterproof Monocular With only 6* magnification (and being NOT a binocular) it is not for wildlife watching. But you can’t use *10 or *12 binoculars in a kayak bobbing up and down in waves without expensive image stabilization system, and they are too big to carry on deck. Eterna is good for checking directions and prospective campsites in unfamiliar places. It is small enough to carry in a deckbag or PFD pocket - this is where you need it during the passage, not under decks. It delivers clear picture in cloudy days, and it is submersible. I’ve tethered it with a short lanyard to vinyl cosmetic pouch, and it lives there.  With the pouch I’m less worried about losing lens covers, but I’ve tethered lens covers to the monocular body with a thin lace through tiny hole made in the side of the cover - just in case.  

Manual Reverse Osmosis Desalinator PUR 35

There is no fresh water in the Park and adjacent islands. Staniel Cay is the only store within 30 or 40 nm radius. You can't carry full water supply on board, so there are 3 choices:
1) beg/buy at marinas (usually deviating from the route),
2) beg at occasional anchored yachts or private houses (expat homeowners or people renting villas aren't looking forward to it - they've come here for privacy, and paid a lot for it), or
3) pump PUR 35 from time to time.


PUR 35 makes fresh water out of sea water, 1 gallon per hour - as long as you pump it.; Weighs 7 lbs, the bag is smaller than an average 2-person tent.
Using PUR 35 isn't fun, but tolerable if done occasionally. You'll want a comfortable sitting position, this isn?t a 5-minute job. I usually did this at sunset, - in the chair close to water, radio on. Not exhausting, yet boring (that's why - a radio). In total, in 2 weeks I pumped 4 times * 50 minutes, each time producing a daily supply to supplement fresh water that I had. I filled 20 liters on the mail boat in the first day, and refilled 10 liters later in heavy rain (collecting it from the tarp), and 10 liters from rainwater collector at the Park Headquarters. I didn't ask at yachts. Those living aboard are usually friendlier than homeowners going out to sea for a few hours of fishing, but I didn't try anyway.

At the time of writing this report (2008) new PUR 35 sells for $2000, Ebay stores sell it for $600 refurbished (with new membrane), and I've bought mine in 2007 for $400 with new membrane. Some are advertised for $250 as "new", but they mean "unused" - written off army gear, where annual treatment with Biocide was not performed for many years. Membrane in such unused units might still be alive, or might be dead as well. New membrane costs $200. Often they are sold without a padded carrying bag - too bad, this is a very useful bag, light and sturdy.

I replaced heavy steel casing of the filter with aluminum tubing, shortened the reject hose (prefer to see the reject flow), and made the handle to fold closer to the plastic casing for compact storage. In the original version the handle protrudes parallel to the casing few inches apart. I kicked out the pin holding the end of the handle in the plastic casing and replaced it with 1.5" * 1/4" spring-loaded pin (aka ball-pin), like those used in Balogh rig. Tied with a short lanyard to the hole in the casing, pin can be pulled out of bronze bushings in the casing, thus the end of the handle can be folded close to the casing (like on the photo). On the photo by Timo Noko his handle folds more compact than mine, but I don't know how to make it.
 

Stoves, fuel and airport security 

I used Primus Easyfuel stove previously described in Baja 2006 report (in the Gear section at the bottom). It was modified to accept small propane cylinders like those used in low-end $12 screw-on-top camp stoves or in welding torch. It no longer accepts Isobutane Primus/MSR cartridges. 1 lb propane cylinders are manufactured by Coleman, Bernzomatic, and Worthington (photos left to right)..

The photos are approximately to the same scale. Coleman cylinders are short and wide, the other two or three - tall and narrow. All contain 1 lb (16.4 oz) of propane.

I have also some seen tall red cylinders in US Autozone, don't remember the brand. All these cylinders have same thread and same propane - slightly less efficient than Primus/MSR Isobutane, heavier steel cylinders, but MUCH easier to find in remote places and cheaper too. Available in virtually any hardware, garden, welding or automotive store in North America, sometimes - in big grocery stores like Long’s, and sometimes at gas stations. Mexico and Bahamas have these tanks too. One 16.4 oz (1 lb) cylinder lasts about 10 days in warm calm weather, with 2-3 hot meals daily. In colder and windier weather it is still good for at least 6 days of intense use.  Don’t confuse it with MAPP Gas, usually found on the same shelve next to propane - this one will melt your stove down, too hot flame.

As a backup, I carry alcohol Min-Trangia stove. Pros: 1) alcohol is easier yet to find than propane (pure alcohol - ethanol or methanol, or 70% rubbing alcohol, or hard booze - this one works poorly); 2) properly washed, it’s OK with airlines.  No other pros for a kayaker. Cons: non-adjustable flame and more room needed for fuel for the same trip duration than with LPG/propane.

And an ultimate backup - Sierra Zipp solid-fuel stove. It burns anything - twigs, pine cons, dry cow dung - you name it. Pros and cons have been discussed by many people, and many love it - I don’t.


There was an interesting encounter with Vancouver airport security at the luggage check-in counter. After asking what was in bags and hearing “camping gear”, he asked if I had a stove. Of course, I had “a stove” - 3 of them.  As this wasn’t a court of law and I didn’t promise to tell “the whole truth”, I told him “a truth” - "Yes, an alcohol stove".  He asked about matches. I carried some matches and cigarette lighter in the pouch with Trangia, as a part of back-up equipment (my propane stove has its own built-in igniter).  He unscrewed and sniffed Trangia unused for more than a year, told me that matches were not allowed at all, and lighter was allowed on board only (but not checked-in), confiscated matches and looked satisfied. I wasn’t worried much about propane stove, yet didn’t want take chances either. Usually LPG or propane stoves are OK - a burner with hose and regulator, no pump, no fuel residue, but it does retain some smell, so there is some little risk.  I totally didn’t worry about Sierra “furnace”, just didn’t want to waste more time.

Liquid fuel stoves (white gas, kerosene, gasoline etc) are at the highest risk to be confiscated - they are the most difficult to clean of fuel residue. Besides, you have to wash out empty fuel bottle thoroughly - or buy a new one each time.