January 9, 2003, Bahamas
With the weather still too windy for a Gulf Stream crossing before Christmas, we decided to go along with the Garsides on their cruise to Freeport, Bahamas for Christmas. The price was right and we really enjoyed our 4 nights on Grand Bahama Island. A side benefit was getting to see the Gulf Stream first hand in different weather conditions. We booked the Discovery Sun from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. This ship makes this route, Ft Lauderdale to Freeport in the morning, back in the evening, every day of the year. It is used by both US Tourists and Bahamians visiting the US. The trip across was great with breakfast and lunch served. On the way back, dinner. The ship is 400+' long with restaurants, casinos, pool, all the amenities. When we arrived we met my cousin Rich, Mel and the kids for an hour! They were just leaving Freeport on their own cruise over the holidays.
We stayed at the Castaways and the Garsides stayed at the Holiday Inn. The hotels couldn't be more different. Theirs was very busy with three restaurants, a great pool, and hundreds of guests. Ours was small and very quiet with very few guests. We spent a bunch of time with them at their pool and at the adjacent beach/pool/waterslide complex. The International Bazaar was right between the two hotels and offered many restaurants and shops for last minute Christmas shopping. Freeport itself was just a city with few attractions. We rented a car for three days to explore and drove to the pristine beaches at East End, went to Port Lucaya where there are big marinas, hotels and more cool restaurants and shops, and went snorkeling at Paradise Cove. We celebrated Idilia's birthday on the 24th, Christmas on the 25th, and Boxing Day on the 26th. Alas there was to be no Junkanoo in Freeport. Instead we watched it live on TV from Nassau. The trip back was nice, arriving late in the evening. All in all it was a great trip. We loved the place and the company. Michelle stayed glued to Ivana for the 5 days.
Fort Lauderdale and the people we saw were very hospitable. We met the Garsides for lunch on their last day on the 29th, met with Greg again for a dinner aboard, and with my cousin Diane. Thank you all for making our stay there great! We celebrated New Years Eve on the boat, met Diane the next day, and miracle of miracles, the weather for Thursday January 2nd was predicted to be perfect for a Gulf Stream crossing. We were very excited as we went to sleep that night with virtually no wind for the first time in about three weeks! We awoke at 2:30 am and set out at 3am. After a gorgeous motor-sail into light northeasterlies, we arrived 11 hours later at West End on Grand Bahama Island! We averaged about 7 knots for the 75 mile sail due to the assist by the Gulf Stream. Just a little chop in the gulf stream due to the light northeasterlies.
We cleared customs quickly and met the other boats who came across that day. The marina/resort at West End was so cool that we stayed three nights. They had a pool, a great beach, internet, and bikes, The weather window was extremely tight though: late that night the winds started howling from the SW. The next day I windsurfed with Rick, the hired captain of a beautiful 46' J boat. He offered to return the favor by letting me try his kite-surfer the next day when the winds moderated and shifted NW. I was able to get the hang (literally) of the kite until the wind finally died. What a blast! Meanwhile we hung out at the pool, snorkeled, and I biked into the town of West End for groceries.
We met 5-6 boats of other cruisers at the docks and started an evening happy hour tradition which has continued for several days now. We set sail after 3 nights in West End for the Bahamas Bank and the Abacos. Four of us have sailed together for 5 days so far: Shenandoah, Navigator (our next-boat neighbor in Ft Lauderdale), Sirocco, and us. We crossed the amazing Little Bahamas Bank: 40 miles to Great Sale Cay. The water was beautiful, clear and flat: we could make out every detail on the bottom, in 12 feet of beautiful water for the whole trip. We had to leave West End at high tide to make it through Indian Passage which only has 5' at low tide. Great Sale has a big protected anchorage and is a 5 mile long mangrove island. The next day we sailed for Double Breasted Cay where we and Navigator worked our way into a narrow anchorage at high tide. The 2 larger boats anchored outside and one dragged onto a sand bar. We spent the evening getting them off. Turns out the bottom there had poor holding due to being scoured by a strong current. The winds were strong NW and the next night we all went around to the south side of the island. Alex and I and the Shenandoah's dinghied to a nice beach there. The others snorkeled. The next night the winds shifted to 20 knots from the west. The anchorage was bouncy and we all left for a 40 mile sail to the marina at Spanish Key where I now type these words.
The Bahamas are beautiful. This part, the northernmost Abacos is very unspoiled. We were at uninhabited islands for three days and now it's nice to be back where there are people and hot showers. The winds were strong from the N and W and we found little protection. We were warned that the Abacos can be chilly this time of year with northerlies, but compared to what? Even in this marina it's a bit bouncy. The next few days should be 10-15 W winds though.
We're heading to civilization in Marsh Harbor, Abacos where we plan to meet our friend Ramsey who is coming for a visit.
January 15, 2003 Bahamas
The islands keep getting more beautiful. From Spanish Cay we sailed to Green Turtle Cay with the lovely, quaint and very cute town of New Plymouth. We stayed one night in Black Sound and two nights in White Sound. The town had all the supplies we needed and Black Sound reminded us of a quiet anchorage in Maine. The chickens woke us in the morning and the town was a 5 minute walk away. Highlights: seeing our buddies in the town, the history including the old Jail, the Library which was the original cook house for the settlement, and the Bronze statue garden. And the Goombay Smashes at Blue Bee's Bar. We want to go back there and explore more.
We then had to sail thru a cut to the ocean to get around Whale Cay to Great Guana Cay. Great Guana is less settled than Green Turtle, but we stayed in a marina for two nights and anchored out one. The reef on the ocean side had great snorkeling at a reef just off a beautiful beach. Nippers Bar was the host of two happy hours. The weather has been mild but lovely. Yesterday it finally rained. It sprinkled on and off for most of the day. Today we sail further down the Bay of Abaco to Marsh Harbor which is about 9 miles away. We plan to meet Ramsey there on Friday and use Marsh Harbor as a base for a week or so. It's a large town with lots of everything.
February 1, 2003 Marsh Harbor
We've been two weeks now in Marsh Harbor. Marsh harbor is the big Bahamas charter base, and I understand why: protected water sails of about 10 miles take you to beautiful islands: Guana, Hometown, Man-of-War and Little Harbor. Many keep their boats here permanently for the same reasons. At least one of the boats we're cruising with is considering staying another month here. In addition all types of supplies are available here, and the marinas are nice and cheap.
Ramsey visited us here for a week and we all had a blast! We have been back to Great Guana two more times now, and the snorkeling there is spectacular.
Yesterday was a typical day. We sailed back to Marsh Harbor the day before so we could see a presentation in the morning. We woke up to a nice warm sunny day, got Michelle started on school work, went to the presentation by an expert cruiser on Sailing the Exumas, had lunch with buddies at the Jib room, came back to the boat for a while, went snorkeling for an hour or so at a nearby reef we've been wanting to try. Then we met the guy who offered to pick up charts and cruise guides for us in Fort Lauderdale. After a light dinner we had the Sirocco's and the Shenandoah's over for a round of Goombay Smashes.
Today there is an artist's show here and we have a few errands to do. Then finally we sail to Hope Town for a while.
The weather is warming up here. After a few days in the fifties, the cold fronts are getting milder and the easterly trade winds are beginning to be seen.
March 5. 2003 Big Major's Spot, Exumas, Bahamas
It's been a while since I last wrote. We stayed in the Abacos, using Marsh Harbor as a base until the beginning of February. Then we went the 9 miles to Hopetown for about 5 days. Hopetown is lovely, has a lot of character and many fun things to do: beautiful protected harbor, great restaurants and pubs, beautiful beach only a few hundred yards from the harbor, beautiful classic lighthouse, and within the week many of our friends including the Sirocco's and the Tamure's came too.
The famous Hopetown lighthouse was close to the harbor. One of the high points was climbing the lighthouse at dusk to watch the keeper light the light and wind up the mechanism. Everything is original: kerosene light, hand wound mechanism, all the original brass steel and glass is there.
I got to race in the Hopetown Regatta. Evie, the captain of "Wonderland', a nice, fast Nordic 40, wanted to race but had no crew. I told her I'd race one day and she said "Good. You be the captain." We raced the first of two races and came in third, uncorrected. We had so much fun we decided to do the second race. This time we enrolled Ray from Sirocco and Jeannie who was down visiting the Tamure's. Again we had a blast, coming in fourth (uncorrected). Evie thanked me for the help by donating a big box full of electronic boat toys including a smart regulator and battery monitoring system. The system I had in place I had designed and built myself and didn't have the continuous metering function I wanted. The new-old Ample Power system had it all, so I installed it and it's working swell. Thanks, much Evie.
From Hopetown we planned our escape to Eleuthera along with Ray and Jeannie on Sirocco. It's a 40 mile ocean sail to Royal Island there. We sailed south to Lynyard Key for a night and possibly snorkeling, but it was rough and windy there. The next day was a glorious sail to Eleuthera in light swells. Royal was a lovely harbor with ruins of a 30's plantation there. After two nights we sailed to Meeks Patch for beach exploration and snorkeling with the Siroccos. Then to Spanish Wells, the northernmost settlement in Eleuthera. We spent two days there in a marina with nice docks but a ruined (by hurricane) resort. We found that nearly every facility in Eleuthera was in ruins.
From there we headed back to Royal for two quiet nights before heading south to Hatchett Bay. From this quiet harbor we toured Eleuthera by car. Turns out Ray was stationed in Eleuthera in the early sixties and wanted to see the place he spent his youth. The navy base which used to be for missile tracking, was 99% in ruins, now serving only as a water cistern and storage facility for the island. Ray met many people who were associated with the base back then. The marina at Hatchett bay was in ruins. Just tie up to the pier for free: no marina or facilities.
We explored the "Glass Window" which is a spectacular cut between the ocean and bank sides. We went in caves, but without flashlights we didn't get far. We explored Gregory Town and Governors Harbor a bit.
We sailed with the Siroccos to Alabaster bay for an afternoon of great snorkeling. They stayed and we went on to Governors Harbor to get Water and groceries. Water turned out to be a two hour adventure involving most of the port authority staff. THen on to Rock Sound, the southernmost harbor in Eleuthera for fuel, more ice, and to ride out an impending cold front. We anchored three different places in the large bay there as the winds clocked around. We saw the nastiest looking squall line and frontal passage with huge black clouds, we've ever seen, but the winds stayed below 30 knots so we rode it out OK. The next day we went into town there. Then we sailed the 10 mile Davis Passage with our first real coral heads to watch for. Into Powell Point Marina, and guess what? the resort was in ruins! Next day a lovely, light air 30 mile ocean passage to Warderick Wells / Exuma Land and Marine Park. We're in the Exumas!!!
March 5. 2003 Black Point Settlement, Exumas, Bahamas
The Exuma Land and Sea Park in Warderick Wells was absolutely beautiful. This 22 X 8 Mile long park is a no fishing zone. As a result the fish and lobster are very plentiful. There are pet Barracuda (Bubba), Lemon Sharks, a 30 lb Grouper, and many rays that swim around our boats. The volunteers at the park headquarters are terrific, and they have ice, baked goods, a huge book swap and videos to rent. The beaches and snorkeling were beautiful with 5-10# lobsters under the rocks. But the best thing there was a big surprise. We heard our Buddies on Whiskey Dream, and they spent three nights with us there! They were on their way to the Virgin Islands and St Lucia, got as far as the Turks and Caicos, south of the Bahamas, and decided they would rather be sailing in the Bahamas than pounding to windward to get to the Virgins. So they turned around and we met them on their way north. They reported all the things to see in the Exumas and told their harrowing tales of offshore sailing to the Turks and Caicos. We told them all about the Abacos and they got excited to go there.
After we said our good-byes again, we sailed to Staniel Cay. We spent four nights in the area: one near The amazing Thunderball Grotto where The James Bond movie was filmed in the caves. Then one night at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club where we hung out in the restaurant and bar. Then two nights anchored off the beaches at Big Major's Spot where we snorkeled and met with Ray and Jeannie on Sirocco. It was good to see those guys after about two weeks.
Today we set sail for Farmers Cay which was about 18 miles, but the wind was strong and right on the nose. So we went into Black Point Settlement instead. Nice quiet town with a beautiful harbor.
April 8, 2003 Chub Cay, Bahamas
From Black Point Settlement we intended to sail to Farmers Cay. At Farmers or just south it is necessary to sail thru a cut to the ocean to get to Georgetown. When we got to Farmers Cut we saw that the seas were pretty calm and the cut was quiet. It was 11pm and at 5 knots the 35 miles to Georgetown would take us just until sundown. We decided to go for it and the sail south was a bit lumpy but in the next few hours settled into a nice sail. We came into Georgetown very happy to finally be at our southernmost destination of the trip. We anchored off the lovely Monument beach for the night and the next day set out to find any friends that were still in Georgetown. Luckily Steve and Helen on Shanty were there for a few more days. While we caught up with them, they introduced us to the routine at Volleyball beach: afternoon volleyball, anchoring off the Chat n' Chill, where you get ice and water, barbecue and cold beer, how to deal with the 1 mile choppy dinghy ride across to town, when to anchor near town. For the week and a half we were there I enjoyed afternoon volleyball while Alex regained here bridge playing skills at the daily bridge games. Michelle played soccer with some of the cruisers. The place was lovely, the town had all you needed. After a few days we understood why people spend the entire winter there. Within a few days of arrival, Shanty sailed north, and Sirocco and Tamure both arrived. We ate and drank at the Chat n' Chill, saw two Eileen Quinn concerts (very funny folk singer with a sailing / cruising bent) and explored Stocking Island. Swam each day and took sun showers before evening cocktails and dinner. Very nice!
All was not perfect in Georgetown however. One afternoon we saw two waterspouts cross the harbor. One didn't touch down but the other one did and sunk a Bahamian sailboat and damaged another cruising boat. The next night a sudden squall came out of the west and blew 35 knots thru the crowded anchorage for an hour. No problems except lost sleep. Two days later at 9pm another squall came thru and this one was scary! It blew 40+ knots for an hour and developed four foot waves in the shallow anchorage! We have never anchored in such conditions. Fortunately all anchors held.
After a week and a half in Georgetown it was late March and time to head back north. We sailed with Tamure all the way to Nassau and enjoyed their company immensely. At Warderick Wells on the way north we also met Ian and Susan on Rebel X who we also cruised with for the few weeks to Nassau. From Georgetown we spent three nights at Lee Stocking Island in pretty strong southerly winds. Here we re-discovered our boat's tendency to wrap the anchor rode around the keel in strong wind and opposing currents. This is because we have a fin keel and nylon rode. Chain or a full keel would prevent this. When it does happen the forces that develop as the boat is sideways to a strong current are huge. Often we drag anchor, and it is difficult to clear the problem. Since we expected these conditions throughout the Exumas where we often needed to anchor in strong currents, we used moorings and marinas wherever possible. From Lee Stocking we sailed to Little Farmers Cay where a school festival and fund raiser were happening. Getting into Farmers was one problem after another. After we told Tamure that getting out of Farmers cut was no problem a few weeks earlier, we were met with a mini-'rage' entering the cut with the seas against the out going current. The entrance was breaking waves and current so strong that we were going backwards at times while we powered at full throttle!. The half mile mess of seas took us 1/2 hour to pass. We got in, snaked our way through bars and reefs to the are where the mooring balls were, picked up a mooring in the strong current, backed it down to make sure it would hold, and I then got in the dinghy to help Tamure with their mooring. Their boat hook had come apart picking it up and was floating away. By the time I got to them, Alex noticed that we had moved dangerously close to the beach! sure enough we had dragged the anchor and were grounded on the beach. To make matters worse the mooring was near our prop so we couldn't start the engine to back off. So I set out a kedge anchor and got us in deep water again. We cast off the evil mooring and went to the anchorage. There the anchor rode wrapped the keel and we were dragging again! By this time Scott had dived on the moorings and discovered the mystery. Two were very solid and two were tied to flimsy anchors. So we went back to the other solid mooring where we safely spent the next two nights. Whew! We went to the school festival where the Bahamian food was excellent!. The town was friendly and we met the local wood carver and the owners of the Farmers key club.
We sailed to Staniel where we picked up solid moorings for two nights while a cold front passed. Staniel is where Thunderball Grotto is and we enjoyed snorkeling there with Scott and Kitty, We walked on the island, shopped, had lunch and internet at the Staniel Yacht Club, and called Warderick Wells daily to request a mooring there. Then we headed for Warderick Wells. We got there only to learn of a strong cold front coming in a few days. So we had to decide whether to stay there or find another safe spot. We decided to stay and wound up being there a week as the cold front passed and the winds then blew out of the NE for several days. One day it was too strong to dinghy ashore. The other days we went snorkeling, hiking and enjoyed Tamure and Rebel X's company greatly. After a few days there I volunteered to work a few days for the park. For a morning's labor you get your mooring for free, and the work is fun and rewarding. I worked to salvage fuel from a sunken boat and helped dig (jackhammer) a 10' deep hole in the Bahamian sandstone for their new antenna tower. We had a lot of fun working with the other cruisers and we met lots of great people. In addition to great people and amazing nature, the snorkeling is great and they can provide the bare necessities of life: Bread, ice great cinnamon rolls, and cheap internet. So we stayed a week.
Two days after the front passed it was still blowing fairly hard from the NE, but we decided to head north anyway. After a very wet 30 mile sail we arrived in Highborne Cay. Within a few hours Ray and Jeannie showed up and we had a great pot luck dinner on board Sirocco. The next day the wind shifted a bit east making the 30 mile NW trip to Nassau a decent sail. Much drier and we sailed much of the way. Since we arrived in the Bahamas we've heard nothing but bad news about Nassau: boats dragging in the strong current, a barge taking out two anchored boats in the middle of the night, break-ins and theft, expensive marinas, crowds of cruise ship tourists in the day and muggings at night. So it was with trepidation we chose to use a low cost marina there for security and to stay out of the current. We found a new, cheap unadvertised marina there right near town and with all we needed. We really enjoyed our three nights there as we played tourist, went to Atlantis, ate great meals, used the cheapest internet anywhere, and stocked up the boat.
Then on to Chubb Cay in the Berry Islands on the way to Bimini and home. The trip here was a very rough ride downwind in 20 knots of wind. Turns out the seas in the 'Tongue of the Ocean" are always confused and choppy. We're here now where we're waiting several days for yet another cold front to pass before we sail for Bimini and head across the Gulf Stream to Florida in the USA! Chubb Cay Marina is a big sport fishing resort with decent amenities. We've met nice people here and basically do school in the morning and walk around and hang out at the pool(s) in the afternoon.
We've got a week to get across the gulf stream and meet Michelle's Friend Dani in Florida over school vacation. The trip to Bimini is 70 miles across the Great Bahama Bank, and then 50 miles across the gulf stream to Ft Lauderdale. If the winds are perfect we can head further north to Palm Beach and save two days of ICW travel with many bridges.
April 16, 2003 Fort Pierce, Florida
We spent a full week in Chub Cay waiting for the weather to settle. Chub was great. There's nothing like a forced stay for a week at a marina to encourage camaraderie. We had a great time there meeting new people. For a change we were the experienced cruisers! Michelle was getting nervous that we wouldn't make it back to Florida in time to meet Dani. But the strong northwesterlies after the cold front abated, and we got a nice window to sail the 140 miles to Florida. Our plan was to sail past Bimini in case the weather degraded and if not, to keep going to Fort Lauderdale. But everything looked good for an overnight on the Gulf Stream, and so we instead headed NW across the Bahama Bank and across to Lake Worth (Palm beach) inlet. We left at 06:30 and arrived at about 07:30 the next morning. The sail was nice and smooth with a nearly full moon all night.
We called George and Leo (Shennandoah) in Fort Pierce, and within a few days we re-acclimated to the USofA, checked into customs, visited immigrations by taxi and bus, and re-stocked with our favorite american stuff. We sailed to Jensen Beach to Meet George and Leo for dinner, and then to Fort Pierce where we are visiting them now. Tomorrow we're off to Vero Beach to leave the boat for a few days while we visit Amy and the kids, pick up Dani, and eat Easter candy.