02/12/2012, Man-O-War Cay
Since Derek and Sue had to return home I've been on my own on the boat but still have the company of Laurence and Joan on Tranquility. It's nice to have a buddy boat when you're single-handling.
Both boats had to sit at Green Turtle Cay until the Thursday after Derek and Sue left in order to get a decent weather window for moving out the Whale Cay Channel. We left Green Turtle just after noon which was still very close to low tide but it was rising. If we grounded going out the channel eventually the tide would lift us off but, more importantly, our arrival at the Whale Channel would be at slack tide. By transiting at slack tide the currents are minimized and the sea is less confused by waves against current.
We managed to move through the cut in fairly benign conditions but the power of the ocean swell was still obvious and it was amazing to think that the last land these waves had seen might have been in Europe or Africa. But, they didn't present us with any real challenge this day and we moved down the outer shore and made our way in through the abandoned cruise ship channel north of Great Guana Cay.
We decided to anchor at Great Guana Cay and explore for a couple of days. Great Guana Cay is a long narrow cay that has a new resort, several restaurants, a small settlement, a marina, the world-famous Nipper's Bar and Grill that boasts about its view out over the world's third largest barrier reef and a total population of 165 souls.
We anchored in Fisher's Bay and the next day dinghied around Dalia's Cay into the small Settlement Harbour and went exploring on what was now a blustery and wet day. We toured around the small shops and stalls and of course, we couldn't resist having a lunch and a couple of cold ones at Nipper's during our soirée. Later that night the weather closed in once again and we found ourselves in 25 knot winds overnight in a relatively open anchorage. But, by morning, all was well and once again, I was thankful for every cent I spent on our ground tackle.
On Sunday we upped our anchors around noon so we could arrive in Man-O-War Cay at high tide. We enjoyed a bright, beautiful day to leisurely motor (guess which way the winds were blowing today) down past Foote's, Scotland, Fowl, and Dickie's Cays, and the north Man-O-War passage to sea to the very protected harbours of Man-O-War Cay. Why were we seeking a protected harbour? You guessed it! Bad weather was forecast once again.
The one drawback with cruising the Abacos in the winter is that every few days low pressure cells with cold north winds that originate in the central US sweep through the area and bring falling temperatures and high winds for 3-4 days. The fortunate part is that these events are followed by 4-5 days of beautiful weather and pristine sailing conditions. This pattern is well established by January and February and so everyone ventures out on the nice days to experience one of the best sailing regions in the world but always with an eye for the next secure anchorage for when the next low arrives on the doorstep.
And, so we were no different. We decided to head to Man-O-War for the next blow. Man-O-War Cay's inhabitants are descendants of Loyalists who left the US and settled in the Bahamas and they have a long history of being an industrious people who have built many thriving businesses on the small island. It also is a dry island (no spirits of any kind are sold on the island) so you know that I won't be able to stay too long here.
The next low pressure system arrived as predicted and this is Sunday morning (the 12th) and two nights ago experienced one of the most incredible lightening storms I think I ever seen while last night and this morning everyone is hunkered down in winds that are a steady 25-30 gusting regularly to 35. One chap on the radio just announced that in Marsh Harbour they experienced a 44 knot gust just a few minutes ago. So while these events happen regularly you don't ever take them for granted. Tranquility and Leeway are happy to be firmly attached to our mooring in a sheltered basin just off the settlement in Man-O-War but we thought about others who were less protected last night. Luckily the cruisers' net carried no horror stories this morning and it seems everyone faired alright.
Still we've been here now for almost a week, and all three of us are getting anxious to move on. So we're hoping that perhaps Monday but definitely Tuesday the weather will have settled enough so we can venture out. We hope to see Hopetown on Elbow Cay with its candy-striped lighthouse (the most photographed in the Bahamas) and Tilloo Cay with all its unspoiled beauty (it is a national wildlife preserve and protected reef). So there's a lot to do. When the weather permits.
So just like all you folks at home, I too have to put up with downsides of weather winter. I just don't have to shovel it. Cheers.
02/01/2012, Green Turtle Cay
The morning following our Gulf Stream crossing dawned bright, warm and beautiful but before we could all enjoy the day the engine on Tranquility needed repair. So Derek and Laurence got to work and within about 45 minutes had the problem fixed. It turned out that the electrical connection to the fuel pump was faulty and a quick re-wire was all that was needed. So with that problem out of the way we all started to enjoy all that West End had to offer and so we puttered on the boats, walked on the beach, swam in the pool, played billiards and generally did a lot of nothing for the day. To cap off a great day Joan and Laurence treated us to a lovely dinner at the resort of cracked conch chowder and red snapper with rice and beans in the traditional Bahamian method. Mmm...good.
While walking around the resort we met Pat and Tutti Phelan off Keltic Kat whom I had met in Indiantown and we discussed transiting the very narrow and shallow Indian Cay Channel. Pat has made the trip many times and assured us that our boats could make the passage and that it would significantly reduce our travelling time to Great Sale Cay. So at 7am Tuesday morning we all rendezvoused in the channel and followed Keltic Kat onto the Bahama bank past Barracuda Shoal. This was my first real experience with the Bahamian buoyage system (or rather lack of) because the entire Indian Cay Channel is unmarked and you must rely on your GPS and visual piloting to make your way through it. Thanks to Pat and Tutti's assist we made it safely over the shallows and set our sails on the turquoise water that are so striking on the bank towards Great Sale Cay.
Once we were clear of the shoal we started motor sailing in light winds from the SE. We were all enjoying the brilliant sunshine and were fascinated by the shallow, crystal-clear water beneath. It is rather unnerving to be sailing at 6+ knots with 2-3 feet of water under the keel for hour after hour. Slowly Mangrove Cay came over the horizon and we got our first look at an uninhabited Bahamian Cay which was low, covered with scrub vegetation and, in this case, a lonely outpost on the bank that some cruisers use as an overnight anchorage in settled weather.
We carried on and over the next few hours Great Sale Cay came into view and we sailed into the crescent shaped anchorage by mid-afternoon. We anchored in sand and mud just 300 feet from south and we were well protected from winds from the north and east. We spent a beautiful night at anchor and were amazed how much brighter the stars were with no ambient light around to dilute their effect. I continued to try to find a water problem on board that was causing the bilge pumps to cycle on but a solution was not to be found this day. We tried to barbeque dinner but now I realize why so many cruisers give up on BBQs because the strong winds made getting dinner ready outside impossible.
The next morning we raised the anchor at about 8:30 and headed for Great Sale Rocks and Carter's Bank where we would leave the North Atlantic Ocean and turn the corner into the more protected Sea of Abaco. A couple of miles north of the anchorage the bilge pumps once again cycled on and the high water alarm sounded. So I dove below to try to sort out the problem and soon discovered that the bilge hose was actually siphoning water back into the bilge when we were motoring on a flat sea. So my day was spent with my head in the bilge re-installing the one-way valve that was removed when the Indiantown mechanics installed the new bilge pumps.
Meanwhile Derek and Sue enjoyed a glorious day motoring along with Tranquility off the stern they passed Hawksbill Cay, Allan-Pensacola Cay, and a succession of others along the eastern shore of Great Abaco Island that made for picturesque sailing. We had originally thought about going to Crab Cay to anchor for the night but we heard on the radio of several other boats headed there so we decided to press on to Powell Cay for the evening so that we would have a quieter anchorage. We arrived at Powell in the mid-afternoon and anchored on the west shore of the cay in about 7 ft of water. Powell Cay is uninhabited and as soon as the anchors were down both boats splashed their dinghies and headed ashore. The group of us spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the pristine beaches, crossing over the Atlantic side of the cay, and splashing our ankles in the water. It was marvellous to beach comb on a truly deserted tropical island. We spent a somewhat choppy night in the anchor but nothing very severe.
The next morning we left before 8 am so we would have a rising high tide when we reached our next destination at Green Turtle Cay. In order to get into either of the harbours on Green Turtle one must do so when there is, at least, half tide because of shallow sandbars at the entrances. Leeway, being the larger and deeper boat, felt her way in along the dog-leg channel into White Sound without incident and anchored about 500 ft from shore between the two marinas located in the harbour.
Green Turtle was to be our base for a while because a new low front was forecasted to bring high winds for the next couple of days and so that we would find the right weather to transverse the Whale Cut. The Whale Channel Cut is where deep-draft boats must go outside into the open ocean through a narrow cut and re-enter the Sea of Abaco miles further south. Good weather is important for two reasons: 1) you are venturing onto the open ocean and the breaking waves can be highly dangerous, and 2) the tides create rip currents as the water moves on and off the shallow bank. So care must be taken in making passage even though the trip is not a long one.
So our little flotilla settled in for a few days stay on Green Turtle. Green Turtle is a moderate sized cay and New Plymouth, founded into 1780s (and not much has changed), is its main settlement. Our anchorage was well protected on all sides and it was hard to believe that on a couple of those days 25-30 knot winds were raging outside as we enjoyed the bright sunshine and toured the islands.
A couple of days were overcast and rather nasty but that didn't stop us from jumping in the dinghies to check out Black Sound (the other harbour) and explore New Plymouth for a day. Unfortunately the weather remained unsettled and the reports on the Whale Passage were not good so we were forced to remain in Green Turtle longer than we had planned.
In fact, the time was drawing close for Derek and Sue to return home to Canada and it appeared that we would not be able to make it any further south within the next couple of days. So on Sunday, January 29 they took the Green Turtle Ferry over to Treasure Cay and got a taxi from there to Marsh Harbour for their flight home on Monday.
It's hard to believe that our time together had gone by so quickly. I really enjoyed having them aboard and appreciated their help as crew. Good friends are hard to come by and they're the best.
Now I'm alone.........wonder what kind of trouble I can get into now. Mmmm!?!
01/24/2012, West End, Bahamas
We upped the anchor at 4:15 am from the anchorage south east of Peanut Island and made our way out the channel on what turned out to be a very dark night. Going out the channel in the pitch black I must say was slightly eerie but we cleared the channel and set our course for West End, Bahamas about 57 miles away in flat seas and light winds.
The darkness gave way to a most glorious sunrise about 2 1/2 hours later and that led into a nearly perfect day for a Gulf Stream crossing. All three of us were enjoying the day, watching the US shoreline disappear, and marvelling at the power of the Gulf Stream even on a placid day like today. We soon found ourselves about 10 miles off the coast and we were already about 2 miles north of the rhumbline. For you non-sailors that means we were being pushed at nearly 5 knots (about 8 mph) north away from our destination. We decided to give up a little bit of our forward progress to head into the current to move closer to our course. Not only did we have a buddy boat travelling with us but there were about a dozen other boats spread out across the horizon both ahead and behind us.
Our small navigation correction was working and we were slowly making our way across and enjoying our adventure when we received a radio call from Tranquility, our buddy boat. They were about as far south of the rhumbline (a better navigational position) as we were north and a couple of miles behind us. But, they were currently adrift because their engine suddenly quit. Laurence & Joan Wright, our travelling buddies, live near the Scarborough Bluffs in Toronto and I met them in Indiantown while we were both working on our boats. They bought a lovely 1984 Tartan 33 sloop that was new to them this year and they worked like crazy in the boatyard getting the boat ready for their trip. But, despite all the planning in the world any new boat will present all kinds of daunting challenges to new owners. Unfortunately, for the crew of Tranquility this current challenge came in the middle of the Gulf Stream with only light and variable winds.
Leeway altered course and in about an hour rendezvoused with Tranquility which was still without power. The decision was made to take Tranquility under tow while Laurence continued to troubleshoot the engine problems. And so, the tethered boats continued eastward towards the Bahamas.
Now, they say that you should never tow your dinghy behind your boat while crossing the stream and suddenly here I was towing a 10,000 lb boat. Oh well, we all do what we got to do and we all carried on with Leeway chugging away at about 2900 rpm to keep up a decent pace while the crew of Tranquility had to hand-steer the entire day. Anyone who has helmed a boat for an hour knows how tiring it can be and Laurence and Joan (I'm told mostly Joan) had to do so for over 5 hours.
Slowly we made our way across the stream strapped to each others' hip getting closer and closer, but Mother Nature wasn't through with us yet. As predicted the winds picked up in the afternoon out of the east (and of course, what direction were we travelling?) and slowed our forward progress to less that 3.5 knots for a couple of hours. So we all settled in for a long afternoon, but fortunately, as we got closer to the Bahama bank the waves abated somewhat and allow our speed to creep back up to about 5.5 knots.
We contacted Old Bahama Bay Marina and they were ready for our arrival and sent crew out to the dock to help the disabled Tranquility get into a slip. We entered the channel just after 6pm in rapidly diminishing light and by the time we handed over Tranquility to the dock crew, turned around and found our own slip it was dark. To say the least it was a very interesting day - good, productive, one that you have a good feeling about - but nevertheless interesting.
We hadn't even finished tying up the boats and the dock crew were hustling us off to Bahamas customs and immigration so we could clear into the country. We walked around the marina basin to the customs office and in a flurry of paperwork were cleared into the country, paid all our fees, been granted fishing licenses, and we were all back to our boats by 7pm. Try that in Canada.
So we're here. In the Bahamas. Currently residing at Old Bahama Bay at West End, Bahamas. Tomorrow we'll try to solve Tranquility's engine problem and figure out where we're going from here. But right now, I just want to catch my breath.