02/19/2012, Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
The last time I talked about the downside of cruising in the Abacos in the winter time and the nearly constant battle with cold fronts sweeping down from the north. All of that is true and one must be vigilante and always have a keen eye on the impeding weather. But, there's also the other days in between that make cruising this area wonderful and this past week was just such a time.
Tranquility and Leeway left Man-O-War Cay on Monday in overcast conditions but with a favourable forecast for several days. We left Man-O-War in the late morning on a rising tide to make sure we wouldn't have any problems exiting the shallow channel. We motored in a light chop (guess which way the wind was blowing today) south west towards Boat Harbour on the back side of Marsh Harbour around the large sand bar off Lubber's Quarter and then south towards Tilloo Cay.
We anchored in the early afternoon just south of the Tilloo Cut that heads out into the Atlantic Ocean but both skipper's felt somewhat uneasy about the anchorage and after just a few minutes decided to pick up anchor from this rather exposed spot to locate around a head point of land about a mile further south which was more protected from north winds. We anchored in about 7 feet of water about 300 ft from shore.
We were told that Tilloo Cay was a national park and a protected wildlife area but what we saw was an island undergoing considerable development with new houses under construction. After getting settled we decided to take Tranquility's dinghy to go exploring and headed south towards areas on the island that appeared less developed. We headed towards Tilloo Pond and found an area to beach the boat and walk the island. We found few paths in the heavy underbrush on this part of the island but we made our way to the Atlantic side for a spectacular view of the ocean and the breakers that so often pound the eastern shores of these cays. It turns out the Tilloo Cay is not the national park as we were told but the park is on the southern tip of Tilloo Cay on the Pelican Cays which we would pass tomorrow. We toured this deserted part of the island on foot and dinghy for several enjoyable hours.
When we returned the boats were happily laying on their anchors just as we left them and after cocktails on Leeway we returned to our respective boats for a lovely, peaceful night in this truly pristine anchorage.
The next morning dawned stunningly beautiful and we took advantage of the perfect weather to push further south in the Sea of Abaco and explore some more. We motor sailed in zephyr-like winds out past Tilloo Bank and through the narrow (and unmarked) Iron Cay channel and onto the Pelican Cays and the national sea park. Unfortunately the Pelican Cays are rather exposed to the ocean because of the proximity to the North Bar Range Inlet and the ocean swell entering the inlet this day made stopping at the moorings placed in the park for snorkelers impractical. So with regret, we pushed on towards Lynyard Cay and Little Harbour.
After transversing the rather bumpy North Bar Range and its ocean swells we were soon in the lee of Lynyard Cay and even though the winds were increasing we enjoyed protected sailing along the inside channel. We were going to go to Little Harbour and anchor out for a couple of hours to explore the little settlement. Little Harbour is the last settlement in the Sea of Abaco and is the jumping off point for the Exumas and points further south. Unfortunately Little Harbour has a shallow bar across its entrance limiting the size of vessels that can enter and demanding that many do so only under optimum conditions. Today as we approached Little Harbour we had neither the tide nor the benign conditions required to enter and so we thought we would anchor off the harbour mouth and go ashore. But, as we approached more closely it became apparent that breakers entering the inlet from the south would make for less than ideal anchoring conditions and so we decided to circle back to Lynyard Cay and anchor there and hope that conditions would allow us to take the dinghies to Little Harbour tomorrow. So by late afternoon we were securely anchored in the lee of Lynyard Cay about a mile north of the cut and it felt like we had truly found paradise.
Lynyard Cay is a large, almost entirely deserted cay bordering the southern edge of the Sea of Abaco and we quickly found white sand beaches on which to snorkel, miles of trails to explore and a feeling that we had found our little slice of seclusion in this vast world. The only problem was that by late afternoon there were a total of 22 boats in the anchorage. So much for seclusion! Oh well, there was plenty of room for everyone and certainly more that enough beauty to go around. We spent a couple of peaceful nights on the hook at Lynyard that I'll never forget.
The next day presented us with benign conditions and we took the dinghy on a nearly two mile run into Little Harbour. Little Harbour is a captivating place. It is isolated and tiny with a colony of artists that settled the area several decades ago which still thrives today. It's harbour is surrounded by high cliffs that are potmarked with caves that apparently housed the new artistic colony when they first arrived. The settlement reaches back from a sandy beach and the local beach bar serves great Bahamian food and one quickly feels as though they have found their island getaway. We toured the settlement, walked to the abandoned lighthouse that has seen one too many hurricanes and drank in the ambiance of the funky little piece of the Abacos.
But it was time for a swim so we headed back to the boats across a peaceful cut and we enjoyed the beach for a while before dusk settled in. All of this in absolutely picture perfect tropical weather. But, remember that weather is never very far from a cruiser's conscience and while we had enjoyed four absolutely wonderful days the forecasters were reminding us of the next approaching system.
We still had a couple of nice days before the arrival of the next front but the southern portion of the Sea of Abacos provides few protected, all-weather harbours and so we thought it best to start moving back up into the "hub" area so that we could find adequate shelter for the scheduled weekend blow.
Reluctantly we left Lynyard Cay after two days and had a absolutely glorious sail for over four hours up to Hopetown, our next destination.
Hopetown is on Elbow Cay and is only a short distance away from Marsh Harbour and Man-O-War Cay. It has a Class A harbour which has a rather shallow entrance and so we had to ensure we arrived with a high tide so we didn't go 'bump' on the way in. At it turned out after Leeway was in the harbour she did manage to find a shallow area that took her a couple of minutes to extricate herself from.
Hopetown has the only remaining kerosene-powered lighthouse remaining in the Western Hemisphere and most of you are likely familiar with it whether you know it or not. It's candy-striped tower is one of the most photographed structures in the world. And, here I sit just 500 yards from it's base. Cool, eh? (see the lead picture)
Hopetown is a cool little spot and has a settlement of moderate proportions by Bahamian standards and provides a variety of goods and services for the visiting boater. It has a wonderful Atlantic-facing beach, funky little shops and welcoming people that continues to make this visit memorable.
Hopetown also has a harbour that is protected from winds of all directions and while we continue to make ourselves busy with all kinds of things to do around here, what we're really doing is waiting out that next front that arrived last night and continues to blow today. Who says you can't do two things at once.
So while the winter weather continues its established pattern I've also found that Abacos to be truly a cruisers' paradise. Come on down and join me.
We'll talk again soon.
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!?!