03/01/2012, Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas
We left Hopetown on Thursday the 23rd after a week's stay. Our stay started out being weather related but was stretched out because it is just a truly enjoyable place to visit and relax. We left on high tide rising about mid-morning to ensure we would have enough depth out the shallow channel and were greeted with a delightful breeze that took us effortlessly under headsail only out past Parrot Cays, around Set Point Rock and into Marsh Harbour. We anchored towards the head of the harbour not far from the Jib Room Restaurant in about 7 ft. of water well out of the unmarked channel that the Bahamian Defence Force routinely makes boats move out of at all hours of the day and night.
Marsh Harbour is the largest settlement in the Abacos and the third largest in the entire Bahamas with about 5000 population. The harbour itself has good holding and has room for lots of boats while the town provides the best opportunities for cruisers to re-provision; do some banking; and access a wide range of other services. It has two large groceries stores, a couple of well-stocked hardware stores, local government offices, several good beer and wine stores, and oddly enough, two of the major Canadian banks. And, we took advantage of the opportunity to make the most of all the services available and made repeated forays to town for supplies and sightseeing. I even got my haircut seeing as my barber (the Admiral) was still in Canada.
On the weekend of the 25th was Marsh Harbour's annual Junkanoo (see lead picture) with juvenile teams competing on the Friday evening while the adult teams competed on Saturday. We passed on the youth teams because the evening was rather miserable and we thought that the better show would come from the adult teams the next night. So on Saturday night we dinghied in from the boats for an 8pm start but as everything here is on island time the parade actually got started just after 10pm. But, the wait was worth it to see the effort these groups put into both their costumes and their performances. We were disappointed that there were only two groups competing while on Friday evening the youth groups had nearly a dozen groups showing off their talents. But, it was very interesting to see a true, down-home Caribbean junkanoo in its native setting.
We enjoyed Marsh Harbour for a couple more days and met a lot of cruisers from different parts of the world that are attracted to this hub of the Abacos.
All too soon though it was time for Tranquility to start moving back north and begin the trek back to the States. So on Feb 29th Laurence and Joan weighed anchor and headed out the harbour towards Treasure Cay and the northern cays of the Abacos while Leeway waited a couple of hours for the tide before heading to Man-O-War Cay. Tranquility and Leeway had travelled together for nearly 8 weeks and had a lot of fun together but it is the nature of cruising to say regularly say goodbye to new friends and hope that your paths will cross again in the future. Fair winds Tranquility.
Leeway moved over the Man-O-War Cay and took a mooring in the Settlement Harbour from which I will venture out of nice days to play around the islands while waiting for the Admiral to arrive in mid-April. Also at Man-O-War are TJ & Kaye on Shearwater and Lou & Jean on Both Sides Now who are long time friends from the International Alberg 37 Association. So stay tuned for more adventures.
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.