Dolphins Cavort Off Our Bow
On Tuesday, March 13th, we left Green Turtle Cay for Spanish Cay with Jane and Peter of Kinvara. We revised our earlier plan to head to Powell Cay due to weather reports that called for possible squall activities in the area. It was a short hop of about 15 miles and we arrived in the early afternoon. Spanish Cay is a private island resort with an 81 slip full service marina and, for non-boaters, private homes, condos, beach front rooms, and marina suites. The three mile long cay features a beatiful beach and myriad tropical flora such as hibiscus, frangipani, royal poinciana, wild orchids and bougainvillea. It is also home to many birds, including the rare albino owl. For boaters, Spanish Cay is a port of entry offering Customs and Immigration seven days a week.
Spanish Cay has an interesting history. It was purchased in 1952 by Clint Murchison, Jr., of Dallas, Texas, from a businessman of English descent, Sir Oliver Simmons, who was then residing in Nassau. Murchison and Simmons reached an agreement and Murchison purchased the island for $66,000 and he set about developing the island as a personal retreat for his family, friends and business associates. The existing house, named "Point House" by Simmmons was renamed "Shamrock" by Murchison. Beyond the house, and a beautiful coconut grove (one of the things that sold Clint Jr. on the island) there were very few improvements, which Murchison set out to fix. His vision involved perserving the island experience with it's natural beauty for the enjoyment of his guests, while providing them with an unmatched level of comfort and hospitality.
We docked, checked in and after a quick lunch, Jane and I took a short walk to the ocean side of the island. On the way, we could see all the destruction wrought last August by hurricane Irene, which hit Spanish Cay hard. The current owners are in the process of reparing all the hurricane damage and it was nice to see the progress. On our return, Bill and I checked out the well stocked marina store and met Hurricane, a very sweet, and very lucky, dog who was rescued during Irene.
As it was a very warm and sunny afternoon, we all decided that a swim in the marina pool, accompanied by the bar's rum drink de jour, a Spanish Fly, was in order. We swam in the pool, soaked in the adjoining hot tub and relaxed on one of the many wooden gliders found the marina. What a way to end a day!
In the morning we decided to make Great Sale Cay our next destination as it provides the options to head from there to West End, on Grand Bahama Island or to the Little Bahama Banks. We expected to be at Great Sale for only one night but weather conditions in the Gulf Stream delayed our departure and we stayed two nights. On Friday, the 16th, it sounded as if a Stream crossing on Saturday would be possible, so we Gulf Stream-proofed Ceili, and headed for our next stop. As it sounded like conditions on the banks were favorable, we opted to forego West End and sailed out to the banks to spend our final evening in the Bahamas at Memory Rock. And what an evening it was! It will certainly be memorable! The Little Bahama Bank is a shallow area on the northwestern edge of the Abacos. When you're on the banks, you're out of sight of land and it's like anchoring in the middle of the ocean (well, except for the shallow depths!). It is also fully exposed to the Atlantic in all directions, so settled weather is a prequsite for anchoring here. Anchoring on "the Banks" shortens the crossing distance to the US, in this case Ft. Pierce, making it a manageable 70 mile trip.
We left Great Sale around 8 am to head to Memory Rock, a staging point to Ft. Pierce, FL. Shortly after leaving Great Sale, Ceili was joined by 3 dolphins who stayed with us for 25 or so minutes. It was a beautiful sight as they swam back and forth, rode in our bow wake to our immense delight. This time, I was lucky enough to get some photos of these wonderous creatures.
By the time we arrived at Memory Rock (actually just a pole marking what we presumde to be a mostly underwater feature) , the wind had picked up kicking up the seas to 4-5 feet swells with chop. But, anchoring went well and the plan was to get to bed early as we expected to be up and on the road around 6 am the next morning. As were being bounced around quite a bit, plans for any kind of serious dinner were scrapped and we decided to have some soup in the cockpit. At sunset, Bill and Peter blew the conchs for the last time in the Bahamas and Bill lowered the Bahamian flag...a bittersweet moment.
Bill put numerous safety measure in place before he retired for the night, given our exposed position and proximity to traffic lanes. He set the anchor alarm on the iPhone and on our old Magellen hand-held. In addition, since Memory Rock is an area frequently transited by boats heading to the states, Bill used the radar to create an alarm zone around Ceili, Kinvara and Cee Jem, a third boat that joined us in the anchorage. This alarm would alert us to any boats that came within a mile radius of us that may not see us during the night inspite of our efforts to be well lit and visible.
As the evening progressed and the winds began to howl and the seas began to churn and the current turned us 180 degrees, there was little sleep for any. The current turned us stern into the wind which caused waves to loudly slap the stern. While we didn't drag, Bill's intrusion alarm kept him busy. Cee Jem tripped the alarm when their anchor dragged and they opted to pull up and move overnight to their next destination. Later (or maybe it was earlier...who knows?!) Cutting Class, a boat we'd encountered in Marsh Harbor and Hope Town, came by, approximately 3/4 miles from where we were anchored on their overnight passage to Ft. Pierce, and tripped the alarm.
Needless to say, it was a sleepless night for us all. When 6 am arrived, and the sun was rising on the horizon, we pulled the anchor and headed out towards the Gulf Stream. Despite any fatigue we may have felt, we were anxious to get the show on the road...and we did.
It was a beautiful day to be crossing and the Gulf Stream favored us with a beautiful transit. The seas were small, perhaps 3 to 3 1/2 feet, the wind was light and out of the east offering us a lovely sailing opportunity. The Gulf Stream's south to north current moves at approximately two knots. Because of that, it's important to carefully calculate your route so as not to overshoot your destination. For that reason, we plotted a course aimed at Port St. Lucie, 20 miles south of Fort Pierce and allow the Gulf Stream to push us north to Fort Pierce , a crossing of 70 miles. We averaged almost 8 kts. And spent several hours above 10 kts.We had a lovely passage and arrived at Fort Pierce, FL at approximately 3:30 pm. After we passed through the inlet and went under the North Ft. Pierce bascule bridge, we were well on our way to Vero Beach, our ultimate destination for the next few days. It took us about 2 hours to make the trip Vero and on arrival, we rafted with Kinvara at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina, where we'd stayed on our way down the ICW last fall.
Once all the rafting was completed, I made a phone call to US Customs and Immigration, as required by any vessel entering the United States. I spoke with a customs officer who took our information and gave us a number that we'd need the next day, Sunday, at the immigration office, located at the Fort Pierce airport. Once all the necessities were taken care of, Peter and Jane dropped their dinghy and we went over to the River's Edge restaurant on the other side of the bridge to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and have dinner. Needless to say, we slept well that night!
Sunday morning, we arranged for a cab to take us to the Immigration and Border Patrol facility. This being our first experience with this, we weren't sure what to expect when we got there. To our great delight, the process of checking in took us no longer than 3 minutes and couldn't have been any easier. That being done, the cab dropped us back at the marina where we spent a quiet afternoon catching up on the mail (St. Brendan's Isle had mailed 4 months worth of mail to the marina) making phone calls to family and generally relaxing after our busy couple of days.
The plan for this morning is to get our rental car and do the provisioning and many errands we need to do before we start the long trek north.
Once again, time has slipped by and it's been a while since we posted an update. Here's the latest from S/V Ceili:
We left Marsh Harbor on Wednesday February 29th and headed to Hope Town as the first step in our passage home. We went in Company with our friends Peter and Jane on Kinvara and, as they had not been to Hope Town before, the plan was to grab a mooring for a couple of nights and enjoy Elbow Cay once again in their company. We also planned to make a stop at Great Guana, as well, for one final visit to Nipper's! We said a final good bye to all our friends at Mangoes Marina Marsh Harbor, our home base for the months of January and February.
Before we left, we were aware of forecasts for high winds coming in over the week-end. As we were approaching the Hope Town entrance channel, we began to hear lots of radio chatter about the scarcity of moorings in the harbor due to the many boats heading in to ride out the weather. Fortunately, both Kinvara and Ceili scored moorings (Ceili due to the generosity of our dockmates at Mangoes, Jim and Gloria on Jimandi, who graciously offered us the use of their seasonal rental). Peter and Jane hopped on a Lucky Strike mooring not very far from us. Our plan was to do Hope town and Great Guana, timed to give us a window to get through the Whale Channel
We had a great time in Hope Town. The weather for the first few days was beautiful. We hit the shops, some of the restaurants, rented a golf cart and went out to Tahiti Beach, etc. Saturday, was Heritage Day in Hope Town which drew lots of visitors and local craftspeople into town. We purchased a basket made of palm fronds, made by a local artist. I'd seen him weaving some the day before in front of his shop below the Sugar Shack. We also met up with our friends, Craig and Lisa from Second Spree who were joined by Craig's daughter, Kate, who was visiting for a week from the UK.
On Sunday, the big winds arrived. We battened down and prepared for the incoming system. It was big and it lasted for days, affecting all of the Bahamas. High winds had the harbor roiling and kept us aboard Ceili for the most part of two days. Finally, the winds moderatd and we were once again able to comfortably (stay dry in the dinghy!) go back and forth from shore and continue our enjoyment of Hope Town. While there, we had dinner at Captain Jack's (Friday night steak night), lunch and cocktails at the Reef Bar and Grill and the Harbour's Edge, and we stopped by Fire Flies on our way back from Tahiti Beach. We also sampled the ice cream at the Sugar Shack...chocolate and Chococarmelicious, highly recommended by Gail and Hans. Thanks G and H!
Finally, after 9 days in Hope Town (which was hard to believe) it looked like we might have a window to transit the Whale so we left Hope Town on March 9th, and headed to Great Guana. It was a beautiful morning and we timed our departure to coincide with high tide to give us a stress free exit through the deep draft channel. While it was very breezy inside the harbor, outside we found light winds from the south giving us a lovely 10 mile or so sail into the anchorage at Great Guana. We heard from Craig and Lisa, who were sailing from Great Guana back to Marsh Harbour. It was Kate's last day and they planned to go snorkeling on Mermaid Reef. We said good-bye to them with hopes to meet up again.
Once in the anchorage, and on a mooring, we packed up and headed up to Nipper's for lunch. Linda, Jane and Peter brought bathing suits in anticipation of a swim in the pool and Bill had his sights set on scoring some cigars in the gift shop. We spent most of the afternoon enjoying the beautiful view from Nipper's and after a dip in the pool (and a tee shirt purchase) we headed back to the anchorage. Peter and Jane decided to explore Spoil Cay for shelling opps, and we decided to go for another swim off the boat. The water was so warm that our wet suits were left aboard. It was absolutely lovely. Later over cocktails on Ceili, our morning departure and passage strategy to Green Turtle Cay was discussed. It was another great day on Great Guana.
We dropped the mooring at 8:00 am the next morning with the goal of reaching the Whale Channel Cut at high tide. The winds were light and the seas relatively flat in the Loggerhead Channel. As we appproached the Whale, we began to experience well spaced swells of 4 to 6 feet. It looked like a pond on a calm day...nothing at all like our previous transit in December. Looking ahead through the cut, we saw a number boats heading in our direction, all going into the Sea of Abaco. Once through, we continued to see boat after boat heading toward the cut. This was clearly the day everyone had been waiting for and it was a perfect day to take on the Whale.
We arrived at the Bluff House on Green Turtle around 10 am. As we came in, we noticed another of our Mangoes Marina dockmates, Charlie and Mary Beth of Gray Ghost, who had arrived the previous week. While we were heading into our slip, I looked down from the bow and saw a magnficient spotted eagle ray hovering alongside the boat. I could barely take my eyes off it. Despite the excitement over the ray, we tied up without incident and then headed in for breakfast. Jane and I checked out the gift shop where I purchased a lovely dish, with matching spoon, made locally from a conch shell. Later we had dinner in the restaurant, tucked in and prepared for another cold front, expected to bring more high winds overnight. The winds howled out of the east all Saturday night and all day Sunday producing waves that loudly slapped our stern. By Monday the winds began to moderate and quiet returned.
It's now Tuesday and the plan is to leave Green Turtle and head to Spanish Cay. This transit puts us 15 miles closer to West End and also affords protection from the squalls and possible thunderstorms forecast for tonight. As of this morning, we're still on track to cross the Gulf on Saturday or Sunday. Last night at dinner, we brought one of our old burgees to the restaurant to be added to the collection of burgees that adorn the bluff House bar. We've had a wonderful stay here and look forward to coming back sometime in the future. Stay tuned.
02/20/2012, Sea of Abaco
We returned to Marsh Harbour, leaving Lynard Cay at 9 AM. Light easterly winds allowed us to beam reach most of the 25 mile sail. This picture of us in the cockpit was taken by Jane on s/v/ Kinvara.