We knew the "weather event of the winter" was coming and needed a place to hide. Forecast for 30+ knot winds and squalls to 40 knots for more than a week. With that kind of forecast, our goal of getting to the Crooked and Acklins this winter was out the window. There are not really any good places to hide from a blow like that. There were several obvious places we could go hide like Georgetown, Thompson Bay and Big Major Spot in the Exumas but everyone else was going there as well and we knew it would be crowded. So when Dave and Mary came up with the idea to go to Cat Island we thought that was a good one. A little bit of risk with very little protection from the west but there was not any significant west in the forecast.
We still had the rental car from the day before so we needed to go in and return it and get some groceries since the Mail Boat just came in the day before with fresh fruit and veggies. Once we took care of everything we headed North for Cat Island.
We started off heading for Calabash Bay on the North end of Long Island but we weren't making good enough time to get in before day light. Since there are a few reefs guarding the anchorage we changed our course for Old Bight, Cat Island. We wouldn't get in until after midnight but it is a wide open bay with no reefs to worry about and we could safely approach and anchor in the dark. The wind cooperated and we had a nice sail almost all the way to the anchorage.
Clarence Town (the capital of Long Island) is one of the larger settlements on Long Island, which is 80 miles long. Unfortunately, like a lot of the other settlements around, some of the businesses.. like the small grocery, have fallen on hard times and are no longer open. However it does have three restaurants, a marina, a gas station, a rental car company and two nice churches built by Father Jerome.
First order of business was to find an anchor spot we were comfortable with. First attempt ended up with our anchor in a small crater of sand about the size of round kitchen table surrounded by marl (rock). So I went for a swim to search out some other possible spots. It is a very mixed bottom with lots of marl, grass and some very soft sand. The second attempt we dropped the hook in a big patch of soft sand but it drug right though it and stopped in a another small patch, not good. Went swimming again and found a bigger patch of sand and sure enough our trusty CQR would not grab when we backed down with the engine. So we got out our fortress anchor that looks just like a dansforth. Last time we used this anchor was 10 years ago and guess where we were, Clarence Town. Well once we got that bad boy down we didn't move and it held great.
Since we arrived on a Tuesday and the next day was Ash Wednesday, the next order of business was to find out when mass was scheduled. Sure enough Felicity at the Flying Fish Marina had our answer...it was at noon. They have a priest who just came over from Rhode Island and he was excellent. We had a chance to get to know him after mass and we saw him several times while we were in town. After mass the following Monday (no mass on Sunday in Clarence Town that weekend) he gave us a tour of the rectory which was just in the process of being redone after hurricane Irene. It looked great, not your typical Bahamian project.
On one of the nicer, low wind days, we took the dingy about a mile away to a pond that was very protected. It was beautiful walking around in the soft sand flats that almost dry at low tide. We had the place all to ourselves. We did a little snorkeling but didn't really find much in terms of reefs so when we go back to the boat we decided to do a few laps around the boat just to get some exercise. Wouldn't you know it, Debbie spotted a conch. After we looked a little closer, we found 4 really nice sized ones. Fred did a good job cleaning them on the beach and later that night, we enjoyed freshly made conch salad for dinner and had a couple in the freezer for later.
Our good friends Dave and Mary on Mon Amie came all the way around from the other side of Long Island to hopefully head south with us. They went to mass with us on Monday and then out to breakfast at Rowdy Boys Restaurant. We ate there three times while we were in town and came away very happy each time. The owner was also the regatta chairman for the Bahamian Sailing Regattas. He had an A Class and B Class boat right near the restaurant. He and his three boys owned a construction company as well as the restaurant and villa which were all in very nice condition.
On another day here, we took a couple mile walk to the bakery with Dave & Mary..Oasis Bakery. Mary had called ahead of time, so we knew to get there in the afternoon for the freshly baked goodies. A local cruiser picked us up and gave us a ride on the way there, so we only had to walk back. Probably should have walked both ways to work off what we ate later that day, but oh well. For lunch we tried LePon's restaurant. Heard she made the best mac-n-cheese in all the islands so we felt like we had to try it. It was in fact one of the best we've had. Even saw the priest in there, so obviously a favorite stop by many.
On the last day there we rented a car so we could see more of the island get some provisions. The mail boat (boat that brings supplies to the island) was scheduled to come in at Thompson Bay in the afternoon so most of the fresh fruits and veggies wouldn't be on the shelves until the following morning. So the plan was to do the tourist stuff the first afternoon and groceries in the morning before we returned the car.
We headed north. You really don't need a map. It was one two lane road right down the middle of the island. The first stop was to the FedEx office. A small building in front of the agents house. He was a nice enough guys that had delivered my documents for the house closing the day before to the marina in Clarence Town. They don't normally deliver. So when I gave him all the documents I had signed to send back the states, I felt pretty good it would get there. He explained the process and it should take 3 working days for my package to arrive in Elk Lake, Michigan. Well it took 5 but it only took four for the package to get to me so that was the blessing.
Next stop was to Deans Blue Hole. A famous hole especially amongst free divers. It was one of those spectacular sights that are hard to describe. The colors were vibrant...deep blue changing to turquoise. Breathtaking. There was a diver practicing. Fred timed him a couple times and a minute forty seemed to be his longest time down. If I remember right, the hole goes down to around 600 ft. So obviously a lot of depth for the free divers to practice in.
After walking around at the Blue Hole, the next stop was lunch in Deadman's Cay. Stopped at Max's. Unfortunately they were out of mahi mahi when we arrived, but we all found something delicious to try. Had some conch fritters for an appetizer...boy were they outstanding.
Continued north after lunch. Long Island is a total of 80 miles...quite big in terms of a lot of the other islands around. We drove as far north as we could. Had an off-road adventure in our rented PT Cruiser where we took a dirt road about 3 miles out to see the Columbus Monument which was marking the spot where Columbus apparently came ashore. After seeing the reefs and depths around, not exactly sure how he did it...but must have been in calm conditions! The monument sat on top of a high hill, so the view from there was great. Definitely worth the off road experience to get there. Dave did a great job driving and dodging all the big rocks so we didn't hurt the car.
It was getting late, so started heading back to Clarence Town. But the day wouldn't have been complete without some ice cream. So we stopped in Thompson Bay to look around and grabbed some. Yum!
It was a nice stop in Rock Sound but we didn't want to stay another whole week waiting for the FedEx from the Title Agent on the closing. Especially since it looked like we had a nice window for an overnight sail down to our next civilized destination in Clarence Town, Long Island. We called down to the marina there and confirmed we could receive and send FedEx and we were off.
It was almost exactly a 24 hour sail and our weather router, Chris Parker, said leave in the afternoon after the winds switch to the north and you should be good. So that is what we did. We had to go west for about 5 miles to get around the southern end of Eleuthera and then sailed SSE until we hit Clarence Town.
After we got around the tip we hit the deep water so out came the fishing lures. It was a close reach and we were moving along at 6.5-7.0 knots on a beautiful sunny day. Well wouldn't you know it, we hook up with a small mahi mahi. Since we have two lines out I brought in the other line to get it out of the way of the one with a fish on. I reeled it in and surprise, surprise there's another little mahi on this line to. I yanked him in the boat and turns out to be 35 inches and enough for a couple meals. Once we had him in the boat and gave him a shot of alcohol we tried to bring in the 48 incher. Well since these are the first two fish we have landed with dinghy in the davits we were still learning how to pull them in from the side of the boat versus the back off the swim platform. Since the first one just came in nicely over the life line I tried it with the second one but the lure ripped right out of his mouth, bummer. Lesson learned is always use the gaff!
Luckily about an hour later after Debbie was all done cleaning the first fish we hooked another 36 incher. We gaffed it and had no problems getting it aboard.
After the sun went down, the wind picked up some so we reefed the main and the jenny. It was a beam to close reach all the way. The only bad thing on the trip was no moon which makes for a very dark night.
We arrived in Clarence Town the next morning with only one other boat in the anchorage. We dropped the hook and took a nap.
Friday was a nice settled day so we decided to try and go snorkeling with a spear. I used to call it hunting but my limited success last time down has me lowering expectations. After looking at the charts it appeared there were some reefs worth looking at about 3-4 miles out.
Sure enough, when we arrived we found grouper and lots of other fish but more importantly lobster. I was only in the water about 10 minutes when I shot my first one. About 10 minutes later Debbie pointed out a nice sized stone crap which we took with us. We moved to another small reef about the size of a small car out in the middle of nowhere and found 3 more lobsters. One was too small but the rest we kept. So we ate well that night!
Saturday was laundry and grocery day. We started out thinking the new laundry was up the road near the grocery. Turns out is was the other way back in town. Always fun to walk around with a big bag of laundry on you shoulder. At the laundry, a store called 3 Ts, we met the owners husband who is known locally as 'Showboat'. He was quite entertaining and shared some stories of when he was on the Bahamian National Fast Pitch Softball Team. Lots of traveling in the states and Central America.
Later we were off to the grocery for some fresh veggies and fruits. Found some peppers, onions, lettuce and celery that didn't look too bad. Always happy to find nice fresh food even though its pretty pricey. But before we actually made it to the grocery, we ended up having a couple Kaliks (beer) at the local Tiki bar with friends aboard New Attitude & Kismet. Always better to go to the grocery liquored up...right? :-)
Rock Sounds is a big harbor with protection from all directions and good holding. It is one of our favorite spots on Eleuthera for that reason. It also has nice grocery, fairly new laundromat, Catholic Church, hardware store, several restaurants and more. Very friendly people here.
On the first full day we decided we needed some exercise so we set out for a long walk. First headed South on the main road out of town until we reached the caves or caverns. We had seen them years ago but couldn't remember much so it was like exploring them all over again.
The unmarked trail leaves the main road across from a white church. You quickly see the ocean hole which looks like a pond but is connected underground to the ocean so it has lots of fish in it. We saw nice sized turtle eating near the shore.
The trail goes along the pond and then shortly reaches the caves. There is a relatively new ladder laying against the wall so you can climb down. Although there were some bats, there are lots of holes letting in light and tree roots from above so you can see quite easily without a flashlight. Some nice rock formations but the most interesting feature is the tree roots coming through to the floor of the cave from above. Some are quite substantial.
The next stop on our big walk was back toward town where a few blocks east of town is another ocean hole but much bigger, maybe 100 yards in diameter. They have built a park around this one with a ladder to get out if you decided to jump in for a swim. Some people go diving..apparently its pretty interesting. We walked around town a little more to get ourselves reoriented where everything was located and then back to the boat.
That evening Bob and Diane from Sanderling invited us over for dinner and introduced us to Jack and Linda on New Attitudes. We had a fun evening but it was bittersweet since Sanderling was going on to the Exumas the following day. It was a lot of fun traveling with them for the last few weeks!
The next day we enjoyed a wonderful sail down to Hatchet Bay. This is a very well protect anchorage about 500 yards wide by 200 yard deep. It is so protected that its intimidating to come in to. The entrance is about 40 feet wide which sounds like a lot but when you look at the vertical rock walls you pass through it looks a lot smaller than that. Sure wouldn't want to try to get thru this in any bad weather.
We had been here about 8 years ago and did not have very fond memories. It was kind of dirty with lots of derelict boats around and no real good place to anchor. But since then, they've installed new moorings, cleaned up the harbor and put in a new dingy dock...one of the best around. Even has a nice covered pavilion at the end which would be great for gatherings. Very impressive. We ended up anchoring in the north end in 10 feet of clear water with good holding, yeah!
We were here on Valentine's Day, so treated ourselves to a delicious dinner out along with Bob & Diane. We went to a newly opened restaurant named Twin Brothers Seafood & Steakhouse. It was wonderful. Enjoyed conch fritters for an appetizer, then Fred had grouper fingers and Debbie had cracked conch. Bob & Diane had the same. They had to roll all four of us out of the restaurant as we ate way to much. We were thankful for the walk back to the dingy as it helped move some of that delicious food around. Was a wonderful way to spend Valentine's Day!