02/12/2011, Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio, Jamaica
Jim and Hulk celebrating a job well done
We arrived in Port Antonio early Sunday afternoon (Feb 6th). From a few miles offshore I called the marina with a request to clear customs, take on fuel and water and a berth for the night. All "no problem, mon! Welcome to Jamaica!". Approaching the marina, a beautiful government-owned project designed to encourage tourism, we found four people ready to take our lines.
Safely tied up, they introduced themselves in turn and told us the services they offered. One,, John "Hulk" Brown said he would return with a written quote for his services. But for the afternoon, we signed in, went through customs and immigration and agriculture (something to do with quarantine, I think), filling out a dozen or more forms, and writing the same information at least six times. But they were very polite and friendly, and even on Sunday, no charge. In the blazing sun, we just settled in, checked out the pool and patio bar, then watched the superbowl on a wide-screen TV by the pool.
Monday morning saw us planning our week. I developed a project list, notably things like re-fill propane tank, re-fill SCUBA tank, repair running light, repair watermaker, change fuel filters on engine, check engine and prop zincs and some smaller projects. But the week actually started with Hulk and his list. First on it was the stainless. In the heat and with the high salt content, stainless steel stains, and quickly. I try to hold it at bay, but only barely. So he started and after two days work, the stainless is gleaming as it hasn't been since we bought the boat! By weeks end, Hulk had talked me in to cleaning and polishing the hull as well, so Estelle is looking great. And with his assistance we ran new wiring to the running lights on the bow this morning, fishing the old wires out and the new ones in through the bow pulpit down into the chain locker where I tied them in to the terminal block while lying upside down on the chain. The job list has now come down to an oil change in the generator and replacing a leaking end-cap on the watermaker. So we may be ready to head out early next week. That is, if we can pull ourselves away from here.
The week hasn't been all work, in fact, far from it. Yesterday we took a tour up into the mountains and took an eight mile rafting trip down the Rio Grande. The rafting trips are an idea of Eroll Flynn, the movie star and neer-do-well of the 1950's and 60's. He had property here, having sailed his yacht here from California. The rafts were used to ferry bananas down from the mountains to Port Antonio where they were then shipped out. But the banana industry collapsed in a blight, and Errol got the idea about using the rafts for tourist trips. His memory is everywhere here, and his widow still lives on a large cattle ranch just east of Port Antonio. In fact, we saw her in town on Tuesday, looking just as you would expect, an elderly white lady all dressed up and being driven through town. The stories of Errol are everywhere. Just across the harbor from the marina is Navy Island where he once had a palatial property. He is reported to have acquired it by getting the owner drunk and getting him to sign the deed, then he lost it in a poker game. The stories are endless, and they show his movies by the pool most nights.
We have also spent time exploring the town. By most standards it is poor... dirt poor. There is little employment except hustling the few tourists like us. And few is the operative word. Tourism in Jamaica has collapsed with the exception of some cruise ship tourism, but even that is dropping. Jamaica has a reputation for crime, and well deserved. But Port Antonio is different. Here we are still safe to walk the main streets at night, although we are careful and are always being hustled. How much longer it will be safe is a question we have been wondering about. Unemployment must be astronomical. All over the streets are young men just standing or leaning on buildings all day long. Most buildings have between six and a dozen standing around. If we say hello, which we often do, we always get a polite resopnse, but it looks like a recipe for trouble to us.
But it is pleasant and cheap. Lunch in a restaurant, not a place you would normally consider, was $J1,000, or about Cdn$10 for two. And there is a large market with excellent fresh local fruit and vegetables for very cheap. But meat is an other story. Chicken and fish rule here. Jamaica is home to jerk sauce and the local cooking is delicious.
Port Antonio is a colorful and entertaining stop. Inside the marina, we are in luxury (and inexpensively so) and outside is the real Jamaica. With the help of my friend Hulk and by jokingly fending off the hustlers, we are enjoying it, but its time to move. We will spend a week or so cruising the north coast of Jamaica over to Montego Bay, where Jamaica's reputation for toughness seems deserved. We'll stock up there and head south-west to Isla Providencia, about 350 miles. Its a small Columbian island off the coast of Nicaragua. From there a short jump to Isla San Andres, another Columbian island, then the last short jump to Panama. Both Columbian islands are reported to be beautiful and a bit of-beat touristy. We'll see.
02/06/2011, 63 nm N-E of Port Antonio, Jamaica
Bird Rock Lighthouse, Crooked Island, Bahamas
By the time we got underway on Friday, it was just about 9:00 am, with all the chores and preparations to do. We knew it would be a merry sail, so wanted to be fully ready. But with a three day trip, an hour more or less isn't that important. Our main aim was to reach the Windward Passage, bearing SSE from our anchorage, before the wind clocked into the south. That was forecast for one day away, so we were reasonably confident in our plan. And it held. From the anchorage on Acklins Island to the Windward Passage is a distance of 120 nm, or about 20 hours. Setting sail, we had a fresh NE breeze that held all day and night, building to 18-23 knots for most of the night with 6'-8' seas, so a merry sail to say the least! The peak gust recorded was 29 knots. But we were well reefed down and had secured everything, prepared meals ahead of time, so at 0100 on Sat, we were ready to bear off and pass Punta Maisi, the eastern tip of Cuba, having run 117 nm in 16 hours. From there, conditions were rough in the passage with confused seas and a small counter-current, but dawn saw us through into the Caribbean Sea where, as Chris Parker predicted, we would be astonished at how quickly conditions improved. Within one hour, we went from 20 knot winds and 6' to 8' seas to 10 knots and 2' to 3' seas in a beautiful clear morning. Along our starboard side we watched the rugged Cuban coast appear. We spent the day quietly sailing in perfect conditions slowly making our way south-west to Jamaica. About noon we passed Guantanamo Bay and heard the US Coast Guard warning another sail boat to keep clear, but we were well out of their "Exclusion Zone". At dusk the wind died completely leaving us with still 95 nm to go, so on came the engine. At this pace we'll be in Port Antonio about noon. Checking in with Customs, Immigration and Health, then ready to explore. We expect to spend a week to 10 days in Jamaica, then another push south towards Panama, but time and weather will tell. First a few days to for the three "R's"... recover, restock and repair!
02/04/2011, 35 nm SE of Great Inagua, 72 nm N of Punta Masi, Cuba
Sherika Wright, Librarian at Landrail Point, Bahamas
Well, a chat with Chris yesterday told us that it was time to leave. I called Willie and said our thank-you's and good-byes and we set off south. in a light easterly and in the lee of the land, we sailed past French Wells, down along Long Cay, across the Bight of the Acklins and anchored in Datum Bay the southern tip of Acklins Island. Well, anchored is a loose term. More marl kept us trying repeatedly until we finally snagged a rock. Then just to be sure, I took a second anchor out and snagged it around another. The area we are in is made up of a number of cays and islands, the main ones being Crooked Island, Long Cat and Acklins Island. They form a triangle open to the south forming what is called the Bight of the Acklins. More future cruising grounds. The evening was spent in preparation for our two night crossing. Meal preparations are a big part of it. In a rolling sea its not always easy to get something to eat, so we prepared ahead as much as possible, including roasting a chicken for dinner to give us cold chicken underway. Finally in bed, we were up early and confirmed that the weather window still looked good, so final preparations including a before breakfast swim to unsnag an anchor that had gotten wrapped around a coral head. Easily untangled with no damage, and supervised by a 3' Barracuda, I was again amazed at the underwater beauty of the place. Then dinghy on deck, jack lines strung and we were off. Total distance is 303 nm, and we expect to arrive Sunday mid-day if the wind holds. Our course is south to clear the eastern tip of Cuba, into the Windward Passage separating Haiti andf Cuba (evoking thoughts of pirates of yore) and then south-west to Port Antonio on the north-eastern tip of Jamaica.
02/02/2011, Landrail Point Settlement, Crooked Island, Bahamas.
Marina Gibson, Jeannie and Nancy.
How can we leave this place???
We left Clarence Town on Jan 31st on a close-hauled course for 40 miles, arriving off Landrail Point Settlement late in the day with just enough light to weave in between the coral heads to the anchorage. We quickly found the bottom to be just hard marl, a soft smooth rock, impossible to anchor in. After a couple of tries, Seabird snagged on a sharp rock, securing themselves, but we had no success. And just to make it more entertaining, our anchor windlass decided to act up, so that I was lowering and raising a 50 lb. anchor and 100' of chain by hand. After six tries, Bruce checked out a mooring nearby and reported it solid, so we picked it up. That was enough for the day as it had been a hard sail to windward all day so we settled in, secure 1/4 mile off the white sandy beach.
Next morning we went ashore in the tiny community. There is a sort of small boat harbor where we tied our dinghies and started exploring. Soon we were chatting with David Nadal who has been visiting the area for 20 years. He is a photographer and diver, so I arranged to go diving with him next day. We passed a number of residents who turned out to be the friendliest people we have ever met. Wandering around, a boat heading out fishing saw us and turned around to come back and give us directions to an old seventeenth century plantation. Walking the path to it, we marveled at the labor that it must have taken to clear this hard land and build miles of stone fences. We found the ruins, overgrown with bushes re-claiming the land. We wandered through trying to imagine life here at that time... and the difference between the lives of the owners and the slaves.
Back in town we passed Marina Gibsons "Gibson's Restaurant No. 1" and stopped in. Marina was very cordial and welcomed us to sit and talk, listening to our stories and talking about her life on Crooked Island as a girl, and her ancestors who had lived there before her for three generations. We soon figured out that the restaurant no longer operated, but she served us cold drinks anyway. After a nice visit in the cool of her "parlor", we headed out for the store, where we were astonished at the well-stocked shelves. More purchases, then heading back, we stopped at Landrail Point Public Library where we met Sherika Wright, the librarian.
A small structure, it was well equipped with books and internet computers. Every day children from the school come for help on projects and homework.
Then back to the boat for lunch and off again to see the old lighthouse on nearby Bird Island. The structure towers 180' above the rocky shore, and although reported to be in service was dark at night. At its base were accommodation for two light keepers and their families, now crumbling. As we were wandering around, a helicopter circled the light and landed. Were we trespassing? No, just a couple flying back to Atlanta from Dominican Republic stopping to see it. Back in the dinghy, we found a small coral garden near the anchorage where we snorkeled amongst the elkhorn coral, sponges, fan corals and brightly colored fish.
After a busy day, we were soundly asleep early. Next morning I had some boat chores... fix the windlass, re-set the rudder position feedback sensor on the autopilot, and wash the salt off (again). Then ashore to drop some books at the library and back for diving. In this area of the Bahamas, the depths plunge to thousands of feet deep just 1/2 mile off shore. And at the dropoff, the coral grows in profusion. David and I took the dinghies out, anchored in 40' and dropped over the side. Swimming just 1/4 mile out, we came to the wall... spectacular. Davis spent the time photographing the coral while I just swam staring at the beauty. Forty minutes later we were back in the dinghies, and back for a late lunch. I occupied myself in the afternoon by investigating an overheating problem with the generator. Fixed without too much fuss, but lots of cusses, working in the heat in the cockpit locker. In the evening we went ashore to see David and his wife Ann, then up to Gibson's Restaurant No. 2 where we had ordered two take-away fish dinners from Willie Gibson, Marina's daughter. We had met Willie's husband earlier in the day, and he was there again to join us in a delicious glass on ice-cold lemonade (Landrail Point is dry). We had met Willie's uncle (Marina's brother) and his grandson earlier in the day, so now had met the entire family. But it was not just the Gibsons who were so friendly. We could not pass anyone without a friendly hello or comment.
Back aboard, Willie's dinner was delicious, and so huge that we have an entire dinner left over for tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow, its time to go. There is a good weather window for crossing to Jamaica starting Friday some time, so we'll head down to the bottom of the islands to "stage" and head out from there. But if we go, I had firm instructions to call Willie on the VHF radio and say good-by. That will not be easy, as we have had the best two days in all our cruising here.
01/30/2011, Flying Fish Marina, Clarence Town, Long Island, Bahamas
Rum Cay Waterfront
We arrived here yesterday, January 29th, sailing down from Rum Cay, about 35 nm.
On Thursday (Jan 27th) we motored from Hawks Nest Marina to Rum in flat calm waters, trailing our lure as usual, but with no luck.
The anchorage at Rum Cay is not known to be a settled anchorage, and even with the light winds, the ocean surge still found its way in, but it was light. Approaching Rum, we were only 1/2 mile offshore and still no reading on the depth sounder, but it popped on at 455', then quickly rose to 75' when we could clearly see the bottom. We arrived just at dusk, and picked our way in slowly, watching for coral heads that are common in the anchorage. But we were fine, and watched the anchor settle in a puff of white sand and disappear as we backed down on it.
In the morning we called Chris about the weather, particularly with respect to timing our trip through the Windward Passage, the body of water sepaating Haiti and Cuba. We'll pass through it then down to Jamaica... when we have the weather. Chris comments were that if we left Rum immediately and sailed directly we could make a good weather window through the passage on Suday (today) and Monday. But beyond that, nothing until the following weekend. After much dithering, we decided it was just too quick. Heading out on an extended ocean passage requires planning and preparation, and we hadn't had time for either. Erring on the side of caution (and spending two nights in Rum Cay, won out.
We went ashore, wandered the tiny community of Port Nelson (not really a port at all), we enjoyed a quiet day. We had lunch at Ruby Baines Restaurant, where we all had grilled snapper with potatoes and salad. We had a few menu options, but we all had to order the same thing. After we ordered, we sat in her beach cabana and watched as the helper ran to the store for supplies. But it was delicious.
The afternoon seems to just have disappeared, not sure where it went. In the evening we wached the fleet in the anchorage swell from three of us to twelve. A fresh S-W breeze blew into the anchorage in late afternoon giving us a merry ride, but by evening the wind swung to the north, the only protected direction, so we all had a quiet night.
Next morning we dithered again about our plans, finally settling on Clarence Town. Sailing dead downwind in a fresh breeze, we thought about anchoring, but decided to splurge on the last marina between here and Jamaica.
This morning was another day of indecision. From here south there are few protected anchorages. There are none that are protected from all directions, and with the wind forecast to clock from the north-east to south-east, we have to plan carefully. By 9:00 am we decided that we would postpone our departure for one more day. We need to make about 40 nm more easting before we can head south. And the wind is forecast to move from North-East to South-East (our course) later in the week, before giving us an opportunity to jump south. So we are reading the charts looking for potential protected anchorages as we work our way down.
We have no guarantees that this window will work for us. If the wind clocks more quickly than expected, we might not make it and will have to wait. But rather safe than sorry. Tomorrow will tell. To make the Windward Passage this coming weekend, we will need to get that easting tomorrow. Otherwise, next window. Stay tuned!
01/29/2011, Hawks Nest Marina, Cat Island, Bahamas.
Jeannie, Susan & Doug Holm, Jim, Hawks Nest Marina
We left Rock Sound early on Sunday (Jan 23rd) and had a beautiful sail along the bottom of Eleuthera. The fishing was great, but the catching poor. With my brand new lure I hooked a skipjack Tuna in minutes, but he decided he liked the lure, but not me. So just as I was about to gaff him, off he went with my $25 lure in his mouth. Next lure quickly brought us a nice yellowtail Jack, about 20"long. He came aboard with a protest, but a quick shot of rum in the gills and he was asleep. The third was a barracuda, too large to eat. Large Barracuda can be known carry cigutera poisoning, a poison that attacks the nervous system, so we are careful. But we had come out from the lee of Eleuthera, so in the rising wind and ocean swell, it was too rough to land him, so we decided to drag him and land him when we got to Little San Salvador. Minutes later, we heard Zzzzzzing, Bang! Fish and lure gone. We think something much bigger came along and grabbed him for lunch. This area of the ocean has lots of sharks. So two new lures later, we had only one small jack to show for it. But we had fresh fish for dinner!
Arriving at Little San Salvador (re-named Half Moon Cay), we watched a cruise ship leave. We shared the anchorage with two other boats. In the dingy we started to land on the beach, but the swell breaking on the shore nearly swamped us, so we pushed off and contented ourselves with a dinghy tour on the small bay, about 1/2 mile from one end to the other. It is a beautiful place, or was, with a white sand beach curving around the bay. But the additions for the cruise ship passengers leave a little to be desired... beach huts, a very weird sort of pirate ship building, inflatable water slides, inflated sharks and whales, etc.
So we just headed back to the boat for dinner of fresh Snapper with salad, and of course, a nice cold chardonnay. In the morning another cruise ship was arriving just as we were leaving, so we weren't sorry to leave. But the day was not the best. We mis-judged the wind, and soon found ourselves pounding to windward in 18-22 knots for 45 miles.
By the end of the day, as we were limping in to New Bight, we were a sorry pair of boats... covered in salt from stem to stern, and exhausted. So a quiet night in the shelter of Cat Island. In the morning we went ashore. New Bight is more a couple of regional government offices and a couple of homes rather than a village. Its main claim to fame is The Hermitage, a tiny monastery built by Father Jerome as his retirement home.
Originally trained as an architect, he became an Anglican priest and came to the Bahamas where he built a number of beautiful churches. Then he left for Australia, returning some years later, but having converted to Catholicism, and built more churches. Many of them are still standing and in use today. Retiring, he built The Hermitage in 1937 as a tiny replica of a Swiss monastery where he spent his final days. He built it on the top of Comer Hill, the highest point of and in the Bahamas, at just under 200'.
Built by his own hands of stone carried up the hill, it is truly a remarkable place, with the stations of the cross carved into the stone in the approaches.
After touring it, we walked to the store, passing Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Father Jerome's last church. Gleaming white on the exterior, we enjoyed the cool quiet inside. Then to the store, back to the boat for lunch, and off to Hawks Nest Resort and Marina for two nights.
We headed for the marina to wait out a front that never arrived, but we also used the opportunity to clean the salt off the boats, as we could touch nothing without getting covered with salt, and everything we touched was damp. In the marina was a Canadian boat, Acme Cat from... Montague PEI! We met Susan and Doug Holm who are just starting back to the US, finishing their cruise. In four years of cruising, this is only the second boat from PEI we have met.
Cleaning up the boat, doing laundry and other chores quickly filled the morning, and for lunch we went to the resort's dining room for delicious fish (Wahoo) sandwiches. In the warm breeze looking out over the turquoise waters, a great way to pass the time. The afternoon was consumed with internet stuff, a stroll on the beach and a bike ride, and a dip in the pool for Jeannie and Nancy. Evening saw us gather with Seabird and Acme Cat for drinks, then dinner and preparations for departure.
From here, Rum Cay tomorrow, then not sure. The weather is settled and light, so we'll head south, either to the Turks & Caicos or to Great Inagua, the southernmost Bahamas island, from where we'll jump off for Jamaica. We'll check with Chris Parker tomorrow and decide.
01/22/2011, Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas.
We passed through Current Cut after a foggy motor for 7 miles from Royal Island. I looked at the height of the water at 7 am and decided we should try earlier than our 10:30 am plan. We arrived at the cut at exactly 9:00 am and the fog cleared (we have never seen fog in the Bahamas before) and we motored through at exactly slack tide... perfect. Through the cut the day was perfect... light following wind, sun shining on the incredible turquoise water of the banks, and not another boat in sight. By 5 pm we ghosted in to Governor's Harbour as the wind died completely. We dropped anchor and watched the anchor in 20' as it sat upside down on the hard rock bottom. But with the forecast for calm winds, we just put out 150' of chain and depended on weight alone to hold us put. In the morning we were still safely anchored, so went ashore for a stroll. The harbor has one commercial dock, and in the 12 hours we were there, we saw three supply ships come and go... a busy port. Back aboard, we motored south in a glassy sea, looking through the clear waters to the bottom 25' below. We spent the afternoon taking turn trying to spot conch, but no luck. Late afternoon we were anchoring off the village of Rock Sound and were soon aboard Seabird for drinks and nibbles celebrating our reunion. With a forecast for a strong front today (Saturday), we decided to wait it out here. So Friday we explored the village. As we go further south, the prosperity declines. Here we saw signs of a struggling community with very little commercial activity. And the grocery store reflects the changing economic climate. Although there are lots of fruits, in a large grocery store there is not one package of fresh meat or fish. Just freezer-burned chicken and pork. But we re-supplied as best we could and will push on south tomorrow, weather permitting. From here it will be to Cat Island with a possible stop at Little San Salvador, weather permitting. It is a beautiful cay with a large crescent beach and excellent diving and snorkeling. But it is exposed to anything but north-east winds, so not always a good stop. As well, Holland America Cruise Line now owns it and maintains it as a base for their ships to stop and let the passengers have a taste of a real "tropical Isle". So if a ship is there cruisers aren't allowed to stop. We'll see.
01/18/2011, Royal Island, Eleuthera, Bahamas.
We left the Abacos on Sunday (Jan 16th) heading out Little Harbour Cut at 7:00 am. To our surprise we were not the last to get underway. In fact we were third in a parade of seven boats; one trawler, two catamaran and four monohull sailboats. Of the six sailboats only two of us actually sailed. We had a beautiful day, warming up with winds of 10-15 on the beam. For the full sixty miles we were side by side with a 40' Hallberg-Rassey. For a short while the H-R (Terra Nova) tried to carry a Code Zero sail but gave up. It was a beautiful sail and we were safely anchored in Royal Island by 5:00 pm and in bed by 8:00 pm. In the morning we checked the weather and decided to head in to Spanish Wells. The forecast was for winds from the south or west for a couple of days with some serious squalls for Monday night, so with that we motored in the five miles to Spanish Wells Yacht Haven. We tied up next to Terra Nova, and met the Australian couple aboard. By days end three more cruisers had come in. Spanish Wells is a very prosperous town where the Bahamas fishing industry is located. The tiny harbour is lined with 60' to 90' fishing boats that fish the banks all across the Bahamas, going out for weeks at a time. The harbour is about three miles long and 300' wide, with wharves and marinas jutting out into it. We spent the day exploring and buying a few supplies and admiring the well-kept homes with neat gardens carefully tended. Like Man-O-War in the Abacos, Spanish Wells is populated nearly exclusively by descendants of the original settlers from England and while being very friendly, they maintain a very no-nonsense work ethic that is not evident everywhere in the Bahamas. Evening saw the wind rising and we were tucked in below with some nice sautéed hog-fish, fresh green beans and roast potatoes, and, of course, a nice cold white wine. At 2:00 am the only squall of the night came through. We could hear the thunder in the distance and hear the screaming wind, but in the excellent protection of Spanish Wells, the boat didn't even rock. The name Spanish Wells comes from the fresh water wells the Spanish explorers thought the "sweetest water in the Bahamas". I don't know because today water is piped over from nearby Eleuthera. This morning we checked the weather, as usual, and decided to head back to Royal Island for the night. Here we anchored and dinghied ashore to explore the crumbling remains of an estate built in the 1930's but abandoned shortly after the owner's death. Today the remains are just barely visible under the vegetation that is claiming the area back. Further down the island is an abandoned construction site. Last time we were here three years ago they were just beginning to clear the site. It must have shut down just after we left, because it looks the same today. Speaking with a caretaker, he says it will re-start in a few days, but I doubt it. From here we'll head south along the west coast of Eleuthera to Rock Sound where we'll meet up with Seabird. But the first project is to get through Current Cut, a narrow opening on to the banks where currents run at up to six knots, our top speed. And to make it entertaining, there is a 90 degree turn in it that if missed will see you swept on to the banks and aground. Our plan is to time it at slack water. We think that will be about 1-1.5 hours after high tide. The next question is when is high tide. I have information on four nearby tide stations, and they are all significantly different. In fact the difference between the earliest and latest is 4 hours. Not much help. So I watched the tide this morning in Spanish Wells, and decided it was high about 8:30 am. So we'll try it about 10:30 and see.