04/22/2014, Anchored off Highborne Cay
Ann and our favorite sail, the cruising spinnaker
Yesterday, we sailed from Nassau over to Rose Island where we anchored just before noon in the West Bottom Harbor. Two big party boats came in shortly after we did. One was a cruise ship day-tripper that tied up at a dock. I'd guess that there is great beach on the other side of the island that the tourists can walk to. The tour boat and its associated party house on the island played pseudo-music all afternoon extremely loud so that their guests on the other side of the island could hear it. The other big boat was far more interesting although I didn't get to enjoy it as much as Ann. This was a 60 foot yacht with a party of maybe 10 or 12 aboard. They ran ski-do's all over the harbor around the 6 or 7 anchored boats. After they pulled out around 4pm (as did the tour boat), Ann asked me if I had noticed anything about the passengers. No, I said, I was too worried that we would get run over by a ski-do. Well, she said, you should have looked at the boat. Most of the women on board were topless.
After 4pm, our stay in Rose Island was very pleasant. John on Island Rhumb came over in his dinghy to visit us. We had met John and his wife Darlene while we were staying at Nassau Harbor Club Marina. They have been living aboard their 37 ft Lagoon for the past 8 years. After John left, we settled down to a quiet evening. My assessment of Rose Island as an anchorage, is get there late and pull out early.
And leave early we did. We set out at 7:45am for the Exuma island chain. Our intention was to pass around the south end of the Yellow Bank and then make for either Highborne Cay or Normans Cay depending how fast we were moving. The forecast was for light winds out of the north or northeast and that's what we got. We sailed downwind all morning in 7 kts or less wind. Flying double headsails (cruising spinnaker to starboard and jib to port) allowed us to maintain 2.5 to 3.5 kts boat speed. A little bit of current flowing with us also helped a little. That allowed us to clear the Yellow Bank around noon where we could turn more eastward. The turn made us more broad reached increasing our boat speed to 4 to 5 kts.
This slow sailing, which was delightful by the way, meant that the far destination, Normans Cay, was out, so we headed for Highborne Cay. Finally, at around 2:30 pm, the wind died and we motored the remaining 9 nm into Highborne Cay.
I think that I enjoy light wind days more than any other sailing conditions. Ripping along in 20+ kt winds is exhilarating but it is also noisy, bumpy and occasionally scary. Getting decent boat speed out of 7 kt of wind, on the other hand, is a more cerebral challenge as you configure the boat to its best advantage and tweek the sails to smooth the airflow. The seas are generally flat allowing you to move about the boat easily and do whatever odd jobs you've been putting off. And of course, since you aren't going anywhere particularly fast, there is plenty of time for a nap on the foredeck in the shade of the spinnaker.
We dropped the anchor in 12 feet of water just off the shore of Highborne Cay at 4 pm. The water here is so clear that the anchor could be clearly seen to be well set from the deck of the boat. But, as is our habit, we dove the anchor just to be sure.
The water temperature, by the way, is a balmy 89 deg according to the boat's instruments. Whether that is accurate is debatable, but we can attest that the temperature is perfect for snorkeling and swimming.
04/21/2014, Starbucks across the street from Harbor Club Marina
The abandoned light house that guards the south entrance to Nassau Harbor
Our stay here in Nassau is coming to an end. In about two hours we are heading over to Rose Island which is only about an hour north of here. It is a favorite weekend spot for the locals so, of course, we have to check it out.
After Rose, we'll be heading on down the Exuma chain stopping as the whim catches us. Our first major stop will be in the Land and Sea Park in Warderick Wells two to four days from now. This may be the first place we'll be able to send out emails.
04/17/2014, Tied to dock at Nassau Harbor Club Marina
The Great Bahama Bank, beautiful clear water
As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, the NOAA weather forecast looked like we were going to be trapped in Alice Town for the foreseeable future. Their forecast had winds in the 20's out of the southeast which would on the nose for a trip to Nassau. They were also showing waves in the 4 to 6 foot range. A crossing under these conditions would be an endurance trial worthy of a reality show. As this was the only information we had to go on, Ann and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to spending the rest of the week in Alice Town.
NOAA's marine forecast, however, covers the entire Bahamas in a single forecast which doesn't allow for small fronts sweeping through just one corner of the region. Thus, local weather in the Bahamas is often quite different than NOAA's forecast. This certainly turned out true in this case.
On Tuesday, we had the good fortune of meeting Brian on Ambergris while we were staying in the Bimini Blue Water Marina. When we mentioned to him that we were having trouble deciding when to head out for Nassau, he mentioned that the cruising weather forecasting service that he subscribed to said that a weak front coming into the Bimini area overnight would create a day and a half window for a direct crossing to Nassau. The front would be bringing north to northeast winds which would be ideal for the crossing. As we went to bed on Tuesday, Brian hadn't decided whether to go or not, but was going to wait on his service's early Wednesday morning forecast to decide. Ann and I were heartened by this new information but still undecided whether to trust it or not.
We woke up Wednesday morning assuming that we would be spending the next several days in Alice Town only to find Ambergris pulling out. Brian yelled over to us that his guru said go and so he was going. Ann and I looked at each other, nodded our heads, and said lets go. We quickly battened down the hatches and pulled out too.
There are two paths that can be taken to go from Alice Town to Nassau. The "North Rock" route runs north of the Bimini islands while the "Cat Cay" route runs south of the islands. The North Rock route is generally preferred because it is both shorter and affords more depth than the Cat Cay route. Ambergris is a deep draft boat, seven feet, so Brian set out to take the north route. He encountered so much wind and waves trying to get up to North Rock that he ended up bailing out and returning to Alice Town. We had intended to take the north route as well but after hearing Brian's experience with the north winds as we passed him in the channel, we changed plans and headed south.
What a fortunate thing that first, Brian got us moving, and second, that we diverted to the Cat Cay route. Moving with the wind and waves, we had a pleasant and fast sail almost all the way across the Great Bahamas bank some 60 nautical miles. The winds stayed mostly just forward of the beam at 12 to 18 kt and the seas under three feet. Moving mostly parallel to the waves, the boat's motion was bumpy but not unpleasantly so. It wasn't until dusk as we neared the Northwest Channel that the wind came around to the east and we had to start motoring. For the next hour or two we began to question whether the decision to go was a good one as we tried to make headway against 15 to 24 kt winds and four foot seas. Clearing the Channel, however, the seas smoothed out a little and the winds started to die down allowing us a reasonably comfortable motor into Nassau arriving at the Nassau Harbor Club Marina at 9:30am.
We arrived here absolutely dead tired. For several years now, we have alternated three hour shifts starting at 6 pm to get through the night. This time we decided to try two hour shifts which some of our friends say they prefer. Sure they say, you don't get as much sleep in two hours as you would with three, but then you only have to stay awake for two hours. Well, two hours didn't work for me. Ann says that I looked like I was asleep during my off shift, but this morning, I didn't feel as if I had slept at all.
So here we are in the Nassau Harbor Club Marina. We are going to stay here for at least three days, recovering and sightseeing and generally enjoying ourselves. There is a Starbuck's right across the street. Enough said.
04/15/2014, Tied to dock at Bimini Blue Water Marina
Looking out at a passing sailboat from the Alice Town beach
Yesterday's 60 nm crossing from Angelfish Creek on Key Largo to Alice Town, Bimini was about as easy as crossing the Gulf Stream ever allows. Other than right around the Gulf Stream axis, the seas were easily handled at less than three feet. The axis gave us some five footer's but that was only for about an hour. We made a relatively fast crossing too. We averaged a solid six knots for the 10 hour crossing.
Unfortunately, we had to motor sail the whole way. The wind angle was too far around on the nose to allow us to sail with any speed, so the motor, running at partial throttle, was needed to help out.
The boost from the Gulf Stream was as always, impressive. The speed of the current can be estimated by comparing the ground speed calculated by the GPS and the boat's speed through the water calculated by the speed log. We first noticed the ground speed increasing about 9 nm off the shore. At its peak, perhaps 30 nm off shore, the increase was up to four knots. We were still seeing .2 knots just a couple of miles off the Bimini islands. The guide books say the Gulf Stream adds an average of 2.5 knots to the typical, well planned crossing.
That note about a "well planned" crossing brings up a sore point. Ann has mentioned to several of you that I was unhappy with my navigating on this crossing. That I was, but this being my blog, I don't have to fess up to everything in print. I'll just say that I did put together a well thought out plan for the crossing but I didn't implement it as I should have. I probably ended up adding about an hour to the crossing. Such are the trials of the lonely navigator.
Bimini has surprised both of us. We had assumed that since Bimini is just a nautical stone's throw from Miami for the big sport fishing boats that it would be a sleek, sophisticated port catering to millionaires. Well it may be in the exclusive resort further north up the island or down in South Bimini, but here in Alice Town where us plebeians stop, it's just a typical small Bahamas island. The main grocery store here would be considered a convenience store in the US and shopping consists of only a few small curio shops.
As is becoming typical for this cruise, the weather forecast may be trapping us here for a few days. Another front from the north is passing through tonight bringing in unsettled weather for the next several days. We are still evaluating several conflicting forecasts for a possible departure date.
04/13/2014, Anchored next to Pumpkin Key
Egret in the mangroves along the ICW in the Florida Keys
Just a quick note because tomorrow is the day and we are going to bed early. We'll be getting up at 6am for what we hope will be a 10 hour crossing to Bimini. The wind and wave forecast looks just perfect (knock on wood) - winds 6 to 11 kt out of the SE and seas around 2 feet. The wind is actually a little light so we may end up motor sailing most of the way.
Today's run from Cowpens to Pumpkin Key was mostly motoring in light winds. We did have a nice sail across Barnes Sound but that was only an hour of the just under six hour transit.
This anchorage off Pumpkin Key is another of our favorite stopping spots in the Keys. When we sailed in here at 2pm, we had the place to ourselves. About two hours later, sailboats started coming in from the north and anchoring around us. Turns out a boat club is having a rendezvous here. We now have six boats anchored around us. So far, they have been pretty quiet so we guess it's ok.
04/12/2014, Anchored in Cowpens Anchorage
Sunset from the Cowpens Anchorage
Motored all day into a 10 to 20 kt direct headwind. Left Burdines fuel dock in Marathon at 8:25am and arrived in the Cowpens Anchorage off Plantation Key at 4:45pm. Made quick stop at the Plantation Key Marina to top up the fuel tanks before finally plopping the anchor down in Cowpens Anchorage at 5:30pm.
One more 35 nm hop up the Keys and we'll be in position to make the crossing to Bimini. Monday is looking more and more like the day.