04/07/2010, Currently in St Augustine
My reflections on the Bahamas after several months of cruising there.
Its important for me to start out by describing what I am looking for in a good cruising ground. What my expectations are.
To me a good cruising ground has to have, first and foremost, good, very well protected, anchorages. Secondly, I would like services to be relatively close to those anchorages (fuel, food, water laundry, etc.) not so far away that days are spent just getting to them (unless I am in a "remote" mood which does happen). I would also like good internet cafes spread throughout the area. Places to sit with a cup of coffee or tea and a pastry and work on your own computer in quiet and protected from the elements. I would also like to see a few good restaurants, not necessarily expensive, but with good local and typical food and a place to sit, again free from the elements when I go to a town or city. A bar is nice and music is a nice addition. I would like it to be casual and comfortable. I would also like to see a nice beach with relatively small waves for wading and swimming or just walking along that is steep enough for bringing a dinghy ashore without getting your feet soaked every time. And lastly, I would like to have access, within a reasonable distance (certainly less than a hour from the anchorage), to a place to snorkel and catch fish for meals.
That would be my list. I even listed the things I would like to see in the order of importance.
If I was traveling in a truly remote place, a lot of the charm is its remoteness. I certainly would not expect most of these things and in fact they would be considered a negative to the experience. Sort of like the tour boats in and around Cape Horn. They make a special place feel routine. Imagine climbing Everest and finding a Starbucks at the top!
Now lets look at the Bahamas.
Contrary to the reports, there are very few anchorages that are truly protected. Over the several thousand square miles of islands there are only a handful of anchorages that are even good to wait out a frontal passage. The problem with any anchorage for waiting out frontal passages is that the front causes the wind to rise significantly (at least 30 knots and up to 50 or 60 knots) as well as blowing from every available direction as it traditionally clocks around from East through South to West then North and finally back to East. Your chosen anchorage needs to offer protection from every direction equally. Very few do this (even if it offers this protection, you will still be on anchor watch during the passage as your anchor releasing during a 40 knot blow will usually put you aground within minutes. You need to be ready to drop another anchor or start your engine to say off the shore).
There are many anchorages in the Bahamas that offer protection from 3 of the 4 possible directions. Quite a few actually. There just aren't that many that offer protection in all directions (what is actually needed in this "front" prone country). Of the few that do offer this protection, many are now becoming "private". Multi-millionaires are buying whole islands and chaining off the entrances to these anchorages. If they allow anchoring in their private bay, they often do not allow access to the beaches while there. Pretty sad.
Starting from the North in the Abacos, lets look at the anchorages I found to be worth note.
As you come onto the "bank" near West End (the first well-protected place you are not allowed to anchor) the logical stopping place is Mangrove Cay. This is an oval shaped Island with only a poor roadstead anchorage. If the wind is right, you can stop for the night after the Gulf stream crossing. Leaving there, you head for Great Sale Cay. Your choices here are either a three direction anchorage (W-N-E open to the South) or a roadstead anchorage protected from the East and somewhat from the South but wide open to the North , West, and Northwest.
Leaving Great Sale Cay,you will probably move to the next real anchorage (passing roadstead and blocked anchorages) until you get to Green Turtle Cay. Green Turtle has two very protected anchorages that are just the right size for several boats. One is completely filled with moorings and no anchoring is allowed. The other is only mostly filled with moorings and TADA you can anchor here if you are willing to squeeze yourself in at the edges (two anchors are probably a must). I stayed there a few days and really loved it.
Leaving Green Turtle Cay, you head past Whale Cay and on to Marsh Harbor. A large anchorage wide open to the West and Southwest. It is very popular and several cruising boats will always be there. When fronts passed through that seemed fairly nasty, we went to a nearby marina to be safe and comfortable.
Near Marsh Harbor is Hope Town, a very quaint community, great place to visit, but again, no anchoring allowed in their perfect harbor.
If you travel a few miles North from Marsh Harbor, you can visit Man-O-War Cay again with two great harbors, but both are full of moorings. One or two boats could possibly anchor off to the side with two anchors and almost no swinging room. Perfect harbors though.
After leaving Marsh Harbor, the logical route is South to Little Harbor. Another great harbor, but again with a lot of moorings and very little room left to anchor. It is possible to anchor there, but when the wind switches, you will probably swing into the empty moorings. We also stayed there a few days and had a great time at Pete's Pub. Don't miss it.
The typical route from here is South to Royal Island near Eluthera. Here is a perfect safe harbor with no moorings, yet. It has been sold to a developer and already access to shore is prohibited. The harbor will be closed soon, I am sure.
You could go to nearby Spanish Wells, a nice little town only a few miles away, but again it is full of moorings, has lots of current, and there is little or no room to anchor.
Leaving this area, you head South along the West side of Eluthera. This is one of the bright hopes for the trip. The backside of Elutherea has a couple of real anchorages that you can actually anchor in. The first is Hatchet Bay. A tiny entrance protects a bay that allows anchoring throughout. There are a few moorings, but still, lots of room for anchoring. The next on South is Rock Sound. It is actually protected in all directions-sort of-and is a good place to spend some time. It is large though (3.7 miles tall and 1.5 miles wide) so waves build up in any real blow. You may have to move to the protected shore as the wind clocks around. Unfortunately, that is usually at three in the morning. You are protected from every direction though.
Leaving Rock Sound and heading South again you can round Powell Point and enter No Name Harbor just off Chubb Rock. It is narrow (you may have to tie off to trees), and no services exist, but you can anchor there and will be protected in every direction.
I have now listed every anchorage I found offering all round protection in the Abacos region of the Bahamas and Eluthera. Pretty sparse huh?
Next I will discuss the anchorages I found in the Exumas.
By the way. I realize that this may sound like I didn't enjoy my time in the Bahamas. Nothing could be further from the truth. I loved it there. The water is warm and clear, the people are great, the good anchorages are great, the weather is nice when fronts aren't rolling through, there is always a breeze. It truly is one of the World's best cruising grounds. Many of the cruisers I met lamented the fact that developers were closing anchorages and beaches. We feel that it is a mistake for the country to allow it. I realize that they rely on the tourism dollars and influx of building, but most cruisers feel that the anchorages and beaches up to high water should be available to all.
It is still a great place though.
04/06/2010, Off The Florida East Coast
Spent the last 8 days at sea. Stopped in Normans Cay and then Nassau, passed by the Berry Islands and then Lucaya, Grand Bahams. I stopped for a few hours at Nassau and Grand Bahama to get fuel or food. Got sick at sea one night (off the Exumas). 30+ knots of wind of course and I had intermittent diarrhea and was throwing up. So much spray was coming aboard that I just hung my butt overboard. I threw up and pooped whenever I needed. Ocean washed my butt for me.
This was a Long passage, over 500 miles. Weather was OK, typical for a week at sea, some strong, some headwinds, some light, etc etc.
A lot has happened in the past week or so. I am now all the way up in St Augustine, Florida. I was pretty much on the sea the entire way. I haven't touched land since March 28, 8 days ago. Feels odd to be on shore.
AIS worked great. Lots of shipping during this passage, I got very little sleep. Its nice to see the ships and know immediately if they will pass close and be a problem. Had to change course several times to avoid them. Coming past Grand Bahama there were as many as 17 ships around me at one time. Very busy.
The Gulf crossing was fairly easy. Weather was supposed to be Southeast at 10-15 and ended up North-Northeast at 15-20. 8 foot breaking seas and lots of water aboard. Annoying but not dangerous. Had to close with Florida's shore to get out of the waves and head North. Then I got stopped by a helicopter just south of Cape Canaveral.
"Captain, we are about to launch the shuttle could you hold up there?"
So I hove-to and after a couple hours I actually saw the space station go overhead (NASA was on the radio and told me where to look) and then the shuttle blasted off after it. Pretty cool. It went almost right overhead. I was traveling (somewhat) with another boat and we had front row seats. Chance of a lifetime, I always wanted to see the shuttle launch. Lots of noise and flame, lit the entire area up and I was over 20 miles offshore. What a ride! Of course, it was dark so I didn't get any pictures.
Continued heading North and finally last night at !:30 AM I showed up here in St Augustine.
I will go to Jacksonville in a few days and leave the boat in fresh water while I go to NY for a few months.
Had a great time in the Bahamas. I traveled too much though. Next year, I will have to find a place to say for a while wherever I end up.
My electronic autopilot crapped out somewhere off Florida. What a drag, wind was so light the wind vane steering couldn't keep a proper course. I had to hand steer for two days. I can' tell you how much that sucked. I couldn't cook food, go to the bathroom, or SLEEP. Two days later, after eating cold canned food and no sleep, I was shot (actually I hove-to whenever I had to eat or go to the bathroom, but I still got more and more tired as time passed). By the time I pulled in here, I was worthless. Talking to myself and doing everything possible to enter an unfamiliar harbor at night. I didn't really trust my judgment and moved very slowly doing every task. Fortunately it was fairly calm or I would have hove-to offshore and slept till morning. I am now anchored with 7 hours of sleep. All is right with the world.
Next, I prepare the boat for a summer hurricane season without me.
03/15/2010, Georgetown ,Exumas, bahamas
Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas. Well I have been here throughout most of Regatta Week and it is time to move on once again. The internet here is actually quite bad. Very few sources and most of them are inconvenient (sitting outside the grocery store on the ground or at a table).
There were only two sailboat races for the entire regatta week-one inside the harbor and one outside the harbor. No dinghy races, sadly. I wanted to race the Pudgy under sail.
The wind was probably the dominant factor of the entire event-it often blew over 30 knots, routinely at least 20, along with enough rain to cancel some events. It was a fun time anyway, there were as many as 340 boats, all shifting anchorages at a time. I don't think I've ever seen that many sailboats at anchor together before. It is quite a spectacle.
Georgetown is a huge anchorage, with over a mile of fetch in any direction. The main island (Great Exuma) runs Northwest to Southeast and Stocking Island runs parallel to it just over a mile away. In any wind from the Northwest or Southeast you are wide open to the waves, which become fierce at times. When the wind blows from any Easterly direction you shift to the Stocking Island anchorages and with any Westerly wind, you shift back to the main Island. As a front passes with clocking winds from every direction, there is an exodus of hundreds of boats shifting back and forth. We have had as many as three frontal passages a week-picture that!
The real problem is trying to dinghy to town when you are over a mile away and it is blowing in excess of 20 knots with 2 foot steep seas. A very wet ride to say the least. I had to stop twice to pump out my dinghy as my ankles were getting wet (6 inches of salt water in the boat)! Pretty miserable.
I have never cruised this area before, so before I arrived I studied the chart and tried to decide where all the boats would be anchored. I chose a place called Crab Cay which is also over a mile from town and/or the events on Stocking Island. The anchorage there is about 200+ yards across and has good protection in all directions. I rode out several fronts there in relative calm. Another protected anchorage is an area called Red Shanks. It is even more removed from the events though. Probably a four mile bike ride to town and longer by dinghy. Oddly, no one was at the Crab Cay anchorage when I arrived. The anchorage was basically empty. Almost all off the boats were anchored on the roadstead anchorages of the two islands to be near the events and town.
During one of the really nasty fronts, 17 boats showed up in the Crab Cay anchorage, anchored all around me and then left within a few days. Curiosity got the better of me at one point, and I went out and anchored with the masses. After two days of being bounced around like crazy on both sides of the harbor, I gave up and moved back to Crab Cay. The seas in the Stocking Island anchorage were so bad (drenching the foredeck at anchor) that the snubber on one boat broke and finally even his windlass broke before he could drop all his chain and move to a safer anchorage. He is now anchored in Crab Cay with me..
The main problem with the Crab Cay anchorage is that you are not in the middle of things. You are a mile or more from the events and the popular beaches. Also, there is no place to go ashore easily. Some company started construction on what I am sure will be a marina some day (maybe, its the Bahamas remember) and they will not let you on the beach. We go there anyway. Those two reasons are why no one is here I guess.
My general impression of Georgetown is that it certainly could use more protection for its anchoarges. Personally, I would not consider the anchorages safe for most weather. When I arrived, I was amazed to find that it was basically just two roadstead anchorages over a mile from each other. There is no protection from the typical Southeast trades and the strongest part of a cold front is often Northwest which also has no protection. On the other hand, all the services are here and the prices are at least no worse that the rest of the Bahamas. Airport, food store, NAPA, engine repair, boat repair, laundry, internet, couple of nice restaurants, etc. Pretty much anything you may need, if you're patient. If you need some specific part it may have to be ordered and come by boat "eventually".
I don't want to sound negative. It is the Bahamas after all, and having all these boats around is cool. The people are friendly albeit cliqueish and one of the sailboat races went right through the anchorage which was actually pretty neat-talk about front row seats. Having several 35-50 foot boats under full sail, weave through several hundred anchored boats was quite an experience. I was anchored right on the course line (unbeknownst to me) and they went right off my bow and stern. Great fun!
If I had gotten here earlier, I would have entered or at last been crew on someone's boat.
A cruising race is pretty unique. Boats start the race with anchors hanging off their bows, running under autopilot, with bimini, dodger, solar panel, wind generator humming away, and sometimes even with a dinghy on davits or in tow. And, of course, loaded with gear so that they are riding several inches below their intended waterline. Compared to the real race geeks who strip everything down for speed, these guys really take it easy and are just fun loving. Of course some guy always shows up in a stripped down "J" boat and impresses himself with how much faster than everyone else he is, be we can ignore him.
This is as far South as I intend to go on this trip. I will have to had back to Florida for a short stint to get things organized for the next leg. Then I'll be off again. From Georgetown I expect to head to the Northern Exumas (Allens Cay), cross Yellow Bank over to Nassau, then the Northern Berry Islands, then cross New Providence Channel to Lucaya on Grand Bahama, then the long leg to Port St Lucie in Florida. I expect to be seven days traveling and a few for waiting out weather, resting, sight-seeing, and snorkeling. Call it two weeks.
Onward and upward.
03/03/2010, Georgetown Harbor
I am now in Georgetown for Regatta Week. Yet another cold front passed through last night and it is blowing over 30 today, but (this is the good news) there don't appear to be any cold fronts approaching this area for at least a week. Unbelievable. So far, every travel day so far has been in the 24 hour period between cold fronts. Lots of wind and anchor watches.
There are over 340 boats here at anchor, more anchored in one place than I have ever seen. It is hard to describe. I just tool around in my dinghy and look at all the designs. Lots of different ways to solve the same problem.
Went to a Chris Parker Weather seminar the day after I arrived. Pretty informative. He gives a weather synopsis each morning at 6:30 on SSB channel 4045.0. Everybody listens to it. He's actually fairly accurate.
During the passage from Cave Cay (another private Island owned by a Texan-no anchoring allowed in the most perfect bay) via Cave Cay Cut I was surrounded by boats heading South and North. As many as 11 boats around me at any given time (see picture). Had to really keep a close watch even though I was out at sea. Boats passing me on both sides continuously. I realize that I like uncrowded Ocean passages. I really don't like to travel in a group like so many do. Had a great passage from Cave Cay to Georgetown though. Smooth and fast. Had to motor some, but I had the sails up the entire way. I think I've used one tank of fuel since I left Florida over a month ago. Not bad.
I had a close call at the anchorage last night. A French Canadian anchored too close upwind of me and dragged some. At 1:00 his solar panels were just over my bow and 8" from my headstay. I was holding them in my hand and trying to keep his boat from hitting me. I added some line to my rode ( I had already let it all out and it wasn't enough to get away from him) so I could back off and be free of him. I didn't wake him because if he was such a bad sailor, he may get up and proceed to make matters worse and I wasn't in the mood for that at 1:00 in the morning. I just extended my rode, backed away from him and solved it myself in the morning.
As he was anchored right over my rode, I had to somehow get it from underneath him. I guessed that he had let out just a little scope (typical), so I knew my anchor was well in front of his. I turned my engine on, warmed it up, set it at idle, put the helm over one spoke to Port and locked it there, then engaged the transmission into forward. My boat moved forward slowly and off to the side while I walked to the bow and hauled in on the anchor line; as well as hauling it off from under his boat. I simply went around him. When I was in front of him finally, I just kept pulling in rode until I had lifted the anchor and went on my way. No worries.
It never ends. He offered to help by pushing on his boat with his dinghy and promptly proceeded to go to the wrong side of his boat to push. I knew waking him up was a bad idea.
Well "gotta regatta" (says that on the T-shirts here).
02/24/2010, Anchored Little farmers Cay
Well that was one of the most miserable passages yet! I only had to travel 35 miles today. Wind was supposed to be 10 to 12 knots, picking up later. It was 20 to 30 knots right on the nose. The steep 2 foot seas were spaced less than 1 second apart. Sometimes I was doing 1.2 knots with the prop cavitating like crazy. It felt like I was on a hobby horse all day. I used 15 gallons of fuel to go 35 miles and it took 9.5 hours. I don't even care what that averages out to!
I tried "tacking with the engine" back and forth to take the seas on the side instead of the bow and that helped a little. It still sucked.
Oh well, I am anchored snugly on Little Farmers Cay for the night and probably tomorrow night as well. Another cold front is rolling through. This makes about 6,736 so far this year I think.
Oh well, off to "anchor watch" for the night.
Smooth Seas (really!),
BTW the picture comes from a "nicer" day when the dolphins were playing around my bow.
02/24/2010, Warderick Wells, Exuma
Well, I can't believe it, I'm on a mooring!
Warderick Wells is in the National Exuma Park here and they have several moorings for Cruisers to use. That way they won't hurt the bottom (coral) with their anchor rodes.
Some cruising friends got there before me and booked a mooring for me. I didn't have the heart to say no. It was a terrible anchorage (roadstead) and bumpy all night.
The crossing of Exuma Sound was uneventful. Very light winds and small seas. I read and cooked with the sails set and the engine idling to keep my speed above 5 knots. I still arrived just before dark because of the 2.8 knot current against me (of course, is there any other kind!).
The sea was beautiful and so peaceful.
Before I left the Bank, the water was so clear that you couldn't see it. I was just looking at the bottom as though there was no water. It was sort of surreal. The camera focused on the boat and the effect was slightly lost, but you get the idea.