04/27/2011, Man O War Cay, Abacos
While in Guana we gave Sherry/Jason the option of sailing to Florida, or staying in the Abacos and then flying into Fort Lauderdale. Since they were loving the sun and rum punch they decided staying was the way to go. So as Carol and Paul headed West/North we dropped the mooring and pushed south to Man O War Cay.
About a 2 hour run, we motored all the way with the wind on the nose. The entrance is very narrow and not a lot of water so we timed it for high tide. As you enter you can turn north into the main harbour or south into Eastern Harbour. The main harbour is actually between Man O War and a small Cay called Dickies which runs parallel creating a cozy harbour with a 5' entrance in the south and a 2' entrance in the north. We tucked into Eastern Harbour as it was quieter and had better depths. Almost all moorings here so it took a while to grab one which was not private.
Man O War is one of the original settlements dating back to the 1700s. Fishing and boat building is the claim to fame and they still do both. The atmosphere here is completely different than Guana with the town being very pristine, quiet and supper friendly (if not a bit reserved) local population. Transport is 90% golf carts with only about 6 small trucks on the whole Cay, and those are predominately for hauling materials. Boat building is still occurring with beautiful boats being made. There is also some excellent boat repair expertise available; interestingly no travel lifts but rather the old marine railways. All the boat shops had lots of large open windows for air circulation which afforded us tourists a chance to watch them create. The town is very trusting, most houses had doors open and golf carts and bikes not locked.
The ambiance of Man O War is completely different than the other Cays. The grocery store allows you to run a tab, you buy fresh fish from one of the guys in the hardware store, and Lola (the Cay's baker) sells here cinnamon rolls and breads from her golf cart. The local populace is more permanent and there are no hotels or resorts on Man O War (so far). This certainly contributes to a more sedate atmosphere, but probably a big influence is that there is neither alcohol nor tobacco sold on the island, which definitely keeps the bar footed party animal away. They alcohol aspect we knew as this was foretold in the cruising guide, but the lack of cigarettes was not which caused our boat guests some anxiety as they were running low and had to institute rationing. Of course this caused no end of merriment for Burry who on the second day mentioned he wanted to stay a third day at Man O War, which caused near panic in Jason! He and Sherry were contemplating taking the ferry to Marsh Harbour to buy some smokes ($27 round trip).
Have to say Man O War is probably our favorite Cay to date. Wendy has even expressed an interest in moving here once our cruising days are finished. Figure we can sell the condo and buy a cottage here, but that won't be for a few years yet (I think, Wendy is already looking at the listings lol).
04/24/2011, Guana Cay, Abacos
So we left Marsh Harbour Saturday near high tide and sailed over to Guana Cay. Not a long sail, about 2 hours over the Sea of Abaco with about 15 kts wind from the SE made it nice under jib and main. As we approached the Settlement we dropped sail and then went on to Fishers Bay were Dive Guana said they had some moorings available. Nice thing about Fishers Bay is you can swim and snorkle right off the boat, no coral but star fish, sand dollars and rays were in evidence. We tied up next to Odysseus and then settled in for a couple of days of fun in the sun.
Guana is known as the "Party Cay" with a population of about 300 and three bars, Pirates Cove off the Govt Dock, Grabbers on Sunset Beach facing Fishers Bay and the infamous Nippers, overlooking the long lush beach on the ocean side. All these places serve copious quanties of booze. Add to that a liquour store and "Bare Foot Man" Concerts and you get the idea.
Saturday afternoon we decided to take it easy, so we went ashore at DiveGuana dock and walked into the settlement. Big changes from 2006, a lot more docks, a big marina on the south end with a new breakwater and a lot more traffic (foot and golfcarts). The grocery store and liquor stores were in same location so we grabbed a few items and headed back towards the boat. Sherry and Jason grabbed a golf cart and decided to tour the island while Wendy and I returned to the boat to stow the provisions and get changed for dinner at Grabbers where Carol/Paul would join us. Gorgeous sunset, great drinks and a good meal rounded out the night. Back to the boat and after a game or two of dice we went to bed.
Sunday we knew was popular, but when the anchorage went from 5 boats to 20+ boats we knew it would be busy. We had planned for this to be a Nipper s day, heading up for their pig roast buffet. Problem was weather was a bit windy, anchorage a bit lumpy and Sherry/Jason had a touch of mal de mer which made it a long lazy morning aboard. Late that afternoon, having recovered somewhat, they decided they wanted to head into town for the evening for a walk and a drink. Burry dingied them in around 430, encountering a large ray enroute. Later Carol and Paul came over for drinks and munchies (they were heading to Green Turtle next am). A few (ok a lot) of hours later we get a garbled radio call from Jason (gave him the hand held), "Sherry is lost and cant walk further can we pick them up at Grabbers?" I thought reception was bad but after a repeat realized it wasn't the radios fault lol. So Wendy made Burry pick them up at Grabbers and after some effort got them safely aboard the dingy and tranfered to the mothership. Apparently the bartenders on Guana are very liberal with their shots of liquour, which led to Sherry's predicament.
Monday Paul and Carol launched to Green Turtle Cay, with us decided to stay another day and try to get onto the beach. After a slow start,some breakfast we headed over, snorkle gear in hand. Was a great sunny day and the beach was almost deserted when we arrived. After a quick lunch, we set up the blanket and umbrella and then snorkled out to the reef. Larger than Mermaid but a lot less coral and fish. The exciting part was Burry spent about 5 min snorkling with a Green Turtle, great experience but regretably could not catch on the camera as it had a fogged lens problem that morning. After a good long snorkle we vegged on the beach, then Wendy/Burry went for a long walk south along the beach while Jason/Sherry slept under the umbrella. Later that afternoon dark clouds looked ominous so we packed up and zipped back to Seahawk, only to discover the squall breezed past us dropping hardly no rain.
Next morning we let go of the mooring and decided to head back south, and visit Man O War Cay. Stay tuned for next report on Jason and Sherry's prohabition experience!
04/24/2011, Marsh Harbour, Abaco
So here we are in Marsh Harbour, a place we last visited back in 2005 when we stayed at the Regattas Resort. Lot of changes since then. In 2005 Abaco was recovering from a Hurricane so there was still quite a mess, but aside from that the pace was different as well. We recall less people, and less vehicle traffic. Today there is a major flow of vehicles and people, overall a fairly busy place.
Marsh Harbour is the economic hub of the Abacos. An international airport, a major commercial dock and a fairly wide shopping selection means most cruisers hit here to provision and travel (pick up/drop off crew, visits home and the like). Maxwells, a major grocery store, is quite large and rivals the Publics we used in Marathon, albeit with slightly higher prices. A few quite well stocked hardware stores and a reasonably good marine store round out the picture. There are also two great bakeries and the bread and pasteries they produce are absolutely wonderful. Island Bakery up past the post office is probably the best, with a small tart in coconut or pineapple with a shortbread like dough that is incredible. For seafood we found a small vendor near the dingy dock that has fresh fish every day, but also carries tubs with premade conch fritter batter.
While on the "food" subject, there are some good restaurants here as well, but regrettably somewhat expensive, with average cost out for dinner for two pushing close to $100. There are exceptions, with a small family type diner, The Golden Grouper, on main street with is a hit with the locals and has great down to earth menu. The other place we love is the Jib Room as on Wednesday they have a $25 Rib Buffet and Saturdays they have a BBQ Steak night. The food is incredible and the meal is followed by limbo dancing and Rake and Strake music with dancing under the stars. Most of the restaurants along "Restaurant Row" tend to be geared towards the tourist market and rather than serve Bahamian cuisine tend towards asian fusion and the hamburger/club sandwich crowds. The exception is most also have a great fish sandwhich/burger which is quite good.
The inner harbour here has 4 Marinas, three along restaurant row and the Marsh Harbour Marina on the north side of the harbour (with the Jib Room). No floating docks here, and water and electricity are expensive, but the $1 to $1.50/foot rates are reasonable when compared to the eastern seaboard of the US. We haven't stayed in a marina since leaving Bimini as the anchorage is convenient, lot more private and you get less bugs and more air circulation on the hook. If we did stay our vote would go with the Marsh Harbour Marina, even though its across the harbour. It's a quiet, family run business and easy walk to Mermaid beach/reef and if you do need provisions it's an easy dingy ride across the harbour or call a cab on channel 06. Mermaid Reef is a small reef about 100 meters off the beach. The coral is not bad with mostly brain and branch type and a few fans, but the number and variety of tropical fish is amazing. Counted no less than 12 different species and there were 100s of them all around. Felt like we were swimming in an aquarium.
The weather hear has been great for the most part, temps in the upper 70s F, low 80s. Had one bad squall come through, 50+kts wind with horizontal rain which was 40 min of anxiety, especially given the crowded harbour here with boats of all shapes and sizes on the hook. Fortunately no one dragged and a couple of hours later the sun was shinning and all was well. Unlike Marathon, we did not loose any gear or suffer any damage this time, guess we are learning! The other impact here the first week were the brush fires, whenever the wind was from North or West the harbour was blanketed with smoke, and occasionally soot and ash would fall.
The people here are quiet nice, but the pace is much faster than the surrounding Cays, mostly because the increased business from tourism and being the economic heart of the Abacos. While this is good for provisioning and getting ready to head out, its not the best athmosphere for the laid back feeling. Probably why most extended stay cruisers (and landlubber winter rentals) chose the outer Cays and hit Marsh Harbour every couple of weeks to stock up on neccesities. The "Horse Lady" still runs buck a book from the sea container, and also has a batch of homeless dogs now. Unfortunately she is finding it harder and harder these days getting help for her cause. Internet access is easy, with many of the restaurants and marinas offering local hot spots, and two companies OII and Bahama WiMax offering harbour wide access for a fee. We bit the bullet and opted for a month long plan which cost us $90 and works well in most of the Cays around Abaco.
On arrival here we met up with friends from Annapolis, unfortunately they were on their way back the next day so it was a short reunion. Many of the boats from the north stay here for the winter and head back north in the April to May timeframe, looks like we will be joining the herd this year. Carol and Paul on Odysseus linked up with us and we had a short week with them, doing some snorkling and eating. Great seeing them again, but too soon they also headed off north, and are now in northern Florida working their way back to Oriental, NC.
Sherry (Wendy's sister) and her friend Jason came for a 12 day visit and linked up with us in Marsh Harbour. We met them at the airport and took them back to the boat, watching their amazed stares at the town and the anchorage. A few days with them here in Marsh Harbour were great, with snorkling and food. Sherry, Wendy, Carol and Joy (fellow cruiser) did a girls afternoon, shopping and lunch at Curly tails. The four of us also headed out to Hope town for a day visit via ferry and had a great visit there, with Sherry and Jason exploring all the nooks of Elbow Cay via golf cart. Drinks that evening and then we prepped for a short sail off to Guana Cay....and Nippers......Stay tuned for Sherry at Nippers report next week!
We were torn about leaving Bimini, it's the kind of place we could have comfortably spent a week or so. Unfortunately Chris Parker weather indicated that if we didn't cross the bank now, we might be forced to stay in Bimini for a long time, so we decided to launch after a short two day stay. The next day we made relaxed preparations to head out, since we could not leave until noon waiting for high tide to allow us through the marina channel. Was a nice relaxed morning, simple breakfast, nice walk along the beach with Maggie and then an early lunch at the restaurant before throwing off the lines and heading out.
The first leg is a 70 mile stretch across the Bahama Banks, open shallow water. We decided to make it a two day trip, with an overnight stop on the banks. Given the forecast we decided to push on until about midnight and then anchor close to the Berries to make the next day nice and short. Normally you don't want to do night crossing of the Banks, but since we were on the northern route (North Rock to Great Harbour) the depths along the second half of this track are 50-60 feet making night sailing along this stretch relatively safe. Crossing was great, nice beam reach with winds in the 15 kt range and our average boat speed of 6.5 kts. Anchoring on the banks with no land close is an interesting experience, especially at night and winds now blowing about 20 kts. Finally settled we collapsed asleep, with the alarm set to check on the anchor every hour.
Next day we had a short sail to Bullocks Harbour on the west side of Great Harbour Cay. Here we again anchored, somewhat exposed, but in the lee of the Cay. Bullocks Harbour is a small settlement with minimal services. It seems most of the people are employed by the Norwegian Cruise ship lines where they have tourist haven on Little Stirrup Cay just to the North. That morning we took Maggie into this village and walked around, meeting some locals and checking out the local grocery store. In the evening we dingy'd into the Great Harbour Marina and walked around there as well. Met a local fisherman and after some discussion bought a couple of pounds of freshly caught Hogfish. First time we tried this fish, and found it great. We put a bit of rub on it and grilled it and served it up with some rice. Very tasty! That night the wind clocked and we ended up with a very bumpy night, and once again on anchor watch every hour until about 230 when the wind and swells died down.
Next morning we launched to Sandy Point, a small village on the SW tip of Abaco. Short distance and we did do some sailing, but winds clocked to the nose and so had to motor sail last 10 miles across the straight. Passed the Stirrup Cays with a large cruise ship at anchor and lots of little boats and PWC skittering about with tourists doing their various activities. Sandy Point anchorage was a fair distance out given the real shallow water near the village and so again we were somewhat exposed from S to NW but good holding. No dingy dock, but there is a nice beach next to the govt dock so landing was no problem. A nice walk with Maggie and a chance to grab some fruit at the local grocery store. That night we had a small dinner and then put the dingy back on the cabin top for the long sail tomorrow.
Pulling the anchor at 0630, we got underway shortly before sunrise for the long haul around Hole in the Wall at the SE tip of Abaco and the 30 nm run North to Little Harbour. This is a long stretch with no places to tuck in so we were very happy to have a good forecast from Chris Parker. The day went well, other than very little true sailing given the wind on the nose syndrome. Add to that a counter current for the first half of the day pushed our SOG to little over 5 kts. Passing the desolate Hole in the Wall, we saw the large lighthouse and the finger of rock pushing into the ocean with the large hole bored through it near its tip. Quite spectacular scenery! The run up did find us getting bumped by two squalls which marched South, but we just brushed the eastern edge of them so no big blows nor torrential downpours. Around 1500 we finally made Little Harbour Channel under ideal conditions and had finally reached the Sea of Abaco! Pushing north about 2 miles we left the track and snuggled up to the western shore of Lynyard Cay and dropped the hook in 18' of crystal clear azure water. We were about 100 m from a great secluded little beach and once the dingy was deployed got Maggie over there for a run and play time on the beach and a stroll over the backbone to the ocean side which proved to be very rugged.
The hardest decision now is what to do. In the next 40 miles we have numerous Cays, snorkeling spots and watering holes. Pete's pub and gallery in South Harbour, Hopetown, Marsh Harbour, Man of War and Treasure Cays are all easy half day sails. It took us about an hour over a glass of wine and a gorgeous sunset to make an initial plan, which resulted in our move to Marsh Harbour for a few days to clean up, do a few repairs and rest the body. After that, who knows, guess it depends on our mood, but I know Nippers is calling to Wendy!
03/31/2011, Bimini, Bahamas
Yes, it is hard to believe but we are finally here in the Bahamas, landing in Bimini early morning after waiting in an anchorage for a few hours for a favorable tide (good idea as well, allowed us to clean up the boat and refresh ourselves a bit from the night crossing). We crossed with a buddy boat, Seaflame. Jannetta and her dog Revay were accompanied by a friend Debbie. We booked into the Bimini Sands Resort/Marina in South Bimini, which differed from the rest of the crossing gang. Bimini Sands proved to be a great place, floating docks, pool, restaurant, store, and great facilities all for $1.10 per foot a night! Wonderful staff.
First chore was to clear customs, which proved to be quite simple and so $300 later we were official cruisers of the Bahamas. Back at the boat we decided to stick around for a day and play tourist while all the other boats started prep to cross to the Berries. We are glad we stuck around, gave us a chance to tour Alice Town on North Bimini and do some beachcombing. We also found a local bakery that makes great breakfast rolls. That evening we went out to dinner with Jeanetta and Debbie at a great restaurant/sushi bar overlooking the setting sun into the ocean. Next morning they set sail and we went for our morning walk with Maggie and then over to Alice town. Our visit to Alice town was informative and enjoyable lots of history in Bimini. The highlight of our sightseeing was visiting a gentleman by the name of Ashley Saunders, town historian and local artist. Mr. Saunders took us on a tour of what is known as the Dolphin House/Motel. Very unique to the islands and truly worth a visit. Mr. Saunders then took us over to the oldest church on the island.
After our visit with Mr. Saunders we then went beachcombing. Beautiful sands and waters. A drink at a local bar Big Johns was welcomed refreshment. Upon returning to the marina we showered and readied for the next day's trip to Bullocks Harbor on Great Harbour Key in the Berries. Enjoy the pictures.
03/25/2011, Boot Key Harbour (Marathon)
To review we arrived in Boot Key Harbour (Marathon, Fl) back on 11 Jan. Well here we are 23 March and are finally heading out again. Been a long ~10 weeks (still can't believe that!) and departing is done with sweet sorrow, especially where we are leaving so many new friends and even harder, one of our crew is no longer with us. Felt very strange motoring past the entrance bridge and realize our Bartley wasn't with us.
Since the last update we managed a road trip to Fort Myers to visit Bob and Rusty in their new condo. What a gorgeous place (the condo and the surrounding area) and even though it seems they have swallowed the anchor, it is a wonderful place to do so and we are so happy for them. Was a great 4 day visit with lots of food/beer/stories and Bob keeping us in stitches.
Some other activities we have done included a visit to the Turtle Hospital, took a First Aid/CPR course. Also spent an afternoon at the Crane Nature Center which was both enlightening and a great experience. Finally got our SSB/HAM sorted out and now chat with Chris Parker each morning for latest weather updates and routing help. Last week we survived a squall which screamed through with 50kt winds. A couple of boats in the anchorage dragged and a Cat near us had a lighting strike, but we survived relatively unscathed, losing our ensign, a kayak paddle and one broken wine glass. The other night took in the great film, Kings Speech, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The theater here has $4.00 matinees and they serve beer and wine, how civilized is that! Also dined/drank at local establishments where they featured fellow cruisers as the entertainment (singers and fire dancers). Other events were: seafood festival, dophin watching from our boat, dingying through the mangroves, watching sunsets and generally have a great time.
The past few weeks have been busy with updates to the boat (solar and new wind genny) boat repairs and some human checkups as well. We have had a few great times here and some great meals as well. Marathon is a great boat friendly place, but we found month two wearing thin and were eager to get underway, but Mother Nature had other plans. Finally this weather window looked very promising last week for a Gulf Stream crossing and we are one of over a dozen boats heading out. About half did a two day crossing, day one up the Hawks Channel to Rodriquez Key and Day two to Bimini, and the other half (us included) departing noon on Wed and do an overnight sail to Bimini. Weather was great, but not superb as winds were light and variable, but mostly from ESE so too close for great sailing. We had a great clear night with 1000s of stars and smooth sailing with speeds in the 8.5 kt range thanks to our friend the Gulf Stream. This was a bit more push than expected so we ended up having to slow down some to ensure a daylight arrival. Even so we closed onto South Bimini as the sun rose and had to anchor south of the island until 1000 hrs for the tide to come up for the entrance into the marina.
We met a lot of great people from all over world, many who are heading in different directions over the next few months. We wish them all fair winds and hopefully will find that our paths will cross again.