Barracuda's Blog

The adventures of Kate and Graham and our OVNI 395.

17 February 2019 | San Juan, Puerto Rico
15 February 2019 | Between the Navidad Bank and the Samana headland (which is north east of the Dominican Republic)
14 February 2019 | South of the Mouchoir Bank - which is north of the Dominican Republic
13 February 2019 | Six Hills Cays, Turks and Caicos Islands
12 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
10 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
08 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
07 February 2019 | Abrahams Bay, Mayaguana, Bahamas
05 February 2019 | Landrail Point Settlement, Crooked Island, Bahamas
04 February 2019 | Clarence Town, Long Island, Bahamas
03 February 2019 | Calabash Bay, Long Island, Bahamas
02 February 2019 | Black Point, Little Guana Cay
30 January 2019 | Little Farmers’ Cay, Bahamas
29 January 2019 | Farmers' Cay
25 January 2019 | Staniel Cay, Bahamas
24 January 2019 | Big Spot Majors, Bahamas
23 January 2019 | O’Brien’s Cay, Bahamas
21 January 2019 | O’Brien’s Cay, Bahamas
20 January 2019 | Warderick Wells, Bahamas
19 January 2019 | Warderick Wells, Bahamas

Back in lovely Puerto Rico

17 February 2019 | San Juan, Puerto Rico
Well, that is us safely tied up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it is really nice to be back here. The entrance to the harbour is so dramatic with the old town and castle up on the hill above you as you enter. There is a comfort in having been here before - we know where we are going, and it takes the uncertainty out of it on arrival. We have come back to the Club Nautico where we had such a friendly welcome last year, and true to form the same guys were there to greet us on the dock this time; they remembered us and we remembered them. The US Customs and Border Protection guys were there to meet us too, so we dealt with the formalities very quickly.

So - the passage. Today's picture is a map that shows what we were doing in our route from the Turks & Caicos Islands to PR. You can see that the bulk of the journey was travelling against the prevailing easterly trade winds and the currents. Normally this would be a really tough sail; alternatively you have to do it in lots of little hops along the Dominican Republic (DR) coast, travelling at night when the winds drop, or just waiting for weather windows. The wind gods gave us a break on this one (thank you! thank you!) and brought a front in from the west; this stalled between Haiti and the Bahamas and stopped the trade winds from blowing all the way through. This in turn meant that, in the most part, the area we were passing through had relatively light winds (albeit mostly on the nose) and sometimes they came from due south.

Our first night out was a bit lively, motor sailing into 20 kts of short seas which kept knocking us back; that meant we needed to run the engine harder than normal (increasing fuel consumption) and our progress was depressingly slow. After that, however, it settled down and we were able to sail a lot of the way. Towards the end the wind dropped just as expected and we motored in flat seas for the last hundred miles or so with a little push from the main. The trip took almost exactly three days. All in all, we're very happy with that, compared with how this passage could have been; the short coastal hops would have added at least another week. We are now well ahead of schedule on our trip to St Martin, so this gives us some flexibility on what we do next to enjoy our journey.

Some highlights of the trip:
The most amazing jumping dolphins - we've never seen them jump so high and straight, and with so much energy.
Watching spectacular rainstorms build off the DR north coast to our south.
Knowing that this is whale migration season, and skirting the banks where they congregate. Not a single sighting this time, though.
Some pretty good lightning shows on the banks (a bit stress, actually - we would rather they were further away).

When it's the two of us over-nighting, we operate three-hour night watches from dusk till dawn - 7pm to 7am. The off-watch sleeps in the stern cabin, tucked up in a little nest beside the engine with their earplugs wedged in, while the on-watch keeps the sails (if any) trimmed and the engine running, looks out for whales, tankers, other yachts, lightning storms, squalls, mermaids and pirates, and keeps the ship's log up to date, all the while reading their kindle, listing to podcasts/music and playing electronic Sudoku to stay awake. Then the on-watch wakes the off-watch with a cup of tea, and crashes into the nest beside the engine - 'hot-bunking'. We catch up on any sleep during the day, as and when we feel like it. We find it takes us about three days to get into the groove of night watches with short sleeping sessions, so it's a shame when it's just a three day passage. Now we need to get back to normal.

Position report

15 February 2019 | Between the Navidad Bank and the Samana headland (which is north east of the Dominican Republic)
Steady progress made today. We had some lumpy conditions on the nose during the night, which made for some bumpy motor sailing. Once dawn arrived conditions settled and we had a good day part sailing and part motoring. Late in the afternoon we started to get some big rain storm systems coming off Hispaniola �" apparently a fairly normal weather issue here due to the configuration of the island and the prevailing conditions. So the boat got a good wash and we gently drifted on our way.

Just one ship, one yacht and two dolphin to report today.

Plodding SE

14 February 2019 | South of the Mouchoir Bank - which is north of the Dominican Republic
Just a quick report on the day's progress. We left Six Hills Cay at first light and worked our way out through the last of the coral heads on the Caicos Bank and then started our passage SE. During the morning we passed just to the south of Big Sand Cay where we made land fall last year on our way up from PR. It is a beautiful spot �" look it up on Google. There is a ridge that runs for quite a long way south of the cay. You can cross the ridge but it is quite amazing watching the depth rise from 1300m to 13m in a very short distance. Then on to pass south of the Mouchoir Bank which is now off to our port side as we write this. We have seen two ships today but otherwise very little traffic around.

Across the Caicos Bank

13 February 2019 | Six Hills Cays, Turks and Caicos Islands
Well, that is us pretty much all the way across the Caicos Bank. The wind was on the nose all day at 15-22kts, so we just plugged over with the engine (and our books) for ten hours. No other way to do this on the bank, and it’s easier anyway to watch out for coral heads which show up as very clearly delineated black areas. We saw a few, but the ‘magenta line’ route we took is designed to avoid as many as possible.

We are now settled for the night behind one of the two uninhabited islands of Six Hills Cays. It’s pretty obvious to spot as you approach, due to the eight hills. The islands are steep-to, so there’s no going ashore and nothing really to report. This would probably make a really good snorkel spot but we are a bit late for that.

Weather conditions look good for the next three days for the crossing to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, so we will head off at first light.

No nice photos today, so here is an interior shot of the boat to show you our humble abode.

Happy Valentine’s Day (for tomorrow)! Happy anniversary, Ian and Jane! Oh, and it’s the anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe.

The Armada prepares to push east and south

12 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
Today we met up again with an Australian yacht that we last saw at Warderick Wells. It also sounds like we will see them next year, given each of our sailing plans. We keep meeting more people who are doing the same trip as ourselves, heading down towards the Caribbean islands. The planning and strategizing for this continues. There is a good weather window about to open up so everyone is comparing forecasts and getting ready for the off.

As part of our prep, this morning we took a run into South Side Marina for customs check-out, fuel, water, book-swap and laundry. It is a really friendly place run by an English/Canadian chap called Bob who came here 40 years ago and never left. A simple and practical facility for the travelling yachtsman - just our kind of place - definitely on the list for our next run through these parts.

We are now back at our anchorage in Sapodilla Bay ready for a quiet night before tomorrow's early start. There are four or five boats all heading off at first light to start the trek across the Caicos Bank. The picture shows the challenge: we are way, way over on the west, and the bank is a shallow minefield of isolated coral heads, shallows and sandbanks, with the prevailing trade winds in the east. There are some clear safe routes shown in pink on the charts ('the magenta lines') but you still need to keep your eyes firmly open - and with that great, unsheltered expanse, there can be significant wind and chop. Anyway, the plan is to motor down to the SE edge of the bank where there are some good small cays where we hope to anchor for overnight shelter. The following day (Thursday) we will all be heading in our various directions, south and east towards the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. Progress is a little hard to estimate but subject to winds and currents we will be aiming for Puerto Rico, which is 352 miles from here (at its closest point). We shall also be keeping a good lookout for whales - this is the season when thousands of humpbacks migrate through this area to breed and calve.

Blog posts may get a little thin for the next few days but we will see what we can do.

Oh the glamour

10 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
A relatively easy couple of days getting to know 'Provo' better and meeting some fellow cruisers on the same path.

We started yesterday by getting checked into the Turks & Caicos Islands, a two hour process. We have not had to do this for a while so it was a bit of a shock to the system to get back into all the form-filling. Because we came into Sapodilla to do our check in, rather than a marina, we had to go to the government port for our session with Customs and Immigration; which meant we had to walk in through the stevedore area where all the containers get handled; which meant that we had to be issued with hard hats and high viz vests to get to the office, a dusty portakabin in the corner of the industrial docks. Bikinis they said! Living the dream eh!

We have hired a car to help with provisioning and getting around the island, as otherwise we would be a bit stuck. In the last two days we actually feel like we have 'done' Provo from a visiting sailor's perspective. If you were an occasional tourist here you would be enthralled by the milky turquoise water and the white reef fringed beaches and the water sports. As we have these all the time, we were looking for something else, like some colonial history or a historic plantation perhaps - but nothing's open on a weekend. So instead we had a good drive around, saw lots of lovely villas and exclusive holiday developments, plenty of building sites and some beaches.

We have got to know some of the folks on other boats anchored nearby who are doing exactly what we are doing - trying to go south and east, against the wind and current. We all had drinks ashore tonight to compare notes on routes, strategies and weather windows. The next stage is an interesting navigational challenge, so well worth discussing and comparing.

New Country, New Flag

08 February 2019 | Sapodilla Bay, Turks & Caicos Islands
An early start from Abraham’s Bay, out through a narrow gap in the reef and then we were bound under sail for the Turks & Caicos Islands. We were the only sailing boat around today. Otherwise, we saw one large commercial ship but nothing else. We had a series of squalls coming through all day with a top wind speed of 29 kts, so we kept the boat reefed down; in the most part she just beat on upwind under autopilot and made a pretty good job of it, with some impressive speeds. Whilst beating hard upwind is not Barracuda’s best sport, we have figured out that so long as there is enough wind (15 knots+) and the waves are big long ocean waves (rather than short choppy waves) then she is quite happy. We had a nice rainbow following us for a while (see today’s photo).

We are now, once again, back in the Turks & Caicos islands, just less than a year since our last visit. We are anchored south of Provo in Sapodilla Bay, where we can clear in for customs and immigration tomorrow morning, so our yellow flag is flying and we are staying on the boat tonight. There are just three other boats in the bay and it’s generally very still and quiet. Sapodilla is in the middle of the Caicos Bank which is a huge expanse of 2-3m shallows and coral reefs, and this time last year year we were too intimidated by the sight of it on the charts to go anywhere near it. This year it just seemed logical.

We are starting to do the planning for our next steps east; it looks like we have the weekend off as strong winds go through, and perhaps will get going again on Tuesday. It is looking like we’ll take a route via the Dominican Republic, which will be a new flag for us. We will keep studying the weather, though. One day at a time…. (as a man said to G in a liquor store in Florida when he asked if they had any alcohol free beer).

Distance covered today – 59 nautical miles
Distance to go to St Martin – 567 nautical miles as the flying fish flies…

And the sun sets on the Bahamas, as Barracuda heads east.

07 February 2019 | Abrahams Bay, Mayaguana, Bahamas
Just completed a cracking couple of days sailing, taking advantage of some good NE winds to head us south east. The first day, we had a dawn departure from the top of Crooked Island and made it over to West Plana Cay, one of a pair of deserted islands. A swelly night, too much surge to dinghy ashore, but we rigged a ‘swell bridle’ for the first time which certainly took the sting out of things. Then today we had another early start, and beat double-reefed over to Mayaguana, where we crept between the coral heads into Abrahams Bay and made it to the government office just in time to complete our check-out from the Bahamas. We managed a walk around the settlement; two guys diving for conch and lobster, a few dogs barking, a couple of boarded-up stores, a church, a school and a happy group sitting around enjoying Thursday afternoon in the traditional way… and then the sun went down, the mosquitoes came out and it was time to get back to the boat. It’s a very simple life on Mayaguana; nothing wrong with that!

So that has completed about six weeks in the Bahamas for this trip: lots of happy memories, some old haunts revisited and some new ones discovered. We’re happy that we have been able to share this experience with some friends and family.

Tomorrow we plan to head for the Turks and Caicos Islands, where we will likely be waiting for several days for the right weather to take the next steps on the thorny path. It will be nice to have a lie-in! We will need to decide whether we take a route down to the Dominican Republic and then use the lee shore to travel west in a series of hops, or whether to head east and try to make Puerto Rico in one trip against the prevailing winds and currents.

Distance covered during the last 2 days – 97 nautical miles.

Distance to go to St Martin – 617 nautical miles as the flamingo flies…

Great Sailing

05 February 2019 | Landrail Point Settlement, Crooked Island, Bahamas
We pulled out of Clarence Town, through the gap in the reef, and got underway towards Crooked Island as the sun rose over Boobie Island. The wind was already set in the north, which provided a perfect reach over the 50 miles to Landrail Point Settlement. We sailed all the way. Happy boat – happy crew.

We have been told that once you get south of the heaving masses at Georgetown on Great Exuma (also known as Chicken Harbour, because most people chicken out of going further south) the cruisers really thin out. It certainly seems to be that way.

We had been to Crooked Island before but did not have time to get ashore then. This time we found our way with Guppy into the small boat harbour, which has been - literally - carved out of the coral shoreline. We walked into the settlement and bought some groceries at probably the most extreme prices this trip so far. The more remote the island, the higher the prices and the rarer the veggies. It is not uncommon to see things priced at 3x what they were in the US mainland. We are not complaining – it all has a long journey to get here. No idea how the locals manage at these prices though, as these islands do not look wealthy. It also looked like the mail boat that brings the fresh supplies has not been in for a few days; the shelves were looking pretty bare of fresh produce. We understand that if you order more than $100 worth you can get free delivery on the mail boat (guess that is the local version of Amazon Pantry) which sounds like a good deal. Now we understand why the weekly mail boat arrival is such a high point for these islands.

At the north end of the island someone is building a whacking great marina, next to the airstrip. We walked up there for a look; it will be the largest facility of its kind for quite a ways around and will open up this island to a different kind of visitor. The similar facility back at Flying Fish Marina on Long Island seems to be frequented by sports fishing boats and large motor-boats, rather than sailing cruisers.

Today’s photo is the sunset from our west facing anchorage.

Distance to go to St Martin – 703 nautical miles.

Sharks Galore (big ones!)

04 February 2019 | Clarence Town, Long Island, Bahamas
A short update today. We left Calabash Bay at first light and headed out through the reef to start the long trek down Long Island – so named due to its length: 100 miles in all. We did about 47 nautical miles today, all under engine in very light winds. The journey’s main excitement was the catching of a great big mahi mahi which will be supper for the next three nights.

BTW we are now officially in the Tropics, as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer today.

We arrived in Clarence Town, the capital of Long Island, and managed a quick fuel up, water up and provisioning at the local store. Supplies are fairly limited down in the Out Islands, so it can be a while before we will get supplies again and it’s well worth stocking up here.

The local boat facility is called Flying Fish Marina and it is notable for the number of sharks that hang around it. They must get fed when the sports fishing boats come in with their catch. There are some fairly big and mean looking sharks there. We spotted some bull sharks and some other that we struggled to ID – possibly big reef sharks? Any ideas, team?

There was no interest in a swim when we took the boat to anchor just outside the marina.

Now a quiet night at anchor before another good stretch tomorrow over to Aklins and Crooked Islands. Just about to feast on mahi mahi, rice and plantains. Joy.
Vessel Name: Barracuda
Vessel Make/Model: OVNI 395
Crew: Graham and Kate
About: Learning as we go....
Extra: Look to this day for it is life...
Barracuda's Photos - Main
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