The Abacos, Part II
21 May 2015 | Charleston Maritime Center, Charleston, SC
Caroline / 91º, sunny, winds W 14 MPH
Tropical Storm Ana turned out to be no big deal in the Abacos; her energy was directed well north of us, as it turned out. Even so, we could tell the weather was becoming more unsettled, with more squalls and little thunderstorms. Instead of brisk trade winds blowing steadily from the east, we started to see winds clocking around in a confused manner, sometimes dead calm, sometimes suddenly quite breezy.
At that point, the game was to find the right window of opportunity to make our way back north. We were aiming for Charleston rather than just heading the much shorter distance straight across to Florida. This was for two reasons: one, our insurance company requires us to be north of the Florida/Georgia border before June 1, and two, we decided we’d rather get right to a place we really enjoy, rather than spending time picking our way back up the Intra Coastal Waterway. Riding up the Gulf Stream, we expected the crossing to Charleston to take about 50 to 60 hours.
So that last week we puttered around the Abacos, trying to time our provisioning, our available cash, and weather considerations so we’d be ready to take off as soon as we saw the right window: ideally three days of winds blowing from the east or southeast with enough velocity (15 knots or so) that we could sail rather than having to motor, but not so much velocity that we’d be caught out in the Atlantic in stormy weather conditions.
Our first destination after leaving Hope Town was this pretty little anchorage. We’d been here before, back on our honeymoon as one of our overnight stops with Blue Water Sailing School. We spent two nights here this time at anchor, taking the dinghy in to do a little provisioning and to walk the storied white sand beach.
I have to say, it’s not our favorite place. It’s just not at all Bahamian - more like a little retirement community you’d see in Florida, complete with golf course, rows of identical pastel condos, resort, swimming pool, and a fast food pizza/burger place. The beach is pretty enough - a long, very clean arc of pale sugar sand with incredibly vibrant, shallow turquoise water - but not as pretty as the one at Harbour Island, we thought. And it has none of the character of Hope Town or most of the other towns we’ve visited. So, good safe port if you need one, but not a place to linger.
Treasure Cay is actually attached to Great Abaco Island, which borders the Sea of Abaco on the west. To the east, a string of reefs and cays including Elbow Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay and others form the edge of this shallow body of water. It’s only about six miles across at its widest, but it can take hours to zigzag around to avoid the shifting sand bars, coral heads, and seriously shallow areas. The various electronic and paper charts we were using didn’t agree all that often, so it took some planning and some care to get from one place to another. For example, both Treasure Cay and our next destination, Black Sound Harbour on Green Turtle Cay, have entrance channels so shallow that we could only transit them at or near high tide.
Green Turtle Cay
Continuing poking our way northward, we left Treasure Cay at mid-day on the high tide and anchored out one night off the western shore of the Sea of Abaco, enjoying a spectacular sunset with backlit puffy cumulus clouds that gradually turned pink and gold.
The next day, we made the short crossing over to Green Turtle Cay. Once we inched our way in the shallow entrance channel, we moored at Donny’s marina. Donny is a third generation Bahamian who’s very hospitable and has the best wifi we saw in the entire Bahamas. We were viewing videos for the first time in over three months! Donny also treated us to a much-appreciated package of red snapper he’d caught on one of his charter fishing expeditions.
New Plymouth, Green Turtle Cay’s main town, is a charming village with well-tended homes, very friendly people (our favorites were the three little girls selling homemade pink lemonade every day), and an honest-to-goodness Asian food truck where we dined on potstickers, gyoza, and Kung Pao grouper. We spent several nights there, conferring on weather with Chris Parker on the SSB and trying to time our exit from the Bahamas for ideal conditions.
When we left Green Turtle Cay, we took two days to make our way up to the very northern tip of the Bahamas, Great Sale Cay, where we anchored out. A last check of the weather showed good easterly trade winds, although lighter than we were hoping for, all the way up the Gulf Stream to our destination of Charleston.
The reality, though, turned out to be a little different. Day one’s winds were so light we ended up having to motor sail. By nightfall we had made our way into the Gulf Stream and turned due north. I took the first watch, underway with all three sails up. When Larry took over at 2 am, I went below and tried to sleep. All had been well, other than some squall lines showing up on radar to the north of us. We expected squalls, but not of significant magnitude: shortly after I went below we ran right smack into a “compression trough” between two high pressure systems. This translated into 35+ knot winds, lightning and thunder, seas that built steadily to 10-12 feet, and no sleep for Caroline. The storm stayed with us nearly 20 hours. It was never dangerous, but it was certainly uncomfortable. That’s as close as I’ve ever come to being seasick.
When it finally did pass, the winds once again grew so light that we had to motor sail. We realized we weren’t going to make it to Charleston anywhere near our ETA, and we were exhausted. So instead we turned west and headed in to anchor in the Port Royal Sound just north of Hilton Head to catch some sleep. The next day, we made another jump up to a favorite anchorage in Bohicket Creek off the North Edisto River. And the following morning, accompanied by a huge pod of dolphins frolicking in the river, we made our final leg up to Charleston. It was a huge relief to finally arrive here!
We have spent the last several days sleeping, getting haircuts and chiropractic adjustments, washing the boat, doing laundry, and finding as much wonderful local food as we can (in restaurants as well as in stores). This morning we visited the gardens at Magnolia Plantation. Saturday we’ll spend at the Charleston farmers market, and we expect to be leaving early next week to continue our journey up to the Chesapeake Bay.