Christmas Time in the Bahamas
13 January 2018
An overnight sail to Eleuthera making the most of the northerly breeze south east of Abaco and a sunrise reef entry to the Egg islands. These small islands form a curved protection from the northerly winds and swell and once again provided lobstering opportunities. The likely underwater hiding places were found and inspected, with some success. Lobster risotto for dinner. Dinghy riding to Spanish Wells, we investigate Royal Island and its protected but rather shallow harbour. The island was cleared and great plans started for an 18 hole Jack Nicklause golf course, homes, hotels, villas, restaurants and spas. Now the remains slowly return to the land with roots entombing bijou villas while roofs sink under the weight of lanky foliage. Spanish Wells however is the main fishing port in the Bahamas - conch, lobster and fish are all landed here by the commercial fishing fleet. Ice cream coloured houses for rent proliferate alongside boat yards, mangroves and shallow passages. In the right conditions Rock Sound is great for catamarans. You can tuck in close to shore in most wind directions, fuel can be purchased, the supermarket has well stocked shelves local veg is sold in the car park and the water is so crystal clear that on the calmest of days you look as though you are flying above the surface of a strange moon. Lobsters are about apparently - but we suspect they’ve all been had. Christmas is coming and we have plans to meet up with Ocean Blue further south so no time to investigate further.
Meeting up with Ocean Blue again in Norman’s Cay, Exumas, was very nice. Maybe not the most comfortable anchorage but very pretty. Unfortunately the allergic rash (first appearance in Abaco) was becoming more concerning and health facilities in Nassau beckoned. A day-long slog north west but doctors were available so it had to be worth it. The diagnosis was ‘you’ve come into contact with something you have an allergic reaction to’. We’d probably worked that out…but we now had prescription antihistamines and a dose of corticosteroids (plus a lighter wallet) so headed back south to catch up at Shroud Cay with four Brit boats and two Australian boats making plans for Christmas. Organising the orchestration of three courses for twelve - moving boat each course (bring own crockery, cutlery and beverages), sharing provisions (not too worried about the sprouts), the preparing and cooking takes over. The Christmas cake has a Bahamian theme while tradition rules with meat, lots of stuffing, blanketed pigs, gravy and plenty of veg. Boat ovens however are not the most reliable and the Webber BBQ is pressed into service to encourage browning of ‘roast’ potatoes and parsnips. The festivities continue well beyond desert although by 8.30pm we’re all convinced it must be very late. Deck dancing proves rather popular, maybe more so with some than others.
As ever the Christmas period is busy with Christmas of course, the Boxing Day feast of left-overs and un-eaten on the day food, early morning snorkelling through Thunderball Grotto, Staniel Cay, birthday Bill’s curry night bonanza at beautiful Rudder Cut Cay followed by a Georgetown, Exuma New Year, complete with fireworks. Exhausting!
15 December 2017
It’s definitely warmer. Crossing the gulf stream through the night the sea temperature rises, less clothes are needed, while day break reveals turquoise waters rimmed with sandy low lying cays. Slowly heading east and south the shallow waters are navigated, turtles spotted and the occasional dolphins join us.
Anchored in Strangers Cay the midday sky darkens as thunder reverberates. All portable electronics are popped in the oven (with big notices to help us remember to take them out prior to using the oven later…note previous bad experience). Fortunately the squall passes to the south west leaving us relieved. Anchorages are very weather dependent. The tiny harbour of Carter’s Cay finds us surrounded by moored and slightly decaying ‘previously loved’ boats and not a huge distance away from a sunken wreck, or at least it looks that way.
Things are quite exciting though, meeting up with friends and former work colleague on Ocean Blue, it’s so nice to have familiar faces to share news, spare parts (plus experience) and the odd sun downer. The wind generator is revamped after a period of lethargy due to it’s circuit board and potentiometer failure. The successful remedy is celebrated after many adjustments but life is never boring.
Marsh Harbour, the main town in Abacos is where we meet Vince (of New Bern truck fame). Laundry, provisioning and a few days finding the best spots for propeller checks and the likely locations of conch (big sea snails with beautiful shells) and lobster. The required/recommended equipment for the lobster catching (spear pole) was purchased in Florida with much eager anticipation and accompanied by plenty of research on delightful lobster dishes. Several days later, the elusive lobsters were finally located and dispatched and the start of our lobster cuisine began. Or at least we thought. A malaise in the Juffa crew however put paid to the lobster events as a prolific rash appeared, which maybe lobster related. This unfortunate episode has not been confirmed but we will take tentative steps to identify the rash culprit over coming days.
Weaving between the small islands, cays, can be exhilarating. Slack water is often needed, tidal heights always important, wind and current directions impact hugely on the comfort and safety of passages. Current Cut, called for obvious reasons, was interesting. The steep waves, northerly winds and ebbing current were approached warily and all factors considered. Once through the sleigh ride the scene was tranquil and balmy as we watched the inter-island ferry cautiously transit the renowned pass.
Leaving New Bern, heading south
21 November 2017
It’s rather cold. Kindly souls at New Bern lend us a heater and the 120v leads to power it which makes a huge difference to night time temperatures although it’s still two duvet/comforter weather and there’s a significant reluctance to be the first up to switch on the afore mentioned heater. Finally essential jobs are completed, provisions are stowed and the wrapping up of our loaned truck for winter finished so no more excuses, it’s time to leave.
Over night passages are freezing, or at least it feels that way. The northerly winds bring artic chills necessitating significant layering and all possible clothing to be worn. The tea pot acquires a wooly hat tea cosy in a vain attempt to keep the hot tea, hot. Acclimatisation to tropical weather has obviously taken it’s toll and the seasonal chill is not really what we have in mind - so southbound progress is important. Heading into the Intracoastal Waterway ICW (or Icy W…) the marshy lands of south eastern USA - South Carolina and Georgia - showcase bird life in the low lying estuaries and canal cuts. Dolphins porpoise beneath soaring birds of prey, muddy brown water concealing schools of fish while fishermen perch on precarious seats to haul their catch.
Charleston is beautiful. Tree lined streets shade historic homes surrounded by formal gardens, draping wisteria and fragrant flowers. Subtle coloured clapper board houses complete with gas lights, cobbled streets and real gardens. The original market now a tourist mecca of local crafts and Charleston hats plus biscuit stalls, which are not biscuits (or cookies) as the British know them but a flaky scone-ish kind of baked pastry served savory, sweet - or with sausage gravy.
Weaving through shoals between banks of marsh grass on the ICW it’s easy to see the resemblance between African savannah, apparently the inspiration for the town’s namesake, Savannah. Although another story tells of first settlers losing a girl overboard and calling ‘Save Anna’. Stopping overnight at Defirs Cay (De First Cay?) local fair is sampled with islanders reminiscing hurricane tales around an oil drum fire, a focal point if not much of a contributor to the climactic conditions. (The double cut pork chop could feed a small village for a week.)
Leaving the busy ICW for offshore sailing is a relief after a few days of motor boating. The temperatures slowly rise and the water turns from tannin brown to green then finally blue. The tannin stains on the hull we’ll tackle later! The Florida loom beckons eerily through the moonless nights, daylight reveals tower blocks on the horizon and a plethora of sports fishermen zig zagging their way around the ocean. The challenge of night entry to Fort Pierce is to determine which of the lights are navigational markers, and which are traffic lights. But the wind burnt palms and occasional reminders of the horrific hurricane season greet us in the dawn anchorage.
Blue Ridge Mountains Road Trip
11 November 2017
Vince, a kindly friend, shared his truck, took us out and about, helped us find all the sorts of things you need when living on a boat in a far away land. And finally let us use it for a road trip. Not just any sort of truck, but a truck partly converted to sleeping accommodation. So the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (not Virginia) beckoned. America is a BIG country obviously. Driving west, North Carolina State went on forever. Arable land, farming and lots of trees bisected by huge well maintained highways. The convention of driving on the wrong side of the road went well….most of the time. Sleeping arrangements in the truck took a while to become established but the importance of sleeping bags, lots of blankets and soft padded mattresses are not to be underestimated. Fall was on us however with muted oranges, blazing reds and all shades in between patch worked across the mountains. The Fraser Fir wasn't fairing so well with 80% of trees on the Blue Ridge Parkway dead or dying as a result of balsam woolly adelgid bug, their skeletal remains a stark reminder of the decimated forest. Camp grounds were full of Fall admirers which was not anticipated, by us at least. The Blue Ridge Motorbike Campground, however, provided a perfect stopping point with the nicest of hosts and fellow campers. Torrential rain swollen rivers broke banks, washing away bridges over the course of a very wet day. Undeterred the local breakfast of bacon, grits, eggs, toast and blueberry pancake took minds off the inclement weather and provided warming sustenance. The Apple Fest in Waynesville was busy, not with many apples though. Visitors enjoyed the craft and market stalls, musical entertainment and funnel cakes - dough drizzled through a funnel into a deep fat fryer and sprinkled with sugar once crispy….obviously a health food!
Back to New Bern, USA
10 November 2017
New Bern’s historic district is quite beautiful. The muted shades of Downtown clapper board houses are reminiscent of Farrow and Ball paint colour charts. Largely 19th and early 20th Century, the homes exude a quite gentility, the sidewalk (pavement) studded by flowering crepe myrtle trees overhanging the wide streets. As the seasons slowly turn, pumpkins, ghouls and fall (autumnal) coloured wreaths decorate steps and porches. The Ghostwalk allows a glimpse inside as the New Bern Historical Society enacts short dramas on location in the private homes setting the scene for life over the last 150 years from slavery to bomb shelters. Monks direct hungry visitors to local churches providing refreshments amid the catacombs.
Events are frequent it seems. Most weekends something is going on in New Bern. The MumFest took a while to decipher. Bands, yoga, food and carnival - all for mums - but not the ‘mother’ kind of mum, but the flowery chrysanthemum. Oriental, the town down the road, had its own musical event. Porches (they are a big thing here) held gatherings of solo and groups of artists, playing to yards (gardens) of people drifting around and about. Food and crafts again featured highly with clusters of stalls selling all sorts from clam chowder to seashell necklaces and crocheted hats. The ice cream wasn't too bad either.
All this frivolity was under pinned by hard work. The design and construction of new window coverings (affectionately known as net curtains) - much needed as the originals were self-shredding, plus toilets were serviced and pipes cleared out and replaced. Always a lovely and enjoyable task.
A British Summer
18 September 2017
New Bern, North Carolina, USA, has been a pleasure, at least so far. Sharing facilities has speeded up the resident sailmaker's production of our new genoa, now crispy white with 'toast' UV strip. (One day all the canvas will be the same colour, maybe.) Neighbours share stories, offer lifts and advice. It's all rather nice. Juffa is stripped back - sails, bimini and stack pack stowed below with anything that might blow away from dan buoy to electronic equipment while the wind generator is de-bladed. All essential preparations for making a trip back to the UK while the Atlantic hurricane season is underway.
Back in sunny Sussex we acclimatise to the slightly less tropical temperatures spending time with baby Neave (who's now a very determined toddler) while developing additional strategies to distract her when she's abandoned to our company by her parents and prefers to hug the door they departed from, rather than us... She does however, like the range of nibbles at the West Dean Chilli Festival rather more than last year. Cornwall is visited once again although this time we manage to miss the blackberry picking, benefiting only from the post production blackberry jelly which is rather nice. The scenic coast at St Ives looks totally British. No where else have we seen families bravely huddled behind wind breaks eating sandy sandwiches in fleeces before they strip off to experience the waves, revealing newly developed pinkness.
British beaches do seem to have their own unique feel. Beach huts, crazy golf courses and for Sussex, the pebbles. The birthday sister's day out embraces them all with a little healthy competition for first place in crazy golf, although rules may be disputed at times. The conker games however continued through the twilight.
Hurricane awareness has been raised throughout our visit but more so as Irma makes an appearance. The regular visits to NOAA and the National Hurricane Centre websites become more systematic, even involving night time updates. Irma develops into a major hurricane and devastates so much of the Caribbean we've recently visited. TV coverage shows the horrific impact on people's lives. Fortunately for us Irma tracks west and avoids Juffa but sadly brings so much destruction to others.
Our final weekend provides more British pastimes with the local Sheep Fair. Tombolas, lucky dips, fair ground rides, dancing sheep, prancing dancers and of course, lots of pristine sheep plus lengthy discussions with grand children about the best use of their pocket money and whether there might possibly be a candy floss (sugar candy) in it for them...but only after the chickens, ducks, donkeys, tortoises and of course sheep have been admired and inspected. Nevertheless, the Sheep Fair judging carries on regardless -with little interference, or notice, from our gang.
Florida to North Carolina, USA
07 July 2017
NOAA gives positions of the western edge of the Gulf Stream as it heads north up the coast of America. It makes such a difference to speed that we endeavour to stay in the current as much as possible. Up to 4 knots at times making our overall distance in 24 hours over 200 nm and the decrease in water temperature as you move out of the warm tropical current gives a clue on current direction. The weather isn't that great though. Frequent rain squalls with gusting winds and wind over current waves make things less idyllic but progress is quickly made by opting to stay in the current rather than the shorter more direct route. Eventually approaching Beaufort/Morehead, North Carolina, the channel markers nod between the rather large waves as the wind continues to build. Heading towards the low-lying land a pleasure trawler judders into the steep waves as we surf down wind. The wind drops and flags flutter while small power boats with large speakers anchor along the beaches making the most of the forthcoming Independence Day holiday. Beaufort looks to be a pretty seaside town (renowned for its association with Blackbeard), we’ll visit again, but for now sleep beckons with pine trees scenting the air.
Dolphins cavort through the early morning anchorage slapping their tails, herding their fishy breakfast before heading out to sea and we have our first real experience of the Intracoastal Waterway. The river and canal waterway cuts the corner with a day/night off our journey. The inland scenery is beautiful, eagles soar over riverside houses while ‘Marry Me’ signs and sculptural dockside bird homes provide talking points as the occasional rather fast motor boat disturbs the tranquility. The shrimp trawler ahead trails its nets as it wends its way out of Adams Creek into the tannin brown Neuse River and we head towards New Bern. Juffa’s new home from home for a while.
The ‘new to us’ sail is inspected on grass overlooking the geese and ducks of New Bern. Additional luff and leech boxes are acquired while a dinghy trip up river with local boaters give us the first taste of North Carolina USA. Breakfast of everything is tried at the up river store - bacon, eggs, biscuit with cheese, hashbrown, sausage, grits…and it is an experience….maybe the grits will grow on us.
Bahamas to Florida
28 June 2017
Provisions are a little low. Not much food available in the small store at Mayaguana and all the fresh stuff has been run out for some time, so the main town of Georgetown is a welcome sight. The tiny access for dinghies and local boats under the main road leads to a dock by the grocery store, Exuma Market. Fortunately the supply ship arrived yesterday, unfortunately the containers are not yet unpacked. Nevertheless bread that we don't have to bake, even if a little dry, and the remnants of the cold store tomatoes look appealing. The anchorages here swell in size during the winter season with hundreds of boats spending time with access to grocery stores, internet and bars. Now at the end of the season a dozen or so boats linger in the anchorage taking their chances in the hurricane routes while unloading of fresh-ish food takes place.
A couple of cays further north, the famed swimming pigs are available for impromptu photo shoots. Apparently their numbers depleted by inappropriate drinking of beer, unkindly left by touristing visitors. They do swim. Hearing the dulcet sound of approaching engines they trundle to the waters edge with varying degrees of enthusiasm to see what titbits the visitors might provide for them to eat. Being a little cautious and wary of causing further depletion to the island stock we elect for a few veggies to offer as tempting treats. Piglets of all sizes approach with their huge parents muscling in, enthusiastically nibbling the dinghy cover and outboard propeller while ignoring the healthy snacks offered.
The clear shallow waters become more common place although sailing with less than a metre under the keels still feels a little uncomfortable, and 10cm under the hulls at times if you want to find the best anchoring spots. The sightings of huge nurse sharks, sting rays swimming a little close for comfort, turtles surfacing continue, as does the kite surfing.…Friends on African Affair share the anchorages, kites and note worthy discussions regarding jumping technique and board short styles.
Leaving the AAs to do their stuff the relatively short distance to Florida involves stops at Nassau (not really our cup of tea) where we anchor in an uncomfortably rolly anchorage just off the unfortunately named Paradise Island and Atlantis (not how we’d imagined it) and the Berry Islands (very pretty and pretty shallow). From here, a slog against the Gulf Stream current curling around the Northwest Providence Channel past the Eldorado Shoal. Finally approaching Florida’s coast, the loom visible in the distance through the night while skyscrapers floated into view as day broke and suddenly the pace, scale and focus of life changed.
Florida - Power boats proliferated, speeding through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) but considerately slowing through the No Wake Zones before accelerating with enormous rooster tails of water, huge homes with accompanying private docks, NO ACCESS signs, loud music and weekend gatherings of the people who want to be seen, with friends. However, a ‘new to us’ sail is picked up, arriving from Australia so quickly and taking so long to be delivered the final 20 miles. So a little time is spent waiting and a little of Florida is experienced. The last race of the Americas Cup is watched with Americans.
01 June 2017
Checking in to the Bahamas is simple and straight forward, and we have internet back for the first time in what seems like ages. Amazing how much you come to rely on and expect it. Suddenly we can look up the answers to the questions we’ve been asking, if only we could remember the questions. The reef on the south coast of Mayaguana provides a reasonable anchorage even in SE winds and most importantly flat water for the kite surfers. The wrecks along the reef show how quickly things can change around here. Alongside the incredibly shallow government dock local fishermen show us how to clean conch (the huge and beautiful shelled sea snails) and give instructions on cooking. The recipe might need a little adaptation if we’re to repeat the experience. Not a total success unfortunately.
Wrecks seem to be a bit of a theme at the moment. Swimming through shallow coral reefs scattered with wreck flotsum and jetsam is a salutary reminder of how easily circumstances change. Ikea bowls, cheese graters and navigation pilots stir in the sand as the gentle surf piles over the reef. A 40m fishing boat is wedged on the rocky reef of Plana Cay, a huge bird nest showing signs of the only recent occupation. Anything of use to anybody has been taken.
The environment however, is stunning. The colours never fail to surprise and astonish. Beaches of fabled soft white sand, rocky outcrops and feathery palm fronds. The snorkelling has been marvelled at and something we were looking forward to seeing. Coral heads still remain but sadly the recent hurricanes have decimated them. Occasional outcrops have survived with soft corals slowly colonising barren areas and the odd reef fish making the most of what’s available.
Sheltered harbours in the SE winds on Acklin, Crooked and Conception Islands dazzle us. There’s few boats around and most of the time we’re the only ones anchored. It is late in the season but with our newly available internet we keep a close eye on the weather. The locals greet us and give advice when ever we see them from how to clean the conch to offering a lift back from the store/gas (petrol) station. Always happy to meet us and give a hand. I hope we would do the same.
Conception island is reputedly one of the jewels in the Bahamas. East of the Exuma chain of islands it is an uninhabited National Park (with no internet ….). All the above descriptions of the area apply. The inland waterway, approached through a rocky channel, gives way to wide open mangroves lining shallow waterways teeming with green turtles. The GoPro camera attempted to capture the exceptionally fast moving reptiles but the skill with which they moved was not matched by the photographic ability of the operator. A couple of photos are ok, but nothing to write home about unfortunately. Having learnt from the previous photo disaster a dinghy excursion to check out the coral heads was in order.Eventually, by wearing the snorkel while dinghying along and looking below being careful not to inhale too much water or get swept out of the dinghy, a patch of outlying coral heads appeared to be less damaged, with some corals and life around. First attempt at anchoring the dinghy showed we needed quite a bit more line on the anchor - touching the sea bed is always good….finally all set … and ready for an invigorating snorkel. Admiring the underwater vista we looked around, double checked … and yes those are two rather large and hungry looking sharks heading our way. Quickly, but much slower than we’d like, we lurch into the dinghy and decide that snorkelling might not be what we’d like to do today. They were probably fine, no worries, they don't eat people - but the previous night with our available internet we’d checked out shark attacks in the Bahamas. Maybe it just made us a little nervy.
Culebra to Turks and Caicos
15 May 2017
Everything is going well in Culebra. Then it’s not. The outboard won’t start. Can’t even pull the cord to make it start. A bit of a pain when it’s your only mode of transport to land and the oarlocks are seriously emergency only after they broke with use last time. A long and uneventful couple of days finally results in fault finding and rectification. Thank goodness as the AAs have arrived. African Affair, with Karl and Birgit are now in residence in Culebra just in time for Karl’s birthday. Birthdays are taken seriously in Germany it seems and a full day of cocktails and excitement is planned using the local transport, the golf cart. No chance of speeding - but not a lot of island to navigate so perfect for us for the day. Majestic beaches and beach bars are toured and sampled. Comparisons made between the quality of Bushwackers and Pina Coladas, with the odd Mojito thrown in for good measure, plus the beach picturesqueness - of course. But enough here and northwards we must go.
400 miles later the low lying Turks and Caicos Islands slowly appear. Anchoring behind the cays the colours are unreal. Not a bad place to do a bit of laundry, maximise boat speed across incredibly shallow water (something we need to get used to for a while) or play the piano (see photos). From here its a day sail to Mayaguana in the Bahamas.