09 May 2010 | Fort Lauderdale
Just a bit of an update.
We left George Town Monday April 26, bit of a debate should we / should we not leave. There was going to be a front coming through, but not until late in the evening, we'd be tucked in someplace before then, so we decided to go. After about 40 nm we exited Exuma Sound at Galliot Cut to get onto the Exuma Bank, and timing was good, we had both wind and tide in our favour, so that went well. As we approached the anchorage just inside the cut, Marlene said she'd "had enough for the day" - it was still early afternoon and Doug said, "if we continue on, we could be in Staniels Cay by 5 o'clock". Not wanting to be a "wimp" she agreed against her gut feeling that the travelling day should be over. Big mistake! An hour later the sky took on a decidedly ominous look, very gray, frontal cloud formation just ahead - yuck! We rolled up the jib and as the squall ( wind shift about 90 degrees) hit us, we dropped the main - just in time. Ploughing into wind (40 knots +) and sea, the compromised engine just didn't have enough power to move us forward, we had to turn and retreat back to the Galliot anchorage. It took courage but as we approached, the only way we would have enough power to make the anchorage, was hoist some sail - as Marlene panicked, Doug pulled up a double reefed main and we jumped from 1.5 knots to 6.1 knots, got into the anchorage and dropped the hook. It bit into the sand so soundly I wondered if it would come up without leaving a hole somewhere in China. During our return to Galliot, we listened to the details of a "May Day" on the VHF; it was agonizing, we were uncomfortable enough ourselves on the Bank, but our hearts were with those on the boat out in the Sound that we were hearing. All ended well, well sort of, as boat and lives were saved, but their jib had been shredded in the squall, gone in the water and wrapped around their prop so they had no engine and were drifting to a very rocky lee shore. Fortunately there was a large, heavy ketch next to us in the anchorage who pulled anchor and went out to rescue them and were able to tow them into the anchorage.
After a few more days travelling up the Exuma chain of Cays, we crossed the Gulf Stream from North Rock (north of Bimini, the light was not operational, although it was supposed to be visible for 8 miles ) and arrived in Ft Lauderdale Monday, think that was May 2nd, picked up a mooring ball at Las Olas Civic marina. And next day had a tow into a slip there, as we could no longer start our engine. We were too big for the floating docks, but at least it wasn't those pile arrangements they also have (and Marlene hates), we are at a fixed dock and with help, short legs can manage to get to the shore - thanks goodness for that! We have the Yanmar Dealer working on the engine, seems pretty straight forward - tho' that was not the case in the Bahamas, we are happy / glad we made the decision to return to the States to look after the issue. Now that we are here, we expect to take the boat to the Chesapeake or further north for the summer.
As all cruising plans are written in the sand at low tide, heaven only knows where we will be in a month from now .
We will keep in n touch
Doug & Marlene
Change of plans
20 April 2010 | George Town, Exuma
George Town, Great Exuma
I'm sure by now most of you have been thinking that maybe the earth really is flat and we sailed over the edge! Sorry about the lack of blogging , it has been a challenging winter! We made the decision in January that we wanted to revert to our original plan which was to explore the Caribbean in the winter of 2010, then stay in Grenada and/or Trinidad for the summer and fall. It's with heavy hearts that now instead of heading south to the Caribbean we have to return to the states for repair; our trip south will have to wait for another year. We have been plagued with weather issues from the beginning of the winter, so many strong, cold fronts that we were often unable to move, sometimes being held up for 5 - 7 days at a time; sometimes 3 in a week! We've also experienced a variety of boat issues, either ourselves or our buddy boat Lapidus, rarely concurrent, so we just kept getting further behind time-wise. Right now our issue is engine related and that is why we are returning to the states. Parts and good mechanics are not abundant here or even in Nassau. We figure we are better to be in Fort Lauderdale, heart of expertise and all that we may need .
Just so you don't think all is glum, we added two new bits of equipment this winter that have improved our cruising lifestyle tremendously - a watermaker and a generator to heat the water it makes!
Currently we are in George Town, Great Exuma in the Bahamas, just days before the opening of Family Island Regatta. The Bahamian A, B and C class boats are arriving from all over the Bahamas, some arriving by cargo ship, some towed into the harbour, and some trucked in, apparently there will be up to 55 boats in one class alone! We're told the competition between the various island crews is very intense and the race course can get pretty ugly at times.
Recap of our travels so far this winter. After 6 weeks in the Florida Keys (we had planned on 3) we sailed from Marathon on February 8th, across the Gulf Stream and cleared into the Bahamas at Chub Cay, in the Berry Islands. Originally we intended to make landfall at Nassau Harbour on Providence Island, but wind and seas did not cooperate. Two days later we left The Berrys , arrived and spent four days in Nassau. From there we meandered down the Exuma chain, spending a day here and there, most often because of strong cold fronts going through, we stopped at Norman's Cay, Halls Pond Cay, Staniels Cay and Little Farmer's Cay before arriving in George Town end of February just in time for Cruisers Regatta. As we travelled down the island chain it was like coming back for a home reunion; we heard many boats we knew on the VHF. We expect to leave for the states sometime next week, providing we have cooperation with weather.
While in the Keys, we really enjoyed the time we spent with friends from last season, it's a very active social scene - work on boat jobs or run errands during the day, quiet evenings at home or Sundowners with friends, our boat or theirs and out to some event 2-3 times a week, despite the cold (as you know on a boat it s even colder then the temp says). We attempted to leave for the Bahamas on February 2, but our buddy boat Lapidus, a Valiant 42, had electrical issues as we started out, confusion over same send them aground. The crossing had to be aborted, we returned to port until those could be addressed, then the weather held us up yet another time. It was definitely winter weather there.
The Crossing: Good forecast to leave February 8 and off we went. The benign crossing didn't work out as forecast, the un-forecast wind and seas that developed against us nullified any benefit from the Gulf Stream current. Ploughing into the heavier than anticipated seas the engine would almost stall and we figured we must have air in the system or dirty fuel clogging the filters; but fortunately each time it stalled, the engine would come back and return to proper RPMs. However, it was a tad hair-raising until it did! As dawn approached and we were on the banks, we had good wind, fairly calm sea and were actually able to turn off the engine and just sail - we grinned at each other and remarked " this is what it is all about". By mid-day the wind and waves building again, we knew we couldn't get to Nassau, 25 knots of wind and 8-12 foot seas right on the nose so we changed destination, engine on and headed for Frazer Hog Cay in the Berry Islands. The going was still very tough and after a few hours we finally pulled into Chub Cay rather than put ourselves, boat and stalling engine through another 1 ½ - 2hours of torment.
Comfortably tied to the slip, it was difficult to belief what a confusion of wind and waves it was outside of the protected marina. Two nights in the Marina and much needed sleep, we were ready to go again.
Nassau: The sail to Nassau started out quite well, though the forecast was for wind and sea to build through the day, and it did. Fortunately we'd made reservations at the Nassau Harbour Club Marina and we checked in with the Habour Master just about 4 o'clock, at the slip before 5.
We spent a couple of days looking after the usual chores i.e. scrubbing the boat, doing laundry, etc., then we took one of the local buses from the marina to spent some "tourist time" in the historic part of the city. The public buses are called Jitneys, seems you can get on most anywhere, you just flag it down like a taxi, and then when you want to get off you tell the driver "stop" and pay the fare of $1 - regardless of how far you traveled! We wanted to see the changing of the guard at Government House, so asked for sure if the bus we were getting on went there - well it did, but the route took us all over town on the way, we almost missed the show. The ceremony was really quite moving, well worth the bone-chilling bus ride, the Nassau Police Marching Band was terrific, they played many lively selections as they marched back and forth. The drummers wore leopard skin tunics and were very creative with their drum sticks, the major domo was pretty fantastic too (what a Dude!). Afterward we wandered around, had a walking guide so we could identify the various sites, visited the straw market, had lunch - all touristy stuff. Another day, as we were "stalking" boat parts, we bought some spiny lobster from a fisherman out of the back of his truck and that evening we shared a fantastic repast of grilled lobster with our buddies on Lapidus. Next day their company arrived from California and we started our way to Staniels Cay, where their guests would be flying out a week later. Sometime during those few days in Nassau, Doug removed, dismantled, cleaned and re-installed the starter, as the engine had been increasingly difficult to start.
Exumas: I've already mentioned (above) the anchorages where we stopped along the way, catching up with boats known from the previous season and meeting new ones as well. From Staniels Cay we headed to Black Point Settlement and the best Laundromat in the Bahamas, but it was such a beautiful day, and we were sailing, so we decided to go a little further, laundry could wait!
Entering Little Farmer's Cay we were directed in by one of the locals, tide was falling but he assured us there was still more than enough water for our drafts; his instructions were very confusing (to us) and before you knew it both boats managed to go aground. It was quite an energized hour-plus before we were pulled off and safely attached to a mooring ball - the channel was too narrow for swinging at anchor - because, of course, there was to be another cold front coming through with winds clocking all the way around. Lapidus had to disentangle the dinghy painter from around their prop and shaft before getting to the mooring, then Doug had to go up the mast to re-rig the lazy jacks that were torn away while we were hauled off the bottom using the main halyard. It seemed an appropriate time for a cold beer! We met many wonderful and delightful locals that evening , including a precocious seven year-old who welcomed us to the island as we stepped onto the dinghy dock. Probably a thank you for the "arrival entertainment" we'd provided earlier that afternoon. Next day Lapidus realized they had broken engine mounts from the torque of the painter around prop and shaft; not a good thing out in the "boonies" as we were, distracted by this activity, we went aground - again!
Being a weekend, they were unable to reach either Westerbeke or Valiant re the engine, so we worked on our Watermaker - as yet we had not put it into service. What a joy to be free of that knee jerk when you have a job that needs a fair quantity of water, trying to bathe in an amount more suited to a canary, sometimes even cooking pasta seemed wasteful. It has been such a relief to live somewhat less frugally water-wise and to be independent from searching down water, it's not the price (much less than the cost of a watermaker for sure) , but availability. There are only three places in the Exumas where you can get water and they don't always have it! Now, having the evil water-monkey off our back, we could take greater advantage of the generator to heat that water; showers no longer than 1 minute of spray were a bygone, well abandoned, indignity. I may only spray 2 minutes but it feels so luxurious. We are still careful about water but it isn't the monkey on our back that it used to be.
Anyway, we stayed several days with Lapidus until they had all parts, etc. ordered and organized for shipment; confident they had all in hand, we moved on to George Town. It was actually three weeks before they received their parts, had the engine back together and made their way to GT. Their tale of "all things Bahamian going awry" in this endeavour is quite a story - but finally it worked out and we were hooked together again.
George Town: We were able to sail most of the way from Little Farmer's, just a beautiful day, probably another 6-8 sails in view. Attending a weather seminar the next day, we were reunited with many friends, activities were planned, Cruiser's Regatta was just starting and - bonus- my sister, brother-in-law and their close friends were arriving in a couple of days, renting a condo on the beach. The first day they were here we couldn't get off the boat, 25-30 knots, gusting close to 40 and the chop in the harbour made it impossible to get into a dinghy but it was a beautiful, though windy, day ashore and didn't hamper their fun. As we didn't have a Bahamian phone, they used our handheld VHF to communicate with us and we managed a fair amount of together time and activities.
Since we first launched last fall, we have had increasing difficulty to start the engine; thinking it might be the starter itself, we organized the purchase of a new one (as a spare) from the Yanmar dealer and had it shipped from Nassau. Doug kept working away at the whole "starting" issue, I felt I was apprenticing to be a diesel technician, but we couldn't seem to find the problem. Finally a fellow cruiser, who is a diesel mechanic, but leaving the next day, gave Doug the name of "the best diesel mechanic in Florida" and the daily phone calls started. Trouble shooting this and that over a 10 or so day period.
The good news - the problem was finally diagnosed ,
The bad news - the injector pump and injectors were going for a vacation in Florida
The good news - they should be back in about 1 week.
The bad news - the four day Easter shut down started the day after the parts where shipped out of Florida; it was 2+ weeks before we received them.
Of course we moved to a mooring ball to dismantle the engine and we are still here, parts re-installed, the engine is still too difficult to start on its own. Hence the decision to cancel our Caribbean plans and return to the states for repair.
Despite the prolonged and unplanned stay here, we have managed to get some time away from the engine room - go to the beach, play Texas Hold'em (Doug not me), dinghy rides and Sundowners with friends.
While waiting for the return of our parts, we went to the Anglican Church in town for Easter Service and what a service. The church was packed, the music was extraordinary, between congregation and choir anthems, there must have been about 10 hymns and songs of praise. They have a lot of pageantry in the Bahamian service - which we knew from last year in Rocksound, Eleuthera - but it was well done and seemed appropriate. We were surprised, when the service ended, we had been in church for 2 1/4 hours! We had also gone to the Beach Church (nondenominational) Sunrise service held over on the ocean-side beach at 6:30am; it was pretty terrific too, standing on the beach with the waves thundering onto the shore, emphasizing the power of nature, and gospel music abound.
If you recall I do not like wet and bumpy dinghy rides, so although still pretty much a wimp, when it comes to the dinghy and a choppy harbour, I have developed a new technique to cope. I place a floating, life-style cushion on the floor in the bow, (so I don't have to sit directly on the sharp anchor) forward of the seat, I sit on the cushion facing aft so that I can't see the waves coming and put my hood up over my head so I don't take all that spray in my (some of them still golden) now humidified, curling locks. Works pretty well, looks like Doug is alone in the dinghy but for the most part I arrive pretty dry.
Today: Well, I started this blog update two days ago, now today is the Eve of Family Island Regatta, we intend to be out to see the first race tomorrow at nine a.m. (Island time of course). The harbour has bloomed with the Bahamian racing boats, canvas ratio to size of boat is extraordinary - I think you have to be a very brave soul to get into one. The mast is 2 ½ times the length of the boat, the boom is 1 ¼ times the length of the boat and the crew hike out on boards that extend 2-3 meters beyond the gunnels, and they go very, very fast. No navigational equipment is allowed - not even telltales for the wind! I cannot fathom what it must be like to tack, move the boards to the other side and slide out again! Oftentimes they travel so fast that the bow gets driven way down under the waves, some will actually sink on the course - or so we've been told. Pretty exciting and adrenaline driving, but for me I think it will be better to be a spectator than crew - so, although I do like racing, I have not volunteered for a crew position, just in case you were wondering about that!
After repairs in Florida, we are contemplating a trip to the Chesapeake, really what we had planned for last summer - but of course didn't happen because of the "bottom job" that was dictated when we hauled out for a simple "bottom paint".
Anyway, that's our update, belated as it may be. Hope all is well with you and we will keep in touch as we hope you will also.
Marlene & Doug
Aboard Solar Eclipse
Happy New Year
06 January 2010 | Florida Keys
Happy New Year from Solar Eclipse!
Quick synopsis: We are currently in the Florida Keys at Marathon . The boat was launched November 30 in Fort Pierce, east coast of Florida, we stayed there at anchor to finish a few jobs we didn't need to do while still on the hard and waited for weather to start our journey south on the ocean side. After waiting out a couple of cold fronts we decided we would have to travel via the ICW (not our favourite) if we were to get anywhere and made the run down to Lake Worth accompanied by our friends on Sea Foxx (pronounced Sea Fox 10). From there we were able to sail on the "outside" stopping at Fort Lauderdale for a few days where we shared an exceptional Christmas day and dinner with Sea Foxx, then off to Miami. Here we parted company as they were heading to the Bahamas as soon as they could get weather. Coming out of Miami we sailed to Rodrigues Key (next to Key Largo) and met up with other boats we knew , La Buena Vida and Carpe Diem, and arrived in Marathon December 28. We rang in the New Year at a local club with good friends and a great blues band.
More detail: Fort Pierce / Vero Beach.
We arrived in Florida on Canadian Thanksgiving Day. The next day we went to the boat, realized it was just too hot-hot-hot to work; taking them up on their standing offer, we drove over to Fort Myers to spend a few days with John and Barb Moore (Halifax friends) and played instead of working. After all, there was nearly six weeks to ready the boat before hurricane season was officially over. We really had a lot of fun; we went swimming, went to the beach, did a road trip of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, out to enjoy some live music at a local club, they even had a cocktail party while we were there so we got to meet some of their `winter` friends. We returned to the east coast reluctantly but the weather had cooled somewhat and we had work to do. There were a lot of Canadian boats at the yard where we left Solar Eclipse, many of whom we were well acquainted and as the month progressed these friends from last winter started to arrive. We were comfortably ensconced in the same condo we had rented in the spring and with so many old and new friends around the yard, we had a fairly busy social calendar. By the time she was launched, Solar Eclipse had gleaming stainless steel, fresh varnish, new canvas (Dodger, Bimini and Weather Curtains), the topsides had been compounded and waxed to a mirror-like shine, a new bottom paint and boot-stripe colour scheme - she looked really good! The dinghy was also much improved, it had been repainted and the canvas chaps had been cleaned and repaired. Nearly two weeks in a slip and we had the rest of the jobs and provisioning for 5 months pretty much done. We were good to go, we slipped away from the marina and went to an outside anchorage to wait for the weather to cooperate. While the bad wind blew (cold fronts) we were generating lots of power, so the sewing machine was set up and Marlene finished a set of fuel can covers to match the new dark blue boot-stripe. We think we look pretty sharp!
Old Port Cove, Lake Worth (Palm Beach).
Well the wind was not going to stop for days yet, so we and Sea Foxx (Ed and Dee) decided to take the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) to Lake Worth. We could make it in daylight if we started early enough; the sun was still setting earlier each day. This was our first trip south of Fort Pierce on the ICW and it was actually quite pretty much of the way, the size and luxury of the estates and homes along the way were mind boggling. Timing worked well for all but one of the seven opening bridges and we had the anchor down just before sunset on December 20. The next day we found a Starbucks where we could get WiFi, went to the Publix to stock up on some fresh veggies - just about the nicest food store I've ever been in - and then out to dinner with our good friends Russ and Cheryl Wilcox, who live in North Palm Beach, Ed and Dee where able to come along as well. It was a great evening but a cold ride back to the boat in the dinghy. The anchorage was obviously very popular as it was full but different from any we'd experienced before, there were luxury condos all around lining the shore and many huge, huge yachts.
The forecast for December 22 was favourable for us, so we could go outside and make our way south to Fort Lauderdale, unfortunately the promised good wind died and we had to motor sail most of the way but we made very good time. We had an interesting approach in the harbour as two massive cruise ships were coming out, you know how big they can be and we looked like little specks next to them, a bit intimidating. This was our first visit to Fort Lauderdale and believe me it was a surprise at every turn of the channel. Mega yacht after Mega Yacht, huge sailing vessels, after a while a hundred footer along the way started to look small, the residences along the way where almost unbelievable. Doug's comment was "how do you spell opulence?". We carefully treaded our way into Lake Sylvia, although it didn't look much like a lake; it was pond-sized and there was no shoreline per se, it was all sea wall with immaculate grounds and mansions to the edge. We caught one of the best tropical sunsets this season. Forecast for the next several days is for high winds again, there will be no going outside for some time and the rest of the ICW down to Miami is all bridges, 17 or so; we both (boats)decided it was not a trip we wanted to make. Although we wanted to be in Marathon for Christmas it wasn't going to happen, we were with good friends and we'd spend Christmas together wherever that was. We moved to one of the city managed marinas, Cooley's Landing, the next day and booked in until boxing day. The trip up the New River was well worth the few nail biting moments; as before the homes were indescribable, restaurants, cafes and office buildings built right to the water's edge. The river was very narrow and twisting, more of a canal - again, no shoreline, just sea walls and there were huge tour boats and yachts along both sides, many times we had to move to only a few feet from the sea wall as yet another huge yacht was pulled by tug down the river. Fortunately Sea Foxx had made the trip several times before so they led the way calling the bridges to open; these were very close together, often couldn't see one around the bend until you were there and then you were calling the next bridge almost before you cleared the one you were in. All of a sudden Sea Fox made an abrupt starboard turn at the shore, we finally realized that we were at the marina which appeared to be just a row of very narrow slips along the sea wall. A bit tricky getting in but It was an exciting one hour trip! The facilities were really quite good, hot showers, big laundry room, at the edge of a city park, big gazebo next to the dock and towering sky scrapers all around us. Home for the next three days. We put together a Christmas menu and went shopping the next morning, Snow Crab for an appetizer, fresh Leg of Lamb with mint sauce, tiny Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Yum, yum. Christmas day the four of us explored further up the river (by dinghy) for a couple of hours, following many of the lovely canals, gaping at the real estate both on land and in the water, overwhelmed (not necessarily in a good way) by the wealth in this city. That evening we enjoyed our Christmas feast under the gazebo and were thankful we are who we are and grateful for the kind of things we cherish in life.
Boxing day and we were on the road again. One downside of the New River is that you can only go in or out at slack tide because otherwise there is a 5-6 knot current and you cannot safely manoeuvre the river and bridges, so we had to wait until noon to cast off lines - meaning Miami was as far as we could go in daylight. Safely out of the river and harbour of Fort Lauderdale we motor sailed to Miami, connecting with a couple of boats we heard on the radio and knew from last season; they were headed to the Keys as well. Following Sea Foxx to their favourite anchorage at the Miami Yacht Club, we wound our way past the container terminal and ship turning basin, it was pretty active and we had to stay clear of two large ships. We continued through a busy downtown waterfront section, through a couple of bridges, and across the bay-like harbour. However light was running out so instead of the yacht club we anchored between two of the several man made islands in the bay. In the morning we would be parting company, we were headed for Rodriguez Key then onto Marathon, Sea Foxx was going directly to the Bahamas.
Boot Key Harbour, Marathon.
The sail from Rodriguez to Boot Key Harbour was an exciting one. The day started out calm although good winds were forecast, we even had a little fog during the first hour. As the day progressed the 5 knot breeze continued to build, we were on a close reach and put a single reef in the main at 22 knots. Solar Eclipse was in her glory and we were again impressed with her sailing ability. A warm welcome was received as we checked into Boot Key harbour mid-afternoon, meeting up with goods friends on Lappidus with whom we travelled for nearly two months last season in the Bahamas. This is a popular winter stop-over for many cruisers and many spend the entire season here. The city run marina were we are has more than 230 mooring balls, few are vacant; there are also numerous boats in the anchoring section of the harbour. If any of you have been watching the weather channel, you'll know that Florida has been experiencing exceptionally cold temperatures on and off since November, right now is one of those times. Since we are on a mooring we can't run our heat pump furnace, but we do have a small portable propane heater that we are very happy to have in our inventory. We didn't dream it could get this cold so far south! However we have many friends here and the weather hasn't slowed us down too much, though at times I think I'm wearing everything I own and wish I had that sheepskin jacket I left behind in the van. As mentioned earlier we had a very enjoyable New Year's celebration with several friends; since then we've been to the famous Keys Fisheries for a fill of delicious Stone Crab claws. The fishermen harvest just the claws and the crabs grow them back! There are many attractions in the area and if the cold fronts continue to blow, keeping us on the mooring, we will have lots to do; there is even a reasonably priced shuttle to Key West if that is the way we need to travel to take in the highlights there.
Well that's our update so far, sorry it took so long but as you can tell we've had lots of fun time between the boat jobs!
Happy New Year - Doug and Marlene
Sorry there is no photo at the moment - I'm not the one with the photo skills and Doug is off doing errands. He told me what to do but it didn't work!
Back in Canada eh?
09 July 2009 | Manitoulin Island
Hi from us;
Hope all is well with you and you are enjoying some summer weather. We arrived on Manitoulin Island (Northern Ontario) June 30 and are visiting with Marlene's family for the month of July. So far, the weather on the island has been unseasonably cool and wet, but not so restrictive to keep us from normal activities - seems that for the last six months wherever we are the weather has been other than normal for the time of year!
After arriving in Florida from the Bahamas, we spent roughly six weeks in Vero Beach, renting a condo and travelling back and forth to the boat yard in Fort Pierce. It was a very convenient arrangement, but with the unseasonably hot weather, work could only be accomplished in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening. Finally, although not everything on the list was done, we thought we'd checked off enough jobs that we could leave the heat behind and start the trek north.
We had a great road trip from Florida up through Georgia, the Carolinas, the Virginias, upper New York state and southern / central Ontario. The drive through West Virginia was our favourite, the early summer countryside and mountains were magnificent, everything was so lush and green, lots of flowering trees and wild flowers along the road, the highways and tunnels through the mountains seemed to be an engineering feat. There was an "ooohh" and "aaahh" at every turn.
Already time here is flying and it won't be long before we head off to Nova Scotia for the month of August and part of September.
Marlene & Doug
Photo below is Manitoulin Island, looking toward the eastern entrance to the North Channel from Manitowaning Bay
27 May 2009 | Vero Beach Florida
Vero Beach Florida
Who would have thunk! We're back from the Bahamas, have the boat hauled out of the water and are settled very comfortably in a lovely condo in Vero Beach, Florida. We arrived in Fort Pierce (Florida) Sunday May 17 after a relatively benign crossing of the Gulf Stream; it was a motor sail as the winds were light but the sea was still pretty lumpy from previous wind. We would have liked to stay a least a few more days in the Abacos but the weather dictated otherwise; if we didn't get moving when we did, it was going to be another ten or so days before there was weather suitable for the crossing. While in Florida we expect to sand and paint the bottom, varnish bright-work not done in the fall (what - varnish again!!), wax and buff the topsides, etc. until 20th or so of June, then back in the water and heading north. We'd like to go to the Chesapeake, but depending on time commitments, we may just revisit Georgia instead.
Synopsis: Without a doubt, Marsh Harbour is the largest town (outside of Nassau) and appears to have more local affluence then we've encountered anywhere else. There are several excellent restaurants and eateries offering more trendy items than the usual basic Bahamian menu and we enjoyed the live bands playing three or four nights a week - we didn't always have to be ashore, we could hear them in the anchorage. Having "checked in" with the cruisers net, we met up with Mariah and Gypsy Song whom we hadn't seen since Brunswick last November, also with Ariel who we met in the Florida Keys in the spring of 2008. Reunion time for us as well as introducing old and new friends. Over the next few days we used Marsh Harbour as a base, visiting Great Guana Cay and Man O' War Cay with Lappidus in their dinghy, then moved the "big boats" to Elbow Cay, north Great Guana Cay, Green Turtle Cay and Manjack/Crab Cay, staying a day or two, here and there. The various settlements and villages we explored on these cays where just a delight, however our all time favourite had to be Hope Town, it was so neat and tidy, a lot of Victorian touches, captivating lighthouse, wonderful huge palm trees, the place seemed almost magic. Although in play-mode, we still had to start the day listening to weather reports, by middle of the second full week of May, the various weather models couldn't seem to agree on what the upcoming week was going to bring, but it didn't sound good. We kept hearing terms like "Tropical Wave" and "Tropical Depression"; finally, the word came down from the guru - get stateside by Sunday afternoon or you'll have to stay put for up to ten days! Well we scrambled to get the outboard hoisted and the dinghy up on the davits, stow the loose stuff, fill the thermos with coffee and get underway by 9 o'clock. It was a long and squall filled day to Mangrove Cay, got in about 7:30pm, had some supper, few hours sleep, then up again at 2:00am headed for Florida. We had to time our departure from Mangrove Cay so that we would have the flooding tide to get into the Fort Pierce Inlet. Of the four boats that left Manjack Cay, Lappidus took a route that would take them to a more northerly landfall in Florida; the three remaining grew to nine or ten boats crossing together by the time we left Mangrove Cay.
Details - well there are many as our days in the Abacos were fun filled, hardly any chores as we knew it was going to be our last couple to three weeks of the winter (now spring) season, but we'll never get this posted if I get much more specific. Needless to say we filled those days with exploring by dinghy, hiking, swimming, beach combing, communal (potluck) breakfasts on the beach, sundowners and evening bonfires. We five boats shared some very special time together, creating long lasting memories and hopefully longer lasting friendships.
In the Abacos at Last May 4, 2009
07 May 2009 | Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island
In the Abacos at Last May 4, 2009
Now a little more than four months since arriving in the Bahamas, we have reached the last of the island chains on our agenda for this year; that doesn't mean we've made it to all on our list, but along the way, we decided we just had to save some for next year. Currently we are anchored in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island; many delightful Cays and snorkeling reefs close at hand. We expect to exit the Bahamas, crossing over to the Florida coast sometime within the last two weeks of May. Since our last blog update, at the end of March we have covered a fair amount of ground.
Synopsis: Leaving the Staniel Cay / Big Majors Spot area on Good Friday, we sailed to Warderick Wells Cay, headquarters for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. The park is a 176 square mile area that was set aside by the Bahamian government in the late nineteen fifties; the purpose is to provide an area of refuge and replenishment for native wildlife as well as an educational venue for preservation of the beautiful Bahamian environment. After spending Easter in the park, mid April we jumped from there to the southern end of Eleuthra stopping at several anchorages and harbours as we worked our way up the western coast, waiting out weather only twice and able to sail every day we were on the move! We were surprised (pleasantly though) at how very different Eleuthra was from the Exumas; definitely more hilly, populace and prosperous. Finally to the northern extreme of Eleuthra, through Current Cut at Current Island and onto Spanish Wells, were we spent seven days, on a mooring ball in 25-35+ knot winds. We decided to wait one more day so it would be down to 20 knots, so took a quick hop to Royal Island for overnight and an early start for the next day's crossing to the Abacos. Again, we had a terrific day of sailing and our landfall was Little Harbour; the cut going in appeared somewhat intimidating with breakers on both sides, Marlene stationed as lookout on the bow, however all went well and we anchored at Lynyard Cay. Taking a day for relaxation, sightseeing and checking out the local scene then we went out to the Atlantic side again through North Bar Channel and on to Marsh Harbour. The wind didn't hold through the afternoon and we finally had to motor sail before reaching the cut at Man O' War North Channel, across the Sea of Abaco and into Marsh harbour. We expect to spend a total of 5-7 days here before continuing north.
Warderick Wells Cay, the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park headquarters is incredibly beautiful and was a wonderful experience; we were glad we'd saved it for our trek back north. We were definitely more relaxed than in January plus the water was now warm enough for extended snorkeling, although pretty warm for hiking, so we hiked in the morning and swam in the afternoon. The park hosted a potluck Easter Sunday meal for the boaters and staff; they provided baked ham and roasted turkey, boaters brought the appetizers, side dishes, salads, and desserts. Over the five days we spent in the park, we reconnected with some folks we hadn't seen for a while; said sad good-byes to those on their way home to the States or Canada but truly enjoyed the time we spent together.
We waited for an appropriate weather window, "buddy boating" with "Lapidus" out of Oklahoma City (friends we'd made in George Town and reconnected in Staniel Cay) and headed east to the Island of Eleuthra. It may sound strange but this was the first time we were venturing into new territory without someone who'd gone this way before; this season is the first trip to the Bahamas for both boats and it was quite exhilarating to be making our own path. Forecast was 15-20 knots, seas 4-6 feet in the Sound (Exuma); just a tremendous day, a dream sail. We are very pleased with the boats performance.
On arrival we anchored at Poison Point in Rock Sound, moving to Rock Sound Settlement the next day because of the forecast change in wind direction. Over the next few days we visited the beach bar and grill that offered a dinghy dock beside the anchorage, toured the village, rented a car and made a tour the Island. While on this road trip we scoped out possible anchorages for the next few days, left the car in Upper Brogue, had a hot dog on the quay while we waited for a water taxi to ferry us over to Harbour Island at the north west end of the island. On arrival we rented a golf cart for touring this smaller island, very quaint with miles of pink sand beaches, had a snack overlooking the water, really quite spectacular. Returning to "mainland" Eleuthra we got back in our rental car, retracing our way back south. We stopped a second time to take in the awesome vista of "The Glass Window". At this point, the island is as narrow as a single lane bridge; on one side of the raised road (which replaced the original natural stone overpass) is the calm, placid turquoise water of the Bight of Eleuthra, the other side is dark, stormy Atlantic and the waves crash through under the road, spray everywhere. We couldn't imagine what it would be like in bad weather, truly an overwhelming display of nature's force. Next day being Sunday, we were able to attend service at the local Anglican Church, we were the only visitors and everyone wanted to say hello and shake our hand - what a joyful experience that was.
Over the next few days, we had some great sailing as we worked our way northward along the Bight of Eleuthra, stopping at Governor's Harbour and Alice Town in Hatchet Bay. The entrance to Hatchet Bay is very narrow, can't see it until you pass it, there was a lot of sea and current rolling through the cut and Doug told me just to hang on tight! I did, with the adrenalin pumping. There were free Government mooring balls, 2 empty but we had to raft with our buddy boat because there wasn't enough depth below the second ball for either of us. We stayed there the next day, too much wind and in the wrong direction. Thursday we started out just after nine o'clock, we had to time the tide for going through Current Cut, so that we were going with the current. The first 12 or so miles were fabulous, wind and waves started to be not in such a good direction as we got to Current Island, and you have to go right up to then along the rocky shore to miss the sand bars. This was when the adrenalin really kicked in, but we made it through; the current pushed us through at 10.5+ knots. Water from there to Spanish Wells is pretty shallow, we needed the ebbing tide to get through the cut but now it's low tide on the other side and we're not sure we can go the last two or so miles from "Meeks Patch" without touching bottom - but we do. Lapidus, who has a 6' draft, did touch a time or two.
Spanish Wells proved to be even more different yet than the other Eleuthran towns; all are steeped in their history of settlement by the Eleuthran Adventurers or Loyalist Settlers fleeing the American Revolutionary War, but here it seems more pronounced. It is also a huge fishing center producing half of the Bahamian Lobster catch; lobster is not trapped, but hand picked by divers, no spears involved. The town supports about 45-50 huge lobster boats, size of large trawlers at home, and the boats are owned by the crew, who are all divers including the cook. This town is not geared for tourism or boaters in ways that most other stops have been, there are few restaurants, and unless you're at a marina there is one washer / one dryer available, no Laundromat!
Finally, the wind is going to die down; weather guru Chris Parker has given us the nod to leave for the Abacos on Friday May 1st. We decide to exit Spanish Wells Harbour on as high a tide as possible wanting to avoid tension as we retrace the shoal route to "Meeks Patch" so Thursday afternoon we top up water and fuel in time to catch high tide out, make the short hop to Royal Island, and anchor overnight. The boys decide on a seven o'clock start for the next day, the passage will be about sixty miles.
A seven o'clock start means getting up at 5:30AM, not an easy concept for Marlene, but we manage. Breakfast over, lunches made, thermos full of coffee, dishes done and anchor is weighed at 7:00am. We head for the narrow entrance, there is generous depth in the center, but it is low tide (again) so the center isn't very wide. You guessed it "KABOOM", first time we've gone aground in the Bahamas and it isn't even sand! It's the hard coral-limestone rock formation! A trawler yacht is approaching from behind to exit the anchorage, his offer of help is to "lay no wake" as he leaves. No offer of a line or any other form of help, geeze louise! Doug is trying to power the boat off, sounds like 3,000+ rpm, Marlene is hoisting staysail and trimming main to get some help from the wind, according to the tide clock, the tide should start rising soon. Out of nowhere (it seemed) a young man, in a centre console launch arrives, throws us a line and pulls us off the rock, no fuss no muss, glad he could be of assistance; for this we are very grateful. Out into the Atlantic and the wind is more 20 knots than 15, the 4'-6' foot swells are more like 8'-10', but it is a good day, not counting the squall watch from 11 to 11:30. Nine hours and a few new bruises later we arrive at Little Harbour, bit of a tricky entry as mentioned in the synopsis, but all is well and we are happy to be anchored in the lee of Lynyard Cay, in front of a beautiful beach.
We wake to a beautiful day in the Abacos, the final chain of islands for this year. Somehow doesn't seem to be possible, we had so much time to start and now it seems to be closing in. We dinghy over to Little Harbour settlement, about a mile or so, for lunch at Pete's Beach Bar & Grill; when the tide is high it comes all the way up to the bottom steps on the beach. You can sit on the steps and paddle your feet in the water while enjoying a cool drink; it is very hot in the sun. Lunch is fabulous, I can't get enough of the wonderful grilled Bahamian fish; I order it everywhere. We wander over to explore and delight in the cast bronze sculptures at the gallery next door. Apparently, Pete (of the Bar & Grill) is following in the footsteps of his world famous father, artist/sculptor Randolph Johnston and the work is amazing. By the time we get back to our boats, others boats we met in the Exumas, heard on the radio in Eleuthera, have arrived and are anchored nearby. Last night there were five boats, tonight there are closer to fifteen.
Timing the tide so we would exit the cut with the current and get to Man O' War Channel with high tide (or close to), we're underway at 11:30am; this Marlene can handle. As mentioned previously, the wind died in the afternoon and we had to motor sail, but it was the first time in a long time that has been the case, so we try not to be too disappointed.
Anyhow we are nicely anchored in the harbour, not many boats in here as far as Marsh Habour count normally goes, we've looked after laundry and plan to do some provisioning and internet tomorrow.
I'm sure it must be warm and spring at home by now. All the best from Solar Eclipse.