Exumas, Cat Island and Little San Salvador
03 April 2021
Wanting to avoid Nassau, we made the short trip from the West End of Grand Bahama to Lucaya to spend a few days at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club while seas abated. We found this marina to be much friendlier, more protected and convenient than Old Bahama Bay. We were able to walk the short distance into town for last minute provisions.
Our plan from there was to run overnight from Lucaya all the way to the Northern Exumas, but the sea state in the Tongue of the Ocean was rough and our progress was very slow so we stopped at West Bay on New Providence instead. The remainder of the trip was pleasant and we were blessed with several nice days anchored in a favorite spot inside SW Allens Cay.
Our next significant front with north winds sent us into the Pond at Norman's Cay where we comfortably stayed for over a week, enjoying miles of beach walks and swimming. From there we sailed and fished south on the Sound to Black Point, catching our first of 3 Mahi Mahis. We realized when we saw the harbor there that Covid isn't, in fact, affecting the number of cruisers here this year. There were 31 boats in the harbor, more than we've seen there for quite some time. There are more huge motor yachts than ever, (presumably because the Virgin Islands are so restrictive right now) and many first timers. Although we didn't expect to see many Canadians, we have seen Canadian flags almost everywhere we've gone.
We made a short stop at Staniel Cay to get some groceries then returned to a favorite anchorage by Little Pipe Cay. To me, the dramatic color variations in the water there are as striking as they are at Warderick Wells in the Land and Sea Park. We stayed there until the next front, then headed back north to Normans Cay where we rode out a front with sustained north winds that kept us there for 10 days.
The highlight of our stay at Normans this time was running into family members from Massachusetts, of one of the oldest remaining homeowners on the island. During the "reign" of Carlos Lehder, most private homeowners were intimidated and driven away. This family, however, managed to stay cool and not let Lehder's activities affect them. In fact, a couple of the family members actually flew in Lehder's plane to New England, where one of them got dropped off for college! They did report that they were aware of constantly being watched by Lehder's men. Apparently the homeowner was a licensed pilot. While not actually utilized by Lehder for this, he felt like this made him useful to Lehder in some way. One woman we spoke to was present for the rescue of the pilot from the plane that crashed in the southern harbor at Normans. Its remains are a frequented dive site for tourists, although family members dispelled the myth that the plane contained drugs. It was, in fact, on a practice flight carrying loam.
When we left Normans again, we made the same trip down the Sound, this time hooking four Mahi Mahi but landing only 2 of them. When Dave cleaned them at the fish cleaning station at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, he was quite the celebrity. Throwing the carcasses to the sharks was a huge attraction for the marina guests.
Eager to finally get over to Cat Island for the first time, we moved south to Little Farmers Cay, a lovely spot we hadn't been to for years. From there we had perfect conditions for our sail over to New Bight on Cat. We anchored right below the Hermitage.
The Hermitage is a monastery, built in 1936 by Father Jerome, a Roman Catholic priest, as a place of contemplation. It sits on Mount Alvernia, the highest point in the Bahamas, 206 feet above sea level. Originally called Como Hill, Mount Alvernia was renamed by Fra Jerome after La Verna, the hill in Tuscany where St. Francis of Assisi received his Wounds of the Cross. Fra Jerome lived there for the last 17 years of his life.
Our next stop on Cat was Fernandez Bay, a popular spot to anchor in front of a small, lovely resort. We stayed several days there, enjoying a long dinghy ride through Fernandez Creek with its multitude of Bonefish and a couple of quiet walks along the main road.
After a brief stay in Little Bay near Smith Bay Settlement, we anchored in front of Pigeon Cay and finally got to do some great snorkeling at Alligator Point. When the southeast wind picked up the anchorage got "rolly" and we moved north to Port Royal Beach near Orange Creek Settlement, at the north end of the island. This was my favorite part of Cat, with its miles and miles of unspoiled beaches. After several days there, the wind was clocking and increasing, so we knew it was time to move again. As beautiful as Cat is, there are few places to shelter from high winds.
We decided to make a stop at Half Moon Bay on Little San Salvador Island, privately owned now by Carnival Cruises, Inc. We figured this would be the only time we'd want to stop here as cruise ship travel has not resumed yet because of Covid. The island is still maintained by 40 staff and private cruisers are not allowed on shore. We were joined in the anchorage by seven other private cruising boats and, on the morning we left, by one of Carnival's largest ships, with only staff on board. We had a hard time picturing thousands of people spread out on a one mile stretch of beach and limited surrounding area. It was fun to see nonetheless.
Looking ahead we saw another front with northerly winds coming so we sailed back to the Exumas with plans to shelter and start planning for our return to the States. We are presently sheltering near Sampson Cay and plan to head north on Monday and across to Lucaya Tuesday into Wednesday. There we will "check out" with Customs (a new rule this year) and stage to cross to Florida.
Please go to the menu and look in the gallery for many more photos!
Stuart and the Crossing
24 January 2021
We ended up staying in Vero Beach for 2 weeks then continued south to the Sunset Bay Marina located on the St. Lucie River in Stuart. Having had a great experience there last year, we chose it again as a good place to spend time before the holidays, to leave Cay Paraiso on the mooring while we went home to Maine for a month, then to stage for crossing to the Bahamas.
We rented a car and further explored the area. Of particular interest to us was the Navy Seals Museum in Fort Pierce. In addition, we hiked several new (to us) trails, including the ones surrounding a variety of natural habitats along the Loxahatchee River in the Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Named for a Quaker merchant vessel shipwrecked nearby in the late 1600s, the park is the largest state park in Southeast Florida. Before it became a state park in 1950, Camp Murphy occupied the area, housing over 6600 men in a top-secret radar training school.
In just under two weeks upon our return from Maine, we were re-provisioned and ready to get to the Bahamas. Having made the crossing five other times, we have learned a few things. The weather windows this time of year are short because fronts are frequent. We prefer to avoid Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The local boat traffic is especially bad now with Covid, adding chaos to areas that are already hectic. Lake Worth is busy also, but it's only a partial day trip from Stuart and the availability of a huge anchorage just inside the inlet makes for easy last minute staging.
So, for the second year in a row, we crossed from Lake Worth. Although you don't get the help from the Gulf Stream you do leaving from Fort Lauderdale or Miami, we think it may be worth trading the extra travel days to get further south for just a little extra time it may take to fight the current. We left the anchorage at 4 a.m., had no difficulty getting out the inlet in the dark, and arrived in the Old Bahama Bay Marina in West End, Grand Bahama at 2:30p.m. Our conditions were calm and the seas were flat most of the way across the Gulf Stream, then we were able to pick up speed with a close reach motor sail for the remainder of the trip. Seas grew to short period 3-4 feet on the beam for the last few hours but, all in all, we had a great trip and made good time.
This morning we woke up to predicted high winds and rough seas so we are grateful to be in a marina. The resort is lovely and we look forward to spending at least the next few days here before we move on.
Look in the gallery for more pictures...
18 November 2020
We went into the Windmill Marina in Hilton Head. What makes this marina both unique and, to many cruisers, not worth the hassle, is the required lock at its entrance. While the process of going through the lock takes a little extra time, the protection offered once inside the marina basin and the beautiful residential surroundings made it a very pleasant place for us to get our land legs back and to meet family and friends.
We had a lot of fun visiting with Eric, Sara and the kids and Sara's aunt and uncle, both at the marina and and at Polly and Stetson's lovely home in Bluffton. We were also finally able to catch up with Prue and Burt Preston after several years of crossing paths with them! They gave us a wonderful tour of their brand new beautiful home and surrounding neighborhood.
We had expected to spend a few days in Hilton Head but our visit ended up being short and sweet as we saw a weather window to go offshore and bypass Georgia, straight to Florida. Although the Georgia ICW is wild and beautiful, it is very long and winding with several very shallow areas. In addition, much like in Florida, waterfront homeowners are trying to enact legislation which restricts anchoring in many locations along its ICW.
Our goal was to go into the St. Augustine inlet but, as we watched the weather, it looked like wind and seas would be worsening and our timing would put us into the inlet with the wind opposing the current. Wind against current can be unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, as the opposing currents can produce standup, breaking waves. No, thank you.
While we knew we'd be doing it in the dark, we went instead into the St. Mary's inlet while conditions were still pleasant. While going in at night is not ideal, this inlet is uncomplicated and we were able to get in without difficulty and anchor right off the channel. When it got light we jumped into the ICW and made a short day of it.
We made it to St. Augustine the next day and requested a mooring for a week, anticipating the approach of Hurricane Eta. They could only give us 6 nights but, according to the forecast at that point, 6 nights would be enough. We really enjoyed being positioned in front of the Castillo de San Marcos and watching the boat traffic waiting for the Bridge of Lions to open. As always, we enjoyed our walks around the fort and historic downtown.
By the time we got down to Daytona Beach, Eta had sped up and turned north, putting us just inside the "cone" of tropical storm warnings. Anchorages in that area are limited to begin with and there are none that offer good all around protection. We did the best we could and anchored with protection from the expected east winds. Winds were in the 20s, gusting 30s and we didn't get much sleep after the anchor alarm sounded around 11 p.m. By morning the wind had clocked to the southwest and we had swung closer to shore than we were comfortable with, so we left in high winds and rain rather than attempt to set the anchor again. We went into a popular, more protected anchorage a little further south, and managed to ground on an uncharted shoal. We hoped to float off with the incoming tide but the wind was continuing to clock and kept blowing us back onto the ridge of shoal. We were finally able to get off on our own and, after trying unsuccessfully to get a set right nearby, we gave up and moved south until sunset. We finally anchored in New Smyrna with the sun shining and the winds all but gone. Not our favorite day...
After slogging down the Indian River for a couple of uneventful days, we decided to stop in Vero Beach. The marina here typically has boats raft together 2 and 3 deep, which has never appealed to us. With this year's pandemic concerns, however, they are only putting one boat on each mooring. We're in a quiet, scenic spot.
Vero Beach is a beautifully maintained community with easy beach access, quiet residential tree lined streets and several parks with trails. We're here for a week but may consider staying longer!
Don't forget to look in the gallery!
29 October 2020
We left Gloucester, MA at first light on Sunday October 19th and headed for the Cape Cod Canal. Conditions stayed good right into Buzzard's Bay so we decided to keep on going through the night to get inside Long Island Sound before seas picked up.
We had never done this stretch at night before and it turned out to be a little more challenging than we expected. Winds and chop increased, we had a foul (adverse) current, and it was a moonless, dark night. We were confused for awhile by what appeared to be a line of uncharted red buoys that seemed to be close and which we couldn't seem to get past. We felt pretty foolish (but relieved, nonetheless) when they turned out to be the lights from the Block Island Airport 10 miles away.
We relaxed again once we were past Block Island, for the rest of way into Port Jefferson, Long Island. We anchored there for the night then headed straight back out the next morning, seeing a possible weather window to get down the NJ shore. Timing our trip through NYC with the current in Hell Gate, we got out into NY Bay around sunset. Fog started creeping in and, by the time we made our way out of the Bay, visibility was terrible.
There were times all night that we could barely even see our running lights on the bow. Thankfully our electronics enable us to see the positions of other boats and allow them to see us. We did have a couple of occasions when we needed to communicate by radio to clarify intentions. The otherwise pleasant conditions made this the easiest trip we've ever had down the NJ coast. The fog lifted by mid morning and we were then faced with the decision of whether to stop that afternoon in Cape May, NJ and continue on via the Chesapeake Bay, or to keep on going offshore while the conditions were still favorable and go into Norfolk, Va. We chose the latter.
Calm seas and light winds prevailed all the way down the Maryland coast and we went into a marina in Portsmouth, Va. around the middle of the afternoon on Thursday October 23rd, after a 54 hour run.
By Saturday we were ready to go again. We chose the Dismal Swamp over the Virginia Cut for its wild beauty and to avoid commercial and weekend traffic. After the push of the previous week, it was nice to be able to just relax and enjoy the warm sunshine. The 2 other boats that were with us on the way in both stopped at the Visitors Center, so we were by ourselves for the rest of the way through to our anchorage in the Pasquotank River.
Our trip across Albermarle Sound was rainy and windy but very tolerable. We were again grateful for our new cockpit enclosure!
2 more full but quiet days of travel in the ICW got us to Beaufort, NC where we fueled then made an afternoon departure for another run offshore. Keeping eyes on the progress of Zeta, we set our sights on Georgetown, SC. and enjoyed an easy, beautiful night/day passage. We're presently anchored in Duck Creek awaiting the passing of Zeta's winds. We'll hit the 1,000 mile mark on our run tomorrow!
From here we plan to continue on down the ICW to Hilton Head where we look forward to seeing Eric, Sara and the kids during their visit there.
Better late than never!
17 October 2020
Although our plan was to stay in Maine and enjoy the typical beautiful Fall until mid October, an early cold snap with nighttime temperatures in the 30s motivated us to try and leave earlier. When we saw a good weather opportunity starting on Saturday the 4th, we scrambled to get ready and left late in the afternoon. Not even a half hour from home Cay Paraiso's "overheat" alarm went on and we crept slowly back home. Thankfully Mike was there to help us in, as the sky was pitch black and we have no lights on the dock.
The current in the Back River is very strong, often containing lots of seaweed and other debris. Dave unclogged one of the thru hulls and that problem was solved. Then there was an issue with the starter and, by the time it was sorted out and fixed, travel conditions weren't favorable anymore.
We finally got going again on Sunday the 12th. The trip out the Sheepscot River and down the coast of Maine was very pleasant but the sea state progressively got worse starting below Portsmouth, NH. By the tine we were adjacent to Gloucester, MA, we decided we couldn't take another 8 hours of it and bailed. We went into the Southeastern Harbor and, unsuccessful at getting a grab with the anchor, we took one of the many unoccupied moorings.
Dave discovered the next morning that the alternator hadn't been charging the batteries the entire way down and they were so low that the boat wouldn't even start. He spent the entire day and next morning troubleshooting and when he ran out of ideas we started calling for help. Despite Gloucester being one of the biggest fishing harbors on the East Coast with resources galore, we had great difficulty finding someone to help us. Columbus Day weekend starts the mad rush here to haul boats and there were neither mechanics nor marina space available. A last ditch phone call to the harbormaster led us to a guy named Donny at Gloucester Railways Marine, a shipyard for the fishing fleet. He went out of his way to accommodate us despite not really being set up for cruisers. He took the time to call his connections in the harbor and was able to identify and fix the problem. When conditions still weren't good for us to leave, he made space for us on his dock amongst the fishing boats, and welcomed us to stay through the weekend. What a guy...
Being right in the middle of a working shipyard gave us the opportunity to watch the hauling of the big fishing vessel "Linda" by marine railway. This process involves floating the boat onto a huge wooden carriage that has been submerged and is then pulled by a huge chain. (See my photos in the gallery). Gloucester Marine Railways is the oldest continuously operating railways in the U.S, having operated since before the Civil War.
We plan to leave at daybreak tomorrow with the intention of stopping for the night somewhere past the Cape Cod Canal. It looks like we may have several good days. It's getting cool but our new full enclosure is making a huge difference!
All the way to Maine!
25 June 2020
Our trip through NYC was bittersweet. It was eerily quiet with only the occasional high speed ferry sharing the river with us, yet it was the ideal opportunity to get up close to the Statue of Liberty and see the surroundings without distractions.
We enjoyed anchorages in Port Washington and Port Jefferson, both lovely with beautifully maintained homes and gardens. On our last day in Long Island Sound we had the current with us and decided to push past our destination of Fisher's Island, making it all the way to Cuttyhunk. It was getting foggy and dark when we unsuccessfully attempted to anchor just outside the harbor. The winds were light so we just put out a lot of anchor chain and, thankfully, stayed put overnight.
Our trip through the Cape Cod Canal was swift and uneventful, but it was cold and starting to rain when we came out of it. We were hoping to go the rest of the way home to beat the north winds predicted but decided, instead, to head for Gloucester and wait for better weather. Conditions improved before we got there and we were were able to push on. By the time we were passing Portsmouth, NH the full moon was beautiful but the seas were 4-5 feet, about 4 seconds apart and on our stern quarter, making for a ride that some people describe as "corkscrewing." Fog started moving in as we moved north along the Maine Coast, and by the time we were right off of Seguin Island, we couldn't see any land contour whatsoever. We blindly made our way up the Sheepscot River with 5 ft following seas and total reliance on our chart plotter, and arrived home safely at around 7 a.m, June 6th.
Cay Paraiso left Maine in Fall '14 and hadn't returned since. We are delighted to have her back on our dock where we can work on her at our leisure and admire her from our sunroom windows. Although we said we would never make the trip again, we enjoyed taking it more slowly, enjoying the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound instead of pushing offshore and trying to make good time. We're thinking now that this may be our new normal! So, until next season....