Florida to Spanish Wells
12 January 2019 | Spanish Wells
Monday (Dec 31) we heard that a reasonable crossing of the Gulf Stream was not going to happen until later in the week so we moved a few miles up around the corner to the west side of Key Biscayne out of the tidal currents. This side of the key had good protection from all easterly directions and was a popular spot with local boaters during the daytime. It turned out we had an excellent view of New Year's Eve fireworks all up and down the coast from here. It seemed like every community had their own 20-30 minute fireworks show which we enjoyed with some bubbly from our cockpit. The next three days we watched weather, readied for the overnight passage to the Bahamas and Donna continued with her legal writing project. Finally on Friday (Jan 4) winds had started to veer to the south but were still fairly brisk at 15-20 kts. We waited until late morning to leave while the wind continued to veer to a more favorable direction from SSE and so that we wouldn't arrive at our planned destination in the middle of the night. Our target was Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands which we had heard good things about. So by noon on Friday we were entering the Gulf Stream which is close to the coast and very fast setting to the north there. I observed current speeds up to 4.5 kts and greater than 2.5 kts for much of the afternoon until we reached the Bahama banks just to the north of Bimini at dusk. We made it across the 50 nm Straits of Florida on a fast beam reach with a single reefed main and solent jib maintaining a heading of 110-115M. This resulted in a course over ground of right about 80M which put us just north of the North Rock Light where we were free of the stream and could head due east in the shallow and calmer waters of the banks. As darkness fell we doused the main altogether and sailed with genoa alone as the wind veered behind us. The wind was up and down all night, at times we motor sailed I with the genoa, other times we used just the solent jib alone to maintain a 5 kt boat speed to make our arrival close to 0800. We stowed the sails and motored through the very narrow man made cut through the rock wall and the entrance to the Great Harbour Cay Marina and were safely docked by 0815 (Sat. Jan 5). Customs and Immigration was easily dealt with there and we rented an old car in the afternoon to check out the entire island and buy a few supplies. We were able to get a 'hot spot' network connection so that we could access email and the internet from anywhere there is cell phone coverage in the islands, which has worked out well so far.
The Cay has a very interesting recent history and once had a fabulous club with golf course frequented by celebrities in the 70's. We took a walk to the ruins of the old clubhouse which was wide open and substantially disintegrated. This link describes what happened there in detail: https://www.greatharbourcaymarina.com/history.html Some parts of the golf course are still mowed, though it could hardly be called 'turf' as it now consists of a mat of broadleaf weeds over sand, including the old greens. Supposedly some locals take the opportunity to play the course in its current state, not bad for a free round in the usually fine weather here. The marina we stayed in was part of that development and has some very sturdy concrete docks that have held up well. Unfortunately the restaurant and pool near the marina grounds closed recently. To make the best of it, Donna sort of organized a spontaneous get together for drinks & apps at the marina's pavilion on Sunday afternoon. A number of other boats came in that day so we had a good crowd of 20+ folks to chat with until the no-see-ums chased us away at dusk, as is the usual custom.
Monday (Jan 7) we left the marina and harbor to go around the cays to the north known as Little Stirrup Cay (aka Coco Cay) and Great Stirrup Cay where several of the big cruise ship lines have private islands with beach activities for guests. The huge cruise ships "Norwegian Epic" and "Empress of the Seas" were anchored offshore there while we motor sailed upwind past them then sailed close hauled to the southeast along the Berry Island chain. By late afternoon we were off a cut between Hoffmans Cay and Devils Cay and headed into an anchorage there. We thought we could just make it past some shallows round behind Saddleback Cay but touched bottom a few times and thought better of it. We found a spot in the main anchorage to the west of the cluster of cays, but about 6 or 7 boats were already lined up there. The ebb and flood of the tide rushes through there as it exits the nearby vast shallow banks and sailboats lie to the tidal current even against a 20 kt breeze. During the slack times, the boats can twist around a bit and we were not comfortable being close to others in this situation. So the next day (Jan 8) we moved to a different spot that had small cays with pristine beaches on three sides of us. The bottom there was problematic and we tried several times to get the anchor to bite but the sand layer over hardpan was too shallow to allow this. Eventually we did get a tenuous hold on the bottom and dinghied to the nearest beach on White Cay to enjoy our own private island for the moment. Later that afternoon we found that we had anchored in water that was a bit too thin to allow an escape at low tide (a negative tide that day) so we had to wait an hour or so to have enough depth to leave and re-anchor in a more secure spot for the night. In general it was a beautiful spot that had no development within miles, but proved to be challenging for anchoring! We met with new friends Walter & Trish who arrived there the second day and whom we had met back at Great Harbour Cay. On Wednesday (Jan 9) we had originally planned to continue on to the southeast through Nassau and on to the Exumas, but the winds were strong from the northwest--an unusual direction. So we decided to head further east over to Eleuthera and Spanish Wells--a favorite stop from our last trip, while the winds were favorable. We were not that sad about missing Nassau and reports of petty crime and the like were off-putting anyway. What's more, the route from Nassau to the northern Exumas goes through a tricky patch of shallows and coral heads that we were happy to avoid too.
So we had a very fast sail off the wind to the east and northern Eleuthera area first on a port tack under full sail, then poled out wing on wing for nearly 3 hours before 17-20 kts of WNW wind. We made the 50 nm trip to Royal Island Harbour in just about 8 hours and were settled at anchor by 1530. We took it easy there, then moved on 5 nm to anchor outside Spanish Wells near noon on Thursday (Jan 9). This is a comfortable spot as long as winds retain a northerly component which was predicted to last until Friday night. On Friday we decided to take a slip at the marina in the town of Spanish Wells for a few days, one of our favorite stops in the Bahamas and one of the nicest marinas anywhere in a very protected harbor: http://swyachthaven.com/ Winds did eventually veer to the east and freshen so that the fleet outside eventually found more protection elsewhere or likewise came inside to the marina. The Yacht Haven here has new docks and a great pool and clubhouses, restaurant and bar, and is close to stores and restaurants in this picturesque little harbor town. We enjoyed renting a golf cart for a day to see the sights and do some re-provisioning. We'll also be interested to catch a little NFL playoff football at the bar on Saturday/Sunday. We plan on moving south down the east coast of Eleuthera starting on Monday (Jan 14).