19 April 2019 | Georgetown, South Carolina
07 March 2019 | Black Point Return
11 February 2019 | Little Bay - Great Guana Cay
22 January 2019 | Rock Sound, Eleuthera
12 January 2019 | Spanish Wells
30 December 2018 | Key Biscayne, Outside Noname Harbor
23 November 2018 | Isle of Palms Marina
09 May 2017 | Rock Hall Harbor
17 April 2017 | Cumberland Island
05 April 2017 | White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
17 March 2017 | Royal Island
05 March 2017 | Davis Harbour Marina, Eleuthera
21 February 2017 | Salt Pond, Long Island
03 February 2017 | Georgetown, Great Exuma
23 January 2017 | Emerald Bay Marina
05 January 2017 | Pipe Cay
20 December 2016 | Wardrick Wells
12 December 2016 | Big Majors
More Abacos, then back to USA
19 April 2019 | Georgetown, South Carolina
We continued to enjoy Elbow Cay and the picturesque Harbour of Hopetown for two more weeks on a secure mooring. This was a great place for a base of operations as we easily went ashore for long ocean beach walks and strolls through the narrow streets in the little town with its densely packed colorful houses and shops. Longer walks on roads through residential/vacation home areas to the north and south of town were also fun. One day we took a long dinghy expedition down the west coast of Elbow Cay to famous "Cracker P's" for lunch on the small cay of Lubbers Quarter followed by hanging out at "Tahiti Beach" with friends across from it back on Elbow Cay's southern end. It's a popular spot with boaters of all types featuring a white sandy beach that extends on a narrow spit well out into the bay at low tide, and of course a floating beach bar. Several other times we'd leave the harbor with a 'reserved' float on our mooring ball for overnight trips to Marsh Harbour, and to Mermaid Reef for some great snorkeling and to more secluded spots off of smaller cays in the Sea of Abaco. One nice day we organized to go out on a deep sea fishing trip with friends on "Sea Jules" and "Fancy Free" aboard "Local Boy". We had a good time trolling around east of Elbow Cay late in the day and the ladies landed two nice specimens, a Mahi and a Wahoo. We hoped for a few more but it was not to be and there were plenty of delicious meals for all three boat crews once the spoils were divided up.
Finally on April 4 we left Hopetown for the last time and sailed the short distance west in the Sea of Abaco to Great Guana Cay, anchored there and paid a visit to the famous "Nipper's Beach Bar & Grill" for lunch. On Friday we sailed across to Treasure Cay and took a slip at the marina there to do a little maintenance and enjoy the shoreside amenities. This put us in position to make the 'jump' around the Whale Cay passage to Green Turtle Cay and points west of there. To do this safely and comfortably one has to be patient for the right sea state and tidal current direction. During much of the time in the winter months, the Atlantic rollers from the northeast make the cut too rough especially during ebbing tides. By April, however, it seems the seas were down and we sailed through the cut and around "the whale" with no issues to arrive at Green Turtle Cay's "White Sound". We arranged for a five day long mooring ball rental in this cozy harbor and enjoyed the time with our friends on "Fancy Free", visiting the community of New Plymouth to the south in Black Sound by dinghy and later on by golf cart. As we did from Hopetown, we left the mooring on an especially nice day to anchor off another cay for the night. Manjack Cay was one such special place with a few private homes many beautiful beaches and a mangrove river to explore. The residents there have created a number of excellent trails and welcome boaters to visit their bit of paradise via dinghy and on foot. We explored the mangrove waterways at high tide to see dozens of turtles, stingrays, and juvenile fish hideouts through the crystal clear waters. At the end of the long winding mangrove creek we were surprised to find an open basin with a dock and slips for three substantial sized boats. Then the owner (of thirty years) appeared on the dock and we got to talking about the time he safely rode out a cat 5 hurricane in those mangroves with his sailboat wedged into the mangroves there.
By Thursday, April 11, it was time to make a move towards home. We had a nice motor-sail westward from Green Turtle Cay on the banks for 61 nm to Double Breasted Cay. We had hoped to spend the next day exploring this group of uninhabited islets and beaches, but our anchorage was too unprotected from the south and southeast winds we were experiencing. As a result of this and the decent forecast for a passage to Florida we hoisted anchor before sunrise and headed west to the fringes of the Little Bahama Banks on April 12, Friday. From there just south of Mantanilla Shoals we headed northwest for the Gulf Stream and on to northern Florida. We made our way to the forecasted middle of the Gulf Stream for a maximum speed boost which we rode for about six hours going at over ten knots over the ground. Fortunately (and unfortunately) we had winds behind the beam, but much of it was so far aft as to be problematic for sailing. Seas were heavier than we would have liked being in the 4 to 7 ft range and mostly on the beam, making for a rolly ride. In any event we made great time, arriving at the St. Augustine inlet at about 2 in the afternoon to go in with the flood tide there. Some data for the trip follows: Distance 263 nm, time 32.4 hr, for an average speed of 8.1 knots--thanks to fair winds and the Gulf Stream and our trusty diesel engine! Check-in with US Customs and Border Protection was made easy with a new smart phone app that we had previously populated with our information. We then simply reported our arrival via the app and waited a few minutes for an officer to text us that our re-entry had been approved. Not bad at all. Once in St. Augustine at a mooring just off of the old "Castillo de San Marcos" fort, we rested up for the evening to be ready to enjoy several days here in this bustling tourist destination.
For the next few days we enjoyed St Augustine's restaurants, a few museums, and walking the town and the fort run by the National Park Service. Our friends on Fancy Free were here a few hours ahead of us and we joined them for activities ashore, as we had done in the Abacos, but had to say goodbye for the season on Monday evening. On Tuesday (Apr 16) we headed out early at high tide and rode the current up the ICW to the St Johns River (where Jacksonville FL is situated further upstream), then out with the strong ebb tide to the ocean once again. From there we motor sailed north to the next inlet at St Marys at the Florida, Georgia border, a 62 nm trip in total. We anchored for the night well off the channel to the north of Fernandina Beach so as to be situated for another overnight run up the coast the next two days.
Wednesday, April 17, we picked up anchor just at daybreak and headed back out the inlet and on to the northeast, aiming for Georgetown SC by the following afternoon. This turned out to be quite different than our passage from the Abacos four days earlier in that the seas were nearly flat with light winds on the beam. It was time of the full moon, so we had a nicely lit up sea for the entire overnight run. We once again had to motor-sail for most of the trip, the winds providing only a boost of a knot or two, but not enough on its own to drive us for a daytime arrival at Winyah Bay. It was a pleasant overnight passage for the most part, with the only set-back coming at the end as we had to make our way up Winyah Bay against a strong ebb tide. With a full moon the tides were at maximum, and the current that day seemed well above its predictions as we saw 3 and some 4 knots against us at times. But we had plenty of daylight left and made it up the bay to Georgetown and the marina at Harborwalk where we planned to stay a few days. Forecasts are for strong storms Friday (Apr 19) with very strong winds for a few days, and we love the quaint town of Georgetown which is right on the waterfront, so I'm sure we'll enjoy the weekend stay here. Our plan is to make our way further up the coast and home on the Chesapeake by early May, both via the ICW and hops out on the ocean as conditions make reasonable.
Northern Exumas to Hopetown, Abacos
29 March 2019 | Hopetown
On Friday, March 8, we picked up anchor and headed the short distance north to Bitter Guana Cay and anchored off the white cliffs and beach there. It is another very scenic anchorage with good protection from NE to SE winds with only a couple of other boats here. The beach is populated with iguanas which are visited by a number of small tour boats (and one sea plane) during the day but there is plenty of room and the visiting boats did not make much of a disturbance. We went ashore and found a way back from the beach and up the hillside to the top of the cliffs for good views and a fresh breeze. Overnight we had some heavy rains that persisted the next morning, so we stayed put until the afternoon then had a nice downwind sail with solent jib alone in 20-25 kts around Harvey Cay and north to Pipe Cay. A good number of others were sheltered in the lee of Pipe Cay here while the winds continued strong from the east overnight. Sunday morning (Mar 10) the winds were down below 20 so we sailed on a broad reach under full sail the 38 nm to Highborne Cay along with a fleet of six or so others going the same way. By early afternoon we were anchored amidst a large fleet off the north end of the west coast of Highborne and enjoyed a dinghy trip to the long beach there, then around the southern corner to the high end marina there for a look see and drink at their bar/restaurant which was very nice. The anchorage there was more popular than most with a couple of dozen boats or more, but there was plenty of room for boats to not feel crowded. This spot is often a popular first stop for boats on their way from Nassau to the Exumas.
Monday (Mar 11) we were up early and were underway before sunrise for a long sail north, leaving the Exumas via the vast area of banks between Nassau and Eleuthera. After speaking with our very experienced friends about crossing these banks along this route, we were emboldened to make the trip exiting the banks through the Fleeming Channel, then on to Spanish Wells. There were plenty of dark looking patches on light sandy bottom, but as we crossed them, the depths never varied more than a foot or two from the quite uniform 15 to 20 ft we typically saw. Once in the deep water west of Current Island we proceeded north to near Spanish Wells and anchored of 'Meeks Patch' for the evening and overnight, whereupon we had another good rinse off with a two hour downpour. It was a fine trip with a nice close reach the 53 nm that took about eight and a half hours. The next day around noon we made our way into the marina at Spanish Wells, our second visit since last being here two months earlier. We again rented a golf cart and enjoyed 'bombing around' St George's Cay and Russell Island, and took the opportunity to hit the grocery store and restaurants that we like. After two days (Mar 14) we left the marina and headed the 6 nm over to Royal Island Harbour to be ready to head north to the Abacos the next day. Again we got an early start (Mar 15) and the winds had veered to just south of east making for a fantastic ocean sail on a reach all the way to the Sea of Abaco where we crossed the bar through the reef near Little Harbour. We then continued north in the Sea of Abaco the 15 nm further up to Elbow Cay and the picturesque harbor of Hopetown (73 nm trip/11 hrs). Our good friends on Fancy Free had been able to snag an available mooring inside--an often challenging if not impossible feat--and reserved it for us for the week. We were so grateful since we had not been able to stay inside on previous visits, and plan to stay at least one maybe two additional weeks for an excellent weekly rate. From there we've enjoyed the many features of this cozy quaint harbor and kept it as a base while exploring this corner of the Sea of Abaco, doing stuff with friends while ashore, as well as riding out some stormy conditions on Tuesday (Mar 19). In this anticipated weather event, the winds stayed in the 28-32 kt range with gusts to 40 most of the afternoon and evening and the rain poured for hours. It was so great to be inside this all-around protected harbor for this weather episode. In subsequent days, the weather returned to its beautiful typical normal of sunny, breezy with temps in the 70's. On Tuesday (Mar 26) we headed over to Man O War Cay with 'Sea Jules' & 'Fancy Free' and enjoyed a walk around town, the ocean beach, and enjoyed lunch/dinner at the "Dock & Dine". The next AM we took it easy to make water from the crystal clear seawater around us there and to wait for higher water with the afternoon high tide for reentry into Hopetown Harbour. Once back in the harbor we were ready for another frontal passage that brought a day of high winds and heavy seas on the outside (Thurs, Mar 28), but harbor's protection enabled us to dinghy ashore for walks on Elbow Cay. We plan to continue with more of the same from here in Hopetown for another week or so before moving on to stage for a crossing back to the US in April.
Georgetown, Conception & Lee Stocking
07 March 2019 | Black Point Return
On Tuesday (Feb 12) we made a short trip south on the west side of Great Guana Cay to a feature aptly called "Oven Rock" just north of Little Farmers Cay. There we went ashore to find the cave with the pool which was a bit easier this time since we found it after some wandering on our last visit here in December 2016. For anyone interested, the coordinates for the cave entrance are: 23 59.01 N, 076 19.65 W. I swam in the crystal clear seawater with snorkel gear and dive lights to see the underwater stalactites and such, and got a good sense of the extensive and deep chambers that others have explored with SCUBA gear--which goes beyond my comfort level. The next day (Feb 13) we took the winding route on the banks about 12 nm to the south past Cave Cay, Musha Cay and on to Rudder Cut Cay. This is a pretty spot with cave alcoves at the water's edge, a nearby beach with palms, and the unique feature of an underwater bronze of a mermaid at a piano in about 15 ft depth, which was best seen at slack tide. Thursday (Feb 14) we exited to Exuma Sound through Rudder Cut at low slack tide then made our way sailing to the southeast and Georgetown.
By this point, the Georgetown Cruiser's Regatta was underway and the harbor had reportedly 280 boats anchored about in the various spots to enjoy the festivities. We anchored near town and the entrance to Lake Victoria for reprovisioning and easy town access. Saturday was the day for the "Variety Show" part of the Regatta and was a fun event with various boat people showing off their talents and pleasing the crowd on the beach at the "Chat & Chill". On Sunday we decided to move down Elizabeth Harbour for some snorkeling which was good near Elizabeth Island. Once we returned in the dinghy to our boat we swam some more and were surprised and delighted to be joined by first one large dolphin, then a pair of smaller ones that played about and around us for 15-20 minutes. They would come right up to us and seemingly look us in the eye, or sneak up behind us maybe to see how long it took us to notice their presence. They also dug their snouts into the sand together as if they were looking for clams or something. That was the first time we had such an encounter and was really memorable.
On Monday the 18th we made our way up the harbor and found a good spot to anchor with the fleet near Monument beach, not far from much of the Regatta activities. For the next nearly two weeks we stayed put to enjoy the festivities and participated in one of the sail races...the in-harbor race on Sunday (Feb 24). We did well in the race with just the two of us aboard--a good workout, and won first place in our division by one second--but turned out that four of the six other boats in our group dropped out that day leaving only two of us to compete. The most challenging part of it for us was to be sailing over areas that were charted to have only 4 ft depths, but since the race was held at high tide we never touched bottom and in fact never saw less than 8 ft with a tidal range of 2.5 to 3 ft. Going aground at high tide is not a good thing, but luckily the charted depths seemed to be on the conservative side. In any event, it was fun sailing through the anchored fleet wing on wing on a near perfect sailing day with about 12-14 kts of wind. For the next few days we enjoyed water aerobics off the beach at Monument, met with folks that also raced on Sunday for sunset that were anchored nearby, first on their boat, next night on ours. We also made plans to visit Conception Island for a few days later in the week.
So Thursday (Feb 28) we picked up anchor relatively early and headed out the southeast end of Georgetown Harbour then NE to Conception Island. It was a beautiful beam reach sail for the 44 nm to the small bay at the NE corner of Conception, a small low island without inhabitants. The place and surrounding reefs are another area protected by the Bahamas National Trust and has amazing clear waters and a pristine long beach at the anchorage. We made the trip so as to have favorable weather and tide for a long dinghy expedition up the shallow winding inlet. We made the trip on a rising tide in the mid-afternoon and saw rays streaking along the bottom under us in a few feet of clear water, then turtles further up--many of them, and younger, smaller ones. They seem to enjoy the calmer and warmer waters that weave their way through mangroves and sand bars. On the return trip along the west coast we stopped for some snorkeling, probably the best we've encountered. I made note of the coordinates since it was such a nice spot with elkhorn coral formations and plentiful with fish: 23o 50.46' N, 075o 07.51'W is the location. The next morning we went for another shorter snorkeling expedition to the north around the corner which had many tall coral heads on a sandy bottom, but few fish. Then we also tried one of the deeper reefs near the middle of the bay, also not as many fish, but some unusual ones and a few big nurse shark. By noon we had raised anchor and headed out across the open water towards Cape Santa Maria and a short way down the west side of Long Island to Calabash Bay. There we anchored a way off the long beach and later headed into the Cape Santa Maria resort for a very fine dinner.
Sunday (Mar 3) morning early we headed out to the west into Exuma Sound on a course for Lee Stocking Island. The wind was dead astern, but with enough speed to sail wing on wing with the jib pole deployed, making speeds of 6.5 to 8 kts. It was a great day of sailing, but no luck at fishing once again. About three quarters of the way through the 45 nm trip we saw what I first thought was a large dolphin, but soon realized it was much bigger. A small whale (15 ft or so?), probably a Minke whale, swam just along side of us for quite a few minutes, dropped astern then swam along on our port. It seemed like 15 minutes or so it kept pace with us then finally swam off. This was a first for us having never seen a whale in the Bahamas prior to this. Later on we made Adderly Cut onto the banks and rounded south to the anchorage at Lee Stocking Island just as a heavy downpour approached from the south. We anchored amidst six or so others during the downpour, a refreshing rinse off. We stayed at that spot until Tuesday, enjoying the short hike up to Perry's Peak from a beach the south of the anchorage. This had great views of the island chain. Later we walked briefly around the grounds of the abandoned Marine Research Station there and noticed that some clean up of the fallen trees and debris had been done since our last visit in 2016. Also, there seemed to be at least one well kept residence with a generator to allow for a caretaker to stay, so there seems to be an effort to maintain the place to some extent, or at least limit further decay. See for example: https://www.cruisingworld.com/exumas-ghost-town
We got underway and exited Adderly Cut on Tuesday (Mar 5) and motor sailed our way northwest along the Exuma chain to renter the banks at Galliot Cut. From there we rounded the west side of Big and Little Farmers Cays and on along the western shore of Great Guana Cay to a favorite spot at Little Bay. A front was approaching from the north with strong northerly component winds for a day or two. This anchorage affords good protection from NNW to SE winds with a beautiful beach. The next day, during the high winds, we made our way to the beach and took the sandy roads north to the settlement at Black Point, about a 2 mile distance. Just last month (Feb 9) we were here in the same spot, for the same reasons while on our way south to Georgetown. The following day (Mar 7) we picked up and rounded the corner to head into the bay next to the settlement of Black Point--another opportunity for scenic laundry! The wind was still strong but was gradually veering more easterly, making dinghy trips to town more easily done without getting soaked in the process. From here we will continue our trip north along the Exumas to make our way to the Abacos within the next week or two.
Northern and Central Exumas
11 February 2019 | Little Bay - Great Guana Cay
The week of January 21 did prove to be too windy to make the crossing and to take advantage of the beautiful Exuma Park so we stayed put in Rock Sound Eleuthera until Saturday the 26th. On Friday we went in for sunset at the Wild Orchid restaurant on the beach and learned that there was to be the first "Fish Fry" of the season on the beach near there. So we had a good time with other cruisers on the beach after dark at the Fish Fry put on by the locals,which featured a big plate of food, fish, chicken or pork, and beers/drinks and music for a great price. Prior to that during the week we finished up the legal brief Donna was working diligently on and I took the opportunity to do some boat/engine maintenance. So that Saturday, the 26th we headed out of Rock Sound Eleuthera with about eight others for various points in the Exumas. Our destination was the center of the Park at Warderick Wells Cay and had arranged to be on the list for a mooring ball via email on the previous day. The trip across was mostly uneventful, much of it motor sailing as the wind was nearly dead astern. Towards the end it picked up to near 20 knots so jib alone worked well until we made the entrance at Warderick Cut. We knew we might encounter a rough entrance since the tide had already turned to ebb and was opposing the building winds, so we made ready for a wet ride. It turned out to be not bad, but steep standing waves were building. Several other boats made the entrance an hour or two later and had much wilder conditions to contend with, but all made it in OK. The wind filled in and held at 25-30 with squally conditions for most of the afternoon, which was not expected. We were able to grab the mooring pennant in the narrow horseshoe shaped mooring field there at Warderick Wells, but just prior the boat attempting to grab the adjacent mooring was not so lucky and was quickly swept aground on the sand bar maybe one boat length away. Fortunately this was quickly remedied with the help of a park boat with powerful engines and we were all happy to be secure for the high winds during the rest of the day. The usual Saturday sunset beach get-together had to be postponed until the next day due to the squalls and rough conditions for dinghy travel in the anchorage.
The next days at Warderick Wells in the Exuma Park were great. We did all the hiking trails around the island including dinghy trips to the various beaches taking many pictures along the way. The get-together on the beach on Sunday afternoon was a fun event and another chance to meet other cruisers. We spent five days here and is really the highlight of our trip so far. Thursday (Jan 31) we left the beautiful crescent shaped mooring field and headed north to Shroud Cay at the northern most end of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. Here we were anchored with a half dozen other boats and went for a long dinghy ride to the north as the tide came up in order to catch a trip up a shallow winding waterway through mangroves to the east coast of the cay. There we arrived at the pristine beach near the remnants of Camp Driftwood up on a close by hill. The place has an interesting history and was once occupied by a lone sailor back in the 60's. There are plenty of descriptive web references, here's one: http://turftosurf.com/what-happened-to-camp-driftwood-shroud-cay-bahama/ Though we'd been here on our last trip in Jan 2017, we enjoyed it once again. And the site has been thoroughly cleaned up and brought back to nature, with the exception of a park placard that explains the history at the top of the steep hill. The surrounding beaches are beautiful and the boat ride through the mangroves was fun. The next day was very breezy and squalls came in overnight with lots of rain through the following midday (Sat, Feb 2). By the next morning, the dinghy had six inches of water in it, the most rain we've had since leaving Florida, and maybe for the whole trip so far. More rain came in overnight but cleared by sunrise.
After three days here we headed out early for points south and the southern end of the park. The two entrances to Cambridge Cay have tricky winding routes through sand bars and coral heads so is best done with good sunlight and a bow lookout. We entered via the northern route this time, going west and north around Bell Island then south and east of Cambridge Cay to the Park mooring field there and were settled by 1300 (Sun Feb 3). This is another incredibly beautiful and protected anchorage and is "administered" by volunteer host boats that stay in the area for weeks to a month at a time to welcome cruisers with park information, get them situated as needed, monitor status of the moorings and collect fees. It has about 12 very solid moorings, three of which are reserved for the larger power yachts that can make their way through the entrance passage. When we arrived they were less than half occupied. It makes sense to take a mooring in here since the currents run through at a pretty good clip so that boats generally lie to the current rather than the wind, making it awkward to be lying on top of ones anchor rode half the time. And besides that, there is a fee for anchoring in the park anyway, so might just as well spend the money on the well maintained mooring ball. So we also stayed here for three days and nights of relatively calm weather. It was perfect for snorkeling at a site called "aquarium" that lives up to its name being dense with fish and corals. It's a great hike across to the east and to the beach by bell rock and along the rugged high coast to the north from there for great distant views. The next day conditions were just right for a dinghy trip south to "Rocky Dundas", a pair of high islets with amazing caverns entered by snorkel at low tide. There are great fish and corals here too, but the cave entrances face east to the deep Exuma Sound so a day with minimal swells is needed to be able to do this without injury. We were lucky to be able to do this again, as we did on our last trip, and it is just so unique inside with sunlight coming in from holes in the ceiling. After the cavern exploration, we dinghied off to a snorkeling area off of a beach on the south side of Cambridge Cay just off the cut. This area had a wide field of elkhorn corals much of it no longer alive, but still actively growing other creatures and plentiful with fish. Some areas still had quite a bit of new elkhorn growth that reaches to just below the water's surface at low tide and creates pockets and valleys where hundreds of fish, some in big schools, find shelter. Our third day at Cambridge Cay was spent on two hikes ashore. First to the sound end where we followed a level sandy trail through a jungle of mostly short palm trees--a type of palm that seems like a miniature version of what we are familiar with in that they never seem to get bigger than about 6 or 8 ft in height. It may be a type of palmetto, but has a smooth longer trunk like its larger relatives. The end of that trail arrives at the beach where we were snorkeling the previous day. In the afternoon we went for another short hike starting from a shallow bay at the northwest end, crossing to a beach on the north side by the entrance cut and around a salt pond just inshore of the beach. That evening the folks from the host boat for this area of the park (m/v Privateer) organized a get together at a sand spit of an island at sunset. This place had many broken up flat rocks that people had stacked into cairns and other creations that made it unique. It was a fun event and always nice to visit with other boaters who are here for the same reason, to enjoy the beauty of nature in this unparalleled spot.
On Wednesday (Feb 6) we dropped the mooring early so as to exit via the south route at high tide then sailed with genoa alone the short distance to the Staniel Cay area. We anchored off Big Majors with about fifty other boats, a very popular spot. We stayed there for two nights and made the long dinghy trip to the settlement at Staniel Cay several times. There we walked the small town a bit and picked up some groceries from one of the very small stores there. We also couldn't resist a fine dining experience at the Yacht Club there, which lived up to expectations. That involved a long dinghy ride back to the boat on a very dark choppy night, but well worth it. On Thursday the 7th we caught up with new friends we had met in Great Harbour Cay sailing here from Norfolk, so was fun to share stories again. The next day we rolled out the jib for a short sail south to Black Point and anchored just off of the dock for the Laundrmat there. This is the best and most scenic laundry in the Bahamas (or maybe anywhere) and we could not miss the chance to take care of that chore and enjoy a few more restaurants there in town. There we met a couple that were from the Wilmington area and both had recently retired from careers in chemistry, so similar to our experience--to meet them for the first time in this remote outpost was a real coincidence. From there we moved a few miles down the coast of Great Guana Cay to a favorite protected spot of "Little Bay". We've sat out high wind events here on the last trip and wanted to be set for a few days of high winds once again. About twelve others had the same idea and even in the high winds, one can get to windward to a great beach and walks across the narrow island to the pounding surf on the east side. Things should simmer down by tomorrow or so and we'll be on our way south once again.
Rock Sound, Eleuthera
22 January 2019 | Rock Sound, Eleuthera
On Monday (Jan 14) winds were light and westerly, perfect for navigating the narrow "Current Cut" to enter the banks on the west side of Eleuthera proper. We timed our departure from Spanish Wells so as to pass through this cut at high tide and slack water to avoid currents that are reported to be as much as 12 kts at maximum. The time of slack water is also very brief and difficult to time precisely, but we had less than one knot, so no issues. https://www.discover-eleuthera-bahamas.com/current-cut.html
It is supposedly a great place to do a drift dive with SCUBA gear, though I've not heard of anyone who has done it. Finding a safe place to anchor our boat would have been an issue and at the time we didn't consider trying it, and would definitely only do it with a guide. From there we sailed eastward to the very protected harbor of Hatchet Bay.
The next day we went ashore at the nice dinghy dock/gazebo at the south end of the harbor and went for a walk around quiet Alicetown. There is a great cave to the north of here, but we had done that excursion on our last trip through here in 2017 so we decided to pick up and head further down the coast in the afternoon (Jan 15) with the mild weather. We had a gentle sail in northerly winds to Alabaster bay and anchored near Pelican Cay with several other sailboats. We stayed there for two nights and dinghied to the beautiful beach there the first afternoon, then again the next day to walk on a wide area of sandy shoal which just dries at low tide. From there we anchored the dinghy off the rocky southern shore of Pelican Cay and nearby rocky outcrops and went for a long snorkeling excursion. There was some really excellent snorkeling along there with a good variety of fish and great fan corals in 4 to 12 ft of water.
Thursday (Jan 17) we had a vigorous sail south in a very brisk NE breeze, seeing boat speeds of 7.5 to 8.5 most of the way. Our destination was the large bay of Rock Sound, Eleuthera where we anchored off the eastern shore with 20 or so other boats up and down that coast. We went ashore for a walk to "Ocean Hole" a blue hole sort of in the middle of the small town where reef fish are plentiful.
Later we met with fellow cruisers at a bar/restaurant inland from the harbor for drinks and conch fritters. The next day (Jan 18) was perfect for a grocery shopping trip since the store there was resupplied the previous day. They had a great stock of everything we needed and was a fairly short walk from there to the dinghy dock at Frigate's Restaurant. For a second shore trip we hiked south to the caverns that we visited and liked in 2017. It goes by either Cathedral Caverns, Spider Caves or Boiling Hole Caves and has a recently built very solid entrance stairwell. The sunlight coming in through holes in the ceiling with the amazing long tree roots make it a unique experience that we could not miss while here. https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g3579467-d6438874-i94218502-Spider_Cave-Rock_Sound_Eleuthera_Out_Islands_Bahamas.html
That evening there was an impromptu get together at Frigate's outer deck where the crew from catamaran "Salty Paws" played some great music and crews from a dozen or so boats got together on the deck to enjoy the sunset.
Saturday (Jan 19) was the day we were to be in the sights of an oncoming frontal passage, connected to the same front that brought storms and the 'polar vortex' to the US east coast that weekend. All of us anchored on the eastern shore near town gradually made our way across the bay to the western shore for protection from squalls predicted for Sunday. We all got ourselves situated along that shore with a good 400 to 500 ft between boats for plenty of room for swinging about at anchor which was comforting. The front finally came through after much anticipation late on Sunday afternoon with dark clouds and heavy downpours and a wind shift to the west. Wind gusts just reached 30 kts or so and all of us held our anchored positions just fine. These were the first real rains we've had since back in Florida, so the fresh water rinse off was welcome.
The next day (Monday, Jan 21) we had originally planned to move on to the southwest and the Exumas but predictions for the subsequent several days are for very strong easterlies in the mid 20s range, making anchoring and dinghy exploration activities there less enticing. So we and most of the other boats here made their way back over to the eastern shore off the town and plan to ride it out while the winds blow through mid-week. At least we have excellent broadband internet here--which we'll be lacking in the northern Exumas.
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).