Rock Hall to Myrtle Beach
13 November 2020 | Myrtle Beach SC
We moved aboard Mystic Star on October 30th with intentions of leaving home port on the 31st. But the weather had other plans as it often does. Saturday was nice enough but a frontal passage brought heavy rains and southerly winds on Sunday, so we stayed put and watched some football. When the front went through Sunday Evening, it brought a gale of cold NW winds that held through Tuesday morning. So we left the dock at about 11 AM on Nov 3rd with it still blowing 15-20 in the slip. With help from friends, we got all untied and headed out and south which started out with a great fast reach with a double reefed main and solent (staysail) jib at speeds of 8 - 8.5 kn. South of the bridge, the winds abated and eventually we motor-sailed, then just motored by sunset and continued overnight. By 11 PM we were abeam of Smith Pt at the southern margin of the mouth of the Potomac River with winds less than 5 kn. We crossed over the Tunnel at Hampton Roads at 0630 Wednesday and proceeded up the Elizabeth River through the vast Navy yards then commercial shipping ports of Norfolk and Portsmouth. It was beautiful clear weather and not nearly as cold as in previous years. The motoring in the start of the ICW went well with only one 45 min hold up at a railroad lift bridge that stayed closed for two long trains. It was important that we got through this bridge when we did since there was a scheduled full day closure for the next day. By the time we made the locks at Great Bridge (VA), there was enough southbound traffic to fill one lock wall and start on the other, then once through waited for the bridge at 'Great Bridge' to open at 1100. Just two more swing bridges to go and we were off to follow the ICW through the shallow Currituck Sound and made the docks at Coinjock (NC) at 3:35 PM. That was a 187 nm trip from Rock Hall over 27.5 hours with about 90% motoring. We've normally enjoyed dining at the restaurant there, but in this era we find ourselves in, we opted for a take-out meal to eat aboard which was great, but enough for next day leftovers.
Thursday, Nov 5, we were up early to depart before sunrise. There was some scenic patchy fog over the marsh lands and a building procession of boats heading south this day. Winds were less than 5 kn and from behind, so the motoring continued across the Albemarle sound and through the swing bridge in the middle of the long causeway across the Alligator River. The wind built up from the NE so we were able to sail south in the Alligator River for the 10 nm up to the long canal that connects to the Pungo River. We're always nervous about the one fixed bridge near the western end of this canal (known as the Wilkerson Bridge) since its clearance is only 64 ft and we need 63.5 ft to get through. Fortunately the water levels were lower than normal with the northerly winds, so no antenna-touch as has happened before. We made it to anchor in Pungo Creek, just south of Bellhaven NC right at sunset. There we enjoyed a calm night at anchor but woke early to find dense fog. Regardless we headed out and down the Pungo River as the fog soon dissipated to cross Pamlico River and south in Goose Creek with high pressure keeping the winds very low. We exited the canal into the Bay River, then took a slight detour to the west to Ball Creek where we anchored and dinghied ashore to see our friends the Nettings at their wonderful waterfront home. So great to see Dave & Sandy and catch up on things. After some hours of (safe) socializing, we moved the boat to a cozier spot for overnight anchoring in Bonner Bay. It was a pleasant natural surrounding, but awoke to the sounds of gunshots at dawn. The duck hunters were out in force, and being a nice Saturday (Nov 7) early in the season, many were doing their thing. So without too much delay, we were on our way again heading out into Pamlico sound and soon south in the wide Neuse River which we could sail for a change for most of the day. By afternoon we were headed south in Adams Creek/Core Creek canal which terminates near Beaufort NC. We found a corner of the busy harbor near Morehead City to anchor, just south of Sugarloaf Island. There was a fishing tournament underway and everyone with a boat and a rod/reel was out there for it.
That location set us up for an offshore sail down the coast. We left our options open to either sail overnight to Charleston SC or to head in before dark at Wrightsville Beach NC. The sailing started well (Sunday, Nov 8) with the wind on the quarter, but as the day went on, the wind became more dead astern and the swells were building from the beam--an uncomfortable combination, so we opted to head in for a night of peace. That decision was helped by some sprinkles that started late in the day. We made it to the Masonboro Inlet just at sunset though was dark with overcast and the small inlet had only a few small unlit buoys to help locate the entrance, but the jetties were clearly visible. The ebbing tide against the waves with the cross wind made us a bit nervous about this entrance, so we were ready for anything and well battened down as we approached. Fortunately it turned out to be a non-event and getting through to the safe harbor inside was no problem. There were a surprising number of boats in the anchorage behind Wrightsville Beach, more than we had seen in several previous stays here. We were later to learn that boats on their way south were hesitating to some extent to find out what the late season tropical storm "Eta" was going to do. We decided to press on from there on the ICW but found that slips in marinas down the line were mostly unavailable due to boats on hold. We were able to find a spot a little further down than was convenient, but we went for it. This was at the Grand Dunes Resort in Myrtle Beach SC. We made it fine through the tricky shallow bits near Lockwood Folly Inlet and Shallot Inlet, using the Bob423 tracks and the Corps of Engineers latest surveys. With the help of tidal current for most of the day, we made it to our destination by 4:30, before they closed at 5, a 65 nm trip taking just under nine hours. With the opposite tidal situation, I'm sure we'd have been late. Once there, we planned to stay for a day to take it easy and to investigate an engine issue. That day has turned into at least four as the storm "Eta" has moved up along the coast making for wind and heavy rains. With our mast height at 63.5 ft we will be trapped by high waters because of bridge clearances until they drain away, maybe by Friday or Saturday. In the meantime, it's been nice to be here, and though we're reticent to dine in the many nearby restaurants these days, take-out is a not bad alternative.
Home to Rock Hall
02 May 2019
We stayed as planned at the Harborwalk Marina in Georgetown SC for three nights enjoying the town and several of its restaurants and resupplying some groceries. The back streets of the town have beautiful oak trees lining and overhanging the streets with many historic homes, churches and mansions. Friday (Apr 19) did prove to be a good day to stay in port with high winds and rain and Saturday was about as windy, but weather was clearing. By Sunday (Apr 21) the skies were clear and the winds simmered down so we headed out and up the ICW for a section of it that we had not previously been through. This was a beautiful stretch of waterway that consisted of the wide and deep Waccamaw River where we could sail instead of motor our way that eventually gave way to more narrow man-made canal through heavily forested section. It was unique to be traveling through a flooded forest of cypress trees for many miles until we reached the section on the outskirts of Myrtle Beach NC. Just before the cypress forest ended, we stopped at a marina cut out of the swamps on a side chute to the waterway, Osprey Marina, by 2:30 in the afternoon. We were able to get a slip though it was rather a tight fit, and a very large power cruiser came in later and seemed like it boxed us in pretty well. But the marina manager came in early the next morning to help us work the boat around the very close quarters in calm conditions to make it back out to the waterway by 7:00 AM. The next section of the waterway was straightforward, although very different as it passed through more developed areas near Myrtle Beach. We successfully transited crossings at Shallotte Inlet and at Lockwood's Folly Inlet (staying on the inside route) to make our way to Southport NC, to the marina there were we stayed on our trip north in 2017. Southport is a great small town on the Cape Fear River where the ICW joins it as it heads south from there. There is a retired meteorologist at the marina who gives free weather and ICW briefings every evening to boaters passing through during the season, and this time it was well attended by fellow cruisers heading north. He pointed out many valuable tips on problem areas in the waterway from there northwards. With that information and our own collected information we made it through the tough spots without ever seeing depths less than 9 feet, and usually had much more. From Southport, we continued for one additional brief day on the waterway so as to cut off the long way around Cape Fear and Frying Pan Shoals and anchored for the night in the Banks Channel adjacent to Wrightsville Beach NC. This is a good jumping off point for an ocean sail to Beaufort or beyond and around Hatteras. Being just the two of us we opted for the long day-sail to Beaufort, leaving at 5:50 and sailing downwind a good bit of the 70 nm trip offshore. Upon reaching the inlet at Beaufort we faced an outgoing tide against the southwesterly wind which caused a steep chop to build up near the entrance. That slowed us down a good bit but it remained manageable in this relatively wide inlet. We then reentered the ICW there where we proceeded north through the Adams Creek Canal to the Adams Creek itself and Cedar Creek where we found a comfortable anchorage just at sunset. It was an 87 nm trip that took just under 14 hr.
The next day (Thurs, Apr 25) we wanted to stop and visit the town of Belhaven NC that we had sailed past many times over the years, but had never stopped previously. So we made that trip sailing in the Neuse River to the Bay River and a canal section to Goose Creek, followed by more sailing in the Pamlico River and north in the Pungo River to Pantego Creek at Belhaven. They have a small marina there but we opted to anchor in the river and dinghy into town which featured a very nice dinghy dock within a block of the main part of town--and restaurants. The town was badly flooded last September from Hurricane Florence and the restaurant "Spoon River" where we picked to dine had just reopened the previous week. We had a fine meal there and were personally well treated by Theresa the gracious co-owner/host. The next morning we had the choice of a long day with potential strong winds behind us or waiting while the winds came around to the north for several days making for uncomfortable travel in the sounds. We opted to continue on our way, first through the long and tedious Alligator-Pungo canal, then north in the Alligator River, across the Albemarle Sound to the North River. The first opportunity for anxiety was crossing under the Wilkerson Bridge, one known to be one of the least forgiving clearance heights on the waterway. As has been the case before, this was the only bridge on the ICW that we touched the antenna as we passed under, and fortunately that is all that touched! Next we sailed north in the Alligator River heading dead downwind in 25 kts (29 mph) towards a swing bridge that stops opening when the wind gets up to 35 mph (30 kts). We contacted the bridge tender and he encouraged us to proceed, so we made it through at 13:45 with one other sailboat and an impatient powerboat that had to wait for us sailboats to arrive before the bridge would open. Once through the opening the power boater zoomed off towards the narrow entrance channel from the river to the sound, while we made our way in that direction with the building winds behind us. As we arrived at the channel we could see that the power boat was no longer moving, and unfortunately for him, he had run up hard on the sand bar at the edge of the channel with the winds pushing him further aground. As we made our way around we saw that a tow boat was on scene to help out but we'll never know how all that worked out as it seemed to be a very bad predicament to be in. Out in the Albemarle Sound we were having our own issues with the building winds and short choppy waters. By the middle of the sound we had 30-35 kts coming from dead astern while we sailed at full speed (9-10 kts) with only a double reefed staysail set. During that stretch we saw plenty of sustained gusts in the 40-45 kt range with a few even higher. The boat did fine moving north towards the narrow entrance to the North River on the far side of the sound, the main problem being trying to spot and avoid the tiny crab pot floats scattered across it there amidst the white caps and foam. Once inside the shallow bits in the North River entrance we worked our way over to the west shore, reaching with the reefed jib, while I got thoroughly doused with side-spray even with the dodger, bimini and connector bridge in place. We got the anchor down in a more or less protected spot still with greater than 25 kts, by using the quick release on the windlass to get the anchor on the bottom and paid out as fast as possible. This was near the mouth of the small "Broad Creek" on the western shore of the North River. Once the anchor was secure we got hit with a couple of very heavy downpours and some close lightning over the next few hours around sunset. We were happy to be secure for the night as the winds clocked around to the northwest where we had the best protection.
The next morning we were again off early in clear skies and NW winds around 20 kts. We plugged along motoring to the north, first in the North River past Coinjock, then in Currituck Sound to the North Landing River and on to the east west running Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal with several opening bridges and one lock to transit. We and one other sailboat were making good time to make it to the first swing bridge at North Landing at 13:00. That allowed us to make it to the bridge and locks at Great Bridge VA by 14:00 for their once-an-hour opening, just in time. From Great Bridge we headed up and out the Elizabeth River through the heavy industrial area in Norfolk and Portsmouth VA, and tied up at Tidewater Marina near downtown Portsmouth by 16:00. After that stretch of mostly sitting we had the energy to do some boat clean-up and later enjoy dinner in town at a favorite place, the Bier Garden restaurant. Sunday (Apr 28) we headed out into the Chesapeake and points north. We alternatingly sailed and motor-sailed to make our way north on a nice day--except for the attack of the biting flies by midday! We've often noticed this to happen this time of year in the southern bay near New Point Comfort and the Mobjack Bay. So we were glad to be north of the Rappahannock River and on to the beautiful "Northern Neck" of Virginia to Indian Creek for the night. The next day we paid a visit to friends Tom and Sandy of "Anania" at the beautiful home that they recently moved into on the water off of the Great Wicomico River. They were so kind and gracious to us as experienced cruisers to the Bahamas and now as hosts at their home. They arranged a terrific evening with neighbors/boaters that we've also been in touch with via SSB radio and now had a chance to meet. It was great to see them once again and see their new place and surrounding area, we can't thank them enough for their hospitality.
Tuesday (Apr 30) was a variable wind day and we sailed out of the Great Wicomico River past the town of Reedville and around to the northeast and Smith Point. From there we crossed the mouth of the Potomac River under power with winds changing around us from just about all directions. We made good time motoring our way north to stop for the evening at Solomon's Island, Maryland, off the Patuxent River, a traditional stopover. Our final day was Wednesday, May 1, and was colder that we had experienced so far this year. It was cloudy and breezy from the east, so we were able to sail for most of the day, but not without jackets and long pants! We were beginning to wonder if we had returned north too early at this point! On our way towards the bay bridge we heard via radio from good friends on "Windward Passage", Captain Randy and friends John, Ken & Dodie who were out for their first sail of the season. Once back at our home port of North Point Marina in Rock Hall Harbor by 4 PM it was so great to meet and catch up with them after our long absence over the winter. It's good to be home again.
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.