Bye Bye Bahamas

With the new crew we went back to Hope Town. Kind of fun for me to sail into a place that I’m familiar with. The boat on the next mooring, Solstice, was from Wiscasset, Maine. Would have liked to chat with them, but they were about to leave. Many, many people comment that they like our boat; they like Chris White’s designs; they think we have the prettiest catamaran they’ve seen. I like being on the receiving end of these compliments!

Man O’War Cay next. A lot like Hope Town, but not as tightly packed. Met a nice couple on another boat, and had them over for a beer. Several of the boats in the little harbor appear to be “gypsies.” No masts, or no sails — they aren’t going anywhere.

Next up Great Guana Cay. We bought a few groceries, walked across the (narrow) island to an unusual restaurant, walked up the island to a neat little beach resort, bought 5 gallons of water for treating ourselves to showers, swam and scrubbed some of the jungle off the bottom of the boat. We spent two nights anchored off Guana, partly just to relax, but also because the wind was howling. The next hop north/west required heading out a Cut into the ocean for a couple miles, and then through another Cut back into the protection of the Sea of Abaco. They say it can get very dangerous when there are large ocean swells rolling into the Cut, and we knew the conditions would be gradually moderating.

This morning we made that hop, and it was a bit of a letdown — a little choppy, but nothing very exciting. I thought we might have breaking waves across most of the Cut, but no. So in an hour we were back in protected waters, and we sailed another 30 miles up to Allans Cay. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful sail, and Allans Cay is a beautiful uninhabited island with a secure anchorage. All in all, a wonderful day!

And tonight is our last night in the Bahamas. We are leaving a little earlier than planned, because the forecast is good for a few days, and is likely to deteriorate thereafter. Chris Parker is the weather guru for the area, and he says it is time to go. That’s why we sailed 30+ miles today. One last stop to enjoy Allans Cay — we went ashore, hiked the beach, chatted with two other boats (there are 5 here; it is a world apart from the boatropolis of Hope Town), swam. And Joe cooked up the last of our mahi mahi. Thank you, Fish, for providing another great meal!

We are all set to go when we get up in the morning. Not certain where we will put in on the other side of the Gulf Stream, but maybe Charleston. I’m hoping the weather is good for riding the Stream some distance north, as i have no desire to put into Florida; I’d like to get to North Carolina quickly.

Last beautiful starry night at anchor… No Regrets feels like home right now; what will it be like to shift to a home ashore…? It will be nice to reconnect with Hallie, at least!

One of the “gypsies” (and a very nice one!) at Man O’War Cay.
Nice location!
I like the sign on the wall.
Man O’War Cay
It’s not about the boat, but the “house” built above the end of the dock.
Sign for restaurant on Great Guana Cay
Nippers restaurant with a view

Checking that the anchor is well set.

Our alternative shore transport.

Abacos (Bahamas)

We left the Exumas earlier than we had hoped, because a cold front was approaching with northerly winds. We needed to get north before the wind turned against us. My mind was preoccupied with the difficult potential conditions, but our actual sailing conditions were perfect — an all day spinnaker run at good speed with no waves on the protected Bank. We approached Nassau by mid-afternoon, and we didn’t want to carry on toward Abaco until sunset so as not to arrive in the dark. So…although we had no plan to do so…we stopped at Nassau.

We didn’t stay long enough to see the sights (Atlantis Hotel/Marina/Aquarium/Casino/Resort). Steve bought us a chart kit for Abaco, and we had a forgettable dinner. But it was a good scouting trip; no need to go there again…

We left at sunset and by sunrise we were approaching the Cut into the protected Sea of Abaco. Again, nice sailing on the unruffled waters on the inside route to Hope Town. I didn’t know what to expect there, as I thought that many other boats might want to take shelter in the harbor. Would we find a mooring?

And when we made our way through the narrow entrance, the scene was not reassuring. The harbor was packed with boats, practically on top of each other! We found an empty mooring ball. We couldn’t tie on with our usual bridle, or we would be hitting the boat behind us. But the mooring system there includes two pennants, and we learned that you can tie directly on them to squeeze into the parking space.

I headed ashore quickly, because I wanted to make sure our mooring was a rental, and not someone’s private spot. No problem. Meanwhile another boat entered and picked up the last mooring nearby. And later what I had feared happened to them. Another boat came in, shouting that the first boat was on their mooring and had to move! Move where?? I guess they found another spot somewhere… In listening to the exchange (voices were raised, but the boats are so close we would have heard them anyway), we learned that that mooring was reserved by virtue of having a milk jug tied to it! How would a newcomer know? Nothing was written on the milk jug. Oh well.

Hope Town was seductively pleasant. Well protected. Restaurants here and there. Friendly people. Fresh baked bread. Hot showers at the marina, with no timer — endless hot water!! Laundry facility right there, adjacent to the bar. Nice walking through the little town. And a fascinating lighthouse to visit.

The lighthouse is iconic — you will probably recognize it in the photos. But I didn’t know that it still burns kerosene. And that it’s turning mechanism is mechanical. The keepers crank a 700 pound weight up to the top every two hours (they sleep? in the tower). The 8000 pound rotating light/lens sits in a bath of mercury. You can (I did) turn the whole 4 tons from a standstill with a hefty one-handed push. Very impressive mechanical machinery.

Seductively pleasant. Tempting to just stay indefinitely. Why go anywhere else? Hmm, well, there’s crew flying out and crew flying in to Marsh Harbour, a few miles away. And better provisioning there. I managed to overcome the inertia, though not before Steve took the ferry to catch his plane; Nora and I motorsailed to Marsh Harbour. Turns out this is a pretty nice place, too, though not as quaint as Hope Town.

This morning Nora left. Hard to believe it has been 7+ months and 8,000 miles since she joined in Mauritius. What a wonderful crew (and wonderful friend) she turned out to be! I will miss her immensely, but I believe she is a soulmate and we will cross paths again.

Bob (Shanks) and Joe (work associate of Steve’s) arrived this evening. Tomorrow we will start a week or so of cruising the Abacos. Then we will turn our attention to crossing the Gulf Stream and returning to the USA.

Photo by Nora
Our brief stop in Nassau
In Hope Town the boats are packed in tight.
View out our pilothouse door; you can have a conversation with your neighbor…
There’s the lighthouse (from the marina where we did our laundry and beer).

The winding mechanism, like an old clock.
The four ton rotating lens assembly

Hope Town

Exumas (Bahamas)

After deciding not to clear in to the Bahamas at Mayaguana, we sailed south of Acklins Island and then headed north to go outside of Long Island. Running under spinnaker all day long, mostly out of sight of the low islands, we saw only one other boat. But that boat was slowly converging with us. They had only a tiny foresail up, so they must have been motoring, although they weren’t moving very fast. Not a big boat, but definitely on a collision course, and getting close. I assumed they would change course slightly to pass behind us, but no change was happening and I couldn’t see anyone on deck. Time for a call on the radio. He answered; yes, he sees us. I thought that was adequate communication. But apparently not, as we continued on a collision course. So I called again and asked his intention — to pass ahead or astern of us. “Ahead, I guess,” was the reply. Apparently he had no intention of altering course. So I changed course and let him pass ahead. No big deal. But what the hell was he thinking? Did he have any clue what he was doing? People like that are dangerous!

In the evening we put in to Clarence Town on Long Island. There is a nice anchorage there, but we decided to go to the marina since we had to clear in, and I thought it would be nice to have some freedom to walk around town and chat with people. I almost changed my mind as we approached. Our slip was between pilings, with just barely enough water for us to float at low tide. And it turned out to be expensive, though probably not so much by Bahamas standards. We told the clerk at the marina we needed to clear in, and she called the Customs official. Turns out that although Clarence Town is a port of entry, it isn’t staffed. There was a $100 charge for the official to drive from the other end of the island. I spoke to him, suggesting that we leave the marina, anchor out, leave our Q flag up, and clear in elsewhere the next day. Nope…now that we had told him we were there, we had to clear and had to pay the fee. Oh well…

At the bar, someone looked my way and said, “Royal Cape.” It took me a minute to figure out I was wearing my shirt from the Royal Cape Town Yacht Club. And they were from Cape Town. Fun to chat with them. Plus they get extra points for recognizing that our boat is a Chris White design.

I walked into “town,” but there isn’t really any town anymore, after Hurricane Joaquin a few years back. Two big beautiful churches. Many houses with missing roofs. The grocery store boarded up and covered with vines, its sign still barely legible. A sad corner of paradise…

Next day the was no wind. We motored all day to Conception Island. The island is a marine park. No people. Beautiful anchorage. Maybe ten boats, but room for fifty. Steve and I swam ashore and walked the length of the beach. Sand so fine it felt like flour. Where does the miles and miles of sand come from here? I need to read about the geological history of the Bahamas.

Still without wind, we motored to Rat Cay — reaching the Exumas at last! Our destination on this leg is Marsh Harbor in the Abacos, but our goal was to spend some lazy time exploring the Exumas on the way. Between our cruising in Puerto Rico and our unplanned stop in the DR, our Exumas time was going to be limited. Great to finally arrive at this long string of sandy cays, with a deep Sound on one side and a shallow Bank on the other, and many cuts between.

Next day we sailed up the Sound to Little Farmers Cay. We picked up a mooring off the “yacht club” — a nice looking restaurant with a little dock with one boat there. We had read about a restaurant called Ocean Cabin, which claims to open pretty much whenever they feel like it, so on our way in we called them on the radio. Yes, they would be open for lunch…what would we like to order…? We asked about ordering after we arrive, but they said it would be better to order now. We did. And we managed to get the boat parked, paddle ashore against the current in the cut, chat with Roosevelt Nixon, owner of the yacht club, find our way into town, and find Ocean Cabin before our “reservation” time. We were the only ones there, but to my surprise the place got busy before we left.

The little restaurant had a display of new cell phones in the corner. Yes, they could sell me a SIM card and a data plan. For the next two hours the fascinating Terry Bains helped me attempt to get it working, including his making multiple phone calls to Support. I was ready to give up, but he was not, and finally together we got it working.

We bought some groceries and a bag of ice for our rum tonics, and our “lunch stop” was complete by about 5pm. But the light is still good for “eyeball navigation” (spotting the shallows and the coral heads) until nearly 7pm, so we decided to move on to an anchorage west of Great Guana Cay. With the wind veered around toward the south, and small waves nearly at right angles to the wind, it was a rolly night.

In the morning we headed for Staniel Cay, which is a yachting crossroads. Steve was not excited about anchoring where the swimming pigs come to the boat expecting handouts, but I wanted to see Thunderball Cave — a mostly underwater grotto that is in the old James Bond movie. I decided to try the “shallow route” into the harbor rather than add a couple miles to follow deep water. This turned out to be dicey, as it appeared to be even more shallow than the 1 meter indicated on the chart! We read the water as best we could, and our depth sounder at one point indicated 2.6 feet…which should have us digging a little furrow in the sand. But we never did touch, and if we had gone aground we would have simply waited on the sand for the tide to rise in an hour or so. Next time, though, I think I’ll go the long route…

We anchored near the cave and dinghied over to snorkel in it. It was smaller than I expected, but nevertheless was cool. Shafts of sunlight here and there from the high ceiling inside, lots of fish, and a familiar impressive shape to the mouth opening on the far side. Beautiful coral outside that mouth.

Next Steve and I went ashore at the marina, disposed of our trash for $6.45, and walked into town to a very well stocked “convenience store.” We bought fresh fruit, fresh baked coconut bread and zucchini bread, chocolate, cookies, lemons and limes, asparagus, lettuce, bread. Yeah! You can’t always get what you want in these Cays, so load up when you can!

The weather forecast is not good. A cold front is approaching, and the last days we have available are going to feature northerly winds and squalls — just what we don’t want for our crossing to the Abacos. So we are going to head north now, before the wind changes. While it would have been nice to hang out at Staniel Cay, we moved on again — up the Banks side to Hawksbill Cay. Hawksbill is part of the Warderick Wells marine park, and we picked up a park mooring. Since we were leaving again in the early morning, and not putting the dinghy in the water, we didn’t make it to wherever the box was where we were supposed to pay $20. We could have anchored, but they prefer that you use the moorings so anchors are not disturbing the bottom; so we did. Zeke approached the mooring too fast (his sight blocked by the spinnaker that had not yet been stowed and was now billowing as we turned into the wind), Steve hooked it with the boat hook and had the tool yanked out of his hands when the boat didn’t stop. Zeke hesitated about jumping in to rescue it, and Steve stripped to his underwear and jumped. He had an enjoyable refreshing dip after a very hot day.

I could spend a month in the Exumas, and someday I hope I do. But now we are hurrying north to the Abacos.

Cruise ships in the DR.
Approaching Turks and Caicos, low and flat on the horizon.
Anchored off T&C
Reading the channel by water color.

Flying Fish Marina, Clarence Town, Long Island — where we cleared in

This one place stood in contrast to most of the town.
Conception Island; may have been Columbus’ second landfall in the New World.
Rat Cay, Exumas, and the path we took to get in.

Little Farmers Cay
Photo courtesy of Nora
Ocean Cabin for lunch and a SIM card

Staniel Cay
Looking toward the Thunderball Cave; the dark spot in the water is a ray.
Sailing over the shallow banks

Hawksbill Cay, last stop in the Exumas for us.