Category Archives: Caribbean & Bahamas

Cruising Exuma

Here’s a little story to update and entertain you. As a good friend commented after reading this, “Sailing is the one thing I know that regularly has you fully engaged in complex problem solving at 3:30 am, with real stakes and with complete, ferocious, and callous disregard on the part of all the rest of the universe as to whether you do or do not make it through. It can be wicked scary in the moment, but to experience it, and live in the space that opens out from those moments, is nothing short of sublime…”

We anchored at Children’s Bay Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas. It’s a shallow area with a narrow channel along a pretty beach. One other boat was anchored there, and two more arrived later. The wind was light from the south, off the beach, and the forecast had it unchanged until the following noon, when a cold front would clock it around to north. 

Small waves had formed in the open water west of the Cay, and they were bending around the point to our anchorage, hitting us sideways. Our Jaguar 36 catamaran is very stable, but the motion was uncomfortable. I put out a stern anchor to point the bows more into the waves, which helped. Hallie and I had a pleasant evening, and spent time gazing at the stars and being romantic.

At 3am I awoke; it was getting “bouncy.” The wind had swung to the west, as was predicted for noonish, on the way to the stronger northerly. Oh well, nothing to do but wait for daybreak and then move. With the wind shift the 2nd anchor line was now under the boat. But it wasn’t pulling hard, and it didn’t appear to be fouling the rudders or props, so again I thought best to wait for daybreak. I went back to sleep, but in the salon – sort of like being “on call.”

Heavy raindrops pounding on the deck woke me again, and I rushed out to assess the new situation. It was still dark. Within seconds it was pouring, and the wind blew 20+ knots from the NW. The new wind direction was pushing us toward the beach. The stern anchor rode was now drum tight, and our two anchors were holding us sideways to wind and wave. The added resistance of the sideways boat threatened to drag us the 3 boatlengths to shore. The depth sounder read 4 feet (which really meant 5, since we programmed in a margin of error, but then again the sensor was on the side away from the beach).

I had to get the boat pointed into the wind. I considered simply casting off the stern anchor, to be retrieved somehow in the morning. But it seemed to be holding nicely, and I thought conditions might be even worse come morning. I eased the line out until nearly the end. But our second anchor rode is relatively short, and the adjustment made no appreciable difference. I tied another line to the cleated bitter end, and led that line to the bow, hoping to end up with two bow anchors. I had to get this right, despite the darkness, pelting rain, howling wind, and my grogginess. If the line was fouled on a lifeline stanchion, for example, when I released the belay to the stern cleat it would tear off that stanchion.

I was pretty sure I had it right, though certainty did not seem possible in the conditions. Casting off astern, there was a moment of panic when I couldn’t get the rode to come to the bow. I thought it might be caught on our keel, but it was merely hooked on the horn of a side cleat. I still had enough line in hand to slack it quickly and get free from the cleat. I then easily brought the rode to the bow, so we had two well-dug-in bow anchors deployed. The lines were crossed, but we could sort that out later. Of course releasing the stern and letting the boat swing into the wind brought us even closer to the beach – about two boatlengths! The depth sounder read 3.3 feet – our keels were just a foot off the bottom.

Dawn was coming. There was a lull in the rain and in my frenetic activity. Hallie brought me a towel and dry clothes. We started the engines as a precaution, in case we dragged the short distance to being aground. We sat together for a few minutes so Hallie could have a short cry. We looked at the other three boats in the anchorage. Two were close to the beach, but not dragging closer. Time for some deep breaths, clearing the head, appreciating daylight, a bite of food, and thinking through next steps.

I expected the wind to continue to build as the earlier-than-predicted front passed through. But instead it eased, and then eased more to a near calm. It was eerie, but it was also an opportunity. I could easily uncross the two anchor lines and retrieve both anchors. Off we went, as the other boats were also getting underway.

We had planned to spend another day in the area, but with the surprisingly mild conditions we motorsailed the 20 miles back to the security of George Town, the cruising hub of Exuma. Enough adrenaline for now.

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