Category Archives: Caribbean & Bahamas

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.

Passage to the Bahamas

Crossing from the Dominican Republic to the Bahamas…today has been an interesting day. We stopped last night to anchor at Turks and Caicos. We didn’t check in, we just “Q-flagged through.” That is, we kept up our yellow Q flag to indicate that we had not cleared, and we simply anchored without leaving the boat. “Provo Radio” contacted us as we approached, and told us to call once we were anchored to give them identifying information about the boat and crew. When we called, they said to stand by on channel 16, and then they never got back to us.

We waited until 8am to leave, so we could see the coral heads on our way out. Turks and Caicos is essentially the same geography as the Bahamas, with miles of very shallow water surrounded by extremely deep water. Navigating the shallow banks can be rather stressful, and requires good visibility to see the coral. We called Provo Radio again as we were getting underway, and told them we never connected to give them our vessel information. They said to stand by on channel 16, and…you guessed it…they never got back to us.

In any case we are now in Bahamian waters, but we have not yet stopped anywhere to clear in. Our tentative plan had been to clear in at Mayaguana, but we would have arrived there around dusk, would have had to anchor and wait for daylight to dodge the coral close to town, then clear in, and most of the day would have been gone. It feels like we’ve been heading for the Bahamas for a long time, and we are running out of time to enjoy the area, so we decided to keep going through the night and get closer to the Exuma Islands, where we hope to relax a bit.

The day has been nearly picture perfect, running under spinnaker with almost no waves, but also with not much wind. For a large portion of the day our speed was under five knots, and sometimes under four. I was getting frustrated that we were going so slow and we have so little time before the crew leaves, and I was thinking about just wanting to get home and relax and not be dealing with boat problems (like the last good burner on our stove no longer working reliably!).

Then we caught a mahi mahi, and this seemed to change everything! Believe it or not, it is the first mahi mahi we have landed on the entire voyage. Some time ago we hooked one, but we failed to bring it aboard. That really upset me, and the thought that we might not catch a single mahi mahi on an entire circumnavigation did not sit well with me. But this one was a beauty, and we now have lots of my favorite fish in the freezer as well as in our bellies.

But the interesting part is that somehow after catching the fish my outlook was entirely changed. Instead of feeling like we have time pressure to get somewhere, I felt like we are already “here.” Gliding slowly along on a perfect day, not exactly sure where we are going or when we will arrive, just feeling like we are in the perfect place, content, with everything we need for now. Including a delicious dinner shared with good company, an empty horizon, a flat sea, a pleasant spinnaker breeze, a crescent of moon, and stars already brilliant that will become even more so on my watch after the moon sets.

Ocean World Marina in the Dominican Republic
We never made it to the casino (nor do I have clothes to get in).

Here is a link to a video Nora took of our successful fishing. It’s pretty slow at first, but just wait until Steve wakes up and expresses his opinion about our catch!

Thank you, beautiful and tasty fish.

Dominican Republic

I liked Boqueron, Puerto Rico, and if we didn’t have a tight schedule I would have stayed and let the messy weather pass. But off we went, motoring. Not unpleasant, initially. But as we got offshore the swells built, squalls came and went, and at times the wind blew…dead against us even though we are “supposed” to be in favorable trade winds. There was a major depression just north of us (close enough to see the lighting over the horizon). Not conditions for a happy crew!

All the motoring was raising a question as to whether we had sufficient fuel. I “answered” that question by forgetting to turn off a fuel transfer pump, resulting in our pumping maybe 10 gallons overboard through the tank vent! Crap!

Between needing a break and needing fuel, we headed for the Dominican Republic after all. We had heard that Ocean World Marina was a good destination — a modern marina (showers), easy customs clearance with no bribes, and fuel would be readily available. Those three pluses turned out to be accurate. But this place has some major minuses, too. It is a resort and theme park. Music plays constantly, occasionally nice most mostly bad. We get to hear the overly enthusiastic announcer for their dolphin and sea lion shows thrice daily. It is a playground for the wealthy, with a casino and a cigar lounge and a Las Vegas style night club show. Not much connection to the larger community (other than providing jobs, of course). And maybe if the place were busy and thriving I would get into the spirit; but it is nearly empty. Huge docks designed for superyachts are bare. The terrace lounge has seating for a hundred or more, four seats in use.

At least we got to take a run into the nearby town of Puerto Plata. The supermarket offers pickup/delivery for us to shop there. Of course they are thinking we will be doing major provisioning, but we did that in PR since we didn’t plan to stop here. Still, we bought more food. But the highlight was our driver taking us the scenic route through the historic district, past the oldest cathedral in the DR, and allowing us to stop at the local produce market (after we had already bought all we needed at the supermarket).

Oh well…the people are friendly, and it’s fun to speak a little Spanish again.

Our fuel tanks are full. Our water tanks are full. Our freezer is full. Our counters are full of the produce and other items that won’t fit in the full lockers. In the morning we set out once again for the Bahamas. The wind will still be against us initially, but it is predicted to veer favorably by nightfall. And it should be sunny and pleasant except for some lingering swell from the distant gale.

Besides a hot shower, there was another highlight yesterday. I got an email from a student at Yale who was preparing for mock treaty negotiations in a climate law class. She is representing Tuvalu against the industrialized powers, and her web search took her to my posts from Tuvalu, especially the last one where I wax philosophical about the conundrum of climate change and climate refugees. I went back and read my own post (https://zekethesailor.net/2015/07/), and it made me cry. That time was so long ago and far away…and that post was so close to my heart…and that was when sailing the Blue Planet Odyssey included a bigger purpose…