Hello Again and Seasons Greetings.
|Christmas Festival - Bahamas|
Our last week in Stuart, Florida was spent checking and re-checking everything to make sure we were ready for the next cruising season. We picked up our new sun shades for the back deck – which were not quite the correct fitting, but we had waited so long for them and I could make the necessary adjustments. On our last day we moved SHAMAL over to the fuel dock at Sailfish Marina for a final pump out, to fill up the diesel tanks plus the ten jerry cans, fill the four petrol cans for the outboard motor, and fill up the water tank as we have not been making water in Manatee Pocket as the water is filthy. Then it was off to the markets for the fresh fruit and vegetables. As for the tins and dry stores, once again I have stocked up with enough to go around the world again!!! We have been told that we will find it more expensive out in the Bahamas, and, in Cuba most items will be impossible to find, so stocked up we are. Alec is now a little concerned how low we are sitting in the water!!
We have also noticed with the three plus months we have spent sitting in the water in Manatee Pocket it has given us a horrid beard of coral worm growth just below the water line on the inside of each hull, something we will attend to once we are in cleaner waters. Another cruiser who lives in the Pocket was telling us he saw an alligator in here a few nights ago !!!! Our copper coat anti-fouling has now been on for nine years, so we have had a good run from it, but it looks like at our next haul out we will have to make a decision as to what we put on next – re-do the copper coat or go for something else?
Mark Beiser on s/v “Rainbow” has been our neighbour since we arrived in the Pocket. He has a 39 foot Westerly built in the UK, and is heading back out into the Bahamas, waters which have been his home for many years. He has offered to be our guide and take us around some of the less visited Cays and show us his fishing, lobster and conch spots. Who could turn down such an offer, especially as he has taken us shopping and armed me with a lighter fishing rod to catch my bait and also the snapper etc. which I should be able to catch off the back of the boat for an evening meal, but also Alec is now armed with an Hawaiian sling – a type of hand spear. So, with the hurricane season nearly behind us – it officially ends on the 30th November – but we are not so naïve to know that they can form well out of season, so will keep a vigilant watch on the weather - we can’t wait to get moving again.
|Following "Rainbow" out of Pocket|
|Leaving Manatee Pocket|
It is 0800 Wednesday 2nd November as we up anchor for the last time and follow “Rainbow” with Captain Mark, his cat James, and his new crew member Alice, on board and motor on out of Manatee Pocket. We start the last leg down the ICW, heading for West Palm Beach. It is grey and overcast and we have a brief heavy shower of rain as we pass through Jupiter. By early afternoon we have dropped the anchor once again in Lake Worth on the south side of the West Palm Beach inlet. A northerly has been coming down the coast so we will wait here another 40 hours before making the crossing of 53nm to Memory Rock on the edge of Little Bahama Bank. Within the first hour of us anchoring we have fellow boaties popping by in their tenders, on paddle boards, and in kayaks to say hello and find out in which direction we are heading next, and when. Everyone seems to be ready to move out and are just waiting for that weather window. Early the next morning some do leave including a large Turkish Gullet. As the seas and winds are still on the nose he returns after only six miles. One 60ft yacht broke down and is towed back in a little later, so it was prudent we waited.
The Gulf Stream is considered the dominant navigational concern as one makes passage between the East Coast of the USA and the Bahamas. It is described like a 45 mile-wide river with an average flow of 2.5 knots, but that can increase to 4 knots. It is north flowing, so when you get a northerly wind blowing down the coast it creates horrid short sharp seas as you get wind against current. The locals call those waves “elephants”. It flows the whole way up the east coast, and one is never too sure how far out you will encounter it. For us we have been very lucky, as each time we have been out we have never encountered those “elephant” seas.
Friday 4th November – 0600 – we have upped anchor and are once again following “Rainbow”, this time out through the harbour entrance. It is pitch dark and the seas are still a little lumpy, but the winds have dropped. Bye Bye U.S.A. We have totalled up 3,400nm in your waters in the year and a half SHAMAL has been here. We have sailed as far south as Fort Lauderdale in Florida, and as far north as Portland in Maine. The New England coast line is quite challenging with lobster pots whales and shoals and currents, but also quite stunning. America was, and is an amazing place. We have met so many wonderful people who really went out of their way to make us feel so welcome. Thankyou. Sailing (motoring) the ICW was an experience we will never forget, passing through some of America’s historic towns, but also into lovely wildness areas where all we had for company was the pelicans. But it is a relief now to sail back into wide open waters again. For the wind to blow through your hair, and feel the freedom of these wide open spaces. To set the sails and let the wind take us to new cruising grounds, and blow away the complexity of a country and system that does not know how to gain control of an order on which they base their Constitution on. The rights and freedoms of the average American have been blown away on the winds of time. In its place is a system of too many checks and balances. It’s been incredible listening to the political battles going on in this the year of the Presidential elections. We wish you well America, and hope the correct decision is made.
|My Herb Garden|
|Leaving Grand Cay|
Next morning in the safety of daylight we move our boats closer in. We do not take them into the harbour, but stay on the south side. Then we take the tender ashore to check into the country, US $300 including a local fishing licence. We were asked if we had bikes so did not declare them as one has to pay a bond. Maybe Customs want tourist to hire the local bikes. So, here we are in the Northern Abacos (top left hand corner of the Bahamas). Walkers Cay, some 7nm to the NW was one of the many ports which one could check into the Bahamas, but since the ravages of hurricanes have taken their toll, the Customs and Immigrations officers now come over to Grand Cay to check you in as all commercial establishments on Walkers have been closed. We are in a little more remote area of the Bahamas – not on the main cruising highway, which makes it all the nicer. Grand Cay is very basic, but the people and friendly and welcoming. After check-in and a wander around the settlement, then we head back to our boats with a “local” takeaway. A meal sold in front of someone’s home who has set up a kitchen on their front lawn with large pots of different dishes – we had rice, a pork stew, a slice of cheese and macaroni pie, and a cabbage and fish mix- yes, all most interesting !!!! Pity I couldn’t try it all, but it was not all gluten free !!!! So after our hefty lunch we were off to do some fishing. First we had to catch our bait. Mark lent me one of his small rods set up to do this, but once I mastered the art of catching them I am now able to use my new slightly bigger rod. We were catching Jacks, which are like our small trevally. One uses a yellow fly and you flick your rod as you troll a at reasonable speed in your tender – Great Fun. Then that evening we caught snapper off the back of our boats.
Next day we motor the 3nm to Double Breasted Cays. This really was a beautiful stop with its rocky islets, beautiful white sandy beaches and the amazing clarity and colours of the waters. We move the boats a couple of times for easy access to the different beaches and dive spots. Here we give SHAMAL’S hull its first good clean, we catch more fish, Alec gets his first crayfish – lobster - with the Hawaiian Sling, and I find my first conch which Mark shows us the “ local” way to remove the meat from shell. That must be the national dish of the Bahamas, and it is delicious both raw in a salad, or served as cracked conch – fried.
Our next stop is at Strangers Cay. Alec is back in the water, this time with the Power Snorkel, to check the hull and do some more cleaning. “B” the thing dies on us. We will have to wait till we can now find somewhere for someone to take a look at it. Strangers Cay does not get a wonderful write-up in the cruising guide saying it is a difficult area of banks, shoals, rocks and reefs. We found the entrance in straight forward in good clear depths of water, and the anchorage very comfortable with good holding. Again we take the tenders off exploring. While exploring the northern end of the cay we came across what appeared to be the wreck of a rowing boat between 26-28 feet long with a cabin on it and the name PSVITA- PlayStationVita on the cabin. So I took a photo and once back in internet contact did some research. Very interesting story - It took part in the Whisky Atlantic Challenge Race, which is considered to be the World’s toughest rowing race. On December 13th 2011 during the race the boat capsized with its two crew members. They were rescued the following day by a cruise ship. Their rowing boat drifted across the Atlantic washing up on Strangers Cay in the Abacos – Northern Bahamas. From here we moved on to Fox Town which is which is situated on the northern shore of Little Abaco Island. Again it is a quiet community, but with a very friendly welcome. We were able to get internet here and catch up with the family and check up on the weather. Looks like we are in for a settled period, warm and sunny with some cloud about and with winds out of the NE for the next week.
|Islet off Strangers Cay|
Then we made a short run of 10nm out to Moraine Cay. We have our lines out trolling and Mark catches a beautiful 12lb Mutton Snapper from the back of “Rainbow”. We are all a little worried about Ciguatera Poisoning, something one can get from eating larger reef fish, so James – his cat – became the “food tester” !!!! Yes he survived the night after a good meal with no ill-effects. It was now ready for human consumption !! As we dropped anchor at Moraine Cay we had two large dolphins playing around the bows. Later as Mark was cleaning his snapper he had two large sharks pay him a visit. Swimming will be restricted here!!! Moraine Cay is one of the many privately owned cays, but is open to visitors. It was here we found our first coconuts and Alec got more crayfish, on the other side of the cay away from the sharks. Once again we use the tenders to explore the cay. It was a very pretty place again with all the wonderful colours of the Bahamian waters, coconut palms and four little Island style cottages, just picture post-card perfect.
Then it was on to the Allans Pensacola Cays. This is two cays which have been joined by a sand bar during a hurricane. It was here we hiked to the other side of the cay to see the “signing trees”. A place where cruises leave anything from a loo seat, old shoes, old fenders and buoys, to their boat card in a bottle of sand, all signed with their boat name and date on. Again we all have crayfish for dinner.
On leaving Allans Pensacola we are able to hoist the sails and have a lovely run for the next 16nm to Powell Cay. Again uninhabited but quite beautiful. This cay is more elevated with lots of casuarina trees growing. It has long white sandy beaches. We spend a couple of nights here at different anchorages. For the second day we move our boats to the southern end of the cay then take the tenders off to explore High Cay which is also privately owned and has a manmade harbour which would make a perfect hurricane hole. We took the tenders right into the harbour – no one was on the cay at the time. Oh we have a night off from a fish meal here – chicken stir fry for a change !!!!
We up anchor from Powell Cay. We have a cold front passing through from the north with winds 17-20kts. giving us a lovely sail over to Manjack and Crab Cay. These two Cays are joined by a sand bar at low tide. This time we anchor with seven other boats, the most we have seen in one anchorage since we arrived in the Bahamas. Manjack is beautiful. Again people live here, but cruisers are welcome. They residents have cut walking paths so you can reach the northern coast through the dense scrub. Here you look out on the barrier reef to the Atlantic Ocean. Again the colours of the waters are spectacular. You look from the white sandy beaches to the turquoise and aquamarine waters, then on to the green and brown shades where coral heads, rock and sea grass are. Then on out to that sapphire blue of the deeper Atlantic with the white waters breaking on the reef. Later Mark guides us into the lagoon among the mangroves in our tenders to see the turtles. Again in crystal clear waters we see so many turtles in here in the protected waters. Then it is off to catch more bait fish. It is here later that evening I catch my second shark!! Only a small one, but still a shark.
|Turtle - Manjack Cay|
We are having days with temperatures between 25 - 27 deg c. and the water temperature is much the same. Some days the wind chill factor does determine whether we swim or not, but most days we are in the water. Our next anchorage is back in civilisation. We are roughly at the halfway point down the Sea of Abaco at Green Turtle Cay. We drop anchor in Settlement Harbour off the town of New Plymouth at the southwest end of the island. This is a really quaint historical settlement where we receive a very warm welcome from the locals. We spend five nights here exploring the area on foot and by tender. There is Black and White Sounds, two natural Harbours where the marinas are located. We do a little shopping, eat the locally made conch salad – yummy, visit the Albert Lowe Museum – the first in the Bahamas, and walk to the Gilliam Bay on the other side of the island. We spend Thanksgiving here. Mark cooks the roast chicken which he thaws out in the sea in a bag – it was going to be either chicken or fish for dinner that evening, but the fish did not come thank goodness. I did the vegetables, made stuffing and a desert.
Next stop was No Name Cay just across a small channel, but we had to go around a sand bar so our trip was 2nm. Again uninhabited by humans, lovely white sandy beaches and big casuarina trees along the shore. This cay is a very popular stop as here we see the swimming pigs. Yes that is correct. Pigs and chickens are the only inhabitants, so one is encouraged to get rid of your food scraps here. We spend the night anchored here. Early afternoon Alec and I are back in the water cleaning SHAMAL’S hull. Early evening Alec and I head off to catch more bait fish. Instead I catch a small cero mackerel which are considered top eating, and yes it was delicious. Later that evening I am fishing yet again, and yes I catch shark no. 3. Again a small one, but still a shark!!!
|The Atlantic from Nippers|
Another north-easterly is coming through and our next stop is Great Guana Cay. To reach this we need to pass through “The Whale”. A channel which will take us just out into the Atlantic around Whale Cay for a couple of miles, then into Loggerhead Pass and back into the Sea of Abaco. When the winds kick up the seas too much this entrance like any reef passage, becomes impassable. Mark is on the radio talking to a local fishing boat going out at just after 0600 and he says it will be a little rolly, but we should be fine, so we up anchor and are on our way just after 0700. The run is fine and we encounter seas of about 1.5mts on the beam as we are heading along the northern shore of Whale Cay, but are very soon back in calmer waters again. Our next stop is Fishers Bay on Great Guana Cay. We are here with the charter catamarans. About six come into the bay in the course of the afternoon and tie up to mooring buoys. We anchor out a little and sit comfortably as the front passes through. It was only a 16nm run, so in the early afternoon we take the tenders ashore and set off to see this part of the island.
Great Guana has many big homes with the northern end closed to cruisers. That end is for the rich and famous, and unless you are a member of their “yacht club”, you are not welcome!!! Not even to walk the beach there. From the anchorage in Fishers Bay it is but a short walk to the famous “Nippers” Bar and Grill. They are known all around the Abacos as being famous for their Sunday Pig Roast, and rum punches. It was Sunday when we were there, but decided to just enjoy the view out over the Atlantic and watch the waves crashing up on the reef which is a short way off shore here. We are in tourist-ville here with lots of little shops, restaurants, and a bunch of tourists about.
Like on most of the cays, the mode of transport here is mostly golf carts, hence the roads are nearly all concert and not very wide. Monday morning we decide to up anchor again and move on to Marsh Harbour which is the “big city” of the Abacos. It has a very sheltered harbour with excellent holding when at anchor. There are three marinas situated around its shore line, and it is also a base for a charter boat fleet, Sunsail/Moorings. It will also be the best re-provisioning stop for us before we head further south. It is also here that Mark and Alice parted company as they were not compatible. Alice’s sailing skills were zero, he felt she was not willing to learn, and Mark was finding he was doing EVERYTHING. But within 24 hours she had found another boat to crew on and was on her way.
So it is here in Marsh Harbour that we will leave you for this posting.
We wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and all the very very best for this festive season, and, a Very Happy, Safe and Prosperous New Year. Where will we spend Christmas – anchored out in the shelter of another one of these paradise Cays eating Crayfish/Snapper/Conch – away from the stress and maddening crowds.
Lots of love
The Admiral and The Commander