Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #88 Bahamas Bound

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best weather window. And maybe by some standards it wouldn’t have been considered even a good window. But it was the window we took. And we’re finally here at West End on Grand Bahama Island…IN THE BAHAMAS!!! YIPPEE!!

Let me explain about the weather window…er, peephole. We had been listening carefully to reliable weather forecasts for over two weeks, and we had purposely waited in No Name Harbor for what was purported to be a usable window with fair weather in the Abacos behind it. As we got closer to our planned departure day the forecast started to get somewhat iffy, and we considered delaying a day to get lighter winds and shorter seas. But then squalls were forecast for the weekend, so we decided to stick with our first plan, thinking that a 20-knot southeasterly and 6-ft. seas would make for a brisk, quick, enjoyable sail.

I wouldn’t call it “brisk”. “Robust” wouldn’t even begin to describe it. Quick? Well, twelve hours to cover 90 miles was probably “quick” by some definitions, but it seemed like a week until we got to that last hour. And as for enjoyable—well, let’s just say we probably won’t be making the same decision the next time. To quell any fears, it really was not at all dangerous. Caloosa Spirit handled the challenge with grace and aplomb. We had neither stormy weather nor equipment problems. It just wasn’t at all comfortable.

We left No Name Harbor in the afternoon two days ago to raise our mainsail in the bay outside the harbor. There had been a problem with our reefing lines, so Jim wanted to make sure they were all sorted out prior to heading out in the dark. All was well, so we anchored just outside the harbor entrance, and our boat buddies Dawn and Bruce on Lady Hawk did the same. We attempted to get some sleep, but the increasing wind chop made the bay rolly, and the tidal current had us spinning in circles for a few hours. We weighed anchors at 0-dark-30, and believe-you-me it was DARK! By diligently following our navigation waypoints on our computer we made it out to deep water without incident. Bruce and the skipper of an additional boat behind us, neither of whom had ever used that channel before, were also quite appreciative of our nav system.

Jim had already put a reef in the mainsail in preparation for the 20 knots, and when we put out our headsail we decided that only about half of the 155-genoa was needed. The Bonine I had taken earlier in the evening wasn’t up to the task of keeping me from feeling queasy in the 5-6 ft. seas near the coast, but by the time we got into the Gulf Stream the swells lengthened so that I could eventually become mobile again. (Jim, on the other hand, loved the sail with no engine noise, and he particularly loved saving the $5/gallon diesel price we found at West End.) After several hours of watching anxiously for ships, the lightening sky and the rising sun were highly welcome sights. As the day wore on each hour became longer and longer; the wind never abated, and the seas remained constant. The twelve-hour trip was more than plenty in the washing-machine conditions, so when we finally sighted West End we cheered. Of course, the last hour lasted about three before we finally pulled into the Old Bahama Bay Marina channel. Too pooped to pop the cork on the champagne some thoughtful friends had given us for just that time, we washed off the boat, grabbed some dinner, showered, and fell into bed.

Old Bahama Bay is a lovely marina and resort that is a rebuild after the hurricane destruction of West End a few years ago. We’ve heard it’s a great place to clear customs and immigration, but it is pricey. The rate is in fact the highest we’ve ever paid—and never even considered paying before—but anchoring in the vicinity isn’t really an option. With our total exhaustion from yesterday’s ordeal still a fresh memory, the thought of getting out early this morning and sailing for another 20-40 miles made us pale. We opted to stay for a second night in order to enjoy some of the resort’s amenities, and when a front rolled in this morning with a 30-40 knot squall we were quite happy with our decision. After the clouds cleared we lolled by the pool, drank our champagne, and had a lovely dinner at the Bonefish Follies restaurant, all with our cruising buddies Bruce and Dawn on Lady Hawk. Tomorrow we’re off to start exploring the northwest Bahamas.

West End
Old Bahama Bay at West End

Last night’s squalls and rain had us wondering about the wisdom of leaving Old Bahama Bay this morning, but with some 15 boats due to arrive during the day we were not allowed to extend our stay anyway. Fortunately, the skies began to clear by 10:00 AM, so we dropped the dock lines and headed out to enter the Little Bahama Bank via Indian Cay Channel. We had a very pleasant motor-sail for 46 miles to Great Sale Cay. We considered stopping at Mangrove Key, but when we saw the two boats there bouncing in the unprotected chop, we opted for pushing on to the protected harbor at Great Sale.

This is a totally deserted island. Due to its location and protection, the anchorage is quite popular for boats transiting the banks in either direction. Bruce attempted to take their dog Scooter ashore but was discouraged by the shoreline of hard coral. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll go in search of a nice beach.

Given the size and scope of this harbor, we decided any beach was just too far away to seek out. So we contented ourselves with sunning on deck. I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Foxtown is a sleepy but friendly little village on Little Abaco, but it has a Bahamas Telephone Company (BTC) office and a cell phone tower. We were in hopes of buying a cell phone which will work in the Bahamas, since our Verizon phones don’t. The small shop happened to be out of the phones today, but the very pleasant clerk Inez offered to give us one of hers which works but has no display. We only had to pay for the “chip” and some minutes to get the phone up and running. For our purposes we decided that the marginal phone was a good bargain, especially with the 100% discount she offered! We curiously wondered afterward where in the states we might have gotten a similar deal. (That would be “nowhere”.)

At the local restaurant we got our first cheeseburger…make that hamburger in paradise. The cook had to go to the grocery across the street to get the makings for the burgers, and she didn’t get any cheese. Nevertheless, we idled away the time that we waited by chatting with another cruiser about his experiences in the Abacos. And the burgers were excellent when they finally arrived.

Foxtown restaurant
Foxtown restaurant

Foxtown restaurant
The only patrons with the cook

Foxtown restaurant view
The view from the restaurant

With a front packing strong northwesterlies predicted for tomorrow, we opted yesterday to head for the protection of White Sound on Green Turtle Cay. The wind was still out of the east yesterday, so we motor-sailed the full 25 miles. Otherwise the weather was perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed watching the clear water and other interesting islands go by. We had been forewarned that the holding in White Sound may not be the best, but our trusty Delta seemed to set well, so we expect to sit here for several days.

Today we dinghied to New Plymouth, the local town on Green Turtle. We loved the quaintness and the vibrancy. As we strolled among the single lane streets and closely set houses, we were strongly reminded of our sojourn on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands several years ago. The Abacos were once a haven for Loyalists, British refugees after the American Revolution, and many of the island inhabitants are descendants. We learned something of the history of Green Turtle from a visit to the Albert Lowe Museum. We plan to tour the town again, since we’ll probably be here for several days.

New Plymouth
A street in New Plymouth

Incidentally, on the way to Green Turtle we found ourselves passing by the center of the world. Surprised? Well, we wouldn’t have known either, except that one obstacle we were careful to avoid was the Center of the World Rock. We assumed that it truly marks the exact center of the world, so there you have it.

Center of the World Rock
Center of the World Rock

We expected to have this log posted by now, but locating any internet service here on Green Turtle has been something of a scavenger hunt. We’ve tried the nearby marinas (not available without paying the dockage fee), the library (no laptop accessibility), a local grocery store referred by the librarian (“we used to have it, but not anymore”), and finally a local bank referred by the grocery owner (our laptop wouldn’t connect). So please bear with us for a while longer.

After a couple of mostly sleepless nights, last night’s serenity was blissful. Two nights ago the 20-25 knot northwesterly arrived right on schedule at 2:30 AM, and not 15 minutes thereafter horns were blaring in the anchorage. Bruce and Dawn had opted to head for a marina a day or so earlier, so Lady Hawk was out of harm’s way. As it turned out, with a modicum of luck and a magnum of skill so were we, but through the rest of the dark hours we witnessed at least two collisions as boats dragged in the howling winds and grassy bottom. We were pretty sure our anchor and scope were sufficient to the task of keeping us in one place, but who knew about all the other boats out there? It was evident that not all anchors and/or anchor sets are created equal in White Sound, so what little sleep we got for the rest of that night would be described as fitful at best. The winds abated some to 15-20 during the next day, but the following night we were subjected to a continuous barrage of 30-35 knots. By then the anchorage had dramatically cleared out, as many of the boats anchored through the previous night’s theatrics filled up the marinas. While we pitched and yawed on the anchor rode, our trusty Delta maintained its death grip on the bottom, and we didn’t budge an inch. Even so, sleep was elusive that night, as well.

Yesterday and today we’ve enjoyed the pool and beach at Bluff House Marina where Lady Hawk is berthed. Green Turtle Cay has been quite pleasant, and, despite the dragging drama, White Sound offered superb protection through the high winds. Tomorrow we expect to depart in search of some other new places.

In our rush to find secure shelter at Green Turtle Cay we passed by Manjack Cay, so we opted to retrace some steps to check out this island. The cruising guides promised beautiful beaches and nature trails, so yesterday afternoon we went ashore to scout out the area, with the intent of taking a longer walk today. Our reconnaissance took us on a mile or more hike to find the ocean beach on the other side of the island. We hadn’t even put on swimsuits, but the beach wasn’t particularly attractive anyway. The high winds had stirred up the bottom and thrown a mountain of weed beyond the high tide mark. It was a pleasant but tiresome hike for little reward.

So today we opted for a dinghy ride to some beaches on the banks side. At the second stop we found another trail leading to the ocean side, but some other visitors informed us that the walk would only be about ¼ mile. Sure enough, the ocean appeared far sooner than yesterday, and the water and the shoreline were far cleaner. We all had a grand time cavorting in the Bahamas surf for the first time.

Manjack Cay
Manjack Cay beach

Incidentally, a note about buddy boating: This is the first time we’ve cruised in company for this long and this far, and it has been quite rewarding. Bruce and Dawn have similar interests and dispositions to ours, so we really enjoy each other’s company. (And we think Scooter is the cat’s meow! Even though he’s a cute wire-haired terrier.) We usually spend several hours of the day together, but we also have our own lives aboard our separate boats. It’s been a grand adventure so far, and we look forward to its continuation.

Whale Cay Passage is a short jaunt into the Atlantic around Whale Cay (necessitated by the large expanse of shallow water south of the island), but it is a jaunt not to be taken lightly. Any of the passages between the islands can become quite treacherous in high seas, even without much wind. So we timed our departure from Manjack Cay headed around the Whale for Great Guana Cay for a calm day with no seas. We chose well. On this absolutely glorious day in the crystal clear water of the Sea of Abaco the starfish and sea cucumbers 15 ft. below us looked to be only inches down. What a treat to watch a dolphin descend all the way to the bottom and resurface several yards away. After anchoring at Fishers Bay off Great Guana we headed for the highly recommended pig roast at Nipper’s, a must-stop for the Abacos. Once more we were treated to a rainbow of colors—both in the water and on the collection of patios, pools, and tables at Nipper’s. And, yes, the meal was outstanding. Dawn and I again enjoyed the surf.

The only sour note in an otherwise perfect day happened when we dropped anchor. Someone on a nearby boat courteously informed us of the location of his anchor. We took that into account and circled until Jim spotted the anchor in the clear water; then Jim chose a spot well clear to drop our anchor. While we were studiously setting the anchor, a woman on said boat stood on the bow continuing to advise and direct us…well, actually harass us…about how and where we were anchoring. As we headed for shore in Lady Hawk’s dinghy we puttered over to check with them about their concerns. The woman continued to harass us and expected us to move, simply because she wasn’t happy about our proximity. In gazing around the spacious anchorage I was completely stymied about her issues. My first thought was, “You think this is crowded? You’ve never been in No Name Harbor, have you?” We tried to be courteous, or at least civil, but, short of re-anchoring a great distance away, there was obviously no satisfying the people, so off we went to shore. Upon our return we noticed that they had put out an anchor ball (a marker indicating the exact position of their anchor)—totally unnecessary in the clear water. But they did succeed in continuing to harass us with the noise of the ball as it bumped the bottom of our boat through the evening. The wind gods were kind in shifting the wind enough so that we avoided the ball through the night. We were kind of hoping that boat would leave this morning, but no such luck. What we can’t figure out is what happened to the wicked witch. This morning we’ve seen no signs of her on that boat, unless she managed to shed several pounds and change her hair color and length since yesterday. It’s a mystery, the solution of which we could devise with all manner of scenarios.

HOLD THE PRESSES!! They just upped anchor and sailed away. Interestingly, the woman who was trying to tell us where not to anchor was apparently a guest on board who spent the night on shore with her significant, older other. Go figure.

Fair winds and a faithful wake until next time,
Alice & Jim Rutherford
s/v Caloosa Spirit

Posted Monday April 21, 2008

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  1. Gre*t job on telling bout our journey! You guys *re gre*t. I didn’t won’t you to forget *bout the letter we do not h*ve th*nks to spl*t of se*w*ter. D*wn
    — Gloria Dawn Turek    04/29/2008 08:23 PM    #
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