Our Boat

Caloosa Spirit

Catalina 42 mkII

Log #90 Abaco Gotta-Goes

From all reports, no Abacos visit is complete without a stop at Hope Town. All the guidebooks describe the charming town and the oh-so-photogenic lighthouse as must-sees. So when we left Treasure Cay, Hope Town, seven miles to the east of Marsh Harbour, was our destination. The 20-mile motor-sail was placid and relaxing, although silence with no engine running would have been preferable. (The southerly wind just wasn’t strong enough, but we chose to wait until today to leave so that we weren’t punching into a 15-knot easterly.) As we approached Hope Town, we carefully followed the chart to find our way to the unmarked channel to the harbor entrance. As we have often done this trip, Jim was at the helm watching depths and I was at the laptop watching the chart. At one of the worst possible moments I perceived the electronic chart and navigation program to be locked up, as the boat was no longer moving. Time to reboot, while Jim continued to circle. Except that he wasn’t circling. He said we were moving, but everything around us remained stationary. Huh? Oh, and the depth sounder was reading 5½ ft. at that point. Umm, in every other similar scenario we’ve been most definitely aground. So, well, yes, we were aground this time as well. It’s just that the seabed is so flat and we were going so slow, we didn’t feel the boat hit the bottom. Not to worry, though, because we had foolishly tried to negotiate this shallow water at dead low tide—after a new moon, even. When we were informed by a neighboring boat that there was no deeper water closer to the channel, we simply dropped our anchor overboard and waited for the tide to start rising. We had reservations to take a mooring inside Hope Town harbor, since anchoring is no longer allowed inside, but after dinghying in to look around, we decided to spend the night where we were, enjoying the breeze and clear water. Maybe we’ll head in tomorrow. Or maybe not.


Hope Town lighthouse
Elbow Reef Lighthouse

Originally built in 1864 and rebuilt in 1934, the Elbow Reef Lighthouse at Hope Town rises 89 feet above sea level to guide vessels safely away from the nearby reefs and shallows. The light is visible from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Abaco. It is one of only three lights world-wide which are still lit with kerosene, rotated by a pendulum mechanism, and require a lightkeeper to manually wind the mechanism every two hours each night. The candy-cane striping makes the lighthouse one of the most photographed in the world. We’ve climbed several lighthouses in our travels, but this was the first in which we could smell and see the kerosene fuel. Of course, the view was breathtaking.

View from Hope Town lighthouse
View from the top

The restoration and preservation of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse was and is a community-wide effort, but it wasn’t always so. In the early 19th century a good living was made off of shipwrecks on the reef—hence, the term “wrecking”. When the town fathers proposed the construction of a lighthouse, a hue and cry went up from the locals who saw the end of their lucrative wrecking careers as a result. Nevertheless, the lighthouse was built and today stands as one more testament to the resiliency and vision of the Abaconian people.

After a delicious lunch at the Harbor View Restaurant we toured the town, and got the flavor of its relaxed pace. Hope Town has become a popular vacation rental destination, and the many brightly painted cottages are a charming sight. We were amused to watch several vehicles attempt to negotiate the driveway-width streets, which are much more suited to golf-cart traffic. A visit to the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum gave us some insight into what life in Hope Town has been like through the last couple of centuries. Like other Abaco islands, Elbow Cay was settled by Loyalists, British refugees from the American Revolution, and many of the current residents are their descendants.

Hope Town street
A typical street in Hope Town

We had hoped to spend some time on the beach here; the reef immediately off the beach certainly invites snorkeling. But the wind has shifted and the seas are building slightly, so we put that pleasure off for another time.

This afternoon Jim tried out the underwater rig that Lady Hawk has on board. With the pull of a small gasoline engine, air is supplied through a hose and regulator, allowing one to swim and/or dive without the encumbrance of either a snorkel or tank. He gleefully reported that it was a thrill to use. The price tag of several thousand dollars will keep it off our list of must-haves for a while, but as long as we’re cruising with Lady Hawk it’s available.

With the wind shifting to the southwest and building to 15+ knots, remaining in the exposed-to-the-south-and-west anchorage off Elbow Cay was not enticing. So today we sailed back to Marsh Harbour for its protection, and to wait for some mail. Drifting along on our genoa we ran the watermaker in the clear water for several hours, since we’d rather avoid making water in silty Marsh Harbour. We’ll probably be here for several days, since the mail won’t arrive until at least next Tuesday. We’ve learned that Monday is a holiday called Whitmonday. Apparently a single day to celebrate Pentecost (Whitsunday) is insufficient in these islands. We hope to return to Hope Town.

Hope Town channel
Hope Town harbor entrance

Mother’s Day was an opportunity to relax on board. Dawn and I got our Mother’s Day dinner last night—a rerun of the delectable Steak Night at the Jib Room. We were a little concerned that maybe the scrumptious steak we got the last time might have been a fluke, but not so. It was just as delicious this time. Yummm!

We did make an $.80-per-minute call to Mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, because she’s just that special.

As we understand it, the entire town of Marsh Harbour was buttoned up today for the holiday, Whitmonday. Going ashore wasn’t really an option, anyway, since the southwesterly was howling away at 20-25 knots. Things should improve tomorrow.

As promised, today was an exquisite day—cloudless skies, pleasant temperatures, and gentle breezes. Just perfect for spending time in the laundromat. Well, it has to be done sometimes, and this was the time—before the pile got any more out of control.

Happy Birthday, Lauri! We miss you.

We felt as though we got a birthday gift, when our repaired microphone/radio finally arrived. Even better, it seems to be actually fixed. Along with said “gift”, though, was something pretty undesirable. How were we supposed to know that without a copy of our cruising permit we’d get charged duty on the package?! Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.

A relatively quick trip to the Customs Office yielded no satisfaction when we complained that no one informed us about needing to include a copy of our cruising permit in the package. So we went back to the shipper we used, and when she realized the mistake was hers, she reimbursed us for most of the duty charged. Mission mostly accomplished, although we’re still waiting for another package of mail to arrive.

But rather than sit around Marsh Harbour waiting any longer, we decided to head over to Man-O-War Cay to have a look around there. By the time we dinghied ashore all the stores were closed, but we’ll come back tomorrow for some further investigation.

Man-O-War Cay is most noted for its long history of boat building and restoring. In fact, most of the “downtown” area is devoted to such endeavors, and the scents of curing fiberglass and sawn wood fill the air. Like most of the other islands, streets are more suited to golf carts than cars, and indeed, today we saw only two automotive vehicles among the fleet of club cars. And like other towns the pace is unhurried. The character of Man-O-War is something of a departure from the other islands, though, in architecture and style. Houses and stores are more utilitarian than decorative, and the island residents pride themselves on having a “dry” town. Alcohol and cigarettes are not sold anywhere on the island. We took the opportunity to stroll around the town and visit some of the shops, but in truth we were generally unimpressed. Perhaps we just don’t appreciate the art and craft of boat-building, but we found the waterfront area unattractive with very little charm.

So rather than remain exposed to the strong southwesterlies expected in the next few days, we opted to motor (once more the wind was on our nose) south toward Little Harbor, another must-see. This evening we’re anchored off of Snake Cay with no one but the whippoorwills for company. We’re looking forward to a pleasant, quiet night.

In the 1960s the Owens-Illinois Company took out a lease for some 50 or so years to develop a lumber operation on Snake Cay. A hustling, bustling port evolved complete with warehouses, sawmills, a railroad spur, and a large dock, all for the purpose of converting the pine forests of Abaco into lumber shipments to all points American. Within 20 years the pine forests were played out, and the lumber port was abandoned. One would think that in the 1960s some power-that-be might have realized that the pine forests wouldn’t last, but obviously rational heads didn’t prevail at the time. Today Snake Cay has been reduced to a large concrete loading dock in an advanced state of decay, rusted-out warehouses, the remnants of a variety of cast-off and forgotten equipment, and the remains of the railroad cars. The area seems to attract locals who like to fish from the dock ruins. What Snake Cay offers to boaters, however, is a protected anchorage in south-to-west winds, and it’s very comfortable here—so comfortable that we decided to stay another night.

Today Jim took Bruce up on his offer to use his Hooka (an underwater breathing system) to clean Caloosa Spirit’s bottom. The barnacles were starting to impede our speed, so getting them cleaned off while we’re sitting in the clear water seemed prudent. Jim got the hull about 2/3 finished before both he and the Hooka ran out of steam—er, gas. Perhaps tomorrow as we head toward Little Harbor we’ll see the fruits of his labors in an extra ½ knot or so.

Jim diving
Frogman Jim

We thought we might stop at Sandy Cay for the must-do snorkeling there, but the whitecaps were a sufficient deterrent, so we kept going on to Little Harbor. In the 1950s a professor at Smith College named Randolph Johnston decided he wanted to find his own private Eden where he could do his sculpting away from the demands of everyday life. So he packed up his family and arrived in the Abacos, eventually making his way to Little Harbor and no further. Randolph became a renowned sculptor, and his work is carried on today by his son Pete. Pete’s Pub and Gallery are another Abaco must-see. The Pub is fashioned out of the deckhouse of the schooner the family lived on for several years, and the Gallery displays a world-class collection of sculptures by Peter Johnston, along with artwork and jewelry by local artisans.

Little Harbor sculpture
Sculpture by Peter Johnston

Little Harbor itself is aptly named. Quite small but well protected, the harbor is surrounded by white sand and a few houses. The community fairly screams “island time” with the sandy road running through its midst and the lack of grocery, laundry, or trash collection. Little Harbor is usually considered the end of the line for Abacos cruises, and we concur. After a quick tour and a delicious lunch at Pete’s Pub, we decided one night would be enough. Since we arrived at low tide we didn’t bother to enter the harbor itself, opting to anchor outside. The slight swell coming in from the ocean will certainly lull us to sleep.

Little Harbor Atlantic
The Atlantic Ocean outside Little Harbor

After doing some less-than-spectacular snorkeling off a nearby island, we weighed anchors and headed back north. The 15-20 knot southerlies we experienced yesterday didn’t materialize today, so motorsailing was once again called for. The upside was that without yesterday’s whitecaps Sandy Cay looked promising, so we stopped to sample the snorkeling there. Sandy Cay is purported to have some of the best snorkeling in the Abacos, and we’re really glad we didn’t miss it. We saw a reef unlike anything we’ve seen outside of the Virgins or the Keys. Multihued fish, sea fans, rays, and myriad other visual treasures that a coral reef has to offer were on display. What a great way to spend part of the day. The rest of the day was spent sailing back to Snake Cay for another peaceful night.

Spending the morning finishing the bottom-cleaning left Jim feeling jubilant. It was definitely a job worth doing, and we saw the results as we cruised along at 6-7 knots on our way back to Marsh Harbour. Lady Hawk’s Hooka system was a god-send; we owe Bruce and Dawn several drinks and dinners as repayment.

Upon arriving in Marsh Harbour yet again, our intent was to head to the post office to pick up our package of mail from Lauri—the one she was told would only take 3-5 days to arrive via U.S. Priority Mail. When I called the post office to find out how late they would be open, I was reassured that we would have time to get there before their 5:00 closing. However, when I asked about our package, I was told that it would probably take 3-4 WEEKS to arrive!! Apparently, the 3-5 days is to Nassau, where the package then disappears into the bowels of the local postal service and Customs Office for another few weeks. What??!! “Island time” strikes again. And when I tried to call the post office in Nassau, I couldn’t get through. So tomorrow we’ll go into the post office here and ask them to find out where our package is and how long it will take to make the trip to Marsh Harbour. Tonight we’ll have a few cocktails and try to forget we’re in Paradise.

Our visit to the post office this morning was…shall we say “unproductive”? Actually, “frustrating”, “hair-raising”, “scream-stifling” would be more apt descriptions. Madam Bureaucrat told us that there was no way she could check on our package’s where-abouts, and that the sender was the only one who could request a trace on it. She also informed us that having the package sit in Nassau for two or more weeks makes sense in the Bahamas. However, she didn’t offer any explanation as to why the package had to be in Nassau for so long (something about going through Customs), although she did say that mail arrives in Marsh Harbour from Nassau DAILY BY AIR!! Nor did she offer to call the phone numbers that we were unable to reach at the Nassau post office to ask about our package’s status. AAARRRGGHHHHH!!!! Since the package contains medicine for both Jim and me, we don’t have much choice but to wait for it. It will be a long two weeks.

All who are reading here take heed: DO NOT… I repeat, DO NOT under any circumstances ever use U.S. or local postal service (and I use the term “service” facetiously) for mail in the Bahamas. Apparently, anything shipped by mail goes to Nassau and languishes indefinitely. The cook at the cyber café we’ve been using told us that something mailed from Marsh Harbour to another address in Marsh Harbour will go to Nassau first! The only reliable way to ship anything to or from the Bahamas is with a courier service. UPS, DHL, and FedEx all have offices in Marsh Harbour. Being able to move on without waiting for a package that may or may not arrive is definitely worth the extra expense. We’ve certainly learned our lesson.

In view of waiting another couple of weeks to get our package of medicines, we spent the better half of the day considering our options for returning to the States. Our initial plan had been to head for Charleston and then travel further up the coast to arrive in the Chesapeake by early June. We’re now considering heading for Ft. Pierce, FL, and finding a haul-out facility there, perhaps shelving our Chesapeake plans for another year. We miss our family and are feeling the need for a visit with them.

With a tentative grasp on our sanity, we went ashore once more to try to light a fire under someone at either the post office or Customs. Surely, we thought, some clerk or official somewhere in Nassau would notice that our package included medicine, and think, “Well, somebody might be needing these fairly soon. Maybe we should expedite this.” Right. This is the Bahamas. You know—island time? We hoofed to the post office first, thinking that the Customs Office would surely ask us when we last checked there. There are several signs in the Marsh Harbour post office assuring us that God is watching and taking care of us, so not to worry. Well, I don’t usually buy such bromides, but today I’m a convert. After checking into her hand-written ledger (no computer in sight) and her hand-written forms (no wonder brush fires are a problem here—record-keeping creates mountains of paper), Madam Bureaucrat informed us that our package had just arrived. My jaw fell to the floor, and a feather could have knocked me over. Sure enough, she produced our package, Jim signed for it, and we made our escape with it—hopefully, never to return to the Marsh Harbour post office.

We’re now free of Marsh Harbour, definitely not on our list of favorites in the Abacos. The city is utilitarian in terms of provisions, laundry, and such, but it lacks any ambience that we enjoy. The best thing the town has going for it is the Jib Room’s Steak night and Rib night. Last night we had their ribs and the dinner was just as excellent as the steaks. We recommend the Jib Room but not much else in Marsh Harbour.

Abaco Sunset
Abaco sunset

Yesterday, after making our escape from Marsh Harbour, we had a placid motor back around Whale Cay Passage bound for Green Turtle Cay. Placid is most desirable in that location to avoid any ocean swell. When the sky darkened over Green Turtle we were glad we had left early enough to get around the Whale before the approaching squall would catch us. As it was, we didn’t get into Green Turtle quite soon enough, so we sat out the squall in the open water of the Sea of Abaco. The visibility disappeared but seas were mild, as the Sea of Abaco is fairly well protected. The squall dutifully passed on by, and we were able to get snugly anchored into White Sound by mid-afternoon.

Our plan from here is as follows: some light provisioning today, sit out some snotty weather expected tomorrow (Sunday), sail on a brisk easterly to Great Sale Cay on Monday, sail on the same somewhat-less-brisk easterly to Matanilla Shoal on Tuesday, and cross to Ft. Pierce with little wind and calm seas on Wednesday. We’ve enjoyed our stay in the Abacos, but we’re ready to head back to the States before the weather turns more tropical—as in tropically stormy. We’re also ready to get back to regular and reliable phone and internet service. Sad to say, we’ve become somewhat enslaved to the technological creature comforts. We miss being able to communicate easily with family and friends and staying in touch with world news. On our next trip to the Bahamas, we hope to be better prepared for the communication challenges.

We were unsuccessful in getting this log posted prior to leaving Green Turtle Cay, and we’ve covered a lot of ground since then. As planned, we headed out and got to Great Sale Cay on Monday. We actually left on Sunday and made a stop at Powell Cay to see the beach there and to get a jump on the 55 miles to Great Sale. Sunday’s expected snotty weather actually arrived on Saturday with a 40-knot squall, quickly followed by another dragging experience in the iffy holding of White Sound. We presumed that the squall would be only the opening act, but the rest of the night was blessedly quiet.

Anyway, our plan was coming together for making a Gulf Stream crossing to Ft. Pierce on Wednesday. Tuesday morning we left Great Sale on what was supposed to be a diminishing easterly, but neither the winds nor the seas abated through the 51 miles to Matanilla Shoal. We weren’t really expecting 3-4 ft. seas on the banks in the vicinity of Matanilla Shoal, but that’s just what we had. It was patently apparent that anchoring there would be a non-starter. Our only choice was to press on through the night to Ft. Pierce, 63 miles away.

We continued to have 20 knots and 4-6 ft. seas across the Gulf Stream. The sailing was robust, and only the main was needed to make 6-7 knots the entire way. Unfortunately, our silent crew members, Otto and Ray, seemed to have had a falling out and weren’t communicating with each other, so our electronic navigation was only partially operative. Otto especially seemed to be in a high snit and frequently refused to stay on task in steering the boat. Jim had to do more than his share of hand steering. When we finally sighted the channel lights at the Ft. Pierce entrance, we had mixed feelings. We were thrilled to have finally made it that far, but we were also anxious about making a night entrance into an unknown channel, especially with Lady Hawk depending on us to lead the way. With the help of our electronic charts and our 25-year-old spot light we made our way through the channel at around 4:30 AM and into an anchorage where we could drop our hook for a few hours. After getting some much needed rest, later that same day we motored up the ICW to Vero Beach.

We’re now moored in the Vero Beach Mooring Field, and Lady Hawk is rafted next to us. This is where we’ll be for a couple of weeks while we attend to some boat issues and find a place to store Caloosa Spirit for a couple of months. Catching up on shopping and laundry, as well as plugging some dinghy leaks, have filled the last few days. It’s good to be back in the U.S. of A.

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

Posted Saturday May 31, 2008

* * *

name Remember
  Textile Help