Monday, February 19, 2018

The Devil's Backbone....and Harbour Island

Northern Route to Spanish Wells
Goes through this area!
Over the past few days we have been moving north at a fairly leisurely pace, with the exception of one longer leg from Highborne Cay to Spanish Wells.  Studying the charts would give one sime cause for concern and perhaps second thoughts about our intended route.  I include a screenshot of the area in question.  Quite a lot of rocks! and the route goes straight through the middle of them!

Well actually it was not that bad and as I said, I would not have attempted this but someone gave me waypoints back in 2014 and assured me it was fine.  We made it through twice in 2014 and had a terrific sail though that area again this week.  Yes there are rocks....its generally 12-16 ft deep....and most look to have clearance.  The odd one has you worried.  We made the 50 or so miles from Highborne Cay to Royal Island and anchored in the well protected natural harbour there.  After a night, we moved on to Spanish Wells.  I can't give you one specific reason, but I just like this quaint, quiet little town.  The marina - Yacht Haven is now finished and we had a great stay.  A little pricey at $2.50/ft.  but that has become the new norm in the Bahamas.  They have a great restaurant and nice pool, and very friendly staff.

Today, we took on the challenge of the Devil's Backbone; known as perhaps one of the most
notoriously tricky passages in the Bahamas.  We hired the services of a local pilot "Bandit" and took 3 sailboats through the passage.  To be honest- - it didn't seem too bad and I think we could have done it alone.  However, the warnings on the Charts are enough to make you think that a pilot is definitely warranted.  We were also very fortunate to have excellent and calm weather.  I am sure its a different story in challenging seas, at the wrong state of the tide etc!  Anyway, Bandit did a great job - we negotiated a discounted rate for 3 boats and were joined of course by TraSea and also OnY' Va - new Canadian friends we met in Spanish Wells.

The passage through the backbone was very uneventful, but definitely scenic.  And this passage brings one through to the beautiful "Harbour Island" on North Eleuthera.  We had been told about a wonderful anchorage just north of Harbour island, inside the Devils Backbone called Man Island, so we decided to check it out.  Very glad to do so as this turned out to be a wonderful spot with great beach and access to the Atlantic Side of the island.  I have included a screenshot of the chart location. 
Man Island - Note Devil's Backbone to the North
We have spent the last two nights here and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and calm.  Although you can see through to the Atlantic there is no roll or swell here - its just an amazing spot - perhaps one of the best anchorages so far on this trip.  so thank you to Leslie and Ralph on "S/V Now and Zen" for sharing this spot with us!

Anchorage - Man Island, North Eleuthera
We are headed in to the marina at Ramora Bay today as we are picking up friends Dave and Tracy tomorrow.  Since things are quiet up here, we negotiated a discount rate with the marina - not quite as good a deal as Leslie and Ralph apparently got.......but not bad at $1/ft/day.  Definitely our best deal since Bimini.  We are looking forward to exploring Dunmore Town on Harbor Island later today.......and we will be cooking lobster for dinner - purchased from local divers yesterday at $10 each.

The plan from here is to head to the Abacos - likely Little Harbor.  Hoping that the great weather we have been enjoying the past few days will last for this next 50 mile leg.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Headed North and Maybe a Revised Plan?

So - the one great thing about cruising is that you can change the plan at any time right.....well we may be about to do that.  our original plan was to go south through the Exumas, then either continue on to the BVI or head across the south coast of Cuba to Mexico.  Well Mexico seems to be on the list, but the passage on the south coast looks difficult.  Difficult is that there is no place to stop until you get past Guantanamo.....and we have Salty with us who needs shore stops.  Hmmm....we have been thinking about this challenge for a while and we are now considering a change of plan.  We are actually headed north right now to the Abacos, and the thought is then to hop back to the US, then down to Veradero, Cuba ..........north coast of Cuba to Mexico.  We shall see.....one day at a time!

Bahamian Class C Boats
So we have now made it down the Exuma Chain to Georgetown, and are headed up to the Abacos.  The Exumas have been beautiful and we have enjoyed it despite a stream of cold fronts hitting us one after another.  Since my last post, we went to the 5F Festival at Little Farmers Cay and saw the Bahamian class C boats race.  We entered the Cruisers Race on TraSea and were the firs monohull to finish!!

Racing in the Cruisers Race

JR - the wood carver - Little Farmer's
There was a great party hosted by Little Farmer's Yacht Club with free dinner and drinks for participants. Everyone was asked to make a donation to the local school and church.  It was a fun event!





After the 5F festival, I have to say that one of the highlights of the trip was a day visit to Pipe Cay and Pipe Creek.  The waters there were unbelievably crystal clar and the blues and greens just amazingly beautiful.  Photos simply do not do it justice ......but it is a sight to be seeen.
Pipe Creek

Sand Bar at Pipe Creek
Sadly, we said a temporary farewell to Rick and Juli here.  They have some boat and medical issues to attend to so have decided to head to Georgetown as we venture north.  We hope we will catch back up with them in a month or so.

We did run into another Pensacola boat yesterday - Kimberley on Sustenance II.  She is a friend of our good friend Brian, and we happened to find her a couple of boats away from us in the anchorage at Norman's Cay.  Small world!

While at Staniel Cay, we also caught up with good friend Rivers Brink on her amazing Chesapeake Ketch.  It was cool to hear about her somewhat eventful trip so far.  She had to fix a spreader bar with duct tape while in Bimini!
River's Boat "The Pearl"

Pirates Cove Folks stick together!


After an overnight stop at Norman's, we headed north to Allen Cay to see the Iguanas.  Hmmm.....creepy little things! and they were very curious about us.  We day anchored then exited to the north side of Highborne Cay for the night.  Its a beautiful anchorage, but it does tend to get a bit rolly! - even in pretty settled weather.  So, tonight we splurged and got a slip at Highborne Marina and dinner at Exuma!






Damn!  these things want my beer!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Cold Fronts and Swimming Pigs?

I am writing this post as we sit out yet another cold front.  This time we are at anchor at Black Point, Great Guana Cay.

This is located just a few miles south of Staniel Cay - home of the swimming pigs.  For our real-time location, please check out:
https://share.garmin.com/Midnightsunii  I think I will out a link to this on the side bar of this page.

This past week of so, we had a lot of fun with our sailing friends Brian and Patrick.  If you have seen any of our video, Patrick is responsible for the "It doesn't get any better than this!" clip, featured in many of my video!  http://www.midnightsunii.com/videos---cruises.html

We picked up Brian and Patrick in Emerald Bay.  Similarly, TraSea picked up Zach.  After sitting out a cold front - yes notice there is a pattern to all of this.......we set off north to see some of the local sights.

Wanting to visit Staniel Cay, we elected to stay on the dock there for a night.  This turned out to be a poor decision.  Although its a great location, the docks are high and pretty exposed to weather, facilities are slim, and the price is high.  And to top it off, the dock hand gave me bad directions as to where to dock resulting in Midnight Sun running aground.  No Boat US or SeaTow...and a falling tide called for some quick action.  Even with full reverse and bow thruster running the wind was holding us in shallow water.  one of the dock hands got in a fast boat and tried to pull us off - no joy; so we asked him to push our bow around.  He wanted to lean us with a halyard, but since we have a wing keel, I know this can just tend to dig us in further.  The push on the bow with revers and thruster worked thankfully and we made it back to the dock.  Anti-grounding rum failed me this time.  I did have one, but just put it down to not having enough!

Anway, we spent the evening at Staniel Cay and were able to get some provisions.  The following day we moved to a mooring ball located right adjacent to Thunderball Grotto - a spectacular cavern inside a rock that you snorkel into.  This was featured in the 007 Movie "Thunderball" - as the name suggests.  Inside, we saw spectacular fish and were able to feed them breadcrumbs and grapes.
Swimming in Thunderball Grotto

Now if I can get some stills from me GoPro, I will add a few here [post edit - photos added].  I got some great footage for the next movie........but that always seems to take a long time to get together.  If these cold fronts keep up, maybe I will get motivated to work on it sooner!
Looking up - Thunderball Grotto


Pig Beach - Big Major's Spot

From Thunderball, we moved the short distance to Big Major's spot.  There is a large anchorage there.  On the south end of this anchorage is the famous "pig beach" - home of the swimming pigs.  A little further north is a quaint little beach with picnic benches and decorations that i think has been built by cruisers.  We anchored fairly close to this as it made a good landing spot for Salty.  Further north is Fowl Cay and a resort are that can be easily accessed by dinghy.  We didn't venture there on this stop - but it looked nice and that likely translates to "expensive".......but i am sure we will check it out while we are in the neighborhood.
Yes - they do swim for food!

So after a few days of play, it was unfortunately time to start making our way back towards Georgetown in time for our guests to depart.  On our return, we elected once again to stop at Little Farmer's Cay.  We wanted to explore Oven Rock, located just north of Little Farmers.  We had stopped and explored tha actual rock on the way up, but were disappointed as we had heard of a cave....but we had not done sufficient research.









We thought this was the entrance to the cave.........but it is not.  The way to the cave involves walking anout 1/4 mile north up the beach, finding a trail that heads inland another 1/4 mile or so (marked by some stone mounds and a white marker)....and then voila!
Oven Rock Entrance





The cave entrance itself is spectacular and fairly well hidden by overgrowth.  But once you find it access is easy and safe.  I understand that you can scuba 700 feet back into the cave.....but not me!  I was happy to explore on foot.  We had taken headlamps so were able to access back probably 150 ft or so and yes, it was well worth the short hike over the gnarly coral path.
Stalegmites?

Rock Pool


Some of the rock formations were quite amazing.......and Salty found a source for a quick drink of fresh water!  Whoever had left that bucket there did it quite some time ago based on the lime formations in it.....but the water was fresh.







Cool looking secluded beach on the Atlantic Side

















So after a day of caving - time to head back to Little Farmers.  This time we ate at the Yacht Club....but it was not as good as Ocean Cabin by a long measure.

After dropping off our guests, and another night in Emerald Bay, we headed north seeking shelter for the next cold front.  This time Black Point........and a day at the beach before hunkering down.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Down in Da Exumas Man!

From Chubb Cay, we crossed the Exuma Bank avoiding the yellow bank and white bank.  In fact leaving from the west side of Nassau gives a much cleaner shot at the Exumas - so I will remember that one. 
Nassau West End

From Chubb, we went to Highborne Cay - perhaps one of the few Cays in the northern Exumas that has any facilities.  We found what we thought was a great anchorage just north of Highborne Cay marina.  It had pretty good wind shelter, but the rollers were coming in as remnants of the earlier north winds.  And they didn't subside over night.  It was a rolly one......very much so.  things flew around the boat all night and not much sleep was had.  Worst thing - Salty had to go ashore.  So pitch dark, driving rain, big ass rollers and off we went to a beach we had not been to before.  Not a very good idea from a safety perspective - but I love the little guy and well; the things we do for our four-legged friends.  I carried my VHF so I could tell friends if we had a problem.  But we accomplished the mission.

The next day.....well the girls had had enough of rolling, so we we went over to Highborne marina.  Of course the seas settled.......so well, we just paid the marina and had a good time.  We will just wait for the credit card bill.

From Highborne, we moved on to the Exumas Land and Sea Park; an absolutely awesome place.  We just love that place, but we were now on a critical schedule to pick up friends from the airport in Georgetown, so we stayed the night and moved on.  We will be heading back up this way soon to get photos and relax.  Our next stop was Little Farmers Cay. Remembering the best lobster we have had, we once again dined at Ocean Cabin where proprietors Terry and Ernestine Bain once again  made us feel welcome and yet again.........the best Bahamian Lobster EVER!  Again, it was a quick stop overnight as we were now a day away from friends arriving in Georgetown.  With an early start and reasonable (not great) weather conditions, we made the hop into the Atlantic through Farmers Cay Cut and down to Emerald Bay Marina.  Its about a 30 mile jump, but can be very weather dependant.  First, conditions have to be OK to get out of the narrow cut into the Atlantic.  At the wrong tide, and especially with wind against tide, rage conditions can occur.  Second, since we were in the open Atlantic, sea conditions need to be at least OK.  For this trip they were OK - not the best as we had to motor with big rollers.  And Third, you need conditions to be favourable to get into Emerald Bay Marina.  Under the wrong conditions, there can be big rollers in the marina entrance.

Well - we made it.  As we tied up the boats, our guest's taxi arrived bringing them from Georgetown Airport.  Talk about "just in time delivery!"

As predicted, we had a cold front on our heels, and while we were safe in the marina, we were essentially trapped until it passed.  Three days.  But as you can see, there are plenty of wort places to be trapped for a few days!  The marina is nice.  Prices reasonable (for the Bahamas) $2.25 per foot per day for a serviced dock and $1 per foot for a slip with no power or water (3 day min).

Next door is the Grand Isle Resort with a nice restaurant, bar and pool.  And a short walk down the beach is Sandals, Exumas.

 You can purchase a day pass to Sandals from the Marina....or you can simply walk by and take in the sights!

While we were ar Emerald Bay, we rented a car so that we could take a trip into Georgetown and generally re-provision.  It was good to be on land a little while, although we know that our guests were anxious to see something other than a marina.  But sometimes, the weather just dictates.....and it is what it is.


In my next post, we visit the swimming pigs, Thunderball Grotto, and Oven Rock.  Stay tuned......the weather has us pinned today (Jan 26, 2018), so maybe I will get caught up!

Monday, January 8, 2018

So we got our Butts Kicked!

Moving on....next stop....er well where is our next stop?  We had planned to go from Chub Cay to Spanish Wells but we are doing something we vowed to avoid.  We are on a schedule as we are picking up friends for a week in Georgetown, Exumas  Sure - a couple of months ago getting to Georgetown by January 13 was not an issue.  But with the weather we have had, we lost a day here a day there...then several days in Bimini.  And here we are on a schedule to get to Georgetown by Saturday.  So looking at how we can shave off a day here and there.  The best option looks like Nassau.  Damn - we didn't want to go there, but from Nassau we can make it to the northern Exumas then work our way south.

So Nassau it is.  Should be fine.  Only 35 miles - forecast 15-20 on the beam.  Hmm, I prefer a forecast of 10-15.......but its only 35 miles.  How bad can it get?

So the wind is supposed to build in the afternoon - lets make an early start.  We push off at 6:30am.  Wind a little fresh, 15 or so on the beam.  We sail full main, reefed jib.  Making 8 kts, waves are a bit rolly, but life is good. Then we get out of the lee of Chub Cay.  Winds build a bit, waves start to grow - we have made 10 miles, only 25 to go.  Winds build, waves grow.  Time to pull in the jib.  Another hour  crap, time to reef the main.  Don't you just know that when you finally submit to reefing the main, you are actually 30 minutes late doing it?  Of course we were - we were starting to round up in gusts and as we rounded up our rear quarter was being hit by one of those 10 ft waves.  it got quite uncomfortable quickly.  I have seen 10 ft waves many times, but these were literally at 2 seconds period, with te bigger ones always coming in pairs.  Yes - this is literally getting your butt kicked!  We hung on for the next 3 hours and took Mr. Toads wild ride.

As we approached the west end of Nassau, we decided to swing wide and get on a lee shore to drop sails.  Then we came back into it and worked our way into West Bay. 
West Bay Anchrage
Getting in there was a rolly ride, but we were glad to see the anchorage.  its funny how folks describe the story differently....I think Larry posted on facebook "Made it to Nassau - good sail".  I recall Janet saying, "if you want to do that again - I'm flying".

But - the sunset was magnificent!  and, although I didn't want to visit Nassau, I have to say this is a very nice anchorage.  The shoreline is a gated community, but we have not had a problem getting on the beach with Salty.

Salty likes the beach, but did not like the sail over here - he spent it hibernating in the bathroom! and was well ready to get his paws on shore!




Saturday, January 6, 2018

Pushing on through the Bahamas - Bimini to Chub Cay

So, after six days (5 nights) in Bimini, its time to move on.  We arrived the day before New Year's eve, and while we planned to stay for NY, the weather kept us here with 30+ kt winds.

Santa's Seaplane
A few boats tried to leave - the wise ones turned back.  Austin was scheduled to travel back to Miami on the 3 rd, but the seaplanes and the fast ferry were grounded, so he was delayed a day, but got out on the 4th via seaplane to Ft. Lauderdale, then  got a ride to Miami and a flight to Atlanta - long days of travel!

We heard a few storm stories locally - not sure how true they were, but the small oil tanker bringing fuel to Bimini did ground attempting to come in to port, they got off and held offshore until it could come in.  We also heard a cruise ship in Freeport ahad broken free of moorings - but I could not substantiate this.
Austin's seaplane trip to Ft Lauderdale
Before we left Bimini, new friends on their cat decided to complete the re-naming process with a re-naming ceremony.  Her new name was "Good Karma" - apparently they had had a string of breakages  after renaming the boat, but had not performed the re-naming ceremony.

So of course, we helped with a champagne toast to the new boat name "Good Karma" and wished them luck for the future.  Good Karma is also headed to Chub Cay next..........so let's hope that Poseidon looks on them favorably!

Re-naming ceremony for "Good Karma"

January 5 -  Bimini to Chub Cay

We left late afternoon seeing a marginal break in the weather to head for Chub Cay.  We were out of the channel by 4pm and headed around the top (north) side of Bimini before crossing the Bahama Bank to Chub Cay.  It started out a great sail, but as we shifted course the wids came off the bow giving us a close haul in 15-20 with building seas.  Electing comfort over pureist sailing, we first reefed the jib.......sailed on more......but as it became less comfortable, we rolled is up and motor-sailed with main only.  We still arrived early - 6am and we were almost there.  We cut the motor to slow down and arrived at 7am as the marina was opening up and the sun was rising.  We are moving farther south.....little by little.  Actually this was more east in order to get south.

Chub Cay
Arriving in Bimini, the 3 boats chose different options - Midnight Sun and Navigo took the marina at $3/ft, and TraSea elected to take the anchorage.  Midnight Sun had a dog in need of land, and excess laundry. Navigo has a water tank/heater issue, and laundry needs.  So now we are watching the building winds as another front rolls through.  At $3/ft we are not staying and the plan is to leave early tomorrow - likely with sporty 15-20 winds and try to make the 30 mile hop to Nassau.  Not our first choice, but we are trying to get south to pick up friends and guests on Saturday from Georgetown and days are slipping away.
Salty stretches his legs at Chub Cay

So we will see how it goes tomorrow - the plan (always flexible) is to sail to the west end of Nassau and anchor in West Bay.  We will likely be there until Tuesday to ride out this next front.  We shall see how it goes!

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Winter Storm in Bahamas!

The local Bahamians are cold!  We are currently in Bimini held up by the winter storm that has hit the East Coast US and reached down to Miami and the Bahamas!

We are safely tied up at a dock in Bimini, but the seas in the ocean just outside the entrance and the winds have been pretty wild the last couple of days.  We monitored winds well into the 30+ knots last night, adn temperatures are down in the 60s.  Brrr - its time to get south, but we are watching the weather closely for a window to leave -   possibly tomorrow afternoon/evening - but we will see.  That may not be long enough to let the angry seas subside.  So its time to just be a bit patient!  I finally got photos to upload - but a photo of the ocean just never does it justice!

I am struggling with "slow internet" and photos will not load to the blog.......but if I remember, I will go back and add photos when they will download. All is well - just cold and windy!

More later!