Friday, May 9, 2008

George Town, Exumas to Little Harbour, Abacos

Hi Everyone:

Apologies to all from Brian, who has fallen way behind on our postings, but it seems there’s not enough time to keep moving, enjoy our stops, and create a posting for the blog. Brian swears he will get caught up, but he’s definitely running out of time based on a planned arrival in Marblehead in mid to late May. His finger is completely healed so he can’t use that as an excuse anymore!

Our last posting was early March (yikes!) and we were still in George Town, hanging out with hundreds of other cruisers. After 5 months of heading generally south, it was time to start thinking about leaving the Exumas and to begin the trek north to the States! In this chapter, we will tell you about our departure from the Exumas, our adventures in Eleuthra , and our arrival in the Abacos Islands.

Farmers Cay and Lamothe the Parrot (Wed, March 5)

The George Town Cruiser’s Regatta was coming up at the end of the week, but we decided that given the weather, it would be best for us to start heading north. (Also, the Admiral was getting antsy – 10 days in one spot was enough.) Originally we had considered going to Cat Island, but again given the exposed anchorages there and in south Eleuthra, we decided to head up the Exumas to Farmers Cay.

When we arrived at Farmers Cay, we passed up the two remaining moorings (not very secure looking) and elected to anchor over in a cove off Little Farmer’s Cay, just south of the cut into Farmers. There were 3 other boats anchored there, but the skipper of Cerridwen encouraged us to approach closer to his boat to be sure we were anchored out of the current. It turned out to be a very secure and peaceful anchorage

We headed ashore, and made our way to Ocean Cabin restaurant. We were greeted by two cruisers (Nancy and Andy of “Solitaire”). Over a beer, they sang the praises of the Spiney lobster tail. We made a reservation, and told that our dinner would be ready at 6:30. We met the restaurant owner Terry Bain, and ended up buying two T-shirts. We then went off in search of “J.R.”, a local wood carver up the hill. His wood shop was in the back of his house, and he showed us around. We ended up buying a wooden Bahamian Parrot which he carved his initials in. We then walked around the island, exploring a few beaches and ended up at the local Little Harbor bar, owned by “Ali.” Ali welcomed us with some free jug wine, and told us about his various wives and children and his knack for fathering twins. We barely escaped in time for our lobster dinners, which lived up to their advance billing, accented with an excellent Bahamian sauce. The inexpensive red wine we had with our dinner (a chilled Lamothe Parrot) inspired us to name our new wooden parrot “Lamothe”. We dinghied back to our anchorage in a clear starlit night.

Farmers – Return to Warderick Wells (Thur, Mar 6)

We left Farmers around 9:00 am. With an ebbing tide, the cut entrance was quite choppy and experienced some “washing machine” wave action as we motored through. By 9:30 we were sailing in an excellent 15 knot breeze off our starboard quarter. We arrived at the Exuma Land and Sea Park (South Anchorage) in Waderick Wells around 3:00 pm and moored between two large catamarans in a strong current. Sue did an excellent job in snagging the mooring pennant in close quarters. We decided to stay aboard and rest up for the next days sail over to Eleuthra Island. Sue prepared a great pork chop dinner, and it was an early lights out.

Farewell Exumas – Hello Eleuthera (Fri, Mar 7)

The South anchorage was a bit less restful than our first time there, with lots of noise from the mooring ball hitting Sogno’s bow as the current and wind squabbled all night over which way Sogno was going to point. The racket was bad enough to drive Sue out of the rack at 5:00 am - a very unusual event! The weather reports were still good, so we began our 40 mile run over to Eleuthra Island at 8:00 am. The winds were brisk at 20 knots, so we started out with a single reef in the main and the smaller staysail. By 9:30 we had put a second reef in the main, and we were still making 6.5 to 7 knots. It was one of the best sails of the trip, with the wind off our beam and waves that were around 4 to 6 feet. Every so often a bigger wave would heel us over a bit more, but no damage other than a few books falling off their shelves, and some small spray into the cockpit.

We passed Cape Eleuthra and worked our way around Powell Point at 12:30. Then we sailed and motor sailed our way into the protection of Rock Sound. The large entrance was quite dramatic with a pretty white Anglican Church marking the settlement. We anchored north of the settlement, and dinghied over to a small dock, meeting 3 cruisers who reported on the difficulty of finding “a beer and sandwich”. Not easily deterred, we trooped into town. We came across preparations for a fundraiser for the Rock Sound Annual Homecoming celebration to be held that night at a seaside town pavillion. According to Patrick, the committee chair, every year all those who have moved from Rock Sound (mostly to Nassau) are invited back to their “family island” for a “Back to the Rock” reunion. We were informed that the beer would be cold in half an hour, so we marched inland to see Ocean Hole Park, where there was a large, deep “lake” that was actually connected to the ocean via underground passages. By the time we got back to the pavillion, we had a front row seat to watch the sun set over Exuma Sound with a couple of cold ones.

We then hiked over to Sammy’s Place restaurant for appetizers, cracked conch and fried chicken, with three “sides.” It was pretty quiet there, but things were hopping back at the pavilion and we managed to have fun dancing and letting some of the smaller kids there take pictures of everyone with our digital camera. We had a great time, but as we talked with the kids it was obvious that as cruisers, we were viewed as wealthy visitors from a different world they only saw through TV. When we were asked by one girl if we could buy her a computer, it took us aback, and reminded us that no matter how much we shared in common, the Bahamas out islands was an area where making a living was no easy task.

We walked back in the dark, but fortunately the dock was well lit, and we made it back to Sogno without any problems.

Waiting out the Cold Front Sat – Sun, Mar 8-9)

Saturday and Sunday were a mixed bag of strong winds and then periods of calm. We scrubbed our plans of going ashore both days. Listening to the weather on VHF radio, we heard that we would be switching to Daylight Savings time on Sunday. Neither of had given this a thought since last October. There were no constant reminders on TV to “spring forward” in Eleuthera. (Actually, we rarely received a signal on our little 13 inch TV.)

The spot we had anchored in turned out shallower than expected and at low tide, there was only about 1 foot of water under our keel. Luckily the coming wind shift would swing us into deeper water, but Brian tracked the changing depths to be sure the tide wouldn’t be extra low that night. The cold front eventually arrived while eating dinner on Saturday, including some brief rain, Later that night, winds howled at 20 knots. This helped wash some of the accumulated salt off Sogno. We were also overdue for showers, and cleaned up our own acts as well with some of our expensive Exuma water.

Sunday was spent relaxing and planning for our next stops along the Eleuthera coast. Brian noted that the main battery banks were not charging as well as they should. We would need to plug in at the next marina we stayed at and do an extra long “equalizer” charge to shake the battery chemistry up a bit.

We meet Sara and Monty Lewis (Mon, Mar 10)

We had an easy sail over to Governor’s Harbour. The cruising guides were pretty negative on the harbor’s holding, and it took us 3 tries before we could get the anchor set properly. We dinghied over to say hi to a nearby French sail boat, but the language barrier limited the conversation to “hello” and “bon jour.” We then stopped to say high to “Saranade” and after we found out they knew some mutual cruising friends in Marblehead, we were surprised to find out that this couple was Sara and Monty Lewis.

Sara and Monty, a “retired” couple from Maryland, are the publishers of THE paper chart and guide books that EVERYONE uses in the Bahamas (Explorer Charts). They were out gathering more data for the next update on Eleuthera and we were sort of embarrassed that we had not recognized their names immediately. After walking about the town (meeting the owner of the local Quality Inn and stopping to re-provision the Sogno liquor locker), we were invited over to Saranade for cocktails. Brian was thrilled to talk to them about paper and electronic charts and find out more about what it’s like to produce charts for cruisers that are more accurate than the official Bahamian government charts. We also picked up some new cruising information, and told them about our recent experiences in the Exumas.

Experiencing “Bakery Time” in Eleuthera (Tues, Mar 11)

Tuesday was laundry day for Sogno, and Sue settled down in a small Laundromat, sharing it with the owner who was doing drop off loads. Brian went in search of the bakery Monty Lewis spoke highly of, but was told to “come back at 1:30” for the next batch of fresh bread.

After a trip back to the boat, Brian ran into Event Horizon II (Peter and Cheryl) on the return trip to shore. It was laundry day for them as well, so Brian was able to act as “guide” for Cheryl. After we had lunch at the Buccaneer Restaurant, the bakery bread still wasn’t ready at 2:30 (“come back in an hour”) so we spent the time walking about the oldest part of town (Cupid Cay) and visited the library (oldest building). Finally the bread was ready and together with our bundles of laundry, we returned to Sogno for happy hour and a shrimp dinner. Lights out with clean sheets!

PAN, PAN! An Exciting Visit to Hatchet Bay (Wed, Mar 12)

Our next day’s destination was Spanish Wells, a fishing community off the north coast of Eleuthera. We were motor sailing into the wind until around 12:15 when suddenly there was a screeching noise from the engine, and the smell of burning rubber. We stopped the engine and began sailing to investigate.

We discovered that one of the two belts that drive both the alternator and the engine cooling water pump was badly damaged, but what was more important, the alternator was no longer turning, due to a failed bearing. While we didn’t need the alternator’s electrical output to run the diesel, we did need the fresh water pump, and that wouldn’t work without the alternator pulley turning.

It was obvious we couldn’t continue north through a tricky piece of water called Current Cut, so we needed to pick a “Plan B” destination. All of the nearby harbors, including Governor Harbour, were all the anchorages were described as “poor holding” AND they would be exposed to the increasing north west winds expected that night as a cold front passed by.

We decided to broadcast a “PAN, PAN” distress signal on the VHF radio, which is an “urgent” request for help, but is not as serious as the more widely known “MAYDAY” signal which indicates an “immediate” threat to life or the vessel. The weather was fine, Sogno was sailing fine, but we just needed some feedback on what harbors might be the best to head for.

We quickly got some input from other boats, and while some harbors were closer, it appeared that Hatchet Bay Pond was the best bet. It had some empty government moorings and it was well protected by a natural set of cliffs. A real bonus - some cruisers were standing by to help us tie up, once we gained entrance. We also heard from “Bonnie Lass” who we hadn’t heard or seen since we had helped them out with our dinghy back in Vero Beach. They were coming from the north and promised to standby on the outside as we entered the bay.
Did we mention the entrance to Hatchet Bay?? This was the other exciting part of this harbor. The entrance was very narrow (30 – 40 yards) and included rocks and cliffs on both sides. This had to be negotiated to get inside to the actual “pond”. Exciting enough to motor through in calm weather, we were going to go through, in a building northerly swell, under sail alone! (The Admiral was a little skeptical to say the least.)

As we prepared to go into the entrance, we did all we could to be sure we could use the engine for a few minutes before it overheated. First we made some temporary belts out of bungee cords, which we hoped would let the engine crank shaft pulley drive the water pump for a while. Then we planned our approach so that we wouldn’t turn the engine on until we were within a few hundred yards of the entrance. Finally we talked with the cruisers waiting for us inside the cut, so everyone would understand the plan.

Finally, we sailed past the entrance. It WAS narrow, but we could also see a small flotilla of dinghies (inside the pond) waiting to help us. That lifted our spirits as we gybed back to the north west to set up for “final approach,” with Bonnie Lass in position to help if something went wrong. We began our beam reach (this gave us maximum speed and control) and started the engine. When we were 75 yards or so from the entrance, we engaged the transmission, -- and in what is now only a blur -- , we kept ourselves lined up with the cut and swept in between the rocks with our main sail and topsail doing the work. Completely focused, Brian “drove” us through the entrance. Once again, the sight of 3 (or 4?) dinghies waiting for us is a wonderful memory . In a few minutes, we were in to a beautiful come anchorage! (Hindsight, it would have been “way cool” to take a few pics but we never thought of that.)

We then sailed toward our mooring ball, while Island Dreamin’ (Gary) in his dinghy took a line from us and raced forward to attach it to the mooring ball. The final approach (shooting into the wind) was just about perfect (beginner’s luck) and soon all was secure! What a feeling of relief.

We invited all of our rescuers -- new friends -- over for happy hour. After a quick clean up, Brian pulled out our spare alternator, and did battery charging using our portable Honda generator. By the time most of our rescue group had arrived, we were ready to celebrate. Island Dreamin’ (Gary), Bonnie Lass (Valerie and Graham) and Salty Paws (Jim and Bentley) came aboard. We had a great time re-living the “rescue” and sharing other “sea stories”. It was a “cruising community” moment, and we were most appreciative of everyone’s concern and willingness to help out.

After everyone had left, we broke out the last steak and had a “thanksgiving” dinner. We were exhausted after our “emergency” but equally thrilled to have worked as a team to get ourselves through it with the help of many others. In the Bahamas, there is only a volunteer coast guard (BASRA) and a few locations where there is a TowBoat/US service. We had always knew that if we had a problem, we would have to solve it ourselves or seek the help of other cruisers. It had all worked and we were very thankful to have one more sea story to tell with a happy ending!

Happy Birthday in Hatchet Bay (Thur, Mar 13)

After yesterday’s excitement, it was great to be spend Sue’s birthday safely moored in Hatchet Bay Pond.

However, today’s first priority was to install the spare alternator. We talked with Mike Gozzard (head of operations at Gozzard Yachts) to get some advice on the electrical connections, and then dinghied ashore in search of a “spacer” we needed to mechanically mount the replacement. After stopping at the general store and the gas station we finally found our answer at “Uncle B’s”. “Island Dreamin’” had told us to look for the house with all the hubcaps in the yard. Mr. Barrow’s yard had lots of good stuff, which he rooted around in to find a pipe to make us a spacer. He insisted that Brian mark the pipe, before he cut it, to be sure we got just the length we wanted. He also found a few washers for us, as well if needed. Total price? Five dollars!

Next priority: a birthday luncheon at the Water’s Edge restaurant. We chatted for a bit with Gary and his wife DeLynn of Island Dreamin’ who were just finishing their meal and then had the best burgers we’d had since Norman’s Cay – and the price was only $4.95. Combined with some fries, a few Kahliks, and a great view of Hatchet Bay and Exuma Sound, we were feeling a lot more confident about getting back to sea.

We then walked back, via the beach, to the center of Alice Town. The grade school was very impressive, with all the students in uniforms, and lots of posters urging everyone to do their best. When we got back to our dinghy we found some more washers placed in it. We learned later that Uncle B had given Gary some more washers to give us when they were passing his shop on the way back to Island Dreamin’.

With a little adjustment with a file, our spacer fit perfectly and we were able to quickly get the spare alternator installed. The diesel engine was now “good to go” for the time being. However, from an electrical perspective, the spare alternator was a low output model (50 amps), compared with the failed Powerline unit (120 amps). To be able to really keep up with our normal battery usage (mostly refrigeration), we would need a high output alternator replacement. Brian began talking with Powerline to arrange getting a replacement, but our Bahamian cell phone ran out of “minutes.” We would have to wait until we arrived in Spanish Wells.

We had a quiet birthday evening including a happy hour (complete with chicken wing appetizers from Water’s Edge), a spaghetti dinner, and a birthday card purchased back in George Town!

Spanish Wells – No Problem Mon! (Fri, Mar 14)

We woke to an absolute dead calm, the water so mirror-flat you could easily see the mooring block on the bottom. We motored out the harbor cut. Somehow it didn’t seem quite as narrow as the last time, but still tight enough to be very careful to stay centered as we bid farewell to our “harbor of refuge”.

The wind never quite picked up enough to sail, so we motored on through Current Cut at the end of Eleuthera (2.5 knots against us for 20 minutes) and then on to Spanish Wells, where we re-fueled and tied up at Spanish Wells Yacht Haven. Event Horizon 2 (Peter and Cheryl) were there with their “buddy boat” Cygnus (Fred and spouse) and filled us in on the local attractions.

Sue went out to buy some more minutes for the cell phone and then started some laundry. Brian made sure the battery would get a good charging and then contacted Powerline about a new alternator, emailing some pictures of it, to be sure they knew what model needed replacing. “At the end of the day”, they were still not sure, so we would have to wait until Monday to call again.

We decided to hold off on seeing the town and stayed aboard for dinner. Sue came through with some “creative cuisine” built around canned oriental vegetables and rice.

A Hot Time in Spanish Wells (Sat, Mar 15)

We spent the morning giving our battery bank a 5 hour equalizer charge, to thoroughly stir up the batteries chemistry. By that time it was very hot (in the high 80s) and not many people were about as we walked down to the main part of town.

Spanish Wells is a very prosperous fishing port and all the houses are neatly kept. The residents are all descended from original white colonists or Loyalists who fled from the US following the Revolution. Spanish Wells is a separate district in the Bahamas (e.g., similar to a province or state) and there is a strong religious culture (Methodism) that stretches back to the original settlers. Consequently there is absolutely no sale of alcohol on the island. However, there is a thriving business exists where you can pay someone to take the short ferry ride to Eleuthera and buy it for you. There used to be a restaurant/bar at the marina, but it was destroyed in one of the recent hurricanes. After this act of God, the residents did not encourage a new restaurant and bar.

We found the “suburban” neighborhoods quite well kept, and the roads were all in good order. Most everyone moved about in golf carts. Apparently the sun had affected our judgment, or we would have certainly rented one.

We checked out some shops, bought some groceries, and walked the waterfront. The highlight for us was the ice cream shop, where we had a very generous portion for only $1.50 each.

Tomorrow would be Sunday, when things got even quieter, so we decided to take advantage of a good weather window and cross over to the Abacos islands.

Why It was Hard to Leave Spanish Wells (Sun, Mar 16)

We got off to a good start, easily backing out of our dock slip at 7:30 am in very light air. As we motored out the main channel along the Spanish Wells waterfront, we rounded a bend to discover TWO large ships blocking our exit. The smaller ship was tied up alongside the wharf, and the larger ship was partly moored behind it with its stern almost extending out the opposite shore. As we approached, we were warned not to try to go around. When we asked when they would be moving out of the way, all the crewmen sort of shrugged their shoulders. We knew that most things in Spanish Wells were shut down on Sunday, but hadn’t expected that shipping traffic would also shutdown the main channel!

Not to worry – there is indeed an alternate channel around the south coast of the island. However, as we left the harbor, and turned east, we found it confusing to sort out the various unmarked pilings that were supposed to be channel marks. One local boat came over and warned us that we should go back and use the main channel. After we explained the situation, we did get some sketchy directions on which pilings to honor. (The Spanish Wells accent – part British, part Bahamian – didn’t help things.) We cautiously moved along what we hoped was the channel until the depths began to rapidly shrink. Brian was at the helm when we ran aground. After deciding that we were too far to the right of the channel, we started stirring up some sand with attempts to back down or power ahead. Finally, we managed to “twist” ourselves off going ahead with full left rudder, and get back into the channel.

The rest of the South Channel was easier and we rejoined the main channel and headed out to Hadley Head. Here we had to be extra careful, since the Hadley Head Channel passed close to coral heads, which were must less forgiving than sand bars. In fact, the chart guides recommend you consider hiring a local pilot to guide you out. After double checking our electronic positions, we then headed out with Brian at the bow watching for any shallow areas, and Sue at the help keeping close to the course line on our chart plotter. After a few tense moments we were out into deep water and we could relax. We were on our way to the Abacos Island group.

Our destination was actually Little Harbour on Great Abaco Island. This 47 mile leg, is really like a small “passage” since you are crossing the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean with the Northeast Providence Channel. You have to watch out for large ship traffic, but it’s even more important to know that the weather in the Abacos Islands is settled. The good news about the Abacos, is that all the popular harbors are well sheltered. The bad news is that to get to them from outside the chain, you have to pass through some tricky cuts between the reefs and islands. If there are some strong winds or swell coming in from the Atlantic, “rage” conditions can occur in these passes, and even large vessels can’t enter.

The weather conditions on Sunday looked near perfect but the nearest anchorage, Little Harbour had a very shallow entrance, and we wanted to get there for high tide around 4 pm. Our only choice, despite the favorable winds on our port beam, was to motor sail to be sure we could keep up a 6 knot average speed. This turned out to not be a problem and by 3:30 we were following 3 catamarans into the harbor.

Little Harbour is a pretty crowded affair, but there are lots of moorings that you can rent. Unfortunately those catamarans had taken the last ones, so we were forced to find a spot to anchor on the western shore. This would work fine until midnight. Then the west wind was expected to shift around to the northeast, swinging Sogno too close to the shore. The only alternative was to put out a second anchor to the northeast which we did using our dinghy. This was our first double anchor since the trip began!

As long as the dinghy was out, we headed ashore to Pete’s Pub to catch up with some old friends whose boats we had spotted already in the harbor. San-I-Tee (Andy and Chris) and Soucia (Scott and Linda) were ashore at the beach front pub with their families and we quickly updated each other on our adventures. They of course wanted to see Brian’s finger and hear “most” of the details, since the rumor mill had exaggerated exactly what had happened.

We stayed on past sunset for some conch bits and fish dip appetizers and returned to Sogno well fed and at the start of another chapter in our voyage.

Going forward

Our next installments will bring report on our time in the Abacos, our passage to Florida, the return trip up the ICW and our brief stay in the Chesapeake. We’re currently in Baltimore waiting for a storm to clear out. We hope to return home within the next two weeks.

Don’t forget to send us your comments. We enjoy all your messages and look forward to hearing from you. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Compass Cay to George Town, Great Exuma

Hi Everyone:

In our last posting, we covered Brian’s finger injury at Compass Cay and our stay in Compass Cay Marina while the “finger” recovered. We’re happy to report that the finger is healing well and we’re on the move again. This “chapter” covers our travels down the Exuma Cays to George Town and our stay in this huge cruiser’s hangout.

So … what was it like to return to the cruising life after nearly a month tied up in a marina? And what is George Town really like – Cruising nirvana or “daycare for adults”!

Brian and Sue Adapt to Marina Life (Tues – Tues, Feb 12-19)

Our R&R stay at Compass Cay continued to be a much superior alternative to winter in New England. Brian became more adept at doing things with his left hand and was now using his right hand for tasks that only required 4 fingers. Long delayed “projects” around the boat finally got some attention (e.g., whipping the ends of various docking and rigging lines to keep them from unraveling). Arranging a replacement for our failed handheld depth finder -- used in the dinghy -- was also easy, but shipping it from Orlando, FL to the Exumas was not easy. We also enjoyed touring neighboring islands in our inflatable dinghy and getting to know our marina neighbors better.

We celebrated Valentine’s Day by dinghying over for lunch at nearby Sampson Cay Club with Gadabaut (Gail and Dennis) and Karin (marina office). Dennis arranged a post luncheon beach party at a tiny “Tiki Bar” on the beach at Thomas Cay, complete with Dark and Stormy’s.

Of course we continued to make new friends as boaters came through the marina: Wanderlust (Bill and Judy) and Smidge (Bonnie and Maury). We also saw the crew from Sunshine Baby, who we had met at Jekyll Island in Georgia, way back in November.

Escape from Compass Cay (Wed, Feb 20)

We got a warm send off from our Compass Cay hosts (owner Tucker Rolle, and Karin) and a huge lobster tail (frozen) from Gadabaut’s (Dennis, Gail) bottomless food locker. We delayed a bit to let a nearby squall pass by, but by 10:00 we were leaving the dock. Dennis used his dinghy to help pull us out between a 70 ft trawler behind us, and the large sport fisherman on the next dock. As we motored out (with Brian using his new 9-finger grip on the wheel), we felt like we were finally cruising again. We enjoyed Compass Cay and recommend it highly for a great place to decompress. However, the grass growing just below Sogno’s waterline reminded us that we really had to get going again. Thank you Tucker, Karin, Dennis, Gail, Dennis, Marino, Mum, and Manos for a great stay!!

Of course as we carefully worked our way out to deeper water, we were hit by a brief squall within 10 minutes. The Buds were “at sea” again!

Our first voyage, was only 11 miles to Staniel Cay. We anchored without incident off Big Majors Spot and dinghied into the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We were there to buy gasoline for the dinghy and Honda generator, pickup a handheld depth finder replacement (which had been flown in from Ft. Lauderdale), and check out the bar. Smidge (Bonnie and Maury) were already working the Wi-Fi internet connection so we had a good chat with cruisers Chris and Anita and ran into Flutterbye (Stephen and Genvieve) whom we had rafted with in Vero Beach, way back in December.

Sue found a working telephone and called her Dad. We took some time to walk about and do some small provisioning in the “Blue Store.” (The other stores are Pink and Yellow). By the time we returned to the SCYC, Bonnie and Maury were finished with the internet and invited us over for cocktails aboard Smidge. We had a fun time hearing about their small boat racing days and learned they had been to Marblehead for a national championship series. Lots of talk about cruising and books we have been reading and other things retired folks do!

Oreos, Pigs and Free Water (Thur, Feb 21)

Since our next stop was only a few miles down the island chain, we took time to visit Pig Beach and meet the residents. Knowing they were always hungry, we came with a handful of stale Oreos, and as expected a large male, and smaller sow came out to see what we had. These weren’t wild pigs just “- free range” domestic pigs. Sue had the Oreos, so she got closest to the action, and had to sometimes direct the apparently near-sighted pigs to their cookie treats. (You had to be there!)

We had a nice motor down to Black Point on Great Guana Island – a real Bahamian settlement. We came in to a relatively crowded anchorage at the same time as Onward (a single hander) was arriving under sail. We followed Joe in awe as he sailed among the anchored boats, until he dropped the hook in the middle of the fleet. Quite a performance! We took the more conservative path and quietly motored to the back of the crowd, dropped anchor, and headed for the town dock. We checked out the local businesses, including the Scorpion Inn (actually a bar), Talking with bartender Zhivago, we learned that grade school students had to go to Nassau (usually living with relatives) to go to high school). Our errands including filling two 6.5 gallon Jerry Jugs with free town water to put in our water tanks. (Sue could only carry a jug – weighing 45 pounds – a few feet – looks like we need smaller jugs!)

Calling all Cruisers on Channel 16 (Fri, Feb 22)

We began the day in elegant style with Sue preparing a great omelet breakfast. (Some things never change.) We then headed in to the settlement and by 11:00, we were at the laundromat. At $3.50 per washer or dryer this was a “bargain”. The woman who ran the place also did haircuts so this was an opportunity not to be missed. Brian hadn’t had a haircut since Charleston in mid-November! The price was right ($10), the facilities were simple (a chair set outside the back door), and the view was priceless (the blue green waters of the anchorage). Brian continued with his busy schedule by going next door to Lorraine’s Café for some free Internet. After Sue finished laundry, she joined Brian for a late lunch at Lorraine’s (red snapper, cheeseburger).

Black Point is larger than most previous stops so we had more fun checking out the town. To keep our telephone communication option available – mostly emergencies -- we purchased a Phone card and also, minutes for our Bahamian cell phone. All our errands were accomplished in time for the 3 to 5 Happy Hour at the Scorpion Bar – Inn, This being the Bahamas, the announcement of the Rum Punch special and finger food had been made earlier on VHF channel 16 (which is normally reserved for distress calls and calling other boaters). I guess it all depends on what your definition of “distress”.

Happy Hour started slowly (all the boaters were busy using their computers via the free Wi-Fi connection), but soon the rum punch, pop corn, chips/salsa and Kahlik beers began to do their work. PCs were put away and the place was really buzzing by 5:00. It was time to socialize. We got a table with Smidge (Maury and Bonnie) and later, were joined by Pendragon (hadn’t seen Carolyn and Andrew since Vero Beach in December), and Onward (Joe). Everyone’s distress had been clearly relieved by the time we all headed back to our boats at sunset.

Emerald Bay Marina (Sat, Feb 23)

The weather looked better than we felt the next morning, but we managed to get underway and exit through Dotham Cut to Exuma Sound at around 8:20. We were heading for Emerald Bay Marina, which was just north of George Town. The winds were against us, so we had to motor the entire way into 4 foot seas. The motor seemed to be making some strange sounds, so we stopped the engine briefly to investigate it, adjusted the alternator belt tension, and it seemed to get better when we resumed motoring. Brian said we should have some one listen and/or look at it, but we never quite got around it. (Stay tuned until March 12 “for the rest of the story”!)

Emerald Bay is a brand new development, complete with a nearby Four Seasons Resort, condos, a first class marina, and a problem with their business plan. The marina is in receivership, the restaurant is closed and a lot of condos half built. However, it is a good deal for cruisers now, and you can stay for as low as $1.25 per foot. We sorted through three different charts (2 electronic and 1 paper) before deciding to rely on the paper Explorer Charts to make our approach to the marina entrance without incident.

We had a very easy tie up on the outside face of a long dock (we like simple docking) and were enthusiastically welcomed at the dock, complete with a very large welcome mat – 4 by 6 feet! – laid in front of Sogno. After getting settled in, we jumped aboard the shuttle van for a provisioning stop, and then a short walk to the Four Seasons Resort for cocktails at the Tiki Bar overlooking Crescent Beach. The resort was definitely not in receivership! We had a wonderful (expensive but worth every penny) meal at the Twenty-three Degrees restaurant, before shuttling back to the marina

George Town: We Get Cozy with 300 other Cruising Boats (Sun, Feb 24)

This morning we decided to clean up our act, prior to departing for George Town. First we wash down -- both Sogno and ourselves. Of course Sogno got the royal treatment, being hosed down with $0.15 per gallon water (actually a bargain compared to $0.50 at Compass Cay). Our own showers were “free” with the dockage, so we certainly didn’t skimp on the water. We continued the extravagance by filling our water tanks and main fuel tank, and a dockside waste pumpout. Without going into the unpleasant details, let’s just say the pumpout shook things up sufficiently so that going forward we could resume handling this chore with the onboard macerator pump.

By noon we were on our way, motoring in light winds to George Town. As we approached Conch Cut to enter Elizabeth Harbor, it was obvious that this was a BIG anchorage, with a forest of masts. As we worked our way down the channel, past the various coves along Stocking Island, we saw many familiar boats in the anchorages. We decided to go all the way to Sand Dollar Beach. We finished anchoring around 3:00. It was not too far a across to George Town (1.5 miles) and there was plenty of room to anchor among perhaps 30 boats. We anchored on the first try (always a good sign) and decided to stay aboard our first night.

We had traveled over 1500 miles in the 5 months since we had left Marblehead to get here. There were over 300 boats of all shapes and sizes here, and we had made it, despite our unexpected delay in Compass Cay. Was it all worth it? We had heard all kinds of stories from “George Town is daycare for adults”, “it’s too organized”, or “you’ll love it – there so much to do and see.” I guess for now we were just happy to have enjoyed the adventure of getting here. “It’s not the destination, but the journey” seemed to sum it up pretty neatly for us that evening before we settled down for the night.

Getting to Know George Town (Mon – Tues, Feb 25 – Mar 4)

George Town is something to be experienced. A relatively small town is invaded by nearly a 1000 cruisers, some of whom are content to stay most of the winter, while others are checking in for a week or two, prior to heading out for the “out islands” (those with little or no facilities) and beyond to the Caribbean. There’s a daily cruiser’s net on VHF channel 72 where you can learn about various activities, ask advice, and look for spare parts and or get rid of unused equipment.

Some highlights of what you really do most of the time:

Socializing with Other Cruisers -- Smidge, Gorma, Gypsy Soul, Cassiopeia, Pendragon, Keltic Kat (thank you Pat and Tutti for dinner at St. Francis!)

Checking Out Local Restaurants and Bars -- Eddie’s Edgewater, Peace and Plenty, Chat ‘n Chill, St. Francis Resort.

Weather Seminar – We couldn’t pass up Chris Parker’s weather seminar (240 attendees). Chris broadcasts weather forecasts from Florida on short wave Monday to Saturday mornings which are quite good in covering specific Bahamas regions as well as Florida and Gulf Stream and other areas in Eastern Caribbean. VHF radio weather broadcasts are few and far between (and only voluntarily done by various organizations), so a good shortwave radio receiver is mandatory to keep up with the weather unless you have regular/dependable access to the internet. A Single Side Band receiver/transmitter (which we don’t have) is even better, so you can talk to weather forecasters like Chris, if you are a paid subscriber.

Provisioning – Exuma Market is the most popular and you’re bound to spot someone you know there. The market serves the cruisers in many ways: providing the dinghy dock and a free water faucet, bulletin board, receiving and holding mail and packages, and sponsoring various activities. Shop Rite grocery also has a good selection.

Getting Wet in the Dinghy – George Town is over a mile from most anchorages, and depending on wind and chop you can get pretty wet. Some cruisers motor standing up, some scrunch down, and others wear foul weather gear. All eventually end up with lots of salt water (and sand) on them, their dinghy and in their boat!

Charging the Boat’s Battery – Almost everyone is anchored (FREE), and there are only a few marina slips. Bigger boats have onboard generator sets and others recharge their batteries with a combination of solar, wind, and running their engine. This is usually a daily chore. We elected to bring a portable Honda generator which we successfully used. You of course have to run it on deck and be careful about handling gasoline and proper ventilation of the exhaust. We installed a Carbon Monoxide detector in the cabin to be extra safe and it HAS worked out very well.

Internet Access – Getting connected can be via WiFi on the boat (service is spotty) or in town (J&K Computers provided good service from a very simple wooden shack.). Internet access was important to us every few weeks, so we could pay some bills and stay in touch via email.

Waiting Out Cold Fronts - When the cold fronts come by about every 4 days, the winds pick up and you can choose to stay aboard (and stay dry) or go ashore for the various activities the cruisers are always organizing (and get wet – see above). This is when we would catch up on maintenance, reading or our blog.

Eating – Sue is the master of keeping our menus varied and interesting. One highlight was eating the lobster we received as a going away present from Gadabaut at Compass Cay. It was fabulous. Thanks Dennis and Gail and thank you Sue!

Going forward

In our next chapter, we will report on our adventures as we start heading north for the return to the States. It’s been over 6 months since we left Marblehead, and we are currently in the Abacos area. We will let you know how we got there, and how we are becoming expert at ordering spare parts from the US.

Don’t forget to send us your comments. When we get a chance to see them, they really make our day. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea

Monday, February 11, 2008

Warderick Wells to Compass Cay

Hi Everyone:

The last installment covered most of our stay in Warderick Wells Cay and the Exuma Land and Sea Park. As you will soon learn, we left the Park on January 23 and things took an unexpected turn. Since then we have only advanced about 10 miles further and have been relaxing at Compass Cay Marina since then.

What happened to slow our relentless voyage south along the Exumas to the fabled George Town on Great Exuma Island? Find our the “gory” details below!

Things Get Hairy (Sat-Mon, Jan 19-21)

Saturday - The first chore, was Brian’s beard trim in the cockpit. Sue did an excellent job, but now Sogno had a “hairy” coat on the transom to go with the salt and sand that could be found everywhere. Even the dinghy did not escape the downwind hair “spray.” The rest of the day was spent reading, relaxing, and prepping Sogno and our mooring lines for the strong cold front expected on Sunday. The highlight of the day was the “Saturday Happy Hour” on the Beach. Cruisers supplied the snacks and drinks, the Park supplied the ice and bonfire. Over 20 boats arrived and we had a great time making new friends on the beach and learning more about all the great places to go in the Exumas.

Sunday - Today we went ashore to get maximum Wifi strength in order to make some phone calls over the internet (Skype service is what we use.) Things worked ok, but the reliability is still somewhat suspect – at least on our old laptop. We returned to Sogno to wait for the first sign of the cold front, and it obliged promptly at 4:11 pm when all the gray clouds finally delivered a blast of wind from the North, which quickly built to 25 knots, with some occasional rain squalls. From then- turn on we turn on relaxing music, do some reading, and generally get used to the sound of the wind in the rigging. After dinner, for “fun”, we decided to watch our “Perfect Storm” DVD, which did indeed mask the sound of the outside wind, and did remind us that our weather was far from anything serious -- so far!

Monday - We had a reasonably restful night with no excitement in the anchorage. All the boats were tied to moorings but wind, current, and/or rain can still “kick” things up a bit. On the positive side, the rain washed away most of the salt and hair, and some of the sand! The wind was more in the 15-20 knot range for most of the morning. This gave Sue a chance to inventory the ship’s stores and for me catch up on “Buds at Sea”. Hopefully this installment will get posted today or tomorrow.

We Avoid the Rush South (Tues, Jan 22)

We woke to find the winds less than 15 knots. At the morning roll call, it seemed that 90% of the boats were departing to continue south, now that the post-frontal winds were dying. We were also planning to go until Brian declared the batteries weak and in need of a long “equalizer” charge to restore them to full capacity. We spent most of the morning using the engine to charge the battery, but it was apparent that we really needed some shore power to get the job really done in a reasonable time.

In the afternoon Brian went ashore to get a good Wifi signal – updating the blog and adding more pictures. Normally the Park Headquarters is a very busy spot, but today it was eerily quiet. Tomorrow we head for Compass Cay.

Too Many Navigation Aids? (Wed, Jan 23)

We were underway by 0900 with light winds from the SE, and motored the 15 miles to Compass Cay. We were looking forward to staying at the marina where we could get some badly needed water (at $0.50 per gallon) and shore power for the battery charge. This island was full of hiking trails, beaches, snorkeling sites, and had been highly recommended by Lucky Girl (John and Maryann) during our last stay in Nassau.

The approach to Compass Cay Marina was unusual, in that there were many charted private navigation marks that identified the channel. Brian was so anxious to do some eyeball navigation, that he managed to confuse two of them, and we soon were soon heading into clearly shoal waters. At that point it became clear we were cutting across a sand bar, and we quickly turned around and got back in the channel. The rest of the marks were easy to spot and we only had to sort out where the deep water was at the entrance to the marina before we tied up around noon.

We were greeted by the marina office person Karin and marina owner Tucker Rolle. They soon set us up with shore power and a map of the island trails.

The real surprise was that Gypsy Soul (Tom and Susan), a Gozzard we had seen in Vero Beach, was tied up across from us. We learned from Susan that she had been there for about a week and a half, while Tom was back in NC, earning some money for the cruising kitty. He would be flying back on Friday.

Sue headed for the laundry to do some sheets ($16 for wash and dry – yikes!!) while Brian hovered over the batteries during the successful equalizer charge for the better part of the afternoon. After that, we escaped the evening “no-see-ums” over at Gypsy Soul for “potluck” wine and appetizers. Susan volunteered to take us to some nearby snorkeling spots the next day. Life was good!

Getting Our Bearings in Compass Cay (Thurs-Fri, Jan 24-25)

Thursday - This morning we walked around the south end of the island to the large Crescent Beach on the Exuma Sound side. We explored the ruins of “Hesta’s House” perched high on a point at the end of the beach. We also saw 3 rental cottages in various stages of construction plus the “Low Tide Airport”, a tidal flat that could accommodate small aircraft at one time. By the time we returned to the marina, we joined some other boaters for a well deserved lunchtime Kahlik (the Bahamian local beer). We shortly later spied the crew of Solange IV approaching the dock in their dinghy. They had come to “swim with the sharks.” The marina is known for the tame nurse sharks who hang around with many other fish to feast around the fish cleaning station. Although it’s not recommended to feed the sharks with swimmers in the water, the sharks will come around to see what’s up, and you can pet them, and swim with them with complete safety (so far!). Kevin, James, and Caleb seemed to really like it, and there was some nearby coral heads to also check out as well (We have decided to watch only.)

The afternoon was dedicated to snorkeling, taking two dinghies. Susan (Gypsy Soul) led us north, across to Rocky Dundas, a rocky island just inside the southern end of the Exuma Park. We tied our dinghies to some park mooring balls, and plunged in toward a small cave to see the coral and fish. The cave was open to the sky so there was plenty of light to see and there was even some ledge to stand on. Although it was very calm, we did notice the surge was pretty strong as you got to the shallow end of the cave.

Our next stop was Fowl Cay (aka Chicken Cay) which was a bit south. Since it was outside the Park, after we anchored our dinghys, Susan got out her spear to see what she could catch. Sue and I were happy to just take in the colorful fish snorkeling on the surface. Brian finally got up the courage to take some pictures using the new underwater camera case. No leaks!! Next time he promises to get the camera settings right so all the pictures won’t be so blue. Sue promises to use her fins next time, which should make it much easier for her to climb back into the inflatable.

Susan didn’t spear us dinner, but we still want to thank her profusely for guiding a couple of snorkel novices.

After we got back, we “bought” our first metered water by the gallon. The water pressure was very low, so it took two hours and for Brian to slowly top off our two tanks and two gerry jugs on deck with 86 gallons. The worst part was he missed the better part of the daily dockside happy hour.

Friday - We slept great on fresh sheets – no salt, sand, or damp air! (Small pleasures are not to be taken for granted in the Bahamas.) After breakfast, we toured more of the Cay, zchecking the mangrove creek and beach. We later greeted Tom (Gypsy Soul) who had returned from his “work break” back in the US. After lunch, we walked across the tidal flats to the south (formerly a “lowtide airport”), decided NOT to do the south cliff walk and elected instead to get to the south end beaches via the low tide flats.” We were fascinated by all the snails and their tracks in the sand as they moved between tides to new rocks to “anchor” to. We got back for happy hour and had a nice talk with Keltic Kat (Pat and Tootie) about our Nova Scotia trip in 2005. They were from Halifax and we found out that our cruises up to Cape Breton had much in common.

Dock Lines, Pilings and Fingers: Not a Pretty Picture (Sat, Jan 26)

Today was NOT a good day. We were planning to leave around 10:00 for Staniel Cay where we could get a mooring or anchor out, in preparation for the cold front due to arrive on Sunday. After checking out at the office, Brian volunteered to help handle the lines for Keltic Kat who was also leaving.

While walking the boat to the end of the dock, he accidentally got his right middle finger between the cleated dockline and a dock piling while Keltic Kat was still moving. It could have been much worse, but a good piece of skin on the end of the finger was removed under the dock line pressure. Sue helped clean and dress the wound, and simple compression stopped the bleeding. Gypsy Soul contributed some pain meds, and Karin of the marina tried to locate some medical help on the cell phone, VHF, and failing that, to arrange a flight to Nassau, where the nearest hospital was located.

Luck was with us, as a local airplane pilot heard about the incident, was already planning to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and agreed to fly us from nearby Sampson Cay and drop us off in Nassau. Tucker, owner of the marina, took us in his boat to the airstrip and by 2:00 we were in the air, 2:45 we were in a taxi at the Nassau airport, and by around 3:00 we were checking in to the Doctors Hospital ER (VISA card accepted, thank you). After that it was mostly waiting: first the nurse (tetanus shot), then the ER doc (order x-rays), and finally the hand/plastic surgeon who arrived at 6pm (ironically he had been working on his boat’s electrical system all day!). Dr. Neil was pretty cool, having seen many boat “crush” injuries and he quickly presented the options, numbed the hand, cleaned up the area and did a few sutures. By 8:00 we were out of the ER, with plenty of meds, dressing supplies and lots of instructions on how to care for the finger for the next SIX weeks!! But the best part was that the prognosis was good for getting a healed finger with nerve growth and sensitivity to return over the coming months. As they say in the VISA ads: “priceless!”

Nassau: third time the charm? (Sun-Mon, Jan 27-28)

We stayed in the downtown Nassau Quality Inn (recommended by the taxi driver as good budget choice) Saturday and Sunday nights, mostly taking it easy and getting used to the idea that Brian was going to be pretty limited with his middle finger bound up in gauze and taped to a splint. Sue also got some well deserved rest from galley duties as we sampled some nearby restaurants and had some inexpensive breakfasts at the hotel.

On Monday morning, we loaded up on some more supplies at the local pharmacy, went to the mall, and bought a cheap GSM cell phone for the Bahamas. That afternoon we caught a Flamingo Airlines “5 seater” back to Staniel Cay, with stops at Farmers Cay and Grand Guana Cay (Black Point settlement). Luck was again with us. Sitting next to Brian was Dennis. He was also going to Compass Cay, and was getting picked up at Staniel. We ended up joining him with a free ride on Li’l Da Cheze back to the marina, from Lee, the owner of a sports fisherman boat (Da Cheze) at the marina and Glenn, his captain. Everyone was back in time for happy hour!

Hanging Out in Compass Cay (Tues-Mon, Jan 29-Feb 11)

As we got used to the idea that “Captain Brian” was on the “sick list”, it occurred to us that Compass Cay was a pretty good spot. First of all it was well sheltered, it had a friendly staff, a continuous stream of visiting boats, and dinghys arriving every day to tie up or “swim with the sharks.”

Here’s a sampling of how we’ve spent our time for the past two weeks :

Green Flash Happy Hours - The main occupation is to get ready to see the “green flash” at sunset. So far we’ve had a few flashes, but we’re told they could be much greener, so we keep looking.

Beachcombing - Sue had collected a number of shells and made a sand dollar pendant for herself. We’re still looking for one of the elusive “hamburger beans” that wash up on the beach occasionally. There are other “sea beans” that drift over from Africa, the most common of which is the coconut.

Fishing - No fishing in the marina -- the fish and sharks that hang around the dock looking for scraps from the fish cleaning station, are really pets. The friendly nurse sharks actually nestle together ON the fish cleaning dock when the high tide comes over the dock planking. However –-- though we haven’t gotten our fishing act together yet, the Compass Cay staff and regulars on the island really know their stuff. Even nicer is that every so often we get an extra fish and Sue cooks up a great meal. We’ve had triggerfish and strawberry grouper so far (Thanks Dennis and Marino) and when the fish is only a few hours out of the water, it’s amazing how tasty it is!

Dinghy Exploration - We’ve gone up Bone Creek, until the mangrove swamps closed in on us and it got too shallow. We had a bit of a struggle to get turned around and out! We’ve also gone outside to the north end of the island and walked up a creek to “Rachel’s Bubble Bath.” It’s a pool that gets filled with waves breaking over a rocky wall that separates it from Exuma Sound. At high tide it can get very “frothy” from the waves. We joined a group that went up there at mid-tide and enjoyed the setting and the pool.

Hermit Crabs - Compass Cay used to have hermit crab races, with the shells painted up as NASCAR racers. Now they have a hermit crab shell “exchange station” where cruisers leave painted shell that hermit crabs can move into. When we were out hiking we ran across “RON”, a hermit crab with a brightly painted blue shell, way over on the Crescent Beach side. Since we’ve been here, Gadabaut (Dennis, Gail, and dog Decker) left white shells with their names on them, and so far only Decker’s shell has been exchanged.

Other Boaters - Gypsy Soul and Keltic Kat were very anxious to find out how Brian's finger was doing. Keltic Kat came back via dinghy for a visit, and we assured Pat and Tootie that they were not at fault at all, and Brian just lost track of where his fingers were during the undocking maneuver. Rumors managed to get to Solange, who thought Brian had lost his finger, but we were able to assure them that it wasn’t that serious. Of course everyone had a story to tell about an old finger injury while boating, fishing, working, etc. Almost all were upbeat, with a happy ending! I think cruisers all know that there is always the risk of an injury, no matter how cautious you think you are, and can really relate to a cruise interrupted by even a relatively mild injury.

Provisioning – When we returned from Nassau, Gail (from trawler Gadabaut) volunteered to do some grocery shopping at Staniel Cay. Sue was able to return the favor, when she got a ride to Staniel and Sampson Cays to get groceries and some gasoline a week later. The prices are high, the selection is limited, but it is amazing the things you take for granted and quickly miss when you run out.

Laundry - If you think water is expensive, the local laundry facilities here are on another level ($8 for a wash load, $8 for a dryer load). Needless to say there’s not much of a wait, since most boaters wait until Black Point settlement. Sue was finally forced to break down and deal with both dirty clothes, and the sheets which always seem to very quickly become damp and uncomfortable.

DVDs – By now you’ve figured out we are big X-Files fans, and we have been making steady progress, and are now in the middle of Season 5, with 4 seasons more to go. We also saw the last of the 4 DVDs we bought in Charleston. “King of Scotland” was a bit heavy; given it was a dramatic glimpse at the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, but it gives one pause about how dictators are tolerated so easily in the world, as long as they don’t impact your world.

Super Bowl – No one with satellite TV was around, so there was no Compass Cay Superbowl Party. We managed to pick up some audio from the BBC, but were only able to find out the Pat’s fate, via the internet that night.

Sogno Projects - Given all the time available, we’ve been able to catch up on some marlinspike projects (whipping the frayed ends of many lines), improving the seal on our refrigerator/freezer door, some canvas work, and polishing the chrome and stainless on deck.

Reading - Besides the usual boating books, cruising guides, and equipment manuals, we’ve actually been reading real books! I particularly liked a novel “Saturday” (thanks Bob for lending it to me over a year ago!) and “Team of Rivals”, an examination of Lincoln’s political skills in becoming president and building a strong cabinet despite many personality clashes. Sue has been reading a biography of the famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead.

Going forward

“The finger” continues to heal rapidly, but after two weeks, it looks like another week before we can get going. From here we will go 2 or 3 more stops until we go outside to Exuma Sound and begin the final legs to George Town, Great Exuma Island. We’re interested to see this cruising mecca where up to 400 boats gather at the peak of the season. Happy Valentines Day to all!

Don’t forget to send us your comments. When we get a chance to see them, they really make our day. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nassau to Warderick Wells, Exumas

Hi Everyone:

All down the ICW, one of the first question you heard was “Where are you going?” Once you said “Bahamas” the next question was “Where in the Bahamas?” We dutifully replied we were going to Exumas and George Town. In truth, we knew only vaguely what that meant, except that all our friends and advisers were clear, that this was THE way to go. In this “chapter” we arrive in the Exumas, and begin our adventures in the northern part of this beautiful island chain.

We reach the Exumas (Wed, Jan 9)

All the weather gurus seemed to say this was a good day to leave Nassau and head SE to the Exumas, so we checked out of the marina and asked for some one to help us with the docklines. It seemed easy enough as we backed out, but let’s just say everything went well until our line handlers refused to cast off the last line. Wind and current did the rest and soon we were bouncing off two neighboring sailboats and threatening a third. When the dust settled, we were back in our slip, bow out ready to start again. This we did with much more precision, and soon we were motoring out the eastern harbor entrance.

We raised sail and were soon going 5.0 knots toward Allen’s Cay in the Northern Exuma Cays. We had to cross the Yellow Banks, which was a concentration of coral heads, “most” of which were deeper than our keel, and all of which were easy to see (IF the sun was high enough and behind you) and maneuver around (IF you kept a sharp look out). As we approached this area, the wind began to die down and the wind chop began to increase, so we started the motor to give us the maneuverability we needed. For the next 50 minutes (4.5 miles) Brian acted as lookout and Sue manned the helm, as we “read the waters” and dodged around maybe 10 dark spots that identified the coral heads that were in our path. We never really saw anything “yellow”, so I guess it’s something you only see if the weather/sun conditions are right.

Once we passed the last coral head on the bank, it was a straight forward motor sail over to Allen’s Cay, and to a relatively crowded anchorage. Due to the depth, we couldn’t go too far into the harbor, and had to settle for a marginal spot at the southern end, exposed to strong currents and the easterly wind. We backed down hard on the anchor and then Brian used the dinghy and our trusty clear bottom “viewing” bucket to be sure our anchor was well buried in the white sand bottom. Everything checked out, so we finally were able to enjoy the sunset on another leg of our voyage. We were planning to make the Exumas our home for the next 3 months!

The tidal current was pretty strong at times, but all the boats managed to swing in unison at our anchors. We kept our GPS and navigation software on all night to be sure we were not getting too close to a large rock about 100 feet to our west. Every so often we tended to swing that way, motivating Brian to awaken at each tide change to check we were still swinging clear at each turn of the current. Some anchorages are more relaxing than others! (Sue seems to have problem sleeping during these events.)

Iguana Days (Thurs, Jan 10)

Like most cruisers, our first priority the next morning was to go to SW Allen’s Cay, and see the iguanas. These little guys (some got about two feet long) look like they could have been cast in some 1950’s dinosaur movies, have the run of the place and are protected by law. You’re not supposed to feed them, but they’ve obviously been very skillful in getting handouts anyway. The minute your dinghy approaches the beach, they come half-way down the sand to greet you – with the biggest ones making sure they get first shot at any handouts.

We took plenty of pictures, and walked across the island to the southern side to see the lone palm tree that stands conspicuously on the island. An occasional rustle in the brush, let us know that the iguanas were still looking for some food. We had brought some cheese and crackers for a picnic snack, but we decided to go over to the beach at Leaf Cay.

It turned out that Leaf Cay had an even bigger iguana settlement, but we decided to go ahead with our picnic, despite all the beady eyes watching us. Fortunately for them, another dinghy arrived, bearing some French Canadians who enthusiastically fed them some chips and candy snacks. With that diversion going on, Sue was free to get out the needle and thread and do some repairs to a zipper and bow cover on our inflatable dinghy.

Hook, Line, and Calamari (Fri, Jan 11) Allen’s to Highborne Cay

Highborne Cay, our next stop, was only five or so miles south, so we got off to a leisurely start at around 10. The winds were from the SE, so we could enjoy a one-hour sail south, before tacking east to our anchorage off the Highborne’s western shore. There were 3 other sailboats there when we arrived, but by sunset we were surrounded by six more cruisers, and three 65-foot plus motor yachts.

Highborne Cay has a nice marina, so we dinghied around the southern tip to check it out and see if we could find some bait to go fishing. The marina was populated with many power boats, including a good size mega-yacht and its assortment of nautical toys (center console fishing boat, two jet skis, etc.)

The store was surprisingly well stocked with staples and some fresh vegetables and meat. As you might guess, the prices were pretty amazing for some common items, like paper towels ($5.10 for one roll), corn flakes ($5.85), large can of corn ($1.85), etc.
Fortunately, our “ships store” is – and remains – in good shape. The supply of “Highborne Cay” Tee shirts was pretty much exhausted, so we settled for some tropical color napkins as a souvenir, and a box of frozen squid for our bait. We then took some time to relax at the marina’s beach with some beverages we had brought along.

We knew next to nothing about fishing, but we happily drifted among the rocks with our handline setup, managing to “catch” the bottom only once, and thankfully not hooking our inflatable at all. The fish were not biting off Oyster Cay or in our anchorage when we returned to Sogno. On the plus side, we now had some “calamari” in the fridge for future fishing trips. Instead of a fish dinner, it was linguini with white clam sauce. Cruisers and fisherman always have a “plan B”.

Running A Tab in Norman’s Cay (Sat, Jan 12)

The winds were very light, when we motored out in the morning for Norman’s Cay, a trip of only 10 miles or so. This was a chance to try out our fishing pole and one of the lures – the pink one. We knew the best fishing was out in the deeper Exuma Sound, but we wanted to figure out how to rig the pole for trolling off our stern. With an assortment of bungee cords, we managed to rig something relatively secure, but the reel didn’t click even once to indicate anyone was go for our sexy pink lure.

We secured our fishing operations as we turned in toward Norman’s and were anchored among 3 sailboats (2 Dutch, 1 Canadian) in short order. There appeared to be very good holding in sand, but a little shallower than expected.

Norman’s Cay had a wild history from 1979 to 1988, when it was the center of a major cocaine smuggling operation. The airstrip is still in operation, but things have become much quieter. The old Norman’s Cay Club that served as the smuggling headquarters is now in ruins.

We dinghied ashore after a light lunch to find the Norman’s Cay Beach Club and see about dinner at the island’s only restaurant. Near the decaying dock ashore, we found a paved road that led us on a 15 minute walk across the island to the airstrip and the Beach Club. When we walked in to “McDuff’s Bar and Grill”, the NFL playoff game was in full progress, the customers were having a good time, and we were greeted by Beth, one very friendly bartender. Soon we had the dinner menu to peruse and a couple of beers (not necessarily in that order). We mentioned we were planning to coming back later for dinner – no problem. Beth: “We’ll just open a tab for you and when you come back we’ll settle up after dinner.” We could just leave it open and resume when we came back for dinner. How’s that for customer convenience – and trust!

We tried to find a short cut back to the dinghy, but only managed to get Sue’s knee scraped when trekking (and therefore, falling) through some underbrush. It was low tide by the time we were back aboard. The tide was just beginning to come in, and as Sogno swung around to point into the current, we quickly noted that we were bumping ever so gently on the sand bottom! Shortening our anchor rode stopped that, but this would definitely not be a good spot to be when the cold front forecast for Monday arrived.

Our dinner that night at the Beach Club was fantastic: grilled mahi-mahi, salad, and some delicious warm bread. We dined out on the deck to enjoy the light SE breeze, and then adjourned to the bar to watch the end of the Green Bay – Seattle game. (It wasn’t lost on us that the game was being played in the snow.) Needless to say, it is a wondrous age we live in that allows high definition snow flakes to be broadcast to a small bar and grill in the Northern Exumas!

We had to take a pass on the Pats game, closed out our tab, and headed back to the beach, flashlight lanterns in hand, for the dinghy ride back to Sogno and our next X-Files episode. A little civilization and a chance to talk with new friends, does indeed uplift the spirits.

The Mighty McDuff Burger (Sun, Jan 13)

Brian was up to check our depth at low tide (4:40 am), and it turned out to be around 1 foot under the keel. We didn’t bump the bottom this time, but first thing we did was to re anchor a little bit to the north and east, where the water was deeper, and we would be in good shape when the wind shifted to the NW on Monday with the arrival of the expected cold front.

Today we decided to do begin with some dinghy exploring. Our first stop was a very small island (50 yards long) with a single palm tree, located near the mouth of Norman’s Cay harbor. It was your classic “deserted island” and it looked approachable only around high tide. We had fun looking for conch shells, and taking pictures of ourselves with the palm tree (See how easy it is for us to keep ourselves occupied when we’re off the boat.)

Our next adventure was to go around the shores of what is a large (but very shallow) harbor that extends 3 miles north of where we were anchored. With the outgoing tide starting to carry us north, we only managed to get half way before the water was too thin even for our outboard. We retreated to Sogno and decided now was as good as any to try one of the famous Beach Club (McDuff’s) hamburgers.

The McDuff burger (with cheese) lived up to its reputation, and then some! It was at least 8 oz., and managed to occupy us for at least 20 minutes. French fries were also very tasty. I don’t know if it had much HDL, but this was definitely “good” cholesterol. Our digestive systems were working in overdrive, as we talked with the Beach Club manager, and watched new arrivals land at the nearby airstrip. A walk back didn’t energize us very much either, so it was back to Sogno for a siesta (Sue) and blogging (Brian). No need for any dinner tonight.

The anchorage, however, was getting a bit tight (13 boats), so after talking with our neighbor Solange IV (Kevin) we let out another 20 feet of rode, so we would both have nearly the same scope.

Sogno Dances ‘Til Dawn (Mon, Jan 14)

Tonight was not a quiet one on the anchor. There was a SE wind that made the boats dance about as the current changed from a NE flood to a SW ebb. To the south of us, we could see lots of searchlights coming on as some boats moved to re-anchor, and as a large “mail boat” maneuvered to tie up in the dark at the dock.

Brian got up to check our position around 3am. (Sue sleeps, of course, through most of this.) Looking about, we appeared to be staying the same distance from our 2 closest neighbors, but checking the chartplotter made it look a lot scarier. Sogno was swinging in circles over the bottom, and the circles were moving to the SW. We didn’t seem to be dragging, but the anchor rode was making noises as it rubbed against the hull. Brian stayed up for the rest of the night with a novel, monitoring Sogno’s travels on the chartplotter screen and popping up every 30 minutes to see if everyone else was staying in step. Everything seemed a lot more normal once the sun was up, but it was a reminder that strong wind and current, can make for a not so peaceful anchorage.

Based on the weather forecast, we decided to dinghy over to nearby Shroud Cay (about 3 miles) and check out the mangrove swamp and creeks. We used our handheld GPS to help us avoid some rocky and shallow areas, and arrived at the NW end of the island around 11:30. We wound our way through the shallow mangrove areas and arrived at a beautiful beach on the other side of the island. We strolled about, talked to Seas The Day (Terry and Nancy) about “must see”, and had our picnic lunch. We then hiked up the 65 foot hill to “Driftwood Camp.” The view from the summit revealed an island whose center was mostly under water (the swamps) and was ringed by hills and beaches. The swamp is a “marine nursery” protecting the baby marine life, until it can later fend for itself in the open water. Shroud Cay is a protected area and is part of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.

After lunch, we headed back to the west side of the island by another creek. The tide was falling by now, and for a second it seemed as we might have to get out and walk, but eventually we found our way back to open water. After fiddling with the GPS a bit, we set up a return route and made it back to Sogno without incident.

South Anchorage – Less is More (Tues, Jan 15)

With the weather looking favorable, we arranged for an Exuma Park mooring at Warderick Wells Cay and began the short 12 mile trip at around 10:45. We had another great sail, reaching down Exuma Sound at around 6-7 knots. Solange IV was also assigned to the same South Anchorage as we were, and as we made our final approach, radioed us that there was “plenty of deep water in the middle”, and “to get our camera’s rolling” because it was an absolutely beautiful anchorage! With breakers crashing against the shore, we slipped around Hog Cay, and beheld the beautiful (and flat calm) blue green waters and white beaches of the South Anchorage. It was an image right out of a Bahamas travel poster, and we were grinning from ear to ear as we eased past Solange IV to tie up to our mooring ball.

We eventually came off our high enough to dinghy a mile to the North Anchorage and register with the Park. We joined the “Support Fleet” which gives you a break on the mooring fees, and of course met up with many of the boats we had seen along the way (Werplayin, San-I-Tee, Sucia, and Highlander). We returned in time to have cocktails aboard Solange IV (Kevin, Melissa, and young sons James and Caleb). We all agreed that this was a very special spot and that it was like having our “own island.” The North and Emerald Rock anchorages were more popular (near to HQ, more moorings, Wi-Fi, more trails nearby, etc.) but our snug little harbor finally offered a chance to get off the “beaten path” and relax at our own pace.

We “Hit” the Trails (Wed-Thur, Jan 16-17)

The next two days we took time to explore more of Warderick Wells:

Wednesday - A big breakfast (eggs, hash and blueberry muffins) got us off to a good start and we dinghied north to join a Nature Walk, conducted by Bill (Highlander) who has been volunteering at the park for many years. We learned about whales, humming birds, mangroves and the impact of man and storms on the island. We climbed up the limestone path to Boo Boo Hill (where cruisers leave carved signs and to see the blow holes), had our lunch snack at Boo Boo beach, and then ventured out on our own to a few more trails. We then visited with “Werplayin” (Deb, Paul) on their mooring, to find out more of their adventures since we first met them in Staten Island, NY. We were also joined by Solange IV. (Both couples were from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but hadn’t met until along this trip.) Deb and Paul’s hospitality was impressive with homemade minestrone and cookies topping the menu! We hated to leave and paid for it, with a stiff SW breeze making the return trip a real soaker.

Thursday – We started our exploration of the South Anchorage with a trip over to Escape Beach and a climb to the top of a hill to get a panoramic view. Brian then scrambled over a look at a blow hole above a “tunnel” that leads to the Exuma side. Sue could finally relax when he made it back without falling! Lunch at Capture Beach was followed by a visit to the mysterious “Pirates Lair” in a palm tree grove, where pirates supposedly met to relax. Then we hiked the Wild Dilly trail to Bush Basher Beach. Sue fell on this very rocky trail, and managed to “bash” a finger and her tailbone in the fall. We carefully retraced our steps more carefully and made it back with out further incident. We invited Solange IV over for drinks and learned more about each other’s boating plans. They were cruising south 6 months at a time and then working 6 months back in Edmonton to refill the “cruising kitty.” They were planning to store Solange in Charleston, SC this Spring, so they could be back home by May. Thursday ended under a moon so bright, we could see our dinghy’s shadow on the sandy bottom, along with a sting ray (and pilot fish companion) slowly moving about. A grilled steak dinner brought the day to a successful close.

How Green is My Water (Fri, Jan 18)

We started Friday by taking care of the basics. In this case it was our dwindling supply of fresh water. Brian tested one of the two 6.5 gallon water jerry cans we keep on deck, in addition to our normal 110 gallons. The water was distinctly “tinged” green, but given that we were down to our last 40 gallons of fresh water, we decided to chance it and put it in our empty bow tank to use for showers. By the way, the Exuma Park doesn’t have any water, food, fuel, or garbage facilities available, which turns out to be a very effective way of making sure the cruisers don’t overstay their welcome.

After this little chore, Sogno did some bartering with Solange (we traded a box of Triscuits for two cans of cream of mushroom soup) and tool lending (we loaned a battery hydrometer and borrowed a dental pick for a definitely non-dental project). For recreation, we went to Tiny Beach (yes every patch of sand in the park has a name) and did some snorkeling around a beginner’s coral reef site. We didn’t see any sign of the barracuda that Kevin had spied the day before, but we removed our rings so we wouldn’t any attract the interest of any hungry fish. We did see some colorful fish and coral, but when Brian’s big moment came to use the digital camera carefully sealed in its new underwater case, the camera merely said “change to new battery.” No pictures this time! If you haven’t figured it out yet, we are definitely new to all this snorkeling stuff, so we learn something new every time we don our gear. We also learned how fast you can get sunburned on your back if you don’t keep covered up.

After lunch, we left our special anchorage to motor a few miles to the North Anchorage. We ended up on a mooring only one boat from “Werplayin” and a short 5 minutes to the Park HQ. Even more important, we were within range of the Wi-Fi antenna! After a brief initial success, software problems with the Wi-Fi access site shut us down for the time being.

By the end of the day, our “green water” shower experiment seemed successful. At least we certainly felt much better. It was a relatively early dinner (Chicken Creole), early X-file episode (Brian fell asleep) and an early lights out!

Things Get Hairy (Sat-Mon, Jan 19-21)

Saturday - The first chore, was Brian’s beard trim in the cockpit. Sue did an excellent job, but now Sogno had a “hairy” coat on the transom to go with the salt and sand that could be found everywhere. Even the dinghy did not escape the downwind hair “spray.” The rest of the day was spent reading, relaxing, and prepping Sogno and our mooring lines for the strong cold front expected on Sunday. The highlight of the day, was the “Saturday Happy Hour” on the Beach. Cruisers supplied the snacks and drinks, the Park supplied the ice and bonfire. Over 20 boats arrived and we had a great time making new friends on the beach and learning more about all the great places to go in the Exumas.

Sunday - Today we went into get maximum Wi-Fi strength, so we could make some phone calls over the internet (Skype service is what we use.) Things worked ok, but the reliability is still somewhat suspect – at least on our old laptop. We returned to Sogno to wait for the first sign of the cold front, and it obliged promptly at 4:11 pm when all the gray clouds finally delivered a blast of wind from the North, which quickly built to 25 knots, with some occasional rain squalls. From then on it was turn on some relaxing music, do some reading, and generally get used to the sound of the wind in the rigging. After dinner, for “fun”, we decided to watch our “Perfect Storm” DVD, which did indeed mask the sound of the outside wind, and did remind us that our weather was far from anything serious -- so far!

Monday - We had a reasonably restful night with no excitement in the anchorage. On the positive side, the rain washed away most of the salt and hair, and some of the sand! The wind was more in the 15-20 knot range for most of the morning. This gave Sue a chance to inventory the ship’s stores and for me catch up on “Buds at Sea”. Hopefully this installment will get posted today or tomorrow.

Going forward

We’re planning to depart shortly for Cambridge Cay, which is at the southern end of the Exuma Park. From there we need to stop for some water, laundry, fuel, etc. The logistical challenges are becoming more apparent as we head down the islands toward George Town. Sue is creating a spread sheet as I write this, and soon we’ll know how many days before we run out of something we can’t live without! Fresh water (at $0.50 per gal.) is one thing I know we need to live. Running out of tonic water is another. We’ll let you know how we’re doing in our next installment

Don’t forget to send us your comments. When we get a chance to see them, they really make our day. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No Name Harbor, FL to Nassau & NW Bahamas

Hi Everyone:

For months, we studied everything we could about crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, and it was always a topic of discussion with other cruisers. Where are you jumping off, where are you heading, and what does the weather window look like? The questions were always the same, but the answers evolved as we grew closer to the jumping off harbors.

This “chapter” covers “THE CROSSING” and our initial cruising in the Northwest Bahamas.

The Crossing (Tue-Wed, Christmas Day to Dec 26)

It was rise and shine at 5 am and anchor up at 6. Sue and I were on our way. Despite a full moon, it was cloudy and darker than expected, but we sorted out the Florida Channel buoys and marks and by 0640 were rounding Cape Florida. We set our initial heading to 104 degrees by compass.

This was 19 degrees to the right of the direct course line to Bimini and North Rock. The adjustment was needed to counteract the effect of the 2.5 knot Gulf Stream which would set us to the North as we crossed it at a boat speed of around 6.5 knots. This was our heading for the next 48 miles. As we motor sailed, we tracked our position on the paper chart. We initially stayed south of our course line. Halfway across the stream, we were back on the course line; then north; and then near the end we came back very close to our intended way point of North Rock. It worked just like the theory said it would!

Sue was first to spot South Bimini Island, and by 2:30 pm, we were passing North Rock and our depth sounder clearly announced we were “on the Bank.” Depths were now around 20 feet even though it looked like we were in a calm area of the open ocean. If the lack of ocean swells couldn’t convince you, then you just had to look over the side and clearly see the bottom. Kind of scary, but the clear blue green water was already working its magic. We set the sails and turned off the motor. We had made it to the Bahamas!

Plan A was to continue crossing the bank slowly through the night so that we would close in on the Northwest Channel light at dawn. The slowly dying wind made it easy to move slowly, but once it got dark, and the current began to affect us, it was a lot easier to just slowly motor.

Sue prepared a great hot dish of chicken and rice which we ate in the cockpit – in the dark. It was a perfect preparation for the first watch by Brian from 5 to 9. Sue napped and then took the 9 to 12:30 watch, and made the course adjustment at Mackie Shoal. Brian then took the next watch, switched from sail to motor and kept a lookout for some overtaking motoring sailboats, plus an occasional commercial vessel traveling toward Bimini. We eventually overtook some of the other boats which slowed down before dawn, as well as a couple of boats who just dropped the hook just short of the Northwest Channel.

Not all the lights and buoys were as charted, but Brian eventually got it sorted out. We passed Northwest Channel light at around at 0610. Sue took it from there and Brian crashed for a few hours, before getting up to let Sue sleep a few more hours until noon.

Nassau slowly came into view and by 1:00 we received permission for Nassau Harbor Control to enter the harbor. We contacted Nassau Yacht Haven, and were happy when they said they had some room for us. We tied up at 2:30 in a mild breeze with some excellent dock line help from John. We now had to wait for Immigration and Customs to clear us in.

We cleaned up Sogno (lots of salt spray) and Immigration arrived within half an hour and we were done in less than 10 minutes. Customs was another matter, but after verifying that there was a Customs officer working her way through other boats in the marina, we just had to wait until around 5:00 or so to answer a few questions and pay our $300 cruising permit fee. Yes – we had arrived! Down went our yellow quarantine flag, and up went our Bahamas courtesy flag. We were free to move about the country!

December 26, is a big holiday in the Bahamas, so almost everything was closed. After taking showers, we ran into George and Lynn (Sunspot Baby) who told us about the weekly cruisers lunch on Thursday (tomorrow). We also got a rundown on what bars and restaurants were open in the area from the friendly security guard. Crazy Johnnies Rock and Roll Bar was our first stop, and we sampled our first Bahamian beer – Kalik. From there we went to a nearby Outback steakhouse, where we got an ok meal, with very indifferent service. We reckoned our waitress was not very happy about working on Boxing Day, and let it go at that. It was time to get some sleep.

Nassau is fun, but Cruising is Better (Thur-Sat, Dec 27-29)

Nassau is on New Providence Island -- the capital of the Bahamas. Nearly 80% of the country lives in and about Nassau. It’s a good sized city, that depends heavily on the tourist industry. We stayed in Nassau for 4 days, and had a chance to organize Sogno, provision, do laundry, meet other cruisers, fix a few items and see some of the sights. At the Cruisers Lunch (Green Parrot) we had a chance to meet local legends Nick and Carolyn Wardle . They helped organize the Bahamian Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) and are always helping out arriving cruisers with weather reports and other useful information.

We finally got a handle on the local bus system, and managed to make it out to the Ardastra Gardens to see the flowers, wildlife and flamingo show. The local marina restaurant (The Poop Deck) was a good place to hang out, sample some conch fritters and talk to other cruisers. Watching other cruisers arrive is always fun especially when you have seen them during a cruise such as Event Horizon II (Peter and Cheryl). They shared an anchorage while riding out Noel off the Alligator River. Our self-conducted tour of Nassau included downtown, the Library (originally an old jail), Fort Fincastle, the Water Tower and the Queen’s Steps, plus shops in the area around the cruise ship docks.

By day four, we were getting a bit depressed, since the weather and wind were still not favorable for continuing south --- to the Exumas. We finally decided to head northwest to the Berry Islands, and check out Little Harbour and Cabbage Cays. It was time for us to go cruising and that meant going wherever the wind was bound for!

Reading the Waters in Little Harbour Cay (Sun, Dec 30)

After a stop at the fuel dock, we were underway at around 10am for our 38 mile sail to the Berry Islands and Little Harbour Cay. The skies were clear and we got an hour of sailing in, but the winds were weakening, and from dead astern. We finally had to motor the rest of the way, to be sure we got in with some adequate light.

We arrived at the Little Harbour Cay entrance at 3:45. The sun was just high enough for us to still “read the water colors” and work our way around the brown and dark spots (shallow) and stay in the blue and blue green areas (deep) as we headed for the anchorage. Brian was at the bow busily waving his arms to indicate where Sue should steer - - left, right, more right, left, etc. As we approached the charted anchorage, the depth kept decreasing, and soon all we saw around us were dark spots and depths of 6 or 7 feet. We were close to where a bunch of other boats were anchored, but we couldn’t get any further “local knowledge” so we turned around and headed for High Cay (aka Frozen Cay) which would also give us some shelter from the SE winds.

Our first anchoring attempt (35 # CQR) wouldn’t set, so we changed locations and ended up anchoring near a bunch of other boats who seemed to be riding nicely. Given all the room, we probably were a little closer that we should have been, but we still had adequate swing room, and we didn’t have much time left before the sun set. We declared ourselves anchored and set about preparing to properly watch the sun set.

There was a little bit of roll, but as anchorages go this was a keeper and we slept well after Sue put together a great shrimp and broccoli pasta dish followed by a “Beautiful Mind” DVD.

Ringing in the New Year at High Cay (Mon, Dec 31)

New Year’s Eve day, we dropped our dinghy and did some exploring. Flo’s Conch bar was closed, so we continued motoring about Little Harbour Cay, Comfort Cay and Lizard Cay. The water was shallow enough (less than 2 feet) that we had to row for a while. After getting back in good water, we headed for the local beach and all the cruisers enjoying the water. There were 3 sailboats and a trawler present, and we found out the local scoop on Flo’s (conch, fish, lobster, French fries, and rum punch), how to get a conch out of his shell, where the good snorkeling was, and how to burn your garbage on the beach. We clearly had a lot more to learn.

We headed back to Sogno, and took some time to look at how our anchor was set, using a clear bottom viewing bucket. It was kind of scary to see that the anchor was only 50% buried in the sand, even though it was holding fine. In any event we spent the afternoon recharging the battery, while two of the boats moved over to the Cabbage Cay – Little Harbour Cay anchorage. A grilled steak dinner, some local fireworks and a bonfire we could see on the beach finally put us in a New Year’s Eve mood. We toasted the New Year in a bit early (thanks Dan and Elaine for the champagne) and turned out the lights on what had been a very special year. What would 2008 bring?

Riding Our First Norther (Tues – Sat, New Years Day - Jan 5)

We began the New Year, with a mimosa brunch, followed by a change of anchorage on a rising tide. Going over to join the other boats near Cabbage Cay was not a problem if you came in from the south. What WAS a problem was anchoring. After 3 attempts near where the charted anchorage was, we finally moved out to deeper water and managed to set the anchor with 90 feet of chain and 40 feet of nylon rode. Hooray! We then took another giant step toward Bahamas cruising, by breaking out the snorkel gear and taking our first tentative exploration of the local sea bed off the beach. Needless to say, Sue and I were just thrilled with what was probably pretty tame stuff, but we liked what we saw, and decided that beach people might have something going after all.

We were glad we got this beach time in, because by midnight, the wind began to howl and our first cold front with accompanying “norther” had arrived. For the next 4 days, there was not much to do unless you wanted to go around and get wet (plus salt) in your dinghy in the 20-25 knot winds. We elected to focus on various improvement and repair projects, this blog and just catching up on our reading. Sue kept up morale with food (quesadillas, pasta, brownies, etc.)

One “funny” incident occurred when one night Brian went to bed at around 8:30. We didn’t know it, but around 9 pm one of the boats close to the shore (San-I-Tee) had started bouncing on the bottom and had been forced to re-anchor near us. When Brian woke up at 12:30 and checked the anchorage he saw San-I-Tee and thought she was dragging anchor. On went the search light and he sounded the alarm on our air horn. Once we all got on the radio, we found out what had happened and could all go back to sleep. Brian was “complimented” on watching out for others, but it was clear the wind was wearing on peoples nerves.

By Saturday, the wind was beginning to lessen, and two of the larger sailboats elected to leave for Nassau. The rest of us elected to wait for Sunday, which the weather gurus said was a better day.

Our Best Sail So Far (Sun, Jan 6)

We all got going at around 6:45 am and made it out the entrance at high water with no problems. The wind was a steady 15 knots or so out of the ENE so we had a great sail all the way to Nassau, averaging 6.5 knots, with Sogno leading the way. There was a brief squall to greet us as we approached the harbor entrance, but all went well and we were back in Nassau Yacht Haven by 1:00.

After getting cleaned up a bit, we did some provisioning and stopped by the Poop Deck. We of course talked with more cruisers, including John and Maryann (Lucky Girl) who were docked near us and invited us to stop by in the morning to go over the Exuma charts with them.

Back on Sogno it was a grilled steak, brownies and an X-file episode on DVD. It had been a very good sailing day!

Enjoying Nassau and Getting Ready for the Exumas (Mon-Tue, Jan 7-8)

The weather reports Monday morning were looking good for a Wednesday departure for Allan’s Cay in the Exumas. We did spend some time over at Lucky Girl, learning about good anchorages, snorkel areas, marinas, and hiking areas down the Exumas chain. John and Maryann had spent a number of years in the Bahamas and we thank them for taking time to help out some first timers.

After that we jumped on a bus into town and explored the local Straw Market. We found it more like a tourist flea market, and kind of limited in the local crafts available. We then went out to Arawak Cay (aka “the Fish-fry”) to get some local seafood. Mondays are a slow day there, but we did get some advice from one restaurant owner (“Full Belly”) and had some excellent grilled conch and grouper at “Seafood Haven.” We were so full, we only took the bus back to town, and then walked the rest of the way to the marina to get some exercise.

On Tuesday, we topped off our fuel tanks and jugs and then went off to Paradise Island. It turned out to be an easy walk over the bridge, and we immediately checked out the Atlantis resort. It has a fabulous little aquarium that can be seen for free in the grand hotel lobby. The scale of the whole things is tremendous, and we only saw the casino, marina, and other public areas. The whole resort represented an investment over $1.9B.

After we got back to the marina, we decided to finally buy some fishing gear, and got considerable help from a nearby marine store. After an hour we emerged with rod, reel, hand lines, gaff, lures, and assorted other “accessories”. With a little luck, we should be able to eventually catch something. We’ll keep you informed on how we do.

We’re planning to depart for the “Far Bahamas” tomorrow, crossing the Yellow Bank. Sounds exotic, but we’re assured that it’s a pretty easy run of 35 miles or so, if the east wind stays tame. Stay tuned …

Don’t forget to send us your comments. Click on Comments below!

Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea

Vero Beach, FL to No Name Harbor, FL

Hi Everyone:

This “chapter” covers our adventures from Vero Beach, FL to our Bahamas crossing departure point, No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, FL.

Hello and Goodbye to the Ditch (Wed, Dec 19)

We got an early 7am start, and were soon on our way to Ft. Pierce. We had decided that we would try our best to avoid the dozens of restricted draw bridges that lay ahead, and go outside (to the ocean) at the Ft. Pierce inlet. By the time we turned at Ft. Pierce to go out the inlet we were making great time, with a favorable current. That ebb tide soon became our nemesis, as a strong east wind began piling up steep 8 foot waves at the entrance. Sogno, and her 63 hp diesel were up to the task, but we still managed to “drive through” (smash) through a number of waves and send the salt spray flying into our cockpit and on us. Soon the mainsail was up, and we were motor sailing down the coast toward our next stop, West Palm Beach. It was fun not to have to glance at the depth finder all the time, and worry about whether we’d be too late for the next bridge opening.

We crossed an ICW milestone of sorts even though we were off shore, by passing south of the ICW 1000 mile mark. It seemed much more than 51 days since we were rushing by mile 0 in Norfolk, VA to make it to the Dismal Swamp locks.

We arrived at West Palm Beach around 4:30 and anchored in Lake Worth. There were plenty of other boats, but there was still a lot of room for more. Lake Worth is a popular jumping off spot for cruisers going to Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos. Our plan though was to go further south to Miami, with a stop at Ft. Lauderdale.

A Bridge Too Far (Thur, Dec 20)

We were underway and heading out the inlet by around 7:30. The waves at the inlet were again steep, but not as high as at Ft. Pierce. The wind was just off our bow, so it was going to be another day of motor sailing, with some occasional squalls to go through before we entered the Ft. Lauderdale inlet.

We had arranged to stay in the Downtown City Docks Marina run by the city. At the end of the inlet, we turned north on the ICW, leaving the big cruise ships in Port Everglades behind us. We waited for the 57 foot draw bridge to open, although we should have been able to clear it by 3 or 4 feet (we were clearly getting nervous about shallow water and low bridges) and then turned off on the New River.

At first it was just a narrow river, well marked that wound past some very nice houses. Then it began to get more urban, and soon it was like a Venetian canal, passing by large yachts “parked” near hotels, with cars driving past us besides the nearby canal walls. It was really wild, especially when we came up to a series of small draw bridges that seemed to open and close within 2 or 3 minutes (like very long traffic lights.)

We actually went one bridge to far, and had to back track (turn around) through the Andrews Ave. bridge before we found our assigned spot along the canal wall. (We actually were assigned a spot way too close to the Third Ave. bridge but were able to tie up at another spot so we would have some maneuvering room when it came time to leave. We were impressed with the constant flow of mega yachts up and down the river, many of them being towed to and from the large yards that were located further up the river.

After getting ourselves settled, and out of our damp foul weather gear, we discovered that our fresh water system was not working. The pump appeared dead. Luckily one of the “must do’s” in Vero Beach was fixing our manual galley sink pump, so we could still easily get water for most uses. But we didn’t have water for showers or the sink in the head and – you guessed it – this marina didn’t have showers! Tomorrow would be a busy day.

We decided to deal with this plumbing crisis in an adult fashion, and headed to the Downtowner Saloon (located a few yards from the marina office) for some quesadilla appetizers with a followup session of fish and chips at the Briny Pub Riverside across the river. We also had a chance to chat with a member of the catamaran Long Reach directly across from us. She and her husband, plus one other crewman were crossing over to West End, Grand Bahamas the following morning and would be underway well before the bridges were closed down for the morning rush.

It’s a Very West Marine Christmas for Buds at Sea (Fri, Dec 21)

The next day we headed off to the bus terminal, and boarded the bus that would take us to the nearest West Marine. We were so busy referring to our city maps,that one of the passengers (in broken English) took pity on us and pointed out where we were every few minutes. He even reminded the bus driver where we needed to get off, so that when we arrived, he made a loud announcement that we were at our stop. We have always found that fumbling with maps will always attract some help from nice people – at least during the day.

The Ft. Lauderdale store, is the largest West Marine we’ve ever seen, with one huge retail area, and a separate building catering just to inflatables. It was suddenly Christmas shopping time for us and Sogno. Besides the exact water pump replacement we needed, we found a lot more things to buy (e.g., some water filters to use when filling our tanks from shore water). Needless to say we had quite a lot of stuff to tote back on the bus.

The water pump was successfully replaced, we took our showers, and we even found some free Wi-Fi to do some email. Things were definitely going well, so we headed to the Downtowner’s happy hour for some spinach and artichoke dip and other special price items! The bartender even remembered our name! We then headed for the shopping and restaurant area on Las Olas Blvd and decided to have some great pizza at the Café Europa. We slept well that night.

Circles in the New River (Sat, Dec 22)

Our getaway the next morning was not pretty. The run to Miami was a little more than 20 miles down the coast, so we didn’t get going as early as usual. Secondly, we had some hiccups to deal with in our navigational PC and electronics, which involved some software re-installs. By that time, there was a good ebb current flowing toward the bridge, and we took nearly 30 minutes walking Sogno back along the wall to give ourselves more maneuvering room.

When we were all set, and there was no other traffic nearby, we cast off our lines, and put it into reverse, neatly backing away and swinging around in the current which was taking us toward the Third Ave. Bridge. From there we simply shifted into forward to pull away from the Bridge and request an opening. Easy to describe, but certainly a thrilling way see that your engine and transmission is in tip-top shape. I’m sure the bridge keeper had watched our struggles and was happy to get us on our way.

The rest of the trip out of the city, was in bright sunshine and very pleasant. We had to wait for a mechanical delay of the big drawbridge near the inlet – it would not open -- , but by 12:30 we were on our way out the inlet. Wind was light, so it was another motoring day, and we arrived at the entrance to Miami around 3:45. We called TowBoat/US to confirm that Government Cut (where the Port of Miami passenger ship terminals are) was closed to pleasure craft for security reasons. This meant we had to detour down Fisherman’s Channel, go north on a section of the ICW, before we could turn east to our planned anchorage along the Venetian Causeway. f

Venetian Causeway is a series of bridges and islands that crosses from Miami on the mainland to Miami Beach. For Sogno, the initial channel is pretty shallow and narrow, but it opens up to a broad bay with good water with many potential anchorage spots. The first ones we looked at seemed to either have some significant current or were in cable areas, where you shouldn’t anchor. We finally settled on spot behind a small un-named island, just north of Hibiscus Island.

After dinner, we were pleasantly surprised to see a parade of lighted boats coming out our way, with Salsa music blaring. We had finally lucked out and been able to see one of these Christmas parades. The weather was perfect and the parade went on for at least 40 minutes, so we had a chance to see quite a variety from big yachts to small runabouts. No sailboats were in the parade, apparently since the parade route included passing under a 35 foot fixed bridge. It was nice end to a day that had begun somewhat badly.

Grocery Shopping by Dinghy (Sun, Dec 23)

After breakfast, we launched our dinghy so we could go for one more provision trip. On the way we stopped to chat with Shamrock, our neighbor in the anchorage. John and Jennifer were from New Jersey and were slowly working their way down toward the Keys. They filled us in on the Collins Canal that would lead us to Publix where we could do our grocery shopping.

With some further directions on the Miami Beach side, we motored for 15 minutes up the very small canal (you ducked as you went under the small bridges) which ran alongside a city street. We locked our dinghy to a cable someone had securely installed along the bank, and just had to cross the street to be in the Publix parking lot. This was very cool – and convenient.

We were back aboard Sogno, re-stowed and under way by 2pm. We followed the ICW south to Biscayne Bay, took a trickier than expected short cut over to Crandon Marina on Key Biscayne and topped off our fuel tanks. We then headed down to No Name Harbor near the southern end of the island.

No Name Harbor is a popular jumping off spot for cruisers going to Bimini in the Bahamas and was pretty full when we arrived around 4:30. We finally positioned ourselves comfortably apart from other nearby boats on our second anchoring try. The harbor is very snug and protected, and located in a Florida State Park. The weather forecast for the following day was a hot topic of discussion among the fleet, but we decided that it would be safer (and more comfortable) to wait an additional day.

Christmas Eve in No Name Harbor (Mon, Dec 24)

After a hearty pancake breakfast, Brian spent the morning preparing our navigational plan (and alternates) for going to Bimini and then on to Nassau. If the crossing was good, Plan A would take us north of Bimini by late afternoon, crossing the Great Bahama Bank by dawn, and then down the Northwest Channel to Nassau by mid afternoon. Sue focused on creating a weather cloth to protect the cockpit from the annoying engine exhaust spray that occurred when the wind was blowing over port side.

That afternoon, we had a pot luck dinner organized by some of the cruisers planning to depart the next day. It was a very different kind of Christmas Eve party, with most of the talk about when people were leaving (anywhere from 4am to 8am), where they were going to clear customs (Bimini, Gun Cay, Nassau) and where they were going after that (Exumas). We also wondered how the boats that had left that morning had fared, but no one had gotten any emails or calls. We broke up just after sunset (we saw the green flash!), and made our way back to Sogno for a very early lights out.

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Brian and Sue
Buds at Sea