On April 2, 2019, we left Georgetown and sailed to Big Majors Cay. The next day we sailed further north along the shallow bank of the Exumas to Highbourne Cay. Friends Len and Isabel from SV Nocturne were there, on their way to Nassau and then back to Florida. We had a wonderful dinner with them at the marina’s Xuma Restaurant. Mark ordered a fantastic lobster tail and I had lobster salad, probably the best meals we’ve had in the Bahamas this year. The HIghbourne Cay anchorage always has a terrible swell and is uncomfortable but the beach is beautiful. We were there for one night.
On April 4, 2019, we crossed the deep water Exuma Sound to Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera. We have never had a calm crossing to Eleuthera from the Exumas, but this was the worst. The next day we motorsailed north along the coast, went through Current Cut and anchored just outside the entrance to Spanish Wells. The following day we tied up at a private dock we were renting behind a home.
This was the first time we have stayed at a dock in Spanish Wells. Over the past few years, several people who own homes on the harbor side of the town have built sturdy docks behind their houses to rent at affordable prices. During our six previous visits we stayed on a mooring ball in the small mooring field in town. The private dock was only slightly more expensive, and much cheaper than the newly remodeled Yacht Haven Marina. We had unlimited well water at the dock, which we used to wash off the boat and to bathe Sailor. It was not potable but we were able to make RO (reverse osmosis) water to fill our tanks. We also had shore power for fifty cents a kilowatt. We used minimal power and it cost an average of $5 a day, which was well worth it. We never used air conditioning, the microwave, the toaster, the breadmaker, or any appliance that used heat, thus drawing a lot of power. We didn’t use our hot water heater since our solar heater worked great with lots of sun. Most of the boat’s electricity is on a 12V system powered by a bank of batteries, including the cabin lights, the water pump, hot water heater, fans, refrigeration, etc. We are able to charge electrical devices using our 12V outlets, aka cigarette lighter outlets. With shore power, all of the 110 outlets work and our batteries stay fully charged. Without shore power we have to turn on the inverter to use the 110 volt outlets and this uses up battery power. The dock is located on a channel that leads from the Spanish Wells harbor between St. George’s Cay and Russell Island out to the ocean. Just before the water reaches the ocean there is a short bridge between St George’s and Russell Island so only small boats can exit to the ocean past the our dock.
Spanish Wells is the town on St. George’s Cay, but everyone calls the entire area Spanish Wells. (An island is a landmass completely surrounded by water formed by volcanic action or a continental plate floating on top of the Earth’s mantle. A cay, pronounced key, is a sandy low elevation landmass formed on top of coral reefs.) It was very peaceful at the dock. We had beautiful sunsets and it was great not to have to get in the dinghy to go ashore. Most of the boats that passed by observed the no wake zone and we even had some surprise marine visitors. The sunset view in the photo below is looking down the channel towards the ocean with mangroves on one side and houses and docks on the other.
As mentioned in the previous post, Spanish Wells and Georgetown are our favorite stops for extended stays in the Bahamas. We were in Georgetown for three months this season and usually spend one month in Spanish Wells. However, this year we were there from April 5 to June 19, two and a half months! There were several reasons why we stayed this long, and not all of them were good.
When we arrive in Spanish Wells we rent a golf cart for the entire time we are there. It is necessary to get around the town, to buy groceries, to get to the beach, to go to restaurants, and of course to go to Papa’s Scoops almost every night. It ‘s possible to walk or ride a bike around the area, since Spanish Wells is only 2000 ft wide by 9,380 feet long, and that works for cruisers who are only here for a few days and who don’t need to take a dog with them. Sailor goes to the beach twice a day and once a day I go with Mark and Sailor. While they are on a shallow beach, shown in the first photo below, I go around the corner to a park with a deeper water beach and practice water aerobics. A few months before we arrived this year, a large pavilion for people to sit in to watch the beautiful sunsets over the water was built. It also offers shelter from the sun. While Georgetown has two nice grocery stores, the Food Fair in Spanish Wells is similar to what we have in the US and much larger than the Exuma Market and Shop Rite in Georgetown. Prices are higher than in the States, but the selection and quality at the Food Fair is great. It is actually a coop owned by the local people.
This year Sailor decided he was going to “fish” instead of just chase the ball and swim at the beach. Some days he would walk back and forth in the water looking for fish for up to 1/2 hour. He never puts his mouth in the water but his nose is always sniffing so I assume he can smell the fish. After his workout, Mark and Sailor come over to where I am doing water aerobics and Sailor gets rinsed off at the park from a hose that has well water. This saves us a tremendous amount of water on the boat. Everytime Sailor returns from a beach in other parts of the Bahamas, we have to use our RO water to bathe him and wash off the salt water. In Spanish Wells at this dock, we don’t have to do that.
Sailor always remembers his goat friends when we return to Spanish Wells and he likes to visit them. They are in various empty lots around Russell Island and Spanish Wells. One evening we were sitting next to the dive shop on Main Street in Spanish Wells eating our ice cream cones and we heard a loud “Mooooo.” Thinking it couldn’t be a cow in the city, we drove down a side street towards the water and there was a cow in a wooded empty lot. She belongs to a religious, possibly Mennonite, family that lives next to the wooded lot. I missed a good photo opportunity that night when she was on the edge of the lot because every other time we came to see her she was always farther into the foliage but in the photo you can see her black and white spots. There is no fence, but she might be tied up because she stays in the small wooded lot and doesn’t wander around the neighborhood or cross the road. Apparently there are no zoning laws in Spanish Wells or if there are, livestock is allowed. However, she seems to be the only resident cow in Spanish Wells. Incidentally, unlike all the other Bahamian islands we visit, there are no stray dogs, called potcakes, wandering the streets in Spanish Wells. There are, however, many pet dogs and cats who live with families and are well taken care of, groomed, and healthy.
My son Peter has come to visit us several times in the Bahamas. One year he met us in Miami and spent a month on the boat as we sailed to Georgetown where he then flew back to his home in California. Another time he flew to visit us in Spanish Wells and sailed back to Florida with us. This year he had less time so he flew to Spanish Wells and stayed with us for a week. It was especially nice to have Peter here with me for Mothers’ Day. To get to Spanish Wells, you have to fly into the North Eleuthera airport, then take a land taxi to the northern end of the island, then a water taxi from Eleuthera the very short distance to Spanish Wells. We always arrange this through Mr. Pinder’s taxis and the cost is a total of $30 for both taxi rides unless there are more passengers and then the cost is split between them. In one of the photos below, Peter is on our standup paddleboard right next to our dock. Across the channel from us are mangroves and this area is usually very calm, perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding. On the morning Peter was leaving we heard a loud splash near the boat. Going out to check on it we saw a family of three manatees under the boat, a male, a female and a baby. We gave them some well water and they kept drinking until we turned off the hose. The male positioned himself right under the stream of water from the hose. There was a leak dripping water further under the boat through the trampolines from where two hoses were connected together. The mother and baby were drinking that and every time one of them came to drink where the dad was drinking, he pushed them away. He is doing that in the second picture below. A few weeks later I had a chance to swim with one of the manatees when he or she joined me while I was doing water aerobics.
It’s been nice to use the new My Island Wifi hotspot this year, which offers unlimited wifi with a very strong fast signal to multiple users. The monthly fee is $75 and the hotspot costs $50, which is refunded when you mail it back to a US office when you return to the States. It’s a game changer for people who need a strong signal to work from their boats and of course also for cruisers and people living in the Bahamas who want to be online without worrying about using up costly limited data. It works up to ten miles offshore and we’ve been able to use it everywhere we’ve been this year. Additionally it was useful when we had visitors on the boat.
Every night from 7-10 pm, Papa’s Scoops is open selling homemade soft serve ice cream. The two featured flavors are announced each afternoon on Facebook and on an erasable board on Main Street. Usually four to five times a week we like the flavors and go for ice cream.
This year we planned to have Seas the Day’s bottom painted. It needed it last year but we didn’t go to the Bahamas and prefer to have it done in Spanish Wells. We were hauled out the last week of April and were on the lift for five days. We stayed in a rental apartment for the duration at a cost of $125 a night. We could stay on the boat, but can’t take showers or run water since they are working on the bottom. Also, it’s a nice break to have air conditioning, a full size kitchen with a reliable oven and a large refrigerator/freezer, a shower with unlimited hot water, and a washer and dryer. While we have a washer/dryer on the boat, we never use the dryer and everything is hung out to dry on lines. It was a nice change to have soft towels after being in a dryer. Everything on the boat got washed while we were at the apartment. There was no charge for using the washer and dryer in the room. When there is a laundromat available in the Bahamas, the price is usually at least $4 a load to wash and $4 a load to dry. It rained while the boat was on the lift so they couldn’t work every day which is why it took five days. Sailor enjoyed being in the apartment as much as we did, probably mostly because of the air conditioning.
While we were pulling into the slip with a lift under us our starboard engine stopped. Once a boat is in the slip, Robert, the owner of R&B Boatyard, dives under the boat and sets up the jack stands which hold the boat out of the water. When they are in place, a wooden lift is raised and the boat ends up out of the water in the slip. It was then we discovered why the engine died. The starboard sail drive was totally encrusted from galvanic corrosion. After the boat bottom was painted, we needed a small skiff tied to our starboard side to help us maneuver the short distance back to our dock and get us in the slip. We waited there while we figured out what to do. Below are photos of our two sail drives. The first is the port one that is pristine. The second one is the starboard sail drive which is very corroded. There is a device called a galvanic isolator used to repel the galvanic corrosion, which Mark installed. We have always had zincs on the props but they didn’t help avoid this corrosion.
We have two Yanmar SD50’s which were installed in 2012 when our boat was converted from a hybrid propulsion system to twin 39 hp diesel engines. Unfortunately Yanmar is now putting SD60’s in boats. We wanted to get an SD50 and after weeks of calling back and forth to various sources in the US we were told we could get one made but it would take 90 days or more. This would involve going back to the US with one engine. Yes, monohull sailboats have one engine and we do have sails, but steering in small spaces is difficult so we would need to be towed back to our marina once we left the ocean, then towed again in 90 days or more to be hauled out at a boatyard. We finally chose to get the SD60. It took a week for it to arrive in Spanish Wells at a cost of over $1300 for shipping, including 12% VAT. Luckily there is no custom duty on anything involving boat propulsion. The sail drive cost over $6000 and the installation was another $3000.
After the new sail drive arrived, we were hauled out again, with a skiff helping us maneuver back to the lift. The estimate was that it would take 2 or 3 days. Instead we were in the boatyard, hauled out and then in a slip by the lift for two weeks! We chose to stay on the boat rather than again pay $125 a night for an apartment. We had shore power, we could use our water and it wasn’t much different than being in a slip, except we had to use a tall step ladder to get on and off the boat. Not a problem for Mark and me but a big one for a 55 pound dog. Sailor was a trooper, probably because he realized this was the only way he was going to get to go to the beach. Going up the ladder, as shown in the pictures below, first Sailor would place his front feet on a ladder rung and start to climb up. Mark would hold onto his back feet and move them until Sailor got to the bottom of the boat’s sugar scoop steps where I was waiting to help him onto the boat. I also held onto his leash the entire time to gently guide him up. Going down was harder. Sailor would put his front feet on the ladder and turn his body sideways on the bottom of the sugar scoop. Mark put his arms under Sailor’s belly and carried him down. While we were staying on the lift, Sailor usually rested on the cushions on the forward deck and watched the people and cars go by. As it is wherever we go, everyone eventually knows Sailor.
The problems started right away when the workers couldn’t get the sail drive out. After a lot of pounding it was removed and then the next problem developed. The SD60 is a different size than the SD50 so the opening had to be enlarged. After multiple times of putting it in, taking it out, and making the opening larger, the sail drive was finally installed and sealed. We were put back in the water and there was a leak. Up on the lift again and that was fixed. Back in the water the next day and while testing the engines we couldn’t turn the engine with the new sail drive off. That was eventually fixed. There were problems with the throttle so we went in a slip next to the lift because another boat was scheduled to have her bottom painted. We sat there for five days, over a long weekend with holidays on Friday and Monday and no work on Sunday. Finally Mark fixed the problem with the throttle on Tuesday, June 17, we paid our bill, turned in our golf cart, stopped at the nearby fuel dock to fill our tanks, and motorsailed about a half hour to Royal Island where we would leave the next morning for Chub Cay.
We might have waited an extra month to leave Spanish Wells, but the weather forecast for going from Spanish Wells to Chub Cay to Bimini to Lake Worth and finally to Stuart was the best in the last month. There were numerous severe squalls and thunderstorms throughout the Bahamas and Florida for weeks in May and early June but they finally cleared up the day we were ready to leave. The forecast for the route we were taking on our return to Florida was winds 10 kts or less and seas 2-3 feet. We love Spanish Wells but this year our visit lasted too long and was way too expensive. Sailor has been to many places in the Bahamas and he remembers and likes every one, but I think like us, he is ready to leave all the beaches behind and get back to Stuart, Florida.