We left Dinner Key Marina on Sunday, December 16 at 0649 and arrived in Bimini at 1430. We had 3 to 6 foot swells on the port aft beam and it was an uncomfortable motorsail although we’ve had much worse Gulf Stream crossings. The first thing we had to do when we got to Bimini was check in with Bahamas Customs and Immigration. We filled out some paperwork and Mark took that, along with all of our other paperwork concerning us, the boat, and Sailor, in a taxi for a short ride to the airport. It costs $300 for our cruising permit. This allows us to stay in the Bahamas for eight months and the boat can be in Bahamian waters for 12 months. However, Customs and Immigration officials never give cruisers more than six months, with the ability for us to extend it to eight months. Usually they only give cruisers three of four months. Only one time in seven visits to the Bahamas have we gotten six months and we have always checked in at Bimini. In order to extend our cruising permit, we must be near a town with an Immigration official within a few days before it expires. We know we will be in Georgetown in three months so that is what we asked for this time. The last time we were in the Bahamas we asked for six months and were given four months. When it was about to expire we were in Spanish Wells where there isn’t an immigration office. We had to take a water taxi to Eleuthera and a land taxi to an immigration office to get the extension. Hopefully when we extend it in Georgetown the official will give us another three months. This does not always happen and we might need to extend it again in Spanish Wells. After Mark returned from the airport, he took down our yellow “quarantine” flag and raised the Bahamas courtesy flag.
Our plan was to stay at Bimini Sands one night and leave the next morning for Great Harbour Cay in the Berries. We got up at 0400 and Mark took Sailor for a quick walk. He went to the beach and saw rough seas in the inlet and further out in the ocean. We sail on the ocean for several miles before we reach the shallow Bahamas Bank. We decided to stay in Bimini and went back to bed. A very strong cold front was forecast to come through the Bahamas Thursday night and Friday so we needed to be in a safe place by then. We could have gotten to the extremely protected marina in Great Harbour Cay the following day when the seas were calmer and many cruisers did go there to wait out the storm. We stayed in Bimini because the marina we are at, Bimini Sands Resort and Marina, is running a special of $1 a foot ($42 for us) a day or $100 a week for a slip. If you have a 100 foot yacht, it’s still $100 a week. Great Harbour Cay has a weekly price of $10 a foot, or $420 for us before a discount with our Active Captain account. Since we had already spent much more money than planned on a marina in Ft. Lauderdale for two weeks and the mooring field in Miami for a month, plus the unexpected cost of replacing the jib furler, we decided to save about $300 and stay in Bimini. Oddly, even with the extremely good prices at Bimini Sands, only a few boats are here. Perhaps that is because Bimini Sands is not advertising their special prices. We didn’t know about it until we checked in. After the pictures below were taken several other boats did come in. We noticed the marinas in North Bimini were not full either, so most cruisers must have moved as far into the Bahamas as they could get before the predicted cold front arrives. On Monday we took the water taxi a very short distance from South Bimini to North Bimini and walked to the Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office on Kings Highway. After getting a new SIM card for our Bahamas smartphone, and some scratch off cards to add data and phone time to it as needed, we went back to South Bimini. For $29.95 we have 15 GB of data, unlimited phone calls within the Bahamas, and 1000 minutes to call the States or Canada for 15 days. The data rolls over if we don’t use it all. Every year we have come to the Bahamas Batelco seems to have better deals. There are several other options in the Bahamas for unlimited data with different companies which we will probably investigate when we get to Georgetown. On Thursday, a prefrontal trough came through the Bahamas with high wind and torrential rain. We are tied up in a wide slip with numerous lines going from the boat’s cleats to both sides of the slip, so we hardly moved even when the wind picked up overnight with gusts over 40 kts. During the night the cold front arrived and all day Friday we had 30 to 35 kt sustained winds but the squalls had stopped. By Saturday morning the wind was down below 10 kts, and the high seas were slowly calming down. The photos below show waves crashing into the Bimini Sands Inlet on Friday.
At this time of year in the Bahamas, there are never more than three or four days of safe traveling weather in a row. The forecast for the next three days is good for getting from Bimini to the Exumas so we will leave at about 0500 Sunday morning and sail to Chub Cay. Both Chub Cay and Great Harbour Cay are in the Berries and we could go to either one on Sunday. However, Chub Cay is closer to Nassau and will make our second travel day quicker. We will arrive in Chub Cay around 6 pm and anchor near the shore. Since days are short, we will be leaving Bimini in the dark and anchoring at Chub in the dark, but the anchorage there is a wide open area and there are usually few boats in the anchorage area. We will leave the next morning, arrive in Nassau in the early afternoon, get fuel and motor through the harbor to Nassau Harbour Club where we have a reservation for Monday night, which is Christmas Eve. Our Christmas present will be to arrive in the northern Exumas on Christmas Day. There will be several sections during the next two days where we will be on deep ocean water. Most of the sail from Bimini to Chub is on the Bahama Bank but the first part and the last part are on the ocean. From Chub Cay to Nassau we will be in deep water on the “Tongue of the Ocean” as soon as we leave the channel out of the anchorage at Chub Cay. The sail from Nassau to the Exumas is on the shallow Yellow Bank.
We are planning to reach the Exumas on Tuesday because on Wednesday another system with high winds enters the Bahamas. As weather allows, we will continue south on the Bank along the Exuma chain of islands and cays. Eventually we will exit the Bank through a cut between islands out to the deep Exuma Sound and sail to Georgetown where we plan to stay until the end of March.
With our dinghy motor nonfunctional, on 11/24/16 we left Cambridge Cay at 0950 and at 1200 dropped the anchor at Big Majors Cay, next to Staniel Cay. As usual on this trip, we were one of very few boats in the anchorage. In a month or two, this large anchorage will be crowded. It’s a very popular stop, both for cruisers heading south and for those who like to stay in this area for weeks or longer. The anchorage is huge and well protected from all but westerly winds, with a few smaller nearby anchorages for wind protection from the west. There are three very small grocery stores, two in small rooms in private homes and one on the first floor of a private home. Another advantage of stopping here is there is an airport, so often cruisers will have their guests fly into Staniel Cay. Also, with the airport being walking distance from the marina, it’s a good place to have boat parts or other supplies shipped from the States. (In Georgetown we have to pay a $30 fee to a broker who drives to the airport to pick up packages we have sent from the States and brings them back to town where we pick them up.) There are several restaurants, including the recently updated Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The town recently added a laundromat. Water and fuel are available at the marina and dive boats take tourists to nearby snorkeling and diving locations. There are quite a few cottages and private homes for rent on Staniel Cay. Cruisers can base themselves here and with a short sail or motor be at the popular Exuma Land and Sea Park.
First on the agenda was to repair the dinghy motor. Mark worked on it for several hours, finally determining that the problem was the fuel. He emptied it from the motor and it looked more like water than gas. He added new gasoline and the motor started. Off we went to see the swimming pigs and take Sailor to the beach. We needed to wait until the next day for a slack tide during daylight to go into the Thunderball Grotto and snorkel.
People actually come from all over to see these pigs, which is quite amazing because a pig farmer from Iowa once told us that all pigs can swim. Although there are quite a few beaches on Big Majors Cay, the pigs are always on this one. We chuckle when we see float planes or tour boats coming here from resorts all over the south and central Bahamas and as far away as Nassau to see the pigs. They pull up to the pig beach, the tourists get out and swim with or feed them, they get back in their plane or boat and head off to the next “attraction.” We usually stop our dinghy when passing this beach, but have never gotten in the water with the pigs or gone ashore. Sailor, of course, would love to play with them, but that would be dangerous. These are huge pigs and they are protective of their piglets. Apparently, these pigs are so important to tourism in the Exumas that as Hurricane Matthew approached Big Majors Cay in October, the piglets were captured and placed in sheds while the larger pigs were left to fend for themselves. With the strength of the hurricane force wind, the piglets could have blown away.
Next we took Sailor to another beach on Big Majors where he could run, swim, and fetch his ball. We can almost always find a deserted beach in this anchorage where he can freely run without dodging people. He hadn’t been off the boat since the fiasco on Bell Island the previous day when we were marooned for awhile. This was much more fun.
My son, Peter, climbed a nearby hill but the rocks were very sharp so he didn’t go far.
The next morning, we moved Seas the Day to an anchorage right next to the grotto so we wouldn’t have a long dinghy ride to snorkel or go to lunch. Our motorsail to our next stop at Cave Cay was short, so we could easily get there in the afternoon after spending the morning in Staniel Cay. Last year when we snorkeled Thunderball Grotto, it seemed like there weren’t many fish and the coral wasn’t as colorful as in the past. We blamed it on the massive amount of people in the grotto making it difficult to swim around to look at the coral. Everyone times it to come during one of the two slack tides during the daylight hours. Otherwise, the strong current pushes through the grotto and makes getting in and out difficult. Like the pig beach, tour boats bring tourists to snorkel at the well known Thunderball Grotto where scenes from the James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed. This time, again there were several dinghies anchored outside the grotto (the dinghy mooring balls have disappeared), but it wasn’t as full as last year when we came. Swimming into the grotto, it was very apparent that the tourists who come here in large groups have killed the coral and scared the fish away. I spent several minutes inside and returned to the dinghy since there was little to see. Mark didn’t go in the water because he had a cut on his foot and there are a lot of sharks, mainly harmless nurse sharks, in the area. Peter ended up snorkeling mostly around the back of the outside of the grotto where few people go. All in all, I don’t think we’ll go to Thunderball Grotto again. It’s sad that the multitudes of tourists have ruined it. I don’t include cruisers in this because they have been coming here for many years, before the influx of numerous daily tours began, and until a few years ago the coral in the grotto was very healthy. Our first time snorkeling here was in 2010 and the grotto has changed drastically since then. In the past, there were so many fish in the grotto than they would sometimes totally surround snorkelers. Most cruisers are very careful to protect the land and sea environment so they know to be careful not to touch live coral.
Peter used his GoPro camera at Thunderball Grotto, but hasn’t put a video on YouTube yet. Hopefully he captured some colorful live coral outside of the back of the Grotto. He saw a nurse shark while swimming there.
Below is a video Peter took when we snorkeled at The Aquarium, near Cambridge Cay, at our last stop. This is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is a “no take” zone, so it’s as pristine as the coral is going to get here. There were still plentiful, wide varieties of fish in The Aquarium. However, several nearby islands are owned by private citizens, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan, and they have been dredged for megayachts which will probably affect the nearby cays in the Park. I suspect they allow their family and visitors to take shells off their beaches, so while they are in the Park, the “no take” rule isn’t being followed.
We returned to the boat, cleaned up, and went ashore to Staniel Cay where we had a delicious lunch at the Yacht Club and took a walk around the town.
Lunch at the Yacht Club.
Sailor and the resident Yacht Club retriever had a discussion below our table, probably about food droppings. There are signs telling people not to feed the dog, but he is quite clever. We were eating outside and I noticed he would wander over and walk under the tables from time to time. He seemed to know he would find food that had dropped off the tables, and he did! Sailor doesn’t eat “people food” so the dog got any scraps that blew off our table. Perhaps Sailor was telling him to feel free to eat any scraps he found.
Whenever the Staniel Cay residents have a fundraiser for a local cause it’s held in this location. The food is always traditional Bahamian cuisine including BBQ meat, peas and rice, mac and cheese and coleslaw.
Before cell phone towers were built on most of the islands, you could get a phone card and make calls back to the States, or locally, from one of these booths. Now Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) has cell towers everywhere (except in the Land and Sea Park) and voice and data prices are reasonable. This phone booth hasn’t been used for awhile.
Coming back to our anchored boat near the grotto, we were all alone again. We pulled up the anchor and made our way to Cave Cay.
We had asked Chris Parker during his morning SSB/webcast what the sea conditions on the Exuma Sound would be like the next day between Cave Cay and Georgetown and he said the wind would be 10-12 kts and seas would be 4 ft becoming 3 ft. That sounded fine to us so the plan was to leave for Georgetown in the morning from Cave Cay Cut. When we arrived, there was one other catamaran anchored near us. We didn’t go ashore, although there is a nice beach right around the corner from this hill. You can see why this is called Cave Cay. Below is one of the many caves along the shore and there are more on the land.
The next morning, we waited until 0900 to leave, hoping that since it was close to slack tide we might not encounter large seas or a rage as we left through the cut. We were anchored near Galliot Cut but motorsailed the short distance to Cave Cay Cut, which we find is sometimes easier to go through. But it wasn’t. As we entered the cut, large waves were coming onto the foredeck and crashing over the salon roof, which was not unexpected since it’s always been rough when we’ve gone through these cuts, but we assumed once we got through the cut and turned south, the predicted 4 ft waves would be manageable. They would have, except Chris Parker didn’t mention the HUGE SWELLS. The four ft seas were on top of them. We were going straight into the swells and they were still crashing up onto the foredeck, occasionally coming over the salon roof. Mark estimated the swells were 10 to 12 feet high. From another direction they would have been manageable because if there is enough time between the swells, they just carry the boat up and then gently drop us down. Not this time.
I went to bed with Sailor and Peter got in his bed with a dramamine while Mark was at the helm, controlling the boat as best he could. Many people think it’s easier in rough seas to be on the deck level, but on our catamaran, I find it’s more comfortable in beds located in the hulls. Besides, Sailor is a “fair weather sailor” and insists I get in bed with him if the sea is not almost flat. These sea conditions were probably the worst ones we have ever sailed in over the last eight years. At 1417, about five hours after leaving Cave Cay, we were in Elizabeth Harbour and dropped the anchor near Volleyball Beach on Stocking Island to wait for high tide to get into the mooring field on our ball. The seas dropped as soon as we entered Elizabeth Harbour although it was still very windy and the water was choppy. While this was a horrendous leg of the journey to Georgetown, we know that Seas the Day can take much more than we can and we weren’t worried about any danger to us or the boat.
The Ohio State/Michigan game began shortly before we entered Elizabeth Harbour, so we had to finish watching that, which went into several overtimes. We lived in Columbus, Ohio for over 20 years, so Peter and I are diehard Buckeye fans. A few minutes before the game ended, we lost our Direct TV signal, so we had to check online to find out that Ohio State won.
Before we left Cave Cay, we had removed all items off shelves, locked all cabinets, moved cockpit plants to protected areas, and put away everything we thought might fall because it’s almost always a little rough on the Exuma Sound, aka the ocean. However this time anything that was loose fell down. We have hanging rods for clothes in the two showers that we don’t use and these had never come down in the roughest of seas. Not only did they come down with all the clothes, the rods bent in the middle and will have to be replaced! A planter in the cockpit that had never moved fell down causing loose dirt to blow all over the cockpit. Except for the hanging rods, nothing broke, but it was the biggest mess we ever had to clean up.
Below are pictures of the mooring field in Hole 2, and Seas the Day on her ball. Most of the moored boats are empty, with owners storing them here during hurricane season and not arriving for the cruising season yet. When Hurricane Matthew passed over Georgetown in October, several boats in this mooring field and the “hurricane hole” next to it, broke loose and hit the sharp rocks on the shore, causing major damage. The mooring balls, which are held by screws dug deep into the floor of the mooring field, did not break loose, but the lines from the boats to the balls did. In one case, a boat came loose and hit other boats, pushing them along with it to the shore.
Peter had a few days to explore Georgetown before he flew home to California, but the wind was high so all we got in were a ride around the relatively calm mooring fields on the stand-up paddleboard and kayak, a walk on the Exuma Sound beach, a trip into town for a short tour, a snorkeling attempt in the harbor, two dinners at St. Francis, and a game of Texas Hold’em the night before he left. It was too choppy in the harbor to get in anymore snorkeling or exploring.
We’ve never seen the dinghy dock in Lake Victoria, where cruisers tie up when they come into Georgetown, so empty. Then again, we arrived here over 1 1/2 months earlier than on our other five visits to Georgetown. Sometimes we were the only dinghy on the dock. In a month, dinghies will be three and four deep along this dock.
In the dinghy dock photo below you can see Mark and Peter are getting water from a hose to fill a bowl for Sailor. This is the only place in the Exumas where there is free RO (reverse osmosis) water for cruisers available directly into their dinghies. Water usually costs about 50 cents a gallon at fuel docks and marinas in the Bahamas. The Exuma Market, located next to the dinghy dock (which was built for cruisers by the Market), provides this free water. As more boats arrive in the harbor, there will be a line of dinghies with jerry jugs waiting to get water to bring back to their boats and put in the tanks. We have a watermaker so we make our own RO water, but once our watermaker broke and while waiting for a part we were very grateful for this free source of water.
Shortly before we arrived in Georgetown, we heard news that the Red Boone Cafe had burned down. The building is next to the Exuma Market, so it was amazing that did not catch fire. Fortunately, a large propane tank used by the cafe, not shown in this picture, did not catch fire and explode. This was a very popular place for cruisers to get together for something quick to eat and to visit. I believe they also had free wifi. The three red picnic tables near the cars, always occupied by cruisers and locals, are now partially burned, showing that is where the fire stopped. Hopefully it will be rebuilt and used as a cafe again.
The Georgetown School is near the center of town. In the Bahamas, all schools are painted yellow. Government buildings are pink and police stations are aqua/green, The islands in the Exumas do not have high school classes, so students have to move to Nassau and live with friends or relatives when they attend high school.
I don’t know the significance of this boat, although I suspect it won a regatta for Georgetown. Next to it is the Georgetown Straw Market. This burned down in April, 2015, but is up and running now with a variety of locally made treasures. The only thing I could talk Peter into letting me buy him was a small refrigerator magnet with a map of the Exumas on it. It cost $6 and I suppose I could have bargained down the price, but I always figure these ladies need the money much more than we do, and gladly pay whatever they ask.
The wind finally calmed down enough to go for a kayak and iSUP ride. We stayed in the “Holes” aka mooring fields, where there weren’t any waves and we were protected from the higher wind in the harbor. This photo was taken in Hole 3, which is a hurricane hole, and boats are on mooring balls or tied to docks. No liveaboards are allowed.
We took the kayak and iSUP to a small beach in Hole 1 and walked over the hill to the beautiful Exuma Sound Beach. It’s amazing that there is so much foliage left after Hurricane Matthew’s wind went over The Exumas.
A climb to the top of a sandy hill where there is a bench gave us a great view of the beach below. It is almost always either empty or at the most has a few people walking or swimming. All the action is on the Elizabeth Harbour side Stocking Island and across the harbor in Georgetown, so many cruisers and tourists never discover this treasure. Hopefully the tour boats don’t start coming here!
On November 30, Peter had a flight leaving in the morning and the wind had picked up, making a dinghy ride across the harbor rough. Peter and I took Elvis’s Water Taxi and he brought us to town. From there Peter rode in a van taxi to the Georgetown airport to fly back to his home in Oceano, California. We enjoyed having my son with us for several weeks on our travels from Miami to Georgetown. I think he got a taste of what the “cruiser’s life” is all about. A few days ago I got a text from Peter saying, “I saw someone in Morro Bay taking their groceries out to their boat via dinghy yesterday…..Now I know the struggle.”
We plan to stay in Georgetown until sometime in April, when it will be time to start heading north to eventually return to our home port of Stuart, FL and our favorite marina, Sunset Bay.
After dropping off our guests at Staniel Cay, we sailed back to Warderick Wells on 4/23/16. The next day we sailed across the Exuma Sound to Governor’s Harbour in Eleuthera leaving at 0630 and arriving at 1430. The seas were 2 to 3 feet, just the way we like them. On the 25th, as we pulled up the anchor in Governor’s Harbour we realized it had wrapped around an underwater cable. Mark was able to untangle it using a boat hook and we sailed from Governor’s Harbour to Spanish Wells, thus skipping most of Eleuthera. We’ve always stopped at three or four towns and anchorages, but this time we were anxious to get to our mooring ball in Spanish Wells to begin our one month stay. On May 22, we left Spanish Wells, sailing the short distance to Royal Island where we anchored overnight and left at 0700 on the 23rd of May. For the first time, we did not stop, and sailed straight through to Lake Worth, arriving at 1145 on May 24. From there we motored north on the ICW to Stuart on the 25th, arriving 5 1/2 hours later at our home port of Sunset Bay Marina. Below are some photos of our final month of this cruising season.
Sailor took one last look at Big Majors/Staniel Cay before we left.
Sailor posed beside the whale skeleton in Warderick Wells at the Land and Sea Park Headquarters.
We had one last Sundowner get together at Warderick Wells with some new and old friends.
First Mate Sailor made sure Mark was headed the right direction across the Exuma Sound.
We arrived at slack tide at Current Cut. If you don’t enter the cut at slack tide, you will either be barely moving against a very strong current, or you’ll fly over the water through the cut. We sailed on to Spanish Wells, but couldn’t get our mooring ball so we anchored outside the harbor. There are only nine balls in the field and luckily someone left the next day.
One of our favorite restaurants in Spanish Wells, actually on Russell Island which is connected by a small one lane bridge, is the Sandbar. This is the beach next to the restaurant.
To get around the island we rent a golf cart for a month. We are then able to go to this beautiful beach twice a day. We are almost always the only ones on the beach so Sailor can fetch his ball in the water, his favorite water sport. Of course this means we have to share the golf cart with a wet dog.
We always stop to visit and feed the goats.
The sandy beaches are crystal clear.
I was out of my favorite drink, Land of Lakes hot chocolate, so I ordered some from Amazon and had it delivered by Eleuthera Couriers. It took less than a week to arrive and was worth every penny!
After going ashore, we ride our dinghy back to the mooring field.
One yard has this lovely shell collection on the front lawn.
Well water is free in Spanish Wells. While you wouldn’t want to drink it since it has a slightly salty taste, it is perfect for rinsing the sand off Sailor before we go back to the boat.
Our time in Spanish Wells came to an end and we headed across the water back to Florida. This was our view as we left the Royal Island anchorage, where we spent our last night. As you can see, conditions were perfect for a long overnight sail.
Periodically, Mark took Sailor forward to “go” on the trampolines. His willingness to do this enables us to do an overnight sail. As you can see, we are very careful. Mark is always tethered to jacklines that run across the deck and Sailor is on a leash. We always wearing lifejackets. Plus, the seas were very calm. If they were rough, Mark and Sailor wouldn’t have attempted this “walk.”
Sunrise over the ocean after an uneventful night at sea. The conditions were still calm.
We arrived at Lake Worth, anchored for the night and then started north on the ICW. Luckily we were not doing this on Memorial Day Weekend, or we could not have enjoyed it. Local Florida boaters are known for racing up and down the ICW creating wakes that rock sailboats and on a holiday weekend they are out in full force.
When we tied up to the dock at Sunset Bay, we were all happy to be home for the next five months. Below is our first sunset back at our marina.
After leaving Georgetown on April 8, we motorsailed to Staniel Cay. As always we waited for relatively calm seas since we had to go on the Exuma Sound for part of the day until we entered Galliot Cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank. Our purpose in going to Staniel Cay was to pick up guests Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) on April 14 and take them to Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, 15 miles north of Staniel Cay.
According to a brochure, “Exuma Park, a no take zone by land and sea, was established in 1958 to preserve and maintain the delicate ecological balance of marine life in the Bahamas.” People are not allowed to remove anything from the water, the beaches, or the land. The park begins at Wax Cay Cut in the north and is 22 miles long, ending at Conch Cut. The average width is eight miles and the park is a total of 176 square miles. The sea part goes from 3-5 miles off the land in both directions, on the Exuma Sound to the east and on the Bahamas Bank to the west. There is nothing commercial on any of the cays, including Batelco cell phone towers. Therefore there is no phone or Internet service while in the park. In fact the only structures are on Warderick Wells, where the park office is located, as well as living quarters for the park wardens and staff. Oddly, a few of the Cays (pronounced Keys) in the Park have been sold. Johnny Depp purchased 45 acre Little Halls Pond Cay, next to Cambridge Cay, in 2004 for a mere 3.6 million dollars. I wonder if he doesn’t take anything from his beaches and property.
Carolyn and Ed flew in on Watermakers Air and took some amazing photos of the Bahamas as they passed above the islands. One in particular was special because they happened to get a photo of Seas the Day anchored by Thunderball Grotto. We are in the center, closest to the two small cays. Never having been to Staniel Cay, they just happened to get a perfect shot of us as the plane was landing. Our usual anchorage is at Big Majors Spot (where the swimming pigs live), but that morning we had moved closer to the yacht club where we were picking them up. It was also convenient for snorkeling the next day in the nearby grotto.
Mark picked Carolyn and Ed up at Staniel Cay Yacht Club and brought them to our nearby anchored boat.
After our guests arrived we spent a day snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto and waiting for the mail boat to come to Staniel Cay with fresh groceries. Then we moved over to the anchorage by Big Majors Spot. There are numerous beaches so it was easy to go to a deserted one to let Sailor chase his ball and for us to swim in the turquoise water.
Arriving in Warderick Wells the next day, we tied up to a mooring ball in the preferred north mooring field, which offers excellent protection. This crescent shaped field with various shades of turquoise water is a favorite photo opportunity for anyone visiting the area. When we first came here in 2010, the mooring ball fee for a boat up to 45 feet was $20. This year it cost $30. We paid $80 to become part of the “Support Fleet.” For this donation we got two days of ball fees and for the next year we will be put at the top of the waiting list when we request a mooring ball. The park is the only area of the Bahamas which has restrictions on fishing, shelling, etc. so we were happy to help them with their costs to preserve this treasure.
Close to the park office there is a skeleton of a whale.
As with all of the cays and islands we visit in the Bahamas, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches. In the park, dogs are allowed on the beaches, but they cannot go on the numerous trails. Below are photos of one of our favorite beaches, near the Emerald Rock mooring field. It is well protected from any wind or waves, the sand is like sugar, and it is very shallow. The rocks in the foreground are actually under water, which shows the clarity of it. Each beach area has paths that go across to the Exuma Sound side of Warderick Wells.
At this beach there are tall rock piles and on this day we found a gecko sunning himself on the top of one tower of rocks.
Shortly after we picked up our mooring ball we had an interesting event develop before our eyes. Four Lagoon catamarans came into the mooring field. At first we noticed they were very close together and coming in too fast. We saw flags from a charter company flying so knew they could be inexperienced cruisers, and it turned out that was an understatement. I guess no one told them they didn’t have brakes. Even Sailor knew they were coming in too quickly and too close to each other. As you can see in the photo below, they had plenty of people on each boat to help pick up a mooring ball. Each boat had 10 or 11 people aboard. Unfortunately, none of them seemed to know how to do it.
They all tried to pick up their mooring balls next to each other at the same time. Big mistake! There was current at the time, so the little control they had was lost. The first one turned sideways and ran into the front of another Lagoon catamaran that was already on a ball and not with their group. The second one hit the side of the first one. The third one hit the second. Another cruiser yelled at the fourth one to turn around and grab another ball near the opening of the field and wait. While turning around, that boat almost hit the monohull in front of us. We already had our fenders out ready to protect Seas the Day. The charter people seemed to have never picked up a mooring ball before, but eventually they each grabbed a ball. Unfortunately then they put out far too much line placing them dangerously close to each other, especially since the current causes the boats on the mooring balls to swing with each tidal change. The correct way is to pull the ball as close to your boat as possible with lines coming from each hull on a catamaran. Other people in the mooring field rushed up in dinghies to instruct them on the correct way to attach their boats to the balls and also had to tell them to use stronger lines. The people on one boat spoke Italian and the others were speaking French. The charter company was from Canada out of Nassau.
Later, they all went ashore in their dinghies. It was interesting to see how many people a small rubber dinghy can hold.
After they were finally all on balls, the Lagoon (not part of the charter group) that had been hit by the first one moved a few balls away. The picture below shows Seas the Day at the front with with three of the charter boats behind us. The fourth charter in the group went around to the other side of the field. Whether by choice or not, they were the wise ones and the only boat in their group without damage. When they left a few days later, they hadn’t learned any lessons as they all went out at the same time very close together, one of them even passing another in the narrow channel.
The wind picked up for the next few days so we decided to stay in Warderick Wells rather than follow our original plan which was to spend a day or two there and then go the few miles back south to Cambridge Cay. We prefer the multiple snorkeling sites and beaches in and near Cambridge Cay, but we were able to snorkel at Warderick Wells.
Of course, Mark hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill to add “2016” to our Seas the Day sign. This is a popular thing for boaters to do. The signs have to be made on a piece of driftwood. Mark made ours in 2010 and we have added a new year each time we have come for four more years. Our original sign had our previous dog Daisy’s name on it, but when she died in 2013, the next time we came we wrote “RIP” by her name and added “Sailor, 2014.” Mark screwed our sign into a post, which has helped keep it above the pile of other signs for six years and prevented it from blowing away. The original sign had white paint over the letters and numbers which were cut into the board, but for the last few years he has used magic marker which has washed off. Next year he’ll bring white paint.
Here is a photo of the entire north mooring field taken from Boo Boo Hill on a cloudy day so the water isn’t as beautiful as on a sunny day. The inlet from the Exuma Sound is on the right side of the photo, and this is where we leave the Exumas to go to Eleuthera.
After the boats near us in the mooring field left, we had this beautiful view to ourselves until the next group of boats arrived.
On our way back to Staniel Cay to drop our guests off, we stopped at another favorite area located south of the park on Compass Cay called the “Bubble Bath.” The Cay is privately owned, and if you want to visit the beaches and hike on the paths, you must pay $10 a person. However, the Bubble Bath is on the north end of the cay and no one seems to care if you visit it. It is far away from the marina area on the south end. There is little in the Bahamas reference books about the Bubble Bath, and not a word in the several ones we own. We discovered it three years ago when boat buddying with our friends on SV Interlude, Cathie and Tom, who knew about it. Now it’s a “must stop” when we approach Compass Cay. The Exuma Sound shore on the cay is steep and rocky, but there is an opening and a calm pool on the western side. At high tide, waves occasionally reach the opening and crash into the pool, covering it with bubbles. Sailor joined us but wasn’t interested in the bubbles. First we had to walk a short distance from where we anchored until we came to the pool.
In the photo below, Seas the Day is anchored on the west coast of Compass Cay while Carolyn and Ed start inland to the Bubble Bath. In the background is Rocky Dundas, another grotto and an excellent snorkeling site close to Cambridge Cay.
Mark and Sailor are almost to the Bubble Bath pool. The path we are walking on carries the excess water collecting in the Bubble Bath to the Bahamas Bank side of the cay.
In the foreground is the Bubble Bath pool and through the opening you can see the darker water of the Exuma Sound. At high tide the waves splash through the opening into the pool. The pool is shallow enough to stand in while waiting for the bubbles to arrive.
Carolyn, Sailor and I wait for the waves to reach us.
Here comes the wave!!
The water goes from very warm to chilly with the arrival of the bubbles.
Here comes another wave, but Sailor decided he had enough.
It was certainly fun having guests aboard. Hopefully Carolyn and Ed had a relaxing vacation. We tried to make it interesting for them, showing them “the real Bahamas.” Chef Mark made them some wonderful breakfasts. Below they are eating French toast made from Jan’s homemade French bread with bacon and cantaloupe for breakfast in the cockpit. Their coffee was made with freshly ground coffee beans in a French press. I guess the theme of the breakfast was French!
There is probably not a prettier spot in the Bahamas than the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. We always try to stop there during our trip south in the winter or north in the Spring. Warderick Wells is also a good place to make the cross over to Eleuthera. The day after our guests flew out of Staniel Cay on April 20, we went back to Warderick Wells. It was Saturday night and the park employees always invite all of the boaters in the mooring field to get together for “Happy Hour.” Everyone brings treats to share and their own drinks. The park provides something most people appreciate – ice!
After waiting for a good weather window to cross the Sound to Eleuthera, on April 25 we left Warderick Wells and arrived in Governor’s Harbour in the afternoon. The Exuma Sound is deep water, part of the Atlantic Ocean, so we always wait for calm seas. We stayed at Warderick Wells until the wind had been down for several days, flattening the seas. On the day we crossed, the wind picked up at a good angle for our sails, but the seas were still flat – perfect sailing weather. One way we always know when the seas are smooth is that Sailor stays at the helm. If there is any rocking, Sailor is inside, down the steps and up on a bed, expecting one of us to join him. He is indeed a “fair weather sailor.” This trip he stayed at the helm the whole day.
On April 26, 2016, we motorsailed up the coast to the northern end of Eleuthera to Spanish Wells. In order to get to Spanish Wells, we first have to enter Current Cut. We always wait until slack tide, since the current is very strong on the incoming and outgoing tidal changes. This is a picture of the cut after we went through.
We have stopped in Spanish Wells for the last month of our Bahamas cruise every year and this is our fifth trip here. After securing a mooring ball for the month and renting a golf cart for the same time, we settled in to relax and enjoy this wonderful Bahamian town. On May 25, weather permitting, we will leave Spanish Wells, heading back to our hurricane season location in Stuart, Florida at Sunset Bay Marina. Below we are safely attached to mooring ball one, close to the channel and a very short dinghy ride into the town.
We’ve been in George Town for almost two months, having arrived here on January 16, 2016. The settlement of George Town is located on the island of Great Exuma at the southern end of the chain of 365 islands and cays in the Exumas. (An island is a land mass completely surrounded by water. A cay, pronounced “key” in the Bahamas, is an island that forms on top of coral reefs.) When traveling south along the Exuma chain, George Town is the first settlement most cruisers have visited since they left Nassau that has a large selection of services such as: two large well stocked grocery stores, two banks, a small hardware store and a very large one with marine supplies, a dive shop, several places to get propane, two laundromats, a library, a marina, a deli with a large selection of meat, many restaurants, a pharmacy, a clinic, a dentist, a bimonthly visiting vet and dog groomer, businesses that can repair small engines and refrigeration, liquor stores, a Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) office, a phone and electronics store, a computer repair shop with wifi and phone services, hair salons, masseuses, nail salons, bakeries, gift shops, Customs and Immigration offices, gas stations, a straw market, and much more. Some smaller settlements in the Exumas have a few of these but grocery stores not located in a house and banks with ATM’s, in particular, are only located here in Georgetown. Most cruisers headed further south to the Caribbean stop in George Town to provision for food and other supplies. Once we arrive here, our destination for half of our time in the Bahamas, we breathe a sigh of relief. Finished are the days of checking weather to see if we can move on, and rocking and rolling in anchorages when we can’t.
While the area is called George Town, that is just the name of the small Bahamian town located on the east side of Elizabeth Harbour. Stocking Island, where the anchorages with the best protection from the prevailing east wind and the three mooring fields are located, is on the west side of the harbour. In the harbour there are designated reefs where one can snorkel. On Stocking Island, numerous sandy beaches are located on the harbour side for swimming, and long sandy beaches great for walking and swimming are on the Exuma Sound side. A short dinghy ride out into the Exuma Sound is the best place for fishing and spearing lobsters. The Exuma Sound is actually part of the Atlantic Ocean with very deep water offshore. Kite surfers like to use the harbour, but when the Sound is calm, they are out there too. Below is a satellite picture of Elizabeth Harbour. Our mooring field in Hole 2 is located by the blue dot below the word Stocking Island on the map. The settlement of George Town on Great Exuma Isand is directly across the harbour from us, about a mile by dinghy. When the water is rough we either don’t cross the harbour or we wear rain coats and pants so our clothes are dry when we arrive in town.
This is our fifth trip to the Bahamas and last year when we came to George Town we took a mooring ball in one of the three “holes” on Stocking Island. The other years we anchored in the harbour. Last year I had three month old knee replacements and I didn’t want to deal with getting in and out of a dinghy in an anchorage with rough water. After a few days of totally calm water in Hole 2, regardless of the speed or direction of the wind, we knew we were spoiled. This year, there was no question about it. We were ready to grab a mooring ball in Hole 2 as soon as we arrived on January 16. Unlike some places in the Bahamas, these mooring balls are very secure and checked regularly. Hole 1 is called “The Fruit Bowl” and is mostly filled with houseboats with names like “Cantaloupe,” “Pineapple House,” and “Papaya.” They obviously stay here year round, but some of the Hole 1 balls are used by cruisers here for the season or maybe a few weeks. They like it because it is very close to the popular Volleyball Beach. Hole 2 is a bit more protected and boats have survived hurricane force wind with no damage. About half of the boats in Hole 2 do not have people on them right now, with their owners flying in for short visits throughout the year or coming to their boats and sailing to nearby destinations. At least four airlines fly into the Great Exuma Airport and cruisers or their guests leave and arrive daily, together with packages delivered to locals and cruisers. Hole 3 is a true hurricane hole and no one is allowed to live on the boats there. Many boats are stored there while their owners are home in various parts of the world. There is a small deep “blue hole” in Hole 3, filled with fish, a popular place for snorkeling. Numerous turtles live in the mooring fields and occasionally dolphins visit, although they seem to prefer the open water in the harbour. At least once a day someone will come on the hailing channel 68 and announce “dolphin alert in _______ anchorage.” The harbour is filled with fish, starfish, stingrays, dolphins and the occasional shark. Being on a mooring ball in Hole 2, we rarely rock. On occasion a small boat will speed past us, between Hole 1 and Hole 3, creating a slight wake. It is calmer in Hole 2 than at any marina or mooring field where we have stayed in the Bahamas or the States. As I write this blog entry, the winds have been in the 20+ knot range all day long and our boat hasn’t moved. One of the other nice things about being in Hole 2 is the friends we have made. Below are photos of one of the bonfires we have had in our hole this season.
There is a small beach in Hole 2, and that is where Sailor goes ashore twice a day. He could swim the short distance to the shore, but he rides in the dinghy and then jumps out. Usually there are one or two other dogs to play with who live on boats in Hole 2. Other dogs could come to this beach but since every anchorage is near a sandy beach, that is where dogs on those boats go to play. Last year, Sailor’s BFFF (best furry friend forever) Zorro, a Portuguese Water Dog, was here in Hole 2 on MV All In. Unfortunately Zorro and his family were not able to come back this year. Libby from SV Flying Dog and Tasha from SV Tikitiboo often played on the beach with Sailor. Libby preferred to eat coconuts, but Tasha, a shaved Golden Retriever (very smart idea to keep shedding down), loved to run on the beach and help Sailor fetch balls. Sadly, both went back to the States this week. Sailor still enjoys running on the beach and swimming, but he likes it better with a friend.
Since the mooring fields are so protected, they are an ideal place to paddle on our kayaks. Sometimes I join friends on their kayaks and sometimes we paddle alone. One friend, Christina, has a stand up paddle board and Sailor enjoyed jumping on her board and taking his first ride on one last month. He doesn’t fit in our kayaks, so perhaps a SUP should go on our list of things to buy for the boat. Many cruisers have kayaks and SUP’s onboard and of course we see them paddling along the shores in the harbour, but it’s much easier to paddle on flat water in the holes.
We love walking on the beach on the Exuma Sound side of Stocking Island. It is usually empty or might have a few people walking on it or swimming in the turquoise water. Needless to say, it is a beautiful beach for dogs and people.
We got “hooked” on Texas Hold’em last season, and this year we returned to playing Tuesday and Thursday nights at the local resort, St. Francis. Luckily it is located next to our mooring field, so even when it’s windy and the water is rough in the harbour, we can dinghy to poker without getting wet. On Saturday, we host a game on Seas the Day. Last year we had the same group of six couples every week, all from Hole 2. Three of those couples did not return this year, so we had to recruit new players. Unfortunately some of them have not been able to come every week, but we are always able to have about 12 people playing, the men at the large table in the cockpit and the women at the salon table. When we get down to six or seven people, they move to the inside table and sometimes we have a “losers table” in the cockpit. Halfway through the game, we stop to have snacks and drinks. Both at the St. Francis and on our boat, each person puts $5 in the pot and the top three players split the money on the boat while the top five players split a much larger pot at the St. Francis. Below is a photo of our friend Jean (MV Winterlude) when she got all the chips and won a game on our boat.
This year, I decided to try water aerobics. It is held every morning at 9:30 on one of the beaches by the monument. We call it South Beach, since it is the most southerly beach of the several beaches near the monument. The instructor, Callie on SV Serenity, is a well trained yoga and water aerobics teacher and she makes the class a lot of fun. Music mostly from the 70’s and 80’s is played from a device resting in her dinghy, floating next to her. The water temperature is in the high 70’s but sometimes, especially if it is very windy and the sun isn’t shining, it feels chilly when we arrive and climb out of our dinghies. However, we all warm up quickly with the fast paced exercises. There is also yoga offered on another beach at the same time. As with all events here, classes are free. Occasionally Callie will jokingly say, “You get what you pay for,” but we would gladly pay her for this incredible experience.
Impromptu sundowner get-togethers are held on various beaches, where everyone brings their own drinks and snacks to share. Someone announces over the VHF radio the time and place, and dinghies arrive on the beach. It’s a great way to meet new friends and greet old ones. Occasionally an ARG (Alcohol Research Group) meeting is called, which involves a bonfire, singing, musicians playing, and of course eating and drinking. Many other regularly scheduled activities are available, including a Bible study group, trivia, bridge, dances on Volleyball Beach with a DJ, Bahamian “Rake and Scrape” dances at several restaurants in town, volleyball, and softball. A group of cruisers also meets every week with children from the local school who need help in reading.
At 2 pm every day, cruisers arrive on Volleyball Beach to (surprise) play “fun volleyball,” take part in all sorts of board and card games such as Mexican Train, or sit around and talk. Chat ‘n Chill, a restaurant with burgers, drinks and more, is located on Volleyball Beach. The owner does not allow people to bring their own food and drinks to that beach, so if cruisers want to eat or drink, they buy it from him. Whenever someone wants to talk to a group about various topics, this is also the beach they use. There are numerous benches and picnic tables under large Casuarina Trees for shade. A tire hangs from a rope swing in one of the trees for the children on boats to use. On most Sundays during the cruising season a local historian shares interesting and educational stories about the Bahamas. Last week, Jeff and Karen Siegel, developers of the popular Active Captain (a website used by cruisers to share reviews of marinas, anchorages, etc.) gave two talks: one on what to do in a medical emergency and one on the most recent cruising APPS and other technology to use on a boat. The medical talk was not a first aid class, but rather gave valuable information on what to do when someone is hurt, especially on a boat, until help arrives. We are seriously considering buying an AED (automated external defibrillator) for the boat and know of several cruisers who have them. The Siegels were both EMT’s for many years before moving aboard their motor vessel. Whenever groups want to get together for a specific purpose they meet on Volleyball Beach. Recently one cruiser shared his expertise on marine electrical systems. Another boater taught people to make conch horns so they could blow them at sunset. When a group of people are going to a particular destination, such as south to the Caribbean, or to Cuba, they meet to discuss their plans and then often travel together as boat buddies to their destinations. Usually an experienced cruiser who has been to those destinations leads the discussion. On Sundays, Beach Church is held on Volleyball Beach with cruisers taking turns sharing a message and a choir singing songs, followed by a fellowship time with coffee and treats.
Last week was the 36th annual George Town Regatta. Here is a link to the regatta website with a list of all of the activities. There is also a Facebook pagefor the regatta with lots of pictures and information. There are always more than 300 boats here during regatta week. Many cruisers are now waiting for weather windows to travel north and eventually back to the States, or south to a variety of near and far destinations. One of our favorite events during Regatta Week is the Pet Parade. Sailor won this year for “Best Costume” wearing the K9Sailor sailboat that Mark made for him. He tried it on before we left and then competed on Volleyball Beach with a dozen pets who also live on boats. All the dogs got prizes. We have never entered our catamaran sailboat in the races, but two years ago we crewed on our friends’ monohull, SV Interlude. The first race is in Elizabeth Harbour and the second is around Stocking Island. There are also small boat races with kayaks, SUP’s, rowing dinghies, small sailboats, and more. A poker run event is where cruisers motor in a dinghy to multiple bars and restaurants along the harbour, picking up one playing card for their group at each stop. The dinghy with the best poker hand wins. Bocce Ball and beach golf are other competitions and the cruisers’ softball team competes against a local Bahamian team. This year the score was a tie. A scavenger hunt is also a fun event. The regatta began with a Variety Show in town with cruisers and locals performing, and ended with an awards ceremony at the Peace and Plenty Restaurant in town. The George Town Regatta Facebook page has photos of most of these events and the website has descriptions of all of them.
Thanks to Donna on SV Duchess for the pictures below of some of the Variety Show acts. My camera’s battery died when we arrived at the show.
Every year there is a contest for the design to be used on the regatta t-shirts for the following year and cruisers vote for their favorite design at the opening event, the Variety Show. This year along with t-shirts, water resistant backpacks and hats were sold to raise money for regatta expenses. Any money left over is given to a local charity. Volunteers sell regatta items at a small booth between the Exuma Market and the new Red Boon Cafe, a popular place for breakfast and lunch.
There are lots of reasons why cruisers flock to George Town, although admittedly people either love it or hate it. We’ve heard it called “Adult Daycare.” Some cruisers think it is very “clique-y.” Other cruisers don’t like the crowded anchorages, although there are so many they could easily find an empty one in the harbour. Some people take advantage of many activities and others interact with a few old and new friends. Since there are many anchorages in Elizabeth Harbour and two mooring fields, it is easy to find a secluded anchorage or cruisers can choose one of several popular anchorages to be among many fellow cruisers either close to town or near the activities on Stocking Island. Boats with children on them love to come to George Town to meet up with other “Kid Boats.” They can be found playing together on the beaches, especially Volleyball Beach, and there are special events for them during the regatta. Young voices are often heard on the hailing channel calling their friends. Naturally, those who come here year after year make good friends and socialize with those friends. However, these same people are very friendly and anyone who wants to be part of that “clique” can join in by getting involved in the cruiser and/or local activities. There is a Cruisers’ Net every morning at 8 am on VHF channel 72. A volunteer “net controller” recognizes other cruisers and locals who indicate they want to share something. The Net begins with a weather report (someone reads marine weatherman Chris Parker’s report for this area), then there is a section for local businesses, followed by community announcements, a section where cruisers can buy or sell or give away items, and the last section is where cruisers who have just arrived in the harbour tell about themselves and departing cruisers share their new destination and say goodbye. When cruisers ask for help with a problem on their boat, they get numerous offers after the Net ends. Last year, our freezer stopped working and we asked on the Net if someone had a cooler we could borrow while Mark fixed it. Immediately after the Net ended, a cruiser offered us their 12V Engel freezer which kept our items frozen until Mark discovered the problem and fixed it. Requests like this are asked and answered here every day. This week, cruisers are collecting clothing and household goods for a young Bahamian family from George Town whose house burned to the ground. Many cruisers brought items to Long Island this year to help those who lost everything in Hurricane Joaquin last summer. Rum Cay lost all of its trees, so cruisers going that direction are bringing small seedlings provided by the locals from Great Exuma. Overall, cruisers love the Bahamas and especially the people here. It’s a mutual admiration society as the Bahamians appreciate the cruisers who spend their money here and in many cases lasting friendships are made between cruisers and Bahamians.
Besides all of these activities going on, there is perhaps an equally important reason why cruisers stop in Georgetown for a day, a week, a month or more: groceries and free water. There are two well stocked grocery stores located on the shores of small Lake Victoria, which has an entrance from Elizabeth Harbour under a bridge on the main George Town street. One of them, Exuma Market, provides dinghy docks and a hose dispensing free RO (reverse osmosis) water. Dinghies line up along the dock by the water hose with their 5 gallon jerry jugs and fill them, return to their boats, and pour the water into their tanks. Even people like us who have watermakers supplement the RO water they make with a few gallons of the free water. When we run the watermaker we have to turn on our inverter and sometimes the generator, so it does take fuel and power. Below, a line is formed on the right with Mark and Sailor at the front putting water in our jerry jugs. In the rest of the Exumas, water costs 40 to 50 cents a gallon or more. In town we can also drop off garbage at $2 for a small bag or $3 for a large one. Rodney on the Harbour Services boat comes to all the anchorages near George Town to collect garbage, pumpout holding tanks and he also collects propane tanks to be filled and returns them a few days later.
The Exuma Market has an excellent supply of fresh produce, together with meats, dairy products and other staples. Supply boats come twice a week to restock the shelves. In other smaller towns in the Exumas, you have to go to the store (usually in a house) on the day the boat arrives to get any fresh food. In George Town the shelves are fullest after the supplies arrive, but the shelves are never empty. Prices for most items are more expensive than in the States because most are shipped from the US and since last year, a 7% VAT is added to everything here. However, like most cruisers, we are happy to contribute to the local economy by buying items from them.
We have less than a month left to relax and enjoy our stay in George Town. Friends from Hobe Sound, near our hurricane season marina in Stuart, Florida, will be flying into Staniel Cay on April 14th to enjoy a week aboard Seas the Day with us. We can get from here to Staniel Cay in a day, by sailing north on the Exuma Sound for part of the trip and then entering a cut to the shallow Bahamas Bank to travel along a chain of cays and islands until we reach Staniel Cay. We will leave here several days early to be sure we are in Staniel Cay when their plane touches down. As in all cruising, weather is the main consideration, and if there are strong winds out of the north or high seas predicted, we’ll need to plan an earlier departure from George Town. We’ll be in the Exumas and Eleuthera during April and most of May we’ll stay in Spanish Wells, returning to Florida at the end of May.
We love these last few months of our cruising season because the days are longer, meaning more hours of sunlight. With the strong winds today and the clear blue sky, our wind generator and solar panels are working hard, currently giving us 35 amps of power and our batteries are fully charged with no need to turn on a generator for power. Every morning at the end of the Cruisers’ Net, the net controller asks if anyone has a thought for the day. If I was giving mine right now it would simply be “life is good.”
On January 8, 2016, we left Bimini for Chub Cay in the Berries at 0520, obviously in the dark, arriving at the Chub Cay anchorage in daylight at 1700. We were going almost directly into the wind and made good time, but it wasn’t a comfortable ride. However, we were on the Mackey Shoals portion of the shallow Great Bahama Bank for most of the trip and the water was beautiful. Chub Cay anchorage is not the best, but OK for one night. It is often rough because large fishing boats race in and out of the channel to the marina, which is right next to the anchorage, causing huge wakes. It is close to deep water, where the fishing boats are headed, and often there are uncomfortable swells. Also, Chub Cay is private so we aren’t allowed to take Sailor ashore. Below was our view while sailing on the Bank.
Unfortunately we had to stay a second day in the Berries since the sea and wind conditions were still unfavorable for going on to Nassau. Also the wind was clocking and the conditions were getting worse at Chub Cay. In the morning we moved to nearby Frazier’s Hog Cay and while the first part of the trip around the end of Chub Cay was VERY rough, it smoothed out and we spent a comfortable night at Frazier’s Hog Cay. This will probably be our stop in the Berries from now on instead of Chub Cay. We had a nice time swimming off the beautiful beach and Sailor got lots of exercise chasing his ball. The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset.
On January 9, we reluctantly left our anchorage in the Berries headed to Nassau. We heard on Chris Parker’s morning report that the seas were 6-8 ft with over 3 ft swells on the beam and we try to only sail in 3 ft seas or less. However the weather this winter in the Bahamas has been very different than usual with constant storms and poor sailing conditions for long periods of time. This was our last sail on deep water until we go out on the Exuma Sound for one day to Georgetown. The winds were also not great at SSE 19-20 kts gusting 22. It was a rough ride, in fact Mark wrote in our cruising log, “Worst sail by choice ever.” Thankfully it wasn’t a long sail, leaving at 0715 and arriving in Nassau at 1230.
We had reservations at Nassau Harbour Club and enjoyed a quiet night in a slip. Of course, we had to have our last frappuccinos at Starbucks and visit the Fresh Market grocery store, both right across the street from our marina. The photo of Starbucks below is taken from the exit of the marina. Two years ago, when Sailor was 7 months old, we stopped at this same marina and Sailor, spooked by fireworks (in February!) jumped off the boat, ran down the dock in the dark, and fell into the water when the dock turned to the right as he kept going straight. Mark showed him the very spot this happened, but not sure if Sailor remembered.
While our sail from Frazier’s Hog Cay to Nassau was rough, other boats had come in after sailing straight from Bimini or the States over a period of several days, and they had horror stories to tell. A boat in a slip across from us had taken on water. The marinas in Nassau were filled with tired cruisers. We were glad we waited the extra day to leave the Berries even if we still had an uncomfortable sail.
We try to never stay longer than one day in Nassau. It is not a safe city, and other than crossing the street from the marina to the strip mall, we don’t have anything else we want to see or do there. Boats have even been boarded by thieves at several of the Nassau marinas and it is dangerous to be out on the streets after dark. Paradise Island, where most tourists go, is across a bridge and probably safer. Nassau is on New Providence Island and is where the cruise ships stop. Our boat buddies since Miami on Renaissance II, another Lagoon 420, decided to stay in Nassau since they had never been there and we left the next morning for Norman’s Cay, our first stop in The Exumas.
On January 11, we left the last marina we would stay at until we return to Sunset Bay in Stuart, Florida, at the end of May. The route to The Exumas is across the Yellow Bank portion of the Great Bahama Bank. We had a great wind angle for sailing although on a long day we always use the engines and sails and at one point were motorsailing at 8.3 kts. We left Nassau at 0900 and arrived at Norman’s Cay at 1445. It was almost full when we entered the anchorage because strong winds were forecast for that night. We anchored southwest of the sunken plane and several boats came in after us but left, probably going south to the next anchorage or mooring balls at Shroud Cay. During the night we had high winds and rain while turning 360 degrees with the strong current.
After listening to Chris Parker’s report the next morning, we decided the weather was settled enough to head south to Big Majors/Staniel Cay. This meant we were going past the entire Exuma Land and Sea Park, something we would never do if we weren’t planning to return on our way north in April. The park has the best hiking, kayaking, beaches, and snorkeling in the Exumas. Our goal was to get to our mooring ball in Georgetown as quickly as we could safely move. Friends who were already there told us the balls were being taken quickly, perhaps in part due to the 100+ kt storm they had while we were safe at a marina in Bimini. We left Norman’s Cay at 0740 and dropped the anchor at Big Majors at 1230. We made very good time, outrunning a squall coming from the ENE as we left Norman’s Cay followed by a sunny day. Big Majors is a large, excellent anchorage, unless the wind is from the west. We will be returning here in mid-April to pick up good friends Carolyn and Ed (S/V Sharkitecture) so we didn’t mind missing snorkeling at Thunderball Grotto. We did go ashore for a walk and Sailor got to visit the nurse sharks who hang out at the marina waiting for someone to drop discards from the fish cleaning station. Of course we had to bring him to see the famous swimming pigs also.
The next morning we made the short trip to Cave Cay, where we planned to exit the cut to go out on Exuma Sound to Georgetown. We knew we would have several days to wait for calm seas and favorable wind. We left Big Majors on January 13 at 0825 and arrived at 1130, the only boat in the anchorage outside Cave Cay Marina. It was a very pleasant sail and after dropping the anchor, Sailor and Mark headed to a beautiful beach near our boat. The shore has some interesting caves and there are many more on the cay, thus the name “Cave Cay.” Mark and Sailor also took the dinghy into the very protected marina at Cave Cay. He reported that it is a hurricane hole marina with excellent docks, but it seems to only get boats in its slips during very bad weather. During the several days we were in the anchorage, two boats joined the one that was already there.
Houses and caves were next to the beach where Sailor played.
Sailor checked out the marina at Cave Cay.
We spent three nights at Cave Cay waiting for the Exuma Sound sea state to calm down. On the first morning we had a BIG surprise. We got up at 0630 to listen to the Chris Parker marine weather report and saw a 160 ft long tanker named Tropic Breeze headed right towards us. (We have AIS and checked the info about the tanker.) We saw her anchored on the deeper south side of Cave Cay Cut the night before and early that morning she was coming to our shallow anchorage. Tropic Breeze motored straight for our starboard side, then turned and went a few feet off our aft, turning again passing us on our port side. A short distance past us, her anchor dropped. Next, we saw a small boat with a diver in it next to the tanker. The diver brought a large fuel hose from the tanker to the shore and for several hours fuel was pumped into the Cave Cay tanks. We weren’t worried about the “close call” because we have seen these Bahamian ships often and their captains are very good at maneuvering in tight spaces. The reason the ship went around us was to get downwind so they wouldn’t be blown into us. However, we were surprised that this was a marked anchorage on the Explorer Charts but there was no indication that tankers would come here to transfer fuel to the cay. We have anchored here before but this was our first close encounter with a big ship.
The fuel hose is visible floating in the water in front of the small boat.
Sailor seems to be a bit amazed at what he just saw.
For the next two days, all was quiet in our anchorage, mainly because we were the only boat there, and by January 16 the sky was clear, seas were 2-3 ft, and winds were from the southwest at 8-12 kts. It was time for the last leg of our journey to Georgetown. Even Sailor stayed out in the cockpit all day, which he only does when it is very calm. Otherwise he insists I get in one of the beds with him where he feels safe. We left at 0730 and were on our mooring ball in Hole 2 at Stocking Island, across the harbour from Georgetown, by 1230. There were only two balls left in Hole 2 and a few days after we arrived the last one was taken. We were very happy to reach our destination for the next few months and are looking forward to our stay here until the end of March.
This was our view of Exuma Sound on our way south to Georgetown. It is rarely this flat so it was well worth the wait.
Sailor was in this position all day long.
Entering the turquoise water of Elizabeth Harbour. The city of Georgetown is on the right and Stocking Island is on the left.
Finally we are on our mooring ball in Hole 2.
This is Hole 2 with Elizabeth Harbour and Georgetown in the background, We are at the far end of the mooring field, protected on all four sides with a narrow channel running in the foreground of the picture from Hole 1 through to Hole 3.
Yesterday we moved from the Spanish Wells Mooring Field about an hour away to Royal Island where we anchored for the night to make today’s trip a little shorter. This morning we left that anchorage and a little under eight hours later arrived at Chub Cay in a string of islands called The Berries. We have a nice three day window of calm seas and almost no wind to get us back to Florida so we left a few days before our month at the mooring field was up to take advantage of it. The wind never got above 10 kts today but since that resulted in almost flat seas, we didn’t mind going a little slower. The wind speed for the next two days is even lower, therefore the conditions should be great as we cross the Gulf Stream and arrive in Lake Worth on Saturday.
It’s been awhile since we have been on the move, and Sailor is still a fair weather sailor. The best way to keep him from panting and worrying about the sounds and motion of the boat is to take him into a bed. As long as he can touch me he relaxes, but he won’t stay in the bed alone. So, we went to the bed in the forward cabin, as far away from the diesel engines as we can get, and while I read from my Kindle, Sailor slept.
As the day went on he became more relaxed and slept in the salon. Perhaps he was anticipating rougher weather and realized it wasn’t going to happen. Twice he rang his “poochie bell” and Mark walked him up to the trampolines on a leash to “go.” This is only safe to do when the seas are this calm.
Once we got close to shore at Chub Cay we let him come up on the deck while we looked for a good place to drop the anchor. In Sailor’s mind, land equals beaches and I suspect he was checking them out hoping to get off the boat soon.
Shortly after we dropped the anchor, Mark and Sailor dinghied over to a nearby beach. While Sailor doesn’t particularly like the motion of the ocean on a 42 ft sailboat, he loves riding in a 12 ft long dinghy, which is a much rougher experience. Perhaps that is because he knows at the end of most dinghy rides he gets to run up and down a beach and swim out to fetch his wubba. Lately he has started hanging over the side of the dinghy with his face almost in the water looking at the sealife. In this clear water there is a lot to see.
Chub Cay is not our favorite place to anchor because it has a marina filled with motor vessels, most of them here for fishing, ranging from small powerboats to large million dollar plus sportfishers. The larger boats generally slow down in the short channel leading into the marina. The smaller powerboats, however, race in and out of the harbor creating huge wakes. The anchorage is on either side of the channel and of course they don’t think they should be slowing down to keep us from rocking. We feel like we are back in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Actually, some of the boats came over from Florida for Memorial Day Weekend. Other people leave their boats here and fly into the Chub Cay airport. In less than an hour we saw five small passenger planes land at the airport, all appeared to be able to carry at least 12 passengers. The majority of Chub Cay is an upscale resort and marina. There are private homes by the marina, as well as a restaurant and a huge clubhouse. Sadly, there is no shore access for those of us anchored here. A pretty beach near us is marked “private” on a sign, although all beaches up to the high water line are public in the Bahamas, even this one on the marina property. Sailor goes to a beach on tiny deserted Crab Cay adjacent to Chub.
We spent the day on the ocean and it was so calm we didn’t have to put anything away to keep items from falling off shelves, yet now we are rocking back and forth and have to rearrange breakables. Notice the difference in wake from the small powerboat speeding by and the large sportfisher slowing down in the channel. Believe me, we feel the difference.
Tomorrow we’ll motorsail almost 12 hours to anchor near Bimini. The marinas there are mostly full and have raised their prices for the holiday weekend. We heard that at Brown’s Marina in north Bimini their usual 90 cents a foot charge is $2.50 a foot for the next few days. Shortly after leaving Chub Cay, we’ll leave the deep water of the ocean and be on the shallow “bank.” Many people anchor overnight on “the bank” in calm wind and sea conditions, away from the route of the boats going between here and Bimini. We’ve never done that, but I’m beginning to think it would be much more relaxing than Chub Cay. Then again, Sailor wouldn’t get his beach time and that’s important too.
Here is the view from the boat as the sun was setting over the ocean in Chub Cay. We only have one more Bahamian sunset to watch after tonight.
Normally the leg from Staniel Cay to Georgetown would take us at least two days, maybe three if we stopped in Blackpoint. But this time we did it in one day. It took 8 1/2 miserable hours. The first hour was fine, on the bank to south of Big Farmer’s Cay. Depths are about 10-12 feet on this part of the trip and the water was very calm. Then we had to decide if we would anchor near there or go out into the Sound which is hundreds of feet deep. We heard from another cruiser who had just gone out Galliot Cut. She said it was horrible, but once you got out, the Sound was fine. The cut was in a rage, wind and current in opposite directions and huge waves from all directions. It didn’t look good, but we figured it would be a few minutes of being in a washing machine and then OK. But it wasn’t. When we got out in the Sound the waves were high and we were going into them. It was like riding a roller coaster for the next seven hours. We made good time at 7.5 kts with the jib barely out and the mainsail reefed. Without doing this to the sails we would have been going too fast. Sailor was not happy and he stayed with me in the salon. We alternated between the couch and the floor because it was impossible to stand without falling. I had put most things away, but I could hear every cupboard and closet having its contents knocked around.
We finally reached Georgetown, in the south Exumas, and were surprised to see how many boats were still here. Regatta was early this year, in February, and when we got here they had already done the Long Island Rally and were back. Still all of the anchorages were filled. We went to the Sand Dollar anchorage and spent two rocky nights and days there before moving down to Monument. Now the wind has dropped and we are comfortable. In Georgetown some boats move from anchorage to anchorage depending on the wind direction but unless we are going to be very uncomfortable we stay in one place.
When we arrived the entire boat was covered with salt, not just salt water but chunks of salt. We did something we rarely do and gave the boat a fresh water wash. Our deck hose can use either fresh or salt water but this called for something very clean. Everything got washed, and inside the boat it took hours to put everything away and straighten up the messes in closets and cupboards.
We have a rule that we don’t sail to a schedule and we don’t sail in bad weather. The weather was fine, very sunny, but the wind was strong and not favorable to the direction we were going. I would rate this as our worst day on the water. We never should have gone in those seas.
We will stay here for a few weeks, maybe go to Long Island. There is a lot to do here, including a great beach on the Sound for walking and lots of little beaches on Elizabeth Harbor, where we are anchored, for Sailor to chase balls. When we go north we’ll travel slowly and stop at places we missed coming south so fast.
Just before we left Staniel Cay, I ran out of data on my iPad. It is very easy to add voice or data to a phone, but for a tablet the procedure is difficult involving taking the SIMM card out, putting it in a phone where the slot is three times as big so the iPad card doesn’t fit in the slot and making some phone calls to add data, then putting the card back in the iPad. I thought I could do it myself this year and in the process ruined one phone. Luckily I had another old phone so I could use it to talk to my daughter Jennifer back in Florida every night. There is a Batelco office in Staniel Cay but we left the day I realized I needed help. That was Saturday and although we arrived in Georgetown that afternoon, Batelco offices didn’t open here until Monday. Today we went into town and a nice Batelcto person got the data on my iPad card and we are good to go for another 2 GB’s.
Even with the bad experience, Sailor still seems to enjoy sailing and especially going ashore in the dinghy. Below are pictures of him retrieving a ball in deep water and running on a beach bringing the ball back to Mark. He is just learning to like to swim and the retriever part of him is having a great time.
Recently, I was talking with an acquaintance about our plans to go to the Bahamas on our boat for six months. He asked, “What do you do for six months on a boat in the Bahamas?” I don’t know if he was inferring that it would be boring or if he was genuinely confused, but I gave him the stock answer: we snorkel, swim, sail, hike and have sundowners with other cruisers. Later, I started to think about it and realized if you’ve never left the country on a boat for an extended period of time, then you might have this same question.
As I started to write this blog entry, I found myself thinking about what we DON’T do and DON’T have for those six months, so I’ll get that over first. We can’t walk into a grocery store and have every food choice known to man in front of us for reasonable prices. While we have Direct TV on the boat and we have satellite coverage every place we sail, we would use up too much power if we watched it very much, so other than a few favorite shows, we don’t. We can’t go to our regular doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists or specialists for check-ups and we can’t visit them when we are sick. I can’t go to my favorite hair salon or yoga studio. Since we make our own power with solar panels and a wind generator, we have to be frugal with the appliances we use. That limits using our blow dryer, curling iron, toaster, microwave, ice maker, and other power hogs. We make our own water and that uses power so we can’t take long showers. And of course the real biggie……no Starbucks!
Because of those “don’ts” we have to make lots of lists and “provision” before we leave. Think having to buy six months worth of everything in your kitchen and medicine cabinets because likely you won’t find your favorite shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, make-up, etc. in the little stores on most islands. Food is a different story because you could go there with no food and eat well. The difference would be the expense and the lack, in most stores, of your favorite brands so we try to buy sufficient amounts of everything we think we will eat. My hair won’t look as nice, but Mark is a pretty good hair cutter and there is usually a nice wind to blow my hair dry. We get our physicals and check-ups between June and November. Luckily we rarely get sick and if we did there are clinics on most islands. We don’t miss TV, especially the news, and we get to read lots of books. While we limit using certain appliances, when the generator is on we can use anything. If we need something not available in the islands, we can order it online and get it shipped to us. As far as frappuccinos, I just have to endure withdrawal symptoms for awhile. There is a Starbucks in Nassau and when we stop there I usually linger over my last one until I get back to Florida in June.
Once we are in the Bahamas, we have no schedule. That is on purpose because cruisers know the most dangerous thing on a boat is sailing with a schedule. If you have to get somewhere on a certain date you are tempted to leave when the weather forecast is not safe. Luckily, in the Exumas where we travel the next destination is usually a few miles away and at most less than a day’s sail or motorsail. Also, there is no hurry to get there or even go there. We have no fixed itinerary, just places we would like to visit.
Now for the answer to what do we do all day for six months. Remarkably, every day is different. The weather changes, the location changes and the people around us or the lack thereof, changes. On a typical day, we wake up with the sun and eat breakfast outside in the cockpit. Sailor will ride ashore in the dinghy to a quiet, sandy beach where he is the only dog. At each place we stop there are usually several nice beaches close to us. If another dog is in the anchorage and going ashore, we can choose to play or be alone. He’ll have a run and swim and take care of his “business.” Back on the boat, we might have a few chores to do…..cleaning or laundry for me, a boat repair or maintenance work for Mark. If we don’t have work to do we might paddle the kayaks into nearby mangroves or along the shore. Stopping at a beach via kayak or dinghy, we might swim in the calm turquoise water or take a short walk to the other side of the island, which will be on the Exuma Sound, and enjoy a whole different rocky ocean shore. After lunch on the boat, we might relax with a book from our library or on our Kindle. We almost always have Internet access through Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) so I might write a blog, check email, pay bills online or look at what mail has come into our mail forwarding service. At our request, St. Brendan’s will scan any important mail into a pdf so we can read it online and print it out if needed. Sailor will get another dinghy ride ashore in the afternoon. If we don’t get together with friends for dinner, we’ll probably go ashore for sundowners (drinks and snacks) with a group of cruisers anchored near us, or we’ll have friends over to play Mexican Train (domino game). When we are tired we go to bed.
That’s a typical day but on other days, depending on the island we are near, we’ll snorkel, go ashore to walk through the small towns, ride our bikes, and do some grocery shopping. If we are near a more populated town like Georgetown, we have numerous options for eating out and shore activities. That town, in particular, has activities for cruisers going on every day like beach yoga, volleyball, Texas Hold’em, dances, pot lucks, sundowners, scavenger hunts, etc. When we are in Georgetown, we are one of over a hundred boats spread out over numerous anchorages. We can anchor alone or near a group of boats.
Bottom line is we never get bored. We are totally relaxed most of the time except when there is a problem with something on the boat. In that case, Mark fixes it. We meet a lot of people with similar interests and make lifelong friends. We actually socialize much more with friends when we are in the Bahamas than when we are at a dock in the States or than we did when we lived in a house. If we have a question or problem we make a call to everyone in hearing distance on our VHF radio and ask if anyone can help us. Invariably we get that help. In Georgetown there is a cruiser’s net broadcast every morning on the VHF radio where we can hear and share news, questions, and announcements.
One last thing. The Bahamas are beautiful. You could spend hours just looking at the sunrises, sunsets and everything in between. The water is crystal clear and an indescribable color. (The background on the computer version of this website is a picture we took of the water under our boat in the Exumas.) Dolphins are everywhere and no matter how many times we see them, we have to stop what we are doing and watch these mesmerizing creatures.
What do we do for six months on our boat while in the Bahamas? We “seas” each and every day.
We are using the Garmin inReach satellite system to show where we are located. This is the linkthat brings up a map and marks our exact location. If you click on the “+” icon, the map will show exactly where we are located in a more detailed map. When we are on the move, inReach tracks our progress, updating our position every ten minutes until we reach our destination for the day. Usually it will include a message telling about that part of our destination. From June through November we are at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, FL. We love this town and the marina. The people are very friendly and everything we need is within five miles, without ever going on an Interstate. We feel like we are living in a condo on (and in) the water when we are in Stuart.
From December through the end of May we are cruising in The Bahamas. We leave Stuart, make stops in Lake Worth and Ft. Lauderdale, then on to Miami where we wait for good crossing weather. We check in at Bimini and from there continue to the Exumas, stopping at various small islands on our way south. We sail north in the spring through Eleuthera to Spanish Wells and back to Stuart. In the photo above we were enjoying sundowners at Bimini Sands Resort and Marina in Bimini with a large group of cruisers. We were all stuck there for over three weeks in January, 2013, waiting for safe sailing weather so we could leave for the Exumas.