Saturday, March 4, 2017

Having Fun In The Exumas

As I have explained to several of you, it is difficult at best to try and maintain this blog as it is formated while traveling in the Bahamas. High speed internet access is almost non existent so loading full size photos is almost impossible. Facebook seems to compress photos allowing me to better use cellular data so I regularly post there.

The "Where Are We" tab on this blog is always updated with our current whereabouts.

Brandon and Sophia came to the Bahamas recently and spent several days on Pearl. Brandon put together an amazing video of the fun times we had. I just have to share it here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

South To The Keys - Key West!

After four long HOT months at the dock in Ft Pierce, Florida we finally got under way. We did enjoy the summer and found ways to entertain ourselves while we watched for hurricanes and waited for that dreaded storm season to pass.

Gayleen had a subtle way of reminding me I needed to fix her head.

In this wonderful world of cruising, you never know who you might meet along the way and just before we were about to leave, our good friends Butch and Susan on Dream Catcher arrived in Ft Pierce on their way south from summering in Myrtle Beach. We did our first crossing to the Bahamas with them in 2012. They were headed south as well so we left together. Our new friends that just bought their first cruising sailboat, Zola, joined us as well. Unfortunately about five miles into the trip Zola had engine problems and had to drop anchor in the middle of the Inter Coastal Waterway. After almost an hour of talking Zola through possible fixes they ended up calling Towboat US and was towed back to the marina. They are just about ready to head back out so we hope that we can reconnect again soon.

We have had a great trip south and two weeks after we left Ft Pierce we anchored in the fun island of Key West.

After a few stops down the Intracoastal Waterway we finally got the right weather to go offshore and sail under full sail south. The first stop was Miami where we anchored in Marine Stadium. Its not the prettiest anchorage but it does offer a wonderful view of the Miami skyline day and night.

The next day we refueled, took on water and anchored just outside Noname Harbor to get an early start on the two day trip to Boot Key/Marathon. The trip would be two legs, each about 45 nauticval miles overnighting at Rodriguez Key which is the half way point and pone of the only anchorages between Miami and Boot Key.

The weather report didn't disappoint and we had two glorious days of sailing under full said with no motor..finally!

We finally got agood  full sail picture of Pearl. This was taken by our friends on Dream Catcher just as we were passing them. A Morgan beating a Hunter..who would have thought? Go Pearl!

Marathon is known for its mooring field that can accomodaye hundreds of boats. It also has shopping sop we stopped for a couple of nights to shower, buy provisions and refill our water tank..that happened to leak out 90 gallons  before I found the fitting that was leaking. Good thing the bildge pump works well.

Our next stop was going to be Key West which is another full days travel from Boot Key. We got spoiled bu all the good sailing days we had and really wanted to sail that leg as well. It became clear that the wind gods were not going to cooperate for at least a week so we motored the last leg arriving at Key West in the early afternoon.

Key West is unique and fun. Even the dinghy dock is impressive.

We are fortunate to be here for the World Championship Power Boat Races although our ear drums are not going to be the same.

When we arrived at the entrance to Key West harbor it was closed for the ongoing races so we anchored and enjoyed a front row seat. It was a nice treat after almost 6 hours of motoring.

A big blow is coming through now so we are on a mooring ball waiting for a few days for it to pass before we can decide what our next destination will be. We did get a chance to walk around for two days and get to know some of the locals.

Right now we aren't sure where we are headed next. It all depends on which way the winds are blowing. In the meantime its just nice to be off the dock and on the move doing what Pearl was meant to do.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Back in the USA - Catching Up (Part 3: Royal Island, Eleuthera to Abacos Islands to Florida)

On the third evening at the most northern part of Eleuthera there were six of us anchored in Royal Harbor anchorage preparing to do the 60 nautical mile (69 regular miles for you landlubbers) open ocean run to the entrance to the Sea of Abaco part way up the Abaco Islands.

There is always a tradeoff when making these open ocean passages. First you wait for the seas to be somewhat calm. Then you wait and hope that the wind is heading in the right direction to sail. Finally, when you get out there you hope all your data that you base your decision on works out as planned. If not, then you either decide to push on, or just turn around and wait for better conditions.

All day while hiking and swimming and then meeting for cocktails at the end of the day the discussion was what each of us was going to do. Some of us planned on leaving the next morning because there would be wind but it might be too much on the nose. Some decided they would wait and leave a day later because the wind direction would be more favorable. Just after daybreak a convoy of sailboats and powerboats headed out. We had the lead spot although nothing is a race and Pearl is not one to ever be the fastest vessel out there.

The winds were a little on the nose but we could keep the sail up the whole way. At times we had to motor sail, luffing a bit to get back on course but it worked out fine and we arrived safely anchoring just off Lynyard Cay. We later learned the folks that waited a day had no wind at all and had to motor the whole way up.

The Bahamas has so much to offer and different parts and different islands appeal to different kinds of cruisers. We arrived at the Abacos Islands and settled in. This was our second time through there. We prefer the southern islands in the Exuma chain. For us, the Exumas are less commercialized and we find the small Bahamian  settlements to be more friendly and relaxing. On top of that, the water in the Exumas is by far clearer than in the Abacos. Passing through the Abaocos on the way back to the states puts us in good position to cross the Gulf Stream and arrive at Ft Pierce, Florida which is where we like to check back into the country.

Other than stopping to renew our visas and provisioning in Marsh Harbor we just quickly worked our way north over a week or two to get to Great Sale Cay. Except for a rescue story I will talk about later, pictures tell the tale the best.

After one night anchored with our friends at Lynyard Cay we all scattered and went our own way. Our first stop was our favorite harbor town in the Abacos, Hope Town. It always reminds us of Provincetown on Cape Cod. The kerosene powered lighthouse that is still lit every night.

** If you click on the photos you can see the full size version **

After refueling and filling our water tanks at 40 cents a gallon we headed to Marsh Harbor to buy some food to get us home. The water is reverse osmosis (RO) water made by taking the salt and impurities out of sea water. RO water has not taste and no smell. After one night at Marsh Harbor we were on our way north to Guyana Cay to anchor in a couple of spots waiting for the proper weather to pop out in the ocean and back in the Sea of Abaco get to the upper islands of the Abaco Islands.

.Memories......we are anchored off the beaches on the north end of Guana Cay. This is the beach that they took us into when we took the kids on the Big Red Boat cruise many years ago. The Big Red Boat was the cruise ship associated with Disney World before Disney had its own cruise ships. It is now a private development of mansions and the beaches are private so we can't go ashore.

Next was a day stop at Green Turtle Cay to get some gasoline for the dinghy engine and then we anchored at our favorite non-commercial island, Manjack Cay. Manjack Cay is a provate island but the owners that live there invite the cruisers to come on shore and enjoy their beaches, gardens and hiking trails. We spent a two nights there followed by one night at Powell Cay just to the north.

The private trails on Manjack led to this wonderful beach.

In June, the weather brings many daily thunderstorms. They can be quite intimidating especially when they spawn small tornados over the water called Water Spouts. Gayleen loves watching the clouds and storms and water spouts. I kept telling her that if she keeps talking about how interesting they were she would attract them to us! We heard on the radio a boat describing how they watched one go ashore on an island and rip up some small trees. This is when we decided that the sooner we got back to Florida, the better.

Dodging thunderstorms and lightening our next stop was an uninhabited island named Great Sale Cay. We would overnight there before we made the long passage across the Bahama Bank, across the Gulf Stream and back to Ft Pierce, Florida.

We passed a typical Bahamian fishing operation. The mother duck ship travels with a number of small duckling fishing boats that get sent out to catch and bring back fish, lobster and conch.

When we got there we were sharing the anchorage with 2 other boats that were also headed back to the states. It was late so we ate and went to sleep knowing the next day would be the start of a long trip.


The next day the other two boats left in the morning because they were going to follow a more northerly route to Port Canaveral. Our plan was to leave around 3 P.M. and travel overnight to arrive at the Ft Pierce inlet early afternoon at slack tide so we didn't have to worry about the strong currents that flow in and out of the inlet. Keep in mind that by the middle of June, most of the snow bird cruisers have already arrived back in the states and are someplace north for the summer. There are very few boats crossing and especially very few heading a more northerly route like our neighbors at the anchorage.

We left mid afternoon as planned. It was good sailing weather for once and Pearl was humming along at just about the right pace under full sail. A little over two hours into our trip, the radio which had been silent due to the lack of boats in the area squawked loudly with a call to the US Coast Guard. It was one of the boats that left our anchorage in the morning relaying a Mayday call for a vessel that was in distress that they could hear on their radio. A Mayday call is the highest level of severity call for assistance. You only send out a Mayday call when lives are in danger!

It turned out that a 26 foot power boat named the Sandra Gale was disabled and taking on water. They evidently had a very weak radio or handheld radio and the only people that could hear them were the two sailboats that were about 5 miles away from them. The Coast Guard could hear the relay call from the sailboats and said they would send a helicopter to them but it may take a while and there were no Coast Guard boats in the area. They were sending one from Florida right away but it would take hours to get there. Lots of information was exchanged including the GPS coordinates of the Sandra Gale.

We plotted the location on our chart plotter and although they weren't that far off our plotted course, we had not gone far enough and were more than 25 miles away.

As we listened to the radio conversation the other boat was having with the Coast Guard, the Sandra Gale was taking on water quickly and even the helicopter would not make it there in time. The sailboats agreed to take down their sails and motor the 4 or 5 miles off course to help out. The Sandra Gale has three people on board and was going from Stuart Florida to the northern Abacos for the weekend. As the sailboat approach it was starting to get dark. The Sandra Gale was low in the water. They pulled up next to it, two people climbed on board the sailboat and the Sandra Gale sunk. The third person had to be retrieved from the water.

Those people were very very very lucky. This was a less traveled time of year and most cruising sailboats do not take that northerly route even in the busy times. If those two sailboats were not there to hear the weak Mayday call those people would have been lost. We could hear the sailboats and the Coast Guard but never heard a word of what the folks on the Sandra Gale were saying.

The Coast Guard helicopter arrived but had to head back for fuel. The rescuing sailboats agreed to head west and meet the Coast Guard Cutter out in the Gulf Stream to transfer the 3 saved people over to the Coast Guard so they could continue their trip.

It got dark quickly and Pearl continued to sail along while we watched thunderstorms with lightening all around us. Fortunately they all either dissipated before they reached us or turned another direction.

We did have a challenging section of the crossing. At about midnight Pearl was leaving the shallow waters of the Bahama Banks into the very deep waters leading to the Gulf Stream. The currents and winds created a confused sea state that tossed and turned Pearl in all directions. There was no moon and it was pitch black so it felt more violent than it probably would have in the daylight. Gayleen was convince the mast was slapping on the water back and forth. After about 45 minutes things settled down and the sunrise several hours later was calming.

Later the next afternoon Pearl completed a 122 nm 23 hour passage from Great Sale Cay, Bahamas to Ft Pierce, FL...Back in the USA!

You can see on the recording of the trip the affect of the Gulf Stream. We knew from the last time we crossed from the Abacos that when we left the Bahamas Bank we should aim at a point about 20 miles south of our FT Pierce destination. If we held that compass direction the Gulf Stream current would whisk us north to the Ft Pierce inlet. You can see how our course over ground bent north as we entered the current of the Gulf Stream. The crossing went well with no major shipping to deal with. We arrived about 40 minutes before slack current in the inlet so you can see our zig zag as we killed some time before heading in.

It was good to be back at our home marina and tied to a dock with electricity and hot unlimited showers. In the end we decided to stay there for the summer and wait out hurricane season.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Back in the USA - Catching Up (Part 2: Georgetown to Spanish Wells/Eleuthera)

The storms passed, the water tanks were filled. Food and drink were added to the cabinets and fridge and Pearl was off on her next adventure. Next stop was Long Island a full day sail away.

About an hour after we left the Elizabeth Harbor and Georgetown, a straight line showed up on our chart plotter right across our path. I zoomed out on the screen and it said Tropic of Cancer. Fortunately we still had cell data so when in doubt, Google it. It turns out if you are on the line at  the summer solstice the sun will be directly overhead. As hard as we tried, we could not see the line in the water.

It was a beautiful day with mild conditions. As we got near Long Island we heard another boat hailing us on the VHF radio. It was Apres' Ski that we had met in Georgetown. They came across the previous day and anchored north of the Salt Pond anchorage that we were headed to. They were going there as well so we would have some playmates to explore with. Pearl met up with Apres' Ski and settled in for a couple of days.

There are many cruising guides written for the Bahamas and they tell you were all the main sights to see are at each island but we were blessed to have bought Pearl from folks that had cruised the Bahamas for many many years well before the current guides were written. They left us their old charts that have many notes written on them as well as their old guidebooks that also have many notes in them. On one of the charts was a handwritten note that said Trail To Beach and indicated that it is located at telephone pole number xxx (we won't disclose the number so we can keep it off the current guidebooks).

Off we went down the road reading the numbers on the telephone poles. About a forever mile, there it was...the trail entrance. It wasn't obvious and had no worn parking spots so we gave it a try. The trail was about a quarter mile through the typical scrub brush and small trees.

When we reached the end of the trail we were rewarded with one of the most secluded and beautiful beaches we had found. The beach was long with soft white sand and the rock outcroppings in and out of the water were picturesque.

Long Island is about 80 miles long so the next day we rented a car with our friends to go exploring. In the Bahamas they drive on the left side of the road so the front passenger was responsible for constantly reminding the driver to make sure they were not driving on the right (or wrong as it may be) side. This arrangement worked well until it was my turn to drive near the end of the day in one of the more remote north sections of the island. I probably went about 7 miles after we turned from a side dirt road onto the main road before we all realized I was on the wrong side! Thank goodness that section of road is not well traveled.

We made several stops to explore but two were the most memorable. First we got a guided tour of the Hamilton Caves which are considered the largest cave system in the Bahamas. The tour was given by Leonard Cartright who owns the land the caves were on and grew up playing hide n seek and exploring in them. The five species of bats swirling around you while you tour the cave makes for an interesting time.

The next was a stop to see Deans Blue Hole. It is an amazing sight. Its the deepest blue hole in the world at 663 feet deep. Evidently it is the site of the world free diving championship. There are also some awesome cliffs around it that the young adventurous folks took advantage of by jumping off....with their GoPro in hand!

Lastly we made our way north to Cape Santa Maria. It is believed that Long Island was the third stop for Christopher Columbus in the new world. He lost one of his ships, the Santa Maria on the reef that extends north from Long Island. The next stop for Pearl was supposed to be Conception Island and Cat Island just north of Long Island. The view from Cape Santa Maria convinced us that the seas were far too rough to take that route so we decided to head back to Georgetown and work our way north up the Exuma chain of islands until things calmed down and we could cross the deeper water to Eluethera.

Retracing our steps from Georgetown we headed north and once again anchored off our favorite island, Lee Stocking Island. This time we had plenty of fuel for our dinghy so we could explore the smaller island that surround it.

The first stop was to see the pink iguanas on Leaf Cay. Fortunately we got there at a time when there were no day tourist boats around so we had the place to ourselves. Needless to say the iguanas could care less about us when they saw we didn't bring food for them.

Next stop was a larger uninhabited island nearby called Norman's Pond. We found the "hidden" small blue hole.

and a short way down the western side was the runoff stream from the large abandoned salt producing flats in the center of the island. The tide fills in the flats at high tide and as the tode goes out, you can ride the current back to the beach.

After we returned to Pearl another sailboat anchored close by. I got in the dinghy and went over to say hi and to ask what the conditions were in the deeper water because we wanted to leave the next morning. After their quick report of "it was fine" they asked.."do you want some tuna?" They had caught 4 tuna on the way there and couldn't eat it all so they cut them into filets and gave us a large bag of fresh tuna. The feast was enjoyed an hour later.

 Since our destination was Eleuthera we moved quickly north only stopping when needed. The one place that cannot be passed is always Black Point for the laudramat. Clean clothes make us happy and probably those around us as well.

How many laundromats have a view like this?

We traveled two more days north and the weather was finally going to be good for us to sail east across the Exuma Sound to Eleuthera. We anchored just inside the cut at Cambridge Cay at dusk, and enjoyed a glass of wine with our visitor watching the sunset.

Daybreak came quickly, we raised anchor and went out through the cut at slack tide. The day was breezy from the south which made to a vigorous full sail across arriving at Rock Sound in the late afternoon. It took us a few weeks of backtracking but we finally made it to Eluethera.

Eluethera is about 110 miles long and has several settlements with harbors along it's western protected shoreline. Each one had a unique personality that catered to the variety of interests of different types of cruisers. We moved up the island stopping for a day or two at each one.

After Rock Sound we headed north to Governor's Harbor. We enjoyed 18-20 knot winds along the  25 nm beam reach..... whatta day! We took a mooring ball in beautiful Governors Harbor for a couple of nights to relax and wait out the next blow.

The mooring balls were owned by French Leave Resort. It is a new resort in the making that is perhaps the most upscale property we had seen in the Bahamas. We played Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous as we enjoyes the grounds overlooking the harbor and Pearl.

On the ocean side of the island, the resort owned the grounds of the long gone Club Med. The beach there was amazing with pink granules mixed in the sand.

I remember when I was growing up I used to hear about the crazy and wild Club Med at Eluethra. Today all that remains are some flat foundations from the buildings that were there and an empty hole that used to be one of the pools.

The weather calmed down after a few days so we continued heading north. There is never a dull moment when cruising. The next stop was Hatchet Bay Pond. The entrance to Hatchet Bay Pond was a fun experience. I would hate to try it with the wind and swells going the wrong way.

We didn't get off Pearl here because we had a plan that was different than the folks we were bumping into along the way. They all rented cars here and drove north to a place called the Glass Window. After doing a little research we decided to leave the next morning and sail there instead.

Just when we thought we had seen it all we anchored in the late morning at the Glass Window in the north part of Eluethera. This is a part of the island where the Atlantic Ocean with its deep dark and rough waters is separated from the calm shallow light blue clear water of the Exuma Sound. There is a bridge across the gap where the high tide waves crash through. At one point not too long ago a storm brought a huge wave that hit the bridge and moved it 7 feet. They had to restore most of it to allow for passage to the lower 2/3rds of Eluethera. It is only one lane now and really looks like it cannot handle the 8 tons it says it can. Just south of the bridge is a place called the Queen's Baths where the ocean waves crash up and fill many small pools. After being here for a few hours it has become one of our favorite anchorages...have we said that before?

A short walk south on the Atlantic Ocean side is the Queen's Baths. This is a group of small ponds and caves in the rocks that get filled with water at high tide.

We almost lost Gayleen to this wave but she used her Ninja skills to beat back the ocean.

We really enjoyed it there so we stayed a few nights, swimming and exploring. This was our back yard while we were there.

The last night lived up to the old adage.... Red at night....sailor's delight.

The next morning we were on our way to our last stop and the northern most point of Eluethera, Spanish Wells. Most of the boats we had met the past couple of months happened to be there at the same time. We were all looking for the proper weather to make the open water crossing north to the Abacos Islands. We stayed in Spanish Wells for two nights exploring the town and one of the adjacent islands.

Spanish Wells is a fishing town. It is responsible for the majority of the lobster business in the Bahamas. The pretty harbor is lines with fishing boats.

The first night we took a mooring ball near the entrance to the harbor. It is a narrow entrance and when the ferry came in, it looked like we were going to be in trouble.

After surviving the close encounter with the ferry we thought we would have a relaxing night. This was not to be. Just as the sun set, The no seeum biting bug from the mangrove swamps next to the mooring field swarmed the boat. Even after quickly closing all the hatches they continued to bite us all night. At first light we wasted no time leaving the mooring field for a nice anchorage at a nearby island. Thank goodness the folks next to us offered to hold our money to pay for the mooring ball later in the morning when the owner came around collecting.

The last night we anchored with four other boats we knew. The next day was going to provide us with a good weather window to head north. We all left at daybreak to make the crossing to the Abacos Islands. 

Coming up next.....zipping through the Abacos and heading back to Florida.
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