Monday, May 20, 2013

Southern Abacos, Slaying the Whale, Central Abacos, Northern Abacos..Back to the USA!

We are back...........to the United States, after several very nice stops throughout the Abacos Islands. Our first stop after spending four days in one of our favorite places, Hope Town was a short few hour sail to Marsh Harbor. Half way across we saw another sailboat named Flamingo turning in random circles like they were drunk. Last night we got scared when the same boat pulled into the slip next to us in Ft Pierce. Luckily they were gone when we woke up this morning. Anyway, back to Marsh Harbor. Sailing in the Sea of Abaco is sheltered and easy. It was ideal conditions for Gayleen to show off her best sailing skill.



Marsh Harbor has a huge anchorage and several marinas. Although many boats anchor there for an extended period of time calling it "home", we didn't find it attractive for anything other than the large grocery store and hardware stores to provision and get parts. The anchorage was safe and it was a relaxing place to go ashore. We loaded up our cupboards and the fridge/freezer, filled our fuel and filled the water tanks which were near empty. Water is made from seawater through a reverse osmosis technology. They call it RO water and sell it for 20 cents a gallon. Luckily, Brandon and Salem made friends with the young guy at the fuel dock and he let us fill the water tanks for just the minimum $12 fee. Pear holds 215 gallons of water and between empty tanks and empty jerry jugs we saved quite a bit.

We did splurge on one greasy American tradition there. Believe it or not there was a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken for the old timers) and we got the family meal. It was 'finger lickin good'



The crew was anxious to get out of Marsh Harbor so we left and sailed across the Sea of Abaco and anchored off Man-O-War Cay to plan our next hop. The crew had enough of harbors and insisted we stay on anchor overnight to enjoy the breeze and watch the local fisherman.


Taming The Whale

We decided to head to the Central Abacos Islands. To do this you must pass through a section of water called "The Whale". All the while when we were asking people about going to the Abacos we were told to beware of The Whale because it can be treacherous with a sea state called "rage". This is a section of open ocean east of Whale Cay that you must pass through because the water in the protected Sea of Abacos is too shallow to sail north through. We were told of many who started out and returned because the seas were too rough and that it can be days to get calm enough seas to pass through the Whale cuts. After the trip up from the Berries and the cut we had to pass through to enter the Sea of Abacos I doubted that we were going to see anything comparable but it is always best to be cautious and plan for a safe passage. It turns out that the next morning was going to be the only day for several days to make the passage through The Whale. We raised anchor early in the morning and headed North. Since this is an important passage, other vessels will broadcast reports on the radio as they pass through to let others know the conditions. We were about an hour away from The Whale when we heard the first report from another vessel that just went through. We laughed because he reported that the conditions were so nice that "you could drive a row boat through it". Needless to say it was smooth as can be and we sailed the entire trip from start to finish ending up at Green Turtle Cay. Gayleen felt very empowered after conquering The Whale..






The next stop was Green Turtle Cay. Green Turtle is a nice small town that is used as an entry to the Bahamas by folks that take a multi day passage to the Abacos from the U.S. We anchored off of Green Turtle in some stiff westerly winds for one night and made a trip into town. We have heard many positive comments about Green Turtle but we found that most places in the town were closed and there wasn't much going on. Maybe we went on the wrong day or it is suffering the effects of the slowed economy. I think we were just spoiled by how much we enjoyed Hope Town that our expectations were too high for other quaint villages. It was time to find another anchorage that is more deserted and remote.

After doing some research we left early in the morning for the short sail north to Manjack Cay. This was it! Manjack turned out to be the right combination of everything we wanted in an anchorage that wasn't part of a town. The anchorage at Manjack is a large crescent shaped bay with lots of room for many boats. The two islands have a few houses on them but there are no facilities of any kind. The folks who live there welcome cruisers and allow them to bring their dinghy on their nice beach and go ashore to walk the nature trails. In the middle of the east side there is a small cut that leads to the ocean that has enough water at high tide to dinghy through to access the beautiful ocean beaches and very nice reefs to snorkle on. There was a mangrove to explore in the dinghy. There are also two wrecks on the south end of the anchorage to snorkle on as well.

There were several boats anchored in the north side, but we chose to go it alone and anchor on the south side of the anchorage. Of course we were joined by several others in the next two days. The crowd mentality got factored in once again.

There was lots to take pictures of there. Boats anchored on the north side:





One of the wrecks





 The other wreck



The cut to the ocean



Pearl happy at anchor






Exploring the mangroves






Reefs on the ocean side


Brandon is always ready to chill out so when he found this chair on the beach it was time to enjoy a fine moment in the cruising lifestyle.


Salem did a Bahamian snow angel




As always, our favorite way to end the day is with another amazing sunset.






All good things must come to an end and although we were loving the Abacos Islands it was closing in on the time we needed to head back up the east coast of the U.S. and a weather window to cross back to the states was going to be open for two days and then close for up to a week. We needed to take advantage of it and after 3 nights at Manjack Cay we started home.

We worked out a plan to go almost direct with a stop along the way to set the timing to cross the Gulf Stream and arrive in Fort Pierce, Florida in the early afternoon near a slack tide so we could enter the Fort Pierce inlet at the safest tide.

Our plan was to sail as much as we could and motor as little as we could. Since we were now very experienced at night crossing the first part of our trip was almost 24 hours of non stop sailing through the night with just a 30 minute stop at Spanish Cay to turn in our Bahamian immigration paperwork. We made it about 3/4 of the way across the little Bahama bank to anchor off a small uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere, called Mangrove Cay at around 9 A.M. the next morning.






We then tried to sleep all day with a planned departure of 9 P.M. Mother nature treated us to another amazing sunset and after a good meal we were on our way to make our gulf stream crossing.


The winds were light that night and after about 2 hours of the section crossing the little Bahama bank we needed to motor sail the next two hours before leaving the shallows of the bank and going into the deep water of the crossing.

This night and the previous night we were thankful to have the auto pilot on the boat. There were a few hours between sunset and moon rise that it was pitch black with clouds over the stars. The light winds made it hard to steer and with no light both Brandon and I found it was difficult to maintain our orientation and stay on course. There was a couple of times where it felt impossible to steer a straight course. We turned on the auto pilot (alias..crew member Otto) and he did an awesome job maintaining our course and we relaxed.

It was a little nerve racking passing through the narrow channel through the reef at Memory Rock at 1 A.M. in the pitch black, but we made it through into the deep water successfully and started the long haul across the gulf stream. About 17 hours after raising anchor at Mangove Cay the night before, we entered the Fort Pierce inlet and made the calls to figure out how to clear U.S. Customs and Immigration. Since we all needed to go to the local airport to clear in we got a slip at the Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce to get the paperwork done, take a taxi to clear customs and also take long hot showers and a good night of rest.

Harbortown Marina is where we first moved onto Pearl so in some ways it feels like one of our homes. Although we didnt see the folks we met here in January, we did reconnect with cruisers we met at Marathon Key and Key Biscayne which was fun. We have a maintenance issue to resolve here but when we do, we will start our trek up the East Coast of the U.S. for the summer.






Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back On The Grid And Finally In The Abacos Islands! With a fun stop on the way.

It's been a while since we had internet and there is much to catch up on. We finally made it to the Abacos Islands in the Northern Bahamas and they are beautiful. This has been our destination since leaving Marathon in the Keys about 6 weeks ago. The journey up from Great Harbour Cay, Berries Islands in our last blog post to here has been quite an adventure is many ways. The crossing from the Berries to the Abacos is the longest and in my mind the most challenging crossing that we would encounter and I was being very careful to try to make sure we could do it as safely as we could in the best weather.Here is a quick tour of our travels since the last post.



The first part of the trip was a 6 hour trip from Great Harbour Cay around the north end of the Berries and down to Devil's Cay. We met some nice folks on a boat named Hawk in Great Harbour that had been to Devil's and told us about what to do there. They were supposed to be going there the next day. After about an hour of sailing I hear them hailing us on the radio.."Pearl, this is Hawk". I said to our crew .. I wonder why they are calling us. Brandon just said..Dad... they are right behind us.. so we had a laugh. They decided to follow us out and were joining us at Devils as they waited fore a chance to head south to Nassau. The best part about this was that they knew the impossible to pass except at high tide channel that brings you to a very protected anchorage behind Devil's Cay instead of being in the exposed and big current anchorages the maps had.

At the north end of the Berries are two small cays that have been purchased by the cruise ship lines and converted into deserted island concept beaches. They bulldozed the sand and brought in hundreds of lounge chairs and also set up playgrounds for the kids. It seems there is at least one cruise ship there every day with many small boats providing parasailing, shuttles to the islands, jet skiing etc. We had to sail right by one of them.



Hawk decided to motor sail and they got there ahead of us. When we arrived they watched us and talked us in to anchor next to them. Its very cool when you find others that are willing to help you get to the best places to anchor and not be with all the others that go to the mapped anchorages. We spent 4 great nights at Devil's, just Hawk and Pearl,  and explored the area. Devil's Cay is a secluded island grouped with a few others of similar size. They are undeveloped and there is really nothing around. I could go on and on about all the things we did but let me hit the highlights.

Pearl at anchor..it doesn't get much better than this.




Blue Hole Flips: On the adjacent Hoffman's Cay is a blue hole that is a short hike from a small beach. There was a cliff overlooking it that you could jump off. Brandon and Salem did flips off it and they convinced me to do the leap. The water was blue in color and somewhat salty. Local lore has it that there is a big grouper in there that suns itself on the surface during the day but we didn't see it.




The food highlight of Devil's Cay was catching and preparing our first Conch meal. We were told by others that there was limited conch there but in our exploration we found the secret conch grounds and caught 16 without even getting out of the dinghy. "Caught" is a relative term since they sit on the bottom and move like a snail every so often. If you have every tried to open an oyster you get the picture of trying to geet the meat out of a conch. You need a rock hammer, knives and technique. We put together all the tips we had been given and went to the beach. Fortunately, John from Hawk came in to give us some hands on direction. Brandon and Salem became the conch cleaning experts in no time.















Brandon is still trying to land a big fish for eating. He did manage to fight this Barracuda for about 15 minutes and land it but you cannot eat them due to them carrying the ciguatera poison found in the reef fish they eat.

 

A few of the other highlights of our stay at Devil's Cay were dolphins feeding alongside Pearl one day. Sharks circling Pearl one evening and a full night of thunderstorms and squalls. The holding there was excellent so the anchor held fine, however, the crews of Hawk and Pearl did not get much sleep that one night.

The weather finally looked like it was working in our favor to finally head north to the Abacos Islands where we had as our goal since leaving the U.S. Our friends on Hawk caught the early morning high tide to head south to Nassau and we waited for the early evening high tide to exit through the "skinny water" and head north. To get to the Abacos mid day at slack tide so we can go through the cuts meant yet another night crossing of at least 14 hours. In the end it took us 17 hours to reach Hope Town. This was our most difficult and longest passage yet. The winds were exactly as planned as we left and we entered the deep water of the Northwest Providence Channel as it was getting dark. This channel is a major shipping lane for cruise ships and cargo ships transiting the Bahamas as well as heading to the U.S. It was a crazy first 5 or 6 hours looking at all the ships surrounding us and making sure we weren't on converging courses. Although somewhat unnerving, we made it through just fine with large ships passing close by but far enough away for safety.

We rounded the "Hole In The Wall" which is the southern tip of the Great Abacos Island and turned more north out of the shipping lanes some time after midnight. The challenge of this crossing is that there is no place to pull in almost the entire way due to very rocky coast lines and no towns on the lower part of the island. As we headed up the east side of the island the winds picked up, the swells got huge (maybe about 10 feet or so) and the chop was strong in a different angle from the swells. This was the first time I had to reef the mainsail and we had both reefs in it to minimize the amount of sail we had up. The next several hours we uncomfortable but we always felt safe with the solid feel of Pearl. Exhausted from the full night crossing in challenging conditions we made it to the first cut to enter the calm protected Sea of Abaco. I asked some folks on the radio and they said to take a look at the first cut and see if we felt comfortable doing it. Evidently the locals would call it "do-able" but it is a difficult entry. They said if we didn't feel comfortable then to go north another several miles to the North Bar Channel. We got to the first channel and it did not look welcoming so we headed further to go into the larger channel. When we got to the North Bar Channel the swells were still large heading into the channel and we could see big waves crashing on each side on the reefs. The only thing we had going for us is that we timed the tides perfectly so the current issue would be minimized. After watching the timing of the swells we headed in under full power timing it just right and passed very close to the huge breaking waves on each side. Then breathed a sigh of relief that we had made it and were in the protected waters of the Sea of Abaco. Pretty cool drama huh? It was challenging but fun at the same time.

Our friends on Hawk insisted that one of the places we had to go to in the Abacos was Hope Town so Brandon plotted a course to get us there. Hope Town turns out to be a really nice place with a protected harbour and a town that reminds us of a typical Cape Cod town but even more attractive. The streets are narrow and each building is painted in vivid pastel colors adding to the scenery. Its the fist "civilization" we had seen since Florida and we got sandwiches and ice cream to celebrate our successful crossing.

If you look closely you can see Pearl out on her mooring....



The best view of Hope Town is from the working kerosene light house next to the harbour.






We have been here for 4 days. Each day we have sea turtles visiting Pearl. The best part is that the mooring we are on is owned by the Hope Town Inn and Marina and they let us use the whole facility. We have spent hours playing corn hole and swimming in the pool.



We are having a great time but there is still much to explore in the Abacos Islands. Tomorrow we will sail over to Marsh Harbour where there are larger stores and finally re-provision. It has been about 6 weeks since we did grocery shopping and we are starting to break into the canned goods now. Once we have the food on board we will head out to anchors in some fun spots to do some snorkeling and fishing.

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