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 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.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce, sitting here in Wayne, Abaco sure looks lovely. It's been maybe 40 years since we were there.


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