Monday, May 20, 2013

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

We are 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.

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