Cruising in the Abaco’s

Cover photo: sunrise in Marsh Harbor.

We tried to leave Spanish Wells, following Pegu Club out of the harbor one afternoon. We had the main sail up and the anchor bridle off. When Anita turned on the key and pushed the button to start the engine nothing happened. Tom tried too, still nothing. We thought about sailing off anchor, but decided to drop the sail and trouble shoot the problem instead. This happened around 2PM. Tom had spent the day rigging the steering lines for the WindPilot self-steering out in the hot sun. Then he had to dive in the airless engine room. We took apart the engine control panel in the enclosed cockpit as well. Buffing wires and rerouting a few made it work, but the real problem is a couple broken prongs inside a wiring harness. No spare on board so we connected the wires directly and will complete the repair once back in the states this summer.

The next morning we left before sunrise at 6:00 AM to sail from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera 65 nautical miles to the northern Bahamas island group known as the Abaco’s. We had light winds, but were able to sail most of the way, only turning on the engine in the late afternoon. We crossed paths with this container ship…and Pegu Club who left from Egg Island at sunrise. Their towed dinghy is hiding behind a wave.We both anchored in the Lee of Lynard Cay shortly after entering Great Abaco Sound via Little Harbor Cut. It was an easy off the wind 11.5 hour sail and the WindPilot self-steering wind vane quietly and competently accomplished all the offshore steering! Yeah, another successful project completed!

The next day we sailed 20 miles northward to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco. This is one of the larger settlements on Great Abaco. We visited both a large hardware and grocery store, both the biggest we’ve seen all winter with the exception of Nassau. Then back aboard to enjoy the sunset.The next day, we stayed aboard and celebrated Kimberly’s Birthday by grilling steaks and hamburgers on the grill accompanied with parsley potatoes and carrots and brownies and chocolate malted milkshakes for dessert. So happy to have sailed so much with Kimberly and Jeff this winter. We wish them well on their return trip to CT. The next day they headed west, while we headed east for a nostalgic return to Hopetown on Elbow Cay. We cruised here nearly thirty years ago. We had a great walk to On Da Beach restaurant and enjoyed a relaxing and delicious lunch. Thanks for the tip Marcia!We had to wait out some nasty weather at anchor near Eagle Rock…Enjoyed more pretty sunsets …Explored the still operating kerosene historic lighthouse and the amazing view from the top…And a two mile walk on the beach, love the sound of crashing waves on a beach…We enjoyed our six days in Hopetown. Then we motored to Man of War Cay about six miles away. It was low tide when we left. Easy to see how shallow the water was; 4-6 feet deep for a mile or so. Interesting that the water color in this part of the Bahamas is a deeper green, some people call it emerald green, rather than the bright turquoise in the Exumas. This is looking straight down into six feet of water with a sandy bottom while sailing…After one rocking night with south winds; we decided to move back to Marsh Harbor for our final stock up before heading to sea, and north toward New England for the summer. There are other cruisers getting ready for their crossings as well. Always fun to compare plans and swap sea stories. On our walk to Maxwells, a large grocery store, we spotted a cruiser on a folding bicycle with a Burley Travoy trailer holding two ten pound propane tanks. Tom stopped him by asking a question so we were able to see what we purchased online last month. He said, it’s the best purchase he ever made! We’re looking forward to getting ours!

On Wednesday afternoon, May 8; we decided to get the boat ready for sea as we had a weather window to go offshore. We rigged safety lines on deck, disassembled the dinghy, secured a lot of loose items, bought fuel and water. We left at first light on Thursday, and listened to Chris Parker on SSB for a weather update as we sailed out of Marsh Harbor. We also checked a few apps we use to predict weather. Unfortunately, our weather window had diminished. We chose to abort this attempt rather than sail into a gale near Beaufort, NC nearly 500 miles away. We anchored on the south side of Great Guana and enjoyed another new beautiful Bahama anchorage. The next day we had a leisurely sail to Green Turtle Cay. Tom dove over the side to check the anchor as this is a grassy anchorage; labeled poor holding. He also scrubbed and inspected the bottom of the boat. The next day we went ashore to walk around this historical loyalist settlement. It is very neat and clean. It had the best new dinghy dock we’ve ever seen!How’s this for a front yard tree?After a couple days anchored here we moved into quiet Bluff Cay cove on Green Turtle Cay. We were the only boat in this small nearly enclosed harbor. The only sound here is the twitter of birds. The view includes sea turtles and beautiful houses hidden in the trees. One morning some locals were out for their morning swim and stopped to say hello.

We continue to enjoy sailing in the Bahamas as we prepare our boat and ourselves for the voyage back to Connecticut (CT) for the summer months. Yes, we plan to sail south again to avoid a cold winter and we love to sail year round. Looking forward to connecting with family and friends in CT.

Nassau and Eleuthera

We were a bit skeptical about sailing to Nassau after hearing that 80% of the Bahamians live there and the crime rate is high. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how friendly all the local people we engaged in conversations were. The majority of the Bahamian people are very kind and friendly. It is, more importantly, an international airport hub from NY and the reason we decided to go there.

The day after Alex and Jenna left we bagged all the laundry and took the dinghy to Junkanoo beach. We hauled our 10 foot Porta-Bote way up beyond the high tide mark and locked it to a railing where local merchants hawk their wares later in the day. It’s also where the taxis hang out waiting to give tourists a tour. The mile long walk to a very large laundry facility was up a long gradual hill. Tom commented that this laundry was well thought out for its purpose. It had great ventilation, large aisles, and hundreds of machines, all in working order! We enjoyed a much easier walk back although the bags were still heavy. That afternoon we moved the boat a mile east to be closer to the big grocery store we walked to and from. Once again loaded down with too much to carry. We seriously need to find a cart with big wheels! We walked more than five miles today and carried a fair bit; our arms and necks are weary.

Has anyone heard of cruisers midnight? Many cruisers adopt the clock of the sun, like farmers we rise and rest early. Consequently, 9PM seems like midnight. By moving a mile east, we had escaped the throbbing musical entertainment at Junkanoo beach which ends at 1:30AM, half-way into our sleep cycle. Now we were anchored in front of Atlantis Park to the north. They had an easy listening live band that started playing in the early afternoon. Around cruisers midnight, that was drowned out by a dance club on the south side of the river and, you guessed it the noise blared until 1:30 AM. Who needs sleep?

The next morning we hoisted the anchor at 7AM and left Nassau. We sailed close to the wind for 11 hours; hand steering for the first 4 as we were too close to the wind for the electric auto pilot. We were so relieved to get out of the rocky seas by entering Alabaster Bay. Unfortunately, we were greeted by all too familiar loud Bahamian head banging music complete with a lot of foul language this time. Thankfully the entertainment ended at 9:30 PM. Ah, finally a good night sleep!

The next day Pegu Club sailed into the harbor from Rock Sound. We gathered on Lone Star for a fun game of cards and cruise planning as we are both heading north.

We enjoyed a two hour walk the next afternoon with Jeff and Kimberly. We wandered across the island and around the remains of a World War II military base and to this beautiful pink sand beach.Then back to this view of our snug and beautiful harbor. We shared a slow-cooker beef stew and biscuit dinner followed by fresh brownies (thanks to K&J) and a good sailing spy movie: “Riddle of the Sands”, on Lone Star.

The next day we sailed in company with Pegu Club from Alabaster Bay to Royal Island Harbor at the north end of Eleuthera. It was real nice to get a first hand report about the conditions in Current Cut from Kimberly via VHF radio. It was much easier than we anticipated! She even took pictures of us right after we came through the cut.We stayed aboard our boats, visiting each other occasionally, in the nearly enclosed private island harbor of Royal Island for four days. South winds above 20 knots were prevalent throughout this time. Luckily, only the last day had rain squalls. The south winds would have been great for continuing on to the Abacos except for the accompanying waves. The early morning when the wind was at its peak Anita got up several times to check our position. At 4AM we had 3 boats in front of us, at 5 we had only 2. One had dragged their anchor and ended up well behind us. No idea how it didn’t hit us, but very thankful! There was no one on board that boat or 2 others anchored nearby. We did meet the owner two days later, just as we were hauling our anchor to head to Spanish Wells for a few days. He asked us,”Who moved my boat?” We told him the wind and a dragging anchor. He and his family were staying with a friend on a nearby island for the storm. He was very lucky he sustained no damage.

Spanish Wells is a lovely, well decorated, colorful and clean town. On Easter Sunday we walked the beautiful north beach for miles.

A couple days later we spotted these dolphin as we entered the harbor.How’s this for a front lawn?Tom is enjoying the challenge of installing the used WindPilot self-steering. He disassembled and cleaned everything before installing. Rigging lines and tuning to ensure it will steer in any weather. Haven’t attached the wind or water blades yet.We mentioned wanting a cart to Kimberly and she suggested the folding versatile Burley bicycle trailer/hand cart. Tom found one on eBay and we won the bid! It will be in CT waiting for us. We have decided to go back to SYC this summer. We plan to arrive in June. Anita’s current project is restocking the freezer with homemade meals for the upcoming passage.

Next up: heading north to the Abacos.

Looking Back – Bahamas Sailing to Long Island and Conception

Photo: Gordon’s Beach on Long Island

In mid February, we left Georgetown to revisit Long Island and head north a bit for our first visit to Conception Island.

We sailed to Calabash Bay in the north end of Long Island to join Sea Ya for the next day’s motor-sail to Conception Island.

We used our quiet time in Paradise to work on some boat projects, and catch-up on sleep and reading. I believe Tom was still working on the electric windless installation, which turned out to be quite the challenge, but oh so worth it!! I also made ice cream, muffins and bread, restocking the larder. We heard from nearby cruisers that the snorkeling was not that great during this visit. There were very few fish to see and conditions were a bit cloudy on the reefs as bad weather had passed recently stirring things up. The water was also still a bit chilly and a wetsuit would have made it better. Conception Island is now part of the Bahamas conservation park so the wildlife here is protected. No fishing allowed and there are LOTS of birds. Perhaps the birds are eating all the fish?

One evening all the cruisers in the harbor gathered on the beach to let the children play, the adults chat about boats and places we’ve been or want to go, and to watch the sunset. Below is a short.video.

After three very pleasant days, our weather window for this open harbor was going to close so we needed to move on. We chose to return to Salt Pond, Long Island for a few more quiet days in this oh so friendly community. The sail down the west coast over some reefs and shallow sand banks was beautiful.

This time we were there on a Saturday and made it to the farmers market in time to get some delicious baked goods and fresh eggs and local produce.

We also met up with Bill on Charisma and went to lunch with him to Tiny’s at the far end of Thompson Bay one leisurely afternoon.

Another evening we were invited on the new Reach for a delicious dinner of fresh caught fish. We really enjoyed spending time with Mark and Michele especially when we jointly rented a car for a day and explored the south end of the island with them.

First stop was this old church:

We walked the path behind the church to the shrimp hole, but did not swim here as planned as a famous wildlife photographer was busy at work in the small cave.We found the BEST beach in the Bahamas: Gordon’s Beach at the southern end of Long Island has super fine sand, like talcum powder. Aren’t the colors gorgeous?

Next stop was a Clarence Town church designed by Father Jerome well known for his designs throughout the Bahamas.Unfortunately, it was locked so we couldn’t experience the 360 degree view. Though we took some pictures from the steps:We toured the coast here and a nice Marina and then had lunch in a nearby restaurant.

This is now the windy east shore. After lunch we went to the famous Dean’s Blue Hole. It’s over 600 feet deep! Tom just had to go inspect it.

We returned to Georgetown the last day of February needing to fill up the water tanks. Fantastic downwind sail with a nice shady deck to lounge in.

Real nice excursion away from our winter home base. Life is good living the dream.

Sailing Exumas with Friends and Family

On Tuesday, March 12 Jeff and Kimberly on Pegu Club sailed into Georgetown harbor and anchored nearby us at Sand Dollar beach. They brought some groceries for us from Florida, such good friends! Yes, they’ve been carrying our stuff for 2 months! Who does that? They didn’t even succumb to eating the dark chocolate bars. Such will power! We are always happy to see them and spend time together. Dinner, ice cream, card games, route planning, and rainy hikes across the island; making memories and having a blast!

Boats anchored at Sand Dollar beach.The east side of Stocking Island at Sand Dollar.

Found a good view of our boat hiding under a tree while waiting for the light rain to stop.

Three days later Dad and Ilse were due to arrive from New Hampshire. We motored Lone Star from Sand Dollar beach to Georgetown’s Kidd’s Cove in the early morning hours to get water, do some hand laundry on board, grocery shop in town, and then pick up our guests at the airport. After the first wet water run in the dinghy, Tom agreed we should move again to a more secure harbor; Goat Cay. A wet dinghy ride is not the way to welcome our respected elders aboard our humble floating home for a 12 day vacation.

Tom hitched a ride to the airport and arranged the return taxi. Before our guests knew it, Lloyd the friendly Bahamian taxi driver was loading their luggage into the taxi for them. Here they are arriving on Lone Star via dinghy:

They arrived on the boat around 2 PM on Friday, March 15. We provided big drinks and lunch right away.  They had a rest, then we toured the boat and they unpacked. After a good nights rest, Tom & Anita left them alone on board to enjoy the gorgeous view at Goat Cay. We completed the last of the provisioning by hitch hiking to Island Meats, a small grocery about 4 miles away. The locals are so friendly and happy to share their ride, we learn a bit more about the area each time too! Our last ride this day was from a man at the Exuma Foundation. They provide guided tours of the Exuma’s and organize volunteers for a variety of projects to help those in need, like rebuild a house.

This is what we came home to, Dad and Ilse lounging on the stern soaking up the view and the sun:

We offered options: a swim/snorkel in this beautiful bay or a sail to another harbor. Dad really wanted to go for a short sail. After lunch we hoisted the anchor and sailed north until the channel narrows then tacked back and forth south to anchor at Chat ‘n Chill beach a couple hours later.

On Sunday, we all dinghied ashore for Beach Church and even joined the choir. The gathering afterward with coffee and baked goods was fun too. we did a small boat project: adding markers to our main anchor line that Dad just delivered to us.  Seeing the anchor was most of the way up we motored around the corner from the very busy anchorage to quieter Sand Dollar beach. Dad worked really hard lowering, raising, and once again lowering the anchor with his big toe! We didn’t like the first spot we’d chosen; too far from the beach.We anchored near Pegu Club and were all soon in the water snorkeling to the nearby reefs and beach.Dad, the chemist, commented about the extra fine sand in the Bahamas. Tom’s answer: here soft limestone is pounded by the sea to make fine sand. In New England, hard granite is pulverized by the ocean waves to make gravel and courser sand.

Jeff & Kimberly came over for a visit at sundown and we played a game of hearts with them. Lots of laughs! After another leisurely day at Sand Dollar we moved Lone Star across to Kidd’s Cove to top up the water tanks that we had abandoned on windy Friday. Dad, Ilse and I took a short walk around a small part of town. Then picked up a few groceries at Exuma Market.

On Tuesday, we enjoyed a five hour, 35 mile, down wind sail north to Lee Stocking Island in the Exumas. Pegu Club led the way. We enjoyed a Hearts rematch that evening.

The next day we all hiked ashore to stretch our legs. We found a good view of our boat and had extra people around to take our picture.The island is now deserted, but was home to a marine research center until 2015. We saw an abandoned air strip and a ghost town. A short trail led to a beautiful view of the beaches on the east side of the island.We returned to Lone Star and discovered a nearby sail boat aground on the shallow sands. Tom motored over to lend a hand to this unknown cruiser by first attempting to heel the boat over with a halyard; that didn’t work. Then he relocated their anchor into deeper water. As the tide rose they were able to winch themselves free. We watched from the deck.Swimming here was a definite challenge as there was a current to contend with. Streaming a life jacket on a rope behind the boat was a necessary precaution. Dad still enjoyed his daily swim.

Kimberly joined us in the evening for a card game – Oh Heck this time, quite fun!Dad and Ilse enjoying a beautiful sunset!

On Friday morning a guy on a neighboring boat stopped by asking for our email address. He took the following picture of Lone Star this morning and told us the pot of gold must be on board. We’re still looking, ha!On Friday, March 22, we waved farewell to our friends on Pegu Club as they continued sailing north and we returned to Georgetown. We timed the weather well. We enjoyed another easy downwind run, this one taking six hours to go the 35 miles. We anchored at Honeymoon beach for protection in the upcoming southeasterly blow. Seeing there was no possibility of card games with our friends on Pegu Club we turned to movie watching for evening entertainment. Watching Red October in stereo while the boat is rocking was a highlight. The last three nights we laughed watching Odd Couple first season episodes before bed time.

Swimming in Honeymoon beach was easy and fun. Although once the tide was too low and our guests complained of a stinging sensation in the grass near shore. Thankfully, the sting washed away when they swam back to the boat. A favorite pass time for our guests was playing games: cribbage, barricade, hearts, and UNO.We couldn’t pry them away from the Barricade board this evening to see this pretty sunset, so I showed them the pictures.Sunday was too windy for a dinghy ride and it threatened to rain all day, but held off until over night.On Monday, we moved the boat to a reef near Honeymoon beach in hopes of spotting more fish on their last full day in the Bahamas. Guess we didn’t anchor close enough. There was a current running, making it a challenge to swim. Then it turned cloudy making it very hard to direct them to the reef. They gave up without finding it. They saw only sand!

We motored over to Kidd’s Cove that evening so we would be a short dinghy ride to shore the next morning for their taxi to the airport. We had a real nice visit and believe they had a nice vacation too!Spring has begun and cruisers are beginning to head north now that weather patterns are settling a bit. Time for us to head north as well to see more of the Bahamas.

Sailing with Sandy

We’ve spent two months in the Bahamas so far. Still amazed at the view of the blue ocean and aqua green Bahama Banks, the warm temperatures, the fun and helpful cruising community here, and the Bahamian style foods like jerk chicken and baked macaroni- yum!

However, the mail back home was stacking up and we needed a replacement wind vane. We were ever so thankful that friend Sandy Gordon was up for a visit and willing to bring those items and some surprise dark chocolate to us! Sandy had previously sailed her own boat, Summer Wind to the Abaco’s, but she had never been this far south; to the Exuma’s, in the Bahamas.

Sandy flew in to Georgetown on January 29th. Rather than a mid-day arrival she had an extra flight halfway from Atlanta then back again; and a final trip on a different plane. Her arrival at dinner time was a relief for us all. We had anchored in beautiful Goat Cay to ensure a calm anchorage and a short walk and dinghy ride.

The next day we motored over to Kidd’s Cove to buy a Bahamas cell chip for Sandy’s phone and do some looking around town and shopping. Then it was lunch time! Let’s have “a burger and a refreshing grapefruit beer” at Choppy Waters, the Exuma Yacht Club restaurant.

The upper deck is a great place to eat and to capture the view of our boat in the harbor.

After topping up the water tanks, we motored across the harbor to anchor at the gathering spot on Chat ‘n Chill beach. The holding is tricky in spots and this was our first time anchoring with the new Rocna 20 anchor and new electric windless, we had fun bringing it up and down by stepping on the electric switches or using a handheld remote as we adjusted our position relative to the beach and nearby boats. Wow, what a nice improvement to our boat life; loving this!

Sandy and I took an afternoon walk on the beach and spotted a ray. Then we quizzed some cruisers about weaving baskets with silver palm fronds.

The next day, Tom and Sandy attended a Georgetown cruisers were beach seminar on batteries.

Then we set sail with 3 other boats for Hog Cay to the southeast of Great Exuma. We made it through Hog Cay Cut before high tide and anchored for the night. The next morning, we were the last to raise the anchor and head south to the Jumento’s. Unfortunately, the engine immediately quit as the alternator belt broke. So we re-anchored to replace it with a spare. Winds were light and behind us. However, we chose to conserve engine running so had a leisurely sail south to Water Cay. We broke another belt just outside the anchorage. That belt only lasted an hour! Once in the harbor, Tom spent some time rechecking belt, alternator and water pump alignment. He also electrically disconnected the alternator to see if the belt would run smoother.

Sandy promptly went snorkeling when we arrived. There was a reef very nearby, but not many plants or fish at it. She also saw a 5 foot nurse shark.

The crew of Allie May came by on their dinghy having snorkeled at a further away reef. They promptly told their kids to get out of the water as there was a large bull shark in the area. That ended our plans for snorkeling here!

The weather was real nice for two more days then predicted to get windy with rain squalls. So rather than continue south and get stuck there, we decided to stay put for one day to enjoy the private anchorage and head back north the next day. Hard to believe it’s been a week with Sandy on board already; let’s do some laundry the old fashioned way in buckets! Agitating the wash with a plunger is kind of fun. The clothes dry fast in this sun and wind!

Enjoyed eating dinner on deck and having Sea Ya crew over in the evening to watch the sun go down.

We had a very long day sailing to windward the next day, 9-5 if I recall correctly. Lots of tacking in light winds and calm seas. We had hoped to go to Long Island, but ran out of daylight. Anchored south of Hog Cay Cut again with only one other boat. The next morning we left early, following the PDQ 36′ catamaran, Allie May through the winding cut. I was surprised to see them utilizing the western passage which is shallower and the way through unmarked on our Explorer chart. Unfortunately, they need less water than we do. Although we thought we had timed our departure right before high tide, it was actually several hours before and our rudder and stern were soon aground. We waited about an hour, then were able to gently pull off using an anchor we had dropped via dinghy.

We were not surprised to learn the rudder was once again off to one side making steering to starboard impossible. We were able to get back to the anchorage safely. Then we ate lunch. Anita emptied the aft cabin and Tom worked to re-center and re-pin the rudder. A more permanent fix is on our list for the next haul-out. The next day we waited until one hour before high tide, put our dagger boards down as an early warning for shallow water and followed the straighter eastern passage on the Explorer chart. Depths never read below 6 feet, we need a little less than 4. Yeah, we made it!

We raised the sails and enjoyed a quick downwind sail anchoring at Sand Dollar beach on Stocking Island.

yWe took a walk on the beach that afternoon and discovered a band of cruisers playing cool jazz music on our way back.

We left Tom there while Sandy and Anita went back to the boat to use the facilities and get drinks. Then Anita picked Tom up with the dinghy at sunset. This appears to be a weekly event that we hope to catch again!

The next day we motored over to volleyball beach to take in a solar seminar and then motored on to Goat Cay to hide from the wind and for Sandy to enjoy one last snorkel in this clear protected cove. No sharks here!We walked to Shirley’s at Fish Fry for lunch on Sunday. On February 11th we all shared a taxi to the airport. Sad to say good bye to Sandy, and thankful she made the trip! We were able to clear our replacement wind vane through Bahamian Customs. No problem retrieving it once we provided their receipt, our receipt and a copy of our cruising permit. We were also lucky to share a taxi back to the boat!

Hope you enjoyed sailing in the Exumas with us Sandy, you were a great guest. You definitely experienced the real cruising lifestyle. Yes, we really do get to maintain our boat in beautiful harbors. {Note from Tom: the alternator belt issue seems to be better. Update in the next blog. (Always keep them wanting more😎). }