Friday, January 24, 2014

Ahoy Exumas!!

Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, to Warderick Wells Cay, Exuma Land and Sea Park
January 16-19, 2014

Wednesday, Jan 15 – While we pushed to get our last blog update posted at the Shipyard (a new restaurant in Spanish Wells on the very eastern end of the island – the chips & pineapple salsa were delish!), the tide was just starting to come in, and the extended mud flat was just covered with water.  Great white herons were nabbing dinner; the oystercatchers had taken off.  While Fred was adding a few last-minute photos and proof-reading, Dorothy noticed fins moving through the water.  Since the water was so shallow, it was possible to get a good look at this 2' fish, actively stirring up the bottom as it moved along, and even a decent photo through the water:
A bonefish!  There were several more readily visible in the water, but not as big or as close.   We had heard of people spearing bonefish, but hadn't seen them.  Voila! 

Meantime, another cold front with strong north winds and squalls was due.  We had planned to head over to Royal Island at the end of the day, but had pushed our luck time-wise, and by the time we got back to the boat, it was nearly upon us:
Yet another cold front
Cold front dark clouds overtaking Spanish Wells
We decided to stay put on our mooring another night, enjoy another day in Spanish Wells, and move over to Royal Harbor the next day, in preparation for heading south to the Exumas on the post-frontal north winds, after the predicted squally day Thursday. 

Thursday, January 16 – Happy 24th birthday to Dorothy's son Ian!! 

Since we were still in Spanish Wells, we were able to send a happy birthday wish on the “day of”!!  Ian had just emailed excerpts from a letter Dorothy wrote to her mother when he was one year old, wherein his first and only word was “bop.”  Unfortunately, we don't have any photos from that age on the computer.  Drat!  Here is Ian in August 2013, relaxing and sailing with us in Rhode Island.  Ian, we are thinking of you!!
Ian Trombulak, August 2013
Here is the Bo Hengy fast ferry heading out of Spanish Wells toward Harbour Island.
Bo Hengy fast ferry
It runs daily (except for Tuesdays when they run the freight ferry with slightly different hours) from Nassau to Spanish Wells to Harbour Island and back.  Sometime we might like to come back and take the fast ferry over to Harbour Island … we hear the experience of going through the Devil's Backbone – an area that is so thick with coral heads that it is strongly recommended that cruisers not traverse it without a hired pilot – on the fast ferry is quite amazing.

We had noticed that Spanish Wells had a marine railway and removable piece of street, and we happened by when they had just launched a boat that had been worked on.  Below is a photo as they hauled the cradle blocks back in. 
Spanish Wells Marine Railroad cradle blocks
Dorothy also snapped a brand new yellow house with the trim being painted orange … I love the warm colors … but wait, I love the cool colors, too … I just love color!!  And the colors of the houses in the Bahamas are so lively!! 
A beauty!  Love it!!
Speaking of color … Dorothy paid a second visit to the Islander store, which happened to carry fabric.  Between the two visits, she has built a stash for many projects! 
Boat stash ... 
Now, finally, we bid farewell to Spanish Wells, which we much enjoyed.  Incidentally, we met a number of former cruisers who had bought houses there.  Hmmm …

After a brief sail over to Royal Island and nachos with guacamole for dinner, we were poised to head south first thing in the morning.  Dorothy was to be captain, and took time in the evening to chart our course for the day – from Royal Island, Eleuthera, to Allans Cay, Exumas!

Friday, January 17 – Having figured out how to create waypoints and routes on the chart plotter (finally) just before the trip south from Little Harbour to Royal Island, this was another good day for using waypoints, what with the navigation of going through Fleming Channel and needing to watch for coral heads in the Middle Ground of the Exuma Banks, which we would be traversing near low tide.  Dorothy got her waypoints entered and route created while Fred listened to Chris Parker (weather) on the SSB (single side band radio), then we set off, 7 am. 

Uh oh – engine blower fan no work!!  Taking out the panels on the galley and aft cabin sides of the engine to provide ventilation, we forged ahead.  Something to work on in the Exumas.  What would we do without a boat project!

Dorothy's thought was that, since the wind was to be light and from the north, we would fly the spinnaker, which had given us great speed in light wind in the Chesapeake.  We got the spinnaker up, but the wind was so light, and so directly behind us, and with 3-4' waves, that the spinnaker was slatting and collapsing.  We deployed the whisker pole to hold the spinnaker out, but the wind dropped to 4-6 knots, and we could not make enough way.  Our route for the day was 45-50 nm, with no alternative stopping point short of Allans Cay where we would have protection from the north.  Unfortunately, making 2.5 knots was just not going to get us there!  So we had to snuff the spinnaker and fire up the iron jenny – rats!!  We were bummed to motor on a north wind, but on the bright side, we got our batteries good and charged up, and we got to the Middle Ground area around noon, with great visibility.  We took turns on the helm and spotting on the bow, looking for areas of coral:
Coral ahead, look out!
Passing a coral patch
With good light, the coral head areas were easy to see, very black in the water.  As we got near the end of the coral head area, the cloud cover gradually increased, and it got harder and harder to see into the water.  We were glad to be through it, reaching Beacon Cay, below:
Beacon Cay, our first view of the Exumas
You can see in this photo how the cloud cover and light have changed!

By 1540 (3:40 pm), we were anchored in the channel between Allans and Leaf Cays, along with 15 other boats seeking shelter from strong north winds expected overnight – the last boat in.  (A catamaran came in around 6 pm, saw how full it was, and headed back out into the darkness … arg!)  We were more exposed to waves curling around the mouth of the harbor than we would have liked, and took a dinghy ride to see if there were any better alternatives further up the channel or around the other side of Leaf Cay.  Finding none, and with our anchor good and dug, we stayed put. 
Allans Cay anchorage
Big Rock to port quarter, Allans Cay anchorage
During our exploration, we learned from another cruiser that the current was strong enough that the boats swung at the tide change.  We did swing 180 degrees at 9 pm, then 180 degrees back at 3 am.  Dorothy got up and monitored to ensure we maintained adequate distance to our closest neighbor, and that the anchor held when we swung – all good.  After the 3 am swing, the wind picked up, and the anchorage got pretty rolly.  The ports in the forward cabin are SUCH a great feature of our boat, allowing us to monitor through such periods as we drift in and out of sleep. 

Allans Cay is famous for its dense population of iguanas.  However, we forgot all about going ashore to see them!  Next time!

Saturday, January 18 – Fred's turn to be captain today.  After the morning ritual of listening to Chris Parker, he got his waypoints entered and route created in the chart plotter, from Allans Cay to Warderick Wells Cay, where the Exuma Land and Sea Park Headquarters is located.  We hoped to get a mooring there, or, if none available, to anchor off Emerald Rock.  As we headed out from Allans Cay, one other boat had already left, one had come in after a rolly night next to Ship Channel Cay, and one had just dragged about 500' and re-anchored.  Apparently its anchor had come undug as the tide rose and the boat rolled and hobby-horsed in the confused waters generated by the current and now-heavier wind. 

What a different sailing day than the day before!  With north wind 15-18 knots gusting to 20, we started with reefed jib only, then eventually brought the jib out all the way, making over 7 knots at times.  It was a delightful broad reach most of the way, down the Exuma Banks in deep blue water.  We saw ten or so other boats also sailing down the banks.  Below is a boat behind us, unusual tanbark sails, also showing the blue color of the deep water:
Unusual tanbark sailed boat

As you get closer to shallower water and sandy bottom, the color of the water changes dramatically.  You can see both the deep blue water and the shallower aqua water in this photo:
Learning to "read the water"
Here is Captain Fred at the helm, thoroughly enjoying the great sailing today:
Captain Fred -- a great sailing day
We had radioed the park service at 9 am, and learned that no moorings were available for tonight.  The charts were iffy as to whether there was enough water to anchor close enough to shore to provide good protection from the north, but prospects were good enough to give it a shot.  As we made our turn between sand bores toward Warderick Wells Cay, with the wind still 18 knots gusting 20 and full jib out, we rolled the jib up about half way rather than trimming the full jib, thus tightening up for the close reach, reducing sail for easier furling soon, yet maintaining speed.  Masterfully executed, Cap'n!!

As we got closer in, we found the protection was adequate.  We nosed around and found enough water outside the park mooring field, anchoring in 7' at almost low tide (we draw 5'), putting out 90' of chain, 9:1 scope even allowing for a tidal range of 3', as there was plenty of room, and continued winds over 15 knots expected. 

Below is Emerald Rock, which it should be fun to snorkel around (as well as other areas) in the next few days as the wind dies down and it gets sunnier.  Shown near low tide:
Emerald Rock, Warderick Wells, Exuma Land and Sea Park
We dinghied over to the park headquarters, seen in the distance in this photo, which mostly shows the incredible color of the water:
Exuma Land and Sea Park, Warderick Wells Cay
Can you believe that color?  Seriously!!!  Over by the park headquarters, boats on park moorings:

We were thrilled to find our friends there, Guy and Pika on Tina and George and Alison on Wyvern III!  We had a cup of tea and caught up with Guy and Pika on Tina, then a delicious curry dinner and fun evening with all on Wyvern III, including six hands of Uno, of which Guy won five!!!  (We kept playing until someone else won, just to prove it could be done!)  Guy and Pika had cruised many times in this area, and Guy annotated our Explorer charts with some great places to snorkel, anchor, and visit. 

Sunday, January 19 – We listen to Chris Parker's weather forecasts “religiously” at 0630 Monday through Saturday; Sunday is everyone's day to sleep in.  Hurray!! 

Windy today, Fred working on the engine blower, me writing the blog.  Fred discovered the blower is shot.  It did come on when hot-wired before, then it did with a manual push on the blades, and now it is just plain dead.  We know they have one in Spanish Wells, so we can get one then, if not sooner, in Staniel Cay.  In the meantime, we will leave the engine compartment open when running the engine, for ventilation.
Fred in the port stern lazarette
Dead engine blower fan -- there's always something!
Even though it's windy, it's a gorgeous, sunny day.  With all this work done, maybe it's time for a hike!  Bye for now!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Southern Movement – Marsh Harbor to Eleuthera!

Southern Progress – Marsh Harbor to Eleuthera!
Friday, Jan 10 through Wednesday, Jan 15

Friday, January 10 – Well, actually before we dive into Friday, there is one left-over piece of business from Thursday, January 9. We got our blog for Thursday posted (using the internet at Snappa's, with fruit punch, as usual), just in time to make the 2nd half of a cruisers' happy hour over at the Jib Room. It was fun seeing cruisers that we had met and seen various places during our time in the Bahamas so far, and even Gary and Janie (Dream Catcher), who we worked with in Annapolis, and George and Alison (Wyvern III), who we met in Tangier!

When we got back to the boat from that, however, we found that the shackle had fallen off one of our dinghy hoist lines – arg!! No shackle, no hoisting the dinghy! A repair session ensued, with that shackle replaced and the shackles on both hoist lines seized, which they had not been. Hopefully no more missing shackles (there at least!).

Here is Fred leaning off the end of the boat, in the dark, fixing the shackle:
Fred replacing missing shackle
On Friday, Jan 10, we got up early, listened to Chris Parker (weather), and were thrilled to hear nothing negating our plans to head south today! We had been planning the next leg south with cruising friends Guy and Peeka (Tina) and Wyvern III, and agreed we would go as far as the Little Harbour area today on the ESE wind, probably anchoring at Lynyard Cay. The next day, Saturday, we would hole up with winds strong out of the south -- not a good day to continue on to Royal Island, Eleuthera; then we would go through Little Harbour cut and down to Royal Island on Sunday. Bye for now, Marsh Harbour! See you mid-February, when we return to pick up Anneke and Eli, who will be flying into the Marsh Harbour airport!

This was a fun sailing day, with much careful navigating around reefy areas and shifting sands. It felt great to be sailing again, the water so beautiful:
Sailing around the other side of Marsh Harbour
As we got near the North Bar Channel, we sailed for a bit parallel to a line of reefs over which Atlantic waves were breaking. Even where we were, the water was pretty lively, and there were clearly reefs in the water.
Between North Bar Channel and Sandy Cay
Are we sure this water is deep enough? The chart says it is … OK, deep breath … forge ahead!!!

Soon we were anchored off Lynyard Cay, where Tina was already anchored, and Wyvern III on their way. Looking east at Lynyard Cay, where Guy and Pika were walking on the beach:
Lynyard Cay
We went ashore to explore a bit. Looking back (west) at Aviva on anchor:
Aviva on anchor off Lynyard Cay
Fred standing in front of the fascinatingly pitted and eroded rocks:
Fred on the Rocks -- Lynyard Cay
The water on the windward shore was much rougher than the leeward side where we were anchored:

Lynyard Cay, waves breaking on the rocky shore
Lynyard Cay, east (Atlantic) side
The plants growing onshore were mostly succulents – apparently the snails thought they were succulent, too!

Looking back at Aviva again, the sky darkening ominously:
Sky darkening over Aviva
A bit of beach combing looking for shells also turned up some chitons in the rocks:
Chiton and snail neighbors
Dorothy's shells:
A few small shells collected ... complemented by the orange croc!
We returned to the boat and just in time … we were soon hit with the strongest squall we have seen yet, with winds that were surely over 40 knots, and buckets of rain. (In fact, speaking of buckets, we should have collected some of that rain water into buckets!) Tina dragged about 600 feet, and Wyvern III, still sailing, got a long tear in their main. We were OK.

Saturday, January 11 – Let's see, what were we fixing today … wait, nothing broke today! So instead, Dorothy “fixed” lasagna, and Fred “fixed” salad!! Wyvern III mended their torn main, and Tina scoped out alternative anchorages for the night, with strong winds expected, shifting from S to SW, clocking around in advance of a cold front due to pass mid-day Sunday. We all moved over to off Great Abaco near Bridges Cay, endured another few rounds of squalls (not as strong as yesterday), had a fun dinner together, and early to bed all, anticipating tomorrow's passage through Little Harbor Cut into the Atlantic Ocean, and down to Royal Island.

Our new anchorage:
Grand Abaco Island anchorage
A rainbow after the squalls:
Rainbow after squalls
We noticed that a few more boats had joined us over here … queueing up for Little Harbor Cut in the morning.
Dinner with our friends George, Guy, Pika and Alison - a wonderful 'Dorothy Lasagna'

Sunday, January 12 – First light was beautiful as we weighed anchor and got moving, the other boats in the area doing the same.
Getting started at first light
Dawn broke as we were heading toward Little Harbor Cut, and the water began to get choppy.
Choppy water near Little Harbor Cut at dawn
Tina and two other boats ahead of us, we were the 4th boat through the cut, with four more behind us. The water was lively, and we were hobby-horsing some, but it wasn't too bad. There were breaking waves to both sides of us, on reefs to the north and shore to the south, but the cut itself, though “lively,” was very passable.
Little Harbor Cut passage
For about a third of the 49-nm passage from Little Harbor Cut, the swells and chop remained strong, 5-7'. With seas so high and wind nearly on the nose, we motor-sailed to keep our time up, to ensure a daylight arrival. Gradually the seas calmed down, and we were able to go engine-free for a few hours, but at a cost, namely we had to steer slightly downwind of the course we wanted in order to carry the sails. Then as the wind died in anticipation of the front, then shifted to the west and very quickly to the north, we found ourselves on a dead run, and had to turn to the Iron Jenny again to get back on course and keep moving. We'd rather sail, but sometimes you need a little help from your friend, Iron Jenny.


At least the front was a dry one!

As we approached Egg Island, we had some jitters about going between Egg and Little Egg, so we went around. The boats behind us all went through – sigh – we are sure, in retrospect, that it would have been fine. We reached Royal Island and anchored before dark, as we had hoped, Wyvern III and Tina already there.

Monday, January 13Wyvern III and Tina got an early start for Current Cut, going through to Hatchet Bay, then planning to continue down Eleuthera, and over to the Exumas. Our plan was slightly different – to visit Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, then go through Fleming Channel and straight down to the Exumas. We hung around Royal Island Bay for the morning, and were just getting ready to go when Dave of Zingara called to say they had caught a 30+-pound mahi as they were sailing down yesterday, and would we like some? Would we! We stowed it away right next to the freezer plate, and gave Dave a little Vermont maple syrup in thanks. What a treat to look forward to! Then we started the engine in preparation to sail over to Spanish Wells … no blower! Well, it had been a couple of days since anything broke!! We opened the engine compartment for airflow, and sailed on over to Spanish Wells in very light wind, with just the jib, pinching … with another trouble-shooting adventure awaiting us.

The entrance channel to Spanish Wells looks scraggly:
Channel marker at entrance to Spanish Wells at low tide
But as soon as you get inside, it is quite a sight:
Spanish Wells Harbor
Wild on one side:
Spanish Wells, Charles Island
Docks, fishing boats, repair facilities, etc, on the other:
Fishing boats, Spanish Wells
We picked up a mooring for the night:
Mooring in Spanish Wells

Dorothy biking Spanish Wells

And had a nice sunset with dramatic skies:
Sunset drama, Spanish Wells
Sunset Spanish Wells
Sunset, Spanish Wells
Tuesday, January 14 – Up very early, Dorothy listened to Chris Parker while Fred tested the blower, which worked. Dorothy found and tested the 10A fuse, which was good. Fred pulled apart butt connectors en route to the blower, reconnected them, and retested, and that did it – a connection had gone bad. Blower issue resolved by 10 am!! We had planned to take the Fast Ferry to Harbour Island today, but the freight ferry, rather than the fast ferry, runs on Tuesdays, and leaves very little time on the island. So we hired water and land taxi service from Pinder's, to be able to spend the day there.  On the way out, we passed Aviva on her mooring:
Aviva on mooring, Charles Island in background
We saw the pink sand beach of Harbour Island – it really is pink!

And the water, and the sky … just beautiful!

We walked around Harbour Island, looking at shops, galleries, cemeteries, etc. Interesting use of bottles to build a wall:
Bottle wall, Harbour Island
An avian resident of Harbour Island:



Just about the same time we were leaving Harbour Island, a car ferry was leaving. This was a ONE car ferry! Here it is, just about to unload in Spanish Wells:
Car ferry
It is run by a Mennonite man. Today he had two of his children helping. His son handled the lines, very capbly casting off and tying up. His daughter looked younger, and stuck by her father's side. But as they were heading back to Harbour Island, we were amused to see the little daughter driving, turning that big wheel, chest height for her.

Another quick dash through Spanish Wells to see the Quilt Shop, uncertain of tomorrow's plans:

It is just a small building, one room. It was closed, but I snapped a picture through the window:

An English silk tree, related to the kapok tree, with amazing roots and spiky thorns:

Wednesday, January 15 – A final visit to Spanish Wells, to do laundry, visit the museum, and post the blog!
Fred at Spanish Wells laundromat (one washer, one dryer in a shed behind grocery)
Spanish Wells Museum -- fascinating history of settlement and fishing industry
Beach north side of Spanish Wells, near low tide
Spanish Wells Junkanoo cart
Next stop – back to Royal Island, with protection from the north, as a cold front is coming through tonight/tomorrow. Then we will be heading south to the Exumas … you'll be hearing from us again soon!

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