Abacos: May 5 2011
Barefeet was tied up with a spider web of ropes at Nassau Yacht Haven keeping her as far as possible away from stationary objects like the docks and pylons. Nassau waters are anything but calm. A bit more policing and we were ready for guests. It was a quick afternoon cab ride past Atlantis and along Cable Beach to the airport where we met Jen and Jeff as they arrived from Boston (April 23). The airport was also a great place to get cliff note-type info about the area since we had only a few hours head-start learning about the place...sorted. Through the doors they came and they looked great! Hugs and smiles and we were back to Barefeet for some catching up and vacation strategizing. Okay, the guys just stiffly punched and pushed each other around...macho at its best. Jeff quickly identified that this is a bumpy harbor even in a marina slip. He took it slow and started with a seat on the dock...stepping aboard came later. The evening activity was well in hand as we called around town to find the Boston vs. Montreal hockey game via satellite TV. It's the playoffs and a huge rivalry. Confirmation came from the Cricket Club Restaurant and Pub (www.bahamascriscket.com). This seemingly local club house streams in any sporting event in the world with a station willing to cover it. A bit of food with some cocktails and the game was underway. A bit more food (local guava dove dessert) and a bit more rum and the game was STILL underway. Amazing, even a live band came and went out on the porch during the game but the trademark Bahamian music called Rake 'N' Scrape helped soothe frazzled nerves. Thank goodness the Bruins were eventually victorious after two overtime periods.
Chris and Jeff started the next day with a dinghy tour of the area while Erin and Jen happily chatted and relaxed on Barefeet (April 24). Later we all played tourist visiting the bustling native Straw Market, local fish stands and produce markets of Potter's Cay and swinging through the casino of Atlantis. Man has certainly carved out a corner of the Caribbean and left his thumbprint on New Providence Island.
But not all is manmade in Nassau. We four dinghied to Athol Island for a bit of Mother Nature (April 25). We snorkeled in the protected marine site of the Sea Gardens, played with a giant orange starfish and walked along the shoreline investigating tidal pools. Mother Nature was at her best with bright sun, soft sand and clear turquoise blue sea. Gosh, we felt many miles away from the commercialism of Nassau. However, not all commercialism is bad. We had a delicious farewell dinner at the Poop Deck Restaurant overlooking the wooden docks of Nassau Yacht Haven (www.thepoopdeckrestaurant.com). Bahamian dishes were the focus with Goombay smash rum drinks, grilled seafood, plantains and peas and rice. In the blink of an eye Jen and Jeff were back in a cab and returning to family in Boston (April 26). Great visit guys! We'll see you soon in...gulp...Boston! We were off, too, the next day to Royal Island (April 27). Oh, but first Chris had to jump start the port engine with a screwdriver...hhhmmm...add that to the To Do list.
Royal Island is part of the Eleuthera Cays with a nearly landlocked harbor...perfect for an overnight stop on our way to the Abacos (April 27). The forty miles from Nassau to Royal Island were again done under sail at a zippy 7-8 knots boat speed. Amazingly, some of our most consistent sailing in the last six months has been in the Bahamas. We'll take it. Our anchor set well in sand which was reassuring as squalls passed through during the night. The anchorage is well protected but small which means if we were to drag it would be only a few minutes before we would be bumping up against the coral edges of the harbor. No real dramas but sleep was elusive. The next morning we were up early (but groggy) as we set off for the Abacos (April 28). There were half a dozen other sail and motor boats with the same 60 mile game plan in mind that came in and out of visual sight and provided some eavesdropping entertainment on the VHF radio. All were lamenting the predicted 13 knots of wind that was actually 25 knots AND accompanied by a bothersome 6-8 foot swell directly on the beam. Clearly there was a storm out there somewhere. Crossing to the Abacos means crossing the Tongue of the Ocean; hence the ocean swell compliments of the Atlantic Ocean. In order to enter the protected waters of the Abaco Cays it is necessary to enter at a cut in the fringing coral. This is similar to the Exuma Cays but trickier in our stronger conditions.
Little Harbour Bar was our first potential entrance point but we kept going after watching a trawler turn away after nosing close only to see rolling waves breaking across the entire entrance. North Bar Channel was next with several boats sharing info that they had successfully passed through despite the fact that it looked "a bit spooky." It was a surf ride in but what a difference the fringing reef made. We anchored in calm waters behind Lynyard Cay. Phew. Conditions have been pretty lumpy in general lately which has us in a bit of a funk so in an effort to recalibrate we had a grilled steak dinner with all the fixins. That always helps our moods and did so again tonight.
We had a leisurely morning of dropped eggs on toast with a mere 15 miles more to go to Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island (April 29). There was a possibility of a mechanic with an opening in his schedule to look at the port engine so we stopped at Marsh Harbour Boatyard at Calcutta Creek. We filled up with fuel and we waited. Drat, no luck. He will be busy until Monday. In the meantime, Chris continued troubleshooting the port engine and bought a solenoid in the hope that it is the reason why there is no electricity going to the panel. We were anchored in Marsh Harbour by 4pm and what a welcome we had. A mamma and baby dolphin swam laps around Barefeet no more than five feet from the decks! Wow, round and round they went...and round and round again. The only thing we could figure out was that the baby was getting swimming lessons and/or sonar lessons. Regardless, it was amazing and Erin followed them from the deck doing laps of her own giggling all the way and snapping photos. The dolphins continued even during a raging rain squall that scoured the decks and lowered the temperature by at least twenty degrees.
Great Abaco Island is not all that big but it has plenty of exploring possibilities. There is a paved road down the center of the island that stretches across its entirety from Crown Haven in the north to Sandy Point in the south, 116 miles in total. Due to strong winds we had bypassed Little Harbour but we did not want to miss it entirely. A&P Auto Rentals provided a solution in the form of a rental car (ph 242-367-2655). We hit the highway in our four door sedan (April 30). Hhhmmm, don't fret about the missing light that illuminates the gears (just remember...park-reverse-neutral-drive) or the hand brake light that does not turn off. It's alright because the ride is smooth and the air conditioning is powerful. The highway is a two lane paved ribbon of road which literally forms the backbone of the island. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour and driving is English style, on the left. Due to the road's inland location the sea is invisible which gives the countryside a landlocked feeling with skinny pine trees rocketing to the sky and bright orange witches hair draped over shrubs and bushes. Spurs branch off from the main highway but signage is non-existent. We headed south 14.5 miles to the cutoff for Cherokee Sound and Little Harbour. Thank goodness for the hand painted driftwood signs. The draw for us at Little Harbour is Pete's Pub and Gallery (www.petespubandgallery.com). The bronze sculptures were originally created by Randolph Johnston who moved to the island with his wife in the 1950s when they lived in caves on the west side of the harbor. Today the artistry is carried on by their son, Pete, who is also the welcoming host at Pete's Pub. The open-air beach bar is an easy place to while away an afternoon which we happily did. Then it was a quick spin through the small settlement of Cherokee Sound. No joke, we mean SMALL. The population is a miniscule 160 people. The town's claim to fame is a very long public dock that has water depths of a mere 1-2 feet at its termination way out there. The Bahamas waters are tricky despite their beauty.
Our lives are a constant give and take between seeing new places and doing boat work. At times it feels more like a tug-of-war but we work hard at keeping a balance. Tracing the lack of power to the port engine panel was no exception. The repair was put out of our minds as we journeyed to Pete's Pub but was front and center the next day (May 1). Chris changed out the solenoid but that did not do the trick. Four hours later as he clipped wire ties that secured engine wires he found a chafed wire that brought power to the start button and engine panel. The chafe was UNDER the wire ties and was caused by a single engine bolt rubbing on the wire. Well done, Chris, and it looks like we don't need the mechanic after all. That repair was really niggling at our brains but now leaves us free to concentrate on a weather window to the states. Frequent cold fronts continue to cycle through so we will simply have to be patient. In the meantime we wandered around Marsh Harbour and Chris changed the oil and transmission fluids in both engines...balance, balance, balance (May 2).
Not much has changed since we were last here four years ago. The best bookstore in town (and likely the island) is still Buck A Book located in an old metal shipping container behind Curly Tails Restaurant. Books are donated then purchased for $1 each and DVDs are rented for $1...all proceeds go to helping the few remaining wild horses of Abaco (http://arkwild.org/blog/). But don't wait until too late in the day to visit because the place closes by 11am due to scorching heat that makes the interior truly unbearable. Another remaining constant is conch. It is wildly abundant in the Bahamas and a real mainstay to the diet. However, after personally cleaning several conch I find that it is a lot of effort for very little meat. One large conch shell roughly the size of a basketball produces an amount of meat roughly the size of a golf ball. Needless to say there are enormous piles of discarded conch shells strewn everywhere. Therefore, we are happy to let someone else do the prep while we reap the tasty rewards. Okay, Chris is not interested but Erin was game. Conch salad, conch burger, conch fritters, cracked conch (fried conch in a cornbread batter resembling hush puppies); they are all options and who doesn't like something...anything...that is fried?! Yeah, the salad is actually like a cerviche marinated in citrus juices and mixed with tomatoes, onions, etc. but most conch is battered and fried in some way. No complaints.
Our departure to the US in two days remains intact based on daily weather forecasts received via GRIB files (May 4). This means that passage prep is a "go." We did a couple of loads of laundry then headed into shore to dispose of garbage (large dumpster 400 yards from the dinghy dock in front of the yellow building), dispose of used oil (auto repair shop behind the Shell gas station) and check out the new Maxwell's supermarket. The market is further than you think down the road with its sign but just keep going because it's truly the promised land of provisioning. It is almost a shame that our passage will only be three or four days long. Shopping is still fun and our memories continue to be dusted off as we see more and more familiar brands and products; Pillsbury biscuits, Monterey Jack cheese, shredded wheat cereal, Hungry Jack potatoes, Betty Crocker cake mixes, Land O Lakes butter (in sticks) and on and on. Our strategy to keep from going hog wild is to carry a single hand basket between the two of us; although, Erin generally ends up with x+1 or 2 items in her arms once the basket is full. Back to Barefeet and Chris changed out the starboard engine's impellor based on the maintenance schedule. No missing vanes to clog up the heat exchanger but a couple of the vanes did show signs of wear. Everything was back in place and it was time for a shower...gggrrrr...just spotted a deteriorating water pump belt. Off comes the water pump (again) and the offending belt is replaced. Our spare parts inventory is holding strong. NOW it's time for a shower and a sundowner.
As is often the case, this morning's weather forecast shed doubt on our passage plan just 24-hours before departure (May 5). Back to the drawing board we went as well as requesting additional insights from Commander's Weather (www.commandersweather.com). The crux of the problem is thunder storms and rough conditions that are expected to arrive approximately two days into the trip. No pain, no pain is our motto but if we wait for another weather window we might be waiting until seven days from now. A seven day out weather forecast is anything but accurate and might find us in the same weather predicament...and still in the Bahamas. After scouring cruising guides and looking at the weather maps again and again we have decided to leave early tomorrow morning, May 6, on a course heading due north towards the USA. We will keep this going until just before the storms show up. We expect this to be around Jekyll Island, Georgia...just north of the Florida border. Wherever "here" is we will duck in and sit tight until the stormy weather passes before making another move north. We'll keep the position tracker updated and simply play it by ear depending upon the mood of Mother Nature.