Monday, March 30, 2015

The Abacos, Bahamas

The day was nice and calm.  We left early in the morning for the all day passage up to the Abaco Islands.  We left Harbour Island through the south channel.  David and I had driven around thru the area the evening before, checking depths on the route to make sure there would be no surprises in the channel in the morning.  And we had good depths on the route all the way out to the deeper waters on the east side.

The seas were calm and it was a calm ride all day.  We arrived at the North Bar channel in the South Abaco Islands just before dinner.  After entering into the sea of Abaco, we continued further west to anchor along Great Abaco Island near the Snake Cays.  We picked this area for great SW thru NW wind protection.  However, when we dropped our anchor, it wouldn't set.  As we pulled in reverse, we drug backwards.  We picked up the anchor again, and looked at anchoring to the north of the boats there, but saw alot of rocks and coral below the surface and decided to go back to the eastern area where we had first dropped the anchor and look for a more sandy patch.  We dropped again, but did not rev our engines up as high as usual, and thankfully the anchor held.  We decided to watch it and make sure our anchor alarm was working, but felt confident the anchor was set good enough for the light winds tonight.  I get nervous enough setting the anchor, but this time all the other boats anchored nearby were out enjoying the sunset and watching us.  That adds even more pressure to making sure we get it right!

In the morning we headed off in the tender at high tide for an enjoyable slow tender ride through the mangrove cays along Great Abaco Island.  Again the adults enjoy these tender rides far more than the kids.

That afternoon we headed a few miles north east to Tahiti beach.  We anchored just west of the pretty beach that grows as the tide falls.  It really is a very pretty area. The beach is a long stretch of sand that appears as the tide goes out, and slims down when the tide comes in.  We anchored close enough to kayak or swim in to the beach.

With high tide in the afternoon, the kids finished their school work to kayak off to the beach to play. Matthew and I had a great swim into the beach.  Two other kids came over to play on the sand with us.  Myra and her twin brother Aeden are 8 years old.  They live on a sailboat and just moved here to the Abacos from Florida.  The kids all got along great and had a fun time playing together for a few hours.

The next day after finishing school work, we radio'd the sailboat Dulcinea, to invite Myra and Aeden to meet at the beach for hours of playing.  This was how it went for the next several days.  Rain or shine, the kids had so much fun playing together, at the beach or on each other's boats.  A few times we went into shore to scooter, or go to a pool.  The kids became fast friends.

Lucky us, we enjoyed chatting with Myra and Aeden's parents, Greer and Aaron.  We had a few dinners together, and outing with the kids.  Like the kids, we also enjoyed making new friends.  They even shared some delicious Mahi Mahi with us that their boss had caught fishing one morning.  That was a great dinner!

We were watching the weather, and thinking about moving further north in the Abaco chain, but the we were well protected from the south winds where we were, anchored at Tahiti Beach, and the kids were having such a great time with their friends, that we stayed put longer than we had planned.  That would just mean we'd be skipping a few stops on the way north.  The kids all voted to stay where we were.  But about 7 days later, the winds shifted to the north, and were blowing pretty good, so it was time to switch anchorages.  We thought we might be parting ways but they also decided to move over to the Boat Harbour anchorage, and the kids were happy to continue their time together.  Greer and the twins even joined us for a primary Church lesson on the boat Sunday morning.  Benjamin even gave his extra copy of the Book of Mormon to their family.

On Monday we had an engine part reinstalled.  It had been repaired over the weekend, and we were hoping that when the mechanic reinstalled it on Monday, the engine would come to life.  And sure enough it started.  It still didn't like to stay running unless it was revved up, but that's better than not starting at all, which is what happened a few days before.  We were lucky to have found a great Mechanic in Marsh Harbour that did a quick, reasonably priced, and good repair job.

With both our engines working, and weather clearing in a couple days, it meant it was time to head on and prepare to cross back to the US.  We had been debating the path, entrance port, and timing for days.  And it looked like now was the time to head to the northern Abacos. There was a small window, and it wasn't even a great window, but it would do.

So we said our final goodbyes to our new friends and left late Monday afternoon to anchor a few miles north and get a head start on our travels thru the northern Abacos the following day.  On our way that afternoon to Bakers Bay, we were treated to a visit by a small pod of Dolphins.  They were fun to watch in the crystal clear waters off the bow of the boat.

We arrived at our anchorage just after dinnertime, as the sun was setting.  It was beautiful.  David had a chance to fly his drone while there was still barely enough light.  We were stunned at the amount of homes along the beautiful beach of Bakers Bay,  last time we anchored here, 4 years before, there was not much more than beautiful water and beautiful beach.  Now the shoreline is dotted with pretty homes or large vacation villas.  The water and beach are still beautiful.  Sadly we didn't have more time this trip to spend more than a night anchored here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Harbour Island, Eluthera

Harbour Island is a quaint tourist town.  It was once a big boat building area for the Bahamas, but today it attracts tourists.  There are a few small resorts and many homes or cottages for rent.  Or to buy.  There are many million dollars homes spread across the small 5 mile long island. 

Along its eastern shore is a 3 mile beach, known as “The Pink Beach”.  I’d heard of this pink sand beach several years ago when we first made a sailing trip to the Bahamas, and have wanted to see it for myself.  So here we were, anchored in a beautiful bay off Harbour Island.  We’d made it thru the Devil’s Backbone, all to see the Pink Sand Beach.

First things first though—and that meant short naps for the littlest ones.  And while they were napping, David and I made a quick trip into town to arrange to go diving the next morning, Saturday.   And now that we knew where to tie up the tender to get to shore, we headed back to the boat to pick up the whole family to head to the pink sands.

And just as we loaded into the tender, the dark clouds started rolling in.  Ok, they’d been around most of the day—remember the cloud that blocked our sunlight as we passed by the Devil’s Backbone.  But now the one coming closer had rain.  Well, we were going to the beach, so a little rain wouldn’t hurt.  We showed up to shore just as it started to drizzle.  We still had to walk about half a mile through town, across to the east side of the island.  About halfway there, it started to pour… and the kids said—but now we’re all wet!  I had to laugh—we are in swimsuits going to the beach!  I think getting wet was part of the plan, we’re just a little out of order. 

We arrived at the Pink Sand Beach.  It was big, and wide, and beautiful.  The kids ran to the ocean and the breaking waves to play.  While David headed to a little wooden umbrella, most likely belonging to one of the cottages at the top of the beach.  But this way he and baby Julia could sit out the rest of the rain—and maybe dry. 

The kids had a blast playing in the surf.  When the rain stopped to a drizzle, David and I, with the stroller, walked up the long beach.  The sand has a little pinkish hue, from the tiny bits of pink shells in the sand, but really it looks like any regular beautiful beach. In fact I had seen similar beaches with pink shells broken down in the sand, and wondered if they were "Pink Sand".  Now I know, they are. While the Beach at Harbour Island is very beautiful... it is not the only Pink Sand beach in the world.

We had a great walk along the beach... little ones chasing after us, having fun.  We stopped to chat with a little family visiting from NYC.  They had been enjoying their spring break week with their young kids on the island. 

Soon it was time to head back to the boat.  We made the short walk back across the island to our tender.  It had been a nice afternoon. 

The next morning, David and I left early to go diving with one of the local dive shops.  It had been a year and a half since we had been diving, due to pregnancy and a baby.  We were both excited to get back into diving.  The first dive site was pretty good, pretty coral and fish.  But the 2nd dive site was quite surgy, and there wasn’t too much to see.  It was a shallow dive and reminded me that we could easily do shallow dives without a guide, we were capable of going just together.  So we planned to do that—in the Abacos.

When we returned to the boat, we asked the kids what they wanted to do with the rest of the day—more pink beach, walk the town, a beach near the boat,… their response—stay on the boat and play games.  So the adults voted to go for a walk in town.  So we put the little 2 down for their naps, and off David, Brittany, and I went to town for a walk.  Dunmore Town, is a cute little harbor village.  There are pretty cottages and shops, and several different churchs—one of which was having a wedding.  The local friends and family were there, all dressed up to celebrate.  We checked out the small grocery markets, looking at food and prices. 

We headed back to the dock to go back to the boat, but sat on a bench for a bit.  It felt nice sitting in the shade.  While there, we watched 2 jet skis driven by local teenagers pull up to the dock.  A man climbed off the back of one of them, fully dressed in jeans and a polo shirt.  I just had to ask—how did he stay dry running around on jet skis.  So we started chatting with him.  His name is Managold.  He has lived his whole life on Harbour Island.  He, and his brothers own a construction company there.  They build homes—ok, homes that cost more than 8 million dollars.  WOW.  That I far out of my price range.  David asked him how he came to build such expensive homes, and Managold said – By doing it right the first time, and the word spread.  How true is that.  Do it right the first time.  We enjoyed talking with him.  He asked about our boat, and where we were anchored at.  He remarked that we had come to the island at the busiest time, and how crowded it was.  But from our trips to shore—we didn’t think it was crowded at all, but it was for him.  He said all the restaurants were busy and you needed reservations.  I asked him where his favorite place to eat was, and he told us about Aquapazza.  He introduced us to his kids on the jet skis before the kids took off.  He told us his son was visiting for spring break.  He is 17, and home from school.  He is a senior in high school, and has spent the last year and a half at a school in Virginia.  This will help him get into college.  His 14 year old daughter goes to an island school on Eluthera.  She comes home on weekends, but lives at the school during the week.  She has been going there since she was 8.  Oh how hard that would be, sending your kids away to school.  But for them, they feel like they are giving them a better chance for the future, then the local town schools.  We really enjoyed visiting with Managold.  He even stopped by the boat a little while later to check it out.  We were planning to leave Harbour Island in the morning, the weather looked perfect for a trip to the Abacos, otherwise we would have enjoyed spending more time with Managold. 

For dinner that night, David and I took Managold’s recommendation, and went to Aquapazza for dinner.  Luckily they had a table for the 2 of us at the early time we went.  Had we shown up a little later, I think we would have been turned away, as all their reservations came and the tables filled up.  We were able to watch another beautiful sunset from our table, the sky filled with pink.   I think I would like to come back to Harbour Island and spend more time.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Devil's Backbone

It sounds scary, doesn't it?  The Devil's Backbone.  That's what they call the reef on the North side of Eluthera's cays.  Our next stop was Harbour Island, on the East Side of Eluthera.  To get there, you have to go thru the Devil's Backbone.  Our research and cruising books suggest you use a local guide to pilot you thru the area.  But further research and reading suggested that if conditions were good, and you are capable of reading water -- meaning spotting coral, and shallow shoals, then you will probably be just fine going on your own.

So first we reviewed weather and tide conditions.  Winds had been light for several days, and out of the south west.  Great.  High tide was late morning, Great.  Which meant traveling the area at mid day with the sun high over head, would be a good time to go.  Of course we consider ourselves capable, so we planned to make a go at it.

We pulled up anchor mid morning and made our way thru the main channel of Spanish Wells to the other side.  Usually we tow the tender out behind us a hundred feet or so, but that limits our manueverability, so with no wind chop it would make it easy to tow on the hip, next to us.  So that was our plan.  Then if we needed to reverse or spin, or whatever, we wouldn't need to worry about tow lines in the way and catching our prop.

The sun was up and shining on the water, and we rounded the north end of the islands, heading to the reef.  The "safe" path is between the reef and shore, and sometimes that path is very close it the reef, and sometimes it is very close to shore.  While the winds were light, and there was no chop on the water, there were still swells from far off storms rolling in.  The good news is these swells are nice and calm and gathered and far apart.  However, they were quite large, around 5-6 feet in height, 10-12 feet wide.  This helped us see where exactly the reef was as these big waves would crash as they met with the shallow reef.  We made it easily thru the first set of reef know as Ridley's Head.  There was a pass out to deep waters between Ridleys and Devils Backbone the reef to head north.

Just as we reached this area, a big dark cloud blew in overhead.  While it wasn't going to rain on us, it was blocking our lovely sunlight to help us see the coral below.  We followed our navigation charts and watched depths.  We could easily see  the breaking reef, but it was now more difficult to see what might be lurking in 3-4 feet of water.  We could still make out some spots as we neared them, but not as soon as we would like.  It's nicer when you can spot them from a distance rather than close up.  Also as we reached this area I noticed a large ferry boat coming towards us thru the Devils Reef area, so we circled back to the deep open section to wait for the ferry to come thru the pass.  We weren't interested in trying to pass the ferry thru that tight section, especially not having taken this route ever before.  I was hoping this would give more time for the dark storm cloud to clear out, but nope-- it hung over as it was now our turn to head between the backbone and shore.

And by shore, I mean-- hello beach-- less than 100 feet away, with swell rolling into it.  We love to anchor near shore, and we have traveled close to shore many others times, but this was close, and I was worried one wrong swell-- and we'd be on the beach.  It's happened... we read a rumor of an 85ft boat--using a local guide, ended up on the beach, 2 years ago.

Lucky for us, we only had a couple more miles to go, and we were thru.  It was definitely a passage to get the adrenaline pumping, and it would have been much nicer to have full sun over us, but I think we could do it again just fine.  I'd be nervous again... but as long as conditions were good, we'd be just fine.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spanish Wells

Because we stopped to snorkel Current Cut, we didn't make it all the way to Spanish Wells as we had intended.  We stopped just 2 miles away and anchored in the lee of Meeks Cay.  We liked the anchorage so much that we just tendered over to Spanish Wells to check it out, instead of moving the big boat there.  Spanish Wells was quite a large settlement compared to anything in the Exumas.  It is a fishing settlement, so the harbor is more industrial working, lined with fishing boats- large and small.  The residents here collect a large amount of Lobster every year for Red Lobster.  The people were friendly allowing us to dock the tender where ever we wanted to go to shore at.  We first stopped at the city park to let the little ones out to play, and used a nearby dock for some cottage rentals.  Then we went closer to town and docked at the sea wall of the only Marina.  From here we inquired about a golf cart rental, but instead decided to walk the short distance to the grocery market.

The store was a good size and had a great variety of staples.  They even had bananas at $1.10 per pound, so I brought home 2 bundles for us.  We also found cereal here at a decent price, so we grabbed a few bags-- this was one thing we were running low on, so it was nice to pick up some for a reasonable price.

That afternoon we spent at the beach on Meeks Cay.  After the 2 little kids went down for naps, I swam over and did a little snorkeling along the rock wall, where I spotted one of my favorite fish-- a puffer.  Love their eyes!  So big, and round, and kind looking.

Calvin kayaked to the beach, and David brought a few more kids on the tender-- he couldn't spot me snorkeling, so he hurried the kids along, worried about me.  Isn't that sweet.  We walked much of the island, and swam down the long beach shoreline finding lots of pretty shells.  It was a lovely afternoon till David showed up to collect us to come back.  Time to wake up the babies and make dinner.  Back to real life...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Current Cut

The forecast was showing about 5 more days of fantastic light winds from the south.  I was planning to stop at another 1 or 2 anchorages along Eluthera’s west coast, but there were few anchorages that provided much shelter from south winds and swell.  And the area we most wanted to visit was at the Northern tip of Eluthera, so we decided to head straight there the next day.

The water was perfect to travel on, and much of the water off Eluthera is a beautiful light blue, unlike the green/blue inside Rock Sound.  We had a pleasant day traveling up to the North end. 
Just as the tide switched and began to rise, we arrived at Current Cut.  This is a narrow passage between Eluthera and Current Island.  The current running thru this narrow passage has been reported to reach between 5-8 knots at full flood.  From what we had read, boats plan when they will travel thru this cut.  We had hoped to arrive and find it at slack tide, or near slack.  The tide had switched earlier than we were expecting and the current was running against us, which was still manageable.  We pulled the tender in before approaching the cut so we wouldn’t need to worry about it should something go wrong and we get set on a sandbar.  But after reading over all the concerns of the cut, it wasn’t too bad.  The current was swift, but we made our way thru just fine.  So David said, let’s anchor the boat nearby and go snorkel thru the cut.  Now was the time to do it as we were still heading a few more miles north today.  So we pulled up to shore a quarter mile north of the cut, out of the tidal pull, and loaded the 3 older kids into the tender and off we went to snorkel the area.  The current had picked up and looked a little rough at the north west mouth of the cut.  I was nervous.  The winds were light, so that helped, but the ripples created from the swift current still made me nervous.  I’m a great swimmer, but getting tossed around into rocks, is not my idea of a good time.  After watching how the water runs thru the cut, and not slapping the rocks I felt a little more confident.  The kids and I got ready to all jump at the same time so we could stay together to drift.  David put the boat in neutral, and off we went.  I put my head in the water, expecting to see great things, and…. I saw nothing great.  Just the bottom, 20 feet below, covered in algae.  We were drifting along at a fast pace, and that was kinda fun.  We swam a little closer to the northern shore of the cut, and started to see a few fish, and then I saw a whole group of Eagle Rays!  6 of them, all together.  They seemed to be held in place, even though they were swimming.  They were swimming up current, but because it was so quick, they were virtually not moving forward.  They were beautiful to watch, and then we drifted further.  The girls had drifted ahead of Calvin and I, so we had to go catch up.  We found them counting turtles below them.  10 or so turtles were swimming around, like the eagle rays, up current, which kept them mostly in place.  Isabel was so excited to see them, she would scream, and scare them off. 

David picked us up on the other side of the cut.  Now it was David’s turn to go with the kids.  I tried to drop them on the south shore, but the quick current was making me nervous driving the tender.  So I did my best, but they mostly ended up in the middle, and so they choose to drift the northside again.  While I was drifting in the tender, I watched the speed rise to 5knots-- that is a quick current.  A fast boat was approaching from the other direction and I had to cut them off to get them to slow down so they wouldn’t run over my snorkelers.  We keep a red flag up while snorkeling, and I waved it at them hoping to alert them, but when they didn’t slow, I had to move directly in their path as they neared, to get them to slow. I don’t usually drive the tender, so while David would have handled this smoothly, it had my heart racing. 

I picked them up on the other side of the cut, and David wanted to go again closer into shore, so I took them back to the other side and dropped David and Calvin closer to the shoreline, after 2 trips through, the girls were done snorkeling.  This time, David and Calvin were able to see all the eagle rays, the turtles, and more fish as they stayed closer to the shoreline.  It was a fun, heart racing, snorkel trip.

Back at the boat, we changed, pulled up the anchor, and headed our last few miles to a better, calmer anchorage off of Meeks Island.  We arrived and set the anchor just as the sun was going down.  It had been a great day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rock Sound, Eluthera

Sunday Morning was Benjamin’s Birthday. He turned 7! After a special birthday breakfast of a family recipe for Dutch Pancakes, it was time pull anchor and cross to Eluthera. 

We had spent an hour the prior afternoon looking at both cuts out to the ocean, driving thru them with the tender, checking depths, sand shifts, and coral heads.  We decided to take Joe’s cut, between Joe Cay and Thomas Cay.  There was only one tricky part of a zig zag around one section of coral.  Other than that, the way was deep and easy.  I'll admit... I was sad to leave the Exuma's.  Sad to say goodbye to the perfectly blue water and white sand beaches.  The scenery takes my breath away, everyday.  I was sad to go.  But on to new places...

Once out in the Exuma Sound, the waves were not as settled as we were hoping for, but we continued on.  We even had a short church lesson taught by Isabel.   Only Matthew, Alex, and Brittany got to revisit breakfast twice.  Alex and Brittany both fell asleep and Matthew adjusted to the swell.  After a couple of hours, the waves settled more, and we were closer to Eluthera, which was maybe helping to block waves.  Either way, it was calmer, which made the rest of the day nicer. 

By late afternoon we were rounding Cape Eluthera, and anchoring just before dinner in Rock Sound.  Rock Sound is a nice shallow bay area.  Most of the area is 6-8 feet deep, it is well protected.  But the water is greenish, not perfectly blue.  The winds were light, so the water was extremely calm and we could anchor anywhere.  There were about a dozen boats already at anchor, but David wanted to slowly peruse the anchorage off the town settlement, while he looked at internet connections to see where the best spot to anchor and get internet would be.  We finally settled just south of the government dock. 

For his Birthday Dinner, Benjamin wanted homemade corndogs, and “don’t forget the green salad with Ranch dressing, mom” he said.  Love that my kids enjoy salad and vegetables!  Benjamin especially enjoys a good green salad with Ranch.  He is often commenting on whether I made a good salad at dinner.  He also wanted and Oreo Cake, so we used what was on board, a package of Oreo’s, and put them in the middle of the cake and to decorate the top.  Savannah shaped the Oreo’s into a “B” for Benjamin.  He loved it! 

The next morning we headed in to town with Alexander to walk to the grocery store.  We’d read they had a well stocked, well priced, large store here.  It was definitely larger than the stores in the Exumas, and reasonable priced for the Bahamas.  We picked up a few needed items, but we are still fairly well stocked on the boat.  I would have liked some bananas, but they didn't have any.  The boat comes tomorrow for restocking.  Such is life in the Bahamas.  Sometimes they have it, or maybe you have to wait till the weekly mail boat arrives.

In the afternoon after school, the kids kayaked over to a nearby boat that we noticed had kids aboard too.  We invited the kids over to play on the water trampoline and toys behind our boat.  We found that the kids were part of 2 families, on 2 boats anchored here.  Both families are from Montreal, and the kids speak French.  That didn’t stop them from playing together and having a great time.  We visited with one of the fathers while the kids played for almost 2 hours. 

The next day Matthew, Alex, Savannah, and Isabel came to shore with us for another walk around the town.  This time we headed a little more inland.  We found an old school, with a dilapidated playground.  The kids played on the slide and climbing bars for a bit.  As we wandered, people were very friendly saying “good morning” and asking how we are today.  We walked out to the Ocean Hole, an inland deep pond, 600 miles or more deep, with salt water and fish that live in salt water.  They believe it is connected to the ocean, but have not found how.  Blue holes, such as these can be found through out several of the islands in the Bahamas.