Thursday, 12 June 2014

Heading Back to the US

So we set off from our anchorage at Great Sale Cay in the Abacos, Bahamas early in the morning.  The sun still hadn't come up yet but we raised the main sail before we finished hauling up the anchor and tried to quietly head off.  We all watched the sunrise as we headed away from Great Sale Cay.
Our passage over the Banks was on a waypoint to the Mantanilla Shoal and our destination was Charleston, SC.  We were anticipating about a 58 hour passage and I had made some butter chicken and cooked a bunch of ground beef (for spaghetti or tacos) and had the fridge stocked with water bottles and snacks - we were ready to go.
We managed to sail for the first 5 hours or so and then the wind lightened up and we furled (rolled) in the genoa.  We motored for the next 5 hours and got off the banks and out towards the Gulf Stream.  The wind and chop picked up when we got into the Gulf Stream and so did our speed.  We were clipping along at over 9 knots but the passage was rough and the seas were choppy.  We put reefs in the main sail and the genoa to make things a bit more comfortable. We were flying along when the autopilot shut off.  Thinking that perhaps it just tripped the breaker we turned it back on and engaged the autopilot and again it shut off.  Brad thought perhaps the motor was warm from the work it had been doing so we left it off for a while to let it cool down and turned it on again.  No dice.  Autopilot out of commission.  Of course this has happened just when darkness was setting so Brad was now on the wheel hand-steering.  Change of plans... We decided our nearest good port of entry was going to be Port Canaveral about 60 miles away.  We all watched the sunset from the cockpit and knew it was going to be a long night.
We adjusted our course and handsteered throughout the night, taking turns to grab some sleep.  I could see lights from some huge cruise ships on the water and hailed the cruise ship "Disney Magic" to ask if they were going into Port Canaveral.  They were and advised me that they were scheduled to meet their pilot boat at 430am.  I joked with Brad that since we don't have a 'Buddy Boat' anymore that I get bored and need to call the other vessels on the VHF - just to talk and say hi. The Disney Magic was lit up like a moving city and we kept clear of the channel to let another cruise ship enter behind them and before us and we also had another one coming in behind us in the channel. 
We pulled over to the side of the channel once we were inside the inlet to drop our main sail and I raised up our Quarantine flag and we watched the huge cruise ship go by.
We hailed one marina but they had no space and directed us to Cape Marina a bit further in the channel.  We got someone on the VHF at that marina and were tied up just after 7am, after 26 hours and 171 NM. 
We used the marina phone to call Customs and informed them of our arrival.  We were advised that we had 24 hours to physically present ourselves at the Customs and Border Patrol office about a 2 km walk away.  Brad and I crawled into bed and slept while Abbey watched movies and entertained herself for a few hours.  We walked over to US Customs and got cleared back into the US with no problems whatsoever and only in passing were asked if we had any agricultural products onboard.  Ha! I almost laughed at the absurdity, we had nothing fresh onboard any more, no fruit, milk, bread or meat. 

Back in the land of milk and honey, or is it big and plenty?   I'm thrilled to be able to go to a grocery store and drool over the fresh produce section and know with certainty that if I don't buy it today, they will have more tomorrow. But its now time to do some repairs and regroup and figure out a new plan.

Next post:  Port Canaveral 

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Bahamas!!

Sorry that this is a long post but we covered a lot of ground!!  If you have a slow internet connection I can commiserate with you because it may take a while for all the pictures to load!!
Finally the Bahamas!! We loved Alice Town, North Bimini. The locals were friendly, the beaches were lovely and the water the most amazing shades of blue and turquoise imaginable. On our first snorkelling outing Brad and Abbey saw some giant rays and a large Bull Shark. The shark put a damper on Abbey's enthusiasm for snorkelling for a little while.
We finally decided to push onto the Berry Islands and debated an overnight stop on the ‘Banks’ but when the wind was 20knots from behind and the seas were 4-6 feet we made a quick trip across and pushed on so we wouldn’t need to anchor out. We had hoped to get up to Frazer’s Hog Cay for the night but dwindling daylight had us pull into Chub Cay Marina for the night instead. It is a resort that was never fully finished and is now in various stages of deterioration but it is amazingly beautiful.
The next day we did go up to Frazer’s Hog and dinghied to shore to check things out. There wasn’t a lot to check out but we had a nice walk and stretched out our legs a bit.
We pushed on the following day to Nassau and had the wind tighter on our nose than we would’ve liked and with bigger seas than we were expecting but we got clearance from the Harbour Master in Nassau to enter and went past the cruise ships and under the bridges.
We stayed a few nights at the Nassau Harbour Club which had a pool and a grocery store (plus a Starbucks, Dominos Pizza and a Dairy Queen!) right across the street. This was great for us to provision and stock up again since we knew there would be slim pickings between Nassau and Georgetown. We went up to Fort Fincastle and walked down the 65 steps of the Queen's Staircase. This was carved out of the limestone cliffs by slaves in 1793-1794.
We went over to the marina at Atlantis and enjoyed the high-end fanciness of the place. Abbey was thrilled with the waterslides and the aquariums and the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.
We bought a new outboard engine in Nassau to replace our 4HP, 25 year old Johnson. We got a new 2 stroke, 15 Hp Yamaha, that was Brad’s birthday gift this year! We headed out of Nassau and anchored a night at Rose Island and then crossed the Banks on our way to the Exumas. We caught our first barracuda on the passage. 
Allan’s Cay was our first anchorage in the Exumas and it had iguanas on the beaches and our friends on SV Kamouraska arrived.
We went into Highbourne Cay and stayed at the marina to ride out a front that was coming through. This was another beautiful place although pricey stop at the marina. 
There were loads of nurse sharks just off the dock where the fisherman cleaned their catch.
We went onto Shroud Cay and grabbed a mooring in the ‘Exuma Land and Sea Park’ and really liked the beautiful beaches and dinghied to the Atlantic Ocean side for the views from there.
The dinghy ride through the mangroves.
The view from Camp Driftwood - the CIA did surveillance here of nearby Norman's Cay in the 70's. There was extensive drug smuggling going on there.
We finally met up with our friends on SV Romana! We had first met Dave in Pictou, NS and had leapfrogged each other and kept missing each other as we headed down the US Coast. We had a little get together in the shallows off the beach.
We headed down to Warderick Wells and got moorings in their south field and knew another front was going to be blowing through. This is one of the most scenic spots in the Exumas and we hiked all over the island and went up to Boo Boo Hill to see all the tributes travelers have left over the years.
Brad and Abbey checking out the blow holes on Warderick Wells.
Abbey likes birds a lot and has become quite an ornithologist and loved having this Banaquit eat sugar out of her hand.
While in Warderick Wells we also celebrated Brad's 50th Birthday!! Our friends on SV Kamouraska hosted a potluck dinner and Rita onboard baked the birthday cake with some help from Abbey. We did quite a bit of hiking around the island and over some fairly rugged trails but the views were amazing. This is Baccalieu on the mooring in the south field.
We headed to Cambridge Cay and took another mooring there for a few nights, this had lots of good snorkeling and Abbey was thrilled with the undersea world full of colour. She took a lot of pictures of the undersea life so she gets credit for these shots, she also is able to identify almost all the fishes she sees. This is a Queen Angel fish:
A ray and a lot of fish:
We headed to Compass Cay and anchored there for the night after a few bottom bumps on our way in. We knew another front was coming through so we made reservations at the marina and waited for the dredger to finish his work before we could get in. This marina has 'pet nurse sharks' and it was pretty cool to see them on the dock at low tide.
On Compass Cay is a low-tide airport runway and while we didn't get to see a flight come in for a landing we did walk down the runway, joking the whole time about: "Where is the First Class International Departures lounge?"
We also hiked to the north end of the island, finding Hesters Beach Gym along the way.
Our hike to the north end of Compass Cay was to see 'Rachel's Bubblebath'. This is a narrow spot and the waves break through the cliffs and send white water foam into a small pool behind. Abbey and Brad went swimming in the pool.
We moved a few miles further south to Staniel Cay and anchored off the town our first night. Come low tide when the wind had shifted us around we gently thumped off the sandy bottom. Guess it was a little on the ‘skinny’ side. We did get a beautiful sunset that night.
The thing Staniel Cay is most famous for though is the semi-wild pigs off of Big Major’s Cay. We moved and anchored over by the beach and took some food scraps to the very well fed pigs. Some of them were huge and there were loads of piglets. Bacon anyone?
We tucked ourselves between the Majors to ride out yet another front, yes this has been an ongoing theme for a few weeks now. A few days of nice weather then a scramble to be situated somewhere with protection from the wind as it swirls from south-east, to south, to south-west, to west, to north and then back to the prevailing east. Sometimes this clocking of the wind is quick, other times it’s a few days and the need to find protection from the waves and swells is important.
We left Staniel Cay and headed further south to Black Point. This is a small settlement but is lovely with very friendly locals and a few spots for us to eat out as well as get laundry done and have showers. 
Abbey also got to have some ice cream and played with some of the little girls in the town.
A short sail took us to Little Farmer’s Cay. We had a milestone on this short passage and hit 4000 miles!! We grabbed a mooring in a small slough of Great Guana Cay. This was a fun stop for us and we hung out at Ocean Cabin with Terry for a few afternoons of food and drinks. Also I was happy to see a few other familiar faces come into Ocean Cabin one afternoon. Our friends from the catamaran 'Blind Faith'. We had last seen them in Chesapeake, Virginia where I met Linda doing laundry.
Another short day but hot and lacking wind had us anchored off Lee Stocking Island. There we caught up with some other kid boats we hadn’t seen since Ft Lauderdale, SV Quartet and SV Shambala. We had a big bonfire onshore and ate fish and lobster that had been speared that day. Add to that a few marshmallows and Abbey was in heaven.

The next morning we were up and headed to Georgetown. We had heard of this ‘Bahamian Cruiser’s Mecca’ for a long time so our standards were high when we got in and anchored off Kidd Cove just off the town. Over the next week we moved back and forth across the harbor and anchored in 4 different locations to ride out back to back cold fronts that came in. The strong winds made for sloppy dinghy rides and had us stuck sitting on the boat for a couple of days.
This is the dinghy entrance into Lake Victoria in Georgetown. A small narrow passage under a little bridge that usually has a pretty strong current flowing in one direction or the other depending on the tide:
We did get to the Chat N’Chill for a few afternoons and Abbey made some new friends and also learned to make bracelets from palm fronds which she then sold to other tourists and guests at the beach. We joked that this is the boat-kid version of a lemonade stand. She was thrilled to make some money.
We hiked up to the monument at Monument Beach on Stocking Island that has a beautiful view of the harbor. This is the view looking south:
Abbey sitting on the monument at the top of the hill:
The view looking north from Stocking Island with Elizabeth Harbour on the left and Exuma Sound on the right:
We have decided to get a bigger boat sooner rather than later so our plans have changed and we are headed back to the US East Coast instead of pushing on towards the Caribbean. Georgetown is our furthest point south for now and we turned around and started heading back north.
We headed out of Georgetown on a windy day and we anchored off Cave Cay after a rough entry through the inlet cut entrance.  This further instilled in us that timing the tides wrong against a strong wind can make for big, square waves in a very narrow channel.  Our anchorage off Cave Cay had a lot of surge when the tide was rising and we spent some of the night rolling from side to side.  Needless to say we were up early in the morning and ready to go.  We headed back to Black Point and caught up with our friends on SV Shibumi and SV Maraki and the kid-boat SV Viatori.  More laundry and showers as well as some hiking around and our stop in Black Point was complete.  This is the view of the Black Point Harbour:
We hiked over to the Exuma Sound side of the island and had some amazing views of the million shades of blue water and a blow hole and a cave.
Another memorable thing in Black Point was that Abbey had another tooth fall out so we got out the Tooth Flag and raised it up to signal the Tooth Fairy. She found us and left Abbey $2 in Bahamian money.
We went back to Staniel Cay, had more grouper fish fingers at the Yacht Club (yum!) and another visit to see those crazy pigs! Abbey and Brad also snorkeled in the famous Thunderball grotto (from the James Bond movie). From Staniel Cay we headed off across Exuma Sound to the island of Eleuthera and arrived in Rock Sound. We anchored in the south end of the bay for the expected front to blow through. When it came we moved over to the west side of the bay and then finally on the following day we were able to anchor off the settlement. This was a cool place and had a good grocery store, free water and lots of things to see. There was the Ocean Hole – a deep water hole in the middle of town. It was very deep and loaded with fish and they happily gobbled up the stale crackers we had onboard.
The island of Eleuthera is home to a massive array of cenotes, deep water-filled holes in the island's rock, which connect to the sea via underwater caves deep underground. The island also has a number of 'blue holes' where the water drastically gets deeper, from 2m to more than 12m in just a small circular area. We needed to be mindful of these holes when we were anchoring. We hiked down to a Blue Hole and some caves with some new friends on the catamaran 'SV Ruack' - they are another Canadian family and have 5 kids onboard!   The caves were very cool and were loaded with bats and huge moths.
We went to a fish fry which was the kickoff of Homecoming Week in Rock Sound. We had a great dinner and Abbey made friends with a girl named Tamara who is 10 and lives in Rock Sound. They were as thick as thieves by the end of the evening.
From Rock Sound we headed north to Governor's Harbour. The point off Governor's Harbour, Cupid's Cay, is a small hunk of flat rock, and was the site of the first settlement on Eleuthera, by the Company of Eleutheran Adventurers, exiles from Bermuda in 1648.
The library in Governor's Harbour.
From Governor's Harbour we headed up through Current Cut, this is a narrow passage through the islands where the current runs very swiftly so timing it favourably was very important. We had aimed for slack low tide but arrived about an hour early and had about a 2 knot current assist us through the cut. We anchored for the night just off Current Settlement and the following day we headed for the small mooring field in Spanish Wells.
Spanish Wells is so small that many residents get around the island using golf carts instead of full-sized cars. Historically, the island was used as a last stop for Spanish ships returning to Europe, where these ships refilled their water supply from wells created for this purpose - thus the English name of the settlement: Spanish Wells. The first colonists were the Eleutheran adventurers from Bermuda (intending to be some of the first settlers of Eleuthera), who suffered shipwreck on a reef, known as the "Devil's Backbone" off Eleuthera in 1647. After living in a cave known as "Preacher's Cave" on Eleuthera, they ended up at Spanish Wells. We decided not to hire a pilot to take us on our sailboat through the Devil's Backbone, instead we rode the high-speed "Bo Hengy II" ferry over to Harbour Island for the day instead.
Harbour Island is a lovely spot seemingly full of wealthy American tourists and the locals who support that economy. It was an interesting place to spend the day. There were the chickens roaming free everywhere:
The piles of conch shells harvested for the famous Bahamian conch salad, cracked conch and conch fritters:
We wandered around the town and got Abbey some ice cream and then boarded the ferry back for the 40 min ride to Spanish Wells. From our vantage point in the mooring field we got a good view of the ferry and the supply ships coming and going every day. This was the dredge going by with its load of sand:
The "Bo Hengy II" coming back into Spanish Wells, it does a daily run from Nassau to Spanish Wells to Harbour Island and back every day:
The 'Emerald Express", the supply ship for the Bahamian Islands, we saw it in a number of ports along our travels.
Spanish Wells is a centre for lobster fishing in the Bahamas. Having seen lots of fishing and lobster boats on our travels we have to say the ones in Spanish Wells seemed to be the best kept and maintained of any we had seen. We have heard that the fleet there supplies lobsters for the restaurant chain 'Red Lobster', not sure if that is true, but they seem to love their boats a lot.
We spent Easter in Spanish Wells and had a lovely potluck on SV Kamouraska to celebrate. Abbey coloured her Easter Eggs and the Easter bunny came with treats.
Finally the weather was good for us to head off so we moved over to an anchorage at Royal Island for the night and early the next morning we set off for the Abacos. We caught 2 barracuda's shortly after we got out into deeper water and thought the day would be a great one for fishing! It wasn't though, the barracudas were all we caught.   The passage seemed to be all right, I thought the conditions were okay, there were big swells lifting us up and down but no rolly motions for us onboard. When Abbey started feeling sick and threw up over the lifelines I gathered she wasn't enjoying the passage as much as I was. BTW for all you parents out there: Toast with Nutella makes awfully gross barf to clean off the side of a boat (or probably anywhere!). We arrived in Little Harbour and dropped anchor for the night. The next day we dinghied into Little Harbour for a great lunch at Pete's Pub with our friends Dave and Jane from SV Romana.
The following day we stopped for a few hours in a surge-filled anchorage so Brad and Abbey could snorkel off Sandy Cay where they had a great time swimming with a sea turtle. We then headed into the lovely little harbour at Hopetown. We stopped at the Lighthouse Marina, our first marina stop in quite a while. It was nice to have access to laundry and showers even if they did come with a cost. Hopetown has its landmark lighthouse, still manually lit each night and burning kerosene. The view from the top is amazing.
Hey that's our boat at the dock!
The view of Hopetown harbour with the Atlantic Ocean behind.
Abbey's turn with the camera, and for all you Canadians, no she has never seen 'Kids in the Hall' and is not trying to 'crush your head'... but she is crushing a flag pole.
Brad and I from the perch up top the lighthouse with the Sea of Abaco behind us.
The view down the curly, winding staircase.
Another day in Hopetown we went over and enjoyed a pool at the marina next door. This was a great spot to spend a hot afternoon.
We also went for a view of the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of the island, Abbey loving the sand between her toes went for a nice, long walk.
From Hopetown we headed a few miles across the Sea of Abaco to Marsh Harbour. This wasn't quite as scenic a place but we caught up with our friends on SV Airtime, Kamouraska and Blind Faith. We enjoyed a few happy hours together and stocked up on some groceries and got propane. This picture is compliments of our friend Linda on the catamaran Blind Faith:
We said our goodbyes to our buddy boat SV Airtime, we have been travelling together for almost 5 months since we left St. Augustine.  They decided to haul their boat out in Marsh Harbour and fly back to Canada.  So we headed out of Marsh Harbour and headed for the shallow, narrow inlet at Man-O-War Cay. This small ("dry") island was lovely although the mooring field was awfully tight. Our friends on SV Kamouraska were on the mooring in front of us and we could almost hand them a cup of coffee they were so close!  (They did end up moving to another mooring when the depths got too shallow and they were hitting the concrete pad our mooring ball was attached to.)
We spent only one night in Man-O-War and then moved a few miles up to Great Guana Cay. We had heard of the beach restaurant 'Nippers' and decided we needed to check it out. The view did not disappoint although the food and the prices were a bit of a let-down.
The restaurant even had a pool!
The small mooring field in Great Guana - we were worried about the depth come low tide. We didn't bump the bottom but came a wee bit close!
We sailed 'across the Whale' (a notoriously rough inlet) and headed up to Green Turtle Cay. This was a lovely mooring field and we made some new friends and enjoyed the Island Roots Heritage Festival while we were there. Abbey enjoyed all the kid's activities and participated in the sack race:
We watched the Royal Bahamian Police Force Marching Band:
She also enjoyed the scavenger hunt and running out into the crowds looking for whatever item they had been told to find.
We watched and clapped along to a Junkanoo:
And got hit by a couple of squalls over the next day where the sky just opened up and we could barely see the boats in the harbour beside us.
Abbey is quite the swimmer and she has loved snorkelling in the Bahamas.  The world under the water has really caught her interest and aside from keeping a list of all the fish she has seen she loves to look into our field guide and books on fish.  **Note to self: Get better field guides for Abbey!!
Finally it was time for us to start planning to head back across to the United States. We headed out of Green Turtle and anchored for a night at Powell Cay with our friends on SV Blind Faith and our new friends on SV Sangaris. These boats are big catamarans and we enjoyed a few evenings with our friends. After Powell Cay we moved to Great Sale Cay, which is an uninhabited island and is a good anchorage to stage at when crossing from or back to the US. We had a nice night at anchor and set off for the US at 530 am the next morning.
Next Post - Back to the US!! By the way if you're wondering what our current status is and we haven't posted on the blog for a while you can find us on our Facebook page. You don't have to have an account, and I am better about short, quick, updated posts on there. Our link is: SV-Baccalieu