The Bahamas Retreat Into The Distance
Journal Entries from March 5 to March 30, 2017
Sunday, March 5, 2017
I have to re anchor Walkabout, it’s tough on her hull when she bottoms out at low tide. The bottom here is a mix of dead coral and sand patches. If the waves weren’t so big it might not matter.
What a storm! At two o’clock Saturday the first blast from the north whipped up Elizabeth Harbor with near gale force wind. Boaters next to me radioed and said my anchor was dragging! I started the engine, and could see that it was serious. The anchor was just sliding over the bottom, Walkabout was careening sideways. I gave her some reverse power while the wind pushed us between the nearby boats and across the ship channel and into shallower water out in the harbor.
When the depth sounder showed I had only two feet remaining under the boat I turned Walkabout into the wind and started to get her under control, but the dragging anchor chain was holding her back. I increased power, set the autopilot to steer into the wind and began to haul in the anchor chain. The waves hitting the bow were four feet high and it wasn’t long before the autopilot lost it’s way and I had to take the wheel. Back and forth across the pitching, rolling deck to crank in chain. Stop and hurry back to the helm. Repeat. At least it was in daylight, usually these things take place under cover of darkness. But, there was the rain.
The anchor chain won, with about fifty feet of it still paid out I revved up the engine and forced the boat back toward the ship channel. While still in shallow water, the anchor grabbed sharply and I let Walkabout idle in the wind to see if it would be a solid set. The anchor held, all night and today.
I made a string of waypoints marking the boat’s semi-circular path on the chartplotter over the next few hours. Zoomed in to the 30 foot scale the chart is filled with colorful dots and lines. I do this every time I put down the anchor. It shows if your boat is sailing away on you. If you happen to be looking.
Monday, March 6, 2017
I hauled up the anchor this morning, after a night of repeatedly bottoming out in the shallow water. That wasn’t easy, the wind was still blowing in the mid twenties and waves were slamming the boat but not as bad as on Saturday in the squall. Using the autopilot to stay straight into the wind I winched in the anchor chain, the anchor raised and I left it hanging off the bowsprit ready to release. Then I moved over to Monument Beach and dropped it just a bit north from where I was before all this began. So far the anchor is holding, a minute ago I put the boat in reverse and pulled hard so maybe this time we will be alright. The winds are going to be strong today but by Wednesday will die down.
The decision when to leave George Town has to made this week. I would like to see Cat Island before heading north to the Abacos, and Eleuthera before that. It all involves a lot of planning. Looking back in the logbook, Jeanne and I left here on April 9, 2015 and got home in early June that year. The trip from George Town to Vero Beach, Florida with all the stops we made took ten days. If I want to be in Vermont by May I have to start formulating my route.
Talked with Jeanne last night for a few minutes, she is well but getting very lonely and would like this journey of mine to be over. Can’t disagree with her, I’d like to be home as well but I still think the trip was good for me and will be one to remember. When I do get home, God willing, I hope to go in a different direction to satisfy my need for life experiences, a path that will include both of us. Travel? Possibly, or raise chickens, or write a book. Most likely we’ll just sit on the boat in Lake Champlain and drink all the rum I’m bringing back.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
I attended my first SSCA Gam today, it was held on the beach over at Chat and Chill, where everything else goes on around here. The Seven Seas Cruising Association is an active group which has a worldwide membership supporting cruising boaters offering seminars, information of all kinds and members who will lend a hand. We belonged when Jeanne and I went to the Caribbean but let our membership lapse. But the Gam was open to all. A couple who had sailed around the world gave a talk about their twelve year experience. I wanted to find out what I could about Cat Island, forty miles northeast of here. A woman who had recently been there gave me some good information and another lady expanded on it so attending was worthwhile.
It was still early afternoon, I motored Dingo II over to town and walked to the BTC office to see if they could figure out why I didn’t have cell phone data service. The young technician at the service desk fiddled with my phone for a few minutes and, bingo!, there was the Internet. I haven’t had email since Bimini. I showed him a page from my blog, pictures of Warderick Wells, and he asked, “Where’s that?” So I told him, “About sixty miles north, in Exuma Park.” That he knew and beamed: “Good pictures. You advertise Bahamas.”
Anchored back by Monument Beach I’ve had two pretty good nights of sleep. The wind is still blowing in the low twenties and high teens but by tomorrow that will be over for a while. Since Saturday it’s been a fairly unpleasant wind event and I’m grateful it is nearly over, and my boat is OK.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
The wind has come down a lot since last night and now is blowing from the southeast at ten knots, much more comfortable than being thrown around inside the cabin the past four days.
I fear my cellphone is approaching it’s end, the salt in the air has caused (my diagnosis) the battery charging circuitry to fail and now I have to jump start the thing with a jury-rigged setup involving tiny wires with gobs of solder on the ends, clothespins and a small carpenter’s clamp. My work-around only charges the battery and doesn’t update the battery data – bet you didn’t know it had data – so the phone now thinks the battery holds a charge for a week.
A bunch of boats left at sunrise this morning headed for Long Island as part of a rally. It was organized a couple weeks ago and everyone who paid for the side trips and dinner party has been worried about the wind spoiling the event. But now it looks good for them and the weather should hold long enough for most of them to return. Most, because a few are continuing south to the Jumento and Ragged Islands and one I know of is off to the Virgin Islands.
Next week I hope to start north myself, first to Cat Island because I haven’t been there and, secondly, I got some good information yesterday about anchorages and sightseeing on the island. The Bahama’s patron priest Father Jerome settled on Cat Island in his retirement building a chapel on a hill called the Hermitage, and I hope to visit that for one, and Fernandez Bay Resort which is said to welcome boaters anchored off their beach.
After Cat Island I want to continue north to Eleuthera and work my way up the western side of that island for a few days ending up in Royal Island to jump off to the Abacos. From the Abacos it’ll be a long trip to Florida. I’m planning to be stateside by April first.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Email is now passing back and forth bringing me up to date with the world. Having it on my phone is a real advantage, I don’t have to lug my laptop to get it. With the phone’s battery problem I don’t look at anything more than email ⼀ that’s better for my blood pressure.
Speaking of physicality, my energy level has been going down lately; I don’t know if it’s my diet or that a high stress level is the cause but I haven’t felt the need to get going. This morning I’m committed to buying diesel fuel so that will mean at least two trips over to George Town. Maybe that will liven me up, and, there’s a music festival of sorts going on in the village this weekend which could be interesting. But yesterday I just sat around reading a novel, the most strenuous thing I did was to top off the batteries with water and that job only took an hour. Lazing in the sun.
The weather reports for next week look promising for the trip to Cat Island. Except for a short period of north component wind on Wednesday afternoon I would have southeast wind on Monday or Tuesday to sail over there and find a good anchoring spot. If I have everything ready on Walkabout I’d get going on Monday morning. So now it’s off to get some fuel.
Saturday, March 11, 2017
I have the boat all fueled up and provisioned, now I’m pumping in fresh water to top off the tanks. It’s surprising how much water one person uses in the course of a week. Fifty gallons is my average. I’d use that in one day at home.
I called Chris Parker this morning hoping to get his opinion on my plan to go to Cat Island on Monday. The trip over should be no problem, it’s what happens afterward that is questionable, a westerly wind of unknown velocity (Chris thinks under ten knots) will appear late Tuesday and persist for another day and night. That could be uncomfortable but not dangerous as long as it doesn’t pipe up stronger than that. There is little protection from west or south winds along the Cat Island shore but Parker seems to think it may be alright. By Thursday the wind swings back to the northeast which is fine and also good for sailing around to Eleuthera where I want to anchor in Rock Sound for a day or two. So it looks like I’ll move on Monday – hope it’s a good decision.
The local music festival turned out to be a bust, for me at least. It’s just too loud and hurts my ears. If I want to listen to the bands I can sit on the boat a mile away and hear it without pain. My age is in the way I suppose but Bahamian ska music sounds chaotic to me with overpowering bass that doesn’t keep rhythm in any coherent way. Well, I’m sure it’s just me, Bahamians love it.
On Honeymoon Beach just before sunset Friday another ARC meeting convened. At least once a season the Alcohol Research Committee attempts to delve into the phenomenon of what happens when cruisers are assembled in large groups with food and drink liberally applied. Scientific research went on until well after dark, but as of this morning data collected are insufficient and continuing studies must follow as grants allow.
Monday, March 13, 2017
The weather forecast changed just enough to make it unwise to go to Cat Island this week, the anchorage there is not very protected in westerly wind and it’s supposed to blow near twenty knots tomorrow. Cats come, and cats go.
Even in Elizabeth Harbor that direction calls for a move so this morning I took Walkabout over to the opposite shore and anchored off little Goat Island near the Peace and Plenty Resort beach. When the wind switches tonight I should be covered. I already have one neighbor and most likely there will other boats moving here.
I ran into a boater I know from year’s past, Mike, who lives on his boat year-round and winters here in the Exumas. I stopped at his boat yesterday and we had a long chat mostly about, since we are the same age, how long can we keep cruising? Long enough, I hope… at least long enough to get home. Mike’s boat is a Tayana 37 also and he has it fitted out with some inventive accessories that make a lot of sense, weight handling tackle and things like that. He came by this morning to ask if I wanted to follow him into a protected anchorage that he knows, but since I carry more load in the way of water and fuel than his boat does I thought my draft might be a problem. That’s how I ended up here at Goat Island.
The wind will only last until Wednesday then I’ll go back to Monument Beach. Meanwhile there is a lovely beach just on the other side of the spit of land behind me.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
The anchorage off Goat Island that I thought would be comfortable wasn’t. With a fetch of about four miles in twenty knots of wind, yesterday and most of last night I was riding three foot choppy waves coming up the harbor. The boat was in no danger, the anchor was set in soft sand and we were not moving. It was only another bouncy night. This morning the wind continues to shift more to the West and that should make this spot more to my liking.
The weather here remains excellent, yes the wind is blowing briskly but the sun is out and the temperature is in the seventies and low eighties, so much better than shivering in the cold. Today I’ll take the dinghy to shore and take a walk out on the little rocky peninsula jutting out from the beach.
A dinghy came up to me while I was reading my novel in the cockpit yesterday afternoon and a woman called out, “Hello Ira, VT!”, and, coming closer, she added “How many people know where that is?” Gwen and Don are on the catamaran Tackless Too anchored a few hundred feet behind me and Gwen has a friend in Middletown Springs and knew where Ira is having driven through it. It was a pleasant surprise, and she named a couple of my neighbors too, just to prove her knowledge. I’ve only had that happen once before away from the States, while we were in Bequia, from a vacationer paddling her kayak.
The northeast is under the gun again, another storm of the century, according to an email from Jeanne who is holed up at home waiting for the snow. Doesn’t bother her much, she’s hauled in plenty of firewood and, I hope, will not lose power. That rarely happens in Ira and when it does gets repaired very quickly. I think she gets a kick out of bad weather anyway, just not enough of one to come along with me.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
After two days off Goat Island, I moved Walkabout back to Monument Beach. It’s less than comfortable, waves are still about two feet. The wind will switch but not until later today or tonight. That means no off-boat activities for me because if she were to drag even a little it would not be pretty, the beach and rocks are close.
I did get off the boat yesterday with a dinghy ride into George Town for groceries and then a leisurely tour close to shore on the way back. Later in the afternoon I went over to the Goat Island beach and waded in the shallow water. For a rather highly populated island the bay side beach is quite nice, with clear water and little garbage. And I was the only person there.
Reading in the cockpit in the late afternoon sun, I heard a girl shouting, “Michael! Michael!” She was a ways off, on a paddle board, and had another SUP in tow. The wind was blowing her off-shore out toward the assembly of anchored cruising boats and her calls grew louder and more insistent. I put down my book, stood up and scanned around with my binoculars but failed to spot Michael or whomever she was crying out for. But, my neighbor Don rushed to her aid in his dinghy and towed her and her boards back to the resort beach. I’m sure she was grateful, her next stop would have been Stocking Island, a mile and a half downwind. I would hate to be Michael.
Friday, March 17, 2017
Played volleyball yesterday, five games, and as usual I couldn’t serve the ball worth a damn. Had some fun, didn’t overdo it and this morning my knees are only a little creaky. If the sun comes out I may go back this afternoon. Right now a stiff wind is blowing and it’s relatively cool, only 71°F, and overcast — a gloomy day.
In the harbor the apposite boats swinging on their anchors paint a symmetrical scene. Each one finding its own way, separating only to regroup elsewhere in the archipelago. This flux continues throughout each cruising season, individual vessels come and go but the entirety remains. The metrics are rather easy to understand; as a group the cruising community is relatively small, fewer than ten thousand vessels can be expected to visit these islands in a season, so interaction and familiarity between them is a given.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
I left George Town on Sunday after three enjoyable weeks of “Cruiser Camp”. It was time to go, even the best places become tiresome. Just when people were starting to call me Bob I decide to leave. I wasn’t alone though, Mike on Pagan Chant asked me if I were taking the weather opportunity to go north as he had a good route in mind, north in Exuma Sound then tuck in through Galliot Cut to the Banks and then on to Big Majors to anchor. He was going to Nassau where he had a dentist appointment, but from Big Majors I had a good shot at Highbourne Cay and then on to Great Abaco Island. So we traveled together for a day, two Tayana 37’s in a row. As it turned out, after an exciting entry at Galliot Cut and rough water on the Bank we both were tired of being beat up and tucked in at Great Guana Cay; Mike in the Black Point anchorage and I in a protected spot near the “Sand Castle” for the night. That was it for Mike, I haven’t seen or heard from him since. Hope he gets his tooth fixed.
The next day, Monday, I had a particularly nice sail to Highbourne Cay, almost forty-five miles in a close reaching wind. The seas started off flat and increased all day up to three feet by the time the ride was over. Don’t see that every day. I anchored close in to shore Monday evening with fifteen other cruising boats and some Bahamian fishermen on their gnarly trawler. There was bar music coming over the bluff, I couldn’t see from where but it ended early so I had a good night’s sleep.
Mid-morning Tuesday I left Highbourne Cay and motored north into a light wind. The wind and seas built quickly as I passed the ocean cuts at Ship Channel Cay and the Dog Rocks: North Dog, South Dog and, hold on, Middle Dog. It was becoming rather rough when I changed course toward the Fleeming Channel twenty-six miles across the shallow coral-head riddled Bank. For reference, New Providence Island (Nassau) lies almost thirty miles West of this route. After hours of dodging black patches of coral and weeds I went through the Fleeming Channel passing Six Shilling Cay at five-thirty and began my night run over the North East Providence Channel.
At about the time of a spectacular “green flash” sunset a favorable breeze picked up and I sailed with the motor off for a few hours but by midnight had to turn it back on or I would still be there. If my wife had been along she’d have gone wild ̶ that I had turned it off in the first place! But I made useful time of it, saved a little fuel and enjoyed the star-filled night as Walkabout glided over the rolling phosphorescent sea. At daybreak this morning I made landfall off Great Abaco Island and at nine was through Lynyard Cay Cut traveling up the lake-like Sea of Abaco. The night had been so calm and ship traffic so light I had managed to get enough sleep, in ten minute spurts, that I didn’t feel the need to stop to rest and instead just drove on, refueling (22.2 gallons for 200 miles) at Abaco Beach Marina then continuing to Marsh Harbor where I did nap after anchoring. A long drive.
Tomorrow morning a cold front is supposed to hit the Abacos with gale force winds, that’s where my intentions to make it in without a break came from. Marsh Harbor is a major port and is a bit like Florida with lots of services, stores and shops where I can get what I need for the next leg. It is not confirmed as yet, just speculation on the forecaster’s part, but there may be a long multi-day weather window where boats can travel from the islands to the U.S. east coast all the way up to the Carolinas. That would be something. It doesn’t happen, if at all, until Monday.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
This morning at eight Marsh Harbor was flat calm, by eleven a descending cold front had brought winds in the high twenties and threatens even stronger conditions by this evening. I’m monitoring the anchor closely and will remain on board just in case it drags. I don’t want a repeat performance of the George Town incident. Here there is no room for error with boats on all sides and shallows where boats aren’t.
I don’t think there is anything to rumors of long voyage possibilities in the near future after all, it looks like there will be an opportunity to cross back to Florida on Monday and Tuesday but no more than that. I hope to go to Fort Pierce where I’m familiar with all the places to stay and the customs office as well because I have to check in to the country again. I’ll go to Vero Beach, moor there as before and rent a car to visit the authorities at the airport if they want me to. It’s a pain but in the interest of national security I’ll obey. You don’t check out of the US when you leave for the Bahamas and you don’t check out of the Bahamas when you head home so how do they know if you’ve been there? That kind of speculation will get you in trouble. They know.
Friday, March 24, 2017
The wind blew 34.7 knots yesterday as recorded on my instruments. This morning it has dropped to a point where I’m not worried about dragging anymore. The anchor is buried in mud and is solidly fixed. Marsh Harbor was, after all, a swamp before it became a shipping port. Thousands of anchors have since tilled the bottom into a gooey mix of sand and millions of years of organic debris so it holds well, as attested to the fact that Walkabout is still in the same place.
I may start for Florida on Sunday if the sea conditions will allow me to cross the ocean cut north of Marsh Harbor. The Whale Cut as it’s known can be be quite dangerous in large swells. If it doesn’t calm down enough by Sunday I’ll go on Monday though by then it won’t be as good for sailing. I should be in Vero Beach by Tuesday at any rate and will stay there for a few days before starting north again. I will not be traveling alone, the great northerly migration has begun.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
The winds have died down at last, the sun is out and it’s getting warm again. Time to leave? Not today, only a short trip this afternoon to Guana Cay which is just this side of the Whale Cut that today is impassable because of the ocean swell. With some luck I may be able to get through the cut tomorrow and start for Ft. Pierce getting there on Tuesday. The trip from here in Marsh Harbor is one hundred and eighty miles, thirty hours more or less. I’m ready, the boat is stocked up and all that has to be done is get the dinghy on the davits butfirst I want to use it this morning for a short trip to shore.
I went out last night for dinner at Grabbers Restaurant and had barbecued grouper. It Was Delicious. I sat at the bar and talked to a Canadian, Sylvain, from Montreal who is traveling with his wife and will be down here through April. That seems to be the rule with a lot of people cruising in the Abacos, the weather improves after March so, I think, if they get through that then they feel obligated to linger for the better conditions of April and May. They could have gone to the Exumas for the early months and avoided most of the cold front uglies. But it is a long a way between the two. Anyway we had a good chat and Sylvain will be a happier man when his wife gets back to their boat after a short but urgent flight home to file their taxes… Oh, Canada!
I managed to buy some Internet access yesterday from the Bahama Telephone Company and read my email which has been piling up. BTC just this morning has fixed the connection problem that has kept everyone in Abaco from using the Internet and joy has returned. Jeanne checks our email at home, we share the same Gmail account, and knows what’s going on but I haven’t been able to log on for weeks let alone update the blog. My apologies to whomever might be reading it.
Monday, March 27, 2017
I pulled up the anchor this morning at eight, believe me was it buried, I had to work for ten minutes to pull it up. I let it dangle in the water to wash off the goop, then forgot about it while I was raising the mainsail so the next thing I heard was someone on the radio telling me, and everyone else, that my anchor was hanging in the water. Well, I thanked him after I got it secure and was out of the harbor. It’s good that people watch out for others, even if it’s a little embarrassing.
Boy, what a great day in the Sea of Abaco. Wind on the beam at fifteen knots all day, the temperature at 77 degrees, bright sun and few clouds. I sailed until four-thirty then pulled over after thirty-five miles to anchor off Spanish Cay for the night. Tomorrow I’ll start early and plan to be at the Fort Pierce inlet by Wednesday morning, it’s one hundred fifty miles from here. The wind is predicted to drop and by the time I get in be almost nothing so it’s going to be a motoring trip.
My main concern this morning was getting around the ocean cut north of Marsh Harbor called the Whale. As I’ve said, the wind had been howling for the past four days and the seas had become very large, ten feet or more, and the cut can be impassable when waves start to break in it. The cut had been just that way until this morning when a boat captain reported that it was calmer and he was going through it at that moment. Great, I thought and followed four other boats, two catamarans and two motor yachts into the channel and out into the space between the outer reef and Whale Cay, a slender half-mile long rock that looks sort of like a whale. So far so good. It wasn’t really calm at all, the waves that were getting over the reef were six feet at the least but weren’t breaking. It looked OK ahead too and I proceeded to make the turn back in to the inner sea with the end of the island well to port. Then I found out why the cut is so dangerous. Hidden from my view were rollers bending around the Cay’s north point and suddenly I was in the middle of them surfing down their crests. That was an experience. If I had been able to let go of the wheel for a second I would have taken a picture. As I said, we were sailing but going fast enough to maintain control and Walkabout is one sweet sailboat. She just settled into a groove and sat back as we floated down those waves. Don’t want to do it again right away but it’s nice to know how.
Spanish Cay is a private island with a marina and resort, I can see it from where I’m anchored. There is good cell phone reception and I got some emails out. An hour ago I took a swim to check out the anchor, it was lying on its side and I had to jam it’s point into the sea grass. There was a live conch crawling on the bottom, I left it alone but did pick up two really large sand dollar shells. I haven’t been in the water since I got to the islands, unusual for me, it was pleasantly warm with no sharks or barracuda around. Tonight it will be left-over rice and pork chops and an early bed, I’ve got thirty hours of motoring ahead.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
As of ten o’clock this morning I’m again officially back in the USA. It was the most frustrating re-entry I’ve experienced but only because of my inadequate means: First, my cell phone is in transition, that means it’s almost dead from salt air exposure, and the second reason is I was dead tired and my patience had thinned out. I called Florida’s 800 number in Miami to obtain my clearing-in number after arriving in Vero Beach yesterday but after repeated attempts, where the system cut me off and my cellphone battery died, I gave up. This morning I rented a car and drove twenty miles out to Fort Pierce International Airport where the US Customs office is and was told I must have a clearance number before they could accept me back. Furthermore, I couldn’t call from their phone, “Because you can’t!”, and suggested that I go next door to the airport’s restaurant and beg use of their desk phone. I started to give my opinion of their operation and that triggered the usual aggressive cop response complete with, “If you want to argue we’ll just confiscate your boat!”, so I quickly reverted to my usual cowering dealing-with-officials voice and that seemed to calm him down. Muttering all the way, I went over to the airport’s “Tiki” restaurant and borrowed a ‘real’ telephone from the gracious and helpful attendant; she could see my dilemma written all over my face. Naturally, I got through on the first try and within a few minutes of answering questions had my clearance number. Prayers answered once again. When I walked back into Customs five minutes later one of the officers met me at the door and told me I had been cleared. “I’m all set?”, I asked. This officer was friendly and very polite, “That’s it sir, we saw you coming and now you can go.” Genuinely relieved I walked back to the Tiki and had a big breakfast and left a big tip.
Tuesday morning when I left Spanish Cay, the wind had died to zero, the Sea of Abaco was flat calm and remained that way all day and most of the night. The only rowdy water I ran into was in the Gulf Stream in the early hours Wednesday from the ocean swells, eight or nine feet but with a very long interval so even with their size it was not uncomfortable. I could see the tall buildings along the Florida shore rising in the morning mist at sunrise and was in Fort Pierce Inlet by nine going like fury on the flowing tide. My GPS speed was 9.4 knots – like riding in a car!
Vero Beach is fourteen miles north on the ICW from Ft. Pierce so I didn’t stop and got to the marina’s fuel dock at noon. After filling the tank I was assigned mooring #19, but I had to raft to another boat already on it. It’s crew was not on board. It was fortunate that there was no wind, so, with a gingerly approach I managed to tie Walkabout off to Sea Escape, a beautiful Passport 40 sailboat with impeccably varnished brightwork. The owners of Sea Escape, Randy and Sharon, came back and later we got acquainted. They’ve owned their boat for twenty years and just love her. They do their sailing on the Chesapeake in the summer and Florida in the winter and occasionally Randy will take her out on trips by himself up and down the coast. His wife is just fine with that.
I hope to do some needed maintenance on the boat while I’m in this protected spot and, by Monday or Tuesday move north along the waterway resting at some of the places I’ve been before. The ICW in Florida is not difficult to navigate, like some stretches in the Carolinas, or Georgia, which is out of the question because of the terrific tides, so I’ll take the easier route and not go outside until Fernandina.