Conditions were perfect for a quick daysail to Hope Town, about 8 nm from Marsh Harbour. I’d talked in the last dispatch about learning to read the water depth. It is embarrassing to admit, but we hadn’t seen anything yet. As we got close to the lighthouse outside Hope Town, the colors of the depth changed, becoming lighter green, then a sort of aquamarine, then dark. (And these colors were all around us: no deep water anywhere around.)The dark color can be coral heads or seaweed/sea grass, and I knew it was the latter. The problem is that the seaweed on the bottom masks the actual depth. I dutifully went forward almost to the bow of DW and watched and watched. I held my breath, as the bottom looked to be maybe a foot or less below us (certainly higher that the keel!), though that wasn’t actually the case (so much for being able to read the depth…). Had the depth sounder been working, it no doubt would have been beeping warnings like mad as we went through the area. It couldn’t have been much more than 5′ deep in much of the areas we went through! (Keep in mind that we draw about 4′ 6”) It was very aggravating, but just gorgeous, as well. It was hard to appreciate the colors of the water under those circumstances, though.
Paul followed the chart plotter, and at one point there was an actual channel marked. Instead of going to the middle, he stayed closer to the red mark. Wrong move: we went aground, hard, though so gently, it was only because we were no longer moving that either of could tell. I looked at the bottom and it looked absolutely no different from places where we didn’t go aground, so the change must have been too subtle for me. Paul waited a few moments, as we were going through just after low tide as the tide was rising, and gunned the engine in reverse, breaking free.
The entrance to Hope Town is very narrow, but once inside, there’s plenty of room and plenty of depth. The town is quite old and absolutely charming, with pastel houses lining the waterfront, and the entire area given over to walking streets. The streets were quite narrow, just wide enough for a pedestrian and a golf cart to share (no vehicles allowed in town, but evidently golf carts aren’t considered vehicles). It was a pleasure to walk around and look at the houses, the harbor and boats beyond, and say hello to the others walking or bicycling. Some places are built as places to attract tourists,but Hope Town, although plenty of tourists were in evidence, had no such feel. It seemed completely genuine.
We stopped in a gift shop and an art gallery, and found several items that “had our names on them,” keeping in mind that we’re on a small boat and don’t have very much room for souvenirs of any sort. At the art gallery, the artist pointed out that all the prints and reproductions of his work were made right in the Bahamas, not in China. Good point! And it was fun to browse. How much room, after all, does a notecard take? (But a whole box of them? That’s something else entirely, but it was just one box.)
Great Abaco Island
Due to adverse winds and weather, we headed back to Marsh Harbour, where provisioning is much better, while we wait for another weather window. We’ve been here for the past several days, getting better acquainted with some of our fellow cruisers.
There’s probably no “typical” cruiser, though most of us are retired and older. One couple we met were powerboaters, then made the switch to a sailboat (it’s usually the reverse, especially as one gets older and handling the sails becomes more of a physical challenge) due to the lower cost of owning and operating a sailboat as opposed to a powerboat. They bought a 43′ sailboat and took off, first on daysails, then for weekend trips. One day there was evidently a squall forecast, but the weather seemed fine with no squalls in sight, so they decided to continue with their sail. The squall hit with little warning, giving them just enough time to take down the mainsail. Scott, the captain, said that they had 70 knot gusts and were driven nearly half way to the Bahamas by the force of the squall. (I cannot imagine and don’t want to). He was a novice sailor and didn’t know about using the winch to help him with the genoa (a headsail used in lighter air, and quite a bit larger than the usual jib). There was another sailboat also stuck out there, and he followed the skipper, keeping the boat headed into the wind. When it was all over, he discovered that not even the genoa had been damaged! Since then, they’ve paid a lot more attention to weather forecasts.
Paul was sitting in the cockpit just now, listening to a Spanish lesson, and shouted, “Turtle alert!” I ran up the 4 steps to get up on deck, and there was a turtle (carapace maybe a foot across), swimming in the water behind DW, just like a person, putting its head up every few moments to take a breath. Neither of us was fast enough to snap a picture before it disappeared, but it was really fun to see it. I’ve seen turtles basking in the sun, but never one swimming.
Lynyard Cay anchorage
We finally left Marsh Harbour, heading south to Spanish Wells and Eleuthera Island beyond. Mangoes Marina at Marsh Harbour was a wonderful temporary home, and I was surprised that several people came out either to help us with our lines or wave goodbye.
The sail today was great, however. Moderate winds, which lightened as the afternoon wore on, after days and days of winds whistling in our rigging when we were at the marina. We passed by several privately-owned cays, though all seemed to have fairly modest homes on them. We actually saw some elevation: rocky cliffs and hills, none of which we’d seen here before. Of course I took pictures.
Sailing today was everything that people talk about: gentle breezes, the sound of water rushing along DW’s hull (which you could never hear if the engine were on, as I know I’ve mentioned before), and slow, but steady progress, seemingly effortlessly speeding along (so it seemed to us, anyway) at 3.5 and 4 knots or even a bit more. And when we got here, there were a few other boats anchored, the water was green, and there were broken clouds in a blue sky. It was magical.
Tonight, Paul will be leaving here about midnight and we’ll go to our usual watch schedule, with me taking over at 0300. At 5 knots, Spanish Wells is about 12 hours from here, and we want to get there close to high tide. Not likely we’ll arrive earlier, but in giving DW some leeway, high tide is at 1400, so arriving any time between 1200 and 1600 should be fine. Navigation should be fairly straightforward until we get close to Spanish Wells, when there may be some coral heads to watch out for. I did such a great job as lookout heading into Hope Town (when we went aground), I’ hope I’ve learned something. At least Paul and I have worked out some hand signals!
St Georges Cay
I think we are learning to read the water at long last! The unmarked channel into Spanish Wells clearly showed where the (slightly) deeper water was located: good enough for DW’s almost 5′ draft, at any rate. I called into the marina, where there was plenty of space, noted our 5′ draft, and he said, “that won’t be a problem.” When we got there, he had us go to the dock closest to the shore. Before we tied up, I said, we draw 5′, and he again said that it wouldn’t be a problem. After we tied up,I again pointed out DW’s draft, and he said, “Oh, we have lots of water here. It’s not a problem.” Maybe so, but during the night, we hit bottom as the tide was ebbing….. I’d already paid for the night, so at first light we were floating again and there was a rising tide, and we left, heading for Nassau. Sometimes, it pays to stop asking questions and just trust your instincts. Both Paul and I thought that it was too shallow where he directed us to dock. The interesting thing is that there were plenty of empty slips further from shore, where we would have been fine.
All that being said, it’s disappointing that we got to Spanish Wells on a Sunday, when everything was closed. The Bahamians are in general strongly religious, and on many of the smaller cays, most,if not all, retail establishments are closed on Sunday, to allow all the residents to go to church. (The docking agent was on duty at the marina, so made do by listening in the marina office to his small television broadcasting a pastor preaching a very fiery sermon to his large congregation.) From the water, the town seems utterly charming, and it would have been fun to walk around when shops were open and more people around. But we needed to leave while the tide was flooding.
The difference in cruisers’ cruising styles is very interesting. We are used to going a few miles from anchorage to anchorage or marina to marina, and by “few, we’re talking a daysail away, say, 15 to 40 miles. Until we got to the Bahamas, we’d assumed that everyone did about the same thing, other than people who find a place to anchor out or find a marina they like and wind up staying for a month or two. Here, we appear to be the anomaly. We’ve talked to a number of other cruisers about cruising grounds, and, almost without exception, all talk about spending two, three, or even six months cruising in the Abacos, a chain of islands about 130 miles long. People asked us where we were heading next, and my answer was, “Little Harbor,” a harbor about 20 nm south on Great Abaco Island. Nearly everyone who asked us responded that they’d never been that far south, but “maybe the next cruising season, we’ll get there.” Green Turtle Cay is fine, as is Marsh Harbour, but Lynyard Cay is just gorgeous, and it’s a shame that most of them haven’t been there. On the other hand, I’m not sure we’d want to spend two weeks there!
From Spanish Wells, we’ll be on our way to the biggest city (by far) of the Bahamas: Nassau, on New Providence Island. It’s about 40 or 45 nm from Spanish Wells, through some of the open waters of the Atlantic. Weather is forecast to be fine for the passage.