Bahamas Sailing: Dispatch 1

001 sunset at Great Sale Cay1/17/13, Green Turtle Cay, The Bahamas:

Thanks to the National Weather Service’s absolutely spot-on forecast and the weather gods, our passage from Lake Worth Inlet to Great Sale Cay was easy. Sailing out the Inlet to the Atlantic, itself, was quite bouncy and the hardest part of the trip, but all else was fine.

We left Lake Worth Inlet about 1530 (3:30 pm for you landlubbers), and got to Great Sale about sunset the following afternoon, so the passage of 106 nm took about 26 hours. From 1600 on, we shifted to a three-hours-on/three-hours-off watch schedule. If the passage had been longer, this schedule wouldn’t have allowed either of us enough sleep, but for just a day, it was tower on Great Abaco Island

We take offshore passages seriously because preparations need to be made just in case there’s an unexpected wind shift or especially large swell (rogue waves are real). Everything below that could be secured was secured. Paul dug out the safety gear, so when either of us was on watch, we wore our offshore life jackets and harnesses. Conditions were benign, but it’s pretty empty out there if anything does go wrong.

Paul and I had both done some reading about the best way to get across the Gulf Stream. His source gave him a heading a little south of where we wanted to be (makes sense, as the Gulf Stream flows strongly north). My sources, of course, said something completely different: you want to minimize the time you’re in the Gulf Stream, so steer directly across, and make your course adjustments after the Gulf Stream has been crossed. (That, too, makes sense.) Paul’s the captain, and it was up to him to make the decision.

After my first watch of three house, though, I was not a happy camper. When I started my watch, the hours to get to our destination (Great Sale Cay, an interim point in this case), showed 29+ hours. When I was done 3 hours later, it showed 28+ hours. And doing 3.5 knots… But as we got closer (and later had some help from the wind), we began making better time, and I have to admit that Paul did a superb job routing us. There were no problems with shoals as we got close to Great Sale Cay, and DW was anchored in just as if Paul had been there before.

Great Sale Ca007 a Bahamaian cayy is a low, sandy islet covered in brush, rather anticlimactic for a first view of The Bahamas. After the high and rocky/forested islands of the Pacific Northwest and even rockier islands and islets of NS and ME, it’s quite surprising to see these flat, flat cays. But getting to Great Sale Cay was a wonderful respite. Because of the need to cruise among the cays only during the day so you can see the color of the water to monitor depths, we needed to do the second part of our passage during the night in order to arrive at Green Turtle Cay during the day.

So after a few hours’ very peaceful sleep, Paul started the engine and we continued on. No moon when I got up to start my shift at 0100, and the stars were just glorious. Other than Orion (because of Orion’s belt and the diagonal row of stars), it was very difficult to pick out any other constellations, as the stars were just so bright. It’s been so long since we’ve done a comfortable night passage – not since the Bay of Fundy – that I’d forgotten how wonderful night passages can be.

Normally, I get a little sleepy during nighttime passages, but Paul told me about hazards on either side of the rhumb line (the course to the next waypoint, which neither of us usually follows all that closely unless, as in much of the ICW, there’s danger of going aground or encountering obstacles). I was constantly adjusting the autopilot by a degree or two, to keep DW as close to the line as possible. There were occasions when I could feel currents pushing DW this way or that, and, frankly wouldn’t have noticed or been especially concerned had it not been so important to stay exactly on course.

Green Turtle CayAfter the sun rose, there was a shallow area charted not too far from the course, maybe .5 nm or less. I thought, okay, let’s see if that heralded color change is obvious. Sure enough, the water was a different, lighter green color where it was shallower!

The wind freshened during the night. Being pushed by just our diesel, we were going about 4.9 knots, with the sail providing no help as we left Great Sale. As the night wore on (at least during my 0100 – 0400 watch), we were doing 5.3, 5.5, 5.6, even 6.0 knots. Paul had initially estimated that we’d arrive in Green Turtle Cay about noon, but we got in about 1030, and Paul walked to town with ship’s papers and passports to clear customs.

016 Green Turtle Cay golf cartGreen Turtle Cay is much larger than I expected, large enough for roads and vehicles: a few cars, and lots of the preferred vehicle for getting around, golf carts! (You can rent one for $45/day or $225/week, one of the other cruisers later told us.) We walked from the marina to town on small, pale, gravel-covered roads (no sidewalks), looking for a loaf of homemade bread, which, according to the cruising guide, is available everywhere and very good. No luck, despite stopping in several places, often just the living room in a house, where “fresh bread” was advertised. At one small, general store – the biggest store in the community of New Plymouth, actually — Sid told us he was sold out of bread, but “the ladies” would be baking bread and delivering more on Monday, if we were still in town. He did have a few small loaves of pumpkin bread, one of which we bought. It turned out to be approximately equal quantities of pumpkin 014 -beach on Green Turtle Caybread and sweetened cream cheese. It was delicious, though low calorie it was not. I wish we’d been around a day or two later to get more.

The marina is filled with Canadian boats, one of which came all the way from St Johns, Newfoundland. People here talk about how long they plan to remain on Green Turtle: two weeks, a month or even longer, using Green Turtle as a base. People cruise to a nearby cay an hour or two away., anchor out or dinghy in to have dinner somewhere, then return to Green Turtle Cay a day or two later. Having been to town on several occasions (for boat parts or hardware supplies), Paul is ready to move on, especially given that groceries and fresh vegetables are not much in evidence.


1/21/13, Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island:

The UPS and FedEx offices are both in Marsh Harbour. I point this out because things may break as you’re cruising, and in this place infamous for its shallow seas, reefs, and shifting sandbars, we now have no working depth sounder.

Under very lig023 moving the mother shipht winds and blue skies, we waited until close to half-tide to leave Green Turtle to be sure we’d have adequate depths through the shallower places. No problems with leaving, and things started out fine. Between engine and sail, we were doing about six knots. I was thinking about asking Paul about our estimated arrival time when the engine alarm sounded: overheating engine! Paul quickly turned the engine off and started to trace the problem while I took the helm in increasingly light winds. After about 45 minutes, he concluded that there was a blockage in the water intake somewhere. Winds were so light that even though at that point we were just nine nm away from Marsh Harbour, we wouldn’t arrive until about five or six hours later, well after dark.

Paul lashed the dinghy to the side of DW and started the 4 hp outboard, so it could push the 6+ ton025 rainbow 2 “mother ship.” It took a few moments, but pretty soon DW started moving: 1.5 knots, 1.9 knots, then 2.2 knots, faster than we’d gone in the past hour. Eventually, the trusty little outboard was pushing us at about 3.5 knots. We had less than a full 5 gallon tank of gas, and I wondered when it would run out (it didn’t!). Relying on the autopilot to steer, we stayed very close to the plotted course. Paul did have to stop the outboard a few times when seaweed (there was a lot of it in places) got tangled around the outboard shaft or around the propeller. I stayed above, standing on the seat so as to be able to see everything and occasionally make an adjustment to the autopilot. We got to the anchorage just before full dark.

049 seagrass or seaweedIn the morning, Paul put on a wetsuit and checked the engine intake (below the waterline) and found a single sea bean blocking the intake! He checked everything, and all seemed fine, and, sure enough, the engine started right up and responded normally as we went the 1/2 mi or so to the marina.

One thing was very interesting for both of us. Cruising at 3.5 knots, with Paul in the dinghy and me on DW, it was very easy to see the bottom anytime the depth was 9′ or less. So during much of the time we were underway, we really got a sense of how to read depths, at least from about 6-1/2 or 7′ up to about 9′. We had to go by the chart because, of course, we had no working depth sounder. The part to make the repair is on its way.

Marsh Harbour is the third-largest city in the Bahamas, behind Nassau and Freeport, which are very 028 Marsh Harbour 1much larger cities. Marsh Harbour is on Great Abaco Island, which is about 110 miles long, maybe halfway down the island. No golf carts here, just lots of cars. There are some sidewalks, in better repair than we’re used to in CR, but the roads have a lot of potholes and some cracked pavement with the same odd white clay that we saw on Green Turtle. We’ve done a lot of walking here! The cruising guide has a map of some of the towns and where various things are located. It showed a supermarket on the road right across from the marina, so we were excited about not having to do a whole lot of walking to get to at least some services. Wrong! The supermarket, Maxwell’s, an absolute wonder, large, air-conditioned, and containing practically anything you might want, was at least 8 blocks from the marina. We walked over there with the rolling cart and Paul’s backpack, then walked back, having bought what we’ll need for the next few days.

And here037 Bahamian courtesy flag, just as in Green Turtle (and, for that matter, back in Vero Beach), cruisers are very friendly, offering lots of great advice. There’s also something we really hadn’t encountered until Vero Beach: happy hour or, as the Canadians say, “sundowners,” put on by the cruisers themselves. Everyone in the marina is welcome, just provide your own beverage and (usually) an appetizer to share. At Vero Beach,”happy hour” happened every Thursday, and appetizers were sometimes quite elaborate. In Green Turtle, we think there was a happy hour every afternoon, though we only attended that first day. And in Marsh Hrbour at the marina where we’re staying, it’s every afternoon, but no one takes any appetizers. A pleasant way to trade information or swap stories, indeed! (My drink of choice is usually orange juice or ginger ale; Paul’s is red wine, of course.) Then we head back to DW, where I make something for dinner. (At Vero Beach,the appetizers were sufficiently substantial that there was no need for dinner!)

Next, it’s on to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, about 8 nm from here.