Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bahamas January 2007 26M Getaway

In 2000 my wife, Joyce, and I took a Macgregor 26X on a 17 day jaunt to Georgetown in the Bahamas. That trip is chronicled on this list as the “Millennium tour 2000”. It was a great trip so we set out to duplicate it, with a bit more time included to enjoy the Bahamas. Packing and equipping the boat took a couple of days, so all that’s left is our personal items and clean out the refrigerator. It was with high hopes that we set forth on our adventure.

12/28/06 Packed up and on the road at 1pm, traffic bad on I-95, eventually gave up and called friends who live in Fredericksburg, Va. Stopped by for tour of their new home and communal dinner. Back in I-95 crush, stopped at midnight for very cold nap. Frost on boat at 4.pm departure. Brrrr..

12/29/06 15 hours driving to Ft. Lauderdale – provisioned – crashed, exhausted from long day driving. 1:30am Joyce doesn’t like the “neighbors’, noisy youths with souped up cars and pre-new years fireworks, so off to Miami – back in bed at 2:30am at Crandon Park Marina, with plenty of security and peace and quiet.

12/30/06 Rig boat – purchase season pass ($160.50) no more free launch here – headed to No Name Harbor, arrive 11am, too late and too windy (15-25) for Bimini today – lunch at the Boaters Grill Restaurant, then nice walk to lighthouse and trek up 190 steps to top, view worth the trek – back to boat for stores organizing and lounging in true cruiser fashion. Bimini or Bust tomorrow!

12/31/06 up dutifully at 06:30 – Wind East – 15-20 – rough – hoisted main in 400’ water – crash, bash – wind on nose, made poor time, 12 miles in 4 hours, bailed out at 10am, wild ride back to marina in 4-6’ seas, rinse cockpit, shower, dinner at Boater’s Grill. Relaxing evening aboard with champagne, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Try again tomorrow.

1/1/07 Back out at 06:30, winds down a bit, better – Miami disappeared at 11.00am, Bimini appeared at 1:30 – trolling rod in the water – arrive 3:pm - $150. Check in went smoothly, $70 fuel, Oh No! – The Complete Angler, Hemmingway’s favorite place, burned to the ground a year ago, and the “Red Lion Restaurant”, my favorite here, was closed on Monday, so it was ham sandwiches in the cockpit. Anchored with twin anchors in strong current, and hope they hold.

 1/2/07 – Last night there was a big parade, with the loudest drums I ever heard, which started and ended at a community building RIGHT NEXT TO OUR BOAT! Anchors held thank God, back out through the Bimini channel at 0650, past the concrete ship and on to Chub! Perfect day, light S.E wind 5-10, speed 12mph (10kts) Past Russel “light” ( lights in the Bahamas generally do not work) 1:45pm, out of gas 2pm, glad we brought the spare 5 gallon can, into Chub and fueled up with 3 gallons to spare, back out on the ocean at 4:30, not bad going and hoping for wind to die off, BAD CHOICE no such luck- steadily rougher and slower, deployed the “windshield, a piece of plexiglass c-clamped to the hatch, worked well as a dodger for one person, except caused salt water to drip into the hatch and onto my bed. Fortunately we had spare “boat towels” covering the area just in case. Finally arriving very salt soaked at 8:30. Tied to piling near shore, with barking sea lions? Boat jerked on bowline and when the tide turned the boat bumped the piling, we had enough by 3am and moved the boat to the anchorage, where a shoreside marina guard yelled at us “Don’t anchor there” so we moved a bit. Damn! – Had some problems anchoring correctly with the wind and current, finally settled down about 4am for some much needed sleep. Then noticed loud mast hum, caused by tight shrouds. Easily quieted by loosening the mainsheet. Jeez!
What a day! Bimini to Nassau in 13.5 hours.

1/3/07- Quick tour of Atlantis Harbor, home of the largest superyachts. We could have been someone’s dinghy. Entrance to the harbor apparently is by slip reservation only as we were shooed away. Hey, we could have rented a slip, if we got a mortgage on the house. We just moved to Nassau Yacht Harbor ($1.85 per ft). The inexpensive ($75.)marina motel with endless hot water showers beckoned so we splurged on a room. Pleasant day drying the boat and reading by the (chilly) pool. Lunch at “Sailor’s Choice” and Dinner at the “Poop Deck” restaurants. Off to the Exumas tomorrow.

1/4/07 – The “Starbucks” across the street had free wireless internet so we hauled the old laptop over for a session, fueled by Venti Mocha. The Island’s largest grocery store is there also so shopping is a must. After fueling and Ice we headed out directly into SE 15-20. It was a nasty chop, with a fair amount of crashing and bashing and the 30 miles took 7 hours. These are the prevailing conditions this time of year, and it does make one wish for a May or June visit. Drenched with salt spray (again!) we arrived at Ship Channel Cay at 4pm, negotiated the tricky low tide entrance (with the help of an exiting powerboat who showed us the way). We gratefully anchored for drinks and dinner. As the tide changed the stern anchor dragged and, as we were close to a rocky shoal, we moved the boat and rafted alongside a moored barge. The watchman noticed our change in position and came out in a dinghy to investigate, but allowed us to stay the night. At high tide the barge floated and jostled us a bit, but that was minor compared to the feeling of security we had being tied alongside. Yawn!

 1/5/07 –  Leisurely am watching the tide come in- finally departed and hoisted sail for the close reach to Allen’s Cay for Iguana feeding on the beach. Joyce was frightened by the aggressive behavior as the Iguanas fought over the breadcrumbs. We quickly departed for Highborne Cay for fuel. This is a very nice stop, first class marina. There are no restaurants, but locally cooked meals can be delivered to your boat. Then it was off to Norman’s Cay, looking for Murphy’s Bar. Sadly, we could not go back. Murphy’s was now “McDuffs” and closed for renovation. There were to be other minor disappointments on this trip compared to our 2000 trip, but the real reason we come here is the natural beauty of the water and the remote beaches, and the distances. In the Virgin Islands, you never feel like you go anywhere because everything is so close. The sails went up again for the close reach to Elbow Cay, and we settled in for the evening on a beautiful ½ mile deserted beach on Hawksbill Cay. We took a stroll, picked up a bag of beach trash, had dinner aboard, and watched an unbelievable Sunset with rum ‘n coke. Life is good! Little wavelets lap the shore, and little no-see-ums start eating us, so the doubled over screening came out and we hastened below for a quiet night’s sleep.

 1/6/07 – 7am motor putting outside our window was a friendly but early visit by the Park Police. We took a high speed run in the morning calm past Warderick Wells Cay to Halls Pond Cay. The landmark Exuma Keys Club, a long defunct resort, has now been totally wiped from the earth and the pier is gone. Oh, Well! It exists now only in our memories and photos of earlier cruises. On to Belle and Little Belle islands for a brief lunch stop and swim, then a quick tour of the Sampson Yacht club, a very well manicured marina/resort located, where else, on Sampson Cay, but just a few miles from Staniel Cay, which I prefer. At Staniel Cay we tied up at the Happy People Marina, but it too has fallen on hard times. No water, no showers, and right next to the town dock with commercial traffic. No thanks! Back to the Staniel Cay Yacht club for a tasty dinner and anchor out in the calm bay for a quiet and free night.

1/7/07 – Fueled up 9am and headed for Black Point, windy and choppy. We hugged the shoreline for some protection where we could. We bypassed Black Point, a dreary settlement with little to offer the visiting Yachtsman, except one burger joint, and slogged doggedly towards Little Farmer’s Cay. We followed another boat, a trawler, and after rounding White point he turned back. Too rough! Maybe he needed a MacGregor! As long as we are dead upwind with no water ballast, other than an occasional crash over a particularly large wave, we are fine. The boat sheds spray well out to the sides and the cockpit remains dry. We ducked into a little nook with a sandy beach but were unable to get the anchor to hold in the strong winds and after several tries gave up and continued on. Docking at Little Farmers was challenging, with 25kt winds, shallow water, and other boats at the dock. We backed up into the wind and grabbed a piling.
Terry Bain’s “Ocean Cabin” restaurant opened a bit early for us and we joined the locals for burgers and fries and Kalik, the local Bahamian beer. Then it was off to Cave Cay, scene of last trips Dog encounter. This time there was a beautiful new marina and clubhouse. We hurriedly departed the potentially expensive spot, past Rudder Cut Cay with another prominent landmark, a hilltop home with circular master suite on the top floor, blown away by a hurricane. As expensive as it is to build here, it must be devastating to lose your house. We ended up in Little/Big Darby cays, in an anchorage that appeared snug but was a highway for local commuter boats, which buzzed past at high speeds (not much wake) as late as 10pm in pitch darkness, often with no running lights. Needless to say we had our anchor light and used the third anchor to pull the boat over to one side of the anchorage.

1/8/07 Out at 7am and around Big Darby Cay, staring into the sun, and promptly ran aground on a soft sand bore, our only grounding this trip. Throttling down and raising the motor with the power tilt got us over the thin spot. Sped past more islands to Barraterre, on the tip of Great Exuma. We had a nice meal at the Fisherman’s Inn in 1995, but hard times hit again , their electricity was out and the restaurant was closed. Continued on past Rolleville to Steventon, very nice beach with popular local conch house “Big D’s”, but no dock. We fixed lunch aboard, then motored directly over the reef (5-6’ depths) onto the Exuma sound and headed for Georgetown, at last. The 15kts SE wind produced only mild crashing during the 8 mile trip but we were still happy to reach the famed “Chat’nChill" bar on beautiful Volleyball Beach. After a couple beers and needing ice we puttered over to Georgetown and anchored on the small town beach. We had cleaned it up in 2000 and it needed a good cleaning again. Usually I limit my efforts to one bag of trash a day but we got 4 which was most of it. We walked around the town lake with a stop at the Protestant church on the hill, resplendent with flowers and colorful trees, and stopped in at the Peace and Plenty for drinks. The original building was built in the 1700’s and has the 3’ thick walls and ancient hinged windows, still working a decent dinner could be had at Sam’s on the water overlooking the marina. The little town beach proved a bad spot to spend the night, as the commercial wharf is nearby and the ships operate with the tides, so if high tide is 1am there is a lot of truck and boat activity at that time. Live and learn! There are many secluded coves but few venture out after dark in these waters, so you need to be land based or use a dinghy to have dinner and then make it back to your boat.

1/9/07 – Very calm morning, a welcome relief. We got sweet rolls from Mama’s Mobile bakery truck. Yum! Then headed to Master’s Harbor where we have leased a waterfront cottage starting on the 13th, to check it out. Very cute, but with barely adequate water depth at low tide for the boat. Found another beautiful beach on Crab Cay, did our 1 bag of trash and took the first snorkel of the trip. It was a perfect, calm day, and, with all the nearby cruisers we could not believe we had the place to ourselves. Later we headed back to Georgetown for ice cream and the internet cafĂ©, then back to the Chat’n Chill for chicken dinners and more Kalik. We stayed on the beach and watched a movie on our little 8” DVD player, then turned in.

1/10/07 - About 3am the wind shifted to the North and picked up to 25kts as a front roared through. It might have been a good idea to pay a little closer attention to the weather forecast. Our beach anchors dragged and we were pushed further up on the beach, very peaceful at low tide, hard aground on the sand. No use to fuss, just put out the main anchor and wait for high tide. We got off with some assistance from a nearby boat. They winched us out into deeper water and another yachtie retrieved our anchor for us. The next couple of days were spent pleasantly in and around Georgetown enjoying the cruising lifestyle, chatting with other sailors, lazing in the hammocks etc. The windy weather continued, thwarting our plans to sail to Long Island and Rum Cay , but we were ok right here. On the 12th we moved to the rental cottage dock and settled in ashore. Our daughter, son-in-law and 2 grandchildren flew in on the 14th to spend a week. The weather improved and we went sailing, snorkeling, and beaching almost every day. A rental car made for convenient local trips. It was one of the best family vacations ever, and too soon we were packing up the relatives for the airport and repacking the boat to head for home ourselves.

1/23/07 - Joyce returned the rental car and I met her at the Georgetown Marina. What! No Gas?? It could have caused a delay but the “downtown” station still had gas so we ferried our fuel in 5 gallon cans to the boat. Departing 10:45 for Staniel Cay we headed north with favorable winds. The boat felt a bit sluggish so we anchored for lunch and I snorkeled the bottom. Little barnacles and sea grass was appearing, requiring an hours scrubbing to clean off. 2mph faster now, we sped to Staniel Cay, arriving before dark and enjoying another delicious meal, with Key Lime pie! We anchored again in the calm, shallow bay.

1/24/07 – Fueled up ($102 @ $4.35/gallon) and headed straight across the banks for Nassau. The weather forecast was for another front to come through the next day so we took advantage of the calm weather and blasted the 75 miles to Nassau in 6.5 hours. Only a powersailor can do this trip in one daylight day. The “Sailor’s Choice” provides a free overnight tie-up for dinner guests (shallow draft boats only) and is fast becoming our favorite place in Nassau. Owner Willie is a friendly local sailor who races a traditional Bahamian sloop, the “Pieces of Eight”, and has many trophies on display.

1/25/07 – Despite the forecast it was pretty calm so we hightailed it for Chub Cay and would have made it easily, too, if we had left at 6am instead of 9am. As it was the wind shifted towards the west and picked up to 25-30kts, leaving us with about 8 miles to go against mounting seas and the worst spray ever, almost impossible to breathe. I should have worn my snorkel mask. Turning downwind into the Chub channel the waves were huge, coming off the ocean into the shallow bay. It was scary but we sped up faster to match the speed of the waves and scooted into the protected marina. The all new marina was a blessing and we certainly enjoyed the amenities and restaurant. Other sailors were waiting for better weather to go to Nassau, one in a Benateau 41. Hell, Nassau was DOWNWIND! It would have been a great sail in that boat. Many cruisers do not push themselves or their boats at all, preferring to wait for calm conditions. One of these days, when we are full time retirees, that may be us, too!

 1/26/07 – Depart 7am 75 miles to Cat Cay, winds N 20kts, course NW. We hugged the banks to keep the waves smaller and the spray lower. Made NW light about 10am and changed course more westerly. It was lumpy with occasional crashes and some spray but nothing like the previous day. Towards the afternoon we got a break as winds diminished and shifter more NE. Our arrival in Cat Cay was ahead of schedule at 4:30pm. After fueling we went over to nearby Gun Cay, which had a nice little beach, Honeymoon Beach. Again, sad to say, the hurricanes had washed away the beach and made the anchorage less appealing. With the swell coming in we headed back to the marina for an expensive ($2.50’) 30’ minimum but peaceful night. We cooked aboard, trying to use up some of our provisions.

1/27/07 Conditions improved, with 10kt East winds and our course almost due west. We hoisted full sail and sailed for an hour, making about 4 miles. In the old days, before the powersailor, we would have left at 4am and sailed across in 10-14 hours. With 40 miles to go, we again elected to drain the ballast and motor. The trip across the Gulf Stream was fast and fun, and a little exciting, as speeds hit 19mph surfing down the sides of the northerly 6-8’swells. The 3’ easterly waves were almost ignored. There was very little spray and the boat only “spun out” on a wave top (with engine cavitation and 90degree swings) a few times. We averaged 10kts or 12mph and arrived in No Name Harbor about 1pm for a 4-5hr crossing. The fresh fish cooking at the Boater’s Grill beckoned us for lunch. Later, we rescued the Astro van from the catamaran regatta boats surrounding it and hauled the Macgregor back aboard for de-rigging. I should have brought my powerwasher along but the salt encrustation was so bad I decided to purchase another one at a home depot north of Miami. Like we have done before, we stopped at a campground in Georgia to wash and wax the boat. Considering the beating we gave it from time to time it came through in good shape. These are remarkable little boats, tough, versatile, and surprisingly comfortable for extended cruises. We’re already thinking of the next trip.

--Cheers and happy sailing ( and powering) from Capt Jim and first mate Joyce!