Before leaving Hope Town, we motored over to the marina to fill our water tanks, plus the three jerry cans of water we have lashed on deck. When we left Trident Yacht Club, Blair was adamant that Strathspey wouldn’t look like a vagabond boat this year; no jerry cans on the deck and no laundry flapping on our lifelines. Well, we’ve knuckled under to the pressure of carrying extra water on deck mainly because docks with water are getting harder to find, but so far washday has been a marina laundry experience only. I was definitely not happy with my last experience in Green Turtle Cay though, where I’d paid $12 to do one load and it was still slightly damp after two cycles through a WWII-vintage dryer. We’re noting that some people aren’t as particular as us, especially the boat that came in beside us at the marina with all their underwear flapping wildly on the lifelines. All this, as the crew nonchalantly handed their dock lines to the dock boy. Geez, if we succumbed to that, the next thing you know, Blair would stop cutting his hair. Wait a minute…. I think he has.
After two weeks in the Abacos, we realized that we finally had a good weather window to get across to Eleuthera via Northeast Providence Channel. There are a few different ways to get from the Northern Bahamas (the Abacos) to the Southern Bahamas (the Exumas and the furthest south we’re going). We’ve chosen a route that consists of a mixture of short and longish passages between secure anchorages and marinas. From the northern Bahamas, our planned route was across Northeast Providence Channel to Royal Island off the tip of Eleuthera. We would then sail down the lee side of Eleuthera, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean, as far as Cape Eleuthera. From there, we would turn west and head across Exuma Sound to Warderick Wells, an island in the central Exumas.
We got an email just recently that questioned whether we think we have the right mix between going and staying. Well that’s a good question because since leaving Trident, we’ve always had some sort of pressure on us to go (whether it was a long passage, an ocean crossing or simply to “get to the other side”). We had to go through the locks so we could start down the St Lawrence, navigate the fog to enjoy the Bras d’Or lakes, get across the Gulf of Maine to enter the USA, sleigh ride down the Atlantic coast past New Jersey and Cape May to get to the Chesapeake, motor at a slow jog down the ICW to get to our jump off point to the Bahamas and finally cross the Gulf Stream so we can get to the Bahamas. So, now that we’ve “arrived”, we’d like to focus more on the staying aspect. We stayed a week in Green Turtle Cay and a week in Hope Town. We swam, met lots of people, hiked around, biked around and got our fill (I think) of cracked conch. The staying is always a high priority but what always trumps the staying card is the weather card. No matter how much fun you’re having, if the weather says go, you go. So, not sure if that answers your question Rob, but on Strathspey there is definitely much thought given to this going or staying business.
Leaving Hope Town, we sailed down to Lynyard Cay, a long skinny island with few amenities. Our guidebook didn’t flag any grocery stores or resorts here and for the first time in a few weeks, we had no wifi reception. We picked this anchorage because it was a quick sail down to Little Harbour channel where we exited that calm Abaco Sea and crossed Northeast Providence Channel down to Eleuthera. We left Lynyard Cay at daybreak and crossed Northeast Providence Channel, a passage of about 50 miles and big seas. This is deep water, 12,500 feet deep, and in the middle of this channel if you look over your left shoulder, there is nothing between you and Africa so definitely nothing to scoff at. It was nice then, to have company that day and we made the crossing with Mike and Debbie and their son Cameron on Deva, a 39-foot Freya, from Ketchikan, Alaska. We sailed all the way in brisk 15-18 knot winds and eight hours later arrived at Royal Island, a small all-weather anchorage off the tip of northern Eleuthera right around the corner from Spanish Wells.
Royal Island harbour, although well protected from all wind directions, was ringed with craggy limestone rocks with no inviting area to go ashore. I felt a little spooked here, partially because of how isolated and rugged it was but also because I couldn’t help but think of fellow boaters from Iroquois Marina on Seahound, a 39 foot Corbin, who hit a reef off Spanish Wells a few weeks ago and had to be airlifted to Nassau. We’ve heard that the crew is fine but Seahound is a complete write-off. Sad news. We stayed tucked in at Royal Island for two nights waiting for strong winds and squalls to pass and then headed down to Governor’s Harbour, where we sheltered behind Levi Island. Our guidebook said this anchorage had poor holding but there was a sand bar running from the northern tip of the island to the mainland so we felt our way gently up as far as the sandbar, dropped our anchor there, drifted back over the poor holding area and did not budge all night. The waves and swell outside our anchorage were too big to risk a dinghy trip into the town of Colebrooke so, at this point, three days into Eleuthera, we still had not set foot on the island.
Eleuthera is hard to pin down. It’s remote, with few sheltered anchorages along its western shore. Its shorelines are jagged with porous limestone and a sustenance depth of soil. The trees look stunted and wind-blown and the predominant colour is not the rich dark greens of the Abacos but more of a subdued army fatigue green. The major crop here was pineapples until hurricane Andrew in 1992 destroyed most of the fields and now most folks on this island are involved in fishing or tourism. We think the lobstering must be good here because on our passage from Royal Island down to Governor’s Harbour, we dodged hundreds of lobster floats. We hadn’t seen this many floats since the Chesapeake and had to keep a close lookout as they were small, fist-sized floats (more like giant worry beads) and were hard to see. The weather in Eleuthera is a definite plus though as it’s been warm and sunny for our entire passage down this island.
From Governor’s Harbour, we sailed down to Cape Eleuthera and besides Strathspey and Deva, there was only one other cabin cruiser in the brand new marina facilities there. We’re not sure if the season was slow or theyâ€™d missed their advertising window but this marina and associated resort, out in the middle of nowhere and fully staffed, were almost complete empty. We got our pick of docks and lots of attention though and as an added bonus, we had excellent wifi and cell phone reception. It was expensive at $2/foot but a good place to stage the next part of our trip, over to the Exumas for Christmas. At 8 am the next day, both Strathspey and Deva headed out towards Warderick Wells Cay in the central area of the Exuma island chain.
The Exumas are a long string of islands that start about 35 miles south of Nassau and run about 100 miles south to Hog Cay. The deep and wide Exuma Sound runs down their eastern shores but to the west is the shallow Great Bahama Bank with average depths of 6-20 feet. There are good anchorages, wonderful snorkeling and excellent sailing to be had for the entire length of the Exumas but to score all this, you have to negotiate the narrow inlets or cuts leading from the deep Exuma Sound through to the shallow bank. With tides rising and falling twice a day, when it comes to these inlets and the water rushing in and out of them, think venturi effect. It was important to time our arrival in Warderick Wells to coincide with a slack tidal current so we could go through the Warderick Wells Cut safely and enter the anchorage with a negligible current. We checked the tide tables for Nassau and arrived at the entrance to Warderick Wells Cut about a half hour before low tide and were pleased to have only .5 knots of current against us. We were happy to have Mike on Deva confirm our calculations; Mike’s a marine pilot in Alaska during the summer months and these calculations are child’s play for him we think.
Warderick Wells is within the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a protected marine area that encompasses 176 square miles in the Exumas. Mooring balls have been installed in much of this area to prevent the inevitable damage to coral caused by anchoring. We feel so lucky to get a mooring here this week as this is one of the most popular areas of the Exumas and one of the hardest to secure a spot in. Surrounded on all sides by islands, a boat could simply stay here all winter and weather the cold fronts regardless of which way the wind blew. Ensuring that everyone has a chance to enjoy the park though, the wardens don’t take reservations and boats are limited to a 15-day stay in the park.
This mooring field holds about 20 moorings, set in the only deep water in the protected bay. The moorings are set about 200 feet apart in a long line shaped like a fishhook and we’re right around the corner at the sharp end on the last mooring ball in 8 feet of water. Enclosed in the middle of this fish hook is a sandbar that takes up the rest of the anchorage. The sand bar is only about three inches under water at low tide and there are two families here on adjoining catamarans whose kids are having a ball, running back and forth between the two boats, “walking on water”.
Christmas Day, the park hosted a turkey dinner on the beach at 2 pm; important timing as this was low tide and the picnic tables would be above water at that point. About 30 people arrived at the beach via dinghy and we had smoked roast turkey, ham, lots of different types of salads and way too many deserts. The sun shone, the little ones ran in and out of the shallow water clutching turkey in one sandy hand and fresh rolls in the other, the adults swapped stories and sand got in all the food but it was a special Christmas dinner and definitely unexpected when we arrived on December 24th. Apparently, this has been a tradition for 30 years so it was just our luck to arrive here to enjoy it.
There is rudimentary wifi connection here but when all the cruisers are logged in, this connection gets slower and slower. We dinghied into the park headquarters early on Christmas Day and called home to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Sitting on the porch of the park wardenâ€™s headquarters, we were able to get a half decent skype connection but out on Strathspey, thereâ€™s no signal whatsoever.
We think weâ€™re going to stay here at Warderick Wells for a little while. The snorkeling is wonderful and there are all kinds of neat little walking trails that run from one end of the island to the other. We hiked one on Christmas morning which ran the gamut of rough limestone to cool shaded forests and then on up to that infamous Boo Boo Hill. Boo Boo Hill is only about 19 meters high but thatâ€™s considered high in these parts. Every year, cruisers hike the hill, scrawl their name on whatever boards happen to be handy up there and place it on top of an ever-growing pile of what is basically a scrap wood heap. Every year, the park wardens clear the pile out and the next year the cruisers do it again (a persistent bunch those cruisers). We say good bye to Deva here too. They leave Warderick Wells on Boxing Day as they are on a schedule to get their son Cameron to Georgetown to fly home to school in Seattle. As well, they have their sights set on Trinidad for April so they have a long journey ahead of them. Weâ€™ve enjoyed sailing with them for these last five days and have sent them off with lots of good wishes.
So life is still good and we post this blog today to wish you all a very very Merry!