We left our Lake Worth anchorage at 11 pm Wednesday night to cross over to the Bahamas, specifically Great Sale Cay which is the first good anchorage on the way to the Western Abacos in northern Bahamas. I called Chris Parker, the weather guru, for a personal forecast for Wednesday and he said it’s seldom (maybe 4 or 5 times in a season) that you’d actually get to sail to the Bahamas so if we wanted a fast sail and didn’t mind strapping things down, it was a good night. He also reminded me that if we didn’t go that night, we’d be facing at least a week before another good weather window presented itself.
The alternative was to sit in Lake Worth until the following Wednesday; not a very good alternative because surprisingly, if you are not at one of the many marinas in this area, you are not particularly welcome here. We’d spent two nights at the Old Port Cove Marina which was part of a gated community with more mega yachts tied up there than we’d seen in one place before. While here, we had access to laundry, showers and great dock help while Blair changed our engine’s raw water pump impeller and did various other small odd jobs. Once we left on Wednesday morning though, it felt like the screen door had slammed behind us as the office staff said emphatically that we could not come back there for showers or laundry or any other errands once we left. I’m not sure what all those boaters do when they get stuck in Lake Worth for weeks at a time waiting for good weather windows – get good and dirty and not a little bit cranky I suppose.
So, we decided that all things considered, it was a good time to cross and to stage our departure we left at 2 pm for a smaller anchorage, right around the corner from the Lake Worth inlet to the ocean. Anticipating my usual queasinesses during night sailing, I didn’t eat dinner and napped for a good three hours while the alarm was set for 10 pm. At 11, Strathspey and Madcap up-anchored and motored out into the ocean, Bahamas bound. Ah well….. it seems that those dratted following seas always go hand in hand with our overnight crossings and this was no exception. We did make good time across the Gulf Stream however. The stream was about 30 miles wide that night and gave us the expected push north which we counteracted by setting a course slightly south of our destination. We called back and forth to Madcap to check on each other’s Gulf Stream effect throughout the night and it was a relatively uneventful evening except for a heart-pounding encounter with a dimly lit tanker that refused to answer our increasingly urgent VHF calls. When it became obvious that we were on a collision course, we altered direction, the tanker altered direction, then we altered direction again, all the while calling him. With a final turn towards the Florida coast, he passed on by with absolutely no acknowledgment at all. Any drowsiness we might have been feeling at that point was gone completely and we didn’t completely relax until we reached the shallow waters of the Little Bahama Bank.
Most of the way across, we were in a little less than 2000 feet of water. As we neared the banks, the water depth shallowed quickly to 10 feet. The colour change made us gasp as well; it’s blue, blue, blue – just like the travel glossies show it. In 10 feet of water, you can see the bottom so clearly that you’re constantly checking your depth meter to make sure you’re not about to run aground. Blair put out his fishing line and immediately caught a Cero (a cousin to the Spanish Mackerel). Lacking a net and reluctant to have fish scales sprayed throughout our cockpit, I opened a giant ziplock bag and Blair maneuvered our dinner into the bag. The books all recommend spritzing the gills with cheap gin or vodka to subdue the fish but we were unprepared for this first catch and Blair simply unscrewed the cap of some fine vodka and poured a generous number of fingers in the general vicinity of our Cero’s head. Our fish settled down into an alcoholic stupour after that and we put it in the fridge until Blair could clean it. We ate it for dinner that night; grilled with a paste of olive oil and dijon mustard. Wonderful!
We arrived at the Little Bahama Bank around 8 am but still had another 7 hours before we reached the first good anchorage, Great Sale Cay. The first thing Blair did when we arrived on the banks was to haul our yellow quarantine flag up our flag halyard. If that flag was a book, it would have been dog-eared by the time we reached the Bahamas; we’ve been looking forward to this occasion for more than a year and that yellow flag represented success in our books.
As soon as we reached the banks, the wind swung around to the north to help flatten out the waves so we shut down our engine and had a beautiful sail for a good five hours before firing up our motor to make Great Sale Cay before dark. Great Sale Cay is an uninhabited, low-lying island that is a common arrival and jump off point for boaters moving back and forth between Lake Worth and the northern Bahamas. That afternoon, there were five boats that had arrived and dropped anchor, four of whom were flying the yellow flag. We had an excellent celebratory party on Madcap, along with Dragonfly, a catamaran that crossed at the same time but we hadn’t seen until we overtook them on the banks. That night, the stars truly blanketed the sky (likely because there was no light pollution within 30 miles of this island). The anchorage was glassy calm and we slept well except for one point during the night when I woke up and said, “Where are we?”. When Blair said “At dock”, I guess I bolted for the cockpit in some confusion (what a brat!) to reassure myself that all was well. Our friends on Estelle tell us that after they got back to PEI from their trip down here last year, they were constantly waking up in their bed in Charlottetown because they felt the anchorage was too calm.
The Bahamas is pretty laid back about entering and clearing customs but we felt we couldn’t really relax and more importantly we couldn’t go ashore until we cleared customs. We obviously couldn’t do anything in uninhabited Great Sale Cay so the next day we decided to make a beeline for one of the five customs offices scattered throughout the Abacos. Our nearest choices were Walker’s Cay (an out of the way island with an entrance that was likely too shallow for Strathspey to navigate), Spanish Cay or Green Turtle Cay. It was too funny as we cruised along with miles of open ocean around us and heard that familiar ding-ding indicating a text message on our phone. Roger’s had sent us a “Welcome to Bahamas” message. We had pretty good reception but cell phone calls here are $4/minute and $0.60/text message so we likely aren’t going to use our cell phone too often. But we did use it that day to save ourselves a wasted trip into Spanish Cay. Blair called to check on clearing customs there and the girl said the office was closing early this Friday because the one agent on duty had to leave.
That left Green Turtle Cay as our alternative and as we rounded the corner of Crab Cay, with the wind in a more favourable direction, we pulled out both sails and headed south. As we sailed by Powell Cay, Estelle, who was anchored in there for lunch and a swim, hailed us on the VHF. They had made their Bahamas crossing three days earlier and were well into that island time mojo. After clearing customs in Walker’s Cay, Estelle had slowly picked her way down the northern chain of islands in the Abacos, taking time to stop and smell the coconuts.
When it became obvious that we weren’t going to arrive at the customs office in Green Turtle by 5 pm, Blair called the island customs office in Marsh Harbour to ask their advice. They were relaxed and friendly and said “Don’t worry mon” and gave us the personal cell phone of Bridget Russell, the Green Turtle Cay customs officer. When Blair called her, she also said, don’t worry, go anchor and then dinghy in and she’d wait. She did more than that; she drove to the government dinghy dock and picked him up. It was a quick clear in and we were glad we’d persisted.
We’re glad because today we got ourselves a golf cart and toured Green Turtle Cay, ate excellent cracked conch and grouper at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar and picked up a good fish book to identify all those fish Blair is going to catch as well as a book on the life of Randolph Johnston, a well known sculptor from the Abacos.
So we’re here! And glad to be here! We’re wondering too if, after all the go, go, going since June, we’ll be able to put the brakes on and adapt to island time. Only wondering mind you, not worrying, so we may just have already made that adjustment. We’re feeling free as birds right now and definitely ready for some island time and good skylarking.