To Mutton Fish Point, Eleuthera

DSCN3156

We left the Berry Islands after a day’s delay due a misbehaving autopilot.  In the end it was a matter of pressing two buttons at once to reset the computer.  This came hours after Captain Swearsalot took the motherboard apart, rewired many connections and tickled parts at both the receiving and sending ends.  The autopilot is like cruise control on steroids.  Auto is very good friend who allows me to sit in my princess seat and look for dolphin rather than stand at the helm paying attention to fussy coordinates with a large wheel going back and forth in my hand.  Auto is also important as he steers for us as we put up sails or in times when four hands are needed, like making cocktails (kidding).  Also, I am cheery to report that crab pots are mostly nonexistent in the Bahamas so they are no longer getting between Auto and I.

The following day was an eight to nine hour motor sailing day to the southern tip of the Abacos.  One could spend years exploring all these beautiful Bahaman Islands and it was hard to skip the Abacos.  However, we did so because we chartered a boat and sailed the Abacos with our sons about ten years ago.  On that trip we dove and snorkeled with enormous eagle rays, accidentally hooked our anchor on a truck someone had dumped into the sea and our youngest was bitten by a stray dog.  That resulted in him being held down by two nurses (he would appreciate that more now at his current age of twenty) and shot with fifteen needles of rabies prevention.  Our favorite family story of the Abacos is from Man of War Island.  The boys wanted ice cream and asked the waitress what flavors they had.  Oh, we got any flavor you can imagine.  We got chocolate berry hot dog, pineapple black olive, coconut pot roast, anything you can imagine.   We got almost fifty flavors.  Great! said the oldest, I’ll have vanilla.  Sorry, she replied, We ain’t got no vanilla.  The Braatz family laughed uncontrollably and she just frowned and walked away.

DSCN3151

B.P. at work

We anchored in seclusion at the southern tip of the Abacos after a long day of bouncing off of waves.   Someone must have had sand in his crevices the whole time as he was categorically cantankerous.  I briefly contemplated shoving Captain Thatpartoftheanatomywhereexcrementexits into the sea while he was going winky tinky off the transom and moving along on my own.  Instead, I dove headfirst into a novel and read through sunset, nonexistent dinner and until I could barely keep my eyes open for the last page.  I emerged from that book a better human being for it.

DSCN3113

The following day had tidy bowl blue skies and sparkling seas.  We were escorted off the Abacos by a pod of Atlantic Spotted dolphin playing in our wake.  Captain Learningfromlocals trolled a line and caught a Cero Mackerel.  Mack was twenty four inches, fun to catch and sad to kill.  It was another eight to nine hour motor sail to the northern part of Eleuthera.

DSCN3119

Eleuthera was settled in the mid 1600’s by a group of English and French in pursuit of religious freedom.  They sunk their ships on the reefs that surround the island and settled there.  There is a cave with a large rock pulpit in it where they lived.  We anchored by Current Cut and marinated Mack in soy sauce, Saracha, lime juice and ginger.  Captain Grillmaster did his thing.  (He invented a tube that attaches under the grates of his grill that smoke wood pellets for extra flavor.  He ordered twenty pounds of pellets.  We have no room for clothes but we have wood pellets to last ten years.)  We thanked and then ate Mack with white rice, a tomato salad and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  It was my favorite meal yet.

DSCN3138

Current Cut has a very strong current that runs through a somewhat narrow opening with touchy tides ebbing and flowing.  The current alone can run to an excess of ten knots.  Echoes can reach a wee over seven knots with our fifty five horse Yan Mar.  We needed to time our passage at slack tide or we would be at the mercy of the current who could take away our steerage and power and toss us where she may.  Large Kraken feed in Current Cut and there are skeletons of boats along her craggy shores to prove it.  The tide tables are noted in a variety of islands and Eleuthera generally follows Nassau’s tides with a delay of one to two hours.  This was vague but the best we had.  The following morning we watched several boats leave for the cut and Captain Verythorough contacted them via VHF to ask what the current was like, what speed they reached with what type engine, etc.  We ended up passing after the sailboat Defiance gave us a details and warnings.  He said the cut was not much of a problem but the washing machine seas, shallow reefs and mighty winds following it would give us a ride for our money.  He was most accurate.  We passed with success and dumped out into crashing seas.  They settled after a couple of miles into merely irritating punishing seas.  The winds were pissed off and blowing again.  Five buck board hours later we tucked into Mutton Fish Point by ourselves to spend the night.

DSCN3143

It had been three days since we had been off of Echoes.  This does not bother Captain Couldspendmylifeatsea but it makes me itchy.  We deployed our dinghy to go gunkholing.  (What do you think of the name Tip Sea as she is rather tipsy…and sometimes so are her passengers?)  The beaches were private so we couldn’t go on land but at least I was on a different boat with beautiful cliffs and caves to explore and a beer in hand.

DSCN3139

Great Harbor Cay Marina

DSCN3089

We had been on the hook for eleven nights.  I cut us extremely short in my earlier post about water usage.  We pulled into the marina on the twelfth day with over an eighth of our water left.  As Captain Hardlymodest says, You learn to really not care if another sailor decides to watch you wash your ass crack.  We soap up and bathe in the sea water and use a transom shower head to rinse off with fresh water.  Clean is clean.

Our sail over from Soldier Cay was glorious.  We trolled a line with Captain Supersticious’ favorite daisy chain.  He had a nice size Wahoo on the line that he wrestled with for ten minutes but the fish got away.  He gave us a good jumping show before he got off the hook.  It is hard to catch a fish trolling on a sailboat under full sail because it is difficult to slow down and maneuver the boat conducive to landing a big fish.  Also, you have to deploy the swim ladder to attempt to get the fish on board.  Not too much later, we lost the end of the daisy chain, hook and all, on another hit.

DSCN3087

We sailed around the most northern point of the Berry Islands and past a cruise ship.  Echoes really enjoyed herself as the wind hit her on a beam reach and she seemed to fly along.  We reviewed the charts and cruising guides regarding our entrance to the marina and directions to fuel dock.  The guide said the fuel dock was one of the more difficult to land.  The Kraken stirred.  A large tentacle popped out of the water with its middle suction cup waving at me.

DSCN3088

We squeaked through a beautiful, narrow, coral cut channel to enter a safe and calm harbor.  The fuel dock was merely a few pilings and short dock surrounded by jagged coral and shallow shoals.  We skulled around a few times studying it and Captain Threadtheneedlelikeaman eased her right in.  Kraken be damned.  Next we zig zagged further into our marina and slip.  Like.  A.  Boss.  We were tied up and Echoes was as calm and serene as I am after two glasses of wine.  No more roly poly after eleven nights of it.  Internet!  Cell coverage!  Laundry!  Restaurants!  LONG, HOT, PRIVATE SHOWERS!

The very friendly Great Harbor Cay Marina service went above and beyond.  The dock master, Steve, gave us a lift to a recommended local flavor restaurant.  The owner and chef was at a wooden stand on the beach taking his frustrations out on some conch.  He said he wouldn’t be in the kitchen for another hour.  So Steve drove us all around the island on  back roads giving us the history of Great Harbor.  He showed us an old, falling apart stone hotel that the rat pack frequented and many movie stars used to visit.  We spent the evening with Steve at the Until Then restaurant feasting on conch and lobster.  The after picture is what Captain Fullofit could not finish.  We had diced lobster and scrambled eggs the following day at the chef’s suggestion.

20180214_164251

We did laundry and two weeks worth of bills, business and email correspondence.  I soaked up our boys and loved ones’ voices on Valentine’s calls.  We ventured down the dock to watch the fisherman come in with their catch.  It was glorious.  They spend about three or four hours fishing, spear fishing and collecting traps and then another four hours cleaning the fish with the help of several other men.  Captain Doinghisresearchthingaboutcatchingfish spent a lot of time picking the exceedingly friendly fishermen’s’ brains.

20180214_164702

We bought a gallon ziplock bag stuffed full of trigger fish for $25.00.  It was delicious.  The following morning the fisherman stopped by our boat to ask Captain Thejokeswerenotoldtothem if he wanted to join them on their morning catch.  We were busy preparing to leave but Captain Shouldhave regretted his choice.

20180214_164918

Trigger fish or Turbot as the locals call it

Today we scoured the boat inside and out and massively provisioned (the wine bank is full) for another long stretch of wet wilderness.  We plan to go to Eleuthera, via a night on the southern tip of the Abacos, to spend about a week cruising south on Eleuthera and then over to the Exumas, our ultimate destination.

bahamas-map-2

It will most likely be a long silence (you’re welcome) and then a bombardment of blogs again.  Thank you for your enthusiasm, comments, likes, texts and emails.  I read, enjoy and appreciate every one.  Feel free to ask me questions and I will answer the best I can or at least make something up.  Until then, I wish you fair winds and following seas.

 

 

 

 

Soldier Cay

DSCN3058

See the Stingray in the foreground?

You would have to stay in a marina and go out once in a blue moon for a day sail to avoid small craft advisories.  Surely you are as tired of hearing about high seas and too much wind as I am of feeling it. We left Whale Cay to work our way north on the Berry Islands.  We set a portion of our jib sail out and made over five knots.  It was wwwindy and the seas were eight to ten feet.   Echoes barreled through with sea spray in a permanent mist.  There are not many choices of anchorages that are safe in these kinds of conditions so we researched charts, guides and weather to choose accordingly.  We sailed about twelve miles to Soldier’s Cay.  We settled in after setting and resetting two anchors repeatedly.  Anchors tend to slip and not hold if they land on seagrass or if you happen to be a person pretending to be a sailor having a hard time wrestling with the cursed B. P.  Finally, all set, the roly polys were tolerable.   However, I did lose one of my two glass wine glasses set out to dry overnight.

DSCN3070

There were a couple of other boats in this picturesque anchorage.  We deployed our dinghy and went ashore.  We hiked along the coral shores of the Northwest Providence channel watching the waves crash and break.  We swam at the beach on the west side and relaxed in the warm sun.  The princess was at peace.  Captain Thoughtful looked at me and my content dreamy smile and said, Let’s stay another day and take the day off.  We did not, and had not, had cell service in days so we couldn’t do emails, calls or bills.  No sailing, no anchoring, no business, we were just going to relax.

DSCN3033

Our day off started at 2:00 am when Echoes began suddenly rolling and spinning.  Danny, our second, danforth anchor could take it no more and gave up.  John pulled him on board and we went back to bed rocking and rolling.  No, not in the fun way.  The following morning we worked for a couple of hours at trying to deploy Bruce, another type of second anchor called a bruce (aren’t I clever?), off of our beam to try and hold Echoes nose to the waves.  We were somewhat successful.  We grabbed our fishing pole and snorkeling gear and went to the beach for the rest of the day.

DSCN3059

John fished and I snorkeled.  Some fishy rascals kept biting his lures off.   I snorkeled out to see if I could get a glimpse of the suspects but had no luck.  I enjoyed following a stingray though.  John decided to try some stinky old fish on a bobber after losing another lure.  Captain Needsmoretodo does not like bobber fishing.  I love it.  So we switched.  Another sailor on the beach commented, Kinda like watching water boil, huh?  By now you know that I am a world class daydreamer and this type of fishing is just my style.  I was standing in thigh deep, incredibly clear water watching my bobber and little fish ignore it.  I stood there contentedly for nearly an hour when who comes sniffing around not even fifteen feet in front of me?  Two sharks!   I screamed like a little girl and went running for land as they chased my stinky fish bait that was following me.  They looked like Reef Shark and were about six feet long.  They were a little over half the size of the Bull sharks on Bimini but menacing nonetheless.  I don’t want to catch a shark.  First of all, it was not the pole for it but more than that, do you remember my story of the black magic that comes with killing a shark?  However, I have never heard of being cursed for toying with them.  I commenced to tease them (from shore) with my bait.  It was fun.  But, maybe I was wrong.  Later I was checking out some canvas that had washed up on the rocks above me.  I picked up a corner of it and a crab lunged at me, slid down my body, on to my shoe and then jumped into the water.  I didn’t have my glasses on because I was snorkeling.  I thought it was a huge spider or a very small kraken.  It scared the shit out of me.  I will not tease another shark.

DSCN3082

 

Between Whale and Bird Cays

DSCN3010

We pulled up anchor to move on from a roly poly two nights at Chub Cay.  The seas were choppy, the winds were blasting and it wasn’t a very pleasant ride to our next anchorage between Bird Cay and Whale Cay.  We were feeling a bit beat up.  There is only room for one keeled boat at this anchorage and we were lucky to get it.  However, it turned out to be a very roly poly anchorage.   I was above my limit on rolling.  My green light was coming on and green does not mean go.  We deployed the dinghy and went gunkholing to get off the boat.  A cay (pronounced key) is a very small island.  Besides the 700 islands in the Bahamas there are 2400 cays.  We pulled up to an expansive sandy beach, a deserted cay and spent the afternoon exploring.  There were stingrays in the shallows, lizards darting, crabs dancing and shells to knock your knickers off.  And if your knickers were knocked off no one would know!  This cay was amazing.  This cay is exactly what we have been planning and hoping for.

DSCN3015

See the crab and his bubbled eyes?

As soon as we returned to our roly poly boat I started to feel green again.  The boat was rocking and rolling so much that the dishes and provisions in the cupboards were banging around noisily.  You couldn’t leave a glass of water on the table.  I wouldn’t have dared set a wine glass down, not that I usually do.   It was going to be a long night.  Captain Therehasgottobeaway had an idea.  I unsnubbed Bitch Pussy and let out another twenty feet.  John maneuvered Echoes so that she would take the brunt of the waves on the bow instead of the beam.  He dropped a second anchor off the stern to position her.  Then, I pulled back the twenty feet of chain and resnubbed her.  Echoes sat bow to the waves (instead of beam to) and made life much, much more comfortable.  Captain Myhero came through again.

DSCN3012

That night we sat watching the infinite stars and our depth meter go down, down, down with low tide.  It started to come back up after a reading of 0.4 below keel.  We waited for a bump that happily never came.

DSCN3029

We stayed another day and night to let more of the wind blow through and because it was most excellent to be in such pristine beauty completely alone, or so we thought.  We took the dinghy out for a fishing trip.  We spotted a stark naked, Robinson Crusoe type of long haired man wading through the shallows.  We drifted for a moment to see if he needed help but he paid no mind and we went on our way.  I would imagine living primitively off of an island is not a bad option for those who don’t mind mosquito bites on their hoohas.  We fished the other side of the anchorage and John caught a Blue Runner.  He asked a charter captain once if Blue Runner’s were good eating.  The captain said, I’ve never been hungry enough to find out.  We threw him back.

DSCN3006

American Oystercatchers

 

 

 

Chub Cay

DSCN2984

I am “applying myself” by re engaging with and trying to master our anchor, B.P. Please read Florida Coast 2017, February 20, 2017 blog post titled “Back to Long Boat Key” if you are not easily offended and want to know what B.P. stands for. I am re engaging on my own free will as I have set my intention on being a fully capable and competent sailor. I have a vision of myself pulling up to dock Echoes during wind and current hellfire, helming with my toes, while pouring myself a glass of Veuve to the applause of many a handsome dock handlers. You have to dream big and you have to start somewhere, so I am starting with B.P. Suffice it to say, I hate this temperamental anchor with completely opposite but equal passion that I have for wine. You have to get very up close and personal with her scary, rusty, potentially dangerous, naughty parts to get her up or down. She has a habit of jumping her track and running like a banshee desperately trying to return to Kraken country where she belongs. Captain Reallyitsnothing says you have to just grab her running chain and yank her back into submission and return her to the chain gypsy. You also have to lean in the chain locker and move her chain continuously so it does not pile up or she will run again. I do this while mumbling her full given name which I won’t repeat. My arms and back are aching. I am making progress but have a long way to go.

I dropped B.P. in Chub Cay’s anchorage after a long day crossing the banks. We decided to explore Chub the following day. We are at the end of our American proteins, which means we were left with sausage of many yuckified varieties, canned chicken and vacuum sealed, processed ham. There are highs and there are lows.

We read in the cruising guide that there was coin laundry on Chub Key. Our clothes needed some extensive refreshment. We deployed our still nameless dinghy. I told Captain Can’tyouhoistthedinghyFASTER! that we better name that hard, heavy, wobbly boat soon or she will send up with a name like the anchor. We have many names we like but one hasn’t stuck yet: Rub a Dub Dub, Chum Bucket, Dinghy McDingface, No One’s Ark, Fat Bottom Girl, and The Dog House are contenders. Our unbeloved dinghy, Sea Alice, has a new home. He served us well but he was a sensitive, soft bottom, rubber raft in which you had to sit on his pontoons wherever you went. A wave would come and soak your booty leaving you with what sailors call swamp ass, a sea water soaked bum that doesn’t dry well. You end up going to dinner or walking around town looking like you’ve wet yourself. In fact, many a sailor do wet themselves and I don’t like being thought of as one of them.

Captain Researchlikeyourlifedependsonit did his thing. I kid you not; the man does serious research whenever he makes an important purchase. For instance, he created a spreadsheet to cross compare contending heavy cotton shirts he frequently wears in northern climes. The spreadsheet had thread count, price, review ratings, and God knows what else on it. (Shirts from Fleet Farm won and he bought four of them.) Want another example? Oh good, cause I’ve got lots. He ordered 20 motorcycle seats, $2000.00 worth, delivered to our home in the middle of winter when he decided he wanted a new one. He put all twenty on his bike and sat on them, in the heated garage, for hours and hours. It took over a month to pick one. I would go to the garage when I couldn’t find him and there he would be sitting and shifting around on his motorcycle with a beer in hand. He returned the other nineteen. The man does his homework. You learn to say, I’ll have what he’s having. No, he doesn’t read the blog. We started it together years ago but it didn’t go well. You cannot call a Halyard -that ropey thing, he’d say. He begged off so as not to be associated with my poor grammar and technically weak ramblings. It’s so much more fun and therapeutic this way.

So, after extensive research, we have a new, used, Polymer, dinghy. Much to my chagrin, we have the same engine that gave us all kinds of hell last year. Captain Smartass said to me, An old five horse engine is like an old wife. You get to know her. You know what is most likely to break down on her and how to fix it quickly before it creates further havoc. If you get a new one you’ve inevitably got new problems and will have to start all over spending hours of frustration learning her breaking points. It was hard to argue with that.

DSCN3022

Where in the world was I going? Oh yes, in the dinghy, with laundry, headed in to Chub Key. We go through a channel and emerge into Posh-dome. The marina was over 95% empty (It’s off season; no one comes in this weather) and the yachts were amazing. There were a few mega yachts and mostly huge, sleek fishing boats. The marina is also a brand new resort. It is gorgeous.

We stood in the lobby blinking like half wits. They tried not to snicker when we asked if there was coin laundry. They did say that housekeeping would be happy to do our laundry for $20.00 since it was quite slow. I enthusiastically threw it at them considering coin laundry was running me about $12.00 for these two loads. Next, I smiled dreamily in anticipation all the way to the ladies room. The bathroom was sparkling, pristine and the toilets were humongous. I momentarily thought about adding some of the lavender scented hand soap to the enormous toilet bowl and taking a bath. But I didn’t want to get kicked out before I got my laundry back. Instead I took a long strand of the soft toilet paper that they folded nicely to a triangle tip and did an interpretive dance around the huge stall with the toilet paper waving behind me. It gets better. Then I went to the bar where a soothing balm to my wind whipped eyes, tall and handsome Tito, chilled my wine glass first with ice, dumped that (what a waste!) and poured me a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I don’t care that it cost almost as much as my laundry. I did switch to beer for lunch.

DSCN2989

The cruising guide warns that this is a private resort and is not for the likes of you sailors. But it appeared sailboats are their biggest customers in off season. Sailors are notoriously cheap but this was the only place to get off the boat and find something to eat. Also, the gratuity was added in for us. We watched our motley brothers come into the lobby and stand there dumbfounded and blinking just like we did. It was comical later that evening to see this upscale restaurant filled with mostly grubby sailors and their dirty backpacks among well coiffed yachtees. We ended the night at the bar chatting with Canadian fishing yacht brokers. Our charming bartender, Brian, told us about living on this quiet, small island with about a hundred and fifty other Bahamians. I asked about the dating pool and he said, As for the ladies, I frequently take the ferry to my hometown of Nassau. The ladies are well seasoned here. He made us a large shot called a shark bite that was not only good for your know when to say when gauge but also tasty. We were gaining so much information from our new friends on where to anchor and not to anchor that we decided to have another drink and pick their brains. Unfortunately, the next day neither of us could remember the specific details.

Prior to dinner, we were visited by some local fisherman and bought about a pound and a half of Nassau grouper for $15.00. They filleted it for us on the spot.

thumbnail

The Bahama Banks

DSC_1806

The weather blew through and perfect conditions were predicted to cross the seventy five miles of the Bahama Banks.  It was a sailboat parade pulling out of the Bimini marinas as every sailor was waiting for the same opportunity.  Captain Alwayswasalittlebackwards reversed out of our slip and the marina like a pro.  We set our way points for the Mackie Shoal about half way across the banks.  Sailboats are slow movers and we could not have made it across in daylight.  Repeat after me, I will never sail in the Bahamas at night!  Not only are the waters shallow, navigational markers almost nonexistent and charts incorrect, but it is not uncommon that local boaters travel at night without lights and freighters do not have the best reputation for being alert to other boats.

DSC_1808

The Mackie Shoal is an interesting phenomenon.  It is a huge shoal just miles off of the Tongue of the Ocean’s depths that sink rapidly to over 1600 feet.  At the Mackie Shoal you can drop your anchor in about eight feet of water.  Captain Youcanneverbetoocareful had us go about forty minutes out of our way to be well off the direct magenta line of this northern route.  I grumbled about it as there were about seven other sailboats who anchored together closer to the magenta line.  I would have anchored with them.

DSCN2981

The next day we spoke with a couple who chose to sail the full seventy five miles in one shot.  They were sailing in the dark through the Mackie Shoals and keeping an eye out for any freighters or boats in the magenta line.  The helmsman spotted a light and was looking through the binoculars to see how far off and what kind of vessel it was.  He followed the light down and saw the small details of a sailboat directly in front of him.  He swerved dramatically just in time to miss a sailboat by fifteen feet anchored right in the magenta line.  Captain Rightagain shot me a sideways smirk as we listened to the story.

DSC_1810

It was a serene and mystic night full of a story telling sky.  The water and wind were a soothing calm.  The clouds were bold and changed shape as rapidly as the water changed color.  There was a reclining cloud elf enjoying a cookie surrounded by his bountiful day’s work of goodies.  There was a huge fish chasing another fish with his mouth open.  The little fish changed shape to escape and the big fish closed his mouth with a frown when he realized the shape shifter changed to manatee droppings.  We watched the demanding sunset and grilled the rest of our lobster and chased it with prosecco.  We watched the welcoming sunrise the following morning as we left early for a long motor sail to Chub Key.

 

 

 

 

Living Here in Alice Town

DSCN2968

I have learned that internet connection in the Bahamas, especially for a sailor, is a rarity. I write offline and post when I can. I apologize for blog bombardment. I have actually learned many things. My phone works but calling is expensive and texting is not. My cellular hotspot does not work. I have learned that people don’t cruise much in the winter because of the winds and conditions. I have learned that the tides here run over six feet and cause all kinds of hell on the way in and on the way out. I have learned that to listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on shuffle totally wrecks it. I have learned that it’s best to sleep with bug spray on, everywhere, if nothing else is on, anywhere.

How did I learn that about the tide, you ask? We left Cat Cay and trolled our way up to Alice town in Bimini. Captain Struckout got two good hits and a run for his money but no fish in the end. I stood on the foredeck watching the shallows as we came in the channel and saw a big shark lurking in the clear water depths. We dieseled up (that landing and takeoff went well) and headed for a marina to tuck into for a couple of nights. It was not too windy and the approach to the dock looked easy. But, I swear, anytime we dock my stomach is in my throat. It is nerve busting. The dock master and a pretty sailor were on the dock waiting to help us as Captain Thinksahead requested via VHF. We pulled up just as we should have and Echoes started swinging off course. Captain Letstrythatagain abandoned the attempt and made another swing around for it. Meanwhile, our friends on the dock were shouting that tide was coming in, causing a raucous current and to over shoot the mark and drift into the dock. Attempt two was abandoned at the last fitful moment. A new sailor had joined to help and suggested coming up to the dock from a different angle. The third attempt seemed to be going well until the current quite quickly and fiercely swung our stern and pushed us like a bully with a tooth ache perpendicular to the dock. There was some noise to it all that I hope never to hear again in my life. Yes, the Kraken was shrieking with laughter. Yes, it did leave a mark. Fortunately, we were pinned sideways to the dock and not on another boat. It was advised we just hang pinned for few minutes until the tide would be more willing to give us up. Apparently there is a fifteen minute window in which you don’t mess with Mad Clyde Tide and we were in that window. Finally, four of us pushed with all of our might and freed us from the dock. We decided to try a slip on the southern side of the dock and aside from having to dodge of ferry, slipped right in.

DSCN2973

We took a walk to check out the town and came across a man feeding a bunch of Bull Shark. He called them his daughters. This was a school of pregnant mothers and other females. No males are allowed nearby if one of the Bulls is pregnant. He said his daughters were angry. A local Bahamian man killed one of their sisters who was pregnant. This was very taboo. It invokes dark magic so no one was surprised when the man drowned two nights later. His friend drowned trying to save him. He was known as the conch man as he fished for, tenderized and sold conch to the local restaurants. He was a well liked man who was active in his church and known all over town for his smile. But, no one must ever kill a Bull shark and especially one with child. The man’s funeral was today. The island practically closed for the funeral and you saw people dressed in their best or with a t-shirt with his picture on it.

DSCN2963

A local man pulled in fishing boat up to the dock beside us after we got back from watching the sharks. He cleaned his bountiful catch of fish and lobster tossing the scraps back to the sea. We bought a dozen lobster tails for $30.00. We grilled half the tails and gorged on them dipped in melted butter. I enjoyed my wine sedative. Afterword, we danced on the dock with our new Aussie friends who helped us land the boat.

DSCN2965

Soon, weather permitting, we leave for our next challenge, to cross the Bahama Banks. The Banks are seventy-five miles wide. Echoes can’t make that many miles in daylight. Remember, I will never sail the Bahamas at night! We plan to anchor out in the middle of the shallow banks, in the middle of nowhere. We should reach the southern tip of the Berry Islands the following day.

The Sky Pirate of Cat Cay

DSCN2932

The Island Nation of the Bahamas stretches over 750 miles with about 700 islands.  The population is a little over 300,000 and two thirds of those people live in and around the capital city of Nassau.  85% of Bahamians are descendants of West African slaves and the other 15% come from settlers from Bermuda or were American expatriates of the Loyalists.  I hope it comforts the spirits of the original slave descendants that their however many greats grandchildren live in a peaceful and absolutely beautiful country of their own.  The islands are quiet and natural.  We are grateful to be here.

We planned to venture back out the cut and nestle into an anchorage on a horseshoe beach off of the Cay after a rather expensive and worth every penny of it night at the marina.  Because we obviously must have pissed off some Sea God along the way, the winds were at 28 knots and gusting.  It was another small craft advisory.  Our bow was pointed to land and the north wind was pushing us hard on the beam and off the dock.  Reversing the boat down the long fairway would have been nearly impossible for us so we needed to turn the boat 180 degrees in a small, windy space quickly.  Captain Itsjustmath had an idea.  We would release the stern line, then the mid ship line and I would stand at the bow with a line singled on the dock cleat.  We would let the wind push Echoe’s ass end around 180 degrees swinging on the bow cleat.   Ready?  It went like clockwork.  The Sea Angels sang.  How’s your stomach now?  Captain Cool asked with a broad smile.

DSCN2944

We spent three nights on the hook off of the private island of Cat Cay.  We studied our charts and guides, read, fished, worked on projects, swam, made great food and drank pretty good wine.  The water was gin clear and we watched a curious and fairly large fish follow John’s lure around for about a half hour.  He wouldn’t bite.

Captain Obnoxious has a habit that puts me on edge and has for over thirty years.  I told you, he does not tire of his own jokes.  Ever.  He relishes saying the word broccoli while belching.  I know this is not entirely for the benefit of annoying me as I have heard him in the garage, or when he doesn’t know I’m around.  Anyway, add beer to the mixture and it is torture.  Brrooccoli, went Captain Gasses repeatedly.  Princess Glaresalot shot him the dagger.  A beer and some casting time later…BRRROOOOOOOOOOOOCOLI!  Oops!  Sorry!  I’m sure it’s not hard for you to imagine how difficult it is to live with any human being in this close proximity for very long, especially your spouse under sometimes intense conditions.  Statistically speaking, half of you couldn’t stand your spouse with all the room in the world to put between you.  Tension was building.  Later that evening, Captain Thinksoutloudandnotsomuch had one too many glasses of honesty juice and made a most unflattering comment with a subsequent suggestion to improve on a part of my personal countenance.  Princess TharSheBlows! went off like a pirate’s cannon.  The next day, Captain Probablyshouldn’thavesaidthat said, I was only kidding.  To which I replied, Right.  Sure.  So was I.  Man, he said, you kid loudly.

DSCN2942

Skipping Over Ocean Like a Stone

DSCN2908

The Gulf Stream is an ocean river that runs north.  It is about ten miles wide and is a few miles off of the Florida coast in the Atlantic.  The stream moves around a bit and it changes speed from two knots to seven knots and sometimes higher.  Crossing the Gulf Stream is not necessarily difficult under the right conditions.  It can be disastrous under the wrong conditions even for seasoned mariners. Weather and wind direction are the key components to watch.  When the wind blows from the north to the south while the Gulf Stream is flowing from the south to the north it causes gigantic waves that they say “stand up” to a possible forty feet tall.  It can be very rough Kraken loving water.

Years ago, John and I attended the US’ largest sailboat show in Annapolis, Maryland to get a feel for the abundant choices of vessels that were available and what would fit our needs.  Climbing around hundreds of sailboats was fascinating, the crab cakes were the best I’ve ever had, the rum drinks called Pain Killers went down easy and we had the great company of my brother and sister-in-law.   We attended a seminar on crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas safely.  The speaker would say frequently, Repeat after me, I will not cross the Gulf Stream with any northerly component to the wind!  And, I will not sail in the Bahamas at night!  (The Bahamas have very shallow waters and the charts are not accurate because the sandy shoals change often.  You navigate with your eyes.)

We were anchored off of Pumpkin Key and North Key Largo hoping to cross to the Bahamas the following day. It would take anywhere from eight to twelve hours to cross with Echoes abilities.  The winds were looking favorable however, there were some thunderstorms predicted in the early hours.  We decided to set our alarm for 3:30 am, check the weather and make a decision.

The alarm went off as did my internal alarm when we saw thunderstorms approaching.  There were conflicting reports but it seemed probable that we would run into a thunderstorm at some point, and most likely, in the Gulf Stream.  The winds during thunderstorms can whip up high and change on a dime.  This is dangerous when sailing.  Captain Fearless wanted to make a run for it but in the end he, too, decided it wasn’t worth it.  We went back to bed with the wind out of our sails.  We awoke around 7:30 to the slight and insulting pitter patter of sissy rain.  There had not been, nor were there going to be, big storms.  So, we had another decision to make.  Do we go for it now, hours later than we intended, or wait another week for another chance?  We decided to go for it.

The risk we were playing with was time.  We would definitely be arriving in the Bahamas in the dark if it took us eleven or twelve hours to cross.  Repeat after me, I will not sail in the Bahamas at night!  This was the dark, grinning Kraken who followed me across the Gulf Stream.  We decided we would sail until noon and then check our estimated time of arrival.  We would turn around and return to Key Largo if we were pushing the light too far.

DSCN2900

Gulf Stream Selfie

The coast off of Florida was choppy but not horrible.  The seas were about five foot.  The Gulf Stream was similar with some large rolling waves interspersed.  It was exciting but not frightening.  We had both sails up and also kept the engine running to make sure we didn’t waste one minute of daylight. There was a little rain, some clouds and some sun as well.  We made seven to nine knots, once we were off shore, which was encouraging for our arrival time.  We pressed on past noon.
It was lonely in the passage.  We did not see a boat, a dolphin, a turtle or even a bird.  There was an endless, beautiful, navy blue sea in all directions.  We spent a lot of time gazing at it.  There was 2400 feet of lonely ocean under us.  As we got closer to the Bahamas we crossed a shipping lane busy with freighters that we had to zig zag around.  Then we spotted land.

Nine to ten hours after leaving Pumpkin Key we navigated through a washing machine wave cut into the entrance channel of Cat Cay.   We raised our quarantine flag and headed to our marina.  (A quarantine flag is proper regulation to alert authorities that you are arriving from another country and have every intention of checking into customs.)  We pulled up to a heavenly, spacious, open dock space at a private marina.  It was a good landing, too.  We were all tucked in for about an hour before the sun went down.  Captain Myhero took our passports to the customs office and checked us in to our new home for the next few months, the Bahamas.

DSCN2863

We awoke in Fiesta Key to a fog advisory.  Our weather app predicted the fog to lift at eleven am.  We chose to approach Key Largo in the intracoastal as there was a small craft advisory and rough seas on the Atlantic side.  Captain Alwaysthinksahead was smart enough to call the local towboat operator to see if there was enough water for us to make it through with a five foot draft.  There are several points on the charts that read four feet and a lot of skinny water in between.   Towboat Joe said good to go.  We wanted to time the skinny spots at high tide so we left in the fog.  This was not the almost costly and ugly divorce causing thick fog from last year’s Long Boat Key Back to Venice blog post but it was a challenge.  The crab pots popped up out of nowhere and you helm more by navigation charts than visually.  The fog did not lift at eleven and when it did it turned into a misty, cool rain before it became a welcomed cloudy day.  Most of the way we had less than two feet under us.  I tapped out and called Captain Calmer to helm when I saw my depth had .1 feet under me.  It was a teeth gnashing.

Most of the time I find my overactive imagination quite amusing for myself.  However, when you mix in any anxiety it is not as much fun.  The Kraken come out.  In this case, it was a very small Kraken.  I have seen much worse.  I but it had big, sharp teeth and reaching tentacles just the same.  Let me tell you, it took a few chiseled, tanned, shirtless sailors to wrassle that Kraken into submission and send him back to the deep.  Mmm mmm.

Where was I?  Yes, in the fog.  As sailing goes, there are lows and there are highs.  Just after .1 under the keel we came upon cormorant rush hour.  There were hundreds of them and they settled in a watering hole right by us.  It was spectacular.

DSCN2875 We made it to our anchorage at Tarpon Bay without touching bottom and settled in for the night.  They winds were picking up as predicted but we were all tucked in.

DSC_1766

Or so we thought.  The next morning the winds were howling and as we plinked on our computers Captain Alwaysobservant noticed the scenery changing.  We were dragging anchor.  We let out extra scope to help temporarily and prepared to leave.  We knew some worse fowl weather was on the way so we headed to The Anchorage Marina in Key Largo to wait it out, do laundry and provision.  We had been on the boat and at anchorages for eight or nine days.  Our dock landing went, okay, I guess.  There was a lot of cross current pushing us one way and wind another and it was trickier than we both anticipated.  Bumpety bumpskin we went in.  As I have said, ups and downs.  As soon as we were secured I went over and watched Fatty Patty Manatee drink to her heart’s content from a dripping hose.

DSCN2888

DSCN2890

The Anchorage Marina and hotel was a friendly place with fun people.  Everyone would congregate at happy hour with their guitars, songs and beverages.  We met some seasoned and especially wonderful sailors who gave us great advice on crossing the gulf stream and other local knowledge.  The Black Sirene Restaurant next door had memorable hogfish, coconut fried onion rings, Scotty Miller from Green Bay on guitar playing our requests and a good wine selection.  The princesses mood increased dramatically.  As one of the aforementioned sailors commented, sailors generally sleep like Dolphins.  Dolphins only shut down half of their brains while sleeping and remain alert with the other half as they drift around.  Especially at anchorage, you tend to half sleep and get up to check things quite often.  So, when you are all secured and tucked in at a marina with a belly full of fresh fish and wine you sleep like a water drenched log.

DSC_1770

Our view from the dock         

A couple of days later the cleaned up, charged up people and boat were ready to move on.  There was this fairly permanent small craft advisory that continued to haunt us.  We were to leave the dock, go about three football fields over to a gas dock to diesel up before heading to an anchorage off of Pumpkin Key in north Key Largo.  The cross current and winds were worse than when we came in.  If our entrance was bumpety bumpskin then our exit was crappetty crapyourpants.  About this time a slightly larger than the last Kraken popped up from the deep.  He was squealing, laughing and pointing with his eight arms at all the obstacles and boats we could bump into and at a piling that we actually did.  His laughter sounded like the low, bass, thwopping sound of heavy wind in your ears.  His squealing sounded a lot like a boat screeching its rub rail down a dock.  It took a handful of tawny dockhands to subdue him and send him back to where he came from.  All in all, Captain Takesitinstride did quite well for these conditions.

We set our anchor five hours later off Pumpkin Key and immediately jumped on our many devices to check the vast quantity of weather and wind apps and websites for the following morning.  There was a one day window of good conditions to cross the gulf stream over to the Bahamas, except for some possible thunderstorms.  So we set our alarm for three am and went to sleep like the dolphin.

I will leave you here for now and tell you the crossing story another day.  But I want you to know that we are safely and successfully in the Bahamas.  We are currently anchored just off of Cat Cay.  The princess is purring, it is warm and the kraken are very deep in the ocean where they belong.