23 April 2017

April in the Bahamas

Despite the popularity of the Bahamas to many Americans, we had little knowledge and even less expectation of this expansive stretch of islands just east of the Florida coast. We were pleasantly surprised at the vastness of wonderful anchorages, beautiful waters, and lovely shorelines. Below is a photo summary of the highlights of Argon's travels through some of the Bahamian islands.

Captain Linda Perry Riera 



Bahamas consists of over 700 islands and thousands of cays spanning more than 500 miles northeast of Cuba and east of Florida. We explored a small fraction landing initially at Long Island, then on the the Exumas, New Providence, Berry Islands, and finishing up on Grand Bahama. We are spending our final days in Grand Bahama before we sail back to the US landing in North Carolina in a week or so.

Navigating

The Bahamas has lots of skinny (shallow) water.  Most of the island chains have a "sound side" and a "bank side".  The sound or ocean side quickly drops off to thousands of feet within a couple miles.  The bank side can be 10 or 12 feet deep as far as the eye can see. We did much of our exploration on the banks in the shallower water making careful navigation very important. It is common knowledge among sailors that Navionics Charts, although excellent everywhere else, are just about useless in the Bahamas. The cartography is fine (the islands are where they should be), but the soundings are usually very inaccurate. We always have paper charts for anywhere we sail and here in the Bahamas, we were 100% paper plotting on our NV Charts. The NV Charts also include digital versions of all their charts so we were able to load them into OpenCPN as well. It was fun getting out the rulers and pencils again! And, importantly, eyeball navigation or reading the water colors, will sometimes trump all of the charts. Multi-modal navigation became the norm.

We quickly learned that to successfully sail the shallow waters of Bahamas, we needed to decrease our reliance on our Chartplotter (which uses Navionics) and also leverage Explorer and NV Charts as well as the important visual navigation and reading water colors.  Bob is plotting progress on paper while the electronic version of NV charts is on a laptop next to him. In the foreground is our main charplotter with Navionics charts.

As we explored more areas, we became more adept at reading water colors. And over simplified but helpful saying goes something like “Brown, brown, run aground. White, white, you just might. Blue, blue, sail on through. Green, green, nice and clean.” Green can be the most challenging water to read.
Eyeball navigation is more challenging when it is windy and the water is choppy and definitely when it is overcast. 

Approaching a coral head. Some of these can rise up from the bottom to be within a few feet of the surface. You don't want to hit one doing eight knots!


Long Island

Long Island is not a popular Bahamian destination for cruisers and is considered part of the "Out Islands" (along with Mayaguana, Crooked and Ragged Islands). This area of Bahamas was hit hard in 2015 by hurricane Joaquin and is still recovering. Only a few thousand people live here with the economy based on fishing, farming (bananas, corn and livestock) and just a bit of tourism.

We were happy to leave Turks & Caicos in late March after a longer than planned stay and enjoyed an easy and fast 180nm sail overnight passing Mayaguana and Crooked Islands on the way.

A forecast of very high winds chased us from the anchorage in to a marina as it would have been impossible to dinghy to shore for several days. We tucked in behind a breakwater at Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town, Long Island.

Long Island land exploration lead us to Dean's Blue Hole... the second largest salt water blue hole in the world plunging to nearly 700 feet deep (and it's only about 80 feet wide at the surface). Some divers were practicing out on the platform. The World Free Diving Competitions are held here each April.

We put aside our vegetarian leaning diets to join a pig roast at the nearby Rowdy Boy's Bar and Restaurant which included a bit of live music. Bob lusted over this guy's original late 1950's Stratocaster. Bob has a '74.

We were able to dinghy over to Strachan Cay to explore the beautiful and empty beaches.
Back out on the hook for the final couple of nights in Clarence Town.
Fun beam reach up the east coast of Long Island.
Anchored in Calabash Bay on the northwest tip of Long Island before leaving for southern Exuma.

Exuma

Exuma consists of a thin chain of nearly 400 islands and cays stretching 130 miles. This is an extremely popular area for cruisers and is well known for the stunning Exuma National Land and Sea Park including Warderick Wells. Anchored at the southern and northern tips by Geroge Town and Highbourne Cay respectively, there are a myriad of spectacular anchorages, endless pristine water, ragged caves to snorkel, and pearly beaches. Exuma proved to be one of my favorite places of this entire sailing trip so far.


First stop for us in Exuma was George Town which is supposedly "the place to be" with many cruisers settling in here for months at a time. It was a perfectly fine logistical stop for provisioning, water (jerry jugs only), disposing of garbage, accessing ATM, etc. but after next seeing the other wonderful places in Exuma, I was puzzled why so many cruisers park it in George Town.

Sailing further north up Exumas on the eastern Bahama Sound side.

Argon anchored in the distance at the secluded Black Cay. Priceless.
We kind of stumbled upon this anchorage as it was not mentioned in the guide books with no other boats anchored in sight.



Our fishing skills (or luck) have most definitely improved. And when we are out of our own fresh mahi mahi, I have gotten better at securing fresh fish from the locals when they bring in their daily catch.

Bob is even trying out a hand line. No luck with this yet but trolling with the pole continues to yield regular catches.
Fresh fish has thankfully become a regular for our on board dining options.
Another spectacular anchorage at Rudder Cay.

Enjoying evening cocktails on a deserted beach at Rudder Cay with John and Melinda (and family) from s/v Amulet. We met John in Clarence Town and enjoyed meeting up at many stops including George Town, Staniel Cay, Cambridge Cay, and Highbourne Cay.
Securing a bit of much needed gasoline for our dinghy at funky and friendly Black Point settlement further up the Exuma chain. We were directed to find Bernard who brings in gasoline by boat for the handful of cars on this tiny settlement. We also scored some fantastic homemade coconut bread.

More good, free R/O (reverse osmosis) drinking water was found at Black Point. We kept our on board water tanks fairly full with regular jerry jug trips when we came upon available water.
Staniel Cay is a popular place to visit and there is a huge anchorage with good holding nearby at Big Major Spot. The many pigs that inhabit this tiny island are a major attraction and they will swim out to your dinghy hoping you have brought any and all variety of table scraps.

No visit to Staniel Cay would be complete with out a snorkeling excursion to the famous Thunderball Grotto. This underwater cave system teems with fish and bright coral. There are two small entrances almost hidden and best explored at low slack tide. It was a bit intimidating to dive down and swim in to this cave but once inside, it is expansive and with small openings up above brightening up the space. The 1965 James Bond movie, Thunderball, was set in the Bahamas and had a major scene filmed here thus giving the cave its name. And this was the site of a later Bond movie in 1983 Never Say Never Again.

Inside Thurderball Grotto.

Outside Thunderball Grotto.

Further north from the busy Staniel Cay we returned to the quiet seclusion of Cambridge Cay, part of the national park waters.
Enjoying another isolated beach in the Cambridge Cay area trying not to think of the limited number of days left here.

Enjoying a relaxing, flat sail up the Bahama Sound of the Exuma chain to Shroud Cay.
Dingy exploration around Shroud Cay. Argon is anchored in the background.

Magical Shroud Cay.
I'm liking Bob's new island look. Hope he keeps it when we are back up north.

We spent a day exploring Highbourne Cay by bicycle discovering side paths and intriguing views.

Crossing Yellow Bank required a bow look out to watch for coral heads in the shallow waters en route to New Providence (Nassau area). Check out our video on Crossing the Yellow Banks.

New Providence (Nassau Area)

New Providence is by far the most populated island in the Bahamas and holds the nation's capital, Nassau. Many equate Nassau generally with the entire island of New Providence. There is a major cruise ship terminal in Nassau between the city and Paradise Island. We opted to stay on the southeast coast of the island outside of the city at Palm Cay Marina but we traveled in to Nassau to sample some local flavor.

Potter's Cay Dock is an eclectic stretch of Bahamian food vendors in the unfortunate location of under the major bridge between Nassau and Paradise Island. I am so glad we stumbled on this area and enjoyed the most delicious spicy conch salad (and even fresh conch penis which is reportedly an aphrodisiac).

Berry Islands

This relatively undeveloped portion of the Bahamas has only a few hundred inhabitants but is often referred to as "the fish bowl of the Bahamas". There is a major fishing tournament based out of Great Harbor each May that attracts sports fishermen from far away. A couple of the major cruise ship companies own cays at the northern part of the Berry's to bring passengers for a secluded island experience. And some of the numerous cays are privately owned and there are a handful of tiny boutique hotels and resorts.


While in a rolly anchorage in Chub Cay, southern part of the Berry Islands, a large fishing boat approached us yelling over "Hey Argon, want some fish?". We did not hesitate to say yes as he threw a 30 pound mahi mahi in to our dinghy.


Enjoying the night skies anchored near Bullocks Harbor.

Exploring eastern beaches of Berry Islands.

I will miss these sunsets at anchor tremendously.

Sunset off Little Stirrup Cay northern Berry Islands and likely our final night at anchor in the Bahamas. From here we sailed to Great Bahama with sparse options for anchoring thus we may be in marinas until we set off on our off-shore passage up to Beaufort, North Carolina sometime around 1 May.

Matthew's Presence 

Last Fall during the first part of our voyage, Hurricane Matthew roared across the Bahamas and up the east coast.  We were in the Chesapeake at the time and only felt the tail end of it (which was enough). The Bahamas were not so lucky. Grand Bahama and the Berrys are still showing signs of damage. Seven months later, much of their infrastructure, services, resorts and restaurants are still closed.

Making Friends

Meeting other cruisers and learning their stories is always fun. We have enjoyed meeting so many people over the miles. Below are a few from the Bahamas.

We enjoyed several meet ups at different harbors with John & Melinda from s/v Amulet starting in Turks & Caicos all the way up through Long Island and Exumas. John is finishing up ten years of around the world cruising and exploring and returning home to northwest of the US.
 
One of the few other Tartans we have seen in the Caribbean was s/v Holiday owned by Zach and Lindy who have just started an extended / open ended cruising life a few months ago. Zach came over early one morning to help us with our SSB receiver.
While walking along a secluded beach on the east side of the Berry Island chain, we saw a beached dinghy and two people way off in the distance. A conversation quickly started and we met up again a couple nights later in the same anchorage. Steve and Cindy are from Michigan sailing Slip Away.

Grand Bahama

This is the northern most island of the Bahamas and a major transit point for the many cruisers going to and from Florida. (Bimini is the other popular landing point from the eastern Florida coast.) Freeport, Luchaya and West End are the main settlements and the major industry is clearly tourism. This is the first Bahamian island where we have seen high rise condos and there is definitely a made for American and Canadian tourist feel. Gone are our enchanting private anchorages. But this will be a good staging point to provision, prepare, and rest up before our off-shore passage to North Carolina.

Until next time..... We AReGONe!


2 comments:

  1. What a great post! Love Bob's new look. Wishing you a safe passage north....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great hearing from you both again. Looks like a great part of the trip.Can't wait to hear more when you are back. Sending love to you both.

    ReplyDelete