Monday, January 31, 2011

Nassau - Black Point Settlement

Nassau to Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay, Bahamas
24 06.13 N 076 24.07 W

It’s been over 2 weeks since our last blog posting in Nassau. Internet connections are not as frequent or reliable in the Exumas and we’ve also been having such a good time it’s been hard to find the time to update. Here’s a recap of the past 2 weeks: We spent 2 days in Nassau at the Harbor Club Marina. This was a very convenient location to provision groceries, liquor, marine supplies, etc. in a shopping plaza across the street from the marina. We’ve visited Nassau on cruise ships in the past so we did not really do any sightseeing elsewhere in Nassau. 
Stairs cut into coral took us over
 the the north side of Rose Island
We left Nassau on a hot humid Tue. afternoon (1/18/11) and motored about 7 miles, anchoring off of Rose Island (25 05.0 N, 077 12.5 W) with 3 other sailboats. We dinghied to the island walking up steps cut into the coral that took us over the narrow island to the north side.

The Exhuma Iguanas of Allens Cay

Our plan is to spend the next few months here in the Exumas. The Exumas are a chain of islands that extend about 140 miles southeast of Nassau. We arrived at our 1st Exumas island, Allens Cay (24 44.95 N, 76 50.25 W), on Wednesday (19th). Allens Cay is famous for the Exumas Iguanas (even though the lizards actually reside only on the adjoining Leaf Cay & SW Allens Cay)…. These are the only islands that this species of iguanas exists in the world. 
Our anchorage at Allens Cay 
We anchored with about 15 other sailboats in the somewhat protected anchorage between these 3 Cays and spent 5 days here visiting the hundreds of  iguanas, snorkeling a nearby reef, relaxing and partying with our friends on Dream Catcher. High speed tour boats from Nassau take day-tourists to view the iguanas. A front came through on Saturday (22nd) bringing squalls and building westerly winds. By 10PM that evening the winds had increased to 20-25kt gusting to 30kts. The winds coupled with the current that floods/ ebbs through the anchorage produced 3’ swells that held us beam-on to the waves. Everyone was awake on anchor watch as a few boats dragged. The 2 anchors we had deployed held us great but it was a hellacious, uncomfortable night until the current turned same direction as the wind around 3:30AM.

Dream Catcher & Carina
off of Hawksbill Cay
Sunday 1/23 we pulled anchor and motor sailed 20 miles south to Hawksbill Cay, a pristine and uninhabited island within the Exumas Land & Sea Park boundary. We picked up a park mooring ball off the shoreline (24 28.1 N, 76 46.2 W) and dinghied onto a beautiful white sand beach where we then climbed to a coral headland to take in the panorama.

View from the headland
overlooking Hawksbill Cay
We then walked across the island to the ocean on the eastern side. We had intended to stay at Hawksbill on Monday but an unpredicted change in weather and winds over the next few days forced us to change plans. We left Hawksbill Cay in building easterly winds shifting to southeast. We had a boisterous day of motor sailing in 20-25kn apparent winds on our nose in 3’seas on our way to the Staniel Cay area.

Staniel Cay Yacht Club in background
is not like the "yacht clubs" back home
We anchored in nice protected cove outside the Sampson Cay Resort (24 12.54 N, 76 28.53 W). This harbor offered good protection from the strong south easterlies all night and we had a nice restful night at anchor. This was also our 1st (spotty) Internet connection since departing Nassau. We spent 2 days there and on Wed. we motored a few miles past Fowl Cay, between the Big & Little Majors islands to tie up dockside at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

Nurse sharks swimming around
the dock at Staniel Cay YC
We decided to splurge on a marina and it did allow us better access to explore this cay. We didn’t have to go far to get a look at the local sea life as there were numerous nurse sharks right under the docks. We toured the island both on foot and with bicycles borrowed from our friends on Dream Catcher. That night we had dinner at the yacht club with Gary & Jane from Dream Catcher and Silvio & Verina from Blues Breaker (who we had last seen in Bimini). The grilled Mahi was excellent.

Swing on beach at Pirates Cove

Jane & Gary of Dream Catcher,
Verina & Silvio of Blues Breaker
and us at dinner at yacht club 

The pigs of Big Majors swimming
out to meet us for food
On Thursday (27th) we traveled a short distance from Staniel Cay past the Thunderball Grotto and around the west side of Big Majors (24 11.32 N, 076 27.45 W) where we anchored amongst at least 30 other boats. This uninhabited cay is known for its population of feral pigs. The pigs swim out to meet approaching dinghies looking for food handouts. They are quite persistent and fussy as to their food preferences. There were not interested in the carrots we brought but seemed to enjoy bread, crackers and chips.

Preparing to snorkel Thunderball Grotto
Friday (28th) morning we snorkeled Thunderball Grotto at slack low tide. This was the location filmed in the James Bond 007 movie Thunderball. The colorful tropical fish swim all around your face and body (again conditioned for food treats that snorkeler’s feed them).

The 3 Little Piggies!
That afternoon we dinghied over to middle beach (far away from “pig beach”) where we joined other boaters for afternoon cocktails. Although the pigs usually stay on the large beach to the south three cute little piglets ventured over to see what was going on and what they might get for a snack. They seemed to enjoy the potato chips. The winds built as the afternoon progressed and shifted to expose the anchorage to the incoming waves. Needless to say it was a rough & bumpy evening and overnight. 
Cruisers party on the beach

Conditions calmed on Saturday which allowed for an evening potluck party on the beach of Big Majors with fellow cruisers. We returned to Carina after enjoying the beach party which included great food, great company and even a bonfire. The night was calm and clear with a magnificent sky full of stars.

Sunday 1/30 we left Big Majors and traveled 8 miles to Black Point Settlement on Great Guana Cay along with Blues Breaker & Dream Catcher. Black Point has a population of 300 and is the 2nd largest settlement in the Exumas after Georgetown. It has almost every amenity a cruiser could hope for… internet access, groceries (supply boat comes on Tuesday), trash disposal (very important).We did a little exploring on Sunday afternoon. We will probably stay here for a few more days to see what the weather brings before continuing on to Georgetown for next week to meet Mark’s sister and brother in law who will be visiting with us for a week.   

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bimini - Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas
25 04.5 N 077 18.78 W
Bluewater Marina in Bimini
We stayed in Bimini for 4 days waiting out yet another cold front while it blew 25knts for 2 days. On Saturday winds calmed enough for us to do some kayaking. On Sunday the westerly winds moderated and we decided to go snorkeling with another couple. We dinghied out of the harbor and went up the coast about 3 miles to a reef ½ mile off the northwest side of North Bimini (25 45.95 N, 079 16.70 W). We were able to see down to about 25’ depths. This was the location of the mysterious Bimini Roads… supposedly from the lost continent of Atlantis… all we were able to see was a series of flat stones about 20’ below the surface, but could not discern any road-like pattern. We then snorkeled over a near-by reef for our first look at the undersea world of the Bahamas with purple fan coral and colorful reef fish. There were several dozen other cruisers waiting out the nasty weather in the marina with us and we all got to know each other quite well over the 4 days. Afternoon cocktail parties were the routine with most nights onboard Carina. The catamaran is always the party boat!!

Fresh conch chowder
from Sophia's. 
We explored most of North Bimini Island by foot in a few hours as it is not very big. We purchased conch chowder from one store and a fresh-baked loaf of sweet Bimini bread from the local bakery. The bread made a wonderfully sweet French toast breakfast. A Bimini native came by the docks one morning selling fresh conch meat and Caribbean lobster tails for a very reasonable price. Kathy made conch fritters for the 1st time that were delicious after Mark learned how to “bruise” the conch meat from a local.

We departed Bimini on Monday afternoon. Our next destination was Chub Cay in the Berry Island chain about 85 nm to the east. In between lay the Great Bahama Banks, a vast & remote area with shallow water depths, generally in the 8’ to 20’ range. The distance is too much for most sailboats to transit in a single day so if you don't feel like continuing on overnight it is typical to anchor overnight on the Banks. We intentionally left in a mild weather period between fronts so we could motor across the Banks in light variable winds that also allowed for calm sea conditions overnight. Dream Catcher, another catamaran followed with us from Bimini. We both anchored in the middle of nowhere about 7:30 that night with not another boat, navigational light or any sign of land in any direction. It was so dark with no ambient light on the horizon from any civilization that the stars were visible 360 degrees right down to the horizon.

Anchored off Chub Cay Cove
It was surreal to be anchored out in such an exposed location but we really could not have had any calmer overnight conditions and after a restful night’s sleep we were under way by sunrise reaching the eastern side of the Banks where, in a matter of a few miles distance, the shallow Bahama Banks drop off into 2600’ depths of the Northwest Providence Channel. We continued motoring on in calm seas arriving at Chub Cay in the Berry Islands by early Tuesday afternoon. Both catamarans dropped anchors off a white sand beach (25 24.56 N, 077 54.54 W). Again the water was gin clear and the sandy bottom had hundreds of huge starfish. 

Starfish this size "littered"
the sandy bottom
More strong winds were forecasted for the next few days so on Wednesday 12th, we moved around the southern side of Chub Cay to the adjoining island of Frazer’s Hog Cay about 6 miles away where we picked up a secure mooring ball at the Berry Island Club (25 25.5 N, 077 50.1 W). The winds arrived as predicted and quickly built to 15-20knts which stayed that way for the next 3 days and nights. After three nights of uncomfortable conditions on the mooring ball we decided to return to Chub Cay Cove on Saturday to hopefully get a more restful night sleep. It turned out we made the right decision as it was very calm and we had the bonus of having the company of many rays which glided around and under the boat all afternoon.
 We weighed anchor on Sunday morning for the 38 miles to Nassau across the deep Northeast Providence Channel. Winds and seas were forward of the beam making for an upwind slog that we motor-sailed. We entered Nassau Harbor passing by the cruise ship docks and docking at Harbor Club Marina. Our friends, Gary and Jane from Dream Catcher arrived shortly after us and we have spent the past two days doing grocery shopping, laundry and taking care of some other errands and boat “things”. We plan to leave the docks tomorrow and continue on to the Exumas where we plan to spend the next couple of months.
Kathy securing the jib after
arriving in Nassau Harbor

Passing the Atlantis Resort
on Paradise Island

Friday, January 7, 2011

Key West to Bahamas

North Bimini Island, Bahamas
25 43.49 N 079 17.84 W

We woke to a beautiful sunny Christmas Day in Key Biscayne. It was the proverbial calm before the storm as the next strong cold front was due to arrive in south Florida the next day. Many cruisers took advantage of the mild weather and light winds to leave No Name Harbor and make the crossing to the Bahamas on Christmas Day. We motored 7 miles up to Miami where we had reserved a slip at Miamarina.

At the Miamarina in downtown Miami
on Christmas Day awaiting guests.
This marina is located right in the downtown Bayside riverfront area and the sights and sounds created stimulation overload for us after our quiet anchorages. The marina basin is ringed with 14 restaurants, a shopping mall and about 8 different harbor tour boats. Five cruise liners were lined up in one direction and the American Airlines Arena (home of the Miami Heat) was in the other. By afternoon thousands of people had descended to Bayside. Music from a great salsa band echoed loudly across the marina basin. The smells from the restaurants were delicious. It was a very unique Christmas Day to say the least. Sunday we cleaned Carina, did laundry and “turned” the boat around for guest cruising.

Chilly kayaking off of Butternut Key
Jason & Veronica caught one of the last flights out of JFK airport before it closed down due to the blizzard in the northeast. They arrived on Monday morning and after taking advantage of their rental car to stock up on provisions we left the marina and headed back to No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne for the night. Tuesday morning we raised anchor and had a nice sail to our first anchorage on the way down to Key West off Butternut Key near Key Largo. Jay and Veronica may have escaped the snow but the cold did follow them. It was interesting to see them kayaking bundled up with long pants, sweats and even hats.
A chilly dinner at Burdine's in Marathon
Our next port of call was Boot Key harbor in Marathon. This harbor is the end destination for many cruisers in the winter. The harbor was packed with over 200 mooring balls and has quite a large cruiser’s community and every facility you could want or need nearby. We did a little exploring by foot and dinghy before having a light dinner at Burdine’s Marina Restaurant overlooking the harbor.
We had a slip booked at Safe Harbor Marina on Stock Island just north of Key West for the next few days so we slipped the mooring lines early on Wednesday for the sail down the Keys. The winds were 15-18 knots out of the northwest with 4'-6’ following seas making for a brisk sail down island. Mark was in his element!!!
Playing tourist in Key West
We tied up at the marina in the early afternoon and hopped a local bus into downtown Key West to scope out the area and decide where we might want to spend New Year’s Eve. Schooner Wharf seemed to be the choice but after talking to some folks at the marina and cab drivers we decided it would be best to take in the sunset on Mallory Square and then get back to Stock Island before the clock struck midnight. Apparently there are about 70 taxis in Key West for the 60 – 70 thousand people in town for New Year’s Eve. It turns out we made the right decision as we had a wonderful late dinner at the Hog Fish Grill at our marina and enjoyed the music of a very good bluegrass band as we rang in 2011.

Jay and Veronica left on Saturday morning and we spent the afternoon doing laundry and boat chores. On Sunday 1/2/11 we left Key West and traveled 21 miles to Newfound Harbor off of Big Pine Key. The weather had been slowly moderating and with temps now in the upper 70’s. We kayaked for 1st time since Chesapeake Bay in Oct. The weather outlook was also looking very favorable for a Gulf Stream crossing on Wednesday. We upped anchor early Monday morning and made our way 75 miles back up the Keys to Tarpon Basin in Key Largo anchoring just as darkness set in. Since we were familiar with this area and knew the grocery store was close by it was easy for us to provision one last time in the States. With the cupboards and refrigerator once again well stocked we took on fuel and water and dropped anchor behind Pumpkin Key on Tuesday afternoon to be in position to make a dawn departure through Angelfish Creek on Thursday.

Finally turquoise waters
and white sand beaches!
We awoke Wednesday morning to calm wind and flat seas – Kathy’s kind of crossing weather. We were both much more confident that these were the right conditions than on our last attempt 3 weeks ago. We raised anchor before sunrise and motored out the creek, through Hawk Channel and into the Straits of Florida. Winds gradually built and shifted southwest through the morning. We were able to raise sail and cut the engines by about 10:30am. The water became a beautiful shade of indigo blue and the depth sounder hit its limit at 398 feet although we had 2,000-2,800 feet under our keels. 
Blustery conditions on the western,
windward shore of No. Bimini

We had a great sail across the infamous Gulf Steam averaging 8 -9 knots speed over ground. Through the afternoon winds increased to 16-18 knot range, producing lumpy and confused seas. As you approach the Bimini Islands the water depths rise precipitously from 2,800 foot depths to 25 foot depths in a matter of 3 miles distance with the water color changing from the deep ocean blue to a clear turquoise. We both decided it was a good crossing even though winds and seas ended up being more than forecasted.

The calm waters on the eastern,
 lee side of the island
 We tied up at Blue Water Marina in North Bimini with our “Q” flag flying at 2:30pm (about 61 nm & 7 ½ hours after leaving Florida). Clearing in through customs was very easy and quick. We were able to lower the “Q” flag and raise the Bahamian flag in time to enjoy our first “sundowner” in paradise.

Center of Alicetown on the island of North Bimini

King's Highway is the main road
running the length of Bimini.
The Bimini Island group consists of the islands of North & South Bimini as well as Cat & Gun Cay (Cay pronounced as Key). North Bimini is about 7 miles long and 700 feet wide. We have been exploring the island on foot, meeting other cruisers and getting used to “island time”. The Bahamian people  are all extremely polite and very warm & friendly.
4'- 5' fish under Carina's keel
while tied to docks

Another “cold” front went through yesterday afternoon ushering in slighter cooler temps (mid-seventies) and north – northwest winds. Winds and seas should subside enough by tomorrow to venture across the shallow Bahamas banks on our way to … “somewhere south of somewhere”. Stay tuned.