Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In & Around the Southern Abacos

Fisher’s Bay, Great Guana Cay, Abacos
26 40.12 N 077 07.18 W
(click on photo to enlarge)

We spent a few more days in Little Harbor after sending out the last blog. On Thursday 4/7/11, we had a leisurely sail of about 21 miles north up through the Sea of Abaco and arriving in Marsh Harbor. Marsh Harbor is the largest town and the capitol of regional government for the entire Abaco Island group. Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco Island together make up the main island. To the east and north of these two main islands are a few dozen smaller inhabited cays and reefs that form a protective barrier from the Atlantic Ocean. The relatively calmer and shallower body of water between these outer cays and the main islands is called the Sea of Abaco and is where we have spent the last two weeks. We have slowly been making our way back to “civilization” or at least what is more what we are used to stateside. The Abacos seem to have all the amenities we took for granted back in the US such as TV reception, reliable Internet and even a grocery store to rival a Super Stop & Shop or Publix.

Mangoes Marina in Marsh
 Rather than anchor out in Marsh Harbor, we took a slip at Mangoes Marina (26 32.81 N 077 03.19 W) to make it easier for the major provisioning planned. We plugged into electricity (1st time since George Town in Feb.) and water (1st time since Nassau in Jan.) and immediately went into “condo mode” taking advantage of air conditioning and long showers. It was difficult to leave this luxury and we spent 4 days here. We rented a car for a day to make it easier to get our groceries and liquor back to Carina as well as refill empty medications and propane.

Anchored off Matt Lowe Cay
 On Monday, 4/11/11 we reluctantly turned off the AC and motored just outside of the harbor to do a little snorkeling on Mermaid Reef before continuing a few more miles, dropping anchor behind Matt Lowe Cay for the night (26 33.72 N. 077 01.07 W)

Hope Town Lighthouse
On Tues. 4/12/11 we headed to Hope Town on Elbow Cay (26 33.73 N 076 01.07 W). The famous red & white striped light house in Hope Town is a well photographed landmark. It was built in 1864 and is one of the last of three oil-burning, hand-wound lighthouses still operating in the world.

The bulls-eye lenses and lamp
of the lighthouse
 The light house keeper has to climb the 101 steps every 2 hours throughout the night to hand crank the weights that operate the beacon. The 360 degree view looking out over the harbor, the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Abaco is striking.

Hope Town Harbor view &
Atlantic ocean beyond from
atop the lighthouse
 Hope Town is a picturesque little town first settled by Loyalist in the late 1700's. After the Loyalist realized that the thin, infertile Bahama soil was not suitable for farming they turned to fishing but also to the more lucrative salvaging of the many wrecked ships that ran aground on the reefs of Elbow Cay... that is until the lighthouse was built. 

Beautifully landscaped
gardens along the narrow walks
 Some of the original houses have been "upgraded" to larger tourist rental homes but the town still maintains its charm with beautifully landscaped gardens and pastel colored houses. Kathy got a night off from cooking by having dinner at Capt. Jack’s restaurant overlooking the harbor.

Harbor side view
 The next day we walked the town, the beaches, visited the Wyannie Malone historical museum and treated ourselves to a homemade key lime pie (with an unusual meringue topping) from Vernon’s Bakery which was delicious.

Sand spit on Tahiti Beach at the
south end of Elbow Cay
After two nights on a mooring in a very crowded Hope Town Harbor among the throngs of charter boat and their vacation-mode partying we decided to “escape” to the south end of Elbow Cay, anchoring off Tahiti Beach (26 30.18N 076 59.08 W). While beach combing Kathy found another legal conch in the waters off Tahiti Beach which promptly became conch fritters for dinner.
Looking down hill towards
 the protected harbor. 
 On Fri. 4/15/11 we had a leisurely sail 7 miles back up north to the next outer cay beyond Elbow Cay. Man-O-War Cay has been one of our favorite stops so far. The island is neat as a pin with well-maintained homes and landscaped yards with tropical flowers.

Kathy outside a small market
 Man-O-War was another island settled by Loyalists in the 1780s and almost all of these industrious residents can trace their roots back to Nellie Archer and Ben Albury. Before she died, Mama Nellie set aside land for a school, church, roads and cemetery.

Field of dreams.
The town's baseball field as well as the town's cemetery are both situated overlooking the turquoise blue Atlantic ocean.

This island still maintains a very deep seated religious and community foundation. As a result no liquor is sold anywhere on the island and all business are shut down on Sunday. Man-O-War is also the traditional boat-building center of the Abacos. The Albury Boatworks still makes excellent quality boats.

The north end of Man-O-War
Cay. Atlantic ocean on right.
Our anchorage and Sea of
Abaco to left
 We spent two nights anchored off a small cove and beach on Man-O-War (26 36.43 N 77 00.98 W). We walked most of the 2-1/2 mile long island. Between walking, kayaking and swimming we've been getting a good work out.

Outside of "town" the roads
give way to single lane
sand or gravel paths

On Sunday, 4/17 we sailed another 7 miles to Great Guana Cay (not to be confused with the Great Guana Cay we visited in the Exumas). We spent Sunday night on a mooring in Settlement Harbor after taking in the party atmosphere of the famous (or is it infamous?) Nipper’s Beach Bar. Nipper’s sits high on a sand dune bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. People flock here on Sunday for the pig roast and “Nippers” (their version of Rum punch).

Dinner at Grabber's
 Great Guana is one of the larger out islands and we will take a few days exploring the anchorages along the west side. Monday 4/18 we motored around the corner and anchored in Fisher’s Bay.

followed by our table-side view
of the sunset over anchorage
 The Admiral received another night off from galley duty having dinner at Grabber’s – another beach bar and grill set among palm trees and sand with a view of the setting sun over our anchorage. Life is good!!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Warderick Wells, Exumas to Little Harbor, Abacos

Warderick Wells, Exumas to Little Harbor, Abacos

26 19.6 N 076 59.9 W
(click on each photo to enlarge view)

Perfect weather for crossing
Exuma Sound to Eleuthera
from Dream Catcher's bow.
We left Warderick Wells on Wednesday 3/23 bound for Rock Sound, on the southwestern side of Eleuthera Island. Our fishing line was out for the 30 mile crossing of Exuma Sound with not even a nibble! The island of Eleuthera is about 110 miles long. Approaching from sea, it definately had a different look than the Exuma Cays with higher hills and a more developed coastline of houses. We anchored off of Rock Sound Settlement, the largest “town” on Eleuthera along with about 20 other cruising sailboats.

The west half of the "bottomless"
Ocean Hole. Note the Green
Sea Turtle swimming at lower left
The market was a short walk from the Four Points Restaurant/dinghy dock. It was very well stocked and not too pricey by Bahamian standards and they also gave us a ride back to the dinghy dock to save us the walk with groceries. Eleuthera also is known for its many limestone caves and blue holes. Just on the outskirts of Rock Sound Settlement is Ocean Hole Park with a limestone rimmed blue hole about a ¼ mile in diameter (24 51.8 N, 76 09.31 W). 

Kathy looking up at the cavern roof
where the Banyan Tree roots extend
 It is a “bottomless” hole which connects to the ocean. The depth has never been verified but a local told us that someone from the US dived down to about 270 feet and still no evidence of bottom. We then walked out of town a short distance to another blue hole and cave system. Banyan tree roots grow like vertical shafts out of the moist cavern floor 30’ – 40’ skyward with their leafy tops extending through openings in the cavern roof to the daylight above.  

Approaching the 90' wide cut into
Hatchet Bay
Saturday 3/26 we motor sailed with our reaching spinnaker up another 35 miles northeast, entering Hatchet Bay through a 90’ wide cut that was blasted through limestone cliffs. The settlement of Alice Town lies on the south bluffs of the bay. After a walk through the community it’s apparent that this is a poorer community than many other towns we have visited in the Bahamas. They are still trying to recover from the direct hit of Hurricane Floyd followed by Hurricane Andrew back in the 90’s.

Pollie & Mo from S/V Serenity
sharing a good time at the Front Porch
restaurant at the Alice Town dock.
The one bright spot was a cute little restaurant/ bar/ gift shop known as the Front Porch, located just off the town docks. It was neat and clean with pastel colors and cute furnishings – lot’s of artsy, crafty kind of stuff, wi-fi, and excellent local foods.

The Glass Window. Waves of the
Atlantic Ocean in foreground. The
Bight of Eleuthera in background.
You can see where the bridge
shifted 7' to the west .
We rented a car for two days to do some land-based sightseeing. Mo and Pollie from S/V Serenity joined us for the 1st day. After Mark figured out the nuances of driving a car with the steering wheel on the right side of the car and keeping to the left side of the road we headed north along the Queen’s Highway. Our first stop was the Glass Window, a rock formation where the Bight of Eleuthera (on the west) meets the Atlantic ocean (on the east) in a very narrow section of the island. It was originally a natural rock bridge 85’ above the sea level which was washed away by a hurricane in 1926 and replaced by the Queen’s Highway Bridge in 1960. A rage (like a nor’easter) on Halloween Day 1991 spawned a rogue wave that lifted the concrete bridge deck moving the north end of it 7’ to the west.

Ricky Ricardo ferried us
across to Harbour Island
 We parked the car at a ferry dock at the northeast side of the island and took Ricky Ricardo’s Water Taxi #26 across the 2 mile wide bay to Harbour Island. There, Mo took his turn at the wheel by renting a golf cart for us to explore the island by. The island is very upscale with expensive resorts and boutique hotels along the long stretch of pink sand beach. By late afternoon we took a return water taxi back across the bay. We arrived back at Hatchet Bay by sunset after an unplanned wrong turn out toward Current Island.

Along Bay Street in Dunmore
Town, Harbour Island

The famous pink sand beaches on
the Atlantic ocean side of
Harbour Island

One of the chambers of
Hatchet Bay caves

The next day, Tuesday, we made use of the car to visit another larger cave system called Hatchet Bay caves. We also came upon a few banana trees and Mark cut off a bundle of green bananas to take back to ripen on Carina. We then drove over to the ocean side of the island to place known as Surfer’s Beach that is apparently well known for the excellent surfing conditions the reefs and bar produces.

We had the big lobstah in the center
for dinner that night
In the afternoon we drove down to the town of Governor’s Harbor. Local fishermen were selling fresh seafood at the seawall that we could not pass up so we bought a huge 4-5 lb lobster and also a smaller Grouper. We had a wonderful grilled lobster dinner that night.

An impromptu arrival of 5 Catamarans!
We departed Hatchet Bay on Wednesday 3/30 and had a nice sail up to Royal Island by way of Current Cut. Current Cut (25 24.18N, 76 47.57 W) is a narrow channel with swift flowing current between North Eleuthera and Current Island  that we had to time our transit with the favorable Ebb.
Royal Island is a popular well protected harbor and 4 other catamarans arrived shortly after us. Unfortunately there is no place to land the dinghy with the entire harbor ringed by sharp coral rock. It is also privately owned and there have been big plans for a "Royal" resort development with proposed marina, shops, hotels, restaurants, golf course and private homes. Some construction that started a few years ago came to a halt during the bad economy and everything is presently at a standstill.

Looking down over Carina's
transom (the charted depth
was over 15,000' deep in this
area) at the beautiful blue color
of Northeast Providence Channel.
We awoke on Saturday, 3/2 with every intention of just motoring 5 miles over to the island of Spanish Wells and spend a few days at the in-town marina. After listening to the 6:30 weather net though we realized that today would be the most favorable day over the next week for us to make the passage from Eleuthera up to the Abacos. Guess we’ll save Spanish Well’s for next year. We also bid a final farewell to Gary & Janie on Dream Catcher who were on a tight schedule to return to the US. We were underway by 8AM and made the 55 mile crossing of Northeast Providence Channel arriving in Little Harbor by 4PM. But once again…no luck fishing !!!!

The anchorage at Little Harbor
Little Harbor is the 1st protected harbor when approaching the Abacos from the south. We had visited it in 2007 for the “Manta Migration” as guests aboard Dan and Sara Even’s boat, Manta One. Little Harbor was first settled by the Johnston family in the 1950’s. Randolph Johnston, a professor and talented sculptor decided to leave the “Megamachine” of the US behind and take his family cruising and allow him to spend his time sculpting.

Some of the beautiful bronze castings
in the gallery.
They got as far as Little Harbor and decided this was the “one particular harbor”. The family lived in a cave in the harbor while building their home and foundry. Randolph passed away at 88 years old. There is a gallery with many of his beautiful sculptures on display next to Pete’s Pub on the beach. Randolph’s son Pete (as well as his grandson) continue to produce new artwork in the foundry and is frequently seen sipping a cold one at the bar.
There are no walls or floor at Pete's Pub.
It's just an outdoor bar on the beach.
An easterly wind built all day Sunday and by the afternoon there were impressive sea swells breaking on the reefs on either side of the cut we had entered through yesterday. Once again, timing is everything on picking a good weather window.  Pete’s Pub was rocking with a live band in the afternoon but thankfully the music stops by sunset as a rule. 

Carina on a mooring in Little Hbr. with
Pete's Pub & Gallery on shore behind
 Overnight, with our hatches open, we could hear the surf on the beach just on the other side of the spit of land that separates the harbor from the Atlantic Ocean. By Monday winds were steady 18-20 kts so we decided to confine our activities to inside the harbor & on land. After breakfast we fired up the generator for an hour to do a load of wash, make some hot water, and charge the batteries while we made desalinated water.

1 of the 2 caves along the shore
across the harbor from us.
 After Kathy finished hanging the clothes out to dry on the life lines we went for a kayak ride up into a small lagoon and then part-way around the harbor, beaching the kayaks to explore the 2 caves. We went back to the boat and after lunch dinghied back to shore for a long walk. It was quite hot and still once we got on land... we must have walked at least 5 miles. By the time we returned to Pete’s Pub we were very thirsty so we both ordered their specialty drink called a Blaster. It’s made with 4 or 5 different kinds of rum... or did they say 7 flavors??? Anyways… they went down real good. 

Beating conch meat with a
tenderizing mallet for a fine
cracked conch dinner.
We then returned to the boat and proceeded to use various tools of destruction to prepare our supper. Mark had found a nice ripe coconut during our walk so he opened it up with hammer & chisel and scraped out the coconut meat with knife. Kathy got out the meat tenderizing mallet and proceeded to beat the conch meat in the cockpit well (some of the conchs Mark had "harvested" back at Sampson Cay). So for dinner we had cracked conch with coconut rice and fresh whole wheat bread with a little white wine….. A very nice meal!
(Correction – Kathy must have been too blasted from the Blaster as she forgot to serve the bread!)

Sinbad enjoying a placid anchorage
We're all hanging out today (Barnacle & Sinbad as well), with our primary goal to finally finish this blog. A cold front with our 1st T-storm since last fall in (was it ) Georgia pushed through in the late afternoon but we’re snug and comfortable in this harbor. We plan to spend the next month in the Abacos before making our way back to Florida sometime in May.

 Post Script: A few pix of some stylish Bahamian signs we passed by during our walk-about Little Harbor: