Welcome back to the BEAUTIFUL Bahamas!
After everyone left, life went back to normal on the boat for us. A reality check came when we anchored just outside of Hope Town to make water. It was hot, and a swim sounded tempting. But we had hardly settled down when we had a visitor!! He was at least 8’ long and he lazily circled our boat five or six times, checking us out with his beady eye. Now we think that some of the fishing boats stop somewhere around where we were anchored and clean their catch – he was probably trained that food tidbits arrive along with boats. We didn’t want to be that food!!!
Back into the harbor and a more friendly visitor said hello.
We had to wait for about ten days before there was a suitable weather window to do the crossing from the Abacos to Eleuthera. About 50 miles, but this boat is very sensitive to wind and waves on the beam. When we first set out, the weather wasn’t at all what had been predicted and we felt as though we were in a washing machine. But after about an hour (and almost turning back) things calmed down and we had an easy time the rest of the way.
Two boats that we passed along the way – opposite ends of the spectrum!! The big boat is Ulysses, 116 meters long and worth $275 million!! Oh to be a guest aboard that! Check out the helicopter and the launch (40′? 50′?) tucked into the side!! But the sunsets look just as good from the deck of the traditional boat, and in fact from our deck too. And if their anchors ever come up loaded with sand and mud as ours sometimes does, I wouldn’t like to be the person cleaning those off!
We spent two days in Spanish Wells – we were still travelling with Mel and Gary. We again rented a golf cart and explored the island (which means that we went back and walked our favorite beach and went to the Sand Dollar restaurant for lunch! Amazingly good food). This starfish is actually in about 8” of water – it is so clear! The sand makes amazing patterns as the tide goes out, leaving sculpted hollows. And a picture of Garth on a bench, taking it all in. We searched for the wild papaya trees that last time had pendulous, ripe papayas for the taking (which we did), but sadly couldn’t find them this time.
I became very lazy with carrying my camera around as I had photographed so many of the places on previous trips. But we did find this beautiful plant, bursting with shiny red seeds. According to Mel, who has vast knowledge of all things, it is a cycad.
We did see so many other incredible plants and flowers – including this beautiful golden bromeliad and these spiky ones that I wouldn’t like to brush up against!
We left Spanish Wells and went down through Current Cut – two vast areas of water all rush through this narrow gap each time the tides ebb and flow. You have to time your passage to go through when the tide is with you! But on the other side it was like silk, and we headed down to Governer’s Harbour.
As we got to the dinghy dock there were these tiny little fish swimming around the concrete blocks – I just love what water and sunlight do together.
In the islands, restaurants come in all shapes and sizes. We passed Matty’s and I couldn’t resist the sign!!
That night we had a spectacular sunset and a great night’s sleep!
On to Cape Eleuthera Marina, which is another must-stop for us. It is right at the southern end of the island, and the jumping off point for the Exumas. They have wonderful facilities and it is very easy to stay another day, and another, if conditions for crossing aren’t perfect. We spent the afternoon sipping cocktails in the pool, lounging on the chairs and then had an excellent dinner in the restaurant while we watched the nail-biting playoff game between the Buffalo Bills (Gary’s team) and Kansas City. The game never lagged for a minute but sadly the Bills were beaten in overtime.
While there we did a tour of the Cape Eleuthera Institute (google it!). It is a teaching and learning facility focused on conservation of the marine environment. They have developed aquaculture and when we were there had tanks full of tilapia in various stages of growth (my pictures were a bit frightening!), as well as lots of green produce. The campus is self sustaining for all staff and students. I love that the dining hall waste gets almost completely recycled (sign should be placed above the containers) and who else outlines their veggie beds with conch shells?!?
As there were no students on campus at the time, they were very generous to us and gave us lots of coveted papayas, lettuce, radishes and even cilantro – CILANTRO!!!!!!!! They rotate semester long classes of students from the States and locally, at different grade levels. I love that when the kids are collected at the airport, they have a big basket and all cellphones and electronics have to be handed over until they are returned again at the end! They study the local and US curriculums, but have so much added – for example, they are all dive-certified by the time they leave. For a mere $28K per semester you too could let your child have the Island School Experience!!!
One of the things we were determined to do on this trip was go to Shroud Cay in the Exumas. When we were there previously, the weather was never favorable for us to anchor at Shroud. We left Eleuthera and crossed to the Exumas and Shroud was our destination. For us, this was the highlight of the trip. It was just incredibly beautiful.
There is a passage through the mangroves where you wind along in your dinghy and eventually come out on the ocean side of the island. As you come around the corner, this is what you see:
The reality is even more beautiful than the pictures can show. The crystal water! It has to be amongst the most breathtaking beaches in the world.
A big front was forecast so we scuttled to our favorite hidey-hole – Waderick Wells. We were lucky to get a mooring ball and rode out five days of horrible winds, safe and secure. Mel and Gary as well as our Canadian friends Steve and Jacquie and their group of friends were also all there and we had cocktail hours on the beach each evening (despite the weather!) and shared incredible sushi on Second Sojourn – which Gary made with a Wahoo that he had caught the day before. We have not been living the simple life, that’s for sure!!
We were visited by a regiment of rays who hung out in formation behind our boat and another beautiful turtle.
From there to Black Point which for some reason we love – none of our friends seem to have the same fondness for it. We saw the finished Bahamian dinghy which had featured as a framed skeleton in one of our earlier blogs. The paint job was world class! Unfortunately, because of Covid, the annual First Friday in February at Farmers racing weekend was not held for the third time in a row, and Raging Bull sits, waiting to be tested. Black Point also offered one of our best sunsets – sometimes the view from behind is softer and more beautiful than the blaze in front of you.
Despite there being no racing, we made our way down to Little Farmers and supported the local effort that had been made for the cruisers. Pig roast, live music etc. Always lots of dinghies ashore at Ty’s Sunset Bar – a great gathering spot. There is an air strip right behind it. Although we saw a number of planes (two) land, drop people and take off again, the condition of the wind sock and the abrupt end of the runway would make Garth very leery of landing there!!
The rest of the gang were all heading down to Georgetown and that had been our original intention. But given the propensity for Westerly winds this year (there are very few places in the Exumas that offer protection in a Westerly) we thought it was time to turn around rather than bash our way all the way down to Georgetown and then have to turn around and bash our way back again. Sad to leave our friends, but we were happy with our decision.
We made our way to Sampson Cay and took advantage of our 2’6” draft to tuck ourselves right into the top of the anchorage.
At low tide we walked the sand flats and, another highlight, came across this little guy right on the edge of the ebbing tide line. His color disguised him perfectly. He was CUTE – about the size of a saucer. Garth put my sunglass arm near him and he shot off for about two feet, showing us all of his octopus acumen. Once settled, he again disappeared into transparency with his surroundings. What a privilege to see him.
We had heard about Pipe Cay but never been there because it is shallow. On the way we passed the house I would like (as long as it came with “staff”!), and one that Garth would prefer. Couldn’t see his house, but the seaplane and hangar was all he needed!
The water through that area is too brilliant to be able to capture on film, but I did try.
We went into Compass Cay, where they feed the sharks. I took a good one with my big camera but someone quickly came over and said no “big” cameras allowed – they had to protect their visitors from the paparazzi!! Hardly me, but I guess they had to protect their rich and famous. None of whom were there that day, as I snapped a few with my cell phone, which was allowed! Not really our cup of tea, but we checked the box.
We stopped at Cambridge Cay – Bell Rock in the late afternoon and early morning sun, then crossed back to Eleuthera and Spanish Wells – gorgeous rainbow and a truck that Garth says had great “patina”!
(A note here – I feel as though this blog is going on and on a bit. Sorry; I left it too long and have too many photos to share. As this is a diary of our trip for us, I don’t want to really leave sections out, so if you need to take a break and come back another time, that’s just fine!)
Crossed back to Abaco and then we were “home” in Hope Town. There was a big celebration at the lighthouse – there had been a grant awarded by America for the maintenance of the Hope Town Light and the Bahamian Prime Minister and American Trade Attache were there with lots of pomp and ceremony. It’s a big deal because the lighthouse is the last manned one in the world where the kerosene is pumped up every two hours to fuel the light and a weight is raised and then drops to turn the lens, which floats in a huge bowl of mercury. It needs a lot of work to keep it going.
Earlier in the year Garth and Will Heyer had restored Scully, a 14’ Abaco dinghy which hadn’t been sailed for years, had survived Dorian but needed a whole lot of work. When we came back he was rewarded by being able to take it for an afternoon sail around the harbor.
This ‘beauty’ was in the harbor at the same time – talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!
We said our final sad farewell to Hope Town, stopped at Green Turtle for steak night, a last visit with Yvonne at Pineapples and a few groceries, then on to Manjack where we walked the 1 mile trail through the forest to the other side.
After Manjack we went to Allans-Pensacola Cay for the first time. Where Garth swam with the sharks! Funny story – he wanted to change the propeller zincs while we were still in clear water. He got everything ready and dived down. Took the first one off, came up and got the new one and had put it on finger tight but needed to come up for air. When he lifted his head he was eyeball to eyeball with a shark on the other side of the rudder!!!!! You’ve never seen anyone get out of the water so fast!! There were actually two of them – black tips – and they too circled the boat for a while before disappearing. The problem was, the zinc was only just hanging on and had to be tightened. What to do? We waited until the next morning and once the sun was high enough to see clearly through the water we circled the boat a few times but saw no sharks. With allen key in hand he slid into the water, did the necessary tightening and was out; probably 15 seconds. And guess what – we looked down and the two sharks had arrived!!! I believe sharks can smell blood in the water from three miles away, so a potential interesting Garth snack had brought them right over. Needless to say, the other old zinc remains exactly where it is!!!
Allans Pensacola also has a forest walk over to the ocean side of the island and we did that too. On the ocean side is a tree called The Naming Tree and visitors leave beach flotsam and jetsam with the name of their boat to mark their visit. We weren’t prepared, but enjoyed seeing what was there. Pyxis are good friends of ours, so it was fun to see their float.
On the way to Cave Cay, our last stop before clearing out at West End, we were privileged to see a huge loggerhead (? I think) turtle ambling along. His shell must have been at least 5’ long and he had his attendant remora fish swimming along with him. I was lucky to get the picture because as soon as he became aware of us behind him, he dove down deep and disappeared.
And in crystal clear water we had some dolphins swim alongside us for a while and I can finally let the dolphins swim in peace, now that I have my full length picture! Did you know? – sharks have vertical tail fins; mammals’ tail fins are horizontal.
WE spent two nights at West End, did our customs clearing out paperwork and crossed back over to the US on Saturday Feb 26th. Much earlier than anticipated. But friends who had also wanted to be heading up the waterway in March but couldn’t leave when we did are still waiting for a suitable crossing day, so we are pleased that we took the gap that we saw.
I’m posting this from Beaufort NC on a cold, blustery, rainy day. We knew this weather was expected so pushed to get into the marina here. Glad we did. I have taken a camera break for the trip home – just enjoying watching the scenery go by. So this will be the last blog of this trip. We’re so excited to be getting home. We have loved our journey, but missed our house, friends and neighbors. And Kate, Will and Penny! Our boat has become a part of us and we look forward to enjoying the Chesapeake waters in the months ahead. I’ll end with two pictures – two fellows who were hanging out with us at an anchorage in Crescent River GA, waiting for the fog to lift so we could get our day started;
…and a picture of the beautiful bridge that you cross under going past Vero Beach. Wish I had caught it a few seconds earlier so that the symmetry was perfect.